It’s been a long time since our last Inside Batman, mostly because it’s been so long since Tynion dropped a newsletter with much meat on the bones of being “Inside Batman” – at least inside the creative process of a specific Batman book. The long drought is over, though sadly perhaps for just one more column, after discussing what it takes for creating new characters in comics, Tynion says that there’s only one more “Thinking Bat Thoughts” newsletter coming. I’ll keep my eyes peeled on my usual sources, and have collected a few pieces I think are cool for this column – and if you have any hot tips for me to check out and write up, please feel free to send them to us at TBU!
Chuck Dixon’s “Ask Chuck Dixon #80” weekly video on YouTube
Thoughts: Some really good insights into Dixon’s return to DC, and the way Dan Didio ran the company in 2007-2008. Dixon talks about the “last-minute changes” stage added as the company went to digital, allowing Didio to alter comics after the writers had done their final lettering pass. The way Didio dictated production and plot points, most particularly that he was the one who told Dixon to bring back Stephanie Brown after Didio was the one who told Willingham she had to die no matter what sales or readers wanted. Dixon has mentioned in other videos how Didio expected writers to come to his karaoke night, and it was known that if you wanted more work, that you had to attend.
DC Comics News Interview with Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad on YouTube
Thoughts: Conrad mentions that he knew “months and months ago” about getting the Batgirl project, indicating sometime in the mid-summer, most likely. Jessica Chen emailed while Becky was asleep, and Michael was extremely excited, but didn’t want to speak for Becky…but he couldn’t sleep a wink, so he sat down to read some Batgirl comics (with no particular run specified). Becky woke up and immediately wanted to do it too. She loved Babs and Cass already, but came to Steph after getting the project. They really want to focus on the friendships between the main characters being the core, rather than tension or fighting (something which prompted me to ask various discord communities whether female characters fighting with each other was a common thing in DC Comics these days, and I think that Conrad and those he was talking to are thinking about a much earlier period.) All in all, the Batgirls series looks like it’s definitely going to be a labor of love, and hopefully one that is able to bring new readers and old readers, and fans of all three Batgirls together! Conrad has also been very open to questions on Twitter.
Thoughts: The passion for this series is really starting to be infectious, especially Chen comparing herself to Steph and finding Cass-friends. Shows that you can find your character in comics and connect to them despite any differences in background or class – I hope that many, many more people find themselves in Steph, Cass, and Babs in Batgirls, based on the passion shown by its editorial team as well as the writers.
Chuck Dixon’s “Ask Chuck Dixon #81” weekly video on YouTube
Thoughts: Dixon explains very cool thoughts on how he came to design the Redbird with artist Tom Grummett, how he forced Grummett to do his own drawing since that would mean Grummett got paid if DC used the Redbird in future material (which Grummett later saw was a good move professionally). Dixon says the Redbird wasn’t based on very many particular cars, but was instead just a car he thought would look cool.
Dixon also answers a question about Cassandra Cain, who was created near the end of his time at DC, though he got many chances to write her, and he expresses sincere admiration for the talent and thoughtfulness of Kelley Puckett, and a great affection for Cassandra Cain as a character with huge potential, fan love, and enjoyment to write by creators.
James Tynion’s “Thinking Bat Thoughts #9” newsletter via Substack
Thoughts: Tynion has completed all of his Batman projects for DC, with the exception of The Joker, and this week’s newsletter is full of musings on his career, particularly on creating new characters. He also hints that he has something “big” coming next year at DC, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that! But it won’t be a “straight-up Superhero” book, since he doesn’t plan to write anything in that genre for a long time.
It was early in the summer of 2020 that I got the call asking me what I wanted to do in Gotham City in 2021. I’m going to talk a bit about how I built my last year in Gotham in the next and final entry of THINKING BAT THOUGHTS, which will break down my top-level thoughts on how I built out this last year, and what I think I’ve accomplished, and what I hope the people who pick up all of these characters can accomplish next… But today I want to talk about the thing that people are probably always going to associate my Batman run with – the creation of new characters.
