EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW & FIRST-LOOK ART
After time travels and dark challenges, Bruce Wayne is back in Gotham City and writer Grant Morrison has big plans for the hero. I interviewed Morrison about “Batman, Inc.,” a new series that launches in October and will present the “franchising” of the caped crusader — essentially the dark knight of Gotham City drafts, trains and commands a team of heroes who will wear their leader’s colors. “It’s all about branding,” says Morrison. The team will include Dick Grayson, Knight and Squire, El Gaucho and eight others. Their leader, meanwhile, gets that little yellow circle back on his costume. Read all about it below and check out the exclusive art after the jump . — Geoff Boucher
GB: In recent years, the dominant image of Batman in the public mind is of an angry man who hunts down criminals in shadowy alleys. You’ve taken the character on voyages of the fantastic and even cosmic…
GM: I thought we had to put him up against something that he would be very uncomfortable with, and time travel seemed like it would be fun. It was also to show what he grew out of, those antecedents in the heroes of the past, the pulp fiction heroes. Cavemen and cowboys and pirates – it was a lit bit of a literary joke as well in the sense that he was kind of reeling in the entire history of pulp.
GB: I imagine that with any character that you work on for a period of time, there will be the expectations you have coming in and then the surprises along the way. Have you found unexpected things in Bruce Wayne, both masked and unmasked?
GM: Oh, definitely. You kind of go in with an idea of Batman, but I think that when I started the book – which, I think, was about a thousand years ago or five years or whatever — the prevailing trend was the Frank Miller-style Batman, “The Dark Knight Returns” Batman, which was great. I grew up with that stuff and loved it. But I felt like the character right now could handle maybe dealing with some of the more problematic aspects of his past, which were some of the weird villains and strange science fiction. The notion of putting that stuff back but treating it in a very modern, grounded, realistic way – at least within the parameters of Batman’s world – gave us scope for a whole new kind of story. So for me, what I discovered was the depth of the character. I was kind of used to the savage vigilante, but when I really began to think of it, someone who had gone through this life process to be Batman would have much more psychological depth. A man who is that advanced in meditation and martial arts and yoga is not going to be a one-note vigilante crime fighter. There are a lot more spiritual aspects and weird aspects to Bruce Wayne’s personality that have not been explored a lot. That opened up a lot to me, and the character got a lot richer and a lot more depth.
GB: Miller’s work was an absolute pivot point in comics history and pushed the medium into new pop-culture conversations, but, over the years, other writers and artists grabbed the most superficial aspects of Miller’s Batman. Often, they reduced the character to sputtering rage and ultra-violence.
GM: There was a lot of that. Batman’s paranoia and alienation and rage became foreground, but I guess these things have to happen. People take a direction to the limit and the limit reveals the character kind of trapped in a box. So, yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, there was a lot of great Batman work being done – there always has been – but there was a tendency to push the character into a very dark place where I think he didn’t entirely belong. There’s a lot more to a man like that, if you want to try to take it seriously and imagine what he would be like. There was almost a blue-collar Batman that was being presented. This guy who is very singular and thuggish in his motivations and I thought we had to kind of bring back an aristocratic seeker, the guy who has traveled the world and seen and done everything. That has a lot more story potential.
GB: When I was young, I adored the version of Batman by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers . He wasn’t a chipper guy, by any means, but he seemed to be driven more by the light of intellect than the heat of rage. And he was a citizen of the world, too.
GM: Yeah, very much. He kind of dealt with his trauma. A lot of the post-Miller stuff was all about trauma and re-living the trauma. I kind felt like he got over a lot of it by being Batman. If he hadn’t been Batman he would have been insane…
GB: Sane or not, Batman is not a guy that plays well with others, at least not all the time. That makes it intriguing to hear that you have plans for the Bruce Wayne to “franchise” Batman and enlist others to wear the costume.
GM: A lot of the experiences that he’s been through now, the way I want to play it is that they have changed his focus and his view of what his mission is and what he can accomplish. He starts to bring in more people. The first 12 issues of the book will be team-ups with Batman and different characters as he traveling the world and kind of training people. [SPOILER ALERT: THE REST OF THIS ANSWER REVEALS SOME LONG-VIEW STORY ARC] And at the end we found out what that’s all about; it’s not just habit or routine. He actually has a big agenda. That leads into where I’m taking this. At the end of the “first season” I want to wind up with a really enormous Batman story. Everything is building up to that kind of climatic arc.
GB: For the characters around Batman, I imagine there’s some tension. To wear a Batman costume and join his team, you have to submerge yourself, correct?
GM: Oh yeah, I mean, 10 of the team-ups will be like that. The second team-up is Batman with El Gaucho, the Argentinian hero. So here’s these super macho guys, these alpha males, and the Gaucho isn’t sure he wants to wear that bat symbol, He doesn’t always agree with Batman but he does agree with his principles and ideals. He agrees with the mission but not the branding. That’s what it’s all about: Branding.
GB: You’ve made a change to the costume. The yellow circle is back around the chest symbol. Fans can obsess about costume tweaks…
GM: Except, as we all know, all the costumes have been in constant change…. You look at the difference between the costume tights that Adam West wore and the gay disco armor that was in “Batman Forever” compared to the modern, militaristic thing that Christopher Nolandoes. They are all completely different but they are all instantly recognizable as Batman.
GB: Well it goes beyond that too. I’m fascinated by the flexibility of the character. Batman is a cheery Saturday morning cartoon with “The Brave and the Bold” but he’s also beating people to a pulp in “The Dark Knight,” a film that pushed the limits of PG-13. He’s a Fisher Pricetoy for toddlers and a sociopath in Frank Miller’s books. And nobody blinks. It’s amazing how supple the character is…
GM: Supple is the word. It’s really weird. Batman can take anything. You can do comedy Batman, you can do gay Batman…it all works. It something intrinsic to the character. It ‘s so strange and amazing.
GB: Another thing I loved growing up was “Batman Family,” which was kind of a hysterical title, I suppose, if you think about it…
GM: It’s a greattitle. “Batman Family” — you just want to see him sitting there in a his Bat-slippers while Batgirl gets him his dinner. [laughter]
GB: It all made sense to me as a kid. Here’s the ultimate orphan and now he’s created this strange family and there’s even room for Man-Bat, who sort of the ugly cousin. Did you enjoy that book? I only bring it up because it presented a sort of confederacy led by Batman.
GM: I did love that book at the time. What we’re doing is somewhat in the tradition of that. Nothing I’ve done with Batman is so shockingthat it hasn’t been seen before. I’ve tried to tell fans: ‘Don’t worry about time travel, he’s done it before, we’re just going to see it in more conventional, more down-to-earth way.” Don’t worry about the aspects of this stuff, we’re re-drawing aspects of Batman’s history all the time. He had team-ups before and, as you say, had “Batman Family.” This is a lot like “Batman Family,” I suppose, except the family is very extended in this case and it’s global. I tell people not to worry. Batman can take it. He’d done it before.
— Geoff Boucher
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ARTWORK: Top and fifth, a first look at the cover art to “Batman: The Dark Knight” No. 1 by David Finch. Second, a handout photo of Grant Morrison. Third, a splash page from “The Return of Bruce Wayne.” Fourth, afirst-look to the cover art to “Batman: The Return” by David Finch. Bottom, “Batman and Robin” No. 13.