14: Enter Clownhunter

I slept for almost ten hours last night. I feel like I deserve some kind of reward. Or that I should be arrested for being some kind of sleep pervert.

My sleep patterns have been absolutely nonsense since all of this started. I’ve been using all-nighters to reset my sleep clock once or twice a week for the last month. Which I know I should say isn’t great, and isn’t healthy, but I honestly love a good productive all nighter. There’s something about being exhausted at four o’clock in the morning where you’re not second guessing anything you’re writing, and you’re just churning out pages. They might need editing the next day, but when you’ve done all your work for the day the night before, that’s easy!

But there is always a bit of a cost to an all-nighter. The zombie days that follow aren’t worth much of anything, and the things you read or watch in that space end up kind of beiging themselves into mediocre, forgettable media experiences, even if the works themselves aren’t. Sometimes you get a fun manic zombie day where you can accomplish a big home task that doesn’t require any creative thinking, but those are few and far between. Usually I just end up working from the couch those days, half paying attention to emails coming in, half paying attention to whatever’s on the tv, and trying to will myself not to nod off until the appropriate moment that evening. 

Sometimes I wish I could get the deep night rush of productivity without the zombie day that follows it, but that would require going to bed at 8AM or so, and sleeping until it’s almost dark out again, which gets really depressing really quickly. Human beings eat sunlight with our skin, so it is good to go outside during sun-times, and also good to be by windows during the sun times. Otherwise we start going feral, which has definitely happened to me a few times in all of this.

I don’t know. I have a natural bent toward the night time. I like being awake when everyone else is asleep and doesn’t need anything from me. Getting to write or read or watch things for as long as I feel like doing it. There’s always this sense of time as infinite during those late night hours, even when you run out of them, it always feels like you’ve been working for days on a thing at your own pace. I like chasing that feeling because I am some kind of broken adrenaline junkie seeking the rush of different kinds of sitting down at my computer.

If I’m being wholly honest, the main reason I’m not fully nocturnal is I usually talk to Scott Snyder in the mornings about the projects we’re working on together. Working with someone with young children is a good way to stop yourself from becoming a dracula person. 

But I do appreciate the days I get up around 8 and have some time to breathe before the first phone calls and emails of the day. If I’m allowed to start going back to my office space soon, this is my commute time, where I take in a podcast or some music and start thinking abstractly about what needs doing. Here in the indoor times, it’s the shower and a cup of coffee time, and the time I spent typing on the couch before I move my laptop and charger into the home office to start the work day in earnest. 

It’s a different kind of quiet infinitude than the late night version, but I do appreciate it. 

I didn’t read as much this weekend as I would have liked. I think the back-half of Goodnight Punpun started looking more like an obligation than a treat and I started scrambling toward other, stranger shores to rest my weary mind. This is also what happened with the last third of my Stray Bullets Omnibus, which I have to work through. Which isn’t a slight against either book, I am loving both of them dearly… They are just both very emotionally bleak works and it’s hard to sit down and knock back issue after issue, or volume after volume. I keep telling myself with Stray Bullets that I want to do one issue a day in between my other projects… But then that starts feeling like homework, too and I turn away from it. I just need to finish work early one afternoon and power through.

The two clear winners this week were UPGRADE SOUL by Ezra Claytan Daniels and SLASHER by Charles Forsman. Both of those comics exist in that perfect sweet spot in between the mainstream direct market aesthetic and the literary comic aesthetic, and since that’s the sweet spot I’ve been trying to roll around in all quarantine, I ate them both up eagerly. UPGRADE SOUL in particular really sat with me, because it’s just such an unsettling, eerie read. It gets right up under your fingernails, with deep humanity AND inhumanity on display. But I can feel my momentum slowing with the comic book intake. I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to switch it up and spend a few days trapped in a prose book. I have Michael McDowell’s The Elementals staring at me from a shelf…

But then again, I finally bought the first two issues of BIG NUMBERS, and know the third is out there, somewhere… So I bet that sends me back down a few comic book rabbit holes. I “read” the most by walking or driving around, listening to audiobooks, and since I haven’t been able to leave the apartment much, I haven’t been giving them their due.

