As DC releases the final chapter of Batman and Robin with this month's Volume 7 collection, readers are getting to relive the title's emotional exploration of Bruce Wayne's relationship with his son, as well as the character's heart-breaking death and later triumphant resurrection.
The Batman and Robin series by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason ran from DC's New 52 event in September 2011 to March 2015 — a four-year stint that focused on the evolution of Damian Wayne over an arc that Tomasi often called an "uber-story." Although it found time for plenty of action, Batman and Robin highlighted emotionally powerful, personal interactions between Bruce and Damian — from the series' early focus on Bruce's conflict with the rebellious boy, to Robin's realizations about selfless love, to the all silent "Requiem" issue in Batman and Robin #18 that followed Robin's death, to the child's resurrection during an action-filled New Gods story.
Newsarama has talked to the creators several times over the course of their run. As the series has its final collection released to bookstores this week, Newsarama talked to both Tomasi and Gleason one last time about Batman and Robin.
Newsarama: Peter and Pat, having looked back that this series in preparation for this interview, I realize now how much I miss it!
Peter Tomasi: We do too, actually.
Nrama: When you first came into this series, were you aware that this was going to be a little bit different Batman series? And was DC on board with that? I mean, it's less about Batman in action with Robin and than it is about Batman's father-son relationship with Robin.
Tomasi: I don't think DC had any sense of what the book was going to be at that point. They just said, here you go!
Patrick Gleason: Yeah, the door was wide open to do what we thought would be right.
Tomasi: I mean, Pat and I knew that Damian was going to die at some point, but there was no mandate of any kind. Knowing that fact, we just wanted to make sure we told a character-based story that really keyed in on the father-son relationship and make that the A-story. And the B-story, make that the action stuff, so to speak.
Nrama: You mentioned the character focus, and I don't know if people remember how little Damian himself had been developed as a character, particularly as a son to Bruce Wayne, since that character had been presumed dead for some time before your series. Was developing Damian one of your key objectives as well?
Tomasi: Yeah, it was a real appeal for me, being a father. And Pat too. We wanted to really peel back the layers on Damian and take all the great stuff that Grant had done and go even further with it, and just give him as much flesh on the bones as we could give him prior to his demise.
Nrama: There also weren't many Damian fans at that time.
Tomasi: There weren't a lot! There were a lot of readers who didn't accept him who didn't like him.
Nrama: He wasn't a very nice kid at the beginning. Your series changed that, as you showed his growth from the sniveling brat into this kid who cared about his father and his heritage — and his dog! You gave him a dog, a life, a family. It really rounded out the character. I assume that was your goal?
Tomasi: Yes. Our job, I think, was to… just make people see more of Damian, and to also see him evolve of the course of this whole story arc. You know? You can love to hate a character, and then you can also really start to see or empathize with a character. That's what I think we did with Damian. We gave more of a three-dimensional feel to him.
Nrama: Pat, let's talk about your approach visually. I think people would probably name you as the definitive Damian artist. But at the time, you had to decide what your approach to this character and this series would be? Now that you've been drawing him awhile, do you have a verbal description of how you draw him?
Gleason: I don't know if I have a verbal description. I have an idea in my head, and it's just a matter of getting it on paper.
You know what? I felt like I could be a lot looser with him. There's a lot of elbowroom, visually, to play around with.
I mean, you can be very animated, you can be very Batman-like.
Nrama: In the way you depict this one character?
Gleason: Yeah, in his body language, his facial expressions and things like that.
And that's really fun to play with, especially as a contrast to Batman, who's just angry all the time.
There's a lot of emotional stuff I can play with with Damian.
And then when we got to scenes of Damian and Bruce acting together, there was a lot of subtleties you could play with on the page. I was a lot of acting. But that's fun. And Damian is just fun to draw.
One of the great things that Pete put in the script was to make sure that their masks would come off at certain points to really allow me to key in on those emotional beats. It really opened the doors for the readers to step inside of Damian's head for a little bit — or Bruce's, depending on where you're coming from.
Nrama: That's true. Your story made it clear that Damian wasn't the only one who grew in this relationship. We saw the father-son relationship affect both of them.
Tomasi: Yeah, and that's one of the great things that happens when you're a father. It illuminates your life in all new ways and gives you a whole new perspective.
Gleason: That was the appeal of the series to me, to have both sides represented in, both as a father and as a child trapped in a man's body.
Nrama: OK, you guys already mentioned that you knew from the beginning that Damian was going to die. But you weren't sure when, right?
