In Batman and Robin, the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son, Damian, has been at odds ever since the boy first showed up.
After all, Damian has been raised as a killer. And killing is the one line Bruce refuses to cross. The fact that they are not only co-crimefighters, but also father and son, just exacerbates the fact that they see things differently.
Writer Peter Tomasi and penciler Pat Gleason have been exploring those familial differences in the midst of a storyline that involves a new villain named Nobody. And because Bruce's relationship with this new villain goes back to his early days, the story arc has taken a markedly personal turn.
The father-and-son story is resonating with readers, who have made Batman and Robin one of the top-selling DC titles since the company's relaunch in September.
The series is also one of the titles that will be participating in "The Night of the Owls," the Batman crossover that will include Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Batman and Robin, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Batwing and Red Hood and the Outlaws.
Newsarama talked with Tomasi to find out more about the story he's exploring in Batman and Robin, and what readers can expect as the series heads into 2012.
Newsarama: Pete, the last issue, as we learned more about the background of Henri and Morgan Ducard, really highlighted the father-son themes you're exploring with this plotline, particularly the juxtaposition of the Morgan-Henri relationship and the Damian-Bruce relationship. How much did that theme inform the plot and villain in this arc, and will it continue to dominate the comic?
Peter Tomasi: From the get go, Vaneta, I wanted sort of a dueling banjos, so to speak, between what was going on between both sets of fathers and sons. So yes, it informed the first major arc of the series without a doubt.
As I've mentioned, this book, to me, is about the relationship between Bruce and Damian. It's always going to be the 'A' story. The 'B' story will always zero in on how best to push the dramatic boundaries and put them in situations that continue to explore the positive and negatives of their unusual family dynamic.
In regards to the villain, as much as Nobody/Morgan was pissed that Batman Inc. was stepping on his toes overseas, it was really just the catalyst for him to go back to Gotham and take on Bruce for what he perceives to be past transgressions. Faced with the fact that Bruce now had a son, it was only a matter of time before he decided to strike at Bruce's heart for reasons that will come into focus in Batman and Robin #6 next month.
Nrama: I have my theories about the answer to this question, but I'd like to hear your thoughts -- what do the fireflies represent in that final scene in Batman and Robin #4?
Tomasi: Hmm. I'd like to hear your theory, Vaneta, before I let the cat out of the bag.
Nrama: They seem to symbolize a tiny light in the darkness that surrounds him, probably a light within him. And when he squashes one, it's his choice to deny it. What were you thinking when you wrote it?
Tomasi: The fireflies in issue #4, in my mind, represented a lost innocence due to his upbringing. I see Damian as a very self-aware character. Also, I imagined he was referring to Dick Grayson in a subtle way, as someone who has never let the darkness in his life completely envelop him. There's a sense of envy and regret for a life he truly knows will always be just out of his reach simply because of who he is and how he got here. In other words deep stuff for simply squashing a firefly, huh?
Nrama: Yeah, but comics are always better with a little depth. What does Nobody represent to Damian right now?
Tomasi: At this juncture, Nobody represents a type of freedom for Damian. A freedom to connect to one's true self, a way to let the shadows of his soul take flight and stop hiding. Nobody is like the fun uncle without kids of his own who comes over and doesn't put you under a microscope, doesn't question your every move or thought for a few hours — isn't always critical and paternal, not as overbearing as a father who is with you day-in and day-out sometimes is.In other words, Nobody just lets him be.
But an important factor in that mix is that when the "fun uncle" leaves they're happy to be able to close the door and not have to deal with what it really means to be a father, someone who is there through thick and thin, good times and bad.
Nrama: There's quite a bit of irony in the fact that killing is what Damian does best, yet it's the one line that Bruce will not cross. You titled the first arc "Born to Kill," obviously referring to Damian, which we saw highlighted in issue #5 as his drawings were revealed to Bruce. Is this vast difference between them the type of thing that can ever be fixed? I mean, even a lot of fans wonder about Batman's refusal to kill. How will this difference between the characters continue to define the comic?
Tomasi: No matter how you cut it, it's sad when a 10-year-old's major strength seems to be killing. It is what he's best at, but I would like to show over the next year that maybe he can also be good at something else besides spilling blood, that there's more to be mined.
