8: Here Comes The Punchline

So much of writing is just engaging in what I'm curious about at any given moment. 

It’s about indulging myself, and not getting afraid of going down rabbit holes. Because the moment you find the intersection between two or three rabbit holes is usually when you find the seed for an idea.

And then you water that seed by continuing to bury yourself in stories, non-fiction, and art that you think might nourish it, and help it grow into something more substantial. A story worth telling. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but even when it doesn’t, the journey usually teaches you a few things.

At least it does for me.

I usually struggle with the question, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” I think most writers do. Our job is ideas, and especially in comics, when we’re working so fast pace on so many projects at once, it feels like the ideas just flow naturally and constantly. If I’m honest, I always have too many ideas. Most of them end up on the cutting room floor.

But honestly, this might be the skeleton key to my answer next time I get asked the question (which I usually get via text or email or in person a few times a week). My answer is that you have to immerse yourself in everything you find interesting, following every rabbit hole of interest, and at the end of your journey, see what sits with you. Let yourself be curious about anything and everything. Always want to know more. 

I’ve been on a hybrid kick of Satoshi Kon anime, UFO stories, and mid 00s Wildstorm comics. It's been putting my brain in weird, interesting places. Some of those places are where I wanted my brain to go. Some of them aren’t. Both of those results are fascinating to me.

I had a very very raw idea for a thing the other day that I probably won’t be able to write for years, but I’m kicking its tires to see whether it’s actually a project I have any interest in pursuing. That specific idea-seed came to me when I was thinking about a one-shot connected to PROJECT DALLAS, while also thinking about the Tou Ganabe Lovecraft adaptations, and the power of working from source material… Maybe it’ll come to be something and maybe it won’t. But I’m enjoying the discovery process.

There’s this gut feeling when you know you’ve got something REAL. That’s what I’m chasing. It’s what I’m always chasing.

Early in my career, spending hours talking story on the phone with Scott, I started thinking of it as if the stories we were trying to tell already existed in the ether. We weren’t writing them, we were discovering them. We’d bang our head against the wall over and over, and then we’d discover the turn that let us see the full thing, as if it had always been there, obscured by some kind of mist. Coming up with new projects is exciting, because it’s like stumbling your way through that mist, trying to find big shapes that feel solid. That’s the weird contradictory thing about writing, on one hand, you need to accept that there is no such thing as a right answer, and you can’t polish and tweak a thing forever seeking the “correct” form… But sometimes you do stumble into a RIGHT answer, and it’s right because it feels right, even if you can’t explain why. 

Those moments where you look at an idea sideways, and suddenly, it has a full shape, and depth, and you understand exactly what it is and what you’re going to use it to say. It feels like a full body rush. Like you’ve just cracked a code, and you’re about to uncover something TRUE.

So all this digging, all this reading and watching… it’s chasing those kind of moments. The moments where a bunch of disparate thoughts come together and you have a living, breathing story idea, and you know how to make it work.

I find myself wanting a more visceral reaction from the narrative art I take in, lately. 

I want simple, powerful stories that hit you in your gut, more than the sorts of work that are in conversation with themselves on six different layers. I’ve been shit-talking nostalgia on twitter a bit, and it’s gotten me in a little bit of trouble, but I think a huge problem in comics is that a lot of books all feel like they are referencing other comics, rather than just expressing something directly.

It feels like a product of the algorithmic decay of society. Like somehow we’re meant to give people the road map to deconstruct our stories in a thousand different ways, to feed a whole geek media infrastructure hungry to break it all down… It feels kind of backwards to me.

Like building a car where every piece of the car is meant to evoke a different car from the past. Every component, rich with meaning and reference, and each of those references could be talked about in a million different ways. Picked apart on Podcasts and Youtube videos and Twitter feeds, discussing whether the hubcaps should have referenced a hubcap from the fifties, or a more modern hubcap. But to people who don’t know cars, it looks like a jumbled mess of a thing, and they don’t give a shit what the hubcaps are referencing. It just feels unapproachable.

That’s a terrible metaphor, but you get the point, right? Everything feels like its in conversation with everything. And you might appreciate it intellectually, the craft of which they layered in all the references and homages and what have you… There is obviously phenomenal work that’s pure commentary. The entire era of Alan Moore as a pop culture deconstructionist led to some of the greatest comic book writing of all time. But I’m not reading a lot of things on that level anymore. It’s become the reclamation of deconstruction after the reconstruction of what was deconstructed. And all those layers of commentary muddy the waters. Ultimately, they usually don’t hold a candle to the pure emotional reaction you get from seeing a simple story told well by creators who know exactly what they’re doing.

I think the best example right now is CRIMINAL at Image by Brubaker/Phillips. It’s a crime comic that’s not ABOUT crime comics. It’s not trying to make a meta statement. It’s using all of the tools at the Crime genre’s disposal, and using them expertly to tell good, powerful human stories. Just masterful work. They just built a really good car in a style that has always looked good, but they did it so well, that it feels revelatory and new. I feel like I’ve been studying that book lately, and others like it.

I feel like, as an industry, we need to get back to our fundamentals. Build from the foundation up again, rather than starting a new structure built on the eleventh floor of a hundred-year-old building.

Culture is so loud right now. We’ve got it blaring in our ears and eyes every day, and there’s too goddamn much of it. The idea of reading a comic that makes you think about a thousand other comics is overwhelming. To get absorbed, you want silence. You want a story to exist in and of itself. You want to be in a one-to-one conversation. Comic and reader.

And then you want ONE OR TWO absolutely bizarre elements they haven’t seen used in that type of story before, to make the whole thing memorable…

But that’s a whole different essay.

BATMANNERY

So, turns out you folks really like Batman!

Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart… Thank you.

You cannot imagine how worried I’ve been over the last six months. You always hope that you have your finger on the right pulse, you want to know that you’re going to deliver the type of comic that people want to read. But you never REALLY know until it’s in stores and in people’s hands. Especially given the breakneck pace of a double-ship comic? By the time this issue came out we’re already deep into the future of the book, and there’s not much time to right the ship. So… You liked where I started things. Now let’s see if I can keep it up.

This week sees Guillem March’s real debut on the book (after a few stunning codas), and I am very very excited for that. My first ever ongoing series at DC Comics was Talon, and that was the last time that Guillem, Tomeu Morey, and I collaborated on a comic book. Guillem’s the primary artist for the next three issues, and I really can’t say enough good things about them. He absolutely captures the Action Horror spirit I envisioned for the book since I took it over, and the life he’s breathed into these characters is absolutely stunning… Look at these preview pages, and imagine how hard my jaw dropped when they came in.

As you can see… This is also the issue where all those big bad Gotham Villains start to show up. Penguin and Riddler enter the fray here, and will remain key figures through this entire arc. But hey, there’s some other news on the horizon, isn’t there?

With the release of the April 2020 solicits… There’s some news on the horizon. My first story, THEIR DARK DESIGNS, runs from 86-94… My second story starts with 95… And we’re calling it JOKER WAR.

You’re going to learn more about it in next month’s solicits, but this is the story that started in the epilogue to Batman 85, and will be the biggest Joker story since Batman: Endgame back during the New 52. This story is going to have huge, huge ramifications for Gotham City. You’ll see all the seeds planted for Joker War in the background of THEIR DARK DESIGNS, especially as it hits its climax in April, but the big story starts in May.

It is going to be a very, very scary story. I can’t say much about it yet, other than you should probably read it and order lots and lots and lots of copies, just incase you get too freaked up and tear one of them up from the excitement.

ALSO: Who is this character on the amazing Yasmine Putri BATMAN #92 cover?! (I referred to her as the character to Batman’s left on twitter, and people are still giving me crap about it, but also giving OTHER people crap about it which seems weird to me - stop fighting in my mentions!) I obviously meant the brand NEW character… The lady about to stab Batman! To the left of him in the image, not in relative space.

But WHEN does she appear for the first time? Is it BATMAN #89? Is it YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #3? Am I writing her origin story in the JOKER 80th Anniversary Special? Is she Joker’s new girlfriend? Is she a part of JOKER WAR??! Who the heck IS this Punchline, and why does she want to stab everyone?!?!?!?!?!?!

Wait, I’m not supposed to say that’s Punchline yet, am I? I’m not supposed to say ANY of this! And what about this incredible character design from Jorge Jimenez…? Well, while we’re here… Maybe I’ll let you be the first to meet her.

I am VERY excited for her to start showing up in the books.

Spoilers. She is not a nice guy.

OUT THIS WEEK

BATMAN #87
Art by Guillem March
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover A by Tony S. Daniel
Cover B by Francesco Mattina

I talked about this plenty above, but I just want to reiterate how freaking excited I am for you to see what Guillem March has brought to the table. This is the year he becomes one of your all-time favorite Gotham City artists. Also: I haven’t spoken a lot about the rad Bat-Vehicles we’re introducing in the run because I don’t want to be overkill, but The Bat-Shot in this issue? It might be my favorite. We want this book to be a high octane thrill ride, and this issue keeps those thrills coming… And we’re still just revving up the engine. We’ve got a lot of ground we’re going to cover in the next couple months. Stay tuned.

YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #2
Art by Steve Epting and Javi Fernandez
Colors by Nick Filardi
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover A by Steve Epting 
Cover B by Riccardo Federici

Honestly, one of my favorite parts of writing this series was getting to write Mercy Graves as a character. She comes into the story this issue, and I love having someone who can banter back and forth with Lex. She is great, and other people should use her more often, particularly in Lex Luthor stories! I HAVE SPOKEN! In all seriousness, I think we’ve lost the art of supervillains having a strong Number Two. Somebody they can yell at, and grandstand to, and helps them with stuff. It’s almost like that line of thinking may have led to the creation of another character I may have previewed above… HMMMMM. In this issue, Lex beats the crap out of a bunch of infected superheroes, because he is very smart and and has lots of ways to beat the crap out of superheroes, even if his new powers don’t work on them. It was very very fun to write, and I hope it is just as fun to read.

LETTER COLUMN

As always, if you’d like to see your letter show up in one of these bad-boys, drop me a line at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with “NEWSLETTER” in the header. I’ll pick one or two per newsletter!

Dear James,

I have been a batfan since Returns premiered decades ago and have enjoyed your previous takes on the Batman mythos in the past ( the backup stories from Batman #14's Death in the Family onwards showing the inner machinations up to the main event was very detailed, and I heavily admire that Penguin in #14 was no slouch either,) and I have been following my two favorite Rogues - Penguin and Riddler on their countless schemes. So imagine my excitement - like HOLY FREAKIN' METHUSELAH - when I first read that not only you were going to tackle the diabolical duo again, but they were going to have MAJOR arc time in the upcoming story you have planned for Batman #87 and beyond. I was stunned because to my knowledge they haven't shared a major arc together since Gotham Underground in 2008 (if you want to be more precise, Gotham in 2019) and there has always been a certain kind of rarely tapped chemistry they have always had in their appearances together (from the aforementioned Underground that concludes on a deeply bittersweet moment or in Gotham where *Spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen it yet* they breech on the concept BEYOND friendship with them,) which make them a deviously cunning and deadly eccentric powerhouse duo that I have seen reflections with in Ivy and Harley.

Ok, so thousand questions time: I am wondering how much will they interact again in this new arc and what versions of each character did you pull for inspiration (Forever, Returns, Gotham, ect.) What is also the mindset you have to approach formalizing a partnership/relationship/ect. between them as well? Since this is a continuation from King's run, will we also breech the past each character shared on opposing sides during the War of Jokes and Riddles as a topic?

Thank you for taking your time out to read this humble ask that me and my friends are curious about from your upcoming run.

Victoria

Hey Victoria!

Thanks so much for reaching out! I’ve ALWAYS loved the scenes where the villains bounce off each other. I’m happy you called out my Backup stories on Death of the Family back during the New 52, because that’s when I really fell in love for the first time. Each of Batman’s primary villains are different reflections of Bruce himself, but when you get them in a room together, you get dynamics that you rarely get to see play out on the page. Riddler and Penguin in particular are great, because they have been around for virtually the full history of Batman.

They’ve both appeared in different media, and they’re about to pop up again in the next Batman movie. I always love the characters who have been interpreted so many different ways, because you can kind of triangulate the heart of each of the characters. You want a Riddler who is as true to the Frank Gorshin as to the Animated Series as to the Jim Carrey production… And then you want to bring a little to him yourself. And Penguin is the same… You want the Aristocrat of Crime mashed up with a bit of the sewer dwelling Danny Devito take. And then when you put them together, and you can comment on how they’ve changed, from extreme to extreme, you get a sense of their relationship. I don’t know that they think of each other as friends, in the way that emotionally healthy people think of each other as friends, but the nice thing is that even if both of them got what they wanted (Everyone in Gotham to recognize Riddler as the smartest man alive, and Complete control over the criminal underworld for Penguin), it wouldn’t threaten the other one. So they can collaborate without being at each other’s throats, which is a fun dynamic.

And this whole crew, there’s NOBODY they hate more than Joker. Joker is just this pure chaotic element who is just as likely to kill half the city as he is to put a whoopee cushion under all of their seats. If he’s involved, they’re uneasy. They know they’re effectively in danger from the moment he’s involved. The only person they might resent more than Joker is Catwoman… Because she used to play for THEIR team, and now she’s working on the other side…

I would bet Penguin calls Riddler for help decoding a message from a rival crime family from time to time, and Riddler does odd jobs for Penguin to keep himself funded and off Batman’s radar. I like thinking about the ecosystem of relationships between the different Bat-Villains.

So, the long and short of it is that if you’re looking for Villains interacting, particularly Penguin and Riddler, I hope you’ll like this next issue, and you should for sure enjoy this upcoming arc!

HOUSEKEEPING

Sorry for missing the last Newsletter! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. And it’s GOING to be a hectic couple of weeks. I’m at ALA next weekend, and in Burbank later this week… Florida end of next week and then off to a warm beach. I’m going to try to keep these things weekly, though, I swear!

Project Wingboy is getting announced this upcoming week, and I am very excited about it. I think you can all see that my work has been skewing toward the adult, and I’ve been very very excited to develop something in the Young Adult space. We’ve been cooking this for about two years, and been working in earnest for about a year. I’ll be talking about it a lot more in the next couple of newsletters. 

There’s also a lot of stuff cooking in the background. Some point in the next month, my full year and part of 2021 should be more or less set. There’s a LOT of cool stuff coming. I think generally, I’m not going to give DC projects “Project” names, but I’m a part of a few cool things that should be announced in the next couple months. And then I’ll be part of things that won’t be answered for a long while after that…

The long and short of it is that I have enough projects cooking that all my editors and collaborators keep asking me if I’m okay, which has to be a good sign, right? That they care that much? Hahaahahahahahahahahaha.

I’m going to Grenada in a couple of weeks and am going to do my best to have four straight days of radio silence, but we’ll see if I succeed at that. 

Be well!

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
1.19.20

7: Bright Cities, Dark Knights

It was late 2011. 

I don’t remember exactly how late, but I’d guess it was late November, early December. I was working at a social media advertising startup in SoHo, writing tweets and facebook quiz games. It wasn’t quite my birthday yet. I was twenty-three years old.

My business card called me a “Creative Writer” which I enjoyed. We’d been in college through the Great Recession, and my peers Sarah Lawrence undergraduate writing program used to joke that we were going to be very prepared for the job market because it’s not like there were EVER jobs in “Creative Writing” writ large. There was no job out there with that title. But it said so on my business card. It had this super thick paper stock with a neon orange rim, and it was the most grown-up I had ever felt in my life.

But almost every night I would go home from that job and get on the phone with one of my former writing professors. Scott Snyder had just launched Batman at the start of the New 52, building from his powerhouse run on Detective Comics. The book, a few months in, was picking up steam. Fans adored The Court of Owls. I’d been something of a sounding board since I had taken his class three years prior, in the first semester of my Junior Year. We’d talk through the next scene he needed to write in the next issue, or I’d read the latest draft of this comic or that comic. I was moonlighting as a defacto writing assistant for the biggest book in comics and I fucking loved it.

Scott knew I did not want to be writing tweets for make-up brands and premium cable channels. I liked the stability of a job with a salary that could pay my rent in NYC, but advertising had never been my endgame. I’d been showing him pitches for creative owned titles I was hoping to pitch to Vertigo, since I still knew editors there from when I had been an intern. (One of those was an early pitch for what would become THE WOODS). I was getting better at pitching, and I had started running little spec scripts for comics that would never happen by him to get his input. And Scott had been gracious, talking me up to the Batman Group Editor at the time, Mike Marts. It got to the point where Mike asked if he could read something I’d written. So, I put a script together, just for him.

It was called BATMAN: BRIGHT CITY. If you’re interested, you can download it here. It’s never been released in any way… But it’s also never GOING to be released as an actual comic book. So hey! Here it is. Enjoy.

It was a one-shot set in the future of Gotham, starring Commissioner Dick Grayson, and a Cyborg Tim Drake. It was more sentimental than anything. And sad. I just reread it tonight, and I’m still very proud of it.

It’s too dense, a bit too obvious, and I had no idea how much dialogue you could fit in a single panel (some might say I STILL have no idea how to do that). The first draft was 24 pages, and if I had to re-edit it today, I would put those four extra pages back in there to let it breathe. I’d also put in a bit more action. Hell, give me 38 pages to do it RIGHT. But as an artifact, it’s fascinating. I put a lot of sweat and tears into this script, going through about nine drafts with Scott before sending it in to the Bat-Offices. I wanted to give a kind of mission statement that showed I knew the world and the dynamics and the characters, but that I could also take those pieces and do new, strange stories with them. 

If you decide to read it, you can see bits and pieces of a lot that I would come back to the following 8 years, in the hundreds of Batman comics with my name on them… The role of Tim Drake is particularly interesting, because it totally ties into what I did in my final Detective Comics arcs, which is bizarre, because I have not read this script in years. 

It’s wild how much of my Gotham is in that weird, sad one shot… 

But anyways… About a month after I send this in, some time before my birthday, I got a text from Scott during the day. This happened sometimes. I couldn’t just go talk Batman or DC for an hour or two in the middle of a work day, but I could sneak in a ten minute conversation every now and then and help talk through a stubborn action sequence or line of dialogue. I was a smoker at the time, which helped keep me out of trouble. So, I walked out onto the balcony of the Euro RSCG building on Hudson and King and took the call.

