THE BAT SIGNAL: Mike Marts

Wed, April 14th, 2010 at 2:30pm PDT | Updated: June 14th, 2010 at 3:25pm

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

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Welcome to the inaugural installment of THE BAT SIGNAL!

In the DC Comics universe, Batman makes his home in the archetypal Gotham City – a dark playground populated with secret heroes, deranged villains, courageous cops and mysterious adventure. Today at CBR, we're proud to introduce a similar (though hopefully much less dangerous) stomping ground for Batman news, interviews, preview, reviews and so much more. Additionally, starting this afternoon, fans can check out CBR's official "Batman Hub" – there you'll find a wealth of information on the Dark Knight, from creator interviews and art previews to character bios and comic reviews.

In conjunction with this slick specialty, we're also happy to launch a rallying point for our own coverage of DC's Bat books: THE BAT SIGNAL. Each week, CBR's news team will get the most important movers and shakers behind Batman and company's monthly comic adventures on our own personal red phones for interviews on everything from the impending return of Bruce Wayne to the inner lives of supporting cast from Red Robin to Catwoman to the most insane rogue's gallery in comics.

Kicking off our very first installment of THE BAT SIGNAL is the man behind the Dark Knight's entire world: DC editor Mike Marts. Below, the man who makes sure everything from "Batman & Robin" to "Streets of Gotham" to "Red Robin" to "Batgirl" and many more titles opens up on his personal history with the Bat franchise, his thoughts on working with titanic talents including Grant Morrison and Paul Dini and his plans for tying the Batman titles closer and closer together over the summer as fans wait for the return of the original caped crusader.

So read on, explore the ins and outs of the Hub and be sure to come back next week for another exciting installment of THE BAT SIGNAL!

Story continues below

CBR News: Mike, Welcome to The Bat Signal! To get this whole thing rolling, I wanted to start with your own personal history on the Bat books. I know that you came over to DC just around the time Pete Tomasi was looking to transition out of editorial and into writing full time. For you, what was the impetus for getting into the Batman world then? Did you have a fondness for the character or a real interest in the line?

Mike Marts: Actually, it was Dan [Didio's] idea to bring me into the Batman books. When I first came over from Marvel, I was doing a few other projects – "Countdown" and "Legion of Super-Heroes" – and I know that Pete had been wanting to go freelance for a while, and that opportunity finally came up for him. I hadn't even been thinking about who was going to take over the Batman books, but Dan came to me and asked if I would be interested. He had cited the work I'd done on the X-Men books at Marvel and my ability to handle a franchise of titles or a group of titles and wanted to see if I could apply those same talents to the Batman group. I guess he wanted me to refocus the Batman group into more of a cohesive group of titles, and I was more than happy to take it on. Batman was the first comic character I'd read as a kid, and it was too exciting to turn down.

And as you came on, it can't be overstated that Pete had put some big talent in place with Grant Morrison and Paul Dini already working on the core titles. Remind me, did you come on just before "The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul"?

"The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" was the first big storyline I began working on. Not too much on that was done prior to my coming on besides knowing that we wanted to do a story that resurrected Ra's Al Ghul. So it was fun to get in on the ground floor with that story line and to shape it and get the rest of the creative team like Fabian Nicieza and Peter Milligan involved. I think doing a crossover story with all the different Bat titles as my first big venture into the Batbooks was a great first thing to do, because it immediately thrust us into a story line which involved the extended family and was an opportunity to see all the characters interact together.

And Pete had left the Batbooks in amazing shape for me. You definitely can't complain when you get to inherit books that involve Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert and Paul Dini. It was a good time to step into the books.

You were a Batman fan when you were young, and anyone who's spent any time in comics has read their share of Batman stories. Once you got into the nitty gritty of preparing those stories from the editor's chair, how did your view of the character change? Were there things you didn't expect to be grappling with?

Well, at Marvel I'd worked on so many different team books with the X-Men and the various X-Titles, that it was extremely refreshing to step into a title that had one single character. It was great to focus on one man and his life and his stories. I think what you're able to do with a character like Batman is explore all the great relationships he has with his extended cast, whether they're members of his own team like Nightwing and Robin or if it's the relationship he has with his great rogue's gallery from Ra's Al Ghul to Joker to Two Face. Each of those relationships that he has is different, so the story combinations are always different, and you're always going to get something new or exciting out of the mixing and mashing of those characters and Batman.

A big turn for your editorial life came with "Batman R.I.P." where Grant's ongoing rollout of the flagship title became the kind of catalyst for the entire line to reboot itself. Did you decide to change so many of the comics from what they'd been for years because of that story, or had you been looking for a way to shake things up and Grant's bigger plans for Bruce and "Final Crisis" and everything just seemed to present the ideal spot to make your move?

