Batman's 75 anniversary was DC Comics' big news at this year's Fan Expo Canada. On Saturday afternoon, the Toronto convention played host to artist Jason Fabok, writer/artist Francis Manapul, and writers Ray Fawkes and Greg Pak for DC's Batman 75: Eternal Night panel.
"We are going to concentrate on some of the exclusively Batman publishing stuff we have going on this year," moderator Larry Ganem said, kicking off the hour-long discussion. "So, if anyone had any questions on any other aspect of the DCU, pocket it for now -- we are going to talk about Batman for the next hour. The big news of this year is that it's Batman's 75th anniversary."
Pak, who told fans with copies of the most recent issue of "Batman/Superman" to bring them to his booth to be signed later, started the discussion.
"I loved working on this book," Pak said about "Batman/Superman." "Jay Lee is drawing it, and I seldom use this word, but he is a genius, lets face it. He draws like nobody else and he brings atmosphere and depth and grace to the comic book page that is just amazing. So, check it out if you haven't, just for the art."
Pak is excited about the current storyline because he and the editors have been working on it for quite some time. "You have these two great heroes coming at the world from totally different angles. The same objective is there, but they are coming at it from totally different angles. In the end, the purpose of the book is to sort of explore that. There's a lot of amazing conflict and friendship that can come out of that. The crazy way we are exploring that in this issue is by this person with the red face here, this demoness who has stripped our heroes of their memories. Satanus, here on Earth, is delighted to find that out, and now we are going to see what happens to Batman and Superman on planet Earth without their memories.
"There are crazy hijinks that ensue," Pak continued. "A memory-less, naked Superman being discovered by Catwoman, and Lois Lane teaming up with Batman. It's been a huge amount of fun to write the fun things. Not to spoil too much, but if you strip Batman of his memories and he shows up in a Bat suit with his crazy utility belt and all this stuff, you've basically got a guy who has no memory of his parents being killed. Oh, by the way -- spoiler alert -- Batman's parents are killed and Bruce witnesses the murder. Shocking. I know I'm sorry."
"75 years ago --" Ganem chimed in, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
"When Batman does not have that traumatic memory, but he's got all these fantastic toys and he finds out he's a billionaire -- how about that?" Pak continued explaining the storyline. "You get to see a whole different kind of Batman."
"When Superman shows up, he's naked and his suit has retreated into his body," he continued. Fletcher Chu Fong shared some artwork of Superman flying naked through the sky with Catwoman. "Hijinks ensue there, too, because we'll see what happens when a guy finds out he's invulnerable in a whole new world. Also, Catwoman is the one kind of pulling his strings."
"So, you are taking these two characters and you are making them blank slates?" Ganem asked Pak.
"Yes!" Pak responded. "Part of the question, though, is what's essential to these guys, what's in their hearts, and who are they going to become? It might be liberating, it might be scary in a certain way. So, check it out."
"So, they don't have to be heroes?" Ganem asked.
"Who knows? Will they be heroes or will they not be?" Pak responded.
"Starting with issue 16, we have a new artist on 'Batman/Superman,' and it's Ardian Syaf who is amazing." Pak announced with obvious glee. "He just finished the 'Superman: Earth One Volume 3' original graphic novel. He is tremendous. You guys are going to flip out when you see what he is doing. We've been getting these pages, and Andy and I have been calling each other and chuckling about it. He's one of those artists who draws people really well. Every single person he draws is a different, distinct personality, and a book like this depends on both action and character. It just needs that so much. Every incidental character in this book is literally living and breathing as a human being."
"The one tease I'll give you for this new arc that starts with issue 16 is, who is Superman's Joker?" Pak said, wrapping his time with the mic.
For the weekly "Batman Eternal" series, Ganem said DC's goal was to create a grand scale epic. Jason Fabok, one of the main artists on the series, has been drawing this version of Batman for a while.
"I have been having a blast," Fabok gushed. "To me, Batman was always my favorite superhero -- maybe he's my favorite character out of any fiction, anywhere. Since a little kid, I wanted to draw Batman, so the last four years have just been a dream come true for me. I've gotten to draw so many great villain's and redesigns."
"Do we need to apologize to you for the number of people we have had you redesign?" writer Ray Fawkes half-joked.
"No! I like it -- I love it. I've got to redesign a number of classic villains and I get to add that to my resume. Yes, check it off," Fabok responded. "It's been a blast, and I'm very thankful for all the support and feedback from the fans. I'm a fan like you guys! I'm just working on these characters. I get psyched when I get the scripts and I get to draw this crazy stuff. It's just awesome. The fanboy in me comes out!"
