DC Comics will mark the Dark Knight's 75th anniversary with an official "Batman Day" this July, but the publisher always has plenty of projects with the caped crusader on tap. Sunday at Special Edition NYC, DC brought out a bevy of Batman talent to discuss the current shape of Gotham as Senior Vice President of Marketing John Cunningham MC'd a panel with "Detective Comics" artist Francis Manapul, "Batgirl" writer Gail Simone, "Batman/Superman" scribe Greg Pak and "Batman Eternal" co-writer James Tynion IV.
Cunningham started things off with a rundown of the July 23 Batman Day celebrations, which will hit comic shops, book stores and more. The main takeaway from those events will be a free special edition of "Detective Comics" #27 featuring the original Batman story by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and reinterpretations of it by Brad Meltzer, Bryan Hitch and Chip Kidd. There will also be masks and other special giveaways. On July 26, Batman Day events will also take place in libraries. DC is also prepping for some movie memorabilia to appear at this year's San Diego Comic-Con much like last year's hall of Superman costumes.
DC's "Essential" first issue reprints were also covered, including Batman comics like Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and Grant Morrison's first "Batman & Son" issue. New editions of graphic novels like "The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, "Arkham Asylum" by Morrison and Dave McKean, and "Hush" by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee will also get a spotlight as part of the anniversary.
Discussion on the panel started with Batman stories that brought the creators into the world of the Dark Knight. Pak praised "Batman: Year One," which he credited with pulling him back into comics permanently after years away from the medium.
Tynion said that "Batman: The Animated Series" was the perfect expression of the character. "I saw 'Batman Returns' a few too many times at too young an age, but that movie turned me onto the animated series, which got me hooked for life," he said.
Simone spoke about growing up in a rural area with very little culture, but she did see reruns of the Adam West "Batman" TV series and its version of Batgirl, which got her into the characters and into forcing her brother and kids in her area to play out her elaborate Batman stories about the Riddler stealing cows from local farms. "When I was doing these intricately oriented plots and fight scenes, I was five," she laughed, saying that now years later her professional life isn't much different than what she did then.
Batman in live action kept the conversation going as the panelists talked about which of the film versions matched their personal take on the character. Cunningham told the panel they didn't have to feel pressured to defend Joel Schumacher's films, though Simone said, "I do love nipples."
Pak said that he felt Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy captured the character in its action and soundtrack, as he listens to the score of those films while writing "Batman/Superman." Tynion said Nolan was the closest to the Batman in his heart, but the movie "entrenched in his psyche" was "Batman Returns," and the creepiness of the designs of Gotham from that film is what shaped his take on the character.
Simone also picked Nolan as her perfect Batman movies. "The Nolan films I've seen change people's lives," she said. "And what I loved about them were the straight up horror elements...I think it captured that great."
Pak finally added that he felt the "Batman The Movie" of the '60s was important too if for nothing else than its Bat Shark Repellant.
Such a long line of films easily turned talk onto the next Batman TV show, Fox's fall drama "Gotham." Cunningham said that the DC staff have seen the pilot, and they collectively felt that the on-location shooting in New York captured the tone and feel of Gotham City well. Many comics will feed into the show's creation, from "Gotham Central" setting up Rene Montoya to the current "Zero Year" story influencing the TV writers' take on Edward Nygma.
On the comics side of the talk, "Batman/Superman" #11 gives the Dark Knight's part in the "Doomed" crossover story featuring the return of Doomsday. Pak said the rivalry of the two character's earliest interactions is slowly turning into friendship over the course of the series. In this story, as Doomsday takes over Superman's body, Batman searches for a cure for the infection by going into the Phantom Zone with Wonder Woman and Krypto. "This is a hugely Batman-centric issue. Superman doesn't even appear in it," Pak said.
Issue #12 of "Batman/Superman" returns to Earth 2 for a one-issue story with art by Tom Raney and Ken Lashley. "Terrible things have happened on Earth 2...but our heroes have found out what happened and are going back in time to try and save their doubles," the writer said. Pak went on to add that Alfred has become one of his favorite characters while writing both issue #12 and the arc that begins in #13, featuring Batman and Lois Lane teaming up as Superman and Catwoman do as well.
With DC's weekly "Batman Eternal," Tynion said "We have the best toybox in comics history, and we have an opportunity here to totally change Gotham City." The series will continue to push toward the events of "Batman" #28 which flash-forwarded to a time late in "Eternal" when Catwoman leads the city's criminal empire, Harper Row is Bluebird and Stephanie Brown is the Spoiler.
"There's a new character who's just shown up, and she's going to be playing a major role in the series...that is Julia Pennyworth," Tynion said. The character comes from one issue of Batman's Pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths era, but now Alfred's daughter is a woman who felt abandoned by her father who left Europe and the special forces to be a butler to a rich man in America.
Manapul talked about he and co-writer Brian Buccellato's plans for "Detective Comics." He said he found Batman's world easier to adapt to quickly than he did on "The Flash." Rather than worrying about reintroducing versions of the book's cast as he did with the New 52 launch, the creative team could just jump into telling a Batman story with the book. The importance to the "detective" element of "Detective Comics" comes via Manapul's attraction to working with Harvey Bullock whom he considers a kind of co-lead. "We're going to see this rivalry have impact throughout our entire turn," the artist said of Batman's relationship to the police detective.
"Batgirl's" most recent issues see Barbara Gordon take on fan-favorite Simone character Ragdoll in an action-packed story. "Since the New 52 started, there are things I've been working towards in 'Batgirl'...I think it's extremely cool and weird to see [Ragdoll] in there with Batgirl," she said, crediting artist Fernando Pasarín for making the character extra creepy as he comes after Barbara's roommate. "The story is building. Knightfall has decided she is tired of criminals in Cherry Hill...and she's going to do whatever she can to accomplish that. Things get pretty brutal." The book will deal with the fallout from Commissioner Gordon's trip to jail in "Eternal," but Batgirl will also find some unexpected allies in the pages of issues #32 to 34 – a story titled "Deadline."
Asked why Batman continues to dominate pop culture and is more popular than even Superman, Manapul said he thinks the draw to the character comes from his detective status. Noirish stories that dig into the underbelly of the world never go out of style, and while Superman's presentation of good over evil also remains relevant, a character who engages the gray areas of the world holds a sway.
Simone said the psychological element not just to Batman but to his villains allows almost any kind of story to be told in Gotham which makes for a wide appeal. Tynion compared Batman and Superman saying the latter is an ideal to strive to, but Batman is more personally relatable in terms of people's need to overcome the odds set against them. "Even the obsessive, negative qualities of Batman are things we root for because we know there are some things we can never let go of even though we should," he said.
The question of when Joker would reappear in Gotham elicited an almost complete silence from the panel, so perhaps that won't be coming along in the very near future. To follow that up, a fan asked whether Carrie Kelly would become the new Robin and got almost the exact same response.