I also haven’t really been binging any movies or television during this. I did a bit the first week, I guess, by finishing HALT AND CATCH FIRE, but that was me wrapping a pre-quarantine viewing project (I do DEEPLY love that show though, and watching it helped me crack a comic concept that I won’t get to write for probably two years, but I am very excited about). I still have to watch the whole last season of BETTER CALL SAUL. I think my next binging project when I pull together the willpower will be THE LEFTOVERS… But I keep feeling like I should be more productive with my quarantine time, which is why I keep reading these comics.

I think my goal is to keep building my reading stack until my comics start coming back out in stores, so I can unveil a stack of books I’ve read taller than myself, but every time someone points out that we’re likely not going to really reopen until later in the summer, my growing stack of books stops being a fun project, and starts just being “a pile of every book in the house” - There will come a point where my desire to reorganize my bookshelf will overpower my desire to put every comic I read in a giant pile, and I will abandon my reading stack. I promise that there will at least be a photo taken before that happens.

This week has been fucking insane in ways that will become apparent to you next week, I think. I don’t even really know how to allude to what’s happened without saying it outright, but in short, I have an unexpected announcement coming next week, that reshuffles some of my year. I hope that this will be an exciting announcement! I am excited about it! But that’ll be next week. 

This week, we have OTHER comics to talk about.

BATMANNERY

So, Monday is the Final Order Cutoff for the first issue of Batman back in stores since the start of quarantine. Issue #92. That’s the one that brings Punchline into the story as a key character. It’s her first encounter with Harley Quinn, and the first major step toward Joker War. We’ll definitely be banging the drum a bunch in the next few days, getting you hyped about picking up that comic book. But this week ALSO happens to be the week that we’re releasing the August solicitations. That means the solicits for Batman #96.

Which means that it’s time to introduce you all to CLOWNHUNTER. 

Now, when I first thought up the name Clownhunter, I was thinking about a story that was going to follow Joker War (I don’t even think Joker War was called Joker War at that point). There was a story that was going to come out of the event, and I wanted to create this mysterious clown hunting character… And then Punchline happened, and the particular story I was introducing Clownhunter for evaporated, and I was looking at my plans for Joker War and noticed that I was missing something pretty big in the story.

There wasn’t a POV character on the ground in Gotham City, seeing the city go to hell around them. Joker War is meant to represent a shift in how Gotham sees itself, and be a catalyst for a bold new Gotham City that’s building in its wake… I needed a character who represented that change. A character who takes things into his own hands because he sees the city needs it, but not by Batman or Joker’s terms. A supporting cast member that wasn’t part of the Arkham Rogues, or part of the Bat-Family. Something new and different.

And I went into C2E2 with that problem in my head, and then I actually saw the response to Punchline in person, and it confirmed something that I’ve been suspecting for a while, but has become clear ever since I started both Something Is Killing The Children and my Batman run… I think the current generation of comic book reader is HUNGRY for its own generation of comic book characters. Characters they get to participate in the introduction of, and they get to learn the origin of, and see how other characters react to them… Characters that haven’t appeared in multiple video games, and tv-shows, to the point where there are five competing canons that exist for them. 

The comic book readers want to own these characters and know the most about these characters, and if they show up down the line in other media, they’re the ones who were participating in their introduction from the beginning. And that’s an exciting place to be! So Jorge and I got to do that with Punchline, which seems to be going over very well… and It’s served me well in creating Erica Slaughter over in Something Is Killing The Childrn

So It felt like I should weaponize that POV character that I saw Joker War needed, and take the cool name from the defunct project, and create a new Clownhunter character to introduce in the book. So I wrote a quick scene in issue 96, the second part of Joker War… And I realized I had something interesting. So with permission from my editor, I reached out to Jorge to help bring together all my crazy ideas for this new character and build something new from the ground up… 

And this is where we landed.

