In this week’s edition of Inside Batman, James Tynion takes us through the events of November and December 2019 in his latest “Thinking Bat Thoughts”, the evolution of Punchline and her first appearance, and more! We also hear from Scott Snyder and Ram V.
1) I think the two best products of my “old way” of thinking were my DETECTIVE COMICS run, and my JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK run. Both of them were fanboy books, in the mold of the Geoff Johns comics that I grew up reading in High School. The fuel in their engine were a bunch of older comics that I held up on a pedestal, and both series were charged by my deep fanboy love for the Bat-Family and DC’s Magic Characters, respectively (Detective also channeled my love of The X-Men, and I still joking call that book the time they let me write an X-Men comic starring the Bat-Family – I even gave them a Danger Room!). Both of those books were me trying to capture the energy from my love of reading the stories I grew up on and translating them through my brain to the reader to try and make the reader feel that love. But, when the time came for me to write Batman… I had burned out my fanboy fuel for the character a bit. It wasn’t gone, but it was depleted. My Detective run was designed to be, to some extent, my final statement on the Batman Mythology… A contemplation on how you carry the torch of a great idea forward without letting the fire from that torch consume you. So I couldn’t really write Batman from the same place in my heart that I used to.
Thoughts: We have here, three years after it ended, some of Tynion’s thoughts on what his goals for his Detective Comics run is, and as he mentioned in his Tumblr post at the time, how much they were influenced by both X-Men (specifically by Claremont) and Geoff Johns’ work. Though of course, Tynion had written stories by himself before, such as Talon, most of his work up to Rebirth was largely collaborative, such as the two Eternal series, Constantine, and several projects with Scott Snyder. His Detective Comics and Justice League Dark runs in Rebirth were his first solo projects as a true name brand writer, and I think it’s nice that he feels they are excellent works (Detective, in particular, is one of my own personal favorite runs of all time). At the same time, there has been a sense that his Detective Comics run is beloved by those who “got it”, but it doesn’t seem to be an entry point for a lot of newer readers – you don’t see a lot of people reading the current Batman run that Tynion is writing and then discovering his Detective Comics run and loving that. They feel quite distinct, though after Joker War, Tynion did start writing the Bat-Family more – but even then, it felt quite different. Tynion talks about that difference at length, about how what he did with Detective Comics- really using a lot of continuity and ties to other runs – will make it beloved by long-term fans who adore that kind of detail but tends to turn new readers off. I’m curious to know if that’s true – I know it’s been true for at least one of my friends who got into comics near the tail end of Rebirth – but not for other friends who started around the same time.
2) CHARACTER #2: PUNCHLINE
This is a fun one, and I think could have the potential to be a real breakout character if we handle her correctly.
She is, essentially, Joker’s new girlfriend. And she is Harley Quinn’s polar opposite. She is Joker’s #2… A silent, terrifying serial killer, sexy as hell. All of his henchmen are terrified of her and they should be. Imagine Joker being Joker and torturing a hostage, and then he gets tired and sighs, handing the scalpel to Punchline, who slits their throat.
We don’t want to base her costume off either Joker or Harley’s too much, but there should be a bit of a clown component to her. Maybe she has a porcelain mask, but that might be too cheesy. We don’t want her to just be anti-Harley Quinn, and we don’t just want her to be female joker. We don’t want to evoke The Batman Who Laughs or the Dark Multiverse with somebody who looks like she steps out of Hellraiser.
Maybe there’s a bit of a horror-carnival vibe to her? Like she’s a mute sword swallower, and at a key scary moment she can pull a sword out of her throat.
When she smiles, it’s scary. It’s not a toothy smile, it’s a closed mouth grin. She is a sadist. She enjoys killing people. She is talented at killing people. The Joker calls her the funniest person he’s ever met in his life. She is a physical character, and she should be sexy. Sexy in a slinkier, darker way than Harley, who is all pep and energy.
I think her primary weapon should be her knives and her fists. I see her colors being purple and black.
Like in the fucked up Archie Comics where The Joker is Archie, and Harley Quinn is Betty, then Punchline is Veronica. If Harley is the Angel on The Joker’s shoulder, Punchline should be the devil.
…It became quickly apparent to me who PUNCHLINE really was… She was the re-incarnation of the character I had started to play with in my 5G Joker Pitch. The young person radicalized by the ideas Joker purported to represent. I came up with the rough shape of the story that would run in the Joker 80th Anniversary special right then.
Thoughts: This lengthy character sketch sent to Jorge Jimenez, and a short paragraph showing the change in direction Tynion took when he saw Jimenez’s designs, really highlight some of the things that went into creating the look and structure of Punchline. Even though she’s become much more of a manipulator, a chameleon, and an actress, instead of a silent slasher (which, I personally speculate, might be why the Joker War Instagram Stories that Tynion was going to write with Guillem March were canceled after only one “issue,” as his concept of Punchline was still shifting a bit), I think it’s interesting that despite the VERY clear difference in fan reaction to Designer and Punchline, Tynion has seemingly equal enthusiasm for both characters.
