Writer James Tynion IV is no stranger to the streets of Gotham City. After writing the backup features in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, he had stints on Talon and Red Hood and the Outlaws, was one of the lead writers on the weeklies Batman Eternal and Batman and Robin Eternal, and most recently wrapped up the crossover that finally let readers know whether Batman likes pizza, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Now, after all that time navigating the back alleys of the DC Universe’s shadiest city, Tynion is getting his shot on the title that Bruce Wayne debuted in, and the comic that gave the company its name, Detective Comics. As part of DC’s Rebirth initiative, the historic title is returning to its original numbering, beginning with #934, which is in stores now. The issue saw Batman recruit the help of Batwoman to train the next generation of Gotham heroes, which includes Tim Drake, aka Red Robin; Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler; Cassandra Cain, aka The Orphan; and, oddly enough, Basil Karlo, aka Clayface.
I spoke with the writer about #934 and next Wednesday’s #935, and we discussed the new Bat-team, the pressure of the triple digits, his influences, and the book’s terrifying new villain, Colony. Read on to find out all about the thrilling new stories coming up in Detective Comics, and for an advanced look at art from #935.
You’re one of the few writers of DC Rebirth that isn’t starting with a measly #1 issue. Is this more or less pressure than if it were a Detective Comics #1?
That’s a really good question. Honestly … you know what, it’s more pressure, because of the simple fact that a number one gets a special bit of attention on the comics stands these days. That was a worry going into it when they first told me that they wanted to do this, that they wanted go back to the classic numbering, the selfish little part of me was like, “That’s gonna sell less than a number one!” But you know what, I think it’s a testament to the promo art that went out there, and DC’s whole team, that our book did very well. People seem very excited, so I didn’t have to worry there.
In terms of, on a psychological level, the weight of the classic numbering, the weight of #934 is really something special. I’ve been reading over a lot of older Batman stories recently, stuff from the '70s and '80s in particular, just refreshing some of the greats, especially the lesser-known greats. Those are the stories I’ve been digging into recently, and just seeing, like, Detective #550-whatever, I am in a direct line from this moment back to that book, back all the way to Detective #27. And that’s something that’s pretty damn special.
And then, on top of that, if people enjoy this book—and DC enjoys this book—and it keeps going on a bi-weekly schedule, three years from now I could be writing Detective #1000. And that’s something I can’t pass up. I can’t not fight for issue 1000. So that’s definitely a real goal that I’m going to need to shoot for. It’s a huge honor. A huge honor.
Especially since the last person to do the book in the classic numbering was Scott Snyder, one of my best friends and mentors. I’m about to hop in the car and head out to his place and talk about the next year of stories. I remember sitting and talking through each of those issues with him before I’d even become published as a comic writer, and now here I am on the other side of 52 issues of the New 52, and I am the one writing the book. And there’s something really magical to that.
And the run right before Scott’s was the first run of Batwoman as a solo character, who you’re now bringing back to Detective. At least visually, there are definitely cues that Eddy Barrows has been taking from J.H. Williams III’s take on the character. Are you taking also taking inspiration from his run with Greg Rucka going forward?
Oh absolutely. That run of Batwoman is one of the great Gotham comics of the modern era. I am very much trying to do that series honor as I’m moving forward doing this book.
But in addition to that, my influences on this book are varied. I would say each character and each relationship in the book has a different root. Like, the most powerful connection I ever had to Tim Drake was probably in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans. I think the most powerful relationship I ever had to Stephanie Brown was in the classic Chuck Dixon Robin series. I think the most powerful relationship I ever had to Clayface was in Batman: The Animated Series. And then with Cassandra Cain, The Orphan, who was Batgirl in the old continuity, it was the big Bat-family crossovers like No Man’s Land that started sprinkling her in and then the bigger one for me was Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, which is the one where she’s finally brought in on the secret of Batman’s identity. And that was where I fell in love with that character.
So every character comes from a different place of Batman lore, and I want to bring them together and try to make a new classic era for all of them to operate in together.
Something that struck me as I read these first two issues is that you seem to be tackling a common criticism of Batman, which is his use of “child soldiers,” especially with Batwoman playing the role of “drill sergeant.” Leslie Thompkins even takes a jab at Batman in #935 for “getting teenagers involved.” What made that a theme that you wanted to explore in this run?
I mean, there’s always been the theme of war in Batman comics. “The War on Crime” in particular is the mission. It goes back to a lot of language that I think comes from Frank Miller’s tenure on the character. But getting a chance to explore the upsides and the downsides—not the upsides of child soldiers [laughs]—but the idea for young people, particularly in a representational medium like superheroes where we don’t need to get bogged too heavily down in reality, there is the aspirational level of a teenager who wants to rise up and do something better for the world around them, and actually being able to embrace the positive light of that.
But there is the counter to it, which is that this is a war, they are being put in the role of soldiers, and they might not be ready for it. Which is part of why they need to train in the way that they are training, and it’s also part of the reason why Batman has never done something like this before. And we’re going to see the seeds of that in this first arc, but that’s going to be one of the major things that comes out of this first arc and into the second. Everyone’s going to have to wait and see exactly how, but trust me in that that is a very deliberate theme of this book, and it’s something that will be explored.
