For DC Comics Dark Knight, the future isn't looking very funny.
Currently serializing in the publisher's digital first offerings on the DC Comics app is the "Batman Beyond" event "10,000 Clowns" – a massive story involving every character and story beat introduced over the past several years by writer Adam Beechen. As Doug – the convict older brother of new Batman Terry McGinnis' girlfriend Dana – is transformed into the new King of the Jokerz gang, a rash of suicide bombing clowns attacks Gotham City. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne lies on his deathbed due to a long hidden illness as Terry recruits a wave of former allies like Tim Drake and Dick Grayson as well as less familiar faces like the new Vigilante and Catwoman to help fight back.
With the new ninth issue of the print series "Batman Beyond Unlimited" – which presents the digital series alongside fellow series "Justice League Beyond" and "Superman Beyond" – out in comic shops this week, CBR swing its ongoing Batman discussion THE BAT SIGNAL towards "10,000 Clowns." Below, Beechen talks about the arc's origins in his early days on the Beyond beat, the ever expanding supporting cast of the series, working with legendary Bat artist Norm Breyfogle and providing fans with some extra behind-the-scenes thrills as the story heads towards its final battle.
CBR News: I've got to say, as much as I enjoyed the original "Batman Beyond" series, I always felt like the Jokerz were an underutilized part of the world. They never became a major threat or more than some background thugs that got kicked around. Was there something in that use of them that made you want to do "10,000 Clowns"?
Adam Beechen: Absolutely. The Jokerz on the show were almost comic relief they were so ineffective. All they did was threatening graffiti and harassing people on trains. There were supposedly a ton of them all over Gotham City, and that made sense. And their rationale for being made sense. But the fact that they were simply chaotic, running around wackos to me meant that there was a story in there. Namely, if anyone in Gotham ever got the Jokerz unified by a single plan, they could be really dangerous, and they could really pick up where the Joker left off all those years ago as opposed to just the superficial stuff twisted minds would find cool about the Joker. So the idea was to legitimize them as a threat to Gotham.
When Dana's brother Doug takes over and inspires the Jokerz to become suicide bombers, what we see of his argument kind of realigns the way people in this world think of the Joker from "Clown Prince of Crime" to proponent of "Murder As Religion" in essence. What made that argument compelling for him as a character and for you as a writer?
I don't want to say too much because we're going to learn more about Doug's past and his motivations including his thoughts on what the Joker was all about in coming chapters. So I'd rather not spoil that. But Doug, we can say, has a different take on what the Joker was all about that might be different from what any of the Jokerz or the regular cast may have thought. And as he said in the story, "Even the Joker didn't really get the joke." So he has his own take on what the Joker should have been all about in his prime, whether he was or not. But we'll learn more about all of that in chapters to come, and Doug's kind of got a very individual view of the world. That's part of the fun of exploring his character, and rather than just blurt it out all at once in an early appearance, we decided to parse it out over the chapters. It makes Doug more compelling if you find out more about him as you go.
One thing we can say with certainty is that this arc doesn't just have a big scope or a big cast, but it definitely seems to be part of a grand plan since so many of the plot threads you've been creating since the start of the ongoing series – Bruce's being sick, Max's involvement with the hacker collective Undercloud, the return of Tim Drake – are coming to a head here. At what point in the making of the series did you know that everything you were introducing would merge and start to pay off?
I think our original "Hush Beyond" mini was successful enough that it was suggested we go on and do a monthly, for print series. That's when I had the idea for "10,000 Clowns." And actually, the idea for the story really started when Chris Conroy, who was our editor at the time, said "You know, it would be nice if we gave Dana a little something more to do as a character...like give her a brother or something we never knew about before." I thought about that idea of a brother, and that led me to the story of "10,000 Clowns." Once you have something to work towards, you look at all the other elements you've put into play and wonder how you can bring them together for one big storyline. It suggests that this is all one, big, interconnected world.
The more elements you can tie into a single storyline, I feel like the more fascinating it is to readers who have been with you for a long time. I also think that readers who hadn't been there the whole time will get interested in picking up the back issues and going, "Oh, that's where Catwoman came from!" or "That's what Undercloud is!" I hope we're accomplishing that by really bringing a lot together at once, and I don't know that I'd call it payoff because there's even more to come after "10,000 Clowns" with all these elements and even more we'll be introducing. It's all part of one big ongoing story.
Like you said, this story started when you were writing a print ongoing, but then the digital first idea came along. Did that change impact at all how you're telling this specific story? It seems like the chapters are just building one each other one specific scene at a time.
It did. You can't really think in terms of "six-issue arc" anymore because they're not ten-page chapters. And I don't think I really grasped that concept fully until about midway through "10,000 Clowns." That's why some of the chapter endings are kind of abrupt or don't end on big images or cliffhangers that are as big as I'd like. But I think as we've gone along, we've gotten better at that. We've paced things out more so that you get a sense that each ten-page chapter is part of a larger story. We don't even think of these as "part 1 of 6" anymore. We just say, "All right, here's 'Batman Beyond' chapter 15' and so on.
It's required some rethinking in terms of pacing on my part, and I think in terms of page design, it's meant Norm has had to adapt to doing this in shorter, quicker installments. It makes it harder for new readers to superficially get involved with the book because you can't go "Here's everything that's gone on before." Then you'd only have eight pages left for story! [Laughs] But hopefully you get enough on what's going on between the origin caption box for Terry that's in each chapter and the fact that all these weird Joker guys are blowing themselves up in the middle of Gotham. You get a sense there for what the basic story is, at least enough where you might want to track down the early issues and see what it's all about.
