24: 2020 Wrap-Up - Part Two

Okay… So, yesterday I waxed philosophic about the comic book industry, and I promised that I’d come back around today to wax philosophic about everything I have planned for Batman. I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts and updates about my slate of creator owned titles and some end of year thoughts.

SO, WHO’S READY FOR SOME BATMANNERY?!

This week sees the release of BATMAN ANNUAL #5, which tells the origin story of Clownhunter and picks up from the conclusion of the Ghost-Stories mini-arc. Somehow I managed to trick a genie into granting me my greatest wish by giving me a full 38 pages of beautiful James Stokoe art. James has been one of my favorite artists for years, and if you have never read Orc Stain or Godzilla: Half Century War you need to get off your butts and hunt them down right now… But just look at these amazing pages…

Punchline has dominated a lot of the discussion of the new characters I’ve introduced this year, but I’ve been thrilled to see more and more young readers connecting with our dangerous young vigilante, and I’ve been dying to unpack more of him. This issue sets the stage for the next part in Clownhunter’s evolution, and plants the seeds for a story that will start playing out next year… Clownhunter's a key piece of my long-form plans in Gotham City, and I was thrilled to be able to lay out the heart of this character here, in the deft hands of such an incredible artist.

I also want to say that if you are a new Stokoe convert that you should all go add his new creator-owned series to your pull list right now. ORPHAN AND THE FIVE BEASTS is coming out in March from Dark Horse. You can read more about it here. Just look at how cool it’s going to be!!

Honestly, this month has been a big month for me in terms of bucket-lists… Getting to do a short with my friend Tradd Moore in Batman Black & White, and getting to do this Annual with James Stokoe hits the exact itch that I want to in and around my Batman run. We’ve got big, bombastic, superhero content in the everyday issues of Batman, with the incredible art of Jorge Jimenez and Guillem March… But when I’m given the opportunity to do something outside the box I want to take it. Batman is an incredible platform and I want to use it as much as I can to point people towards my favorite artists, especially the ones who lean far away from a more traditional DC house style. It’s also just very fun to reach out to creators I love and ask them if they want to do a Batman story. I’m talking to some incredible creators about doing some short from Gotham projects next year, and I can’t wait to see them come to life.

Along the same lines, I was able to do my last hurrah in the whole Death Metal cycle of stories that I’ve been working on for my last two years at DC Comics in the “Last 52” special, in a short that pits the reanimated corpse of Batman against the reanimated corpse of The Batman Who Laughs in the last battle at the end of the universe. I got to reunite with the amazing Alex Maleev who absolutely destroyed on the story and I’m so damn proud of everything we’ve been able to build…

Death Metal ends in a few weeks times and sets the stage for Future State, which I won’t be taking part in (for the sake of my schedule)… But all of that sets the stage for what we’re calling DC: INFINITE FRONTIER in March and Beyond. I’ve got TWO stories in that issue, one with my Gotham partner in crime Jorge Jimenez setting the stage for all things Batman and one with the amazing Stephen Byrne with Alan Scott, Obsidian, and Jade at the center, building off my Green Lantern 80th Anniversary Special story from last summer.

And that’s it. Goodnight folks! Nothing more to see here!

Oh wait… There’s a LOT more…

The flag of the Empire of the Tiny Onion will continue to fly over Gotham City for at least another year! Batman is going monthly starting in March, and we’re getting a brand-new monthly Joker series launching right alongside it.

In a lot of ways, this feels like a whole new start on my run in Gotham. I’ve been upfront about how I entered the Batman title without a lot of control, and without a lot of time to build out my plans and keep them stable. So I redirected my energy into what I could control, keeping the energy high, the moments exciting, and introducing new characters that I had full control over. I focused on the feel of the book, and tried to make sure there was something exciting happening every issue that came out on the stands. It’s a strange sort of story algebra, and I’m exceptionally proud of where each of 2020’s stories in Gotham landed… But I really can’t overstate how excited I am for 2021, and what we’re going to be able to pull off in both of my titles, and across the entire Gotham line. I started building my breakdown for the year late this summer, and Jorge has been drawing next year’s Batman since the moment he wrapped up October’s Batman #100.

