Batman is – to put it mildly – a fixture of our popular culture. From Adam West to Ben Affleck, and more voice actors than I care to count, the Dark Knight Detective has been a constant presence on television and movie screens for decades. But in the end, of course, it all comes back to the comics. Batman’s legacy in print goes back nearly eighty years. And what of the writers who carry that torch? After all, it’s not just anyone who can take on a character with that sort of history and make him their own, all while staying true to what makes him and his world special. Thankfully, DC Comics has proven remarkably good at finding such writers, and we had the opportunity to speak with one of them at New York Comic Con. In the wake of DC’s sweeping ‘Rebirth’ initiative, James Tynion IV took the helm of ‘Detective Comics’. Since then, Tynion has weaved a tale focusing on the extended Bat-family. In doing so, he has been able to showcase characters that have not always featured in a core Batman title. Still others, like Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, have seen their re-introductions into the DC Universe shepherded by none other than Tynion. In the course of our conversation, Tynion spoke on his history with Batman, his approach to several of the characters featured in his run, and more.
Let’s start at the beginning. What’s your earliest memory of Batman?
Oh boy, that’s a really good question. Honestly, it might be – weirdly – the Happy Meal commercials for ‘Batman Returns’. Which I think was the first Batman movie I saw in theaters. Which was a really messed up movie, but it kind of hammered in the ethos of Batman as kind of a horror character in my head. And you know, one of my first Halloween costumes was me as Batman, but I would always put the cuffs on the wrong way, so the little scallops would be pointing in the wrong direction. But yeah, Batman’s been a part of my life from the very beginning, and ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ really became my primary entry point into the mythology, and as I got older I started hunting down the comics and never stopped.
How did you come to take over ‘Detective Comics’? Were you approached ahead of ‘Rebirth’ or was there a pitch process?
It’s an interesting story because I had just done two Batman weeklies, pretty much back to back. I had done ‘Batman Eternal’, which I ran with Scott Snyder, and ‘Batman and Robin Eternal’. And I ran that one more or less by myself. And so leading into the ‘Rebirth’ era, I knew that I wanted to do a kind of Batman family book. And originally we were sort of looking at that as maybe a new title, maybe it’s an old… And the way it all shook out is that it landed in ‘Detective Comics’. And for a second I was like, “Okay, now that it’s in ‘Detective Comics’, does that mean that we need to shift it and make it a core Batman book?” And everyone in the office was kind of like “Look at the iconic ‘Detective Comics’ runs from the last twenty years. The ones that you really remember are the ones that are a little outside of the box.” Like the Scott Snyder/Jock run that had Dick Grayson at the helm, or the Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams run with Batwoman. It was just like “We want you to do the weird Batman concept in it.” Especially since there was already going to be ‘Batman’ and ‘All-Star Batman’, so there were going to be two Batman titles. So it was a tremendous opportunity, honestly. And it became the perfect tone for it.
You mentioned collaborating with Scott on the weeklies, and you also did a number of backups with. Was that sort of thing helpful in preparing for your solo run?
Oh, absolutely! I mean, Scott was my teacher when I was a sophomore in college at Sarah Lawrence, and from that, I became his writing assistant when he was still in the prose world. And then we started writing together on the backups in ‘Batman’ and onward to this day. But Scott’s been an incredible mentor and friend. We talk pretty much every single day. We’ve been collaborating on all of the ‘Metal’ books now, where I co-wrote ‘The Forge’ and ‘The Casting’ and I’ve been helping showrun a bunch of the crossovers. He and I have an incredible shorthand working together and sometimes we have different priorities in our writing. Like I think there is a different flavor to a James Tynion book than to a Scott Snyder book, but he and I have these kind of core beliefs, especially of who Batman is and what the Batman mythos means that creates a commonality in our work that allows it to really work together.
Your run on ‘Detective’ so far has felt like a nineties Bat-book in the best ways. What is it that you think makes that era of Batman comics special?
I think it was all the ideas that were running through the books. And also, the thing that was probably my favorite thing about it is the nineties, more than any era beforehand, really utilized the full Bat-family as a supporting cast of characters. You know, you had Oracle, you had Nightwing, then you had Robin, the Cassandra Cain Batgirl. You had all of these characters interacting and sometimes they had their own series, they all had their own conflicts and their highs and lows together. It created a fuller picture of Gotham in a way that I don’t think had really happened before. Because before, Gotham really just existed between the pages of ‘Batman’ and ‘Detective’, and those stories tended to be standalone Batman stories. And there would be moments that would touch on the soap opera and the larger world-building. It’s that world-building and that larger Bat-world that’s always attracted me to Gotham City.
In particular, you’ve done a lot of interesting work with Cassandra Cain. As a writer, how do you approach a character who sees the world in such a unique way?
Honestly, it is a challenge. And one of my favorite issues that I’ve worked on in my ‘Detective Comics’ runs was issue 950, which was the Cassandra Cain spotlight issue. And one of the first things that I realized is she can’t explain what she’s thinking. And she doesn’t think in English, so I can’t get in her head with captions in the normal way. And I realized the only way I can do this is to do third-person narrations, which is something that’s kind of fallen out of favor in comics. It used to be very common. But I read a lot of classic Chris Claremont ‘X-Men’ issues that use the third-person narration in this really deft and interesting way. And that’s what really shaped that issue and gave me a way into her mind and into her pathos without betraying her difficulty with language, which I think is so core. And something that I think was ultimately lost in the pre-‘Flashpoint’ version, because there was that [laughs] that one story where all of a sudden she runs into a psychic and then she learns English. That was very convenient. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to sort of live in the silence of it more, because I think that struggle is defining for her.
Similarly, you’ve presented a very nuanced and sympathetic take on Clayface. Are there any particular stories that have influenced your version of the character?
Honestly, I wanted to build my Clayface out of the Clayface that I always kind of assumed existed, but there really isn’t the ur-Clayface story. Because there’s the ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ version, there’s the original Basil Karlo origin and the original Matt Hagen origin from the pre-‘Flashpoint’ continuity. But then the Clayface that looks like the ‘Animated Series’ version in pre-‘Flashpoint’ continuity was actually a character named Cassius Payne. So there really hasn’t been like the iconic Clayface story. And that’s something that we wanted to sort of take all of these core pieces that made the different iterations of Clayface deeply interesting and meld them together into kind of the ‘Rebirth’ Clayface, who is the best pieces of the different Clayfaces, who is a meld of both Basil Karlo and Matt Hagen. And we’re finally going to see the origin of that character in the ‘Detective Comics’ annual in January.
After having been relegated to the background for some time, Tim Drake is finally returning to center stage with ‘A Lonely Place of Living’. What should fans look forward to as the arc progresses?
You know, that whole story is really about pitting a character against what he has the potential to become. And Tim Drake is my favorite comic book character. I have loved him for my entire comic reading life. And he… Getting to do a definitive story with him that taps into why I think he is such an incredible character and also why those same traits are what make him dangerous to himself and other people down the line. That creates an incredible story dynamic.
And finally, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
This December check out ‘Immortal Men’ with Jim Lee, and check out ‘Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2’ with Freddie Williams!
Well, you heard the man! ‘Detective Comics’ hits twice every month, with an annual due in January. For more from James Tynion, make sure to watch the shelves at your local comic shop in December.