As we mentioned two weeks ago, James Tynion dropped a truly mammoth final newsletter for his Thinking Bat Thoughts column, and so we’ve broken it up into three chunks. Here’s the first one, with our commentary, based on his plans for “Fear State” and “The Cowardly Lot”:
Thinking Bat Thoughts 10: A Farewell to Gotham City
So, the original plan here was for me to get into my last year on Batman while the last issues were hitting the stands… But it was a bit of a chaotic fall and early winter, and I couldn’t pull my thoughts together in time. BUT NOW IT’S TIME FOR ALL MY THOUGHTS!
Flash back to May 2020. Right when I was told that my Batman run was going to be continuing into 2021, rather than ending in 2020. I’ve been told about the idea of Future State, and I have ideas on how I want to play off of that Future, and set us up for what we’d end up calling Infinite Frontier. The pages were rolling in from Jorge Jimenez’ show-stopping display of talent in Joker War, and I had a copy of Jim Lee’s X-Men XXL that was I keeping open on our dining room table. I wanted to channel that kind of raw energy into the book. I also had Jim’s X-Men Villains gallery image printed out and taped up in my office.
Thoughts: So after the chaotic September to December period previously chronicled, Tynion jumps to May 2020 – after 8 months of planning and frantically writing Batman, Tynion’s run was extended from a year and a half to indefinite (for which he has claimed to have planned at least two or three more years). Joker War was already written in May, and Jimenez was drawing those pages. These aren’t massively important details, but it is nice to have an idea of the timeline of the creation of things we read, to have some idea of what creators are thinking about – so when, for example, issues #91 and #92 were coming out (or being delayed because of COVID), Tynion was already receiving art for issues #96-100.
Here is the guiding belief of my Batman run:
The only thing you need to make a Batman comic a Batman comic is Batman.
The rest is all set dressing, and the set dressing has gotten both familiar and confused. Fans are used to such different versions of Alfred, Gordon, The Family, The Batcave, The Manor, Arkham Asylum from TV shows, movies, video games, cartoons, board games so much that the comic versions no longer read as the “real” versions, giving the comics a sense of not mattering in the larger media landscape.
I think the solution is to put all of that in the character’s past. He remembers a time they all played into his life, but that time has come and gone, and he’s facing a new life he’s going to have to build for himself in Gotham, without all of the resources he’s had in the past. So we’re going to push the character further, and build a whole new world around him. A world with echoes of the familiar and the classic, that features a very classic Batman at its heart, but filled with an entirely new supporting cast of characters, entirely new settings, and a sense of limitless possibility.
We have the power of doing this in the main, central Batman title, which grounds every new choice we make, because it is inherently “real”.
Thoughts: A very interesting approach to the reality that comics are the least influential driver of fan ideas and images of Batman compared to the massive audiences of video games, cartoons, and especially films. However, given Tynion’s later stated belief that Batman is not and should not be a loner, it does leave a vacuum for his much-decried or ballyhooed new characters (something which all writers have done to a large extent, but I think what sets Tynion apart is the extent to which DC as a company marketed the actual comics on those characters through “first appearances” and massive variant cover initiatives).
The only core classic Batman character aside from Batman, Scarecrow, and Joker that I want to be a central character in the book is Harley Quinn, because she’s fun to write and she makes a great foil for Batman. She is going to fill the role of an Alfred or a Robin, and become his defacto partner in crime-fighting.
With the two of them at the center, we’re going to set course for uncharted territory and tell big, exciting new Batman stories you cannot get in any other medium.
Thoughts: The focus on Harley is key for characters like Clownhunter, but largely the character was spun off into her own title, where Stephanie Phillips did a brilliant job of continuing the actual hard work of capturing the manic energy of Harley and the serious work of moral reformation, continued from the lovely model set in Tynion’s first post-Joker War arc, “Ghost Stories.”
Last year in Gotham, Bruce Wayne used his company to kickstart a massive rebuilding of the city. After the events of Joker War, Lucius Fox sells off all the components of the company involved in the Rebuild to restabilize Wayne Enterprises. But all the doors Bruce opened, deregulating a lot of the building codes for the city, means that Gotham is growing faster than ever, and there are lots of new billionaires in the city, working in technology, finance, and real estate. There is a lot of money in the city, and a lot of people in the city, but new inequity is rising faster than ever. (These new billionaires would make good villains in one of the other Bat Books)
Thoughts: First things first, we, of course, saw two examples of these “new billionaires” in the post-Joker War Bat-books – first, of course, Simon Saint – and second, the new villain in the Batman Secret Files: The Signal one-shot by Tony Patrick. We’ll see whether any of these plans from Fear State get carried forward – given Tynion’s exit and Patrick’s absence from the upcoming slate of titles solicited so far, it seems unlikely, but possible. Joshua Williamson is focusing on an old billionaire as an enemy in his arc, Lex Luthor, so the general idea of his villains is still alive until we get to Shadow War when we see Talia and Deathstroke take over as the main forces in Batman’s universe.