It seems like that theme even extends over to the villains too, with the Colony, who seem to be a very heavily militarized group. They’re even using vehicles that are reminiscent of the Dark Knight trilogy’s Tumbler, and their armor looks a lot like the Arkham Knight’s. A lot of that military aesthetic has been played up in other media, is that something you’re drawing from?
Oh yeah. I’m definitely taking inspiration from heavily-militarized bat-tech, just because for one, as a fanboy it’s fun to see Bat-Tanks. At the end of the day, that’s just cool, and I want to see a Bat-Tank in my comics. And there’s definitely a lot of little pieces like that that we’re going to see moving forward.
The whole concept of Colony comes from the idea of it being an “army of Batmen.” That is the core of the idea. They’ve been operating in secret in the DCU for a while and they were actually inspired by Batman. Because when Batman first emerged on the scene in Zero Year in the current continuity, one man did what the military could not. And if you think that wouldn’t suddenly influence a whole new generation of generals and soldiers to try and replicate it, that’s crazy.
So that’s really the heart of this. It’s the different legacies of Batman. It’s how when someone takes the legacy of Batman and tries to build something out of it, it’s whether that’s a good thing, or something really, truly dangerous. And that’s really what we want to explore here.
Is Colony the primary antagonist going forward, or are you going to be using older Batman villains or more new creations?
Especially because, as announced, All-Star Batman is going to play with a lot of the big classic Bat-villains, and because there are plans for other ones that are going to come in on the main Batman book, at least for the start I am going to be playing with new creations, though the new creations may have ties to older figures. There’s an old nineties Bat-character that only deep-dive Bat-fans are going to remember, and he shows up in I think the fourth issue, and I was very, very thrilled when I got the chance to play with him.
So there’s a lot of fun to be had in this book. I think people are going to be very interested to see what we do with the villains moving forward because it’s a mixture of new and old in every arc in a way that I don’t think I can explain without spoiling. So everyone is just going to have to wait and see.
You have both Red Robin and Clayface, who are interesting recruits against the “war on crime,” with Tim wanting to go off to college and Clayface wanting to return to acting. Then you have that contrasted with Cass and Steph, who both seem a lot more eager to be participating in this. How much tension is it going to cause with the former two not wanting to abandon the fight, but still wanting to have lives outside this team?
With Clayface I see it less as wanting to get out of this life, and more him being willing to do whatever it takes in order to achieve what he thinks is possible. He wants a better life, so he’s willing to fight for it, and he’s willing to fight for it by Batman’s side.
With Tim Drake you have a character who is trying to figure out his place in Gotham in the future and in the past and in the present. That’s something we’re going to be diving into in this arc really clearly, is really digging into his relationship with Batman, his role in the city and what makes him unique. And what makes him decide what his future is going to be, whether it involves capes and cowls at all or if it’s something entirely different. That’s a story that I’m really excited to tell.
It’s the same with Spoiler and Cass. I think Cass—Orphan—is a character who was built for—literally designed for—this fight, and she was designed to be a part of it from the other side. And the hardest thing for her is just trying to find any sense of normalcy. Honestly it’s hard for her to even want that normalcy. She would skip a human interaction in order to go help people, and that’s something that we will be playing with.
Then with Spoiler it’s a different story, where she didn’t come into this with a great love of Batman, she came into the life of a costumed vigilante as a sort of counterpoint to her father, who was an extremely dangerous villain in our first Batman Eternal story. We’ll see her kind of struggle at moments with the fact that Batman does ask a lot people, and gets them into very dangerous situations. She might have a little bit more of a struggle with that than people see, but she wants to be out there making a difference. I think she’s more willing to question, because she doesn’t worship at the feet of Batman. Batman is as much of a reason for her life becoming like this as anything else. Cluemaster kind of ripped apart her life, and it was because he was going after Batman, and she was caught in the middle. Therefore I think she can be a little more skeptical of Batman, but I think she almost believes more in the Bat-family than she does in Batman, and we’ll see more what that means moving forward. I’m really excited about all of these relationships though, and I think there’s a lot of potential moving forward for a really great story.
Of course I have to ask you about the art team on these issues, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, and Adriano Lucas whose work on these first two issues is absolutely gorgeous. What’s the collaboration with them been like, and what is the art team going to look like going forward with the biweekly schedule?
We have interchanging art teams, we have Eddy and Eber on these first couple of issues and then we’ll switch over to Alvaro Martinez and Raúl Fernández as the artists on the middle section of this arc, and then we’ll come back to Eddy and Eber at the end. But honestly, this whole story, every page of it is just phenomenal. The thing that I think people are going to see is that every issue has that stunning, “oh my god, that’s so cool” moment. And that was something that I wanted and hoped for, and just to see how both teams have so wildly outstripped my greatest expectations is something truly special. I can’t wait for people to see. I can’t pick my favorite page, I can’t pick my favorite issue. There are amazing moments in all of them. Just wait until you see the first page of issue three, or until you see the huge spread in issue four, until you see the really climactic scenes in issue six. One of the benefits of working so far ahead on a bi-weekly book is that I’ve seen a lot of art from issues that are still a ways from coming out, and you guys are in for something special. Every day I get art in for these books is a phenomenal day.