When Brian Michael Bendis made the move to Marvel, he surprised DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio when he wanted to work on Superman out of the gate, before Batman. But DiDio held a special Batman for Bendis, and that would be for DC’s 100-Page Giants sold through Walmart. Each issue is an anthology of different stories reprinted from different eras, as well as a new story made in the present day, and in continuity. Like the other DC Giants, the Batman Giant fills Walmart racks, found in the trading card section of the store, on a bi-monthly basis. DC Comics hopes that the exposure in Walmart stores will lure in readers who have never read a comic before.
Beginning with Batman Giant #3, Bendis and Doom Patrol artist Nick Derington will bring the modern portion of the anthology. Their first issue will hit Walmart stores by this weekend. In all, they’ll produce a dozen 12-page stories that will feature the modern story that isn’t written down to a specific audience, but it will entertain all ages, even if it requires some to level up.
“I tackle this assignment like I tackle almost all mainstream superhero work,” beamed Bendis. “That is, I follow the Bible of Stan Lee. You don’t write down to people, you write to inspire them. And it’s my job as the storyteller to make you want to come back next issue. That applies directly to this job and what Walmart and DC are hoping to get out of it, which is new readers from new fans and fans of the characters who may only know them from other mediums and not from the wonder of comics.”
Like many, Derington grew up on the Tim Burton Batman film, then Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animated Series, which came shortly after. The show quickly became his decade-long obsession: “There’s even an ethos to that show and design quality, which was a huge deal to me. I almost feel guilty to say that it probably influenced me more than the several longboxes of Batman books I have.” Being able to draw Batman is fulfilling a lifelong dream — and he has the backs of old homework pages, filled with sketches of Batman and his rogues gallery, to show as proof.
“I’m so familiar with this world, but it’s funny, Bendis’ take totally threw me for a loop. When you think of Batman you think of the dark Gotham world," Derington said. "But when we first started talking about it, we went through the list of great graphic novels and he said that’s been done, that’s been done… Nope, we’re going to subvert expectations. He said, 'I think I’m going to take Batman out of Gotham and take him on this great cosmic adventure.'”
Bendis is taking a tour of the DCU with Batman, heading out to space with Green Lantern, crossing paths with Hawkman, teaming up with Green Arrow, and even running into the likes of Vandal Savage and visiting Gorilla City. “There’s so much Green Lantern in this series that it almost turned into a Brave and the Bold situation that I had to kick him out,” Bendis said, smiling.
“I was given, challenged with this assignment just as I was really entering the deepest part of my research of the DC universe getting ready for Superman and the other projects we have coming out very soon,” Bendis teased. “So many DC places and people. I was now surrounded by people and things that I wanted to write and also wanted to know what it would feel to write, and I also wanted to know if I was any good at. So I thought of structuring a story that started us in Gotham but then took us on a road trip, a travelogue of places I wanted to visit but that also would bring the most out of the character and his quest.”
As SYFY WIRE’s exclusive preview pages show, the story starts out in the first-person perspective, which is a product of Bendis playing Batman VR on PlayStation.
“I thought about a lot of readers first experiencing Batman through the Arkham Asylum games,” Bendis said. “There are people who have viscerally experienced what it’s like to be Batman before they’ve actually read a Batman mystery. So I thought I would start where I left off with Batman and where I thought some other people would also be with Batman, which is in his skin; then, from there, we branch out.”
Derington added, “Since this is the Walmart Batman, we’re going to introduce all of these weird DC ideas to new readers that the average person won’t know from the average Batman.”
Doing Batman can be psychologically different than other characters, because so many creators have done their most memorable work on the character. Surely Batman has been in the heads of Bendis and Derington since they were young, as well as the legacy and what would be the first Batman story they’d do, especially Bendis after his move from Marvel.
“I’ve thought more about not doing Batman than I have thought about doing that," Bendis said, “and part of it was because so many people have made their greatest art with Batman that it seems like an impossible task. But in reality that’s supposed to tell me that that’s what Batman is for.
“I read this great quote by Frank Miller, who said Batman is one of the few things in pop culture that you can throw anything at and it would still be Batman. You can make it as silly or as scary as you want and it's still Batman. It’s kind of fascinating. That freed me spiritually to pursue my own voice with the character and not worry about the legacy of the damn thing. All the other franchises I worked on, and I never felt this way. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Artistically, it’s an intimidating process, too. Derington studied up on all of the great Batman stories and saw the long legacy of artists doing interpretations, re-interpretations, and deconstructions of what Batman is and what he can look like.
“When we first start out, he’s in the trunks, the gray classic body suit, the leather cowl, boots, and gloves. It strips down all the pieces and parts and gave me less to work with, in a way," Derington shared. "It’s technically in continuity, so I didn’t want to go off and go too weird with it. I have a unique and quirky drawing style, but you have to figure out how much house style there’s going to be and how much unique vision. But there’s lots of cool Batman gadgets, vehicles, and costumes that I get to design in this story, because of all the places we go.”
As for the increasing demand for the Walmart DC's 100-Page Giants as customers are finding out they're tough to track down in certain markets, Bendis feels this is a part of the fun. "It's bringing back the hunt," Bendis reminisced. "Remember when we used to have to hunt for a specific issue? This is part of the fun we're bringing back. Some may find it a pain, but if the worst-case scenario is that DC has to print more, so be it, we'll print more!"
The DC Batman Giant #3 will be in Walmart stores by this weekend. Check out SYFY WIRE's exclusive three-page preview below.