This week’s “Thinking Bat Thoughts” from James Tynion’s paid subscriber-only newsletter on Substack contains a bit fewer details than last week, but the ones we do have are pretty meaty and intriguing including how the Joker almost died- plus we have a few additional pieces from past and present Bat-writers to supplement the content from our current (outgoing) Batman writer. Let’s start off with the newest items from Tynion.
1) The key thing I DID know, though, was that the comics published in 2020 were going to effectively going to be the last stories of the DC Universe in its current mold. The Death Metal event was going to be the mechanism that would unleash some kind of big change upon the universe, and then at the start of 2021, we were going to see a bold new direction for the DCU.
Thoughts: Summer of 2019, apparently relatively early summer, right around when the City of Bane arc started to be published, six months from when Tynion’s first Batman book was published. Contrary to some speculation that 5G was always going to be a multiple month but definitely temporary event, this feels like it could very well have been an attempt to go All New, All Different DC in the future.
2) BATMAN: THE DEATH OF THE JOKER
The pitch had a few key elements that you’ll recognize… The Joker effectively gets his hands on the Wayne Fortune, and all of Batman’s vehicles and gadgets, and unleashes them on Gotham City. Basically The Joker using everything that Batman ever made to save the city in order to kill it. Before Joker died, I wanted him to give Bruce a scar o[f] some kind, ideally on his face, in a way that would mean he could never wear the existing cowl again because he’d have a core identifying feature he shares as Batman and Bruce Wayne, which would make it difficult to be Batman again (A kind of nod to Batman: Return of the Joker which established the knife in Bruce’s Knee as a stab from The Joker). I pitched working with all of the creators of the constellation of Bat-Titles surrounding Batman to give each of them a corner of the Batman mythos to tell the epic last story of in the current continuity. Detective could tell the Last Arkham story. Catwoman could tell the last story of this era of organized crime. Nightwing could tell the last Robin story. Batgirl could tell the last Gordon Family story. I didn’t get much into an issue by issue breakdown at that point, it was more just an organizing principle to get all eyes on Gotham.
Thoughts: Tynion does say that this was a “broad strokes” pitch, rather than the kind of “20-page document” that led to things like the two Eternal series and likely his Detective Comics run. He also stresses that DC never, ever approved the killing of the Joker, so there was never a point in 5G or Tynion’s plans where he would have been able to execute that particular vision. The waiting, starting in June, apparently took about two months, and in August, on a live stream, Tynion got the job. Next week, Tynion promises to show us some of the original pitch documents from the early fall of 2019. Something we’ve definitely gleaned from this newsletter directly, but also from offhand comments Tynion has made in the last two years, is that DC didn’t immediately hand him the keys to the Batman title. He was initially a fill-in writer tasked to lead up to a lot of big plans dictated by editorial, and they didn’t jump at the chance for him to take over the main book – they delayed and waited for months after he pitched. I’d really love to know who else they might have been considering or even wooing, given that they had made the decision almost a year earlier to push King off the title despite his original plan to go to issue #100.
In addition to Tynion’s scheduled newsletter, Tim Seeley, writer of the upcoming “Robins” miniseries (winner of the Round Robin voting contest a few months ago), did an AMA on Reddit where he revealed quite a bit about his past writing in Gotham as well as some of his plans for the Robins series. Some highlights:
For “Robins”: Well, it wasn’t really the obvious winner [of the contest] at the time…but while I was working on Batman Eternal, I’d pitched Mark Doyle on a ROBINS plural mini. They went with WE ARE ROBIN. But, I think my affection for the idea was known. Andrew Marino came up with the initial concept, and since he and I had worked together on a lot of stuff including the Harley/Ivy Valentine’s Day short, he asked if I had a plot. I did, from my old pitch!
ROBINS will be big, and dark, and dull of heart. It’s kind of a HUSH of Robin stories I guess. Lots of mystery and tons of character cameo, but mostly about our leads and how they relate to each other. BEAUTIFUL art by Baldemar Rivas BTW!
I love how each became a Robin. My take is Dick was CHOSEN, Tim DEMANDED, Jason was DRAFTED, Steph GRADUATED, and Damian was BORN. And, that determines how they see the mantle very differently!
ROBINS is full of continuity connections to stories going back 70-plus years! My lord, did I have to do some serious research!
I think Dick is “best” if only because he creates the template. He’s the most successful “sidekick” of all time. And, yeah, I love Steph, and I was always kinda bummed that she was the only Robin to get fired and stay that way. We’ll deal with that a lot on Robins.
Steph is the only Robin who was permanently fired, and she has questions about that. BIG questions.
