WonderCon 2015: What lies in Batman’s future?

April 03, 2015 | 8:16 p.m.

Batman versus Superman’s grandmother? Batgirl cavorting with a vigilante rock star? The many differing personalities of the comics in the Bat-world came into focus early Friday on the first day of Anaheim’s WonderCon.

Let’s get this out of the way: There was no news regarding Convergence, a huge crossover storyline that promises big changes to the DC universe. Convergence, however, will be addressed in a Saturday panel.

The Bat-discussion centered on new characters, as well as the upcoming portrayals of a couple of old favorites. The panelists — Tom King, Greg Pak, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher — kept up a lively discussion in a room at the Anaheim Convention Center. Moderated by Tiffany Smith from DC All Access, each creator spoke enthusiastically about their projects, and where their books are heading in the immediate future.

Pak started it all off talking about “Batman Superman.” It’s a far cry from the earlier “Superman Batman,” at least if you ask Pak. The focus, he said, of the current storyline has been to answer the question: “Who is Superman’s Joker?”

“Superman’s never faced an enemy as unpredictable as his current one: a villain as crazy as the Joker, but with the power of Superman,” Pak said.

In the series, the two heroes team up and face off against each other’s villains. It all creates different dynamics with familiar characters. While Superman and Catwoman may be unlikely pals, they ultimately triumph. But it causes the two heroes, especially Superman, to think outside the box.

Pak showed an image of Batman attacking a Kryptonian with a red sun weapon. It was intriguing — and made even more so when Pak mentioned that Batman happened to be attacking Superman’s grandmother.

Pak also briefly touched on Superman’s new power, a solar flare, and how it’s used.

Babs Tarr at WonderCon. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

Babs Tarr at WonderCon. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

One character with no powers who received a bevy of attention was Batgirl. Fletcher and Tarr spoke about the direction they’ve taken Barbara Gordon, with Fletcher calling the newest issues the “culmination of everything we set out to do … She’s made a few mistakes, but she’s better.”

Tarr, who was excited to have drawn the art for WonderCon program (“I’m in constant awe that my work has been so well received”) said it’s a kick to put her stamp on other female heroes such as Black Canary.

“I got to draw a little bit of the rock star, especially with the fishnets,” said Tarr.

Black Canary will be relaunched as a singer in a band who lives in a hip new area of Gotham called Burnside. Fletcher mentioned that the area will be integral to many books, adding that Batgirl and Black Canary will work in tandem. In his mind, he said, “music was always going to play a big role in this Batgirl’s life.”

Fletcher then segued into “Gotham Academy,” saying that the younger-skewing comic is influenced by Nancy Drew, Harry Potter and “House of Anubis.” It’s very much a mystery book, he said, and he was therefore reluctant to give out details on future developments. He did let it be known that Batman was, as he said, “kind of a jerk” in the book, as he is often at odds with the book’s teen protagonist.

On the more adult end of the spectrum, Batman’s fatherly qualities were bought to the forefront when King spoke about Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Dick Grayson in the “Grayson” series.

King said the character paralleled Batman — dead parents and desire to right wrongs — but was not as “haunted” as the Dark Knight. King also mentioned that he gets a lot of inspiration from old movies. One  issue, he said, specifically paid homage to noir film “Gun Crazy,” while others evoked images and themes from John Ford movies. Some, however, pay homage to “Grayson” itself.

“It’s the climax to the first season of ‘Grayson.’ If you go through the [latest] issue, you can find a reference to every other issue,” said King.

Then King addressed the unavoidable.

“Yes,” he said, “Dick Grayson is a sexy man, and this book fully embraces that concept. It’s both an honor and an obligation, and he carries that with him.”

That was the answer to the first of the audience questions, but not the most controversial.

Brendan Fletcher and Tiffany Smith at WonderCon. (Jevon Phillip / Los Angeles Times)

Brenden Fletcher and Tiffany Smith at WonderCon. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

A question was directed to Fletcher about a recent Batgirl controversy in which the character was portrayed in, as the questioner put it, a “negative light.” Many criticized a recent issue as showing Batgirl reacting to a foe in a transphobic manner. Fletcher took the criticism in stride, and explained what was behind the motivations of the storyline.

“The run was about recovery and PTSD. Our run was the natural extension of that,” said Fletcher. “What we see in [issue] 40 is a reflection of her past. Someone saying ‘I can move forward, and I can be the best person that I need to be to continue moving forward.”

The last question to really challenge the panelists was more of a plea from an audience member, who wanted an explanation as to why she should invest her time and energy in comics anymore. She said she had her “heart broken” and felt “betrayed” when new stories would discard all that had been established in the past. Take, for instance, Convergence.

“We’re just doing the best that we can,” Fletcher said. “Hopefully you feel our enthusiasm coming through the books. This is all new and fresh stuff.”

— Jevon Phillips | @storiz@LATHeroComplex

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