Tomasi: Right. That was the question.
When I was editing the book — when I was group editor of the Bat-books — Grant created Damian on my watch. And it was basically, he said, you know, I don't want to keep this kid around too long. He didn't really have an intention of keeping him around, even as long as he did.
And then even when he left the book, there was still no lockdown, as far as the timeframe for that. So it was a little fluid.
And then once we knew when it was locked, obviously we had to make sure we hit all the emotional beats we wanted to do.
Nrama: And then at the same time, you had to plan what came after.
Tomasi: Yeah, coming out of that death, we wanted to make sure we had a clear story where we could explore Batman's stages of grief and his rage and all the other stuff that comes along with grieving a child.
Nrama: Did you ever, at any point, say, I'm going to fight for this kid to live? Or did you always want that to be part of his story?
Tomasi: You know, it was funny. There were a couple meetings where I did try to keep Damian around, because I felt like we were just getting to love him and know him. It almost felt like a rug getting pulled out.
But in the end, the decision was that he had to die.
So Pat and I's job at that point was really just to make sure that there was a really great story after that too.
I really kind of… I don't want to say I forced DC, but I really pleaded to make sure that it would only be two years he was off camera and not go too long after that. Because I thought keeping him off screen for that long, off the page for that long, and still knowing he was going to come back — I just said, let's just build a story quickly out of it and not let it go on and on and on.
Nrama: You had a lot of symbolism in this book, and now that I've gone back and looked at it all again, there was a lot of foreshadowing in the early issues of what was coming. There were also beats in the early issues that you guys picked up later — sometimes echoes of what happened in the beginning. That's usually impossible to do in a comic book series, because you don't 100 percent know what the company is going to do with a character. But it must have been a real advantage to know what was coming for Damian.
Tomasi: Yeah, we had a lot of opportunity to do that, from the first issue with Batman making a boat of newspaper, and even in the seventh volume — if you look at the first volume, and then you go to the seventh volume, when Batman gets hit by Kalibak and gets thrown into this pool deep in the Batcave, the script literally said to echo the exact images that Pat had done in that first arc. All the perspective is the same.
And even the reverberation we were able to do when we did the Batman and Nightwing issue and play off images from Grant's thing and put a whole new twist on it.
So there are all these various ways we could foreshadow some great visuals early on in the series, and then literally three years later have them pay off in ways where people who have been reading the book would enjoy and really get a kick out of, as much as me and Pat got a kick out of it, I'm sure. People come up to me at cons and point out all these little moments too, so it's really cool that they were able to be in on it.
Gleason: Yeah, I still have fans coming up and catching things that hadn't caught the first time they read through it. As it was going on in the series, they were just along for the ride, and then they went back to the trades and were like, ah, I didn't catch this the first time — the symbolism you mentioned and echoes of past visuals and dialogue. I think that's cool.
Tomasi: Yeah, I was at the New Jersey Comic Expo this weekend and probably had eight or nine people just come up and talk about the Requiem silent issue, how tears were flowing, and how they read the Nightwing issue, and Alfred also coming up with that angle. And how they were crying on that bit.
Nrama: The Requiem issue was definitely a favorite of a lot of reviews I looked over. I think it was a favorite issue of a lot of fans.
Tomasi: The Requiem issue also, fans tell us that it helped them through tough times. We've gotten emails — you know, people have their own personal grief happening and they say it helped them through some things. And as a writer, it's an incredible feeling, to learn that other people respond that way.
Gleason: It really does. I've had the exact same experience of people coming up and expressing their emotions about the series.
It really touches you, I mean, to think that you did something that meant something to somebody. And so much time has passed, but it still means something to them. You know?
Nrama: Having looked back at the whole series, I noticed that the story changed tone from one … I don't know if you would call it "act" to another?
Tomasi: Yeah, yeah. In my head, even when we spoke, Vaneta, toward the beginning of the series — I think it was one of our first interviews — I always saw this as a real magnum opus. Like, not like, "oh, I'm creating this great adventure," but I always saw this as a huge novel in my own head that, in a weird way, had these three acts, almost like a really long movie.
Nrama: Before Damian's death, it was very much about the relationship of these two characters and the changes that come about — in both father and son — as a boy grows and matures. But then after Damian's death, it became something else, first with the silent issue and then the Stages of Grief Batman experienced as he teamed up with other characters. And then the series became a very bombastic, almost upbeat series at the end, as leading to Damian's resurrection. Would you agree with that, Pete?
