Since the first pieces of teaser art started popping up on featuring Batman as a pirate, a cowboy and a caveman, fans of the Dark Knight have been anxiously awaiting the launch of Grant Morrison's "The Return of Bruce Wayne."
This week, THE BAT SIGNAL spotlights the mercurial Morrison as he begins Bruce Wayne's history-spanning homecoming back to DC Comics' modern day Gotham City in the highly anticipated six-issue miniseries that begins this week.
Each issue features art by a different, equally acclaimed artist, including the likes of Chris Sprouse, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette and Cameron Stewart and an übercool cover by Andy Kubert.
And you haven't read "Batman and Robin" #12 yet, be forewarned as the superstar writer also discusses the big reveal that happened in the final pages of this week's issue. Morrison also shared the news that he plans to keep writing Batman and Robin stories "for years" and that if you loved this week's issue, you absolutely shouldn't miss "Batman and Robin" #13.
After you've read through this conversation with Mr. Morrison, explore the ins and outs of CBR's official "Batman Hub" – home to a wealth of information on the Dark Knight, from creator interviews and art previews to character bios and comic book reviews. And be sure to come back next week for another exciting installment of THE BAT SIGNAL!
CBR News: Let's start with what everyone is talking about today, the big reveal in Wednesday's release of "Batman and Robin" that Oberon Sexton is, in fact, The Joker. Did you feel you couldn't tell this epic Bruce Wayne story without the Joker playing a role?
Grant Morrison: It's obviously been planned for a long, long time. The Joker had to be in it. The Joker is the yang to Batman's yin and yin to his yang, so he always had to be there. And because he played such an important part in "Batman R.I.P.," we really wanted to see Dick Grayson and Damian up against The Joker. That was the one that I thought was important for fans to see.
So it seemed inevitable that he would be in there. And as I said, the character has been kind of haunting the book since "Batman and Robin" #1. There's been these little scenes here and there hinting that it was The Joker, so it's been building up for a long, long time. But it's also, as you'll see in #13, which I think is going to be [Laughs]... well, people are going to be really excited about it. It's quite cool. And Frazer Irving's art is amazing. But The Joker is quite different than anything we've ever seen before, so again, we wanted to keep ramping it up and keep doing new things and keep doing new twists and turns that people hadn't seen before.
You've been writing Batman now for nearly four years. How important is it to add new elements, ideas and philosophies to the character and his supporting cast versus going back and reading old Batman stories and being true to the character and honest with his long history?
I keep going back to those early stories and you forget because you're so familiar with them, but for instance, every time you go back to the first Joker story, it's really quite shocking how hardcore the character is and how dark it is and how very specific and well-worked out his plans are. And then you pick up a Batman comic from the 1960s. I just sort of re-discovered some of the stories Gardner Fox did after the "Batman" TV show. There is a really bad period in Batman's history where the books are all trying to copy the TV show. They were all kind of campy and crappy, but Fox came in for a very short time right after that and he did this amazing run of brilliant, really great and twisty takes on the Batman mythos.
So you can find stuff like that and suddenly you get a different version of The Joker, which is really cool. And then you get Denny O'Neil's version of The Joker, which is really cool. A lot of them are not what you remember. So they all kind of go into the mega-take and then you have to try and do something that honors all of those and incorporates all of that continuity while putting another little twist on it.
Running concurrently with "Batman and Robin" these next six months is "Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne," where we get to see Batman play out his inner Doctor Who, travelling through time in an effort to get back to present day. I don't know if he's going to be going up against any aliens, but how important for you, as a storyteller, was it to pull the camera back and tell a big sweeping epic with Bruce instead of the classic, gritty, street level stories he's most famous for?
I'll try to get some aliens in there for you. But, of course, he's part of the DC Universe and when I was given the "Batman" book, Peter Tomasi, who was my editor at the time, said, "This is the superhero book and 'Detective' is the crime book." So I kind of thought this is the DC Universe Batman and I took all that history into account. For me, Batman has fought werewolves, he's fought vampires, he's done all this other stuff, so it was kind of like, why not take the modern, kind of cold, logical, "The Wire" approach to time travel? What really happens to Bruce Wayne? What would it be like, not like one of those 1950s' stories where he does it everyday and he goes down to Professor Nichols' basement and jumps back to the Stone Age, this is like what would really happen if you were stuck there with cavemen and you can't talk the language and you didn't know anyone?
