Spoilers ahead for this week's Batman #4.
Writer Tom King is promising that the upcoming Batman #5 will pull together his first story arc in a way that will have "huge impact" in the DCU.
And King, whose Batman #4 hit stores this week, acknowledged that one of his story's villains, Psycho Pirate, remembers past continuities - something that has potential ramifications as Batman and other characters search for the Watchmen continuity glitches established in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.
The Batman writer said the "Rebirth" follow-up will play out over the next two years and is being coordinated among different writers, including All-Star Batman's Scott Snyder, Superman's Pete Tomasi and The Flash's Joshua Williamson.
King's run on Batman started in June, teaming him for the first five issues with superstar artist David Finch (who, King proudly pointed out, is the only "Rebirth" artist who's doing five twice-a-month issues in a row). The run has not only introduced Psycho Pirate, but also brought Amanda Waller, Hugo Strange and General Lane into the title.
And because of Waller's involvement - and Batman's meeting with her in this week's issue #4 - Batman will be creating his own Suicide Squad in upcoming issues (starting with October's issue #9, with art by Mikel Janín).
Newsarama talked with King to find out more about Psycho Pirate's involvement, what readers can expect from Batman's hand-picked Suicide Squad, and why issue #5 is such a pivotal issue.
Newsarama: Tom, I'd like to talk about Batman #4 in a minute, but first can we talk about Psycho Pirate? Why did this villain interest you as someone who you wanted to use during your first arc?
Tom King: There are two answers. The first answer is what "Rebirth" is about and what it's been about since Geoff first called on the phone - it's about re-joining the DCU, all the books tying into each other, continuity coming back in a big way. And I'm a big continuity nerd. And the idea of using a villain who's not traditionally a Batman villain - he's kind of a Justice League villain - in a Bat-book very much appealed to me.
So we're saying, like, Batman has to deal not just with these crazy people in Arkham, but he has to deal with the entire DCU.
On a personal level, I first encountered Psycho Pirate - I was a little old for Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I re-read it insanely over and over again, and seeing him there and what a huge role he played, I was like, why does this kind of weeny, kind of cowardly man - how does he challenge, and why does the Anti-Monitor need him? And then you slowly realize that he has this very specific power that makes him one of the most powerful people in the entire DCU.
And that always struck me. As a kid, I remember just being thrill by that, the fact that this sort of sickeningly weird guy could somehow hold the entire universe hostage and kill Flash. So… I was always just fascinated with that character.
Nrama: Well, you mentioned Crisis, and Psycho Pirate was pretty important in that event and afterward because of another ability he has. And with the fallout from the Watchmen-related stuff in Geoff's DC Universe: Rebirth #1, it's interesting to see Psycho Pirate show up now. Is it right to suspect he ties into that?
King: Yeah, you're too smart for me. I'm trying to hide something I should be hiding.
The fact that, as established in Grant Morrison's Animal Man, the Pirate remembers continuity that no longer exist, is one of the appeals of having him in this book, and tying him into the story spine of the greater DCU.
That's pretty vague, but that's the best I can do.
Nrama: Dude, that's not really that vague. It's important that he's encountering Batman, who is one of only a handful of characters who are aware of any continuity glitches. That's another good reason to use Psycho Pirate in your title?
King: Yeah, it is very cool. We're working very closely together - I'm working with Pete Tomasi, Scott Snyder and Josh Williamson - tying all these people together.
So what you're looking at over the next two years is the impact of that sort of first Flashpoint story and how it plays out.
We all know where we're going. We're free to play, but we all know where we're going.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about your plans for the involvement of the Suicide Squad - and this new, Batman-led Suicide Squad you've got coming up. Another fun part of the great DCU to play with for you?
King: Yeah, I couldn't really spell this out last time, but the last panel in Batman #2 has Amanda Waller, the Psycho Pirate, General Lane and Hugo Strange.
I mean, that's insane. That's the DCU - the Suicide Squad, the Justice League, and Superman and Batman. And they're all sort of in a room together. I love that.
I'm a die-hard Suicide Squad fan. Whenever Geoff Johns and I get together, we always nerd out about it together, because he's like a super crazy nerd about that too.
I got to meet John Ostrander on Monday night at the Suicide Squad film premiere and nerd out to him. It was an honor.
I read that comic. I mean, I'm probably going to contradict myself at some point for saying this, but to me, I think that might be my favorite ongoing superhero comic of all time - the '80s Suicide Squad. I just love it.
And when they first put Batman on the table for me, they were going over possible things I could do. And I was a little reluctant to take Batman for a lot of reasons, and one of the things that really appealed to me was that I could do a sort of Suicide Squad arc, and they jumped at that. I was lucky enough that, you know, there's a movie coming out and corporate supports all that. But I just wanted to write the ultimate Suicide Squad story.
And the idea of Batman forming his own Suicide Squad out of Arkham Asylum.
Nrama: Is it all Batman villains, or are you using characters from the rest of the DCU?
King: It's going to be a mix. There are going to be some A-list villains, some C-list villains - might be a D or an F on there probably, knowing me.
Nrama: No surprise.
