Batman and Robin Eternal may be chasing a five-year-old mystery about Batman and the villain mother, but according to co-writer Genevieve Valentine, it's really about what it means to become a member of the Bat-family.
Valentine, who was already an award-winning writer of sci-fi and fantasy books before she came to comic book, just left Catwoman after a run that had the character costumeless and leading a crime family. Now that she's joined Batman and Robin Eternal, she's getting her first taste of co-writing and seems excited with the experience of "hashing out" the story in a writers room setting.
The theme of becoming a Bat-family member — something that's already central to the plot of the first two issues of Batman and Robin Enteral — is apropos for this creative team, which is one of the biggest group of writers DC has ever assigned to a weekly. The idea was conceived by James Tynion IV and Batman scribe Scott Snyder, with the series being co-written by Valentine, Tim Seeley, Steve Orlando, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly and Ed Brisson.
In the story so far, readers have been given a few clues about a mystery surrounding the three former Robins, as well as Harper Row and a new version of Cassandra Cain. Not only has Dick Grayson found out that the Robins are on a lengthy list of missing children connected to the villain Mother, but Batman appears to have done some dirty work for Mother in the past.
Newsarama talked to Valentine about this new weekly gig, how she'd describe the themes the book is exploring, and what it's like to co-write with a big group on a weekly series.
Newsarama: Genevieve, you've worked a lot in the Bat-office over the last year. How would you describe the experience of working on Batman and Robin Eternal after being on Catwoman?
Genevieve Valentine: I think it's been a fairly smooth transition, just because the Bat-group is a really tight knit group of people to begin with. We actually had a Bat-summit earlier this year to get together and talk about everything going on with the Batman universe. So I came into Batman and Robin Eternal with sort of that same feeling of, like, we're all working together in this city that's elastic and can contain everybody, but also has a sense of everything having consequences that touch other places.
And I think that was the starting point we had, when we sat down in the writers' room for Batman and Robin Eternal to sort of bang everything out. We knew we needed to construct Batman and Robin Eternal in a way that it was part of the Bat-family. That felt really natural. It felt like a natural outcropping for a group of people who were used to dealing with the fact that we were playing in the same Batman sandbox.
Nrama: I've been talking to some of the other writers, and I've asked all of them, so I'll pose the question to you as well — what do you think you bring to the team, both from the aspect of your writing style and as part of a group of co-writers?
Valentine: That's such a weird question for me to answer about myself. I can tell you more about what everybody else is bringing to the table. Let me think about it.
Nrama: None of the other writers paused too much, so I think it's telling that you did.
Valentine: Well, I will tell you that I am the curmudgeon who lives in a cave of that entire writers room, so that is not surprising.
OK, let me answer the question. I was particularly excited about the fact that so much of Batman and Robin Eternal was about teamwork, and — you've read the first two issues, right?
Nrama: Of course.
Valentine: The story included so many small moments that aren't just about the huge, overarching plot that we're dealing with. They're individual moments that sort of call on characters, that work on character development. And to me, that's always the best sort of comics. I mean, the huge fights are amazing, and there are a couple huge fights coming up that people are going to love. But I think what keeps people coming back to comics is the interpersonal relationships. So when you're drawing on that, whether it's people coming together and learning about each other or having this huge, knock-down, drag-out fight between two people, that's all part of sort of getting in there and developing characters.
In Batman and Robin Eternal, we get to bring so many characters together, and it's in this place of extreme pressure. The plot hinges on all of their characterizations as much as it does on an outside threat.
I was so excited about that, and that was my favorite part.
Nrama: So you're saying that focus on characterization is what you're bringing to the table? Because you're working from a plot that already existed right? Or are the writers able to change it as you go?
Valentine: For this one, we knew what the general framework was going to be. We knew about Mother, whom you've learned about in the first two issues. So we knew the general threat. And we knew that we were going to have to parallel, in that we'd have this story taking place in the past with Batman and Robin, and in the present, we'd have what's essentially a group of orphans who are trying to come together and make things happen.
So we had the basics of the plot, but we had to hash out specifics and decide how we get from A to Z.
Nrama: So a lot of cooperation.
Valentine: Yeah. And it was my first writers room ever, and it was actually a fascinating process, to watch it all come together.
Nrama: You keep talking about a writers room. So it wasn't conference calls between all of you?
Valentine: It was actually everyone in a room together hashing it out, which frankly is better. It's easier to do that, and it's fascinating to watch the energy in the room. We had a huge white board the entire length of the wall, and we would fill it up three or four times with notes. We'd pick the best of those notes, put them in one column and start again.
Batman and Robin Eternal is only half the length of Batman Eternal, so we had to make sure the plot was super-tight, because Batman Eternal, in some ways, was a story about a lot of different aspects of Batman. But this one is shorter, because it plays out over 26 issues. And we have to make sure every moment counts.
It is a ton of work, but it's exciting as hell.
Nrama: You've touched upon some of the thematic elements of the book — with the idea of the Robins and so many young Bat-characters being orphans, and how that seems to connect to Mother (as well as Batman's past). But how would you describe what you're exploring in this story?
Valentine: There are several things we're exploring, because we have so many plots going on at the same time. But they're different aspects of the same overall theme, which is, not just what makes you Robin — but specifically, what makes you part of this Bat-family? What drives people to become this thing? And you see it five years ago, when Batman is working with a younger Dick Grayson, and you see it in the present.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Genevieve, is there anything you wanted to tell readers about Batman and Robin Eternal?
Valentine: I feel like readers who have ever had a question, not just who would win in a fight, but what would it be like if X character and Y character had to come together and face off in a crisis? We're trying to play with as much of that as possible. Again, we're trying to stick to a very tight plot, and the characterization has to make sense. But the most exciting thing, I think, for everybody in that writers room was that we're getting to put these different characters together, and some of them are pairing off, and you can explore different aspects of them within the bigger mystery. And it's just like candy for anybody who loves the Bat-family.