So it was more like taking the realism of the modern type of comic story and applying it to the craziness of the DC Universe and having a Batman who accommodates that, because I think the Batman that I'm writing can also then suddenly turn up in a Gotham back alley and be dealing with prostitutes and pimps and criminals. What I'm basically trying to say is that he's so great, he can do all of these things. He has all of these immense dimensions. So I had to – when I had the idea to do the biggest, most definitive story that I could think of as a writer – incorporate all of those elements.
And he's the World's Greatest Detective, so who better to work his way back through time to the present? That's what Batman does, he's posed with a problem and he solves it. He doesn't have superpowers to fix things. He has to figure things out.
Yeah, absolutely, right. We've seen him punch the grin off a mugger a thousand times. Those guys don't stand a chance against Batman. Crime bosses don't stand a chance. Supervillains don't even stand a chance. So we wanted to test that character against the biggest challenges we can think of and so we needed to put him in these areas where he wasn't comfortable and areas where he might not fit in and say, "OK. Survive, you bastard" and watch that story, because that's the story that hasn't been told. That's what kind of excited me, putting him in these weird places and putting him up against these weird challenges.
On the flipside, I guess there's also the pure fanboy element to this storyline. Batman as a pirate? Or a cowboy? Come on, this is good stuff.
The stuff that Chris Sprouse has done is incredible – the caveman stuff. And its like, this is exactly what Bruce would do. And in the Stone Age, this is how it would all play out. And then you get the beautiful work that Frazer Irving has done in the Puritan era. Suddenly, now, people can understand him because at least he's speaking a kind of English that people can make sense of. He's playing the role of a Solomon Kane-style investigator/adventurer. Then you get Yanick Paquette's beautiful pirate story. I mean, really, there was a lot of new material to be mined from some ideas that nobody had really gone near for a long time.
How tightly will "The Return of Bruce Wayne" weave in and out through what's happening in "Batman and Robin?"
Yeah, everything starts to connect and interweave, so readers have to buy all of the books [laughs]. We're the opposite of "Brightest Day." We're the Black Mask for publishing. But basically, all the books start to connect ,which is why I'm doing a couple of "Batman" issues with Tony Daniel, "Batman" #701 and #702 and also #700, which is the big anniversary issue – all of these things kind of tie together over the next six months.
We wanted to do something big around the celebration of "Batman" #700, so it's six months of Batman stories all kind of interconnected.
I know you can't give away the end before it even begins, but I guess lurking there in the ether is the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is coming back, so what does that mean for the new dynamic duo of Dick and Damian?
I love doing those two characters together. I've always liked Dick Grayson as a character anyways, but Damian has just been evolving. It's been a discovery and I think it's been brilliant. I've really enjoyed playing them off of each other. So yeah, that dynamic is too good to waste, I think, so obviously things are going to happen when Bruce comes back and I've got plans and we've all have plans in the Batman office of what happens next and it's pretty cool. It's something quite different and I don't want to say anything until then. Because there is all kinds of great stuff we can do, still.
Again, I know you don't want to jump too far ahead, but I know as far back as "R.I.P.," you thought you might be done with Batman at that point and then this new direction with Dick and Damian presented itself. Now it sounds like you have years left of stories. So, this isn't the beginning of the end of your run with Batman, is it?
Oh, definitely [not]. There are some things that were inserted into the story from the very beginning and you'll see as all of this stuff evolves. I kind of always thought that I would just cop out at a certain point. But suddenly, all of these different strands started to make themselves more and more obvious to me and I had to stay on until the conclusion. So really, what I'll be doing is taking it right back to where we began all of this with "Batman and Son." It's a big, mega-story that kind of makes sense to me in my head, so I had to make it work. So I'll definitely be staying with Batman in some form for the next couple of years to finish this story off.
You're no stranger to writing big events for DCU, your last one being "Final Crisis." Do you feel any added pressure to deliver when you are writing the book that you know everyone is going to be rushing out to grab at their local comic book shop over the next six months?
It's never daunting, so much. I've written a ton of Batman books these last few months and it's been the hardest work I've done in years [laughs]. So that aspect has been hard, but not the overall story. The story itself is just a joy. It's like a discovery. If you can imagine the fun just sitting there writing these characters. It's great. So that aspect I've really enjoyed. When you see it all coming together as the puzzles all fit together, you really want the readers to start getting onboard, as well, and enjoying it. So no, I really like doing this stuff. It's not difficult in any way.