Writer David Hine and DC Comics put the axiom "two is better than one" to the test with double the action, double the adventure and double the Batmen when they deliver a double dose of annuals with "Detective Comics Annual" #12 and "Batman Annual" #28 this December.
In a two-part story spanning both annuals, Hine joins artist Agustin Padilla for a tale featuring the current Batman of the past few months, Dick Grayson, and the recently returned original Batman, Bruce Wayne. Tying directly into writer Grant Morrison's new "Batman, Inc." ongoing, both Caped Crusaders travel to Paris as part of a developing recruitment drive only to find themselves caught up in an international incident linked to mysterious set of assassinations and a strange Parisian cult. The two-parter also guest stars the Question and teases the debut of a brand new Bat-ally.
This week CBR News shines its regular interview column THE BAT SIGNAL on David Hine, whose previous work on the "Arkham Reborn" miniseries and current stint on the ongoing "Azrael" title makes him a regular in Batman's world. The British writer shared information on the upcoming "Batman" and "Detective" annuals, writing two different Dark Knights and the effect of Bruce Wayne's return on the current Azrael.
CBR News: First thing I wanted to hit on here is what's it like for you personally coming onto these two annuals at a time when the Batman family is going through such major changes?
David Hine: I'm used to coming into Batman stories in the middle of an event. The Arkham story was smack in the middle of the Batman R.I.P./Battle for the Cowl and there were times when it was frustrating because I had to work around the timing of the revelation of Black Mask's identity. My recent "Detective" story was outside of continuity, so it was a chance to write an old-style iconic Batman story that helped fill the gap between Rucka's Batwoman [story] and Scott Snyder's run. This time I'm coming in at the beginning of an event so it's all very fresh and open.
What are your thoughts on where the Bat-Family is right now and what do you like about the direction the books are going in, specifically with the Batman name as a franchise?
There will always be room for classic Batman stories and I think that for anyone who grew up with Bruce as Batman and Dick as Robin, that will be the relationship that remains at the heart of the Batman title. After 70 years, we have to also be playing some different games with the characters and Grant has certainly done that. He's a genius at spinning all kinds of permutations around that core concept. "Batman, Inc" promises to be one of the most innovative and exciting of his riffs on the Batman theme. Most American comics are so USA-based that it limits their potential. I love the idea of Batman going global. It's a great opportunity to expand the worldview, appeal to new audiences and just get the hell out of Dodge for a while. If it's successful, this will be a chance to explore the whole superhero/vigilante mindset from a totally different cultural perspective. It needs to be more than just a world tour with a few postcard scenery backdrops. Pop culture is different in France, Japan or Mexico and as creators, we have to make the connections, not simply impose one more American brand on the local landscape alongside McDonalds and Starbucks.
On that note, looking at the story in these Annuals specifically, what do you think readers will be saying about putting both Batmen together outside of America?
Predicting what comic readers are going to say is a risky business. I think they'll be jazzed to see two Batmen in one story. Some will love. Some will hate. The usual. It's been interesting seeing the responses to my recent "Detective Comics" arc, where the reactions really have been diametrically opposed. Some of the fans of Rucka's run absolutely loathed what I did, while others saw it as a welcome break from all the continuity-based Batman stories of the past couple of years. This time round, I'm involved in the current storyline and "Batman, Inc" is such an open-ended concept that it allows creators to head off into whatever new directions they want to take.
The Annuals will be one of the first big stories to feature both Dick and Bruce in the Batman role working side-by-side. How do you approach writing these two characters both as Batman? How do they compare and contrast in the role?
When they're suited and booted they work as a perfect team, just as they always have, though now they are on a much more equal footing. Dick is still going to have a certain amount of insecurity there because Bruce will always be his mentor, but Bruce knows he needs to step back a little and give Dick his due. The whole point of the R.I.P./Battle for the Cowl storyline was to prove that there could be a successor to Batman and that Dick Grayson is the perfect person for that role. Bruce has shown that he accepts Dick as Batman but I personally believe that Dick will never be entirely confident and there will always be a part of him that is trying to prove himself to Bruce.
The biggest differences between the two become apparent when they are out of costume. I'm writing Bruce as a brilliant manipulator. It's going to be tough for him to persuade the French government, police and public that they need an American super hero franchise operating out of Paris. It will take wit, charm and a razor-sharp mind to achieve that.
You sort of just touched on this, but how do you think Dick Grayson has changed since moving from the role of Nightwing into the role of Batman? Do you think the experience has changed him, or is he virtually the same?
He's matured vastly. He still has his sense of humor but there's a weight of responsibility on his shoulders. The key to the change is that he is now in the position of being mentor to Damian Wayne. Not only has he taken over Bruce's role as Batman, but he has the responsibility of guiding Bruce's own son. And let's face it, Damian is the teenager from Hell. There's a great dynamic developing between those two that's a lot more intense and fascinating than the old Bruce and Dick versions of Batman and Robin. Batman was always a father figure to Dick. The relationship between Dick and Damian is a lot more complex.
Looking at Bruce, do you think he changed at all after his trip through time and the events of the past year?
He seems to have become a wiser and more analytical character than he was before. He always had that forensic mind but his mindset is even more objective and distanced [now]. The experience of death and repeated rebirth that he has been through has given him a new perspective, but it may also have damaged him in some subtle ways that we have yet to see. Bruce has always been a character who was isolated from the people around him while taking on the responsibility of safeguarding them. There are huge conflicts there and it's all based on guilt. Bruce couldn't save his parents so he's going to save the world. It used to be just Gotham, but his ambitions are expanding.
