What does Batman deserve? That’s the question which that writer Tom King asked – and answered – to get the job writing “Rebirth”’s Batman title.
King, who comes off well-received runs on Grayson, Omega Men, and the recent “Robin War,” crossover, makes his formal debut as Batman writer with this week’s #1. Although he already had a taste of it with the previous Batman: Rebirth #1 co-written with Scott Snyder, King tells Newsarama that he actually wrote Batman #1 first – and did it in one draft, with DC’s approval.
The former C.I.A. operative describes his Batman plan as a trilogy a la the original Star Wars, with a unified vision of what Gotham City is and a re-envisioning of a couple classic (and some cult-like) villains from the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery.
Newsarama caught up with King when he attended last week’s AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., and got the writer to dish on his take on the World’s Greatest Detective, working with Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns, and his interesting thoughts on Bruce Wayne, Duke Thomas, and – surprise – Kite-Man.
Newsarama: Tom, before we get started on Batman, DC released, for free, your Vertigo Quarterly: Black eight-page short story with Jean Paul Leon “Black Death in America” that got you your first Eisner nomination. How did that feel?
Tom King: I was honored and frightened and was thinking now I’m going to go some place and not win something. I loved that little story and thought nobody read it. When it came out, I tweeted a lot about it and couldn’t find anybody that had read it. I was so proud and worked so hard on it as it’s a nonfiction story about a real American hero named Henry Johnson. I used all these weird comic book techniques that you can only do in comics and it seems nobody read it, so to be nominated for that story that’s cool. That’s why I’m excited about it, it’s free now, so everybody can check it out.
I was so proud of it and what J.P. were able to do with it, and actually a lot of my career comes out of that as JP does covers for Sheriff of Babylon now and John Workman, who lettered it, will letter Batman when it comes out. So when I came to Batman and Sheriff they asked me who I wanted to work with and I said I loved working with JP and I loved working with John, so that’s how they came to be.
Nrama: So, Batman: Rebirth #1 is out on shelves, with Batman #1 itself debuting this Wednesday. Speaking of the former first, how much of that was you and how much was outgoing writer Scott Snyder?
King: It was pretty 50/50. So, Scott and I pretty much talked every day. We share scripts, you know, with him doing All-Star Batman and I’m doing Batman and so we came up with the plot all together and we talked about the transition because I think I mentioned Calendar Man and mentioned making it scary, so he came up with the idea for the molting thing. So it was very much organic and we took turns. He started it and we both different days of the week, so people can guess which days are mine and which ones are Scott’s. The ending is a little bit of a combination of us. So yeah, 50-50. I mean, I think I had nine pages and he had eleven, so what is that? 51-49?
Nrama: I think 60-40ish, yeah. So, did co-writing what is essentially your run’s pilot with Snyder affect in any way your plans, intentions, or tone of your run?
King: No, in fact, Batman #1 was written before Batman: Rebirth #1, oddly enough. So I mean, Scott and his vision of Batman totally affects me, firstly it’s just reading a great writer. Secondly, he has the best run of Batman in his 75 year history.
Nrama: That’s bold, man!
King: Yeah, I mean I love Paul Dini and Steve Englehart's and I don’t know what you would call Bob Kane’s stuff, but I love what came from that, but if I thought in terms of influence and stories, I would put him as number one for me. So that’s an incredible influence and already was an influence before I started working on Batman.
But in terms of affecting the tone... see, when we got together we thought about a few ways we could do this. We could do it as a preview, here’s the start of his All-Star Batman arc, here’s the start of mine and then we abandoned that idea and we wanted to do an issue that was more thematically about what it means to be a hero that goes on forever; someone that is constantly reinvented. So we had this idea, I mean, Scott and I are both obsessed with death and going on how Batman never dies, but constantly does and how it’s a weird contradiction, but weird contradictions are where great comics come from.
Nrama: That issue was co-written with Scott Snyder, but Geoff Johns said he workshopped all of the Rebirth series with the writers flown into Burbank. Can you peel back the curtain a little bit and explain what bouncing ideas around with Geoff has done for the series?
King: Before I signed with DC, I met with Marv Wolfman and he told me seriously that Geoff understands the DC universe better than any writer he knows and this is Marv Wolfman, the guy who wrote Crisis on Infinite Earths! As I got to know Geoff better, I agree with that. He knows these characters and knows how story works better than anybody in the industry. So we met before Batman #1 and I sort of pitched him this idea of Gotham and what Batman deserves and he liked it. It was as simple as that. I went off to write #1 in a frenzy before I signed anything because it was in my head and I had to get it out. Then sent it to Geoff and Jim Lee and my genius editor Mark Doyle and they said it was good to go, so that’s how Batman #1 was born. It was really simple. Omega Men #5 took seventeen drafts, but Batman #1, that went alright!