Thoughts: A lot of information, including repetition of Seeley’s attempts to get a Robins story (ongoing or miniseries) off the ground for six years (seen also in his tweets on the day of the announcement – though there he says that the current miniseries isn’t related to his original Batman Eternal 2015 pitch, while his short story seen in Batman: Gotham Nights #12 was). Additionally, there was and is a lot of loud and often vicious commentary that DC “rigged” or “knew” that Robins would win the contest, but the fact that Seeley – a popular writer who can sell ideas based on his name, not just on the characters he’s working on – couldn’t get a Robins idea approved by DC indicates that at the editorial level, they don’t think it’s a slam dunk. The way Seeley contrasts each Robin and promises to focus on things like Steph’s history as Robin, plus the research he’s doing to connect this miniseries to seventy-year-old Dick Grayson stories – it all points to a love letter to Gotham and the Robins that should be more than worth the price of admission!
For “Grayson”: I was working on BATMAN ETERNAL and I got a call from Katie Kubert, the editor asking if I had any ideas for turning Dick Grayson into a spy. And I was like..”Uh…lemme get back to you.” I spent the weekend thinking (sic) on it, and I came up with the Spyral angle using some of the ideas my old studio mate Chris Burnham had for the BATMAN INC book he was drawing. I got the gig, but was informed I would be teaming up with this new guy, TOM KING, who was an ACTUAL FORMER SPY!
Thoughts: The roots of Grayson in Morrison’s Batman Inc were always clear, but the line through Burnham from Seeley is fascinating – and perhaps explains why Seeley’s issues were so much more connected to that aspect of the plot, while King’s issues focused on more Dick’s personal relationships and character struggles.
For “Nightwing”: I think, unfortunately, if you maintain “integrity” you lose readers. You kinda HAVE to shake things up, often to keep people’s interest. And that upsets some people, but the sales don’t reflect that. It’s very weird.
Fan expectations are a big one [in making Dick Grayson challenging to write]. And, I think, sometimes people think he’s old-fashioned and cheesy, and needs to be more edgy, which I always found didn’t work.
The idea of giving Dick amnesia had been around for awhile, and while I knew there was value in the story, the appeal of Nightwing to me was that he knew everyone in the DCU. I felt like we’d done “Dick on the outside” in Grayson. So, I didn’t do the story, and the bosses were fine with it. But they brought it back around, for someone else to explore. I think it works just fine as an era of Nightwing stories. It’s just not my thing.
I thought it was a fine idea to shake up the series, but just not one I thought I would have been able to bring much interest or enthusiasm too. It appears to have sold some comics tho, so mission accomplished for those involved!
Thoughts: Despite the (in this writer’s opinion) well-deserved hatred of the “Ric Grayson” storyline, apparently the sales of the book didn’t plummet, which probably explains why it was so long-lasting. Though part of me wants to blame a desire to spite the readers of the series, DC doesn’t usually hang onto series that people hate if they aren’t selling – and they have hung onto series that sell very poorly because they believe they are high quality and beloved by their small audiences (like Deathstroke by Christopher Priest or Hawkman by Robert Venditti).
Tim Seeley is not the only former Batman writer who’s been giving answers to fan questions – over on YouTube, Chuck Dixon has been doing a weekly “Ask Chuck Dixon” video for seventy-two weeks, and in one of most recent entries, answered a few questions about how he wrote for the Bat-Books in the nineties.
Never use first-person narration with Batman, because I don’t think we should ever know what Batman is thinking. I think Batman should always be enigmatic…But Robin, because it was Tim Drake, because it was a new character, because readers were curious about him, because we didn’t know him yet, I would use first-person narration to inform us about him…it just seemed to fit the character…Now Spoiler, she had a diary, and the reason for that was Spoiler didn’t appear in comics all the time, she was somewhat enigmatic as well, and a lot of times Spoiler appeared in 8-page or 10-page stories, and I didn’t have a lot of real estate to get into who she was as a character…it would provide some humor, some juxtaposition, and just let us know who Stephanie Brown was…because I didn’t have room.
Thoughts: Dixon has offered several really great insights into the process of writing the Bat-Books in the nineties, including a tidbit about the characters’ backstories that never made it onto the page that we hope to share in upcoming columns. Here, we get some of the reasons why writers would choose to use first-person narration devices like a journal or simple narration boxes for new characters – to allow us into their heads, give us insight into a character we don’t know as well as Batman or Superman. In the same video, Dixon also makes (in this writer’s opinion) extremely cogent commentary on why Barbara Gordon should not return to the Batgirl role because of the impact and weight of her storyline after The Killing Joke (which Dixon mentions he quite dislikes as a story), but that if DC returned her use of her legs, it should have been a major event – at least all of the Bat-Books, if not the entire DC Universe, on the level of Knightfall or Death of Superman, not a simple snapping of fingers as we got in the New 52. (Editor’s Note: On the basis of full disclosure, Ian submitted that question to Chuck Dixon.)
Editor’s Note: Inside Batman is an article series from TBU intended to bring you the behind-the-scenes scoops from the world of crafting the Batman Universe. If you have any comments, insights, or interesting elements we may have missed, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Inside Batman’ in the subject line. You can find all of our past submissions for the Inside Batman series here.