Batman, at that point, was already an outsized success. And it was growing momentum, even as the rest of the New 52 was starting to settle. So DC had decided that there should be eight extra pages in every issue of Batman (and a number of other high profile books). They had asked Scott to write the Backups, but at that time he was working on Batman, Swamp Thing, American Vampire, and an American Vampire spin-off miniseries… So he asked if he could bring me in to co-write with him. 

And since Mike had read my Bright City one-shot, he said yes.

I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to die when Scott told me. Like straight up, I could not process what I had just been told. I both wanted to cry and wanted to start working immediately. I had wanted to be a comic book writer since I was thirteen years old, and it was finally going to happen. It wasn’t the door into the business I was looking for, but it’s the door I found. And somewhere in the back of my mind a very bizarre fact hit me.

My first published comic book was going to be Batman.

It scared the crap out of me. I still had a day job. It was easy being the walking DC Encyclopedia Scott could call when he needed to talk through some odds and ends, and suggest what I would do with this character or that. Hell, it was even easy on some level to write what essentially a standalone future elseworlds one-shot just to give a flavor of what I wanted to do.

It was another thing to put my nose to the grindstone and write something that people were going to read… And if they didn’t like it, my first published book was going to be Batman, but it might have been my last, too. I didn’t have anything creator owned to rest my laurels on. Nothing that showed why I deserved to have this shot. The pressure was on.

I’m still really proud of that first run of backups. The Fall of the House of Wayne. I have the splash page that ended Issue #9 on the wall behind me as I type. That gig got me the Batman Annual, and Talon, and started my entire career.

But there was nothing scarier than that weight. The trial of fire that was taking part in the flagship title of the company. This is BATMAN. This is the book that pretty much needs to, by law, be the coolest, biggest comic book you can get your hands on. I remembered when that weight had hit Scott, when he realized he wasn’t going to be writing Dick Grayson Batman anymore, and that he’d be writing the second ever Batman #1 in the history of the company.

He knew the responsibility of that book, You could do an arthouse thriller like Black Mirror in the pages of Detective, but Batman needed bombast, and action. You needed to bring all of the smarts to the book, but you also needed muscle. How do you keep something smart and layered while you’re showing off incredible gadgets and action month in and out? With great difficulty and deliberation. The math was radically different on Batman, and it needed to be respected to deliver something exceptional. 

We would spend hours trying to crack it, like weird story mathematicians, trying to find the perfect formula of flash and substance. I’ve been thinking back to all those conversations a LOT lately. I’ve also, you know, cheated, and talked a lot to Scott about this directly.

Needless to say, I’ve been feeling the immense weight of the book, myself. 

It’s a book that’s going to be read by nature of what it is, and the onus rests on the creator to rise up and meet the responsibility of the job. To tell a new and daring story in the face of nearly a century of the greatest pop fiction icon that has ever existed on the printed page. 

I know how to write a Batman comic. Eight years of doing it, I fucking better. I know how to put the pieces in the right order to show you a good time. But in a world where you have all of Scott’s trades, all of Grant’s trades, all of Tom’s trades, and a whole lot more great Batman stories… The job is more than giving you something you like pretty good. I want to deliver something that demands a spot on the shelf with your favorite Batman comics.

Batman #86, if it does the job for you I hope it does, will start to show you why I think it deserves that spot. And then will continue showing you two times a month for as long as I get to write this book. So, let’s see if we can add a few new ideas to the conversation of Batman, and add a few toys to the toy chest and see if they stick.

I’m proud of this book. I’m honored I have been able to spend this first long era of my career in Gotham City. I still can’t believe how fucking lucky I have been. 

Scott used to say this amazing thing at Batman panels during his run, and he’s said it since, but now I think it’s my turn to say it… 

You all are Gotham. You are the reason I get to write this book. It is your trust and support that lets me tell the stories I’m setting out to tell. 

So, thank you. And I’ll see you under the red skies and police blimps on Wednesday.

THIS WEEK IN STORES

BATMAN #86
Pencils by Tony S. Daniel
Inks by Danny Miki
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Variant Cover by Francesco Mattina 
Coda by Guillem March & Tomeu Morey

So, you might have picked up on this. Batman #86 comes out on Wednesday. I’ve been talking a lot about it over the last month. I’ve gone on and on about action horror, and gadgets, and bad guys. Now you get to see them for yourself. I’m thrilled I got to start my run with such phenomenal collaborators. 

I’ve loved Tony’s work for years, and I think this issue features some of the best of it I’ve seen. He perfectly captured the feel of Gotham as I saw it, and set the stage for THEIR DARK DESIGNS. Paired with the phenomenal Danny Miki and Tomeu Morey, this is a gorgeous book.

Also: You knew there was a coda in #85, but hey! There’s a coda in #86, too! I’m going to be talking up Guillem March a lot in the next few newsletters as we approach his first issues on the series, but holy moly, does he do creepy horror well.

MAILBAG
I got some great questions over the weekend on twitter, and more in my Newsletter Inbox over the holidays. Reminder, if you want to get a letter answered in the newsletter, email TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with Newsletter in the headers. There were plenty of questions I can’t answers, and plenty more that I won’t answer, but I liked these two in particular.

Hello James,

I'm interested in whether you have any thoughts about Hush as a character? I'm kind of fascinated by him, he's got a great design and some strong story hooks, but the original story is so damn convoluted regarding what his deal is supposed to be that I feel like no one has really nailed down a definitive blueprint for the character. Yet that story seems to be a perennial TPB seller for DC, and he's probably one of the better established new Bat-characters post the new millennium. I know he was in Batman Eternal, but I'm not sure how involved you were with those particular issues of that series. 

Best regards (and thanks for a lot of enjoyment and great stories!), Jakob

Hey, Thanks for the question! Honestly, I love Hush as a character. I’ve loved him since I first read the original Hush series (and I had that Jim Lee Batman on a Gargoyle cover as a big poster framed in my Middle School bedroom). 

You’re right that the focus of a mystery is never fully defined in their first appearance. I think there’s a whole series of stories that followed the original that played out in Paul Dini’s Detective Comics and Streets of Gotham. 

Heart of Hush and House of Hush are some unsung classics. They got overshadowed a bit by what Grant Morrison was doing on the core Batbooks at the time, but if you love Hush and you haven’t hunted those stories down, I highly highly recommend them. 

Thanks for the question!

Hello Mr. Tynion IV,

My name is Nathaniel and I live in Ames, Iowa!

Anyway, love your comics, big fan and all, but my question is: what is the most brilliant thing you’ve seen a horror comic accomplish in the last decade? Sorry to lay that on you, it’s a big one to ponder and you probably have work to finish. More important work that is. Well, you’re not getting paid for the blog directly, so is this really work for you? Does any of what you do truly classify as work? After all, you love it right? Plus, do you even read these emails first, maybe someone reviews them beforehand? All I’m trying to say is, keep writing comics.

Oh boy, That is TOUGH.

I mean, on one hand there is an easy answer. THE WALKING DEAD transformed a black and white horror comic into the most successful comic book of the modern age, turning Robert Kirkman into an outright Mogul. When we go to Pennsylvania to visit Sam’s family, and her mom and teenage brother know characters from a black and white indy horror comic? That’s fucking impressive. That’s the biggest accomplishment any horror comic has had in the last 25 years.

But in terms of craft, it’s tough. I think horror comics have been in a lull for a while, and are just coming back to life at the end of the decade. There were great horror comics in the interim. Wytches and Revival were some of my favorites… But now we have the incredible artistic symbiosis between Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino in Gideon Falls. We have the entire Hill House line of books. We have The Plot and These Savage Shores, and so much more… 

And now all of Junji Ito’s Manga is in print and in english, and we’ve got the Gou Tanabe Lovecraft adaptations? 2019 was the best horror year in comics in living memory. 

And yes. Comics are work. I did four all-nighters in December to get you monsters some neat comic books to read and I paid the price for it! There are days comic books make me want to set my beard on fire and run off into the woods and be a hermit.

But I can’t imagine doing anything else!

HOUSEKEEPING

I am very excited about a lot of things right now. I have a bunch of projects that are evolving beyond vague notions and turning into things that will probably become actual comic books you can read in the next couple of years!

PROJECT CHAOS took a big step forward over the break. That book is going to be to 2020, what PROJECTS WINGBOY, DALLAS, and LAKEHOUSE were to 2018-2019. Which is to say that I’m going to be developing it on the backburner, with an eye to releasing it the following year.  There’s a secondary project that I might explore releasing in a different media that I’ll call PROJECT FLAGON that’s in a similar boat.

DALLAS is about to gear up into production in a big way. I had a big brainstorming moment about LAKEHOUSE over the weekend that I think will shape how I write that book later this spring when I start scripting. PROJECT WINGBOY is about to be announced, and about half the art is done. 

Like I’ve said before, some of these are deep backburner projects that won’t see the light of day for years… But some of them are closer than you think. And arc two of SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN is shaping up to be something very, very special. I am excited to explore more of this strange world I’m building. There’s going to be a cool outlet for you to find out more about that book soon. 