Working with Grant is great because as a writer he thinks epically. He always has a grand plan in place. Prior to my coming on the books, he knew what direction he wanted to take the characters in. He had the idea of having Bruce Wayne go away. He had the idea of Dick Grayson stepping in to fill the mantle of the Bat. So with those major tent polls and knowing the different supporting characters he wanted to bring into his title...having all those in place was great because it allows you to plan as an editor not just that single book Grant is writing, but it allows you to plan the whole franchise around that title. We had a great idea for a long time on when to start the "Batman Reborn" event. We knew that was a line in the sand where Bruce was gone and Dick would be Batman and we'd be able to initiate several new titles spinning out of that core idea. To that end, Grant has several more chapters of this epic planned, which allows us to keep planning and to build a stronger franchise.

When it came to those "Reborn" titles and knowing "Battle For The Cowl" would be the transitional moment, where did the ideas come for books like "Red Robin" or "Gotham City Sirens"? Did you put out an all hands on deck call to get pitches for series that would fit this new world from the writer in the stable, or were you asking questions internally of "What can we do with Tim now"? That process seems really daunting.

We broke it up internally and with the help of several different writers. It's a process we began about a year prior to the release of the "Batman Reborn" titles. It was the summer of 2008 when we started planning what the new titles would be and what titles would go away. We knew in advance that we would cancel "Robin" and "Birds of Prey" and "Nightwing." And at the time that we cancelled those titles, we knew all along that there was a grand plan in place where Tim Drake would go on to be something else or Dick Grayson would go on to be something else, but it was nice having that entire year to plan towards the "Batman Reborn" titles.

Some of the ideas Grant had set up for us to play with, but other ideas were born out of figuring what holes and voids Grant's outline left us with. For instance, we knew that Damian would be stepping into the role of Robin, so what role would that leave for Tim Drake? What does he take on next? We'd already had Tim interacting with Jason Todd in his Red Robin persona, so we got the idea of "Can we have that costume and identity stick around?" And we had a lot of great contributions from Tony Daniel and Paul Dini, from Fabian Nicieza and Chris Yost. Basically all the guys who have been working on the Batbooks for the last three years or so participated in major ways.

I know it can be hard to play favorites amongst your children, but now that you're a year out from those new launches, was there one book that really took off outside your initial plans or expectations for the books?

"Red Robin" I think was far and away the book that not only met our expectations quickly, but exceeded our expectations. We knew that we had great ideas from Chris Yost. We knew we'd have solid artwork from Ramon Bachs and Marcus To. But the book really took off with the readers, and they embraced it very quickly. I think that book was a surprise within the "Batman Reborn" titles.

Everyone follows "Batman & Robin" because it's Grant and it has this new dynamic for the characters, but what has stood out to me as we've gotten further along with the books is how much the big characters like Dick and Damian make an impact on the other titles, where some had thought each book would stand off in its own corner. How hard is it to share all these characters and ideas across so many titles when you know that "Batman & Robin" is eventually driving this all to an end game of sorts?

The difficult part came early on in the selection of the talent – figuring out who would be working on what books. With the Batman titles, we know that the Batman character is popular enough to support more than one title a month. The trick is really to try not to duplicate and figure out what the different voices are in the individual titles. That boils down to the selection of the talent, and you want to be careful in picking who's going to be writing the stories. If you know you have a Grant Morrison who's an epic writer focusing on the ongoing drama, then you want to balance that out with someone like Paul Dini who is excellent a the single issue character studies. It's all a balancing act of figuring out who your talent is and trying not to repeat too much in terms of their writing strengths.

Looking at the books themselves, let's talk a little about what each title offers to the line and how they'll be developing over the summer and beyond. Paul Dini is still going strong on "Streets of Gotham" and "Gotham City Sirens" which each have a very different and distinct feel even though they're crafted by the same writer. Is the difference in tone really down to one being the book full of the ladies of the franchise?

He brings a different idea to each book. "Gotham City Sirens" is more concerned with the female characters he's written for so long, and "Streets of Gotham" is his playground to try everything else. We've got a lot of ideas in there that we've continued over from Paul's story lines in "Detective" whether it's the Tommy Elliot/Hush story line or bringing in classic villains like Mr. Zsasz or introducing new characters like the Broker or Doc Aesop. That's his forum to tell stories that take place in Gotham that also involve Batman's wide supporting cast.

Like you've said, there are a lot of threads Paul's been building up one-by-one in the book. As we get towards June and beyond, is there a completion to some of these conflicts on the horizon?

