Go inside DC's Batman Who Laughs, Evil Batmen, and The Wild Hunt with James Tynion IV

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Sep 3, 2019, 8:21 AM EDT (Updated)

Ever since DC Dark Nights Metal began, one of the biggest draws was the creation of the evil Batmen, or Dark Nights. What's not to like? These are Bruce Wayne's greatest fears of himself manifested and born in the Dark Multiverse. But the main story of Metal was far too big to contain everything that Metal fans craved. So DC created a one-shot story for each mysterious Dark Night, and they are essential, wickedly fun tastes of the Dark Multiverse that add the backstory to what the DCU is up against.

Like Joshua Williamson with the Metal crossovers, writer James Tynion IV (Detective Comics) worked closely with Scott Snyder, the grand architect of the Metal event and coordinated the evil Batmen one-shots, and penned the most frightening one, The Batman Who Laughs, which is out at local comics shops and digital today. He is also co-writing the penultimate chapter of the Metal saga called The Wild Hunt that will feature the evil Batman chasing down the DCU's last chance for resistance as they race across the Multiverse and Dark Multiverse looking for reinforcements. We spoke with Tynion IV about his role in Metal, evil Batmen, and The Wild Hunt.

James, you've been there from the beginning. What did you think of Metal when Scott pitched it to you?

James Tynion IV: Being a part of Metal is honestly something I am incredibly proud of. I remember going all the way back almost two years ago, the first time I was out in Long Island visiting Scott. We went out to a diner to lay out what he wanted to do. We knew we were building to an event. He said to me, "I want it to be called Metal, I want it to be crazy, like Batman with battle axes, riding a Joker dragon."

I was like, what the hell are you talking about? [Laughs] Honestly, but it was so right. It felt like the thing we needed to tap into. He and I talked a lot about his Batman run in particular, not going down the same path. It was finding new paths and finding the most exciting ways to do it. Specifically in Zero Year, he did the origin of Batman, but rather than do the grounded origin of Batman, Snyder made his first adventure a post-apocalyptic city adventure where he's wrestling lions and fighting skeleton monsters. At the heart of it there's still this powerful emotional core. That's always been the thru-line for Scott. As long as you have this emotional core, you can take things to the extreme. You can go really, fricking crazy with him


You've worked with all of the creative teams of the Evil Batmen one-shots, coordinated their release and helped create the stories. Can you take us inside that process?

We developed it a lot together. I talk to Scott pretty much everyday. We spent a long time talking about our love of the DCU, our desire of what we would do if we had all of the pieces, being able to play with everything. How would we create daring new crazy things for that universe? That's where we got the Dark Multiverse, that's where we got these evil Batmen, the Dark Nights. This story developed from the excitement of wanting to unleash ourselves on the DC Universe, and tell a story that was deeply personal but was also the craziest, most over the top fun thing you could imagine. Starting with the one-shots, The Forge and The Casting, I think we were able to tap into that.

So moving forward we had all of these crossovers. We knew we were building from Gotham Resistance and Bats Out of Hell, and ultimately the Dark Night specials. At the very beginning, we wanted every tie-in to Metal to be important. If you read the six issues of Metal, you got a complete story; if you read every tie-in and one-shot, we wanted to reward you for it. We wanted the stories to matter, to move the story forward. They show us new depths to the mythology we're playing with.

Often in events there is so much going on you don't get enough in a one-shot, yet with these one-shots, you're getting the added weight and these over-the-top dark tales. Talk about constructing these one-shots and where you found that emotional core for each.

That's the key right there. It is something we needed to talk to the writers about at first because they're so over-the-top. They look so big and crazy that the temptation is to lean into how they look, that you would write the Devastator as some kind of brute, the Murder Machine with a kind of blank robot voice, and the Merciless would talk like a god-type characters with the "Thees" and "Thous."