Thoughts: It’s kind of amusing that Tynion is self-aware enough to know that the new characters, or “OCs” (Original Characters, in fandom abbreviation), are the biggest takeaways from this run, and I think it’s really interesting that he chose to follow up Tom King’s run with this particular emphasis, since Tom King created almost no new characters at all, instead choosing to structure his run around trying to use a huge amount of classic DC material in a very different presentation style. Of course, the last several months of newsletters have shown exactly why that was since DC wasn’t letting him do what he wanted to do with the Bat-Family and to find a new passion for writing something that was perhaps coming close to burning him out. Tynion says that in the early 2000s, and particularly when he was hired by DC in 2012, most creators had the attitude of saving original creations for creator-owned comics and trying to lure readers back by using forgotten but beloved characters. I’m not personally sure if this is true – Grant Morrison created a huge amount of new characters in addition to bringing back characters (Damian Wayne is a combination of both of these ideas, of course, but in Batman, Inc, there’s dozens and dozens of examples of both).
Beyond that, I think it’s necessary for superhero universes to grow and survive. Every now and then, you need to introduce new POV characters who get introduced to the larger mythology, giving an onramp for new readers to learn all about the mythology for themselves. New characters act as a new way in. They also tickle the side of the geek brain that likes to be an early adopter. People like to be one of the first fans of a new character, to be in on the ground floor, long before they start popping up in other media.
Thoughts: I think it would be valuable to see how Tynion sees all of the characters he created in this light – obviously, Harper Row and her brother Cullen add a dimension of the youth culture of the early 2000s, particularly sexual minorities (Harper being bisexual and Cullen being gay) function quite clearly in that light. Viktoria October, the Victim Syndicate, and Colony Prime stick out as the big creations of Tynion’s Detective Comics run, and none of them really seem to be a “new way in” for readers – part of that is likely because there were so, so many main characters in the heroes Tynion chose for his team, and part of that is perhaps because the focus of that run was nostalgic in so many ways (though I’d argue that it also created a huge amount of new potential for Batwoman in particular, which sadly was completely squandered by DC…but that is, of course, just my opinion).
Tynion spends the bulk of this newsletter meditating on what he thinks makes a new character stick or not, coming up with a few general principles:
- Don’t tell their story’s end, as it’s likely readers and creators are less likely to want to see more of them or see that story “ruined”.
- Make sure a new character has a clear function so that writers can see them as an answer to a storytelling problem.
- Superhero comics should be targeted at the teen/young at heart imagination, so make sure new characters have some hook for that demographic.
- Make them full of visual and emotional design that sticks in your head and heart.
- Consider the platform – a bestseller book will give a new character more chance to succeed – or fail. Out of the main universe books, such as Black Label, will struggle with new characters, as they won’t be used by others.
He then looks at his three first characters in 2020 – Punchline, Clownhunter, and Ghost-maker.
There was one core conceit behind all of them. They all challenge the idea that Batman’s War on Crime in Gotham City has actually changed things from the better. The first two are products of Batman’s Gotham. They are young, and never really lived in a Gotham City without Batman, and each of them have rejected Batman’s ideology in different ways. The third was there when Bruce Wayne was still formulating his War on Crime, and fundamentally disagreed with his way of operating. Each of them can confront Batman with the limits of his means of crimefighting.
Thoughts: One of the most common complaints about Tynion’s Batman writing is that he seems to use Batman more as a utility than the driving force of the story – other characters seem to have the agency or challenging idea. Part of me thinks this is due to the nature of Batman – he literally cannot change too much, since he’s Batman, and that’s why people buy the Batman title. But part of me also thinks there’s a part of Tynion that really does want to challenge Batman, to ask if there is a better way – and we’ll have to wait until Batman #117 and Fear State: Omega to see if he gives us an answer!
With Clownhunter, I had the system a bit more in place. I wanted to create a teenage Gotham character who was decidedly not a member of the Bat-Family. There’s something oddly “regal” about the Bat-Family, even with its line-up of orphaned young people. Only Jason actually grew up as a poor kid in Gotham City, not the son or daughter of a hero or a villain. Clownhunter is meant to be a bit of an antidote to that. He has no connections to the family, he’s just a kid who lost his parents to The Joker, and waited years for Batman to stop Joker until he couldn’t wait anymore. He’s a vigilante who doesn’t want to be a superhero, who doesn’t want to save the world. He’s sick and tired of Batman not solving the problems facing the city, so he wants to try and solve the problems himself. Jorge’s design captures this great energy, the dual influence of Casey Jones from TMNT, and Kaneda’s gang members in Akira. He represents the kind of Gen Z perspective of Gotham.