3) I understood then that the fire I needed in Batman wasn’t me finding some old story to Fanboy over, it wasn’t saying something Metatextual about the Batman characters, it was the capturing joy of creativity and building new things. It was me, at age eight years old, picking up the action figures of all of these cool-looking characters, playing with them, and imagining their stories… And I understood immediately that that was the crux of the entire year… Batman is out there creating all these new things (gadgets, a new Gotham City), Joker is out there creating all of these new things (Punchline, a big new Joker Gang, remaking Gotham in his image). And the villain of the story is the spirit of creation and design, the one who can see how it’s all made. It was about the joy of taking the toys out of the toybox and smashing them together, and putting new toys into the toybox. The energy of creativity and play trumped anything more structured and elegant. I wanted to find and capture the lightning like Dr. Frankenstein and channel it directly into the comic series. And I wanted my enthusiasm and the joy of me playing with these toys to be so infectious everyone who reading it would feel the same way…
I realized around then, that if my Detective Comics run was me channeling reading Claremont X-Men in my twenties and getting lost in the pathos and the soap opera, my Batman run would be me channeling the X-Men comics I had grown up reading in the 90s. I wanted to play with all of the action figures. I wanted every single issue to be a candy-colored nightmare filled with costumed characters, with bombastic action. Around this time, I hunted down the Jim Lee XXL X-Men hardcover and put it on my kitchen table and would just flip through it over and over, trying to capture some of its lightning for myself.
From December 2019 through February 2020, I was a man possessed. I had been trudging through a wall of approvals for months, but that period that followed was one of the most productive and fruitful in my entire career. In December, I turned in three and a half Batman Scripts, one after the other, in a manic creative spree…
Thoughts: Seeing the ideas behind the first year of Tynion’s Batman run is quite fascinating. Tynion’s always been interested in putting ideas in his work – whether it’s the imposter syndrome and Icarus-like touching the sun of his Black and White nameless Ra’s al Ghul henchman story, to his clear identification with Tim Drake’s attempt to build something new and exciting in his Detective Comics run while also knowing he had to destroy everything he built, to his fascination with radicalization, social media, society, and so forth in the past two years (and, of course, his independent work like Memetic, etc). Some other commenters have mentioned that there’s a strong 90s comics vibe from this run, and as I didn’t read a lot of the things referenced here, I don’t necessarily see it, but Tynion clearly did have that sense of design and energy on his mind explicitly when writing.
Tynion does mention that this is the story of how Batman launched him into creator-owned, not how Batman drove him away – time will tell if people believe that or not, but there is a sense of passion and love for the books he did here. Though there’s also a strong sense that what he was writing wasn’t necessarily Batman, given the focus on everything around Batman. Time will tell if this brief but shining time of Batman – from Batman #86-#117 – just over thirty issues, plus several specials – will be mentioned next to Snyder’s 52ish, or King’s 85ish (both had fill-in writers, but also specials, so it’s hard to easily boil down how many they really wrote). Joker War and Fear State both have a chance to be similar to City of Bane or Superheavy/Endgame/Death of the Family in terms of “big city-destroying events,” but will they stick in fans’ memories? What, if anything, will last from 2020-2021 Batman? We’ve seen from these very newsletters that DC was actively ordering Tynion to erase Tom King’s focus from Batman – though Josh Williamson has said he’s generally planning to adhere to the plans that Tynion and the Bat-office had in place already, whether he is the long-term writer of Batman (or even one year, rather than four issues as currently promised), and whether those plans will survive past March is another thing entirely.
Scott Snyder also shared some thoughts in honor of Batman Day on how creating new characters can be a struggle and a reward in his latest newsletter.
So, on the one hand, you have things like that, where the Court of Owls has had this whole second and third life already in Gotham the TV show and in this animated flick that DC did, Batman and Son. And then other characters that I had a lot of high hopes for, like Harper Row aka Bluebird, I just wasn’t able to get through the way that I wanted. And now, she’s kind of starting to pick up again in other series as well, which I’m really excited about. But it’s interesting, because that time period that we were working on her, we created another character too who’s now really picking up steam in a bunch of different places, Duke Thomas.
So, I wanted to talk for a minute about examples of how things can go with a character or a villain or a team or a creation that you and your co-creators come up with and how it can take on a whole life outside of your plans. So, Duke we came up with all the way back in like 2011/2012 as a character to sort of be part of this whole population of young heroes that we were trying to create in Gotham at that time to fill the vacuum that had been created when Damian died. So, Grant Morrison’s plans had always been to kill Damian. It was in their initial pitch that we had all read for Batman and Robin to take him off the table for a pretty extended period of time, at least. I mean, there weren’t plans necessarily to bring him back.