Damian's been programmed from birth to be a killer/warrior, hence the title of the first arc. Some readers have seemed to conveniently forget that fact and think that just because he gets three squares a day in a nice house with nice sheets that the programming he received will suddenly just dissipate overnight or within a year. Damian decapitated someone in his first issue or two when Grant first started on Batman — which I was editing at the time — along with many other moments of extreme violence he's been shown to perpetrate during the last few years. Ask a soldier back from two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan whether he's able to simply shut off the thoughts and terrors of violence once his boots hit the ground at home and get back to living a "regular life."
When it comes to Damian, we're talking about a character who didn't start an indoctrination at 18 while in boot camp, but almost literally right out of the "artificial" womb and has led anything but a regular life. Damian can't simply shut off who he is either. Bruce's ability to help quiet Damian's soul will take time. It's a steep learning curve, but it is one that has a great deal of dramatic potential as both father and son try and reach out to other and do the best they can under stressful conditions.
So to answer your question after blabbing away, yes, the difference in their beliefs will continue to be a factor, but not one that will always be front and center. I intend to show some growth in both of them, especially Damian.
Nrama: Damian chose Shakespeare's most violent (and revenge-inspired) play, Titus Andronicus, as the inspiration for the name he gave the dog. Is that because of the reference to the blood the dog will see, or is there more to it?
Tomasi: Naming Titus did boil down to simply being about the kind of life Damian envisioned the dog being exposed to. I see Damian as having been steeped in not just the killing arts, but also in the classics. Andronicus is Shakespeare's most violent play ( I actually played the role of Titus in a college play — I can still smell the blood soaked tunic that was sticking to my skin as I bandied about the stage — but no worries boys and girls, it was red food dye, Karo Corn syrup, flour and water) and it centers on the destruction of two families who are basically bathed in each others blood by the end.
Nrama: I know Damian left Titus behind in the last issue, but there's something very compelling about a boy and his dog. I get the feeling Damian's urge to kill animals like bats and fireflies will end up being overcome by the companionship of this dog. Am I guessing right? Will the dog come to represent more than just something to annoy Pat Gleason because he has to draw it?
Tomasi: You are guessing right in that regards, Vaneta. Damian and Titus will definitely be growing more attached to each other.Pat's annoyed, really? I thought he liked drawing Titus. Is he yapping behind my back?
Nrama: No, I just figured you were trying to annoy him. But maybe I'll ask him about it.
Tomasi: And a little tidbit for the readers, I originally was going to call the dog Ace, but it was decided that it was best not to drop it in at this point in the New 52.Nrama: As a parent myself, it has been striking to me — as I read Batman and Robin (and this last issue in particular) — how familiar the exchanges between Bruce and Damian feel, despite the extreme circumstances surrounding these two costumed heroes. To achieve this level of realism in their dialogue, are you drawing upon experience as a son? As a father? Or is that just something that comes with knowing these characters?
Tomasi: A combination of those things. Batman's always been my favorite character. He was the first Halloween costume I just had to have, and along with reading thousands of Batman comics and also having been the Batman Group editor, I can't help but feel tapped into them when I'm writing their dialogue — along with Alfred too, actually. I can't wait to do an all Alfred issue later on!
And being a father of a nine-year-old boy, and of course a son myself, it makes it even easier to step into both roles and have a distinct point of view from each perspective. When I'm writing Bruce he's right. When I'm writing Damian he's right. And Alfred, of course, is always right, every second of every day. It makes me happy to hear that the character interaction rings true on the paternal level.
Nrama: Bruce has been portrayed in the past as someone who has a strategy to win every battle. Does he view his differences with Damian as a battle he wants to win? Or is he starting to figure out there's more to it than "right" winning against "wrong?"
Tomasi: Let's face it, if you look at every interaction with your child as a battle that needs to be won or lost you've already lost. Bruce is smarter than that; he's learning as he goes, and he will find ways to connect to Damian as will Damian to Bruce.
Nrama: When will we find out what Bruce is keeping from Damian about Morgan? And is there anything you can tell us about that?
Tomasi: We'll find out what Bruce is keeping from Damian in Batman and Robin #6. There's not much I can say about it; it plays into the book's tone, keeping the personal stuff very grounded. It's not some earth-shattering secret. It's primal. It's real. And it's simple.