A lot of the principles of what I wanted to build next year into are based on the principles I laid out in the last part of the newsletter. But there’s an added layer when you are working on a character like Batman. Over the next couple of years, viewers are going to have three different cinematic Batmen running around their screens, with Robert Pattinson, Michael Keaton, and Ben Affleck showing up on streaming services and (knock on wood) the big screen. DC Black Label is going to keep on putting out phenomenal Batman comics because they sell gangbusters, and those are going to speak to different prestige elements of the Gotham Mythos, including the beautiful Batman/Catwoman that’s already gotten started. There’s a huge new Batman video game coming out on the horizon centered on the Bat-Family and the Court of Owls, which I am crazy excited about even though I am terrible at playing video games (so I’ll just make Sam play it while I watch, being my own make-shift Oracle).

So… What is the value proposition of a monthly Batman periodical with all of those other different takes on Batman available to readers? And not only the new Batman content, but all of the amazing classic Batman content available on the DC Infinite Universe app and in comic shops around the world? What can you do with the core continuity titles to make them must-read? My take is two-fold… First, you have to basically agree with everything everyone loves about Batman… All your favorite stories happened, all the big important moments are there in the history of this character. Every Robin was Robin. Every big Batman story happened. I’m not going to lean into the places where the continuity contradicts itself, I’m going to embrace everything and look forward… And the way I want to look forward is by moving a bit further down the timeline than we’ve ever allowed Batman as a character to move before.

Roughly, I consider us now at the mid-point, continuity-wise, between “Batman: The Animated Series” Gotham City, and the “Batman Beyond” Gotham City. Which isn’t to say that the future of Batman Beyond should be considered the “set” future of the line… Aesthetically, we’re moving the “present” a bit further down the line than we’ve ever seen it in the comics before. This is part of what I was trying to articulate in Batman #101… The iconic Batman, with Alfred in the cave, a Robin at his side, and Jim Gordon on the roof of the GCPD is in the past. It was a key important era to Batman, the moment at which he was his most effective. The city is changing quickly into something new and dangerous, and Batman needs to change with it, if he can.

Part of the goal of Joker War was to destabilize the Gotham status quo. Batman having operated at peak efficiency for so long, with his resources growing, and his number of allies growing mean that in a grounded “realistic” Gotham City, it feels like he should have taken care of everything by now. The richer he got, and the more tools he had, and the more he learns about each of his enemies, the more it feels like Batman should be able to take down literally any threat that comes in front of him in a matter of minutes. So, my theory was, let’s make it harder to be Batman.

First, let’s bring him back to being a less problematic kind of Wealthy. Bruce Wayne, Millionaire, rather than Bruce Wayne, Billionaire. He’s not so rich that he could effectively buy Gotham City and fix it overnight. There are a bunch of much wealthier people than him in the city trying to maintain their power and influence and Batman is from their world and fighting against them, he doesn’t have the ability to just buy and sell them and walk away. We’re also going to go back to the standard which has been true for almost the entire history of Batman comics which is that the city government and the police are too corrupt and too under the sway of criminals and the wealthy to actually help the people of the city. Some of them are in their jobs for good reasons, and there are people fighting desperately to change those systems from the inside, but once again the power systems of Gotham are always going to be more concerned about protecting themselves rather than protecting the people of Gotham. Batman comes from the world of power, but rather than use that power to protect himself he uses it to protect the people.

And the job is hard, and it is constant, and Batman remembers every day that it used to be easier than it is now, and he has to push himself to new levels because he will NOT give up on Gotham City or his mission. He can’t allow himself to do that. It’s not about grounding all of these threats in the real world. Gotham City is not and should not feel like a real world city. It is a nightmare of a city, and crime and corruption in that city need to be a nightmare of crime and corruption, so that the brightest light of hope in Gotham is a scary man in a Bat Costume working his butt off night after night, with an army of like-minded allies, to save everybody from the most insanely dangerous city in the world.