Tomasi: Yeah, you've got it there. There were really three sections in my head when I started this story. It was first about building the relationship between the two characters, and we played with different angles to that relationship in the middle. And then, after the death, it was about the hunt for his body. And then there was the resurrection.
There were always three major beats to the storyline.
And like Pat was saying, capturing the emotions was the key.
And I hadn't done that in many books that I had written. I remember the first couple times, I would tell Pat "splash!"
Nrama: Yeah, were there a lot of unusual splash pages in this series?
Tomasi: We did a lot of face splashes. And you don't see that a lot.
Nrama: Face splashes?
Tomasi: Yeah, we'd do big close-ups of just one face, taking up an image.
It was key to do that kind of stuff, bookending with the big face of Batman on the first page, and then ending with a big shot of Robin's face. And just constantly keeping character and emotion center stage for the book was always a key.
Gleason: Visually too, I think the characterization of Bruce and Damian — and even Alfred and Gordon and all the other characters — was this anchor that allowed us to visually go from very comic book noir to humor to horror to cosmic.
I mean, we were really all over the place. And it really challenged me, and I loved it. But it was always anchored in character and the way Pete was writing that stuff. And it made it work, at least in my mind.
Nrama: Well, that was one of the side benefits of having these three acts with different flavors — the two of you were able to tell very different sides of Batman's story, all anchored in this one relationship. It was almost different genres at some points.
Tomasi: Yeah, in this series, we had a chance to go from the mean streets of Gotham to the mean streets of Apokolips. I mean, how much fun is that?
It was really fun to get him out of Gotham too, and do the "Hunt" and the trip to Apokolips. I mean, wow. Only in comics really.
Nrama: Pat, for you, this series led to the work you're doing right now with Robin: Son of Batman. I assume you credit Batman and Robin for the opportunity you have now?
Gleason: Oh yeah. It just naturally spun out of that. Pete and I working on Batman and Robin, it was more than a job for both of us. Damian really became a part of my life, and of our lives.
And I didn't want to continue Batman and Robin without Pete. That's what Pete and I did.
So I thought, well, for better or worse, I'd like to keep working on this character. There was so much more I wanted to do. I never ran out of ideas, and things I wanted to put into it.
So when we found out the series was ending, and then there were different options on the table, I went to DC and I just said, hey, I have these kind of crazy ideas. If you like it, great! If not, that's cool too. I mean, it's a longer story than that, but basically, it all worked out and I was able to keep working on Damian and start writing my own book.
Tomasi: And doing a very good job.
Nrama: It's been about a year since you guys worked on this book — or a little less than a year?
Tomasi: It's close. I turned in my last script for Batman and Robin, I think, in December 2014.
Gleason: Yeah, the last issue came out in the spring.
Tomasi: March was the last issue.
Nrama: So I'm wondering, looking back now and having been away from it for awhile, how would you summarize the experience of working on the book, as well as the product?
Tomasi: The first feeling, of course, is just pure joy. I mean, I look back — and Pat and I were talking about this, looking at all seven volumes on our shelf, I mean, it's great to have this work and really be just two guys doing it.
Nrama: Yeah, we don't see that very often.
Tomasi: Yeah, aside from maybe Scott [Snyder] and Greg [Capullo] and then I think Azz [Brian Azzarello] and [Cliff] Chiang did a chunk of time together too.
But I think Pat and Greg are the only guys who did such a long run over the course of time.
So yeah, I'm incredibly proud of it.
I mean, scanning through issues, you realize a few shortcomings here and there. Like the Terminus storyline, you know, Pat and I had a longer story in mind for that. But the "Night of the Owls" story came in, so we weren't able to put as much meat on the bones of that story as we had originally wanted. But I'm still pretty much happy with it.
Then we ran into the "Death of the Family" stuff, which allowed Pat to draw the Joker, which I think fans really enjoyed. I mean, what he was able to do with that great hanging face.
But I love it. I'm obviously attached to it. What do you think, Patrick?
Gleason: It was a huge privilege to work on this book. I'm really, really proud of Pete's and my work on it. And Mick Gray and John Kalisz and the other good people on our team, and the editors, Mike Marts and Rachel Gluckstern and a whole bunch of people on that book. And I'm certainly thankful to Pete for allowing me to draw it too.
I feel like, when I look through it, I can see pinpoints for my career and with my wife and how each chapter was just a great moment — a dream come true for me to draw.
It's a privilege to draw a Batman book, but to be able to draw it at such a great time, when the Batman books are so vibrant and alive. And to have a part of that on the shelf is great.