I desperately want a statue of him wailing on a Clown Gang member, so I hope you all like him as much as I do, and we can will that statue into existence. I deeply, deeply love the design Jorge gave him, and how unlike any other Bat-character he looks. He’s exactly the kind of crazy element I want to introduce into the Gotham books to dial up the possibilities of stories we can tell in their pages.

CLOWNHUNTER is a quiet, weird kid who lives in the Narrows. He mumbles jokes to himself under his breath, but doesn’t speak up in class or while he’s gaming late at night. When he was a kid, he saw his parents killed by the Joker, and his life was saved by Batman. He idolized Batman for years. But when Joker War starts, and Batman can’t stop it out the gate, he picks up a baseball bat, hammers in the Batarang Batman gave him as a kid, and goes out to start killing the Clown gang members terrorizing his neighborhood.

He’s a different sort of vigilante. Vigilantes in Gotham normally come with high tech costumes and gadgets. He’s more lo-fi, and more willing to cross the lines that the usual vigilantes don’t. There’s a dark, young city brewing underneath Batman’s feet in Gotham… On one hand we have Punchline, who represents a new kind of villain, a kind of young person radicalized into believing something deeply dangerous… On the other hand, we have Clownhunter, who sees himself as a hero, but has tossed out the entire moral playbook of Batman, and doesn’t respect his old ways of looking at the world.

As Joker and Batman go head to head as Gotham turns into a War Zone, we’ll see that Clowns are terrified to go to the narrows, all because of this kid who isn’t afraid to kill them. There’s a Clownhunter story in a one-shot coming out in September with an artist that I am flipping out I get to work with, and he’ll continue to play a key role in the book after Joker War. That’s the big thing I want to hammer in with both Punchline and Clownhunter, I have real plans for these characters, and we want to see if you’ll fall for them, too. These are not meant to be flash in the pan sales points, these are new characters that open up stories to tell that we couldn’t tell with other characters in the Batman Mythos. And I’ve got plans to tell those stories.

I keep saying he’s one part Kaneda’s Gang from Akira, one part Casey Jones from TMNT, and one part Deadpool (in terms of a kind of amused detachment from reality). His first appearance is in Batman #96 (and that is his ACTUAL, 100% first appearance, no minor appearances in the background of a previous issue - He shows up for the first time from whole cloth in #96). 

He and Punchline are the first children of a new Gotham City Jorge and I are building in the pages of Batman. So far it seems like you’re along for the ride, but I hope you stick with us. I have lots of even bigger, even crazier plans to come, and I can’t wait for them to come to light.

Also: People have been asking me for ages for an official Joker War checklist, and I saw one flash across the screen when I was on a Retailer Q&A earlier this afternoon, so I asked if I could share it here. So here it is! All the comics that tie into Joker War! You only NEED to read the titles you already do to follow the action, but there’s cool stuff happening in every book across the line, so I hope you check some or all of them out…

I am especially excited to talk about JOKER WAR ZONE, but I’m going to have to wait until that’s up in the next round of solicits. I have two big stories in that one, including the Clownhunter story… But I think it’s the other story in that one that you’re all going to get REALLY excited about. I shouldn’t give details yet… But I think you all know how I feel about Batgirls… ANYWAYS.

SECRETS SECRETS ARE NO FUN…

Okay, so, as I alluded to at the top… On Monday, I got a message that the Publisher of one of the companies I work for wanted to have a conversation. I got on the phone with him later that day. On the call, he told me that he had a crazy idea. That he had read my newsletter before the weekend, in which I had said that I was excited about people who were trying big things in the face of the Coronavirus Crisis, and it got him thinking about what the company could do. And so he pitched me a crazy thing about one of my projects. And then I spoke to my co-creator, and let the company what we would need to make it work. And then they said yes… And then we were off to the races.