From the very beginning, the readers know in each of these stories that this is Bruce Wayne. Not a version of Bruce so twisted, this is Bruce Wayne that went down one of the real dark paths that our Bruce has worried that he might have the potential for one day. That's what gives it the emotional gravity. Murder Machine tapped so deeply into his relationship with Alfred and the mutual blindness that they have for each other. Alfred is in many ways been a protective enabler of Bruce's entire Batman career. In this moment that he loses Alfred, losing another parent figure would pull him so much into the dark side, that in chasing that feeling he would lose himself. Each one is a different fear of Batman losing himself. As long as each of them hit that beat, that moment of fear and tap into that core emotion, then you could get away with anything. That was the next level of the puzzle, in working with these writers and artists.

In this spirit of Metal itself, we needed over-the-top, crazy Metal s**t happening in each of these issues [laughs]. It is about the reverent fun in that. At the end of the day The Murder Machine is a deeply tragic story but at the end of the day it's the story about a bunch of robot butlers taking over Detroit. [Laughs] There's something silly and over-the-top in that and that's the benefit of this medium and true to the comic spirit. You can have fun and you can do things that do seem over-the-top but as long as you ground them you can get away with it.


What's one of your favorite moments that we've seen so far?

One of my favorite beats in any of the Dark Nights Specials is the first one, The Red Death, and this was all Joshua Williamson's idea, where Batman straps Barry Allen to the Batmobile and is racing into the speed force. That's one of the coolest sentences I've ever heard and it was like, Yeah! That needs to be in the book. It gives each of the books a unique flavor, it makes each of these books special and we worked very hard to make sure each of them gives a real gut punch. Fans of Batman and the mythology that these stories tap into will see something referential to something they love but also not afraid to go insane and that is the Metal spirit.

On the surface of Murder Machine is this battle with robot Alfreds, but there's also this great moment between Vic Stone and his father, this great Cyborg moment.

I had a lot of fun working with Frank Tieri on nailing each emotion in the issue down. That was something from the very beginning that was absolutely key was the relationship between Victor Stone and his father Silas, is a troubled relationship. They've had issues in the past, but at the same time, in a moment of crisis, they are father and son. It's that feeling that all fathers must feel that you must protect your child at all costs. That's ultimately what destroys Batman and sends Cyborg down this strange path in life. Being able to place that mirror on both ends of the story, it's just wonderful when a story lines up like that.


The Batman Who Laughs is the one-shot that you've written and we've seen him in Gotham Resistance, and bits and pieces in Metal. Share with us how you constructed this story, because it looks like it's the darkest one of them all.

JT: Honestly, it's funny talking about this right now because we're doing the final touches on the lettering for it, so I've been deep inside The Batman Who Laughs headspace the last few days. This story is one of the most terrifying things I've ever written. For what happens in it, there are some gleeful horror in it, it's a horrifying issue in a lot of ways. At the end of the day, in the Dark Multiverse, these are the Batmen who could never be. These are all Batman's darkest nightmare and deepest fears taken shape. The Batman Who Laughs is the worst of them, a being of human horror.


What is his story?

JT: It starts with Joker finally pushing Batman to the absolute edge, and Batman does the one thing he would never do and kills the Joker. But the Joker has one last laugh, in his final breath, he releases a nano virus to infect Bruce's mind. It was always meant to be that whoever kills the Joker, becomes the new Joker. It's not about driving him crazy, because the Batman Who Laughs isn't crazy, he's this force of irrepressible evil.

He knows how to defeat every single person that comes face-to-face with him. He has Bruce Wayne's incredible mind, a genius and master planner, but what happens to him is that the moral center of his brain is ripped out of him. Batman would find the most efficient way to not kill them. The Batman Who Laughs finds a way to hurt the most people because he can, he can figure out that exact path. Because of that, he becomes this horrifying devil that's been haunting Metal from the beginning. We see he's the darkest knight, scraped from the bottom of the Dark Multiverse, inflicted on our world thanks to Barbatos. It's terrifying getting into his head, frankly.


You guys chose some really interesting supporting characters to carry Metal through. We have Dr. Fate, Detective Chimp, Plastic Man and others. With all of the characters at your disposal, where did these characters come up as the ones you wanted to build around?

JT: Each of them entered the story in a different way. We didn't start at the beginning with a list of lesser known DC characters that were going to elevate the story. We came at it bit by bit and let the story guide us. For Detective Chimp, we first made the decision to use the Oblivion Bar as a setting to be a transitory base that the resistance is using against Barbatos. So then came the decision to use Detective Chimp, and if we were using him, that affords us to go really deep that we can tap into.

