Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27 and has since captured the hearts and minds of comic readers for eight decades. With the recent release of Detective Comics #1000, the versatility of Batman and the power of his presence and mythology are on display, as it only takes a few pages in the hands of some of the top comic talent to give readers a taste of the different sides to Batman and his world that make him so beloved after all this time.
We've already spoken to Denny O'Neil about his return to "Crime Alley," as well as Jim Lee, Neal Adams, and Becky Cloonan as she sketched Batman for us while talking about it, but we were able to catch up with several more contributors to go in-depth about their contributions to the landmark anthology issue, including Peter Tomasi (Batman and Robin, Detective Comics), Tom King (Batman), Joelle Jones (Batman, Catwoman), Scott Snyder (New 52 Batman, All-Star Batman), and Greg Capullo (New 52 Batman), as well as discuss seminal Batman works that shaped their careers and creative processes.
Do any of you feel the significance while coming up with your story?
Tomasi: Without a doubt. It wasn't pressure like "Oh my God" as much as it was "Let's bring it." To be able to do Action Comics #1000 in one year and now do Detective Comics #1000, 10-year-old Pete Tomasi is like "Whoaaaaaa!" It's an honor and privilege where the stars aligned that I could do both of these #1000 issues, and the lead story on both, too. For Detective #1000, It was really cool to work with an old pal, Doug Mahnke, a friend I have known for 25 years, since I was an editor on the Lobo/Mask crossover.
King: I feel like I could bulls*** you, because I was in Action #1000 and Detective #1000 too, which makes no sense to me as a human being that I would achieve my dreams and be in those things, but it's also just a coincidence of history. I was just the guy who was here when they got within that number. The fact that Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, or Frank Miller are not in the book doesn't mean I'm a better writer, so it's not an accomplishment as much as it is math.
How did you come up with the idea for your story?
Tomasi: I took a step back and asked, "How do I introduce Arkham Knight and make him interesting?" So I started to write in his voice and said, "You know what, I should do it in his perspective and look at Batman as a 'bad man,'" a villain to the Arkham Knight, as you'll see the story arc continues. It's still sort of celebratory, because it's a journey through Batman's past; I made it a point to put all of these generational touchstones, and have some new ones there to tell younger readers that "You're part of this too."
King: I write Batman that's currently in the throes of despair; Batman is left at the altar; Batman falling apart between Issues #50-75, he's in free-fall, basically, and I got this opportunity to do Detective #1000, and I'm just going to do the opposite [laughs]. I'm going to take a break from telling stories about how Batman can't be happy and tell a story about him being happy, and what makes him happy is his family. How Batman solved his greatest case, which was how do you come back from loss? You build a family, not necessarily by getting married or having a children, but by finding the people you love, supporting them and have them support you.
Snyder: I wanted to do something that celebrated the tradition of the book, which started before Batman, that started with Slam Bradley and a whole bunch of other detectives. To show that Batman is one in a long line of detectives that represent this amazing endeavor to solve mysteries that empirically lead to more mysteries and will continue to go on. I wanted something to make him feel young again, I wanted to introduce him to this guild that tells him, "You think you've been doing this for 80 years or whatever, but you're really just at the start." Detection is what makes us human, trying to solve the great mysteries even when you never know if you will. The hardest thing is coming up with something the World's Greatest Detective can wrestle with.
Let's talk about the unique part of each story. Peter, yours and Doug's story is the last and main story; Greg and Scott, yours is the first in the anthology; Tom and Joelle, your story has a warm and hopeful side.
Jones: When I read the script I was struck by that feeling too, and so it's as easy to jump in and do the visuals to complement what was happening on Tony's side. I hope I accomplished it in a way that it was a good balance. It was super rewarding, and I'm just glad I didn't have to draw all the Bat-family characters like he did [laughs].
King: I love writing comedy. I love writing those scenes; the next Batman #68 (out April 10) is Batman dealing with "Knightmares," and he flashes back to the bachelor and bachelorette story. It's Lois and Selena getting their drunk on in the Fortress of Solitude and Bruce and Clark hanging out in the mansion, drawn by Amanda Conner. That's my favorite stuff to write, even though I write darkness and sadness.
Jones: It's one of Tom's real strengths, and so is knowing how to extract great art from artists, because he's able to write to different artists and is adaptable to know the strong suits. For me, I do acting moments, the slow, dramatic scenes, and he guessed that I'm pretty good at the emo stuff, I guess [laughs]. There's something so iconic about drawing Bruce at his parents' graves in a cemetery.
Tomasi: When you look at the splash pages that Doug did, and pull all the text out, you could view it as celebratory, but once you put that special perspective, it changes it, which is what's great about comics. Just the simple addition of that text copy changes the whole story. I told Doug in the opening page of the script to make sure he knew the reason for all of this, so he knew that Batman should be brutal-looking and doing a lot of crazy stuff. It was really important to make sure that first story of this arc was from that distinct Arkham Knight perspective.
Capullo: If you look at what Scott did with "Court of Owls," he takes something familiar and well known and you think you know this inside and out, and then he turns it on its head.
Snyder: You're giving away my formula!
Capullo: Yeah, but you're the originator! The others are imitators!
What character trait, method, or quality of Batman challenged you as a reader?
Tomasi: I like him out of Gotham, I like him in outer space. You could do him in a romance, a straight comedy and get away with it. You could transpose him into all of these different genres, which they weren't afraid to do. To only have him in crime and in Gotham gets boring after a while. Also, if we don't have Batman succeed once in a while, he's a loser. With Detective #999 it feels like Batman only wins when he gets to absolute zero, he's winning the war. It may seem like it will take forever, but he's going to keep doing it.
