Spoilers ahead for Batman #5.
This week's Batman #5 by Tom King and David Finch not only revealed a character's tragic death, but served as an origin story for a female hero that King says will play a "huge role" in Batman in the future.
After Psycho Pirate infected the superpowered hero Gotham with anger - and his sister Gotham Girl with fear - Batman #4 showed that Gotham was so angry that he wanted to destroy all of Gotham City.
By the end of the issue, Gotham Girl (with help from Duke Thomas) had overcome her fear to instead tap into bravery, and she ended up having to kill her brother to stop him.
But perhaps the biggest surprise came from Gotham Girl's narration, when she revealed that not only will she marry Duke Thomas at some point in the future, but she also mentions Batman's death.
Batman #5 concludes the first arc of what King is calling a trilogy of story arcs over the next year in Batman - the next being an October-launching tale about Batman forming his own Suicide Squad.
King's run on Batman started in June, teaming him for the first five issues with superstar artist Finch. The pair's run has not only introduced Psycho Pirate, but also brought Amanda Waller, Hugo Strange and General Lane into the title.
Those characters have a role going forward as well, King said - and so will Batman's quest for the truth of the missing decade and altered timeline about which he learned during DC Universe: Rebirth #1.
Up next in the series is a stand-alone Batman #6, followed by September's "Night of the Monster Men" crossover event in the Bat-titles.
Newsarama talked with King about the death of Gotham, the role of Gotham Girl going forward, and what he meant with this allusion to a future marriage and death.
Newsarama: Tom, these poor orphan kids just don't do well in Gotham City.
Tom King: Poor Gotham.
Nrama: OK, let's back up a second because before we talk about Gotham's death, I want to know about what you told me last time we talked. You said you wrote what you think was your favorite scenes in Batman. I think I know which scene, but you tell me.
King: Oh, man, there are a lot of scenes. But I really liked the Alfred scene. That really made me laugh.
I was so scared when I turned in the script because it has so many beats in it. You know, this huge fight at the end and the death of a major character. And Batman making the ultimate sacrifice.
And here I start with five pages of Alfred.
I thought, oh, they're going to make me cut that down. But they were like, "No! We love it." I was so excited.
But yeah, I love that scene. I love Alfred. He's the most fun character to write.
Nrama: I want to talk about a few things in the issue, but we kind of have to talk about the ending. There were some things said in the narration on the last couple pages concerning a marriage and a death… is this something that's going to happen during your run? What should people read from that?
King: This whole time you thought you were looking at this story about this character Gotham, this very typical, 'manly man' Superman-type character that you see all the time. And what I wanted to say at the end of this story was, that actually was not what you were looking at this whole time. You were looking at the origin of the person standing next to Gotham.
It wasn't about him at all. It was about her.
And it was the start of the story of this young lady called Gotham Girl, and what a huge role she's going to play in Batman in the future.
So while you thought it was about one thing, it was actually about something else.
And her fate is tied to Duke's fate, is tied to Batman's fate. I wanted to summarize that at the end and tease what's coming.
Nrama: But the marriage… is this definitely something that's coming in the future? Or is the future kind of unknown, with the Watchmen characters able to come in and stir the pot or something?
King: Oh, man. I'm intimately involved in all that stuff. And all of this, and what you're seeing in Batman here, sort of plays out and sort of tangles up with all that stuff.
It's all meant to feed into this one, huge narrative of the DCU.
And so yeah, we have Batman plotted out for the first 25 issues. And the impact of Gotham Girl will keep laying out until issue #25 and beyond.
Nrama: Duke's growing up then, huh?
King: Well, this is nothing that will happen overnight. I'm not saying it's going to happen tomorrow or the next day.
But if you read my Vision stuff, I mean, when I make promises, I execute them. So you'll see some of it happen.
Nrama: But Tom, you say something about Batman's death.
King: Yeah, this comes from Scott Snyder, who's probably going to kill me for sharing this. But he's one of my best friends, and he gave me this great advice. And he got the advice from Grant Morrison, who said, when you're writing Batman, you know, you're going to have a run on Batman and you have to give him a birth, and you have to give him a death. And that's your Batman. You don't own the character. The character belongs to pop culture. He belongs to everyone. The character belongs to everyone's heart.
But for you, for your Batman, you have to do that. That's your responsibility as a writer.
And I think you saw that in Grant's run and you saw it in Scott's run. And you're going to see it in my run.
I gave him a birth. I mean, he literally flew between two buildings - one was Finger and one was Kane. And he came out the other side.