What is the dynamic like between Bruce and Dick these days? Do you see them a bit as "Good Cop, Bad Cop" when it comes to the way they do things?
The annuals are unusual in that we are seeing both Batmen fighting together and I don't think we'll see a lot of that. The situation in Paris is unusual. Dick is there to demonstrate that there's a need for Batman's style of policing, while Bruce is mainly there in his civilian role as financial backer and sales rep for the Batman Incorporated franchise. But the situation in Paris is so volatile that he suits up to join Dick in the hunt for the mastermind behind the killings that are setting Paris alight. It's more complicated than "Good Cop, Bad Cop." Initially I want to demonstrate that they still work well as a team, but we will see that Bruce tends to step back a little when they are on the streets. He has to show Dick that he has total confidence in his abilities. Dick isn't the sidekick any more. He is Batman.
The titles also feature the current Question, Renee Montoya. What do you like about her character and what sort of part will she be playing in the story?
Renee only shows up briefly in the "Detective" annual. She really comes into her own in the second half of the story in the "Batman" annual. Her role is initially undercover as she infiltrates the cult that seems to be behind the murders. I followed Renee in "Gotham Central" and I loved the characterization. If you think about who she is, it's actually quite bizarre that she has taken over the role of the Question, who epitomized Steve Ditko's uncompromising objectivist philosophy. Probably the less said about that, the better. Renee is lesbian, liberal and far less certain about ultimate truths. The last time we saw Renee was when Greg Rucka wound up her strip in "Detective." That ended on an inconclusive note as she apparently took on the Mark of Cain - symbol of the original male sin of murder. But we never got to see what's under the mask. That's just one of the questions that will be answered in this story.
Renee has had a previous relationship with both of these characters, but how has that relationship changed now that not only are both of these characters Batman, but with her also taking on a vigilante role as well?
She's playing in their arena now, although her combat skills and the gadgets she can call up are far less impressive than theirs, so she's a lot more vulnerable than the Batmen. It's kind of shocking that Bruce thrusts her into a very dangerous situation. I don't want to say any more than that now beyond the fact that Bruce is pushing everyone in the Bat Family to assume their full roles and responsibilities. They proved they could do it when he was gone. He wants them to show they can still do it.
The solicits mention a new character possibly joining the Bat-Family. What can you say about that and about the character him or herself?
Batman Incorporated is all about setting up the franchise throughout the world with local operatives. I wanted to introduce a French character who gets away from the stereotype, so we have a young guy from the suburbs of Paris who is into free-running, or Parkour. He goes by the name of Nightrunner. He's an amazing athlete but he's grounded in the reality of the less-privileged areas of Paris, with its low income, ethnically mixed population. They are financially poor but they have a very rich street culture. We also introduce a rapper called Leni Urbana who is loosely based on the real-life Keny Arkana. Kyle Higgins is writing back-up strips for these annuals that delve deeper into the background of these characters. This story will show the real Paris that goes beyond the tourist scenery and hopefully will be recognizable to French readers.
Shifting gears a bit, telling us what you're cooking up next in the pages of "Azrael." How has the changing dynamic of the other Bat-Books affected this title?
Azrael will be involved in the whole Batman Incorporated event, but in his case, it's more a question of whether or not he will answer the call and allow himself to be drafted into the group. Azrael is far more of a loner than the rest of the Bat Family and he only takes orders from God and his conscience.
The current Azrael is rather new in the role. What is his thought process regarding the changing world of Gotham City? What can you say about his inevitable encounter with the returned Bruce Wayne?
If you've been following the Michael Lane incarnation of Azrael, you will know that he's a very conflicted guy who is struggling to hold on to his sanity. Bruce Wayne has personally experienced the effect of wearing the Suit of Sorrows and it nearly drove him to madness and murder. It wasn't his intention that it would ever be worn again, so when he finds that Dick Grayson allowed Michael to keep the suit he wasn't too ecstatic. Talia al Ghul was planning for Damian to inherit the Azrael suit and that would have been even more catastrophic. The situation is that Dick is still hopeful that Michael can handle the pressure and use the suit responsibly. Bruce wants him inside the Batman Incorporated organization where they can keep him under control. The upcoming arc deals with that situation and it becomes clear very quickly that Azrael is not going to follow the rules. Particularly the "no killing" rule.
The upcoming three-part story drawn by Cliff Richards is the turning point for Azrael. It's literally a life-or-death conflict and will take the character to a whole new level. With "Azrael," I've been able to address issues of religious faith and the nature of Christian ethics that in the past would probably only have seen the light in a Vertigo title. We're going to continue to address those issues in the future and after the current arc we'll be heading into some very interesting territory.
As a last question, beyond the upcoming Annuals and your work on "Azrael," can reveal any other work in the Batman universe? Is there any character in that line - hero, villain or other - that you'd like to take a crack at?
The four issues of "Azrael" that I worked on with Guillem March were very successful from a creative point of view, and we are planning to do another Bat story together, which I have just pitched as an outline. For this one, we'll be using some classic characters but also introducing some new ones. I love using existing characters from the DC pantheon but there's nothing to match the challenge of coming up with new and original characters, like the Three Beauties for Arkham Asylum, The Impostor Joker and Korrigan and Nightrunner in the Annuals. If there's one character I would like to have a shot at one day, it would have to be the Joker. The real Joker.
The story begins on December 8 with "Detective Comics Annual" #12 and continues into "Batman Annual" #28 on December 22.