I have a feeling you’re not actually going to believe how quickly this came together when it gets announced. That you’ll think there was a longer gestational move, but honestly, what’s about to happen is exciting to me on like six or seven levels. And I’ve already warned my editor over there that they have created a “if you give a mouse a cookie” situation when it comes to the format the series will be released in. I’m not going to tell you which of my projects it is (it is one that I’ve already discussed here), or the format it’s going to come out in, but we’re hoping it’ll give more people a chance to see this series, and help elevate it, right when shops are looking for exciting new books to sell.

There’s a whole other thing that’s been happening this week, that I won’t be able to talk about for months if at all, that coupled with this has made my brain ready to leak out of my ears, especially when I think about my workload this fall. But I am very excited about all of the projects I’m working on right now, and I am excited that people seem to be excited about them, too. Oh shit, I set all the wheels in motion for PROJECT NIGHTMARE in the last few weeks, didn’t I? Hahahahahahahahaa… Oh boy.

Anyways. Expect a lot more about it next week. 

HOUSEKEEPING

They announced the first two tie-ins for DEATH METAL today, LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHTS, and the DEATH METAL GUIDEBOOK, and I’ll be doing stories in both of them. My first big solo-written Death Metal tie-in issue is coming out in September, so I can’t talk about it yet. I think I’ll write up a whole big Death Metal thing as we approach the first issue, and the solicitation of that issue.

Obviously, selfishly I’m promoting Batman and Joker War first and foremost because this is my newsletter I want them to do very well… But Death Metal is the culmination of my last few years at DC Comics, and I’ve been involved every step of the way. From the first crossover, to It’s a celebration of DC lore that takes all its craziest pieces and mashes them together in a rock opera for the ages, that really ties a bow on a lot of big DC pieces that haven’t connected over the last few years. I’m proud of the book, and I’m so happy to be part of it, and I can’t wait for you to have it all in front of you.

The first Metal also launched in a kind of dark moment, and it felt like the exact right jolt of insane energy the world and our industry needed, and I hope it connects in the same way this year. Sometimes people need to be reminded of the limitless possibilities of abject comic book lunacy, and that we can take these toys and have some real fun with them. Having read all of Death Metal, I promise you that’s what Scott and Greg are delivering yet again, and having worked closely with them, I’m eager for everyone to see the big underlying message of the beast.

Our fearless editor Marie Javins got Warren Ellis to write about an evil Robot Dinosaur Batman for a few pages, so that means you have to buy these comic books. That’s just comic book law.

Anyways… There’s also an undercurrent to all of this that I just want to say directly. This is a promotional newsletter, and I’m going to be out here every week I can, banging the promotional drum for the books that are coming out. That’s the whole purpose of this thing. But I know the world’s still in a state of crisis, and I’m very sensitive to that fact, and I’m living in it too. I think promoting my books is me reaching for a sense of normal that obviously doesn’t exist right now. But I know I’m promoting these comics into a weird world. I know that in a lot of places, your comic shops might not be open yet, and might not be fully open when these books start come out.

I hope, if you’re the sort of person in the nitty gritty of comics enough to follow a comic book writer’s newsletter, that you already know if your LCS is open, if they’re doing curbside pick-up, mail order, or having some other kind of limited way to get your comics, but I think it’s a good time to reach back out and check in on your shop. As some of the guidelines are laxed in different spots in the country, there are going to be more safe ways to pick your books up or get them shipped to you, and it’s good to let your local shop know whether you’ll still be buying comics when you have the chance. I know I’m shooting off an email right when I’m done with this to set up a mailorder pull list with one of my favorite shops. There are lots of great ways to get these comics in your hands. If you want them, and feel safe getting them, I hope you’ll choose to pick some of mine up.

I think summer is going to be a weird in-between time, where things kind of half-open, but we’re going to need to be vigilant to stay safe and healthy. Take whatever precautions make you feel safe, but since most of us can’t gather in big groups yet, I hope these comics can be a comfort, and give you cool stuff to read and get excited about before the world fully reopens. I know I’m going to keep picking the titles I’m excited about.

Anyways. I hope you all have a nice weekend. Next week is going to be nuts.

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
5.14.20