The long-awaiting thematic sequel to Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Superman: Secret Identity is finally scheduled for release in November, but the writer is warning that this time with Batman: Creature of the Night there is a darker tone.
Of course, that's to be expected with Batman, even if the whole premise of this series of books is that the comic book characters are exactly that – comic book characters. Instead, the stories follow real-world characters who get involved in "fantasy adventure scenarios that involve the characters from the comic books," as Busiek explains it.
In the four-issue Batman: Creature of the Night illustrated by John Paul Leon, a young man named Bruce Wainright is a huge fan of the Caped Crusader, but things turn horribly wrong when his own parents meet a similar fate to his hero Bruce Wayne.
After talking to Busiek earlier this month about his run on Astro City, Newsarama and the writer discussed Batman: Creature of the Night and what readers can expect from the prestige format series.
Newsarama: Kurt, DC has finally announced a shipping date for Batman: Creature of the Night. The art and solicitation description both make this sound much darker than Superman: Secret Identity was…?
Busiek: Well, it’s Batman. Not the familiar DCU Batman, but it’s a take on Batman. So naturally, it’s going to be darker. Superman is essentially an optimistic story, but Batman’s a story of obsession and a dark crusade for justice. So it’s not a cheery place to go, into the heart of what makes a Batman tick.
Nrama: It sounds like it's almost the opposite approach - where the Clark Kent character in Superman: Secret Identity didn't like Clark, this Bruce loves Batman. Is that an accurate description?
Busiek: Sure. The Clark Kent of Secret Identity was someone who was named Clark on a lark, and who has suffered ever since from people who make jokes about his name, so naturally, the whole idea of Superman grates on him. It’s been an annoyance his whole childhood. But the Bruce in Creature of the Night - Bruce Wainwright - was thrilled to discover that there was a superhero with a name a lot like his, and he became an instant fan of Batman, and has collected Batman comics and memorabilia since he was very young. Our Clark was someone who got a Superman connection dumped on him, while our Bruce is someone who embraced a comics connection.
Nrama: Is it a case of "be careful what you wish for?”
Busiek: Not really, no - our Bruce would never wish for his parents to be murdered, or to spend his life fighting crime. It’s fun to pretend to be Batman, but who would want all the trauma that goes with it?
But, well, trauma doesn’t care if you want it or not. Trauma just happens. And while Bruce didn’t invite his trauma, his reaction to it is very much shaped by the fact that he’s a fan of Batman, and that his wish-fulfillment dreams are tied up in dreams of Batman.
So it’s not going to be the same story as Secret Identity because, at heart, it’s about Batman issues, and Batman issues and Superman issues aren’t the same kind of thing.
Nrama: What else can you tell fans about Batman: Creature of the Night?
Busiek: It’s really gorgeous - John Paul Leon has done beautiful, beautiful work on the book, and I’m just in awe of it. And it’s not going where you expect.
Superman’s a science fiction story, and a metaphor of adolescence, a dream of being a powerful, respected adult. Batman’s a horror story (or at the very least, a crime story), rooted in a child being confronted with the fact that the world’s not fair, determined to force it into being fair. We think of Superman as more of a kid’s character and Batman as darker and a bit more “adult,” maybe, but to my mind, Superman is about issues we wrangle with as a teenager, and Batman’s more primal, more about a child’s view of the world.
So Creature of the Night is about that horror, and about that child’s desire to force the world into safe, controlled patterns. But the world is too complex to force into being safe. And, as Secret Identity did, it’s about growing up and dealing with those issues as an adult. But it can’t hit the same patterns, because it’s about very different issues.
I don’t want to say much about the plot, because I hate giving away the surprises. But I feel like, for all that the story’s different, I’m in much the same position I was with Secret Identity. There, I had a story to tell, but Stuart Immonen elevated that story so much, with beautiful art, compelling storytelling and a rich humanity, that I had to up my game just to try to make the script able to play on the same level with the art. Here, in Creature of the Night, it’s the same kind of thing - a very different story and a very different look to the book, but John Paul Leon is bringing through so much mood and texture and darkness and humanity that I’ve got to make the story and the script something better than it was originally, just for it to be something that deserves the art.
I think readers will be in for a treat, in any case.
Nrama: Now that the Batman story is done in this thematic approach, does that mean you're writing a Wonder Woman story that follows this same thematic approach? (Or maybe another character?) Or at least have an idea for one?
Busiek: We’ve been working on this for years, and I’ll admit, during that time I’ve played around with the idea of doing a Wonder Woman project along similar lines, and even came up with the thematic core to it. And just recently some ways to play it out metaphorically suggested themselves. And it certainly wouldn’t be a bad time for a Wonder Woman project, commercially.
But all that said, I’ve never quite found the story it would need, and I’ve got enough trouble getting my other books done, that I really can’t add anything to my workload. And Batman: Creature of the Night is, at least at the moment, my last work-for-hire comics project. So at least for the near future, I’ll be concentrating on creator-owned work, not coming up with ways to do Secret Identity for an ever-longer list of DC heroes.
But I guess you never know, if I find the right story...
Nrama: Kurt, we talked about Astro City earlier this week, and now Creature of the Night. Anything else you're working on that you want to tell readers about?
Busiek: Aside from Astro City and Batman: Creature of the Night, the only project I’ve got in the works that I can talk about publicly is The Autumnlands, which I’m doing at Image with the absurdly-talented Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire. We’ve got two TPBs of that out, and are working on the third arc, but it’s been going a bit slow because I’ve been ill, and that’s slowed me down a lot. The downside to that is that we’re not ready to schedule The Autumnlands' third arc yet, but the upside is that you’re going to get a Beasts of Burden mini drawn by Ben, which is going to be just stunning. And we’ll get you more Autumnlands soon!
There’s some other stuff percolating, including one big announcement that should be made soon, but until it’s made, I got to stay schtum. So schtum I stay…