"Does everyone like what they've seen with [Jay's take on] Batman?" Ganem asked the audience, to applause. "So, we're going to have him stop drawing Batman," he announced, a wicked smile crossing his face.
Going forward, Fabok will be drawing "Justice League," news greeted with a lot of excitement by the crowd, as well as by Fabok's wife who was in the crowd filming the announcement for the artist's mother.
"You know, one night I'm laying in bed and I get a text from Geoff Johns at 11:30 PM," Fabok explained. "He ends up calling me at midnight, and I was terrified and excited all at once. I kept thinking, I hope he offers me 'Justice League' -- and that's what he did. I don't think I slept all night!
"'Justice League' to me is a chance to draw all the greatest superheroes in one book. I still get to draw Batman but I also get to draw some of my other favorites like Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash and even characters like Lex Luthor. It's a dream for me," Fabok continued. "It was the other book. I love drawing Batman. I would have loved to stay in the Batman universe forever and just draw these characters. I've just been having a blast. It's what I feel I was meant to work on. The only other book that really would have drawn me away from that is 'Justice League,' and to have that dream happen is awesome. I want to take it up one more notch and try to deliver the best 'Justice League' you can possibly see. Having Geoff as a writer -- he calls you up, and one thing I learned about him is, the reason he is so successful is because the guy loves comics books. He loves this job with a passion I have never seen before. To have him talk to you for an hour and you not even saying one word as he explains to you what he has planned for the next thirty issues is just unbelievable. You're like, 'Yup, I want to do that! I want to draw that. I want to draw that yup! Sure, yup!' Hopefully, I'm still on the book at that point!
"That enthusiasm. That excitement, that inspiration comes out," Fabok continued. "When I read 'Blackest Night,' that was my first introduction to him, and ever since then, my goal was to get into comics, get a job with DC, work on Batman and to work with Geoff Johns. All of those goals have sort of come true now, and I'm so grateful and I hope you guys will check it out starting in November."
"What he didn't mention was the fifth goal on his list was to win an Oscar," Ganem joked before saying that readers should take an extra close look at the cover art for that issue of "Justice League" for a few Easter eggs.
"['Batman Eternal'] has been a terrific epic so far," Ganem continued, passing the spotlight over to Ray Fawkes.
"We wanted to create the most insane Batman story of all time, one that would include every single major character in the Gotham world and that would give every single one of those characters their moment," Fawkes explained. "In fact, readers who have been enjoying the book so far can see this is the first moment in the series, where we get Alfred in one of these moments. We get to see, Alfred used to be Special Services. He's not just an old man in a cave; he's a man who can handle threats well. This is something that a lot of Batman villains don't know, is that all of Batman's friends and family are very capable warriors.
"So, we all came together and we sat down to present Batman with a kind of question: Do you think you are eternal? Do you think you will last for ever?" Fawkes continued. "Because here comes something that is going to threaten to stamp out you, your city, all of your friend, and your legacy. It will be as if you were never even there. Destroyed. Everything. Batman is only now figuring out that all of these threats that have been unveiling themselves in last 20 issues are actually part of one large threat. This is the story of how Bruce and Alfred and Alfred's daughter and Stephanie Brown and everyone rally and fight back."
Alfred's daughter Julia Pennyworth is slated to play a big role in the story, and Fawkes counts himself among her biggest fans, recalling when she was introduced back in the '80s. At that time, she was simply a love interest for Bruce Wayne, but this time around, Fawkes wanted her character to be more socially and politically relevant.
"When we sat down at the table and we talked about characters we wanted to bring into play, I mentioned her. We actually walked into the DC archives and had a quick look at her. We decided that when we brought her back, that the sensibilities are different now. She doesn't just have to be a love interest for Bruce."
The team decided that if Alfred were in the Special Services, Julia was the natural choice to take up his legacy. "She is a special recognizance agent, which means she's a counter terrorist. She gets pulled into the story through her father."
"And, she's a blast to draw," Fabok added. "She was one of my favorite characters to draw."
"Yeah, she is a real punk," Fawkes agreed. "It's a lot of fun to bring her into Batman's orbit and into Alfred's orbit because she is a bit of a link to Alfred's past. She's been kind of reawakening in him the urge to be part of the action himself."
For this story arc, the idea was to bring in every character imaginable from the Batman Universe. Ganem asked Fabok if he even imagined that he would be on a team drawing almost every Gotham character in the city?
"When they asked me if I wanted to take on the project, I asked the editors if I could see a plot outline or story. It's probably been changed since, but I read through it and I was just blown away by the story," Fabok replied. "As a fan I thought, 'Man, I'm in love reading this thing, let alone working on it!' So, I jumped in. I wanted to be a part of it. I really think that this story, like Ray was saying, is going to go down as one of those books that in the end, when it's all collected, this thing is going to be in print for years and years and years. It's got everything you could ever want to have, including an explosive ending. I've been enjoying reading it. Whenever I get these scripts that I'm working on, I'm going, 'No way! How did this happen?'"