There is a completion to some of the stories. The Zsasz story line that's been going on for a month or two comes to a very exciting conclusion in next month's issue, and then following that we'll be getting back to some of the Tommy Elliot/Hush story that I know readers have wanted to get back to. And with the idea of Bruce Wayne returning to the Batman books in the very near future, we know that it's only a matter of time before Tommy Elliot and Bruce Wayne come face to face. And they'll have to deal with the fact that Tommy Elliot has been masquerading as Bruce Wayne all these months he's been missing.

Bruce's return must be ready to impact all the books in some ways from the Tommy stuff in "Streets" even to a book like "Sirens" where the girls are on their own, but I doubt Selina could be left out in the cold with him back on the scene.

The girls are definitely on their own path, but we can't forget that of the three girls the most central character is Selina Kyle. And one of the last story lines where we saw Bruce in action as Bruce Wayne was the story that involved Selina's heart getting ripped out by Hush and then bringing her back to health and the two of them sharing a brief moment of love for one another before Bruce was whisked away in "Final Crisis" by Darkseid. That's something which has been lingering definitely in Selina's mind and Selina's heart, so when Bruce does return – whatever shape or form that may be in – it's going to mean something to her, and that's something that's going to have to be addressed in the book.

The other side of the supporting cast coin involved "Red Robin," where the whole drive of that book has been Tim proving that Bruce is alive and bringing him back from wherever he's been. What is Fabian doing from #13 on that can carry that core concept forward but also help synch it up with events in "Return of Bruce Wayne"?

Fabian is great, because when he comes on to a book that someone else has been writing for a while, one of the first things he asks is "What did that writer have planned? Where did he or she plan to go with it?" He's very respectful of what previous writers have established and set up and wants to continue those threads in his new arc while establishing new things. So Fabian is going to be continuing a lot of the thrust that Chris Yost had establishing in "Red Robin" – a lot of the storylines involving Tam Fix, Vicki Vale, Ra's Al Ghul and the Council of Spiders. All that stuff's going to continue in some way, shape or form in Fabian's run, but at the same time he'll be establishing new things. Tim's recently come back to Gotham City and wants to be more grounded in Gotham again, so those will be new areas and avenues for Fabian to explore. And also with the return of Bruce, his mentor and father figure, that's going to mean big things for Tim as well.

"Batgirl" and "Azrael" complete the picture of the extended Bat family who have found their voices outside of dealing with the Bruce stuff, because they're really new to these roles in the way of "Batman Reborn." Do you try to give those books a little more breathing room to get themselves established?

Yeah. You know with any new title it's a tricky thing. You want it to be a part of the bigger overall franchise, and we want these to feel like a part of the Batman family. But at the same time, you want these titles to grow on their own and be able to establish their own identity. So for the first years of both "Batgirl" and "Azrael" we wanted to do just that – establish that it takes place in Gotham and is connected to the Batman – but really allow Bryan [Q. Miller] and Fabian to tell their own stories and let readers get into these characters and understand who they are and what they're all about. We hope that we've accomplished that in the first years on the titles. Moving into the second years, you'll see them interact more with the characters in the Batman universe and interact more in the overall story lines that will affect the Batman universe.

There's been a lot of talk about what the future of "Detective" is going to be with Greg leaving and what the fate of Batwoman will be as a character. We know Denny O'Neil is going to do some work with the title, but after that what's the outlook on this front?

Greg has done such a great job for us in reestablishing "Detective Comics" as a flagship title. Throughout the years, "Batman" has become such an important book with the ongoing story lines of Bruce Wayne as Batman that sometimes people thought of "Detective Comics" as a secondary title. That all went away when Greg came on and with J.H. started Batwoman's story line. He did a terrific job of setting that character up and introducing her to readers out there.

Where are we going next? Well, I think I'll leave that up to my fellow editor Michael Siglain...

Michael Siglain: Thanks, Mike. First up, in "Detective Comics" #866, legendary writer and former Bat-Editor Denny O'Neil teams up with "Streets of Gotham" artist extraordinaire Dustin Nguyen to celebrate "Batman" #700 by telling a tale that focuses on the early days of Batman and Robin. From there, the brilliant David Hine returns to "Detective" with "Batman: Imposters" - which is a four-part arc featuring the return of Scott McDaniel and his action-packed art to the Bat-Books. Their story centers on a mysterious new villain who decides to push the citizens of Gotham to their limits, forcing them to side with either vigilante justice or accept chaos and anarchy. Needless to say, the Dark Knight-and the other members of the Bat-family-don't take too kindly to this. And neither does a certain someone with pale skin and a rictus grin. But I've said too much already.