Thoughts: It’s really interesting to hear Tynion voice the sense of aristocracy or hierarchy of the Bat-Family -we’ve seen pieces of this in his articulation of the “core” Bat-Family in the pitch document for Batman Eternal included in the omnibus edition, but this is somewhat more blatant even than that. However, if you look at the introduction of a lot of new characters, there is a sense that each of them were struggling to break in, to prove themselves to the people already there. Each generation’s new character is the scrappy underdog against the established Favorite Children of Gotham. We’ll see if Clownhunter has legs – I personally wouldn’t bet on it, despite my love of the Batman Annual #5 telling his story beautifully.
The kernel of the idea for Ghost-Maker came from a pitch I made to DC’s YA line about doing an Adventures of Young Bruce Wayne book in the style of a shonen manga. Bruce would have been a little scamp at the time, cocky and arrogant, still a bit of a spoiled brat. He would have made some friends along the way, and then come face to face against a rival. The rival would have been a couple years older than Bruce, with a personality very close to the one you’d expect from the adult Batman. Then over the course of the series they would have become friends. That pitch never went past a few conversations, but the idea of Bruce having a rival when he was doing his training around the world stayed with me. The first thing that happened when I realized that I was going to be sticking around on Batman after issue #100, I knew it was time to bring the idea back into play.
Functionally, I wanted Bruce to have a friend/rival character. Someone who could tell him when he’s wrong in a way that only Alfred used to do. Somebody who Batman could actually hang out with. Spar with. An adult friend, not a protege. He wouldn’t fulfill the more technical aspects of Alfred’s job (Oracle would do that), but he would help fill the now vacant role of the person who knew Bruce before Batman existed. The person who can bluntly tell him off when he’s not following his original plan. By knowing Bruce in a way that nobody else could know. He’s a witty bisexual psychopath who decided to become a crime-fighter for the art of it, not because he cares about people. That’s his energy. His design is just fucking cool. I knew that I wanted the core color to be white, and for him to look like a kind of Anti-Batman, but Jorge delivered a truly bad-ass design that transcended that.
Thoughts: This is the most we’ve seen Tynion talk about Ghost-Maker, and despite the fact that I don’t know if Ghost-maker has quite landed as a character, I do really love the fact that we originally thought he would be a villain, but ended up being a friend to Bruce – in a different way from Alfred or Jim or other friends who can call Bruce on his stuff. The combination of the teenage friendship with the rivalry prevents Ghost-Maker from being Deathstroke 2.0 (after the brilliance of what Priest did in contrasting Batman and Slade Wilson), but there is an awful lot that is quite similar between the two. The pitch for a Young Bruce Wayne training YA novel also sounds really fun – a lot more fun to me, personally, than some of the stuff we’ve gotten like Gotham High or Nightwalker.
Time will tell whether any of the characters really stick with the readers, but I’m encouraged. Not only are there plans for all of them next year, after I walk away from the Bat-Line, but I also see the utility for each of them moving forward. I think it’s useful for Batman to have a rival who knew him from when they were teens. I think it’s useful for Joker to have a lieutenant/romantic interest in present day who can torment both Harley and the Bat-Family. I think it’s useful for there to be a teen “hero” in Gotham City who doesn’t ascribe to the Bat-Family’s moral code.
Thoughts: We’ll see. We’ll see indeed. My money is definitely on Punchline as a villain who will stick around – though hopefully not as obnoxiously as Joker’s Daughter or the Batman Who Laughs (though perhaps it’s just me who reacts to that Mouth of Sauron-looking jerk this way). I personally find the idea of modern radicalization that isn’t a simple allegory for a current political movement really exciting for storytelling and hope other people grasp it after Tynion leaves.
All in all, though I think the pressures of building his own company and business as he leaves DC have sapped some of the immediate, gritty details that I was really enjoying from the first handful of entries, there are still pretty cool elements that Tynion is releasing, and I’m eager to see what he has to say about Fear State, Miracle Molly, Mister Wyze, Peacekeeper 01, Simon Saint, and the rest of his OC gang at the end of November.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, looks like one more of these to go, and we’ll see when it actually drops since Tynion promises his newsletter at the end of November, but this particular newsletter was promised a week ago and dropped several days late. But in any event, we’ll be here with more Inside Batman when it does drop.
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.