If Batman is the most powerful force in Gotham - the richest man with the most resources whose best friend runs the Police Department - then all the stories you tell about Batman become deconstructionist stories about Batman effectively fighting himself, or stories about Batman deconstructing himself and his mission. There have been a lot of GREAT stories like that, but Batman came to exist because in a Gotham City without a Batman more children would become orphans and nobody else would do anything to stop it. I wanted to get back to that, without regressing the mythology… One of the things I’m most excited about in the story I’m building next year is that the big plot of the year, and the big villain are doing everything not to try and teach Batman a lesson, but because they have specific selfish wants and goals, and they are trying to bend Gotham to their whims to achieve those goals.

Gotham City needs to feel dangerous and exciting in a way that it requires an army of street ninjas with cool gadgets to function. It needs to feel that kind of dangerous every single day, which makes the entire mission of Batman more dangerous and more important and more heroic. And even with all of his friends and allies, Batman needs to be pushing himself harder than anyone else, not in a tortured way, but because he represents human resilience and ingenuity. He is the best of all of us, the one who will never stop fighting for us, no matter how dark the world gets around us.

But beyond just dialing up the knobs on Gotham City, I wanted to make this feel like a whole exciting new era, with a whole exciting new status quo. Chalk-full of new characters and new challenges. He’s moving into a cool Townhouse in Gotham City in a new neighborhood, with nosey neighbors and tabloids under his nose wanting to understand the new life of Bruce Wayne, Millionaire. His old rival, Ghost-Maker is forcing him to touch up on his training, forcing him to recognize that he’s been sparring mostly with people he’s trained for the better part of a decade, passing along any weaknesses in his fighting styles. Batman is building new, lo-fi Batcaves under the city, and has a brand new Batmobile, with a host of cool tricks and gadgets that looks more like a cool car that can maneuver a city than a tank built for war. Harley Quinn has set up shop in Little Santa Prisca and decided that she is Batman’s new crimefighting partner (Batman disagrees with this. Strongly), and keeps showing up and causing trouble when he’s out on a case. The Fox Family is figuring out what it means to be the new first family of Gotham, and the responsibility that comes with that role. Barbara Gordon, Oracle is serving as eyes on a city that feels more and more like a powder keg. And Jim Gordon is trying to decide what his retirement from the GCPD is going to look like. 

Gotham has a new Mayor, a former police officer named Nakano, who was injured in Joker War and has a strong anti-vigilante agenda. There’s a nihilistic youth movement in the city brewing under the direction of Punchline, which has embraced the imagery of The Joker as their sign of dissent, all the while Punchline is building power through a growing new conspiracy with members in hiding in the police, the government and every criminal organization in the city. Clownhunter is trying to figure out what kind of vigilante he wants to be. And there are reports of entire parts of the Gotham Sewers transforming into strange tropical jungles. Vibrant and green, with impossible creatures lurking inside.

Something BIG happens in the Batman-centric pages of Infinite Frontier that serves as the inciting incident for the entire Batman line. Another pillar of classic Gotham falls and sets all the pieces in motion…

In 2021, Gotham City is going to E-X-P-L-O-D-E.

BATMAN is going to bring you a story called “THE COWARDLY LOT,” with Scarecrow in play as our central antagonist. I am very, very excited to do a Jonathan Crane story. He’s been one of my all time favorite Batman villains for years and I haven’t had the chance to do something substantial with him before. And the design by Jorge Jimenez is one of the creepiest I’ve seen for a major Bat-Villain in a good, long time. In my brain, I’m calling this a cyberpunk horror story. It’s about the relationship between technology and the mind and how fear can shape what Gotham’s future can be. More than that, it’s about the balance of fear and memory and how they shape us into the people we are today, and how they can hold us back. This story is also going to introduce the creator of the Magistrate Program, and its Peacekeepers, along with a host of new characters, both good and bad… There’s a group called The Unsanity Collective that I am particularly excited about. Jorge’s design for a character named Miracle Molly is one of my favorite things he’s drawn in all the time we’ve worked together. When we get a little closer to her debut, I’m going to show you the amazing color guide Jorge made for her with her pages in 108.

I’m so damn excited to keep making Batman comics with the incomparable Jorge Jimenez, and the incredible Tomeu Morey. The pages that are already flying in from next year are stellar beyond belief, and as much as I loved Joker War, I think this work leaves all of that in the dust. We’re going to have big action, big horror, big drama, and big excitement on every single page of every single issue. Jorge is already a giant, and I think his work here is going to cement him as one of the all-time great Batman artists. I wish I could just fill this whole newsletter with art I’m not supposed to, but then what would I get to tease you all with over the next two months??