And eventually, we'll give him a death.
Nrama: I don't think Scott will kill you for saying that, because I'm about 99% sure Scott has told me that in an interview before, probably more than once.
King: OK, good, so it's out there.
Nrama: Yeah, I think so. OK, let's back up and talk about one of the themes of this first story arc - the idea of whether Batman is truly able to protect Gotham City. In this issue, it was emphasized in Gotham's use of "one man, one mask." What does this issue say about Batman's ability to protect Gotham and make a difference?
King: It's two things. First of all, that question is still open-ended. It's still unanswered. It's a year-long question. It's not a five-issue question. So we're just at the start of what that means.
And second of all, the part of the answer you got here is - and this is very purposely paralleled with where we started with issue #1 with Batman will to sacrifice himself and die for his city - you find him in that position again at the end, where he realizes that he can't win. He can't in any way defeat this villain. Gotham just took down the Justice League.
And Batman stands there and defeats him not with a power - Superman couldn't punch him and the Flash couldn't run fast enough. But the way he defeats Gotham is to deduce his weakness, to deduce who he is as a person, and use his brains and say, "The one way I can defeat you is to give you what you want. And what you want is for the thing you hate to die. And I'm the thing you hate."
So it's the idea that Batman both figures it out and is willing to make that sacrifice.
And that makes him special. He does something no one else could do in that situation. He's will to die for the citizens of Gotham.
Nrama: But heroes are willing to sacrifice themselves. Isn't this the realization that he can, in order to save the city?
King: Yeah, it's both the realization - he's the only one who could make that realization that "I know how to manipulate him; I know how to figure this out." And that's half of Batman, right? But then it's also the ability to execute it. So it's, "and I'm willing to do it."
Nrama: Let's talk about Gotham and Gotham Girl's powers. Surely, that played a role in his death. He certainly used a lot of his powers. But with Gotham Girl living on - and it sounds like we'll be getting to know her a lot better - these are some pretty messed up powers, and they're linked to the type of "sacrifice" you were talking about earlier. You basically have to sacrifice part of your life for the great good.
King: Yeah. I wanted to put a twist on it. At one point, he lifts an entire bridge, but at another point he has trouble fighting a Bat-villain. At one point he actually gets punched and falls over. If anyone's paying attention, they've noticed that his power level changed from issue to issue. I was hoping people would sort of complain about it and say, Tom doesn't know what he's doing.
But it was all on purpose, putting clues in there that Batman was seeing, and he was going to figure out that the power was changing for a reason.
And then yeah, that leaves us with this one superhero, Gotham Girl, who has this extraordinary ability, but every time she uses it, she kills herself a little bit. So she has to consciously choose between sort of saving the world and saving herself.
Nrama: Ouch. You came up with that?
King: Yeah, I think maybe it comes from just being an X-Men nerd when I was a little kid. That's a Chris Claremont truism. Like, every superhero, their powers must be a sacrifice of themselves. So I think I just stole that from him.
Nrama: We know a few things about what's coming up next. We've got more coming on the Hugo Strange side of things in September, and then you've got your Suicide Squad issues, right? Oh, but before that is issue #6. Does that focus on Gotham Girl after this issue?
King: Yeah, and it's gorgeous. It's definitely the most personal issue of the run.
So what you're going to see is Gotham Girl, who lost her parents and who lost her beloved brother. And it drives her a little crazy. And she can't deal with it.
And she has this power, where she wants to fight, but the fighting kills her. And she's just being torn apart.
And Batman has to try to save her.
It's a very personal issue about how she deals with her grief, and how Batman himself is an orphan who dealt with his grief.
I wrote it after the death of my grandma, who raised me. So it's me dealing with my grief.
So… I don't know. It's a very personal issue to me, and I kind of like it.
But then, and then, after that, Batman fights a bunch of monsters. And my buddy Steve Orlando's coming in to co-write with me.
And yeah, it's the play-out of the Hugo Strange stuff we've been setting up this whole time, where huge, gargantuan, you-won't-believe freaking kaijus are going to come and try to take Gotham.
And Batman has to take them down.
And then issue #9, the second of my arcs starts. The first was "I am Gotham." And #9 starts "I am suicide."
And what happens is Batman is now obsessed with something - you can probably guess what it is, but I'm not going to say. And to save someone, he has to assemble his own Suicide Squad.
And he goes to Arkham Asylum and he picks out a bunch of criminals to do a mission that he shouldn't do.
All these stories are connected. The inclusion of Amanda Waller in this story was not a coincidence.