"We are very far ahead in the scripts," added Fawkes. "Right now I'm scripting 45 and 21 just came out. It's funny that all the writers now we have these moments where we cant wait to see when the issues come out. For example there is a big surprise reveal in issue 21 readers will know about and we have been dying for you guys to read that for months," Fawkes said.
There have been twists and turns to this," Ganem added. "I mean, the first issue was a huge cataclysm. And in Issue #2, there was a big reveal and you though you knew the villain. And now, here we are in Issue #21 and there is a bigger reveal."
"Yeah well, this guy, he's got to be the one behind it all right?" Fawkes added, skeptically. "Or maybe not? In [Issue #22] -- people who read 'Gates of Gotham' remember a villain called the Architect was revealed, and this evil plot has activated or involves almost every Gotham villain you can think of. I think anyone who has been reading the book and noticed that we brought the Ten-Eyed Man into play that we are bringing everyone in."
"They are clearing the bench," Ganem said.
"It's a lot of work," Fawkes said of the collaborative effort in creating the ambitious weekly series. "We all get together on figuring out the plot. Scott Snyder and James Tynion laid out this amazing skeleton for the whole story. Then we all get together and we all figure out what happens over every chunk of issues, 12 or 20 issues, and they we chunk out who is going to write each script. Some writers take the lead on certain scripts, certain scripts get passed around back and forth, and everybody weighs in. If I feel like there's a line or a character another one of the writers has a better handle on, I'll ask him. It's all extremely collaborative and we hope it's also a smooth read although you can see our distinctive styles."
"It's pretty seamless," Ganem agreed before shifting the discussion to another Bat-title "There's another tremendous monthly out there: 'Detective Comics,' featuring the talents of Francis Manapul. Now, Francis spent that last couple years doing 'The Flash,' which is a character who is very much out in the sunshine. There's no capes and he's all about being out there in the open air," Ganem said, asking how Manapul's mindset changed when moving to Gotham City.
"I just closed all my blinds," Manapul answered with a laugh. "I think after 'The Flash,' there were natural books for me to move onto, but I wanted something different from what the readers were used to seeing my work in. And 'Detective,' thanks to editor Mark Doyle, has really allowed me to explore different aspects of my art. Especially with cover work. I know that a lot of fans got accustomed to the interesting layouts in 'The Flash,' but with 'Detective Comics,' I was trying different techniques inking-wise, so by making the artwork prettier, I chose to do a much more controlled way of paneling. What's interesting is, I like to lay out books that are cohesive with the story, so after 'Icarus,' [co-writer] Brian [Buccellato] and I will return in December and bring back Anarky," Manapul said. "What's going to be great about that is --"
"Wait, let's back that up," Ganem interrupted. "Let's make sure nobody glosses over that. So, in December you and Brian are bringing back --"
"We're bringing back Anarky!" Manapul declared. "He's going to be really exciting because it's going to be an opportunity to explore different aspects of Batman. I think it's going to be an opportunity for me to naturally bring in what I brought to 'The Flash' on 'Detective Comics,' with the chaotic, frenetic style of the character in the covers. I've been doing them in sort of a Russian propaganda style, like the posters. It's kind of neat, and what I'm most excited about is, most of the time when people think of Anarky, it's hoodies and Molotov cocktails and stuff like that. But what I became interested in is the new subculture called rooftopping. A lot of photography fans would take these really dangerous selfies from ridiculous heights. What I thought was neat was that a lot of them were wearing the 'V for Vendetta' mask because they don't want to get arrested. Our take on Anarky is something more to that effect. And the thing I'm most looking forward to is exploring identity, the need to wear a mask. One of the things he does for Gotham is he more or less obliterates everyone."
Manapul has plans to explore the way everyone in Gotham has been affected by its socio-political happenings, and he sees Anarky as giving Gotham the opportunity to be something other than what it has been destined or dictated to be.
"What's exciting is that even Batman starts to question himself," Manapul explained. "Everybody in the city is going to get the opportunity, now, to wear a mask."
"It's far reaching, right down to the bare bones, the essence of Batman," Ganem added.
"Absolutely," Manapul agreed. "I mean, how many fatherless sons and daughters are there? But not all of them are billionaires, so a lot of them are being forced down a different path, whereas Batman, he's taking control of his life. That's Batman, but what about everyone else in Gotham City?"