And so, there was this sort of open field for a while where I was just getting used to being on Batman, so I didn’t see myself as the head of Gotham or anything like that. But my goal was to try and create some young new characters that wouldn’t be Robins, because we felt we’d retire that mantle for a while, but would be other exciting heroes that would try things differently in Gotham. So, Harper Row, Bluebird, was created to sort of be somebody who had to do with power structures in Gotham. And her whole thing about understanding the power grid, and the failing infrastructure of Gotham, and being someone who really was kind of on her own, was all about really street-level heroism in Gotham and understanding what it’s like from the opposite end of the spectrum of Bruce Wayne.
And at the same time, we were thinking of a character that would start to protect Gotham by day, that would be someone who would have to look out for new threats, young threats growing in the daytime. And that was sort of where we started thinking about Duke. And I had this idea, and not to get too in the weed, but I had this idea that we create this kind of whole flock of new birds instead of Robins. So we had Bluebird and we had all these names, and you can see hints of them in some of the other stories I did, like Canary and other things like that. In some of the Batman stories we did, you see some of these bird names floating around.
But the idea was to create new young characters that wouldn’t be Robins but would be able to be mentored by the Robins. And my real dream, not to get too What If…?/what could have been? was to create a book called Robins that would be all the former Robins, including Steph, and how they would be training this up-and-coming group, and to create a new young set of threats also—Arkham Asylum villains with superpowers and all kinds of stuff. So, the idea was to do that under the parental watch of Batman in a different way.
But as all this was building and we were trying to construct it, DC decided Damian was really too big of a character to leave off the table. And they had planned on putting him in some animated stuff, and there were also ideas about putting him in what I think was a video game or televisual stuff. And so, they brought him back, and that changed the whole landscape. That meant there was going to be a Robin, and there was going to be a Batman and Robin book. And in having a Batman and Robin book, there wouldn’t be room necessarily to be creating quite as independent a young community of heroes, just because there’d be a focus again on what it meant to be Robin, especially with somebody who has such a different background than most Robins the way Damian did.
So, it became about: well, how do we take this character, like Duke, for example, who we love, who’s all about doing it himself, finding a way new way of protecting Gotham that is outside of Batman’s purview? And so, we were like, “well, let’s keep our plan about these characters finding each other. Let’s do something—We Are Robin.” And it was this idea about how Robin doesn’t need Batman. Robin is youth, Robin is civic duty, Robin is heroism in a different way that doesn’t depend on Batman. It doesn’t need Batman’s help or to be beside him, it could be something independent of him. And then we were like, let’s build that up and create this whole thing, and if we tie all these characters together, maybe we even have a generational fight between Bruce and these younger characters, or maybe we don’t—we have Bruce on their side against villains and however. But it was this kind of fertile, exciting moment.
But because so many different things were happening at DC at once—a lot of good things, but it was volatile in 2015/2016 with a lot of changes and things they felt they needed to try, new initiatives—we couldn’t really make it come together. And so, it became, for me, about really trying to find an identity for Duke with some great co-creators, people that were invested in the character like Tony Patrick, Cully Hamner and Greg, where he wouldn’t get lost the way Harper had started to get lost. And again, I’m so glad to see Harper coming back in a huge way.
But for us, I had been working with Duke for a while at that point. And so, the idea was to create an identity where he would be Gotham’s protector by day, and he would be sanctioned by Batman but he would do things differently. He’d see different threats and all of that. So, we thought about calling him many different things. We retired the idea of coming up with a new bird name just because it just felt like everything didn’t really work. And we wanted him in yellow, something bright, for day. And then it was about “well, let’s make him a beacon. Let’s call him Signal.” So, we really loved it. I’m really proud of the miniseries that we did, me and Tony Patrick and Cully.
Again, it was a strange time. There’s a lot of volatility at DC, good and bad. Just a lot of creative energy all over the place. So, there wasn’t the kind of room for him on the other side that I had hoped. But to see him now taking off in his own right has been thrilling, and I really hope fans will go support everything Tony and other people are doing with him. He’s in both the Webtoon series, The Wayne Family Adventures as a big lead, and he’s also going to be in this animated show, Batwheels, which I’m hugely excited about, where he’s, again, a main character and a main focus
Duke (voiced by AJ Hudson) with Batman and Batgirl/Cassandra Cain in the upcoming Batwheels
So, sometimes you do things that really take off and you have a lot of say in how that happens because you’re right there as it’s going on, like Batman Who Laughs, who’s now going to be part of the Fortnite story and he’s all over these heavy metal things in Europe. And there are big plans for him coming, which is huge and exciting to see, and I’m involved in that stuff.