Anyways. Buy a few dozen copies of Batman 86 this week, so I can spend the next few years writing all the big ideas that have been bubbling up in the back of my brain. 

And buy a few dozen of those, too! 

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
1.6.20

6: The Land of Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy

2019, huh?

What a weird year.

I was a part of writing DC’s #1 and #5 top selling comic of the year in Detective #1000 and The Grim Knight. I launched my first creator owned in two years to more success than I ever could have hoped. I successfully lobbied for the chance to write Batman following Tom King. I got to write a comic book that the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped draw. I got to work on big, event level, cosmos shattering stories in Justice League, and Hell Arisen. I got my first tattoos. My dog lost the ability to walk on her hind legs, and recovered. I herniated a disc in my back and have (mostly) healed from that. My brother got married.

I made more time for friends and family in my life (though not nearly enough). I read more books and comics. Watched more movies. Listened to more music. Had more good conversations about all of them.

But a lot of what made the year really special I can’t talk about just yet.  

I think, looking back, I’m going to see this as a year of decisions. Big, life-changing decisions. Most of those decisions, and how they relate to my career and my life, I’m going to keep vague for the moment. There are big exciting things happening right now, and they deserve my immediate focus and your immediate excitement.

Speaking of which… Batman #86 is in stores next week! Holy Shit!

This was the year where I set things in motion that will shape my 2020s and beyond. And I’m really excited about it.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN is a harbinger of a lot of the comic book work I plan to do over the next few years. I see it as a kind of turning point for my work. It’s the book that helped me triangulate the kind of comic books I want to spend the next part of my life writing.

I kind of suspect that a few years down the line I’ll forget that it started in 2019, because it’s so much more in line with what’s going to follow, rather than my other works of the 2010s.

BATMANNERY

Batman #86 comes out a week from Wednesday, so… basically I’m going to be insufferable on Twitter for the next nine days. I’ll be banging on all sorts of pots and pans, and showing bits of amazing artwork from Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki, and Tomeu Morey. This is all to trick you into buying my comic book! So, please, buy my comic book! It has Batman in it doing really cool stuff, and we’ve got a really exciting story!

Issue 86 introduces two of the four new costumed characters I’m creating in my run. You can see them above in the original Daniel/Miki pencils and inks. Assassins by the names of GUNSMITH and MR. TEETH. Here’s what I wrote in the script to Tony as I introduce them. I get more into their specific backstories in Issue 88, and there will be an issue in MAY where you get even more about them.

GUNSMITH should look a bit like a peak Wildstorm character – He has an American flag Bandana covering the bottom of his face. His body is covered in ammunition, and he has three large assault rifles on his back. And it’s clear there are MORE guns all over his person. He looks tough and Military. Stocky build. A former soldier, and former Blackwater style mercenary. If he’s showing any skin, he has a tattoo of a cross on one shoulder and a tattoo of a bald eagle on the other.

MR. TEETH should look like a fucking nightmare. I see his mouth being held open by hooks (NOT in a smile – no Joker or Batman Who Laughs vibe to him), so his teeth are always showing. It’s almost skeletal. He might also have a necklace of teeth around his neck. He is dressed all in strange white. Maybe he’s albino, to boot. Honestly, Tony, just make the creepiest fucking character possible. He is an insane serial killer who realized he was good enough get paid for what he does.

The next two characters who appear in my run are THE DESIGNER, who is the defacto big bad of THEIR DARK DESIGNS, and PUNCHLINE, who is operating in the shadows of this arc and will get her cover debut in the next round of solicits. I’m really really excited for you to meet all of them, but Punchline is the one I am especially eager for you to meet.

I want to show you the Jorge Jimenez design for her, but I think DC Publicity would rise out of their holiday hibernation chambers and send its assassins to get me.

It’s really wild that these books are all finally coming out. I’m sure I’ll be getting very sappy about it during the next newsletter. Right now I am just trying to keep my head on straight. And hell, I have another issue I need to write by next Monday, don’t I?

Anyways. Soon you get to see me tackle Gotham City. I really hope you like it. Here’s an amazing Batman I got in my inbox from Guillem March over the weekend. I also have Jorge Jimenez pages, but they are FULL OF SPOILERS so I can’t show you them! But soon your pull boxes will be filled with the same rad comic book art I get to look at coming in every day.

TALKING HISTORY

As the decade draws to a close, and I feel myself at a kind of turning point in my career, I’ve been looking back a lot at the comics and culture that shaped me. I talked about this a bit in brief on Twitter over the holiday, and I’ll repeat the sentiment here for those who missed it.

Now that we're at the dawn of the 20s, I think we need to start codifying the comics history of the 21st Century in terms of its defining traits and tropes. The 00s and 10s are as crucial as (if not more crucial than) the 80s and 90s to understanding the medium as it is today.

I think it's been a longer road for millennials to reach positions of power in the industry than it was for previous comic creating generations, but we need to start talking a bit more about what made us come into this strange industry, and what we want it to become.

We were in high school and college in the 00s, we were the industry kids fighting for space at the table in the 10s, and now we're going to be the dominant creative force of this next decade. I think that story needs to be told a bit more.

I got one response to the thread saying you need a good twenty years to recognize the tropes of an era, but I don’t think that’s really the case.

90s Comic tropes were so defined they were being commented on and parodied almost immediately. By the time I was in high school and fiddling around on message boards in the early 2000s, there was a strong sense of how the 80s and 90s led to the current moment, even if it was rough and more myth than reality.

In the Superhero world, excess led to Boom and Bust. The sorts of writers who had elevated comics in the 80s had left superheroes to go make comics at Vertigo, the art giants who had fueled the peak at the start of the decade, left to found Image. And the Big Two, lacking direction, just tried to repeat the success of the early 90s over and over with progressively weaker results. There were big exceptions, but in broad strokes, that’s what the industry felt like to a seventh grader in the year 2000, chatting online with the fans who has stuck out the decade.

And then, suddenly, there was this explosion of exciting new content, that reoriented everything.

Even then, I thought of myself more as a DC Fan. I liked the Batman trades I had gotten and read. I had the novelization of No Man’s Land I had swiped from a Cruise Ship Library. But I didn’t have a comic shop near me, so I relied on the mail-order subscription service, and Marvel’s was a LOT better. I had started picking up issues of Wizard Magazine at the local borders and pouring through pages about all sorts of strange and interesting new comics. Every month my Marvel books showed up, and I would fill out the little cardboard sheet it came packaged with back to get MORE comics.

And suddenly, all of these great, vibrant books started showing up in my mailbox.

Morrison/Quitely’s New X-Men. Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man with Bagley and Daredevil with Maleev. Millar/Hitch Ultimates. JMS/JRJR Amazing Spider-Man. Simone/UDON Deadpool. Ennis/Dillon Punisher. I wanted to talk to somebody about how cool and interesting these books were, so I dived into the web forums that were huge at the time. And I started asking for rides to the comic shop to pick up the comics I read about that weren’t available through mail order. I remember when the MAX line started and lying to my parents to get my hands on Alias and Supreme Power.

And that, of course, led me to Wildstorm. The Authority and Planetary hit me right in the gut. They were just staggering beasts of ideas. And then there was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which made me feel smarter than any other Sophomore in High School. I would talk to friends about Allan Quartermain as though I had any idea who he was when I picked up the first volume. That led to the other ABC comics, which led me to Watchmen and V For Vendetta, which led me to all of Vertigo…

And that’s around when DC monthlies started catching my attention. Teen Titans by Johns/McKone pulled me into the fold, and I went on to read everything Johns wrote at the company, and followed the seeds of Identity Crisis, which opened up a whole generation of JL characters I didn’t know existed. As the DC Characters remembered their histories, I learned them for the first time. I filled in the gaps of my DC Knowledge with Morrison/Porter’s JLA, and Waid’s Flash. Somebody on a message board told me to get my hands on Gotham Central and it blew my mind.

It was like Comics just kept peeling open, layer by layer, and it felt like every six months the shelf space at my local Borders Books would double, half with new books, and half with old titles from the 80s I had never heard of. People on message boards would talk about stuff like Miracleman with a mythical air, and that would get me asking my mom to let me go to Wizard World Chicago so I could try and get my hands on one of the issues myself (it ended up being way too expensive, and I would finally get a full collection of them in College). I started biking to the comic book shop 45 minutes away to get the event books and DC books I couldn’t get via subscription, even when my parents wouldn’t drive me.

It felt like it would be until I was a hundred years old until I got through reading all the classic comic book runs I wanted to read. There was always one more volume of Alan Moore. A Warren Ellis miniseries I had never heard of. Simultaneously, in the single issues week to week, everything was building to something. By the time I had a car, and we were jumping One Year Later from an Infinite Crisis, I would bring a giant stack of comics to school on Thursdays that we’d pass around the lunch table. I became my friend group’s lending library and comics evangelist.

It felt like there was this gushing river of great comics that would never end.

And sure, some stories came to beautiful, stunning conclusions, but others kind of just… petered out. Or kept going long past the obvious moment to draw it to a close. The Ultimate Universe that had made me a weekly comics reader, and converted so many non-comic reading friends, became somehow more complex and difficult to follow than the regular Marvel Universe. Fewer friends wanted me to pass those books around the table.

