Batwing is dead. Long live Batwing.
That's essentially the pitch behind Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's "Batwing" #19 -- the April issue that starts a new era for the DC Comics title. While the writing team behind "All-Star Western" won't be killing off current Batwing David Zavimbe, they are retiring the hero with their first issue in favor a new mystery Batwing with stronger ties to Gotham City and the rest of the Bat Family.
For the latest installment of THE BAT SIGNAL -- CBR's ongoing exploration of the Dark Knight's world -- we got into the whys and wherefores of the switch with Palmiotti and Gray. Below, the writers explain how their new take on the series with artist Fabrizio Fiorentino will differ significantly from the past without throwing out everything that made "Batwing" what it was. The pair dig into the hero's connection to Gotham, the mystery of his new costume, his battle with longtime Hawkman foe Lion Mane and how it all spins into a long term story for the Batman Incorporated member.
CBR News: When your run on "Batwing" was first announced, you mentioned that you thought the one flaw the series had was that it wasn't as connected to the rest of the Bat books as it could have been. How do you go about solving that problem? Is there a certain element of Batman's world that ties into Africa?
Jimmy Palmiotti: Without giving everything all away, we recognized that this book sat apart from the other Batman books, and we took care of that right away. We introduced not only the new Batwing, but when you learn who he is, you're going to understand how we did it right out the gate. It's familiar and then unfamiliar ground all at the same time. We kind of pull a magic trick in issues #19 and 20. We just felt "Batwing" was its own book, but people who read the Batman line want a little bit more of a connection. By introducing the new Batwing, we draw him a little closer to the Batman Universe by making the series not so Africa-specific as it had been.
Justin Gray: Yeah. We started asking ourselves a lot of questions, and one of the questions produced the answer that Gotham and Africa are not the same. The things you do in these different parts of the world can culturally and fundamentally have huge differences in the way they're approached. And so, one of the things we started discussing when we were developing the seeds of our run on "Batwing" was that the character needed to be closer to the Bat family because people have to feel like that connection is there. It can't just be the guy wearing this suit.
And because of who David was, it was such a complicated origin and backstory that it was conflicting with other representations of the character. It felt like this character should have more life in him. He shouldn't be the one idea that Americans have of what Africa is. Africa is not all AIDs, famine and child soldiers. It felt like there were so many other things we could do, and we could do that while still making it fit within the Batman universe. And some of the things were trimmed away while some were accentuated.
Obviously, there's a lot of mystery around this new character, but in what ways does he link up with Batman's core mission? One thing we saw often in "Batman, Incorporated" was that the soldiers Batman recruited globally shared some kind of tragedy or background that spurred them to fight crime. Is that an element that you carried over into this new hero?
Gray: We actually wanted to get away from that, to be honest with you. We wanted there to not be that direction connection to orphans, tragedy, dead parents and fighting back. The earliest thing we wanted was for the character to know more than he should know and to enjoy the concept of Batman as much as people going to see the Nolan Batman movies. It isn't as personal for them as it is to just enjoy watching the character go through these things. So for this character, that's a world he'd like to be involved in more so than being angry and lashing out to seek justice. Now, that can come later. But this felt like an opportunity to add something to the Batman universe that's slightly different than we would have seen otherwise. Therefor, we created a new personality type.
Palmiotti: He has issues, don't get us wrong. He's got plenty of things to deal with. But he's not going to be that person that lost his parents and all that. I will say, at some point we were looking at the character and saying, "What would it be like if Batman gave us this suit and told us to go fight crime?" In some weird way, that would be the coolest thing in the world. And I think that character has that same kind of joy in what he's doing. Inevitably, it's not as easy as it seems, but we went in a different direction. Because David, the original Batwing, his life was tough from minute one. If you read the series, he's got so much going against him. So we decided that if we were going to introduce a new character to the book, we had to give him a different feel.
One major thing people have noticed as new images of the costume have showed up -- particularly with the gatefold cover for #19 -- is that there are some strong similarities in design here with the eventual Batman Beyond costume. Is there something to read into that?
Palmiotti: First off, I love "Batman Beyond." Let me just say that to begin. [Laughter] But we were looking at technology, and one thing Justin and I always talk about is that we're very much tech heads. It's all, "What's next?" and, "How are things going to look?" If you look at the way things are designed by a company like Apple, they have one sleek design for all their products. And so this Batwing suit should have a different look that works both for who the character is inside the suit but also works for the functions of the suit. We went for this slicker look, and the gatefold presents that idea really well. But like any technology, it evolves all the time, so we're going to have some story things taking place with the actual suit. But overall, we wanted a sleeker look that stood apart from the regular Batman costume but also was different than the past Batwing. We actually had a book of different designs that we went through before we got to this, and I will say that it's still being fine-tuned in some respect. But that's story-based fine-tuning.
Another new element to discuss here is your plans for the villains of the series. You'll be using a New 52 version of Lion Mane, who you once wrote to gruesome effect during your "Hawkman" run. Why add him to Batwing's world?
Gray: We love that character. Just like we were talking about upgrading things for the hero and taking him into version 2.0, we've always wrestled with Lion Mane and how to make him cooler. We pushed his personality forward a certain way before, so he wasn't just a dude who looked like a Lion. Now we're pushing him even further to where he has a different visual look and a different behavioral pattern. It felt that if we were going to do some of our initial story arc in Africa, this was the right thing to do. I mean, it also felt like this character could be a little hokey, too. The lion man in Africa is so cliché, we wanted to push ourselves into making him much more interesting and much more relevant than we had in "Hawkman."
And are you making big plans for villains in general? Are you talking about ways to build a rogues gallery for Batwing?
Gray: Actually, what we were thinking long term is that there's a much bigger thing behind the scenes. There's a much bigger plotline. You mentioned our "Hawkman" run, and one of the things we really enjoyed there was that there was a master plan going all the way through into the Golden Eagle arc. There were things in motion that would start to come to fruition, so you didn't really have to worry about building a rogues gallery per se. It wasn't like the early Spider-Man comics where you had to have a villain of the month. It was more organic to who the character was and where the story needed to go rather than just parading someone on the stage. That's what we're thinking here as well.
Then tell me about this long term plan. You've got a new character, ties to Gotham, a new direction in general -- what's the first domino that gets pushed to topple everything over in your story?
Gray: In a vague sense, it's a diamond mine. There was such a painstaking process to come in and work on #19 and realize that there was a fanbase for this character. So we wanted to say that we're not disrespecting David and that there's a lot of energy and effort that's gone into finding the logical conclusion to that character's time as Batwing -- into his motivations and why he's done this. There's a lot of history there, even if it's only been 18 issues and even though it's only marginally connected to the version we saw in "Batman Incorporated." There's a huge amount of emotional connection there for readers that we didn't want to marginalize. We didn't want to piss on that. We like David's character a lot, and we aren't going to walk in there and say "We're going to be the bad guys and wipe out everything that's come before." That's not how we do things. We don't like when that's done to us, and we don't want to do it to anyone else. We respect what Judd [Winick] did, we respect what Fabian [Nicieza] did, and we respect their art teams.
But moving forward -- and this goes back to what we said about there being differences between Gotham and Africa -- wearing the Bat symbol is a huge responsibility. And if you're in a place where there are children soldier and war all the time and disease – all those first story ideas we think of in America -- then your character needs to stand outside of that. Ultimately, we felt looking at David that maybe he'd be at a crossroads between those two ideas. It's not like he grew up on the streets of Gotham as a solider. It's a different life he's got, and Bruce has to understand that. He has to understand that every country he goes to is different.
"Batwing" #19 starts a new direction for the series on April 3 from DC Comics.