And then other times, you want something for a character—you have a dream of what Gotham could be and it kind of changes and you adapt. And the stuff that you had planned, like bringing Cass and stuff in through Batman Eternal, linking them up with Duke and Harper and these other characters, and then creating this whole community of young heroes just doesn’t come together. But they find new life in really exciting ways outside of your shepherding them. So, that’s kind of what’s going on now.
Thoughts: We see some of the plans that Snyder himself wasn’t able to get done at DC despite being probably the most powerful writer as DC at the time (and probably of his generation, from 2010-2020, no other writer could probably match his popularity and sales and thus leeway given by editorial). Part of that is likely Snyder’s frequently mentioned lack of confidence in his own writing. Part of that is also likely the way Snyder and DC have treated Batman, more as a superstar writer platform than a title that is the backbone of a line, requiring close connections to other writers, and focusing more on the character and storyline than on the name brand of a writer. And there’s an audience for the name brand writer – but it’s not necessarily an audience that will stay with a corporate property like Batman the way that you’d perhaps want if you managed the Batman line.
There’s also a lot of…perhaps hopeful thinking given here when Snyder keeps saying things like “Duke and Harper are getting big right now” – it is true that both of them are getting pretty solid exposure, but none of the projects mentioned are really developing Duke or Harper in ways that seem to be gaining a whole lot of traction or even have long-term plans that might really propel them into name-brand characters. Perhaps we will see that – the appearance of Duke in a cartoon is pretty major, and Webtoons has a HUGE audience – but doesn’t seem as focused on one story or even an ongoing plot that would build up Duke as a character. But it certainly could become a big thing – we’ll just have to see. But we’ve seen Snyder saying this kind of thing before – he said when the Batman and the Signal miniseries was published that it was “way more successful than we thought” – though he never revealed what he thought the sales or reaction was going to be, to give commentators any standard of comparison (if you expect 30,000 sales, 60,000 is indeed an improvement, but is still not necessarily “breakout”).
It’s also quite interesting to see Snyder’s creative process as opposed to Tynion – where Tynion seems to really go for emotion, and then build the structure and ideas into a character when he has a “feel” for them, Snyder seems to build characters more from function, and layer feeling on top of them.
GOODBYE, SO LONG, I WILL MISS YOU: Catwoman and Justice League Dark
About 3 months ago, with my personal life about to get a lot busier, I went to my editors at DC and with a very heavy heart and called time on a couple of things I was working on. My story-arc on Catwoman was coming to a climactic point and tying into the year-end event FEAR STATE, I figured that was a good point for me to take my bow and hand off the book to its next creative team.
I’m not the kind of writer who’ll rattle off a full script in a couple of days. I take my time with them and I hate feeling like I didn’t give a project everything I could. I am obsessive by nature and invariably that meant that juggling so many books for bad for my health and peace of mind. So I went to Jessica Chen (my editor on Catwoman) and Brittany Holzher (my editor on JLD) and I called time on the books with December of this year.
I have absolutely loved writing them both. I’ve been treated so incredibly well by readers/fans of the books who’ve shown a lot of trust in a writer who is inclined to make them do a little bit of work to engage with his stories. I hope everyone who’s been reading these stories has been enjoying the ride so far.
DC editorial tell me both books expanded on their readerships during my time on them. I’ll take that as a win.
Catwoman #38 was solicited this week. It’s cover (by the brilliant Yanick Paquette) shows Selina leaving Alleytown – the quiet pawprints of a cat trailing behind her. I came up with that idea in conversation with the editors. I thought it was apt.
Thoughts: It’s quite sad to see Ram V leave Catwoman after he basically took a book that was mired in a confusing, seemingly unfinished story by Joelle Jones and turn it into a tightly plotted, dark, challenging world of Alleytown, but glad that it was his decision, and not the book getting canceled. Hopefully, he’s able to really tease out the characters and conflicts he created to a satisfying conclusion, at least as good as the last really strong Catwoman run in a long, long time, the one I’m sure all readers will groan as I once again mention the Genevieve Valentine run from 2015. He’s had a really good run, from his two-issue arc in the middle of Jones’s run, to the big splash from Joker War in Catwoman #25 to the ending of Fear State in #38 – fourteen issues plus two plus another two from Future State plus his Annual and several short stories (including a forthcoming one that likely will tie up some of the plotlines from Catwoman as well). It’s also nice to hear that Catwoman grew in readership – though I’m very curious to know how DC made that determination. Anyway, it will be quite fascinating to look at DC in January and see a very different set of creators in Gotham than those who started out this year.
All in all, we have a lot of very interesting material here from three different newsletters, all of which give an interesting look at the creative culture of DC and of these three very different creators.
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 email@example.com with ‘Inside Batman’ in the subject line. You can find all of our past submissions for the Inside Batman series here.