Nrama: We have to talk about that costume Bruce had in mind for Duke. Behind the scenes, what was the development talk on it and who was involved?
King: That’s all Scott. Duke comes from Scott’s brain, he invented that character and I got to write him in Robin War and I loved him. He’s such a cool character. The key to him is that he doesn’t need Batman; he’s a Robin who likes the legacy of Robin without someone to boss him around and wants to be here on his own terms. Scott had a vision for him that involved yellow and this futuristic style that was something away from Robin. I think three guys worked on the design and I’m not sure whose design won and I thought the best look won.
Nrama: Getting in-story, how soon will we know if Duke accepts the offer, the costume, and what exactly the name Bruce has in mind for him?
King: Duke’s story will be told in All-Star Batman for the first year. As far as in Batman goes, my conception of Duke is going to be like Tim in Tim’s first year. He’s going to be in the cave, training, not going to be on the street with Batman. Batman’s book will be about Batman the character and his relationship with Alfred and Gordon.
Duke himself and his transition to become a superhero, and whether he makes that transition or not, that’s a story that will be told in All-Star Batman and once that story is told, everything will be like the second year of Tim where we bring him out of the cave and he comes integrated into the family.
Nrama: Can you give any hints about Duke’s codename, whether it is something new, a return of something old, or some other third category?
King: [Laughs] No, I can’t give any hints. That’s it!
How would you describe Bruce's relationship with Duke leading up to this moment and him showing off his new suit?
King: To me, I’m of the age where the first comics I read were Jim Starlin reintroducing Tim back into the DCU in “A Lonely Place of Dying.” In my first Grayson issue, I did a dedication to it that was called “Only A Place For Dying,” or something like that. That was my first graphic novel I ever bought with my own money and my real introduction to Batman. I remember reading it and it was KGBeast and Batman fighting and Tim sort of seeing that Batman was getting out of control and seeing that Batman needed a partner to calm him.
My conception of Batman is that he’s a very focused individual and he’s there to fulfill the vow he made to his parents, on his knees and in the candlelight and say “My parents died, I’m going to fight these criminals.”
However, over the years, Batman has evolved into embracing that part of that fight includes family and he doesn’t have to be alone. The Batman who I see isn’t the guy crying in the corner about being lonely; he understands that family helps him be strong and he sees Duke as a partner in that. How Duke sees Batman is much more complicated. I think Duke sees Batman as a means to an end. He sees him as the greatest trainer available and he’s willing to accept that. It’ll be interesting to see how much control Batman has over him. I mean Duke’s parents were Jokerized, right? So that’s such an interesting point of view where his parents were maimed by the guy Batman refuses to kill. There’s so much to mine there.
Nrama: Speaking of villains, Batman: Rebirth #1’s Calendar Man was actually portrayed here as a legitimate threat. Do you have other villain reimagining in mind?
King: Yeah, I do. The first year of Batman will a trilogy of three arcs kind of like Star Wars. You’ll get three trades that composite one story, but each is self-contained. In the way it works is that we’ll switch up artists, too. So the first arc will be David Finch, the modern master, then Mikel Janin, my old brother from Grayson and who draws the most beautiful people in comics will take the second, and then Finch returns for the third. Throughout the whole thing there will be one big bad and he’s an old Batvillain. We’re reimagining him in a whole new cool and creepy way. Similar to how we did Calendar Man, and throughout the thing... I mean, I just wrote Kite-Man into an issue so yeah, we’re going deep.
Nrama: That ending to Batman: Rebirth #1: While some people might expect a clean narrative cliffhanger to end the issue, you went a bit more symbolic – at least from the looks of it – with Alfred feeding the bat colony in the caves underneath Wayne Manor. Your storytelling in the past has been very methodical – is there something readers should be thinking about with that last page more than it just being a really cool visual by Mikel?
King: To me there’s something symbolic about Alfred taking these pieces of fruit and throwing them down in the bat garden, and you can read into it a thousand different ways, and I think they’re all right. I don’t want to tell anybody what a symbol means. I can say what it means to me, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same as what you think. It has to do something with me and Scott coming together on these books at the journeys of our lives and the impact it has on us. I think that’s part of the symbolism. Not only is Batman reborn, but as a writer he’s changing my life. If I can tell you what a symbol means, I’d be a sh***y writer. I mean you don’t want to be Dan Brown where this means this and that. Metaphors have to be a little more interesting than that.
When we were all in high school, we had to write about what the green light means at the end of the dock in The Great Gatsby means, right? If we all were to write an essay and the teacher told us yes or no, it would be boring. What makes an essay like that so interesting is what you thought it meant because everybody approached the work differently. So hopefully the avocado could do something like that.