King: Yeah, but they will all be tied to Gotham City. I mean, Batman #9 is the gathering of the team, which is the most fun issue to write. And just having Batman in Arkham going through and - oh, I'm so proud of that issue. I mean, the last page of that is just like, what? It blew my mind. You don't see it coming.
Nrama: Getting back to the story right now, it feels like, right now, Gotham and Gotham Girl are down for the count. They didn't last very long, and I think there's some meaning to that.
King: Hey! In a normal comic book world, it's been four months!
Nrama: Good point. They lasted four issues, which in a normal arc is a long time.
King: Yeah, "Year One" was only four issues.
Nrama: True, true. But this does say something about how long this wide-eyed, innocent, "we're-going-to-save-the-world" attitude lasts in Batman's Gotham City. It's a darker place than they expected. And although Batman thought they might be the right heroes for Gotham, they weren't really equipped for it?
King: Well, their story isn't done. I'm doing this sort of trilogy story that's going on throughout the year. The first part is "I Am Gotham," the second is "I Am Suicide," and the third, the last trilogy, I can't tell you the name because it would tell you who the villain is.
But the Gothams play a role in all three of those. So it's not like they've gone away or their story's done.
So what unfolds in issue #4, and especially issue #5, which is the sort of climax of this arc, is going to have huge impact, both here and in some big future DC stuff.
So they're just at the beginning of their journey.
Nrama: Big future DC stuff? So issue #5 is important?
King: There's a moment in Batman #5 where, I think people are going to read it and just gasp out loud. It's my favorite thing in Batman I've written so far, at the end of #5. I think people are going to go crazy.
Nrama: OK, so back up a minute and explain how this trilogy works again. The "Monster Men" crossover is not part of that? You have five issues as part 1 of your trilogy, the "Monster Men" crossover, then part 2 of your trilogy is the Suicide Squad story? Does issue #6 come in there somewhere?
King: OK, yeah, issues #1 through #5 are all David Finch. And you know, he's the only artist in the DC's "Rebirth" doing five issues in a row.
Nrama: Wow, I hadn't realized that. Go Dave!
King: David Finch, who draws the most detailed drawing of any artist in the world. He's doing five in a row. That's amazing.
Nrama: Five issues, twice monthly.
King: Yeah. So the entire first "Gotham" storyline wraps up with issue #5, and it'll all be David Finch and I - one complete trade.
Then Ivan Reis comes in for an epilogue issue. What we're doing is a spotlight issue on an issue that's been raised. If anyone knows my work, I love writing single issues like I did with Green Lantern: Darkseid War. That sort of thing. Just do a sort of special issue where we get into deeper themes.
And then "Monster Men" will launch, and that will be the Hugo Strange story that's been set up in this. And that will be where we tell the story of what Hugo Strange's role is and what his ultimate plan is.
And that'll be two issues of Riley Rossmo - the brilliant Riley Rossmo.
And then we hit the second arc of the trilogy in issue #9. It starts with Mikel Janín and I, reunited from Grayson. And it's the story I said before with Batman - with an impossible mission - forming his own Suicide Squad. And like I said, it's just so much fun to write that.
I'm excited about comics today. I'm proud of what I'm doing lately.
Nrama: I can tell. You should be. Was it the movie premiere on Monday? Not sure what you can say about the film...
King: Asking me about a movie my friends write is completely useless.
Nrama: Good point.
King: But I can say this: I think people say big companies don't treat their creators right. I thought big companies treat their creators very kindly yesterday. DC invited out the people who made the Suicide Squad characters and treated them well and invited them to the after-party and treated them like movie stars. And I'm nothing but grateful. So it was nice to see the company say thank you to the artists.
Nrama: That said, DC doesn't treat the parents of its heroes very well. That was a terrible segue, but Gotham and Gotham Girl's parents have gone the way of many a hero's parent at DC, particularly in Gotham.
King: No, no, it's a city of orphans, isn't it?
Nrama: It really is. You've already talked about issue #5 being a pretty important issue, but to finish up, anything you want to tease about what's coming up? The end of issue #4 made things sound pretty bad right now - Gotham's a powerful guy to have on the wrong side, particularly with David Finch drawing all those details.
King: Yeah, it's another David Finch issue. And Gotham's been infected by Psycho Pirate. Gotham Girl was infected by fear, and Gotham was infected by angry - he can't control himself anymore. He decided to destroy Gotham City. If he can't make it better, he'll just wipe it out.
And Batman has to fight him.
Nrama: And I assume he can't just pull out the Kryptonite from his belt?
King: No Kryptonite, no Kryptonite spear. No magic trick. That's not how their powers work.
And frankly, Batman's outmatched.
This is the question we asked from the beginning. Why is Batman the hero Gotham City deserves?
So it's a one-on-one battle where Batman throws everything he can, and he either wins or loses. And even in winning, he's going to lose. And even losing, he's going to win. That's the way Batman's book always ends.
And there are some huge guest stars in the issue. It's a universe that ties together. And I know it ties together. If Batman is fighting a Superman-level villain, you know, he might call on his friends. He might now. But it seems like a thing to do.
And the end, the last page, there's a twist coming where you're going to see that what you've been seeing this first five issues of Batman — what you think it is, it's not what you think it is. And it's going to turn everything around.