"This is a pretty good look behind the process," Ganem reminded the audience. "You have three writers up here, talking about how they approach Batman. It's not, 'How can I get him to fight the Penguin today?' They are talking about what happens when you take away all his memories. Is he still a hero? How can we build the greatest Batman story ever? How can we put the whole world against him and how will he rise above that to beat the odds? This is what good writers do in comics. They take these archetypes that we know and love, and they look at them in certain ways. They look at the character from the barebones and then they build a story out of that. So, quick question for each of the panelists here: We've asked this for anniversaries in the past, and since we've done even more Batman movies, all the Batman publishing, the animated series, the television show, share with us a quintessential Batman moment for you."
"That's a good one," Pak replied. "I have a combined two, very similar and they are related. I grew up in Dallas, TX, and I remember going into the Dallas Public Library and picking up like an old compilation of early Batman stories and they had a reprint of the very first Batman origin story. There's that classic image of Bruce Wayne holding up barbells -- he's in his basement, working out, and another panel with test tubes or something like that. I remember the captions talk about him training himself to physical and mental perfection, and that was the first time that the idea that somebody could ever do that or should do that entered my mind.
"Of course I later trained my mind to physical perfection," Pak jested. "Well, no -- but I have the perfect beard. But that kind of intensity, that kind of drive really blew my mind at that young age, and that stuck with me, the idea that there are no limits. That was really powerful to me.
"Then, years later, I remember reading an issue and -- I don't remember who wrote it, but Batman was thinking about a crime scene and he realized there was something he had missed," Pak continued. "The clue was there, he had seen it, but he hadn't noticed it at the time. And then he sat down and meditated and basically just went back through his memories and looked at the crime scene again by the memories in his brain until he found the clue. That kind of fit into the same idea, that you can go beyond what you think you can go, you have the capacity, it's already in you. It's just the question of being disciplined enough to pull it out of you. That's a pretty powerful message, besides crime fighting, just the notion that you can do anything if you really focus on it. I think that's a pretty powerful thing to suggest to a kid."
"You're talking about the start of his career; I'm going to talk about the end," Fawkes said. "For me, that Batman moment that has stuck in my head ever since I read it, and probably always will, is a moment near the end of 'Dark Knight Returns.' Gotham is in total chaos, Batman is spending the night either rounding up people who are taking advantage of the chaos -- essentially pressing them into helping out, fight fires and save lives and what not. There's a single moment when he's alone with Robin. He's riding a horse to get around because his car doesn't work and she describes how he sags in the saddle like an old man. Then, out of nowhere, he suddenly straightens up and grins at her and she is overwhelmed by his presence.
"To me, this incredible hero who can inspire an entire city to work altruistically in a time of terror, can show a moment of humanity, can show in a moment that he's just a human being, but then, as soon as he realizes someone is looking at him, he straightens his back and blows their mind with how strong he can be, always stuck with me," Fawkes continued. "I've always admired heroes -- and I'm not just talking about superheroes; I'm talking about real people now, too, who can be human and then show this is incredible strength of will in times of trouble. To me, that's Batman. Batman is the human being who will absolutely kill you with how strong he can be, and make you realize you can be strong too."
"My first exposure was a visual one," Fabok said. "My first exposure to Batman was the old '66 show reruns. But then, when I was 5 or 6, I remember my parents went out and we had a baby sitter, and all of a sudden, 'Batman' '89 came on. I saw that, and that changed everything. That version of Batman -- I was so confused! I thought he was this campy, happy guy, but then you see this version that is too cool to even turn his neck -- and I thought that's how it was. This guy is so tough, he doesn't even turn his neck!
"The first real Batman book I read was 'Hush,' by [Jeph Loeb and] Jim Lee," Fabok continued. "The first couple pages there, where he comes in and he's beating up these guys from his perspective and then comes in and saves that kid -- and suddenly Killer Croc comes out and is pouncing! To me, that visually blew my mind from an artistic standpoint. I thought, man -- that's the kind of art I wanted to draw. I wanted to draw like Jim Lee one day, and I wear these things in my artwork."
"For me, too, it's two very different things," Manapul said. "The first one is from 'Batman: Year One,' when Batman smashes in through the window while these gangsters are having dinner and he tells this gang, 'Hey, your feast on Gotham is over' and he closes in and everything goes dark. And I'm just like 'holy crap!' It was so interesting that a character that is supposed to represent a bit of hope and light in Gotham, I thought it was interesting that his take on it was, 'I'm going to black everything out.
"On the other end," Manapul continued, "one of my favorite scenes from the animated series when they first introduce Victor Freeze and he was talking about his wife and he was looking at this little snow globe. Batman's villains are just as tragic as he is. I didn't know if I wanted Batman to win. I think those two dichotomies are what make Batman work so well. His villains are just as important as he is."