By the mid-2000s, we’d see the that a lot of times in comics, a book might never build to the ending promised. And the crescendo to a major event series loses its power when you know there’s another one just around the corner.

All systems corrode. The center does not hold.

In college, starting in late 2006, I had a MUCH harder time getting my non-comic reading friends to read current, floppy comics. The geek-inclined were more interested in talking about the movies that were getting more and more popular.

They knew the comics were the inspiration for the movies, and something like The Dark Knight might help me get a few of my Batman trades in circulation among friends to help us speculate what villains Nolan might use in a third movie. But it never opened up much past that. Talking to friends about the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe made them interested in the Avengers, but the four volumes of the Millar/Hitch Ultimates was as much as I could get them to flip through. The different line-ups and the big stack of books they needed to read to understand things month-to-month made for difficult conversion.

As college went on, I started bringing fewer Superhero comics with me. There was a moment my lending library system kind of dried up… Until I got my hands on Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead. Those, alongside pretty much anything BKV was writing for Vertigo or Wildstorm, I couldn’t keep in hand. I was always loaning them out, and copies of each were lost in my friend’s hometowns all over the country.

That’s the road that would culminate in the trifecta of the New 52, the first Marvel Now, and the Image Boom in the early-mid 2010s. A diversification of content, and a flood of new creators and new ideas. Another generation stepped up to the plate and made some really fucking good comics.

All of this is naval-gazing more than anything. Mostly I’m just trying to get my experience down in text so I can take a kind of aerial view.

I miss it.

I think every comic fan has the era that made them fall in love with comics. New people find the industry every day. But being there, in that moment of creative renaissance, right as the back-catalog of the industry became widely available in bookstores for the first time? Comics felt like this secret bastion of the biggest and wildest ideas in storytelling, and it felt like it had been happening forever, and WOULD happen forever. I miss staying up late at night, breathlessly paging through volume 3 of a ten volume series, knowing another ten volume series was right behind it. And another. And another.

That was the moment that made me want to write comic books. If I hadn’t found comics right at that time, I don’t know that I ever would have. If I had been five years older or five years younger, I would have needed a more aggressive advocate to get me invested, and there just wasn’t one in my life. I became the aggressive advocate, because of how good and exciting all of those books were right when I was at my loneliest and most insecure. I needed worlds to escape into, and Comics provided.

What’s exciting to me is that the kids who experienced that moment at the same time as me. The true Millennials, the Kids who literally came of age after 2000, and were teenagers in the 2000s, are starting to show up in a big way in the industry.

Our stories feel like the children of the stories that made me love comic books. Not derivative, but inspired and shaped by them in some key way. The early to mid 00s deserves a lot more attention and critical thought, not as much by the people who lived and worked through them as creators, but by the kids who are in comics today BECAUSE of them. I think the storytelling choices of that time underlies a LOT of what we’re going to see in the 2020s.

I’m not even touching on Manga, Webcomics, or literary Graphic Novels, even though they are equally formative forces in shaping our baby creator minds. I could write a whole thing like this about each of them. And I might! Beware!

I’m going to keep thinking on this, and probably writing too much about it in these newsletters. I’m not here to write anything prescriptive, or try and claim other people’s experiences, but I want to keep talking about the sorts of comic books I read and loved when I was at the exact age as our real target audience.

I would love to hear about other creators’ thoughts on that era, and how it shaped them. I just want there to be more conversations. It feels like comics history too often ends after the early 90s boom and the bust that followed. I think that’s because the creators who experienced the 90s like I described the 00s, came of age in comics in the 10s. So now, it’s our turn to define the kind of game we’re setting out to play. Let’s be clear about our influences, and how they shaped us. I think that understanding will focus the ideas that we can pull forward and find our own success.

In the meantime, I hope my cohort and I can manage to create works just as daring, inventive and invigorating as those stories were, then. And I hope there are young teens out there reading the dang things, so we have the great comics of tomorrow.

THINGS I LIKED IN 2019

I’m not going to do a whole big list, because a lot of things I loved feel pretty universally loved (You don’t need another top ten list raving about Parasite. Obviously, Parasite is amazing. Obviously HoxPox is amazing). But let me say the following.

  • CRIMINAL by Brubaker/Phillips and GIDEON FALLS by Lemire/Sorrentino make me feel like a rank amateur every time I read them. They are just very, very good. I keep rereading issues, because it feels like I’m watching a complicated magic trick pulled off, over and over again in front of my eyes.

  • DCEASED is the sort of high concept, easy sell sort of comic that there should be a lot more of in the superhero genre, but there isn’t. Taylor/Hairsine made it look easy, but it isn’t. Blockbuster superheroes at their finest (and scariest).

  • VAULT COMICS continues to put out extremely good books, and you should check them all out and see which ones speak to you. These are the books that keep spinning me into thinking about the coming Millennial comic age of the 2020s. I’m especially interested to see what they do in the YA space now that they have my former JLD editor, the amazing Rebecca Taylor at the helm of the new division!

  • It feels like a new golden age for HORROR COMICS. With all of the Hill House books (especially The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and DaNi), Hellblazer, The Plot, Black Stars Above, These Savage Shores, and *cough* Something is Killing the Children. I think some of the most innovative comic work is happening in horror right now. At The Mountains Of Madness by Gou Tanabe is the comic I expected the least from and got the most from all year. Probably the best iteration of the classic Lovecraft that exists. I am eager to see more of his work translated. It's exciting. There are so many good, scary comics to read.

  • I feel like CHERNOBYL is being forgotten a bit at the end of the year, but it’s easily the best thing I saw on television in 2019 (which, all things considered, was a very good television year). I don’t think anything hit me harder all year. I’m very grateful

  • ROOT OF EVIL is not for the feint of heart, but is the true crime podcast I loved the most this year. It needled under my skin and stayed there, wriggling. Truly harrowing work, from a much more personal point of view than you usually get to see in the True Crime format. If I were to list all the content warnings for this one it would go on for ages, so if there are lines you don’t want crossed in your non-fiction, read up before you dig in.

  • I read THE FISHERMAN based on Steve Foxe’s recommendation around Halloween this year and loved it. Especially because my family has a cabin up in the Catskills just around the corner from where the whole twisted story goes down. One of the best cosmic horror things I’ve read that doesn’t read at all like just Lovecraft remixed. Just good, good scary stuff.

  • MONEYLAND by Oliver Burrough is the non-fiction book that got under my skin the most this year. I listened to a lot of non-fiction that didn’t do much for me in 2019, but I’m glad I made it through this one. But in terms of recommendations, I still think everyone in the Millennial generation (and older, frankly) should read Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, and Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland. I think those three books do more to lay out why the country is the way it is right now than any others I’ve read.

  • MESSY SOPHOMORE FILMS. I really, really enjoyed US and MIDSOMMAR. THE LIGHTHOUSE left me a little cold, but I loved the visuals and the performances. I still need to see DOCTOR SLEEP, but have heard very good things. It feels like a whole generation of indy horror directors put out really good, weird and interesting work this year. It didn’t all work for me, and some of it felt like it could be cooked in the oven a bit longer, but it’s refreshing to see so many directors trying new and interesting things in the medium. I like the uncooked, doughy stuff. It’s thrilling as a creator to dig into a work that’s experimenting and seeing what excesses and flourishes they can get away with. That’s where you get a sense of what other stuff they are going to make, and in all cases, it excites me.

  • BAKING BREAD is good. It calms me down, makes the apartment smell delicious, and feels like a fun, weird science project. I like having a hobby. Especially a hobby that I’m still not very good at, and have a lot to learn about. Comics used to be my hobby, but they haven’t been in a long, long time. It’s nice having something to talk about at parties. This year I want to try a bunch of new types of bread.

HOUSEKEEPING

I did a big round of “Ask Me Anything” on Twitter over the weekend, and my fan mail bag is a little light. Now that we’re almost through the holidays, if you have any questions about my Batman run, particularly ones that might be longer than a tweet, hit me up at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with NEWSLETTER in the header.

The biggest benefit of the holidays are the DC offices are closed, and I can make big headway on my creator owned projects. So let’s do a quick rundown.

PROJECT WINGBOY is going to be announced in a few weeks. The artist has been turning in stunning pages over the holidays, and I am in love with this book and all its characters. I first came up with this book when I was in high school, living through all the stuff I was talking about above. It’s an OGN, and the tonal midpoint between Backstagers and The Woods.

PROJECT DALLAS’ first script is going through final revisions and the artist will be wrapped with his current commitments in the coming weeks. The artist and I have been talking about this book since September 2018, and it’s been in my head since summer 2017. I have a logo and a cover mockup staring at me from my desktop, and it looks really fucking cool if I have to say so myself.

PROJECT LAKEHOUSE is next on the docket to spin into gear, and I have a document about its main characters growing steadily on my desktop. That’ll probably happen roughly in tandem with PROJECT LONGTOOTH which I just finished the proposal for to run up the ladder. I need to send some emails about PROJECT CHAOS, which isn’t going to be a thing until 2021 at the earliest, but you gotta keep the balls moving.

I also had some NEW ideas about things, but they need to chill for a bit while I write a lot more Batman comics and the creator owned I ALREADY have on my plate.

