Since his arrival on the DC Comics character's franchise in 2006, superstar writer Grant Morrison has injected new life into the Batman mythos in much the same manner as he had done previously on flagship franchises like "JLA" and "X-Men."
Of course, he's injected some death as well. Building towards the ultimate demise of Bruce Wayne in "Final Crisis" #6 over four years of intense and often times brutally violent storytelling, Morrison both literally and figuratively stripped the world's greatest detective down to his most primitive and feral state, which has set off a chain of events in a new invigorated line of Bat-books, including his own new ongoing series, "Batman and Robin."
Launched in June 2009, the initial three-issue arc of "Batman and Robin" was drawn by Morrison's long-time collaborator and fellow Glaswegian Frank Quitely ("All Star Superman," "WE3"), while the succeeding three-part storyline was illustrated by Philip Tan ("Green Lantern").
Beginning in January with "Batman and Robin" #7, artist Cameron Stewart ("Seaguy") comes on board for the next three-issue arc, "Blackest Night," which takes Dick Grayson to England for a team-up with Knight and Squire.
While the thrills and chills spill out on the streets of London, lurking in the not so-far distant future is "The Return of Bruce Wayne," a six-issue miniseries announced earlier this month during the "DCU in 2010" launch campaign.
In the second part of a two-part interview, Morrison shared exclusive news on who was illustrating "Batman and Robin" though the end of 2010 (including the return of Quitely), how long Morrison plans to stay on the title and when we'll find out exactly what the hell's going on with Bruce Wayne's skull.
CBR News: Before we get into what's to come in "Batman & Robin," wondering if you can share some insight into the decision to work with rotating artists on the title. Was the decision based purely on how many issues Frank Quitely can produce each year or did you want to get a different vibe for each three-issue arc you wanted to tell?
Grant Morrison: Well, we were determined to do a monthly book from the start and there was no way Frank could meet that schedule, so that definitely led to the decision to break the book into three-issue arcs for different artists, yeah.
It does allow me to approach the story a little differently for each artist and to do different types of stories based on how they'll look. Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down halfway through a long-running story arc, but these were short and punchy and each one has a different atmosphere. Frank's opener really set the tone with the whole acid bubblegum thing, then Philip [Tan] had that scratchy noir – "rain on black glass" as one of the Mindless Ones blog team described it so beautifully.
Cameron Stewart's issues are really lush and look completely different again from Frank and Philip, perfect for the whole British setting and the ghost story feel. I think readers will be blown away by what he's done. And Andy Clarke's story is a kind of Dan Brown thing, almost, which really benefits from his attention to detail and his gift for drawing architecture. Everyone is getting scripts written to bring out the best in their work, I hope. And I really like how they've all turned out. For me, it keeps things fresh and unpredictable.
All those huge, multi-part, slow moving stories were very popular in the last decade but the impression you get from readers now is that they want a bit more for their money – more story, more ideas, more new characters, more re-read potential per issue, and I‘m up for that. Comics are quite expensive compared to other entertainment media and we should keep that in mind. I've always favored the "super-compression" approach, so I feel more in tune with the demands of the audience these days.
In January, you kick off a new arc featuring the art of the aforementioned Cameron Stewart. Can you tease any details about what's to come?
Well, it's called "Blackest Knight," with a "K." It's not a direct tie-in to "Blackest Night," but it draws on the atmosphere and the themes of "Blackest Night," and along the way it explains what the hell's going on with Bruce Wayne's skull. The one Black Hand was carrying around. It is quite obvious, if you've been following events over the last year, and a lot of Batman readers have already figured it out, I have to say.
This is our version of a Batman crossover team-up event – done in three issues and set mostly in England. We have the Knight and the Squire. Death and rebirth. And Batwoman's in it. It's a micro-"Crisis" [laughs].
You're from Scotland and this is set in England, but nevertheless, are you happy to be bringing Batman across the pond?
Oh, yeah. Batman always had that globetrotting thing going on. He even has a villain called the Globe Trotter [laughs]. In fact he's had two villains with that name. So there were always those covers where you'd see Batman skiing down the Alpine slopes or wearing a kilt. London is quite gothic looking in places, so Batman usually fits in very well. Like I say, this particular story feels like a British comics version of Batman, with mad "theme" villains, phantom miners and underground traps.
Knight and Squire will be appearing in this arc. What does Britain's dynamic duo bring to a storyline?
I've loved those characters since I revamped them a bit in "JLA." And I've built up a huge, detailed backstory for them now, so I can always flip little elements of that into every new appearance. There's just something about the idea of the "English Batman" who can't handle his father's death and blows all his inheritance on drink and drugs and women. He had to be dragged back from the gutter by this tough little working class girl and her mom. So there's a great class thing with the two characters. She's a street kid and he's an aristocrat. Their adventures have little echoes of the Steed and Peel "Avengers," and there's a bit of "Doctor Who" in there, too. This three-issue arc is a kind of mash-up of every British comic or cult TV show in a way. But with Batman.
