Beginning in "Batman and Robin" #14 the father/son team continue to take on a zombie mob tied to a mysterious cultist group before jumping headfirst into the prelude to the Batman line-wide "Death of the Family" crossover event. Dealing with a deranged Joker out to challenge and tear apart Batman's allies and friends, issues #14 to #16 will see the clown prince of crime take special interest in targeting the new Robin and trying to convince him, in Tomasi's words, of the "burden" he is to Batman as both sidekick and son.
As the literal Bat family readies themselves for Joker's onslaught THE BAT SIGNAL spoke with Tomasi about the crossover, his role in the event's conception and the unique danger Joker poses to Damian and Bruce.
CBR News: "Batman and Robin" #14 leads into your "Death of the Family" story, and while the most of the Bat family have gone up against Joker, Damian hasn't had much experience with him. What sort of threat does the Joker pose specifically to Damian?
Peter J. Tomasi: Actually, Robin did go up against the Joker back in Grant Morrison's run on the book pre-New 52, and as the readers will see I've taken a 'word' that Damian used on the Joker in one of those issues and put it into play in a big way that will shake Damian to his core. And in regards to a specific threat, let's just say that the Joker knows how to get right to the heart of things and expose Damian's deepest fear.
Damian's still a pretty confident (and cocky) kid. While we saw in issue #13 that he's seriously studying the Joker, what does he make of the Clown Prince of Gotham?
Damian doesn't take the Joker lightly whatsoever, especially after what went down in their previous battle. He knows the Joker to be a dangerous and unpredictable bastard who will stop at nothing to achieve his end game. And like in real life, young kids get their cues from their parents. Damian can sense the dread and foreboding that Bruce has whenever the Joker takes the stage, so that's what mainly guides Damian's own approach and feelings about the Joker.
Outside of physical danger, do you see the Joker also posing a threat the relationship Bruce has built with Damian up to this point?
The Joker, in my issue, is hell bent on giving Damian some "clarity and illumination" regarding Damian's relationship with Bruce and the rest of the Bat Family. The Joker wants to show Damian what a burden he is as Batman's sidekick and tries to convince him to give Batman the freedom the Joker so richly believes Bats deserves. And of course the answer to that is not gonna be pretty -- in fact it's gonna be downright ugly.
A big part of this crossover is the fact that the Joker shows a different, though equally threatening, side to each member of the Bat family, tailoring his attacks to each of them. What is your take on the Joker as a character, and how is he different than what we've seen before?
My take on the Joker is very dark, very twisted. I'd like to rant on more about it, but I really want the issues themselves to do the talking for me. Let's just say, Scott [Snyder] and I are in a good natured race to keep upping the ante on how demented we can make the Joker and how much physical and mental anguish he can dish out to our poor Bat Family before he sends them screaming off into the night.
Along those lines, while Batman's rogues gallery is a famous mix, Joker is arguably the iconic Batman villain. On a purely emotional and fan level, what was your reaction when you first heard about the crossover and the chance to join in on a big Joker story?
I was actually involved in the crossover from the get-go. Scott and I were at the DC offices discussing Bat matters with [editor] Mike Marts and we both started talking excitedly about the Joker purely on a character level and what makes him tick and what aspects of him we really connected to and wanted to see in a badass Joker story. Scott and I saw the Joker pretty much through the same prism and that was the starting point as we zeroed in on the approach of the Joker coming at the Bat Family in a personal and distinct way, which then led me to suggest that we riff off the classic "Death in the Family" title and subtly change it to "Death of the Family." From there Scott wrote up a cool outline playing on the Court Jester in relation to a King aspect and from there we all dove off the cliff and into the darkness of the Joker -- which, as a fan and writer, was completely amazing to be a part of. I feel very lucky to be involved in such a big story that's crossing over across all the Bat Books defining the Joker in the New 52!
Because of that, and because your book deals with Bruce, have you and Scott had a lot of conversations or worked closely together on your respective stories to make sure Batman's actions are consistent over the books during the crossover?
Scott and I had a ton of long, late night talks during the crossover to make sure everything lines up -- and the timeline is of course important -- but the main objective was to strive for character consistency between the issues, and it's great working with a writer who is so focused and brings his A-game to everything he does. Scott is a consummate pro and it was a real privilege to be on the same field with him. In the end, all the Bat writers wanted to make sure that we delivered a story to the readers that showed our love and respect for these characters and also one that knocked the readers on their asses with some visceral moments and big surprises that they'll never forget.
The "Death of the Family" cover images from series artist Patrick Gleason have been very striking, especially the one of Bruce and Damian facing off in Joker makeup for #16. For these issues did you and Patrick talk about trying for a darker, horror-based look for the art?
Pat is always kicking ass on his art. I've said it time and time again, but he is an incredibly underrated artist. Wait till you see the interior art of issue #15 and #16 -- simply amazing and simply some of the creepiest Joker stuff you will ever see rendered on a comic page.
In regards to Pat's covers, the look of the book from the start has been one of darkness and shadows; Pat spots a lot of blacks in his masterful pencils and has given the book a distinct feel within the Bat Family. I'd have to say that to be a Batman reader at this time is great, because the level of talent working on all the books is amazing. [Inker] Mick Gray, [colorist] John Kalisz and [letterer] Carlos Mangual are taking no prisoners in our particular book, along with the editorial leadership of Rachel [Gluckstern], Rickey [Purdin] and Mike Marts.
Pat and I always have a blast talking covers. We riff off each other's ideas and then he comes back with great sketches that make it hard to choose which one to go with. I love that cover to #15 with just the Joker's lips on it -- that was one he secretly did on his own, long before the Joker event even got approved. Awesomely creepy, as is the face-off cover between their jokerized selves that you shouted out.
To wrap up, your run on the New 52 "Batman And Robin" has seen a lot of growth on Damian's part and has taken the characters to some very very hard places emotionally. With the events of "Death of the Family" will we see a different dynamic for Bruce and Damian moving forward? Is this a game-changing event for the title and the characters?
I would say any time the Joker steps into Batman's world you should most definitely expect some things to never be the same. This is one of those times. A lot of big changes regarding Bruce relationships with everyone are coming your way soon, so be prepared for the worm to turn!
"Death of the Family" arrives in "Batman and Robin" #14, on sale tomorrow.