There are a lot of balls in the air right now in the story – Jake Chill as the new Vigilante, the return of Dick Grayson, the mystery behind how Doug is controlling the Jokerz. What were your big goals in terms of changing everyone by the end of this story? Can we expect that by the end, a lot of people will be in different shape?
I'm not sure it was all about wanting people to look at them in new ways. In a sense, it was very much a practical consideration to bring all the heroes in. You've got a threat to all of Gotham. You've got all these characters who live in Gotham and have a stake in making sure it still exists. Batman is not the only crime fighter now in Gotham, and the notion that he would be the only one doesn't make sense. It seems logical that in a situation like this where he can't be in more than one place at one time that he would call in some help. He'd call in people who have dealt with these situations before. Catwoman is dealing with it as the regular course of her own actions, but it made sense to me that Terry would call on Tim Drake if the situation was desperate enough or that a guy like Jake Chill would try and redeem himself by protecting innocent people around Gotham as a way to establish himself. It made sense that Dick Grayson, who never really got fighting crime out of his system even as he left the shadow of Batman behind, would get himself involved. In that way, it made practical sense that all of these characters would be involved somehow.
In a broader sense, the goal is to expand what is traditionally thought of as "Batman Beyond's" supporting cast so that it's not just Bruce and Dana and Max. It's all three of them plus Dick and Catwoman and Jake and Tim who are all ongoing members of the supporting cast for the book. They're all a constant presence in Gotham, and they're going to stick around. It just broadens the premise of the world in "Batman Beyond."
What's it been like to have Norm Breyfogle working with you on all of this from setup to the big arc? He's done so many Batman stories in the past – I even saw him throwing in some Anarchy tags in the midst of the Jokerz graffiti as a call back to readers who get it – that having him on this must make things run smoothly for you.
I can't say enough about Norm. First of all, it's a treat and an honor to be working with someone so cloely associated with so many great Batman stories. And then to see him bring his skills to bear on a Batman he's never worked with before has, I think, not so much rejuvenated his love of the character because it never went away, but I hope it's been fun for him to play in a different corner of the Batman universe than he's ever played in before. I see a different energy to his work here that I've never seen before – in the way he's drawing faces and designing characters and putting together pages. He went great guns on designing the Joker King. In the YouTube video we did about it, we learned that he did like 17 different designs for him, really fine tuning what Doug would look like. The enthusiasm Norm had there was palpable. I get the sense looking at the pages that he's having a lot of fun, and there's nothing better than working on pages with an artist who's as invested in the story as you are. It becomes more of a true collaboration, and better ideas come out in the interplay between the two of you. I feel really lucky that Norm is as enthusiastic about the book as he is. I think both of us want to be around as long as DC and the readers will have us.
The digital chapters are coming out a bit ahead of the print edition. What can you tell folks about what's in store next on their tablets before they make it back to the comic shops?
We've been working far ahead on this story, and I think what you just saw hit was chapter 14, and it runs through maybe 19 or 20. What you're going to see is Batman and the Joker King finally have a confrontation and how that's going to play out. Like I said, you'll learn a lot more about the Joker King and why he does what he does, but you're also going to see how he plays off of Batman when Terry confronts him. You'll see Tim get back involved with a world he didn't really want to get involved with and see what effect that will have on him. And you'll see the final fate of Bruce Wayne...as far as this storyline goes. I don't want to say it's his final fate overall, but you'll see how his disease is going to play out and how that will effect all our cast. It's not just going to effect Bruce.
When you started this whole journey, it was you resurrecting this franchise. Now there are several other features in the "Beyond" line that are going, and they often involved Bruce and Terry in some way. Have you been talking with the other writers about how "10,000 Clowns" may impact their work?
Very little. We haven't really sat down and talked about where each story takes place in relation to the other. We've been treating them like separate adventures. They all take place in the same Beyond universe and at different times since Bruce isn't well enough here to do what he's been up to in the other stories. But each story pretty much stands on its own. It's like when Superman would show up in two or three different titles in the same month, and you'd take it for granted that it was just another Superman story. We don't necessarily have to reference what's going on in the other titles, and in that sense it's more old school and not as continuity obsessed as some of the other crossovers tend to be these days. We're not quite as tightly concerned with continuity in that sense. We'll leave it up to the readers to see how this all fits with each other.
Though I will say for fans who want more info on the background of the series, you can go look for "Wayne Incorporated" on YouTube. That's our channel where we're trying to give people more bang for their buck with a writer's commentary for every installment of "Batman Beyond" that comes out. I got into the process of making the comic whether it's about how Norm and I and the editors collaborate or hints about the story itself. Sometimes we'll drop little clues about what's coming, we'll point out stuff in the background you might not have seen, and we'll give you bonus stuff like showing you all or Norm's designs for new characters like the Joker King or Vigilante. The response to it has been pretty good, and the stuff in there should appeal not just to "Batman Beyond" fans but to anyone interested in how a comic book is put together. If DVDs can have commentaries talking about all it takes to make a movie, why can't comics? That's our approach to this. We've done one for every issue of "Batman Beyond Unlimited" that's come out so far.
"Batman Beyond Unlimited" #9 is on sale now from DC Comics, and new installments of "10,000 Clowns" update monthly to the DC Comics app.