As far as Batwoman is concerned, I'm happy to announce that-after her award-winning run in "Detective Comics," courtesy of Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams-Kate Kane will be starring in her very own "Batwoman" series. But wait, there's more! J.H. Williams will not only be drawing the book-along with the magnificent "Madame Xandu" artist, Amy Reeder-but he will be writing it, as well. Greg is concentrating on non-Bat work at the moment-and we wish him the best of luck-so J.H. will be stepping in to write the book along with award-winning (notice a theme here?) Lucasfilm writer W. Haden Blackman. We're already talking story, and I can tell you that you won't believe what this team has in store for Batwoman-or the guest-stars and guest-villains that they have planned. This one is definitely not to be missed!

The other classic anchor title, as you've mentioned, is "Batman." Tony Daniel's been building a lot of what that book's been about since "Battle For The Cowl," and we know that next up is the big anniversary issue jam and with David Hine doing his own exploration of what the reveal of Black Mask means, a lot of things have come full circle. Will those creators continue on with the book, or will you be shifting to a new focus in the future?

Marts: Certain parts of it may culminate and come to a conclusion, but so many different story threads have grown out of this overall Black Mask/Dr. Arkham story that there are things for both Tony and David to explore in the months to come. This is another story line that we've been working on for a long time. We had the idea of Jeremiah Arkham becoming Black Mask maybe as far back as two years ago, so it's something that a bunch of the writers – Tony primarily but also David Hine and Paul Dini – have been working towards over the last year. It's been great all the while knowing what that reveal was going to be and knowing how to drop little clues here and there and how to set up the story strategically so it worked great. We had to set up the story to run through "Battle For The Cowl," Tony's "Batman" run and the "Arkham Reborn" limited series, and we'll continue to play with that in upcoming issues of "Batman" as well as David Hine's "Detective" two-parter.

And as a side note, with Tony Daniel one of the greatest things about working with him over the past few years is seeing him grow and mature into the great writer he is. He'd written plenty of stories in the past with Image Comics, but it was only in the last year or so that we mutually became interested in telling stories together. With "Battle For the Cowl" and his recent "Batman" run he's really grown into a terrific writer.

Last on the list here is "Batman & Robin" and "The Return of Bruce Wayne." When Grant started on the monthly title, it seemed like he'd had a set idea for how many stories and arcs he'd have in the series, but that has seemed to grow and change as he's gone along on "Batman & Robin." Grant Morrison coming up with more story ideas seems like a pretty good problem to have when planning the line.

It's an outstanding problem to have! [Laughs] With the whole "Batman Reborn" event the obvious big book of the bunch was "Batman & Robin." We all knew that from the beginning. Did we think it was going to be this big? I don't know, maybe not. It's really grown into its own thing, and it's kind of like the analogy of when you have a child and you forget what life was like before the child came along. That's what it was with "Batman & Robin." It's really hard to imagine our publishing line and the Batman group as a whole prior to that series. The book just has its own identity, whether it's the interaction between Dick and Damian or introduction of crazy new villains or the three-issue story arc structure. It's really become it's own thing, and we have Grant to thank for that.

So as that continues along with "Return of Bruce Wayne" and we've got at least two more "Batman & Robin" arcs on tap, what's it been like for you to help Grant thread all these ideas back together? I think the expectation for the title from some fans was that this whole story was set in stone from the get go, but it really does seem to have more improvisation and adapt to different things happening within the books.

Things change a little bit here and there. Grant always has his endpoint in mind. He knows what direction he's heading in, but he may change his mind about what direction he's going to take in getting to that endpoint, and that's part of the fun of it. Along the way, we decided Cameron Stewart might be better for one story arc than Frazer Irving, and so we'll take Frazer and put him on a story arc where he'll excel more. And new characters are born and new ideas, and that's all stuff that Grant does as he goes along, yet all the while he's still moving towards that endpoint. It just makes the getting there all the more exciting.

It's obvious that Grant's two Bat books are going to be talking to each other over the course of the summer. What can readers expect when the stories finally crash into each other?

Everything is definitely going to butt up against each other, and it all comes to a head. When it all culminates, it will come to a big bang. The end of September and the beginning of October are going to be a very exciting time for the Batman books, both with the resolution of some story lines and then the initiation of some new ones. That's all something we along with Grant have been planning for quite a while.

Thanks for answering the call! Tune back in next week for another exciting installment of THE BAT SIGNAL, and keep checking CBR's Batman Hub for more news, previews, reviews and MORE!

TAGS:  dc comics, batman, the bat signal, mike marts, grant morrison, bruce wayne, robin, batwoman

 
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