Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to explain the origin of Batman. But for the new middle-grade title Batman: Overdrive, the focus is on the origin of the Batmobile - a story that ends up spotlighting young Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred, his recovery from the death of his parents, and the earliest seeds of his life as a vigilante.
Written by DC Super Hero Girls author Shea Fontana and drawn by Marcelo Di Chiara, the book also features other familiar faces - like a young Selina Kyle - while also introducing new ones, like Bruce’s mechanic-minded friend Mateo.
But at the center of the story is the decision by Bruce to fix up his father’s favorite car before his own 16th birthday - an effort at freedom that any young person can understand. In the journey to find the parts he needs, he not only discovers a few friends along the way, but begins his transformation into the superhero readers already know he’ll become.
With the book hitting comic book stores on February 26 and other book outlets on March 4, Newsarama talked to Fontana to find out more about the idea behind the book’s car focus, why the author wanted to do a Batman story, and what else readers can expect from Batman: Overdrive.
Newsarama: Shea, how did you end up going from the material you’ve been doing for DC, like DC Super Hero Girls, to writing a middle-grade graphic novel about Batman?
Shea Fontana: When they announced the new middle-grade reader line, I was really excited about it. And they asked me what I wanted to do, and I had to say Batman, because Batman was really my first comic book love, and my first gateway into comics.
Nrama: So you were a Batman fan from a your age?
Fontana: Yeah, when I was a kid, the way I got started in comics - the first exposure I had to the comics world I had - was through the kiddie side with Batman: The Animated Series.
That’s really what got me started into the whole comic book world and where I started to learn about the characters and all of these incredible things that come with the comic books.
Nrama: So when you told DC you wanted to do a story about Batman, what kind of story were you pitching?
Fontana: I really wanted to do something that dealt with Bruce Wayne in his teenage years as he was newly dealing with the death of his parents - having an origin story that isn’t exactly an origin story, but it’s more the origin story of the Batmobile. And about how his first car - how he’s using that to connect with his father.
It was a really fun opportunity to dive into the Batman world after doing so much with DC Super Hero Girls, because I’ve always - since my earliest memories, I’ve definitely loved Batman and wanted to write him.
Nrama: Let’s go back to the focus on the car. You’re dealing with his guilt and grief in this book. Can you expand a little on how the car is part of that overall theme?
Fontana: So, in this story, Bruce Wayne finds, in his dad’s old car collection, this wreck of a car that his dad loved. And he starts trying to restore it and revamp it to the original condition that his dad had when he had it.
And through that process, he gets to know some new friends and he comes to realize that he can do even more than his dad did with the car. And via that, he’s going to even be able to be this vigilante/crime-solver detective guy.
To me, turning 16 and being able to get a car was such a turning point in my life, especially coming from a really small town - the freedom that a car allowed. So I really was thinking about Bruce Wayne in those terms, as a kid who has this guardian in Alfred who is probably, I would think, very overprotective of poor Bruce because of what happened to Bruce’s parents.
Bruce is a 15-year-old going on 16, where he really wants to start to feel what it is to have that freedom that we all want when we’re teenagers. And he’s kind of thinking about the future.
I thought the car was just a great representation of what freedom meant to Bruce.
Nrama: It’s interesting that so many of the middle-grade titles that DC is releasing utilize the idea of “figuring out who you are” while also exploring different DC characters in new, modern, youthful ways. What do you think of DC doing these middle-grade titles?
Fontana: I think the fun thing about me working with DC and the titles that they’ve been putting out is that they are all so different - I love the way the different authors have explored these characters in all-new ways.
And it is really fun to, as writers for children, to really see ourselves in those characters and put ourselves in those shoes and see how the characters have changed and become more modern.
I think especially when I first started thinking of Bruce Wayne - a Bruce Wayne who is currently 16 in 2020 - I really wanted to make him feel modern and feel like a kid that was born in 2004.
So I was thinking about how this version of Bruce Wayne has more computing power in his pocket than Adam West ever saw. You know?
It’s those amazing things we can do now with our Bruce Wayne, having him this young and having him in this modern world that wouldn’t have been possible with the Batman that we grew up with.
So yeah, it’s been really fun to explore, and I love all the middle-grade titles that are coming out from DC, and it’s really interesting to see how all the different authors explore these kind of universal themes of being a superhero and what it means to be a superhero - and what it means to just be a hero in the world, and going out and taking on this new identity and changing your world for the better.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the art on the book. You’re working with Marcelo Di Chiara. What does he bring to the book?
Fontana: He has such a great way of approaching the art. I love how he’s done the character designs of all the characters - particularly Bruce, of course, who has these amazing, brooding facial expressions throughout. You know, he’s always that kind of loner who needs friends but doesn’t want to expect them.
And then with our new character, Mateo, who’s brought to this world as a mechanic who knows all these incredible things about cars and is teaming up with Bruce to make the Batmobile - Marcelo has done so well with all these incredible new characters, as well as, like, doing the design of Catwoman, who we see as Selina Kyle in her youth in this graphic novel as well.
I love how the book has really just come alive through the art.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Shea, is there anything else you want to tell people about the book?
Fontana: I think what I love about this book, and what I really wanted to bring to it as I was writing it, was I wanted it to feel really like a throw-back, superhero kind of comics that we grew up with - really action-packed, really about solving the crime, but with the modern-day Bruce Wayne.
So that’s what I really want our readers to see in this book - that throw-back comic book feel, but still very modern and still very fun.