Even with all the changes coming to the DC Comics Universe with the impending September relaunch of 52 new titles, the world of the Dark Knight remains a remarkably solid part of the comics marketplace. Though the creators and editors behind DC's Batman line came out in full force at Comic-Con International 2011 in San Diego to prime fans for their new twists on Bruce Wayne's world in a panel Thursday afternoon.
DC's Batman Group Editor Mike Marts was joined by Editor Rachel Gluckstern, writers Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Judd Winick, Kyle Higgins, Scott Lobdell, Peter Tomasi and Gregg Hurwitz as well as artists Chris Burnham and David Finch.
Moderator and DC Marketing VP John Cunningham got the ball rolling by returning a lost badge to an appreciative fan before pointing fans to DC's Wayne Casino Poker Chip collectibles – the rarest of which would be given to the best question askers at the panel.
Marts soon took the mic and read a statement from the absent Paul Jenkins who missed the panel due to the birth of his son, but the action soon got underway with Gluckstern talking up "Catwoman" as one of the most original, sexy takes on the character in recent memory. Burnham called "Batman Incorporated" a dream book before Morrison jumped in when the image of Batman punching a schoolgirl in the face appeared on screen to cry out "It's two-fisted justice the way you expect it!"
Higgins joked that he wasn't very excited about writing "Nightwing" before honestly admitting that the character is his all time favorite. "Dick Grayson is at a point right now where he's had more exposure than he's ever had...and he's basically taking back on his own purpose and identity," the writer said. "The thing I always say about the book is that Dick's an acrobat, so that kinetic energy is something we really want to embrace."
Simone spoke to her connection to Barbara Gordon, saying that the new "Batgirl" series will focus on Barbara Gordon as a young woman just out of college struggling to find her place in the world. Adrian Syaf will draw the book and, according to Simone, draws a lot of character depth from the heroine including her first moment in the Batgirl costume in years.
Winick also spoke on Catwoman saying that he was happy to work on a character who's been a part of the franchise since the beginning. While his editor played up the sexiness, Winick said, "This is a dirty, dirty book, and you're going to enjoy it." He added that the focus of the series will be to get back to "a chick in a catsuit who steals things" and "If anything goes wrong, she'll scratch someone's eyes out." He added of "Batwing," "I've been given a chance to create an all-new Batman, and it's so exciting." A piece of art from series penciler Ben Oliver revealed a new villain for Batwing wielding a Machete. Winick referred to the new bad guy Masacre as "a very subtly named villain" who will be the arch-nemesis of the new hero in what will be a morally dark book in places. Batman will appear in the book not as a mentor but as a general to which Batwing plays soldier.
Lobdell spoke on "Red Hood & The Outlaws" saying that while he's not known for doing dark comics, he's taking the Red Hood, Starfire and the rest of the cast out into the broader world. The book was described as a fun look into the lives of damaged characters. Tomasi quickly called "Batman & Robin" a fast-paced book "about kicking ass."
Morrison spoke to the future of "Batman Incorporated" as the new volume debuting in the months ahead will reveal the identity of the villain who's been behind Leviathan. The series will also wrap the work he's been doing "for the past six years or the past six hundred years...I can promise tears and tears and TEARS!" The writer promised Robin would be a big part of the book as well.
Snyder's connection to Gotham City will continue in the new "Batman." "It's about him learning about the history of Gotham and the enemies there that have been lurking for hundreds of years," he said. "Hopefully it'll bring together some of the stuff I've been working on with Kyle in 'Gates of Gotham'...but for the most part it's about Bruce's sense that he is Gotham's soul. But he doesn't know Gotham at all."
Hurwitz praised the enthusiasm of the Batman group in talking up his "Penguin: Pain and Prejudice" where the villain will explore his hatred of Batman. "The pages are like what I've been seeing in my head but better...it's been terrific, and I can't wait for you guys to see it," he said of the five-issue series, which ships in October as the first mini of the "New 52" era.
"I really found out how hard writing really is," Finch said of "Batman: The Dark Knight" noting that he lost too much time on his art trying to figure out what his next big story would be. Jenkins was able to take the visual themes the artist wanted to play with and added an intellectual theme and heart to make a better book on the whole.