New Bruce Wayne
After being investigated by the government, and removed from running Wayne Enterprises, Bruce is seen as having been disgraced and fallen. He is no longer one of the richest people on the planet. He’s moderately wealthy and lives in a nice part of town and is mostly just another facet of the city. He knows the people at his local coffee shop, and local deli. Bruce has to pick up his own groceries and feed himself, regularly. He has refined tastes because of Alfred and will often ask for very difficult to find foods not realizing you can’t get them at the corner market.
Bruce is charming, dark, brooding and handsome. I think our Bruce dresses a bit more modern that we’ve seen him lately. Before, his wardrobe was put together by Alfred. Now he’s putting it together himself. I see his dominant color as black. He might wear a black button down, unbuttoned around the neck and some dark jeans. He should always look cool. He is Batman, even when he’s just walking down the block in his civilian clothes.
He’s not playing up the playboy side of things, he’s trying to be himself. Trying to force himself to be present in his life and in his world. To remind himself why he loves Gotham City and why he protects it. He is not above the city, looking down on it, or across the water from the city. He lives in the city, and loves living in the city. He loves its little strange touches, and its history (which he knows, backwards and forwards). The people of his neighborhood think he’s an eccentric weirdo, but he’s their eccentric weirdo and they like them.
Thoughts: Tynion has talked jokingly and seriously about how he always puts himself into his books as the villain, perhaps most obviously in The Nice House on the Lake. However, the way he describes Bruce here, despite the “brooding and handsome” aspects, which I don’t think are Tynion being vain – is basically exactly how Snyder describes Tynion himself. He LOVES Gotham – he knows it. The descriptions of his clothes tend to be the kinds of things Tynion likes to wear – more comfortable, in dark colors. His striving to be “himself” – to be authentic, definitely defines Tynion, who lives life at full volume everywhere he goes – anyone who’s met him at a con knows just how much energy and love he pours into his conversations with fans about their shared passions for the characters. Tynion does have big ideas and subtle ones – I still think his creation and use of Punchline was actually a lot more sophisticated than people give him credit for – but he’s mostly a man who lives life with his heart on his sleeve, and the same goes for his writing of this character, family, and the city he clearly has lived imaginatively in for most of his life.
I’ve abandoned the character, Scorn, that we had you design earlier this year. That character felt like her storyline might be getting a little too close to the real world, and rather than walk through that minefield, I’ve decided to go in another direction, based on the video you sent me (you’ll see “The Unsanity Collective” when you read below). There might be a female Bane-type character in a more militaristic vein that will appear in the Joker book I’m doing with Guillem, but we will build that character to be something VERY different than the one you and I discussed.
Thoughts: In this note from September 2020 (just as Joker War was wrapping up publication), Tynion tells Jorge Jimenez a lot of really interesting information. He talks about a character named “Scorn” – possibly related to the Scorns which served the villain Wrath – who seems to be in a similar vein to Punchline in having a political element. It’s also fascinating that Tynion consciously pulls back from addressing “real world” elements that he considers a “minefield”, considering how elegantly and carefully he constructed Punchline and her world (alongside his partner Sam Johns). We also see that the Joker book was already well underway (which you’d know from Joker War Zone’s March story from Tynion).
NEW CHARACTER – One of the key threads in “The Cowardly Lot” is the creation of The Magistrate, a private police force inside of Gotham City. He’s a tech billionaire who was raised in Gotham, but spent the last few years in Silicon Valley. He made his billions in drone technology that he wants to put on the streets of America to fight supervillains and all masked vigilantes. He thinks of himself as a good guy. I keep picturing the character Peter Ludlow, from The Lost World: Jurassic Park…But in a black turtleneck and black pants, like Steve Jobs. He thinks of himself as a good, open-minded neoliberal guy. He is soft spoken, and calm, even in the middle of a crisis. But he thinks that superheroes make cities less safe, and he wants to create a world that doesn’t need superheroes…He is going to be a very very important character not only in Batman, but across the entire line of Bat-Books.
Thoughts: Though Simon Saint is a decent villain for “Fear State,” it’s telling that the stuff that ultimately rendered him a big generic – the screaming and loss of control starting at the beginning of “Fear State” when Scarecrow went rogue – is the opposite of what Tynion describes here for his plans. Like a lot of planning documents, what Tynion intended to do ultimately fell a bit by the wayside in the actual writing process – and we’ll never know for sure if it was an improvement.
…She’s going to fall for Batman (thieves always have a thing for him), but he’s not going to respond to her advances…She’s kind and compassionate, and idolizes [Catwoman] a bit…
Thoughts: A little note about Miracle Molly that may or may not have been behind the actual execution of Miracle Molly, but a fun note to see Tynion thinking so clearly about the connection to Catwoman and falling in love with Batman – even though he stole a DIFFERENT Catwoman’s backstory as a template for Miracle Molly.
That wraps things up for Tynion’s main plans for Fear State, his second (and sadly last) major story arc for his Batman run. Next time, we’ll dive into his overarching goals for this phase of his writing.