Anyways. Enjoy the rest of the year. See you in 2020!

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
12.30.19

5: The End is the Beginning is the End

I need to figure out sleep better, I really really do.

My brain keeps rewarding me with very productive nights when I just power through. Maybe the real answer is I just become nocturnal. Then I could get both the productive nights and enough sleep. That would be very appropriate given the new gig. But that would ALSO probably drive me nuts. I don’t get outside enough, but the sun is nice and makes me feel good.

I have finally moved all my furniture into my new office! I need to finish building it so I can start working there, which means going to Home Depot and getting the right kind of screws to screw in my desk’s legs. The real goal is to get it all set up this week, so it can become my primary base of operations starting in the new year.

It’s only a couple of subway stops away from my apartment, and just a 30-40 minute walk if the weather’s nice. Which I’m excited about. I have a whole wishlist of audiobooks that I want to start working my way through. I am ludicrously excited about the idea of a commute. I haven’t had a commute since I was working in advertising just out of college. I’ve always worked in my apartment, even when my “office” was just an armchair in the corner of my bedroom. I’ve never been someone who can write in a coffee shop or a bar. For one, I spend too much of my day on the phone talking about stuff I shouldn’t be talking about in a room of strangers, any number of whom could be secret comics journalists (I mean, probably NOT, but I also hate answering the question “I’m sorry, but were you talking about BATMAN?”). So now I’ll have someplace to go and write in a comfy little room, and maybe finally get that mythical work/life balance in order.

This may shock you, but when you work 7 days a week/52 weeks a year, and your workplace is roughly 20 feet from where you relax and watch television, it’s difficult to keep that balance. It’s always easy to justify walking back into the office and knocking out a few more pages before going to bed, and then suddenly you’re twenty pages deep and it’s 4AM, and your sleep schedule is fucked for the next two weeks.

The other week, I posted on twitter that I was going to be outfitting a new office space, and asked if anybody had suggestions about where I should look for office furniture, and somebody suggested this as a Jokey thing, but I decided, why the fuck not. So, meet the Bat-Chair I will be writing all sorts of Gotham Mischief from.

Expect more pictures from my office as I finish setting it up in the next couple weeks. I am excited!

STAR WARS

I’m going to use what a newsletter is for, and talk about my Star Wars feelings in a format where people can’t chop up what I say into individual tweets and yell at me about them.

It feels really bizarre that a Star Wars movie is coming out on Thursday and it doesn’t feel like people are talking about it? I wonder if it was ultimately a bad idea to launch The Mandalorian so close to the new release. I think everyone is so consumed with birth of our new god and savior, Baby Yoda, to think about Kylo Ren palling around with Emperor Palpatine.

I am excited about the new movie, and I’m nervous. Endings are hard. They are really really fucking hard. And I have never been in love with the sequel trilogy.

THE FORCE AWAKENS was tremendous fun to watch, and the lead actors are so charismatic that they make up for the flaws while you’re sitting int he theater, but the universe always seemed so slapdash, and the stakes always muddled. THE LAST JEDI felt like a more expansive universe, and I genuinely love how Luke Skywalker was handled. It baffles me that that’s the controversial part of the film in the Star Wars culture wars.

For me, the trouble is the weird static plot with the chase between the First Order and the Resistance. I also don’t know what the point of the Benecio Del Toro character was? What’s he up to? Why’s he in there? And why is everyone trying to kamikaze themselves? I think the end is very strong, though. The throne room lightsaber fight, and Luke’s lightshow “defeat” are the purest Star Wars things in the whole sequel trilogy.

I wrote this on a friend’s Facebook the other day (Edited it a bit to standalone without the thread)…

One of the biggest issues I have with the new trilogy is that the relationship between the Resistance and the New Republic is really messy and confusing. Which is EXTRA frustrating, because in reading the supporting material, I have a better sense of it, and there IS something REALLY interesting there but it is never expressed in either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi.

I get the sense that the New Republic formed in the wake of the Empire's fall is a bit more like the EU or even the UN. They are more a loose, peaceful alliance of friendly planets, rather than a strong singular Government. The sense is that the New Republic decided to disband their army because that was too "Imperial", but Leia basically said fuck no and built an illegal army to keep fighting the remnants of the Empire and the new forces that rose in its wake, like the First Order.

WHICH IS SUPER INTERESTING! It means that in Force Awakens, Leia would be this stubborn radical proved right! She is effectively a military extremist who everyone would have dismissed. She’s like Winston Churchill in the 1950s, being put out to pasture, and then all of a sudden the USSR did Nuke London, and his extremism was actually the right call. It also makes the fact that other systems are reluctant to join up with her in THE LAST JEDI make more sense… People don’t want to join these eternal Star Wars.

But when they destroy the New Republic government it's not even clear what happened? Like what was actually destroyed with the planets destroyed by Starkiller Base?

Even in the Last Jedi, it's super confusing to me. Did the First Order take control of planets? Is there just total chaos in the galaxy because the central government was destroyed and all that's left are these two armies fighting a war that nobody else wants? The New Republic seems to have been destroyed, and The First Order is slipping into power, but like, even Palpatine needed to take control of the Senate which was ALREADY in control of these planets to create an empire!

Like, Who is ACTUALLY in charge of planets that were part of the Old Republic, Empire, and New Republic? Is the First Order actually WIELDING power, or are they just an armada eliminating the last of the Resistance? It’s not like Snoke was setting up Palpatine’s old throne room. Is an average person on Coruscant (for instance) even aware of what is happening between the Resistance and the First Order?

And I know these are kids adventure movies, and they don't need to spend hours establishing governmental systems and boring politics. They shouldn't! But it's confusing, and it makes it a harder world to just sit back and think about and explore. There are HUGE chunks missing in the math of this universe, and not in a "It's fun to speculate on how to fill it in" way, but more in a "I don't know the rules of the game being played, and now I'm a little confused and bored."

The stakes in both the prequels and the original trilogy are much clearer. There is a tired old republic that can't control or suppress the darkness rotting it from the inside. And then there is an evil empire suppressing everyone and people are fighting back against that. Both of those are simple enough to understand (The OT obviously the clearest and simplest).

Emotionally, the new trilogy hits the right beats for me, but it's really evident that it was rushed together without a clear plan, and big chunks of the mythology were being figured out on the fly. Which gets to me. It highlights these movies as more commerce than a cohesive vision. Even the prequels are cohesive, even though they are mostly genuinely BAD movies. You get a sense that there ARE answers to the questions, even if those answers are "Midichlorians."

I hope the new one fills in that stuff in a way that smoothes out the other two (and that's genuinely still possible). But it'll be clearly retconning internal logic into a system that didn't care to build internal logic.

I have a feeling that RISE OF THE SKYWALKER will marry the flaws of both films that come before it. Hopefully it’s elevated to something more…

I guess I’ll find out this Thursday night, half-past Midnight.

BATMANNERY

So, this is an emotional week for Batman Fans! 

Two big eras of Batman draw to a close on the same day! And then a coda sets the stage for what comes next.

I want to say cheers to Tom King and all the incredible artists he’s worked with over the last 85 issues for doing some really exciting and daring things with Batman as a character. I think the story I’ll always remember the most is COLD DAYS which pits Bruce Wayne as a juror deciding whether Mr. Freeze or Batman was culpable for the crime committed. 12 Angry Men with Batman and Mr. Freeze. Just a smart, simple story with stunningly good Lee Weeks art. It’s definitely worth a revisit this week as the current run comes to an end. 

This week ALSO sees the whole Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo Batman saga which began with Batman #1 in September 2011, draw to a close. I’ve been hearing Scott talk about LAST KNIGHT ON EARTH in various shapes and forms since around when he first started working on ZERO YEAR, and the final product is just stunning, beautiful, and exceeded my every expectation. This last issue is something special. It cuts right to the heart of the character, and speaks to exactly what makes him so enduring. Honestly, it’s a perfect story for this moment of Batman, in ways that I won’t spoil until you get your hands on the book.

It’s no secret that my career in comics started in the pages of that Batman run. Batman #8 is my first published comic book, with the backup story. I have a page from Rafael Albuquerque from the first part of “The Fall of the House of Wayne” framed on the wall above the couch where I’m sitting now. Those backup stories, and the annuals, and series it led to were my Graduate School, and Scott and Greg were my mentors, shaping me into the writer I am today. The story priorities I learned working in and around that run are what I try to highlight in all of my comics.

And then the Rebirth Era… That’s where I feel like I came into my own. My Detective Comics run that launched alongside Tom’s Batman is where I defined my own sense of Gotham City, and I think that’s the comic that really showed my voice in the DC Universe and defined me as a writer on my own terms. So seeing the current run end, it really feels like a culmination. I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to step on the big stage, and make my mark, but more than that it feels like a natural step. 

My Batman run is lovingly grown from seeds planted across all these titles, from 8 years of working in and around Batman and Gotham City. From Backup stories, to Talon, to Red Hood and the Outlaws, to Batman Eternal, to Batman & Robin Eternal, To Detective Comics, To Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… And from the amazing writers like Scott and Tom that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and alongside all these years.  

So, this we see the end of the story of the Batman that started my career at the company, and the end of the run on the character I’ll be following directly.  It’s a neat way to end the decade. 