Honestly, Detective Chimp is going to be the emotional heart of the February tie-in issue, The Wild Hunt. He's sort of our focal character in that. That came out of the process of developing that. That's been the special thing about Metal, it's been a collaborative process.

The heart of the story has stayed the same, what Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are going through over the course of these six issues, we knew what we wanted from the beginning. In terms of the side players, first we thought about the characters who had ties to Nth Metal or other heavy metals of the DC Universe, but then we extrapolated from there and got Plastic Man, Mr. Terrific, Deathstroke and Steel. So we have these characters that are not necessarily the central heroes of the DC Universe but are part of the larger mystery that show touches of every corner of the DC Universe. Part of the fun has been allowing that mystery to unfold even among ourselves as we continue to build and brainstorm, seeing further connections that weren't apparent before and allowing that to bolster the story. This is always true when you're writing something on this scale.

You know the core emotional arcs of the story but in the side characters, there's a kind of harmony that at first it sounds like a bunch of discordant notes and it all comes together into something whole and finding those moments with these characters has been an incredible thing.

At the end of the day DC Characters can tap into some larger than life beings that some characters over at Marvel can't always hit. Some of them do. But some of Marvel's characters are more grounded, more human at Marvel and here there's something aspirational at DCU. Being able to attack the aspirational DC Universe with its deepest fears it opens up stories for literally every character. That's what we've found, every time a character wanders into Metal, we find the heart of that character in terms of the story and the story as a whole grows.


We're still two two months away from The Wild Hunt, which you're co-writing with Scott and will released in-between Metal #5 and #6, coming out. What can you share with us about what's going down in that story?

Well, in its most basic terms, it's the Dark Nights hunting the last band of resistance. From our core DC Universe to the Dark Multiverse. We've got Flash, Cyborg, Raven and Detective Chimp heading into the Multiverse for help and this is the Dark Nights going to stop them. This is the darkest moment in Metal, right before the epic finale. This is the lowest moment for our heroes and last chance, the last bit of hope these characters have to push back. In a story about a new part of the DC cosmos, we've been very centered on our world, Earth 0, the heart of the DC Multiverse and we're going to widen the lens.

This special serves as the cap stone to all of the crossovers to this point. Raven comes out of Gotham Resistance, Detective Chimp comes out of core Metal, Flash and Cyborg comes out of Bats Out of Hell, and we're going to see them reaching out to find the last hope and play with the Morrison Multiverse, which is really fun to play with.

What's the future of the Dark Multiverse? Are we just scratching the surface here, will it be left alone or as a creator do you want to explore it further?

I definitely think that the Dark Multiverse is a part of the DC cosmos that's going to stay. In the immediate future, one of the New Age of Heroes titles, Sideways, we're going to have Grant Morrison come in on the second arc to help because once Scott explained everything about the Dark Multiverse, Grant wanted to play in it. It opens up a lot of doors for new stories. One of the limiting things in the last few decades in DC Comics, when the Multiverse returned, it wasn't an infinite Multiverse where any story could happen. There was a set number of worlds where things could happen. The thing that the Dark Multiverse adds back in is the unset multiverse, the idea that all of these roiling possible worlds that can defy logic, that can break every rule of narrative or character for the core icons of the DCU and having that tool back in the mix is not going away anytime soon.

One of the core ideas of the Dark Multiverse is that everything we know of the Multiverse is just the surface of an ocean. That ocean is deep and dark and frightening beneath it, but now that we only know about the surface, everything we know about the DC cosmos is like a grain of sand of something much larger. So much of the DC cosmology has been explored in so many different titles that we wanted to unhook that. We wanted to say that this is the exciting new era of discovery that spurs out of Metal. That is the spirit we want to take forward. We want big, crazy, new stories that tap into the hearts of the characters as we know and love them but do things you'd never expect, introduce new concepts that create new ways of looking at the DCU and that's the challenge we've given ourselves moving forward and I'm really excited to meet that challenge.

The Batman Who Laughs is out now at your local comic shop and on digital. You can check out the first five pages below. The Wild Hunt comes out February 14, 2018.

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