The Batman title is going have an unannounced backup features starting in April (After a two part ROBIN backup by my good pal Joshua Williamson and one of my favorite new artists, Gleb Melnikov, running between the March issues of both Batman and Detective) – I’ve been working with the artist on the next round of Back-ups since late this summer, and I could not be more excited to tell you about it. It is high octane manga-influenced action insanity, with an artist I love, and can’t wait to bring to into the Gotham fold.

That announcement will come with next month’s solicits, so STAY TUNED!

JOKER is going to bring you a very different kind of story. 

This is a horror noir book with art by Guillem March. I’m tapping into more of the voice I bring to my creator owned work with this one… And honestly the script to the first issue is maybe my favorite I’ve written in the last year, and I think one of the scariest. The twist to the title is that the protagonist of the series isn’t the Joker. The protagonist is Jim Gordon, and the story is going to send him chasing a mystery about the Joker that will take him all around the world, and put him directly in the crosshairs of all the people out in the world who want the Joker dead… This is a story about the nature of evil, and the different ways evil tempts and breaks good men… and we’ll have Jim Gordon, one of the best specimens of humanity out there in the world walking through this world of evil trying to keep his soul in tact.

This is the story that picks up the threads from Guillem and my Joker War Zone story, and our coda to Batman #100… Which also means that this is the place we’re going to be tapping into the character and the mythology around Bane in a big, big way. I have big plans for Bane and expanding the world around Bane, and Venom, and Santa Prisca. I was re-reading the Denny O’Neil Question issues where Santa Prisca first appeared over the last weekend, along with the original Venom storyline from Legends of the Dark Knight, and the original Vengeance of Bane one-shot that lead into Knightfall… All of that reading started mingling up in my brain with my recent re-read of Elektra: Assassin and I’m very excited to tap into some of those influences as we build things out. There’s a new character we’re introducing in that corner of the title’s mythology, who I think has real Punchline break-out potential.

Beyond that, my influence for this story have been Noir and Spy stories. I’ve been watching a lot of classics of the genre to just fill my brain with the aesthetic. So much in both genres leans into exotic locales and strange characters with mysterious motives, and we have strange characters with mysterious motives in spades… Some of my favorites are a villainous group called the Sampson Family who are a bit of a nod to one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and I think they’ll create some exciting and frightening new villains. And there’s a another bit of Gotham Mythology I have been dying to get back to for a very long time, and they are a huge part of my plans with the series moving forward.

With the first issue in front of me, I can tell you that I think this is career best work from Guillem March, and Arif Prianto is knocking the colors out of the park. I hope this book surprises you and scares you. And I’m going to hang a lampshade on something. I know there are a lot of folks who are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to there being a Joker book. If I weren’t writing it, I’d probably be one of them. Hell, back when it was first pitched to me, I said flat out that I wasn’t really sure how to make that work… And then I sat with it for a few weeks and said “okay, I know how to make it work, but it’s only going to work if we come at it from an unexpected angle.” And thankfully everyone in the Bat-Offices, and the DC offices bought into my angle. It is the scariest book I have written for DC Comics so far. And maybe the most human. I love writing Jim Gordon so fucking much. He’s been one of my favorite characters in all of comics for my entire life.

And then there’s The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime, himself. The devil of the DC Universe… Where does he lurk in between his bouts with Batman… What is he planning, and what does he want. The Joker bends and changes like a dark reflection of his true adversary, so what happens to him as a character when you take that adversary away. I’ve always been fascinated about the Joker, and I’ve always loved writing the Joker interacting with and against the villains of the DC Universe, going back to when I wrote the back-up stories to Death of the Family storyline in the New 52 Batman run. I’m already having so much twisted fun writing him here, and I am so excited for you all to see it.

I haven’t ever been given the leeway to write a title like this in continuity at DC, and I am so freaking excited to have that chance here.

The Joker title is going to have PUNCHLINE backup features starting in March, co-written by Sam Johns with art by the incredible Mirka Andolfo. This story is going to continue what we started in the Punchline one-shot, continuing the story of the growing Joker Gang conspiracy in Gotham, Punchline’s trial, and the efforts of Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row to ensure Punchline stays behind bars for good.