Cheers to Scott. Cheers to Tom. Cheers to the last two eras of Gotham City. 

And cheers to Grant Morrison for not ALSO having a Batman comic book out this week, or I would REALLY feel like DC had it out for me!

Batman #85 has a 3 page coda by me, Guillem March, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles. This coda will start a drumbeat that’s going to culminate in a huge story later this year. One that I’ve been excitingly texting my editor, Ben Abernathy about back and forth all weekend. You’ll be seeing snippets of that story play out over the course of my first storyarc, THEIR DARK DESIGNS, which starts the first week of January.

I am ludicrously excited and nervous. I can’t wait to for you to see what we’ve cooked up for you. 

AND as you may have seen from the solicits, the great and powerful Jorge Jimenez has joined Team Batman alongside Tony S. Daniel, and Guillem March. These three artists are the heart of Team Batman 2020, along with Tomeu Morey who will be coloring every issue of the series. Every piece of art I’ve seen from this series so far has been absolutely stunning. I am beyond excited to show it off to all of you.

Check out these amazing Jorge Cover to Batman #90 & 91. THEIR DARK DESIGNS is going to be a powerhouse story with these powerhouse artists. And that’s just the beginning :)

This week, Jorge sent designs over for a new character in the Batman mythos who has been existing in the back of my brain for a while. I think she is going to go over big… I’ve been enjoying writing and thinking about her so much, that I may have snuck her into YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #3. I love putting toys back into the toybox, and I’ve been wanting a character in this mode for a long, long time.

Together, we’re going to bring you some REALLY exciting Batman stories in 2020. I promise. They are bloody and beautiful, and a bit funny too. And I am still cooking up newer and crazier Bat-Vehicles by the minute. There’s one in 87 that’s particularly bad-ass and exciting.

THIS WEEK IN STORES

YEAR OF THE VILLAIN: HELL ARISEN #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Steve Epting
Colors by Nick Filardi
Letters by Travis Lanham
Edited by Dave Wielgosz, Harvey Richards, Alex Antone, and Jamie S. Rich
Variant Cover by Ricardo Federici

It’s a big DC Week. Like, big big big. On top of the Batmans, we’ve also got the big finale to DOOMSDAY CLOCK, WONDER WOMAN: DEAD EARTH, and a whole host of neat comic books… But this is one I have been excited about for literally a year and a half.

This is the conclusion of the story that we’ve been playing out over in Justice League, Batman Who Laughs, and Batman/Superman. This is the follow-up to the Infection, The Offer, and the conclusion of the YEAR OF THE VILLAIN story. It’s the final battle between the two dominant forces among DC villainy in the last year. The Smartest Man Alive versus the evil doppelganger of DC’s greatest superhero.Lex Luthor vs. The Batman Who Laughs. 

It is a more important series to the DC Mythos than I think anybody realizes yet, so I’d recommend jumping on the train early. When a certain something I can’t even really hint about is announced, and it’s clear what this is all building to, I bet the first few issues of this are going to be tough to find. This series is going to have epic ramifications for the villain communities. This is very much a “whoever wins, we lose” Aliens vs. Predator situation, but my goal is to make all of that extremely, extremely fun to read.

I love writing villains. Some of my favorite comics I’ve written for DC are the Legion of Doom issues of Scott’s Justice League run. And this is what all of those issues have been building toward. If you were to go back and read one issue before picking this up, I’d check out Justice League #8, drawn by the incredible Mikel Janín. That was the first time I wrote Lex and the BMWL together, and I wrote that entire sequence with this in mind. 

This issue also lets me write the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, who have been some of my favorite DC villains since I read JLA: Earth Two back when I was in middle school. For those of you saying “AH! THEY DIED IN FOREVER EVIL?! HOW COULD THEY BE IN THIS ISSUE!” You should read the comic, because Lex Luthor feels the same way :P

Technically, the events of this issue follow Justice League #39, the finale of the current run, which comes out next month. Originally, we wanted to line up with 38, but the big finale of the Justice/Doom War needed space to breathe and be as awesome as Scott and I wanted. This issue doesn’t spoil what happens to the League… This may follow what happens to Luthor and Perpetua following that story, but you’re going to want to see what gets teed up in JL #39 next month, I promise you that.

This four issue mini-series is going to resolve a lot of big threads you’ve been following in the books, and it’s going to clear the decks for a big story that’s the conclusion to the whole big metastory we’ve been brewing for two years. It’s a thrilling feeling being able to pay off threads that we’ve been planting for so long. It’s even better feeling seeing it all play out in the hands of an artist as talented as Steve Epting. 

The end is coming! It starts in this book. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

BATMAN #85
Coda by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Clayton Cowles

Come for the conclusion of Tom King’s run on Batman, and stick around for the bloody afterparty with me, Guillem March, Tomeu Morey, and our good pal, The Joker. My Batman run starts here, with a nod to some of the other big things happening in the DC Universe… But it’s all building to a big story that is fun-on Batman. The thing that’s so exciting working with Guillem and Tomeu again is that we haven’t all worked together as a team since my first DC Comics ongoing series, TALON. So to team up again on the main Batman title? It’s really a dream come true.

LETTER COLUMN

I got some great letters from you all this week! I’m going to answer a couple. If you want to get a letter in a future column, email me at TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with NEWSLETTER in the header.

Hi from Thailand, James! 

Just a note to say that I’ve never been more excited about a horror themed comic book until Something is killing the children. I read each issue too fast and I’m sad every time I come to the end of it because I need to know what Erica is up to. 

When you’re working on a series like this, do you work according to a certain number of issues to put out, or according to a number of story arcs? 

Btw if anyone made little plushies of that octopus, I would definitely grab one. 

Cheers,
Hannah 

Hi, Hannah!

I’m so freaking glad that you like SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN! I’m sad every time I finish a script, because I love writing that world so dang much. So far there is no official stuffed Octopus, but I should consider having a conversation about getting those made, shouldn’t I? Skelton Crew did an amazing job making the stuffed Doctor Robot from The Woods… HMMM….

Normally I work from a pretty precise story document that outlines every issue of a story. SIKTC has been different because I keep changing the shape of the story as I write it. Originally it was going to be five, standalone, one-shot issues. I realized I had a longer story to tell as I was writing it, and now I see it as a longform novel of a series. The world keeps getting bigger. I have a roadmap through the next two arcs of the series, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I throw THAT out, too.

Thanks for the letter!

Who is the the mask? Bruce Wayne or Batman? Or is it more complicated?

I sometimes feel they are both one in the same, but like all of us, we are capable of being many things. A parent. A friend or a lover. A son or daughter. An enemy or an ally. Maybe Bruce just has more deep and complex layering. With intimate relationships being rare, it’s what makes him more mysterious. What do you think?

Thanks for letting us email you!
Jason

Thanks for WRITING me emails to respond to!

Honestly, my favorite theory has always been the triple-identity, which I am pretty sure comes from Mark Waid, or at least he’s the first person I heard express this. It’s the idea that there are actually three identities to both Superman and Batman. There is the public Bruce Wayne, which is obviously a mask, the public Batman, which is ALSO a mask…

And there is the REAL Bruce Wayne. The Bruce Wayne with his cowl down, sitting in front of the Bat-Computer, talking to Alfred about the latest case. That Bruce is the “real” Bruce. The one that isn’t an effort to keep up an image. The trouble is that Alfred has always been pretty much the only other person who sees that Bruce. Now, I’d say Selina sees it to, but without Alfred, it throws a bit of the balance of the “true” Bruce out of whack…

Which is something I’ll be diving into in my run. Which starts in a few weeks. Holy shit!

Okay. That’s enough for this week. Send me more questions for next week!

HOUSEKEEPING

This is a long one, mostly because I had too many Star Wars thoughts, but hey! I want you to get some bang for you buck. I still have two and half scripts to write before Christmas, so I should probably get back to them.

And fuck, I should figure out the rest of my Christmas Presents, huh?

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
12.17.19

4: Getting Old With My Pal Batman

It feels like I’ve been on the verge of having a cold for the last week. 

My head feels heavier than it ought to. The internal pressure is off, and I’ve got enough going on in my sinuses to make me want to sniffle, but not enough to make a sniffle do anything. This has been true for a week, and shows no sign of changing. So I guess this is just my life. And now my tongue is swollen. So that’s a fun improvement.

I should probably let myself sleep a bit extra, but I don’t see that happening this week. Maybe Friday, if I’m very productive the next couple of days? But we’ll see.

I turn 32 on Saturday. That’s not really an age that means anything? I guess there’s always a bit of a feeling when you’re 30 or 31, that you’re still basically in your twenties. I don’t feel like I’m in my 20s anymore. I feel like a 30-something. My back hurts and I have gray hairs in my beard and on my head. I had a long serious conversation with a professional about saving money so I can buy a place to live in the next couple of years. When Sam and I talk about the future, weddings and babies don’t sound as scary as they used to. Hangovers last longer and are more debilitating. We have boxes of holiday decorations we put up every year.