Nrama: With the introduction of the New 52 world, much of the characters' history has been eliminated. Yet that clean slate doesn't mean the characters have no past. How have you approached the chance to really explore the "new, rewritten" past of these characters, and how important is their past to the current storyline?
Tomasi: I wouldn't necessarily say that the history has been eliminated. There's been no edict passed down that says everything is dust. I think readers shouldn't get hung up on what's come before but look forward to what's heading their way. The past is prologue. Whether it's 75 years ago or five years ago. The mythology of Batman is all there to be played with in whatever way we see fit. All we need to do is make it fresh and new for readers if we decide to pull elements from the past.I approached the Ducard character with that in mind, writing him as if he was new, so that anybody picking up the book now didn't need to have any previous knowledge of the character or feel lost. I took a cool character and riffed on it by adding that he had a son and wife which I felt added a new dimension to his back-story and thereby his character, while in the process enriching my current story with a parallel story from Bruce's past that has reverberations in the here and now. That's what all writers have been doing since these icons have been introduced, adding another layer to the superstructure that's hopefully sound and pliable for the present and the future.
Nrama: We got a bit of Morgan's back-story as Bruce recorded a message to Damian, and some other books have highlighted new elements of the New 52 past. Will we see more of Batman and Robin's past revealed in the coming issues?Tomasi: As much as I'll be trying to add new elements, I'll also be looking at other ways I can riff on what's come before. I'm not going to put myself in a box when there's such a rich history to draw from if need be. If something from the past can help make a story better or if I can find a way to make it work organically, then I'm all for it.
Nrama: As you've continued your collaborative relationship with Pat Gleason, what has he brought to Batman and Robin since its relaunch?
Tomasi: Not much really, except I guess he's brought what I feel is some of the damn coolest looking Batman stories in a long time. When this arc is over I believe people will see just what a true talent he really is. As I've said before, his character work along with the way he's been playing tonally with blacks and choosing angles and compositions have been stupendous. I consider myself very lucky to have Patrick as a partner in crime on this series.
Nrama: There's certainly been plenty of action in this book, but the main plot revolves around relationships. How has Pat stepped up to meet the challenges of this type of relationship-focused comic?
Tomasi: I think like most artists, he gets better and better the more he draws, but if you look back on our run together on Green Lantern Corps, he was hitting home runs with all the character inter-relationships, even for the ones who were aliens. He always managed to wring the emotion out of a scene exactly as I saw it, and then took it to even greater highs on too many occasions to count.
Here on Batman and Robin, I think he's upped his game. All the personal stuff between Bruce And Damian in costume and out is great, and don't get me started on his Alfred scenes. Look through the issues, really see how he plays the emotions out — it's heartfelt and real.
I'd be remiss not to mention Mick Gray and John Kalisz, who are also part of the team, too. They're bringing so much to the book that it makes my head spin.
Nrama: What's coming up in issues #5, #6 and #7 as this storyline wraps up?
Tomasi: Actually, the storyline wraps up completely in #8. The remaining issues of the story are high-octane action with our characters put into some pretty compromising situations that will have ramifications as the series goes on.Other than that I don't wanna spoil too much. I do think people will look back at this first arc and see how integral it was to the Batman uber-story in the months to come.
Nrama: Before the first issue was released, you promised even more new villains. What kind of things can we expect in the future of Batman and Robin? What can we expect from Batman and Robin as it continues in 2012?
Tomasi: Starting in issue #10, I'll be keeping that promise with a whole bunch of cool and weird ass new villains. I'm a man of my word, damn it! Regarding the future, well, there's something so crazy coming up in a few months that it'll melt your eyes in your head once it gets announced!
Nrama: How is Batman and Robin going to be tying into the "Night of the Owls" crossover later this year, and what role in particular does Damian take in the conflict with the Court of Owls?
In Batman and Robin #9 we tie into Snyder's epic Night of the Owls story with an adventure I came up with that takes us to the outskirts of Gotham. If I ended up saying anything more, it would cause Scott to turn into a Talon and pay me a visit in the wee small hours of the morning. I just saw the cover by Pat today and it's awesome, and all I can say about Damian and the Court of Owls story, is that he has his hands full in issue #9 and leave it at that.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Pete, is there anything else you want to tell readers about Batman and Robin?
Tomasi: A big thanks to all the readers out there who are enjoying the series!
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