Jones: Is he always so moping? Is he always so serious and grim? Does he have any fun? I can't come up with anything, but everyone else around him is having fun. If I had to write him, I don't know what to say, so I'm uber-impressed when I read a new Batman comic that challenges my opinion of him. I can still see him growing after 80 years; there's still fresh stories to tell about him. It just blows my mind every time.
King: I used to do debriefings in the CIA, about some bad guy overseas. So the thing that Batman does where he interrogates guys and hangs them upside down and drops you and brings you back up, then tells you everything. That's not a thing in the real world. That always bothers me, if he punches someone harder they'll tell the truth. First of all, that's a horrible lesson for people to learn, and secondly it's a completely ineffective interrogation method. That always bugged me, and in my run I feel like I've addressed that.
Capullo: As an artist I never read them, I just looked at the pictures.
Snyder: It's always challenging, I love the idea that he is that idealistic, that he believes in this code, like a samurai, it guides him through Gotham. The challenge is measuring this ethical compass against the realities of Gotham. Once you compromise him, you lose. That's part of it, Batman is there to show us how to be better than we can be. If you don't hold him to that standard, there's no point. That's the fun in writing him, too, it challenges you to think outside the box about how I could be better in a situation where it would be easy to take a shortcut and be bad.
Which Batman comic did you read prior to becoming a creator, made you want to one day tackle Batman creatively in the future?
Capullo: I never thought I'd ever work on Batman, because honestly, I was a Marvel guy as a kid, but the first drawing I ever did was Batman, coincidentally at age 4. There's been a lot of great Batman stories, but Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns – my nipples just stood up at attention just saying that – touched me on such a deep level. The older I get, the more I understand it, and to the people who have never read comics before, I hand them the collected edition and tell them, "You gotta read this." To me, that's one of the GREATEST stories ever told in the Batman lore.
Snyder: That's mine too, but the next one after that is Batman: Year One, where it was having the end of Batman and the beginning, to have a complete vision of who he is. It was so wildly different, as a writer, it made me want to write. This guy can write with Mazzuchelli and do this grounded, gritty character study, and then do this over-the-top, bombastic, out-of-control reimagining of Gotham City, 25 years in the future, with mutants. All of that was the scope of his imagination around the character, was what was so inspiring. It broadened him and elasticized him to a degree that you could work within this rubric to make things so important on such a different scale.
Tomasi: Tough to say one. I think it was an accumulation of all of the Detective Comics I grew up with, the Denny O'Neil stuff (many issues in the 400s), the Steve Engelhart run (#469-476), Gerry Conway (late #400s to early #500s), and in the mid-'80s you had Frank Miller comes along and takes it to another level. I still read Batman: Year One every year to remind myself what can be done in a short amount of time. He crafted this character-driven, mythology-busting, evergreen story with David Mazzuchelli.
Jones: I never wanted to write Batman, but I started with Batman: The Animated Series because I never knew the rogues gallery around him, and that was the perfect introduction for me. As I got older and outgrew watching cartoons and started reading comics, my tastes got darker and grimmer, so it went all the way to Frank's Dark Knight Returns, which is one of my favorites of all time.
King: Aw, man, I'm such a cliche of my generation, but I used to read Dark Knight Returns as a kid every year, once a year. When Christmas break started, I broke open DKR. I'm talking when I was way too young, ages 7-12, the formative years of your childhood! I wanted to write comics that were just like that.
What was it that about that one book that subsequent readings added?
Tomasi: Batman: Year One gave us a humanistic, fallible Batman. If Batman is this constant vigilante moving along like a shark, it starts to lose interest to me. I like when he fails, I like writing Bruce and Alfred together, I love Batman is attracted to somebody and appears human, to me that's all the fun stuff.
Jones: The thing that I love and appreciate the most about DKR is that a lot of the visuals do the heavy lifting. There's so much that's shown and not said, and you can really dig in and read the visuals and glean from the dialogue what's happening. You need both, absolutely, and that powerhouse method of storytelling, where you're relying on the visuals to show most of the story is something I constantly get new things from.
King: I started to write creatively when I was 13-14, and I was so far ahead, because I examined that piece of work and took it apart. Like repetitive themes, which I use too much now, but when he says, "This will be a good death," and he says it a million times and the climax of it all is "not good enough." To take something like that where it repeats, and repeats, and repeats, and then you break the repetition and the f***ing audience goes "RAWWWR," I always try to get those in my books, like Mister Miracle. Like "Darkseid is. Darkseid is. Darkseid is," but then ends with "Darkseid is. But we are too." It's the same thing, I just stole it from Frank Miller.
Capullo: I recently turned 57 on the same day Batman turned 80, and I relate more and more to those stories because Batman's kind of old [laughs]. One of the things that stands out from DKR is when he's fighting the King Mutant in the mud, the biggest badass, and he goes, "Now he shows me what a fast kick is." When you read that as a young person, that really doesn't mean as much as it means to me now. I used to be into martial arts, and sure, if I try to throw a kick, I can still do it, but it sure ain't going to be as fast as I did in my 20s. That he's an old guy, coming back, and even fighting against himself in some ways, I relate to that. So mine comes from a real personal place.
Snyder: The first page to me is the perfect first page of a book. I had a teacher once in graduate school who said that the entirety of a story should be summarized in the beginning of it. I don't really believe that's true, some stories you don't. But in that first page of DKR, it starts with Batman saying, "Something gives in the mechanics, but I fight against it." That's the story, his whole body is giving out.
At the very end of that same page, he talks about how it would be a good death, staring into the sun, but he fights on. Superman is the sun, he's the fire and the light. It's literally the capsulation of the entire story on page one. The entire arc of the book is there on the page. To me that's so brilliant and such masterful work that it hits you subliminally when you get to the end, even if you don't realize it. I only found that a couple of years ago when I was looking at it again.