I still feel like whatever horrible chrysalis transformation into an “adult” doesn’t happen until around 35. I still don’t have the responsibilities that come with “adulthood.” I can make a stupid purchase, or go on a trip to another country, and I only really need to make sure I still have wifi to turn in scripts, and that we have a dogsitter to take care of Khaleesi. The difference between now and 25 is that those “adult” responsibilities feel closer, more reasonable, and more comfortable rather than insane and mythical. Habits and traditions feel more worthwhile, and adventure feels like a nice thing every now and then, not a day-to-day requirement.

I don’t know. It’s nice. I like being in my 30s.

I’ve always had a bit of a weird relationship with my age. For a long time I was really impatient about getting older. I started writing for DC Comics when I was 23, and I’ve spent most of the last eight years as the youngest person in the writing pool at the company. I never liked being seen as the kid in the room, even when that’s absolutely what I was. I wanted to be in my 30s because I thought that was roughly around when people stop being surprised when you say how old you are. So I grew out my beard, and wore button-downs, and tried to act a bit older than I was, to varying degrees of success.

It was weird being a comics baby in a lot of ways.

Most of my industry friends when I was breaking in were a good decade older than me. They were dealing with marriage and babies and all sorts of grown up shit, while I was dealing with unrequited crushes and bar trivia. Now I’m having the grown-up conversations, while my older friends have kids approaching their teenage years. Time is a weird thing.

The most exciting thing to me in my 30s is that my generational cohort has shown up in mainstream comics, and they are making lots of cool shit.

There were always there in some capacity, particularly in all ages and YA spaces, and especially in the assistant editorial pools. But they were few and far between in the pages of books on the shelves at your local comic shop. But now those all ages and YA creators are working on and show-running cartoons, those assistant editors have shot up the editorial ladder, and a whole new group of creators and editors have come into the business with lots of amazing ideas. Now they’re writing and editing and drawing all these amazing comics I love to read.

It’s honestly really refreshing?

Obviously, generation cohorts are more useful as a marketing tool than as an actual tool to group real-world humans… And there’s a different kind of comic book generation totally separate to the real world generation (That’s where you’d mark me as a latter New 52/DCYou creator. I might have started in 2012, but I don’t think I did much that counted as my OWN until 2014 with Batman Eternal and The Woods.)

But I’ll always have a bit more of a connection with the folks who have the same cultural touchstones as me. Who grew up watching Cartoon Cartoon and Nicktoons. Who dicked around on AIM when they should have been doing their homework. Who had Livejournals and Xangas, and had to text using an alphanumeric keypad until after college. Our math of the world is a bit different than other generations. Our high school experience was different. We had a different relationship to the internet. It’s not about better or worse, it’s just speaking a common language.

I like reading comics written in that common language, with all that shared experience. I’m excited to see what our generation can do to our weird industry to make it better. Or even if we fail at that, I look forward to reading a whole bunch of really cool and strange comics that speak to my generation’s priorities.

But I’m also always keeping my eyes open for the ambitious Zoomer in their early-twenties who somehow breaks in earlier than they should, and starts doing cool shit. I think there should be way more young people in comics in general.

Okay. I’m just rambling now.

This is all to say that there is nothing special about turning 32, and I am excited to see family and friends this weekend and drink with them. But first I need to finish writing some comic books

BATMANNERY

Okay. This is the scary part. This is the part where there’s no turning back. Where there’s no more tinkering, and I need to just let go of the beast and hope you like it. 

Batman #86 goes to the printer this week. In just under a month, you’ll be holding it in your hands. Then it stops being hypothetical. It becomes real and I stop being the incoming Batman writer, and become the current Batman writer. I’ve been reading over a PDF of the full issue, brilliantly lettered by Clayton Cowles. Sometime in the next 24 hours it’ll be fully locked and out the door for good.

Some pages are already up. You may have seen this incredible spread by Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki, and Tomeu Morey on Twitter.

You may have also seen this amazing new cover to BATMAN #86. (The previously solicited 86 cover is now the cover to 88)

That Tony Daniel knows how to draw one hell of a Batman. The whole issue is gorgeous and I am exceptionally proud of it.

I’ve written a lot about my big crazy 20 page document. The one I wrote when I was first approved on the book. But, you may be surprised to learn that I didn’t just copy and paste all of that into the first issues of each of the artists I’ll be working with next year. So this is how I distilled it for Tony and Guillem. These are the core principles of my first story-arc, THEIR DARK DESIGNS, and the following one, which I almost gave DC Publicity an aneurysm by accidentally naming here…

1. Batman is an Action Horror Superhero Comic.

This is going to be the guiding principle for the story we’re telling, on every page of the book. This should feel like a scary book. The villains are Action Horror villains, and when Batman arrives on the page, he should feel scarier than all of them. I’m going to try and push every scene from a horror angle, and I hope you do the same. If any beat seems too ordinary, come at it from a scarier angle. 

2. Gotham is under construction. It is becoming something new. 

Gotham City is the Nightmare of New York City. I want to get back to that a bit. Part of how to do that, I think is with a bunch of cranes and half-built buildings jutting up into the sky… There’s a looming strangeness to all of that. Big spotlights. Big strange machinery looming, larger than life. Strange dusty fog in the air from 24/hour construction. Every time we see the city, we should see it under construction. Derelict buildings boarded up with signs saying that new developments are coming. But even the people should feel a bit under construction, to carry that forward thematically. They have broken arms, casts. Bandages. They wrap their faces to avoid the industrial smog. They have bruises and scars. Thematically, everyone is hurt, and healing, but the healing might make them different than they were before. With only one exception (the new Wayne Enterprises HQ), nothing is sleek and finished. Everything is in a transitional state, and we should FEEL that.

3. Bruce Wayne is pushing himself to his absolute limits.

Alfred was Bruce’s safety brakes. He made sure he ate. Slept. Socialized a little… Those brakes are now gone. Bruce is operating at 100MPH in every aspect of his life. Out of costume, we should see the deep shadows under his eyes. His intensity has dialed up by a factor of ten. He’s fighting angrier. Still deliberate and methodical, he’s not QUITE unhinged, but he’s fast approaching unhinged. There should be the sense both in costume and out of it that Bruce is pushing himself too far.

4. Gadgets Gadgets Gadgets

This is the culmination of the first three points, and something you’ll be seeing a lot over these issues. Batman’s costume hasn’t changed, but all of his tools have been redesigned and upgraded. These should be an extension of the action horror angle and Bruce pushing himself to his limits. Bruce’s mind is a frightening place right now and it is creating frightening things. Everything from a Batarang up to new Bat-Vehicles need to look nightmarish, and part of the action horror nightmare city that is Gotham in 2020.

Okay… Just a few more weeks. I am excited when these bad boys are coming out every couple of weeks and I can show script excerpts and upcoming panels and all of that… I think you may be finding out another amazing artist joining the team in the next solicits, which are probably this week or next?

Oh, and also I want to mark this past week as the week a kernel of an idea for a new character blossomed into something real in conversations with Batman group editor, Ben Abernathy.

I am very excited for you to meet her.

THIS WEEK IN STORES

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #4
Cover A: Werther Dell’Edera
Cover B: Michael Walsh
Art: Werther Dell’Edera
Color: Miquel Muerto
Letters: Andworld Design

We’re fast approaching the climax of the first arc, and these next two issues might my favorite in the run so far. I had a long conversation about this book today, and the crazy direction we’re taking it, and I’m so excited for you to see it. There are designs Werther did for certain characters that I don’t want to give away… Actually, you know what. Fuck it. Let me give it away a little bit. I’m VERY excited for you all to learn more about the House of Slaughter and the Order of St. George…

I’ve got a whole email full of these mysterious bandana-wearing monster hunters, and I am very excited to show more of them off to you. Anyways. You should read this book. It is very sad and violent, and a little bit funny I think? People seem to be really enjoying it, and I am very eager for you all to learn more about Erica Slaughter.

HOUSEKEEPING

I’m trying to figure out what else I should include in my newsletter. Do you want to write me letters? If you want to write me a letter to include in my next newsletter, email TinyOnionStudios@gmail.com with the subject header that starts with NEWSLETTER in all caps. Maybe come at me with suggestions for the sort of content you’d like to see in the newsletter! I can’t promise to respond to every message, but I’ll pick good ones to post here. If you don’t want to write me letters, that’s okay, too. I forgive you.

I am so very close to being able to talk about PROJECT WINGBOY, which I think is going to be announced sometime next month? There is also another announcement which should be coming any day now, that isn’t a comic announcement, but is very exciting, and I can’t talk about it more than that. Also, last newsletter I referred to a PROJECT OSWALD, which I had previously referred to as a PROJECT DALLAS. I think I’ll keep calling it PROJECT DALLAS from the time being, but that’s as good as you’re going to get in terms of me hinting at WHAT it is. PROJECT LAKEHOUSE will gear up next, and I need to start nailing down my core cast on that book.

Needless to say, I am writing too many comic books, and had an idea for like… six new ones the other week, and then got angry with myself. If anyone has a good lead on how to clone myself or remove the need for sleep, I would love to hear it.

Putting the final touches on the next Batman script now, and then turning in a Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen script by the end of the week. Sorry for the late newsletter but the actual for real writing that artists are waiting on trumps my navel-gazing pseudo-professional livejournal.

Star Wars comes out next week, isn’t that wild?

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
12.10.19

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