And here’s the bit that I am MOST excited about… This is going to be the most unified Bat-Line that you’ve seen in years, with one of the most exciting creative line-ups that I think we’ve had in the near-decade I have been working in and around Gotham City.

BATMAN by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez
JOKER by James Tynion IV and Guillem March
DETECTIVE COMICS by Mariko Tamaki and Dan Mora
NIGHTWING by Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo
CATWOMAN by Ram V and Fernando Blanco
HARLEY QUINN by Stephanie Phillips and Riley Rossmo
BATMAN/SUPERMAN by Gene Luen Yang and Ivan Reis
ROBIN backups by Joshua Williamson and Gleb Melnikov
PUNCHLINE backups by James Tynion IV, Sam Johns and Mirka Andolfo

And the new Gotham Anthology title, BATMAN: URBAN LEGENDS featuring the following stories in its first issue:

RED HOOD by Chip Zdarsky and Eddy Barrows
GRIFTER by Matt Rosenberg and Ryan Benjamin
HARLEY QUINN/POISON IVY by Stephanie Phillips and Laura Braga
THE OUTSIDERS by Brandon Thomas and Max Dunbar

For the first time in the history of my working in and around Gotham City, I have an answer to pretty much to the “where can I find THIS character” for every fan-favorite. Urban Legends is going to be a real gift. A lot of storylines will be seeded in that title before they break out into their own titles… There are also more books to come in the Gotham line as the year goes on. Big moments in the core Gotham titles will set new runs in motion in other titles. Backups and shorts might turn into one-shots and miniseries and series, and we’re working to make sure it all matters.

We have some of the best creators working on stories with these characters, who are the best characters in the comics industry, and we are working together to make sure all of it connects. Not to the point that each story won’t stand on its own, but our goal here is to build a new and exciting era of Gotham City, with this larger status quo and ethos reflected in each title. I wrote a long-form Gotham Bible over the summer that lays out a lot of what I was laying out to you earlier in this newsletter. I also wouldn’t be able to do anything without the trust and support of the incredible Batman editorial group - Ben Abernathy, Paul Kaminski, Jessica Chen, Dave Wielgosz, Amedeo Turturro, and Rob Levin. Each of these amazing editors has a whole slate of incredible projects in the works, and we’re all working together to make all Gotham comics can’t-miss reading.

I think the current line of X-Books have shown the strength of a line of titles working in tandem with each other. We’ve set up a monthly zoom call between the core Gotham writers to keep everything in line together. I had a long chat with Ram V just the other day about how we can weave together a series of story threads between the Batman and Catwoman titles that are going to pay off incredibly when they all come together.

That wouldn’t be possible without a plan, and right now, I have a three-year plan for both the Batman book and the Joker book… Those plans are separate and not dependent on each other, though they might wink at each other from time to time… Now, years two and three of that plan will only happen if you guys show up and support these titles and the direction we have for them, and every year is going to stand alone as its own complete arc, its own beginning, middle and end… But there’s a tremendous strength in being able to play the long game with these characters. To be able to confidently lay down some tracks into the future. To be able to say that these new characters we’re introducing aren’t built to be flash-in-the-pan. They’re being built to last.

Of course, at the end of that three year road, if everything works out… The Batman and Joker threads will slam together again, as we draw to a close a bunch of the threads of this era, and I see whether I can finally get the key piece that I pitched to DC last summer, and ride off into the sunset…

But three years is a long time from now, so maybe I’ll have come up with something even COOLER by then. The goal is to keep the near future as tightly planned as I can manage so that everyone else in the line can build off of it, and keep the mid-and-far future loose enough that we can duck and weave with what works and what the line needs.

Anyways… More to come on all of this, particularly as we get closer to FOC on those March Titles… In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Future State. I am, admittedly going to enjoy the break in having no Big Two books on the shelves for two months… But then I’ll be back and raring to go

HOUSEKEEPING
Okay, only one more newsletter to go and then I can call it for the year. See you crazy kids tomorrow…

James Tynion IV
Johnstown, PA
12.30.20