Q&A opened up from the floor of the panel as the first fan saying that he'd been interested in Batman since "The Dark Knight Returns" but wondered with the changes to the heroes coming with the New 52 titles whether the villains would also be changed. Marts said that the changes coming to any character would be focused on boiling them down to their core while Simone added that a big focus for a lot of the writers was adding new villains into the mix.
That theme continued as a fan asked how they decided what to keep and what to set aside when doing the relaunch. Winick joked that it was "totally random" and that they just threw things up in the air and grabbed pieces to keep.
Lateness came up with a fan wondering whether books like "Dark Knight" and the incoming "Batwoman" would remain monthly. Marts promised that "Batwoman" had four issues in from JH Williams and one issue in from Amy Reeder. Finch was ahead on "Dark Knight" as DC has promised with the day-and-date books that titles will ship monthly for sure. Finch added that bringing on Jenkins has helped and admitting that "it's not fair to fans" to let the book's schedule slip anymore only to let him write it solo. "It's a relief for me to wake up in the morning with a script where I can just take my pages out."
A fan wanted to know if Morrison would ever tackle Bane, and while the writer said he was inspired by the take on the character unveiled by group blog The Mindless Ones, he had no direct plans since he wasn't reading Batman when that villain was introduced and has no real personal connection to the villain.
Lobdell said that the choice to put together Starfire and the Red Hood was confusing to him when Editorial presented it to him, but "When you see it on the screen, it looks like they've been together their whole lives...what's been really fun about Starfire in particular is that too often she's been written as a hot girl with orange skin, but in this series she's trying to grasp what humanity's about. Unfortunately she's chosen Jason [Todd] and Roy [Harper] as her examples." Starfire's history with Dick Grayson has not been erased, but the focus for now is to keep her established as her own personality.
Snyder was asked where his ideas for creepy villains like Jim Gordon's son, and he said, "I don't know. I play with my kid, and then I go off and write James, Jr." He joked that he grew up near a video store that stocked lots of horror movies, and while they wouldn't rent them to kids at the store, they would deliver. "What 'Detective' is about is breaking Dick Grayson down and showing him how dark Gotham can really be." Snyder promised the finale of the arc will be as dark as anything they've done on the book. "The final panel of [the last issue] is probably the most twisted image of the entire series."
Asked how decisions were made in the New 52 as far as which characters would be de-aged or have their timelines changed, Marts joked "We've got a mini series coming out called 'The Physics of the DC Universe'" before saying that for now, their focus is on telling cool stories in the present.
Winick explained that Batwing earned his own title because of all the "Batman Incorporated" characters because "We liked him the best...we think he's a great character, and I think a lot of the other 'Batman Incorporated' characters will be seen."
Asked what the attraction is to come back to creating stories with Batman every month, Morrison said, "I like him because he's so endlessly adaptable. You can put him in any story, and he just works" from the "Brave & The Bold" cartoon to "Batman Incorporated."
When a young boy asked how many Robins there have been, the response of "four" from the panel prompted a young woman dressed in Batgirl costume to ask whether with the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl there would be a "Batgirl Incorporated" book with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown and other female characters. Simone said they were discussing things on that front this weekend, and that fans should not worry about Stephanie Brown being lost to the DCU. Simone said that supporting character Detective Gage could "maybe" appear in the new "Batgirl" series.
Finally, a fan asked how much leeway Morrison had writing the franchise, and he said, "These guys come in with guns and say to me 'This is what we're doing!'" before honestly answering that he's been writing for so long that he knows how to tell stories that are exciting that still fit within DC's plans for Batman and can feed into what the other writers do.
One more question came in about the future of "Batman Beyond" which Marts said "I'm sure 'Batman Beyond' has a future...it'd be silly not to do more things." The fan slipped in a question about Jason Todd's hair color which Lobdell confirmed as black. She said it'd be nice to have a team of gingers, to which Morrison said, "Gingers need heroes too...Ron Weasely is not enough!"