On Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, DC Comics kicked off their "Batman: The Widening Gyre" panel with a surprise - writer Kevin Smith made an appearance with copies the newest issue of the series for fans in the audience. Joining the writer on stage was Group Editor Mike Marts, artist Walt Flanagan and inker Art Thibert. Actor Stephen Root was also in attendance, but as a member of the audience.
"The latest issue we have is issue #6," Marts told the audience. "We're encouraging everyone to take a look at it and read it now."
The ending page of the issue - which wraps the first volume of Smith's 12-issue series - featured the Kevin Smith created villain Onomatopoeia slitting the throat of Batman's finance Silver St. Cloud.
"Is anybody not done? Who's not done?" asked Smith. An audience member asked Smith to read the issue to the crowd. "I'd love to dramatically reenact the issue," laughed Smith.
Questions immediately came from the audience. A fan asked how Smith found the voice of the Demon when writing the character. "I just read everything Alan Moore had done with the Demon and everything Neil Gaiman wrote and Grant Morrison. The Brit dudes know how to write him," said Smith. "When you write him and he doesn't rhyme, it falls apart." Smith also said that the character's "ridiculous" look makes him difficult to take seriously. "If he's rhyming, at least he's hiding behind the venire of being classy. It helps look past the look of the character."
A fan asked what Smith thought of the current state of the Bat-books, with Dick Grayson under the cape and cowl and Bruce Wayne lost in time. "Honestly, I haven't read anything but our book. At a certain point I stopped being a reader and just became a writer," said Smith. The writer added that after he found out that Bruce Wayne has been missing, he felt the book benefitted from it. He said the absence of the character allowed the book to better fit in with Batman history. He added that either way, fans get upset over things being in continuity or out or the characterization of the hero.
"Honoring the character takes a degree of talent that I only [have] in drips and drabs," Smith continued. He also brought up how people complain about Batman being lost in time.
"Batman's not real, mother fucker. Batman isn't really friends with Superman," he said. "For me, when people start saying that 'Bruce is lost in space, how dare they?' He'll be back. He broke his back and came back. People are bitching to me about the Wonder Woman costume change. I had nothing to do with it. It's fucking comics; give it two minutes and she'll be back in the bathing suit."
The writer said he liked Wonder Woman's new costume, but when he mentioned to his wife that fans don't like it, she told him, "'Of course they don't. They want to see a woman fight naked.' I slowly backed out of the room."
A fan asked Flanagan who his influence was when drawing Batman. "I guess I was influenced by the artist I grew up reading. I guess for me it was [Jim] Aparo," Flanagan responded. "When I see Batman, I always think of Aparo."
A fan asked when the start of the next miniseries was expected. "Volume two begins after the new year," Smith said. Smith wanted to give himself enough time to write as he'd be shooting a film soon.
Another fan asked if the Joker will be featured more in the second volume. "I felt like since 'Cacophony' was such a Joker heavy book for us, I wanted to use him very sparingly in the first six issues. But he features a little more prominently in the next arc."
"I still hear Mark Hamill when I write my Joker," Smith added. "When I was reading comments online, people said that, 'This Joker reads like the fucking '90s Joker.' I felt really complimented by it." The writer added that while he likes Heath Ledger's version from the film, his Joker remains the version from the cartoon series by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
Smith also said that he finds writing the Joker easy. "What's the most fucked up thing I can write? Okay. Write that," he said. "For me, I'm way more interested in writing Bruce Wayne and Batman than the Joker."
Smith later began discussing the heavy amount of romance in the title's first six issues. "It's like doing a Wolverine story and for six issues he's going to garden. I wanted to jump online and be like, 'Wait till issue #6 you son of a bitch,'" joked the writer. "I felt like we had enough license to let Bruce be really happy and a real relationship."
Smith said the romance building helped lead to the emotional devastation Batman felt at the end of issue #6. However, Smith said he received a lot of backlash from readers for one particular scene. "Batman giving piggy backs? Take this book away from Smith because he's far too stoned," he laughed. "For me, I looked forward to the first six issues because I like getting into the character. I think Walter looks forward to the next six issues. 'I want to draw him with a stubble beating the shit out of people in alleys.' We'll get there."
With the romance out of the way, Smith said the second volume will be more action oriented as Batman heads down a very angry road. "The first six issues I wouldn't call edgy at all. It played more like a romance book. The next six issues is a lot more hard edge," promised the writer. "There will be blood."
The talk about stubble led Smith into discussing some of the restrictions he encountered while writing the series. "Of all the things in the world that could be kicked back, they kicked back the stubble," he said. "'Batman shaves.' Do you guys have a deal with Exel that I don't know about?"
"He's got to have stubble next time," he said. The writer joked that he might give Batman a ZZ Top beard, with the cover featuring the chest symbol obscured by the hair. Smith did admit that he actually didn't encounter that many restrictions when writing and he felt that the few restrictions they did have allowed him to think more creatively. "It forces you to try and do something creative within the constraints. But to be fair, they didn't give us a lot of constraints."
"I'm not going to hand in a script where Bruce and Tim are on a rooftop and the signal goes off and Tim starts sucking Batman's cock," he joked. "Once you play in the rules, it's kind of easy."
Smith also said that working on the book was a dream come true for him. "[Walt] and I grew up, he introduced me to comics. I remember buying 'Arkham Asylum' the first time and being like, 'Did you read this?'" he said. "For us, 20 years later, doing our dream book, it's fucking cool."
Thibert's 13-year-old daughter asked the inker what his favorite thing about the book was. The inker said that getting the chance to finally work on Batman with Smith and Flanagan was what he liked best. "I've wanted to do Batman since I knew who Batman was," said Thibert. "It took me 25 years to get here, and I want to thank you guys."
Later, a fan asked if Smith would ever do a crossover between Batman and his creator-owned character, Bluntman. The writer laughed and said that Warner Bros. executives would probably call him into an office and incredulously ask him if he was serious and then kick him out. However, the writer did admit there was one crossover he'd like to do. "It would be awesome to be able to do Green Hornet and Batman," he said. "I want to go back and do everything I wanted to do as a kid."
The panel ended with a fan asking if there was any other DC character Smith would like to write. "Swamp Thing. That's the one," he said. The writer said he originally started the series as a Batman and Swamp Thing crossover, but after he couldn't use the Vertigo character, the story evolved into its current form. Smith joked that he mostly wants to dialogue the character with lots of single words and ellipses. "He just talks like a stoner, so it'd be a lot of fun to write."
Smith also said that Flanagan has wanted to draw the Teen Titans villain Trigon for the longest time. "From issue #1, I was like, 'Who do you want to draw?' 'Trigon.' I'm like, 'How am I going to fucking put that into the Batman book? That'd be like Batman fighting Darkseid. And then that happened. I couldn't find a way to get Trigon into it...until issue #7."