Batman is making the trip himself because Robin is struggling back at home.
Yeah, in this one, we see Batman working with a couple of different partners. Dick Grayson's good at working with other heroes, of course. He's with the Squire for most of the first issue, and then he's with Batwoman in the next one, Robin's spine was shot to fuck by Flamingo, so the idea was to do "Batman and Robin" as "Batman and…Someone Else" for three issues. And it sets up the next arc, which is ‘Batman vs. Robin.'
Is that fallout from how the fight ended with Red Hood and the Flamingo in the last arc?
You'll see how it develops soon enough, but basically Talia starts calling in favors [laughs]. Damian's put in a difficult position and his loyalties are put to the test. All of this has been about testing that kid. He's learning the hard way what it takes to be a hero in Batman's world, and it's not over for him yet.
It's not like he's the first character you've created and introduced to the DCU proper, but the son of Bruce Wayne is a pretty significant addition to the Batman mythos. Is that a feather you wear proudly in your cap?
Oh yeah, it's nice, but someone could just as easily come in after I'm done and shoot him in the head so, you know... What's been fun for me is the way readers are really starting to warm to the character, because I always thought we had something really good here and a lot of readers just hated Damian when he first appeared. But the more they get to know him, the more they've started to get into him. And that's been the best thing for me, to see people actually warming to the character now that they can see he's going through massive changes in his life and his value system. He's constantly developing new facets. And that's always fun to read and to write.
What about Frank Quitely? He launched this series with you. When will he be returning?
Frazer Irving's doing something after Andy Clarke and then Frank returns a little later than expected. We added three extra issues because of the way that "Blackest Night" was playing out, and you've got "Batman" #700 happening in the middle of all this, so we wanted to find a way to tie everything together for the big comeback.
The three new issues with Andy Clarke pushed Frazer's arc into the summer and had Frank's return to coincide with the "Return" and the big "season-ender" storyline. Then Frank got sick after finishing "Batman and Robin" #3, so he's been dealing with a back problem for the last six months and he hasn't been able to sit at his desk long enough to do much more than keep up with covers. When I spoke him last week, he said he hoped to get back to work on "‘Batman and Robin" in the New Year. Another reason why it was a really good idea to get a few other artists involved.
You mentioned "The Return," so let me ask you - will "The Return of Bruce Wayne" mean the end of "Batman and Robin," or will Bruce Wayne's return play out in the other Bat-books, as well?
The stories in "Return" and "Batman and Robin" run parallel to one another for six months, and there are a few subtle connections between them, but they don't really link up until the crescendo in "Batman and Robin" #16 which comes out in September 2010, I think. You could easily read both books on their own, but it's more involving to read them together.
So will Bruce Wayne eventually be returning to "Batman" and "Detective Comics" or "Batman and Robin," or another new title?
There is a plan, but I can't talk about it yet. I was always going to move on after 12 issues of "Batman and Robin," then it went to 16 and I figured that was it, I'd told my story. I figured once Bruce came back, it would go back to the traditional Batman status quo, which is kind of where I came in. But then I had an idea that seemed to me a really exciting way to continue the story in a new direction, so I'm going to stay on for that. It's a different take on Batman and Robin, but I don't want to say too much until nearer the time. We still have all kinds of twists and turns and shocks to get through before any of that.
I know you don't want to look too far ahead, but can you talk a little bit about the art we've seen for "The Return of Bruce Wayne?" So far we've seen Bruce the Barbarian and Captain Bruce the Pirate.
Those amazing visuals were all Andy Kubert's work. They'd make great toys, wouldn't they? Somebody should get started on that. The League of Historic Batmen. Andy just went to town with the idea of what Batman might look like if he'd developed in these different time periods. How would the bat-equipment work? How would you get the mask effect? Or the effect of a cape? If you look behind the six covers Andy's done – they all join up into one big image – Bruce is mostly wearing sort of conventional period clothes, dictated by the in-story logic. In the first story, Bruce is actually stripped to the waist, as we saw him on the last page of "Final Crisis." All he has is his utility belt. So we don't necessarily get to see him as Bat- Pirate with the flowing beard of dreadlocks and the mask, which genuinely breaks my heart [laughs].
Much like the question about Damian Wayne, what about writing the return of Bruce Wayne? Have you missed him, because one would assume that it's quite fun writing the world's greatest detective?
Yeah, because I just got to really love the character by the time Darkseid zapped him with the Omega Effect. I was really enjoying writing Bruce, and then it was time for him to go. Saying that, Dick is great to write as well. He's very different because he's been a superhero all of his life. And he's actually quite easy with it and it's not such a big deal for him, which is basically what causes the problems between him and Damian, to be honest. As soon as he realizes Bruce is still alive, he's expecting things to go back to normal and he's ready for that. It's no big deal for Dick Grayson, but for Damian, this is the most important thing in the world.
"Batman and Robin" #7, illustrated by Cameron Stewart, is scheduled for January 20, 2010.