In Batman #23, the first issue after DC's crossover "The Button," Bruce Wayne is reminded of his father's death (and the striking message from his dad in Batman #22) when he encounters another murdered parent — Swamp Thing's father.
The issue unites Batman writer Tom King with Mitch Gerads, with whom he creates Vertigo's Sheriff of Babylon, and the upcoming Mister Miracle series. And the two have called the comic book a "love letter" to creators Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Bernie Wrightson.
The issue, which was originally solicited for January, got moved to May when King's plans for a Catwoman story pushed the story back. Now the story will reflect events of "The Button," as well as featuring a team-up between Batman and Swamp Thing as they investigate the death of the latter's father.
Newsarama talked to King and Gerads to find out more about Batman #23.
Newsarama: Tom, this comic was originally solicited in January. Does it make more sense in May, or was there another reason it was delayed?
Tom King: What happened was, I wrote the Swamp Thing issue and when Mitch came on for the Catwoman issue, I realized that the Catwoman story needed more room. It became "Rooftops," that two -parter. I wanted to give that some room.
So I wrote this issue and we put it to the side.
I had originally written it as a love letter with the work of Alan Moore. And you know, we're doing this whole "Button" thing that pays tribute to the work he's done.
So it seemed like a natural place to put it as an epilogue to "The Button," at least thematically. So we decided to put it after "The Button."
Nrama: So this kind of pays homage to the work of Alan Moore? Because it's Swamp Thing?
King: I loved that run on Swamp Thing and what he did with that character. And there was a beautiful Batman crossover that was all about the power of Swamp Thing next to the power of Batman.
I wanted to have something in communication with that and sort of pay tribute to it.
Nrama: Then Mitch, are you doing something similar with your artwork?
Mitch Gerads: It's all of the above. I think Tom and I both have a love for Alan Moore's past work. And actually, I just went on a trip to Barcelona for a comic signing thing, and Dave Gibbons was one of the guests. So I got to hang out with Dave the whole time. So my whole Watchmen nerd persona came out. And I think when I came back was when I started this issue. And, like, everything Watchmen spilled out of me.
I had also started the issue, I think, just a couple days after Bernie Wrightson's passing. So I went real big down the Bernie Wrightson rabbit hole.
So this issue, like Tom said, it's his love letter to Alan Moore — it's kind of my love letter to Dave Gibbons and Bernie Wrightson.
Nrama: Let's talk about the story. Didn't you say something at a convention, Tom, that it was a murder mystery?
King: On the first page of the issue, a lonely man is murdered somewhere in a high tower of Gotham. And Batman goes to investigate. And there's no leads. And Gordon's saying that.
And then out of a piece of mold, Swamp Thing grows and says, "This is my father."
And then Batman and Swamp Thing proceed to investigate the death of his father in Gotham City.
Nrama: So it's a team-up investigation, with these two characters working together? Two characters who both lost their fathers, actually.
King: Yeah, it's about two people who have lost their parents and how they react to that in different ways, coming from completely different philosophies.
Batman's philosophy, of course, is revenge and that death means everything. And Swamp Thing's philosophy is that death is a part of life and part of the Green. And so they clash over that.
Nrama: So this is a Gotham City story? It stays in that city?
King: Yeah, I mean, it's my most contained murder mystery that I've done so far. It's a one-and-done.
We call it the Brave and the Mold, because it's one of those, like, Brave and the Bold one-and-dines where two heroes team up for a reason and solve a problem by the end of it.
Gerads: And we get to see a lot of different sections of Gotham City, which was fun.
Nrama: Such as?
Gerads: It starts off on the rooftops, and then it goes to the street, and we get to see some of the underbelly, and the high society parts. It's a good time.
Nrama: Can you describe the way you approach Swamp Thing visually? He's in a very different environment, I would imagine, in Gotham City.
Gerads: Yeah, for me — I pencil, ink and color the issue, so I get to control the issue. And when you work on a character like Swamp Thing that's kind of nebulous — I mean, you always have the main structure of a body and those facial features that make you recognize Swamp Thing, but other than that, it's kind of always evolving.
So I just went real kind of messy with it. He's a big and imposing figure. I wanted him to be, like, two Batman sizes.
The nice thing is controlling all those aspects. I could play with texture a lot. So I went as rough and contained as I could.
King: Probably my favorite part of the issue, and what I think Mitch does better than any artist in comics, is it feels very grounded in the real world. You can almost feel the texture of what people are touching. It doesn't feel fantastic — it's something where you can picture yourself in this environment.
And then you put Swamp Thing in that and it creates this weird tension in your brain. I just love the tension created by Mitch drawing Swamp Thing in Gotham. I think it's just perfect.
Gerads: Thanks, buddy!
Nrama: You're talking about a theme in this story that surrounds losing your father. In "The Button," there was just a moment where Bruce met his dad, and his father told him not to be Batman anymore. Will that be reflected in this story? Or does the move from January mean it won't refer to that?
King: No, actually, that was very much in our thinking. We're moving into this sort of — you're about halfway through a story at this point of what's going to be this grand story.
You saw in the last one, a lot of it plays with the pain of his mother. And now we're moving into the area of his father a little bit.
And all of that's going to play off some huge moments that are going to happen in #24, which then lands of in the "War of Jokes and Riddles" for the next eight issues.
So yeah, it's purposely put there after that moment in #22, that you just talked about, where basically Batman's told by his father to not become Batman.
Then we have another issue about his father and that pain.
And that will put Batman in an emotional state to make some decisions that are going to shock the world.
Gerads: In issue #23, you feel the weight of those words from #22. You can tell that's on his mind through this whole issue.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about this comic?
King: I'm super proud of this, and I think people will dig it. And if they do dig it, I think they should go back and check out Sheriff of Babylon, which Mitch and I did together, because it's the same sort of vibe and use of the medium.
Nrama: Anything else you want to plug, whether it's about Sheriff of Babylon or anything else?
King: No, not yet. We have a very big announcement coming up about a project that I'm more excited for than with anything in my career. So I'm looking forward to that.
Editor’s note: the just announced project is a 12-issue Mister Miracle series created by King and Gerads.