On Tuesday, August 31, 2011, “Justice League” #1 dropped, officially beginning the experiment known as the New 52. DC Comics was not just relaunching all of its titles, it was doing so in a new, clean(er) continuity, in an attempt to revitalize and enthuse the fan base. It was an unprecedented move that bore good, bad, and mediocre comics.
Over the next year, we’ll be discussing each of the New 52 titles with a member of its creative team. We’re not taking any clear path through these books, but hopping from title to title, line to line, in an effort to spotlight the breadth of the initiative.
Mike Marts is a comics veteran with almost 30 years in the comics trenches. He was at DC for 8 years, and was the group editor of the Bat-books before and during the New 52. After leaving DC when they moved to California, Mike returned to Marvel before starting AfterShock Comics, one of the most successful new comics companies of the past decade.
Mike is a fellow denizen of the Garden State, and can be followed on Twitter (@MikeMarts).
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When the New 52 started, you were the group editor for the Bat office, correct?
Mike Marts: Yeah, it was the group that are the Batman lines. So you know, it was not only, you know, the six or so books that I edited myself, but then I had a few other editors working in my team. I think the way that the New 52 worked was we had four group editors, and there were basically 13 books in each group.
When did you initially hear about the idea for the New 52?
MM: So this was an idea that was always in Dan [DiDio]’s brain. So I joined DC in September of 2006. And, I’m not kidding around, I probably heard it in my first week working there. Now, it wasn’t called New 52 at that time; he didn’t have the name.It wasn’t even what it would eventually become a few years later, but the idea of restarting/jumpstarting the entire DC line with huge promotion was something that was already in his head, and that he was communicating as early as September 2006. And I know it must have predated my coming on board, I’m sure he didn’t have the idea that week.
But you know, it was something that he would talk about, and maybe we’d even have a quick meeting to kind of brainstorm what that could be. And then, you know, something would derail it, you know, maybe it would be like, you know, a new big event from Goeff [Johns], or a big new idea from Grant [Morrison] or maybe Pau [Levitz]l would say, “not right now,” and it would get pushed to the side. But it was always something that was kind of there in Dan’s energy and Dan’s brain that he was thinking about.
That’s fascinating, because the narrative, and I don’t know if this narrative is partially true, or total bullshit, or whatever, was that once this was decided it all happened very quickly. So it’s interesting to hear that this was something that was percolating for so long, because, you know, some of the creators, I’ve spoken to have said, “I got a phone call on a Friday, and needed to have a pitch by Monday, because the announcement was happening, on Wednesday.”
MM: The genesis of the idea was there for a while. The actual execution of it, and the planning of it – I don’t want to call it quick, and that we felt like it was done overnight – but it was something we spent hours upon hours upon hours on every day, for a bunch of long weeks, in the planning of it. And I’m not exactly even sure what was the trigger, but I think it was that we were coming towards the end of certain things, “Final Crisis” and, and Grant’s Batman storyline, and Dan, and the rest of us saw this as this is the right time. If we’re ever going to do it, we should do it now.Continued below
But the actual planning process was probably several long weeks. And it was, you know, Dan, me, the other three group editors. We had a guy named Ian Sadler, who was a story editor, and I think it was the six of us and we would go in this room with no windows called the War Room. It was located like centrally in the sixth floor, and we’d go in there and there were several hundred different index cards. And there were 100 different index cards for possible writers and 100 different index cards for possible artists and then 100 different index cards for possible series. We would put stuff up on the wall and see what fit and see what worked. A few of them were continuations of things that were already going on like you know Geoff on “Green Lantern” and Grant on something Batman.
But so much of it was just, “let’s try this guy or this girl on this book and see what sticks.” Books that we didn’t have before the New 52 were suddenly just kind of, you know, born from the idea of doing a Frankenstein book or whatever.
The Bat-books and the Green Lantern titles did not see much change from the end of “Flashpoint” and the beginning of the New 52. Stephanie Brown was no longer Batgirl, Tim Drake was no longer Red Robin, but he was kind of still Red Robin, there were little tweaks like that. But for the most part, the Bat books stayed put. Is that because you advocated for things to stay put? Or was the general sense of “these books are working, let’s not fuck with them too much?”
MM: It was a little bit more of the latter. Of all the families or groups or franchises in DC at that time, the Bat group had the biggest head of steam and was doing the best and there were a lot of things that were already in place that worked.
Scott Snyder jumped over from “Detective Comics” to “Batman,” Tony Daniel took over writing and drawing “Detective,” Peter Tomasi, a DC veteran, was writing “Batman and Robin,” and the fourth Bat book was called “Batman: The Dark Knight.” That was David Finch’s sandbox to play in. The perception at the time with Tony Daniel and David Finch was that DC wanted to keep these creators exclusive, and wanted to give them incentive to stay DC exclusive. And so they said, “you know, not only do you get to draw this book, you can write this book as well.”
MM: That perception is incorrect. You know, having been there in the trenches, with those specific creators for several years, I can tell you that. Those guys writing the books came from wanting to give these natural storytellers more opportunity. Now, when when Dave came over from Marvel and signed the contract with us, it was an artist contract, it was for him to draw books for us. But he said the time “I also have a desire to write,” and, you know, bringing in a heavy gun like that, we’d be silly not to explore that, and examine that and see what that would look like. And that’s part of why we gave Dave some free rein in terms of writing.
Same thing with Tony, Tony I’d worked with for years, and just talking to him every day on the phone. I knew he was more than just an artist, a guy that could draw, he could tell stories, and when the idea for ‘Battle for the Cowl’ came up, and we were tossing around ideas for writers on that. I knew Tony was drawing it, and the more I thought about it, I thought Tony should be the guy to write this. And I went down to Dan’s office, and I was like, “I’ve got an idea. You might hate it” And you know, Dan took it. He was like, “yeah, this sounds good.” Tony was a natural fit to keep that going when we did “Detective” in the New 52.
The first volume of“Batman Incorporated” ended with the rest of the line, but didn’t pick up in September 2011 with the other New 52 books. In a perfect world. Would “Batman Incorporated” #1 have launched alongside his other titles?Continued below
MM: Yes, it most certainly would have. You know, there are huge pluses to working with Grant: you get brilliant ideas that surpass anything you could imagine. I’m not going to call it a minus, but one of the one of the drawbacks when you’re working with Grant within a shared universe is that Grant sits down and plans out not only what the story is going to be up until December of that year, but probably to December of the following year. So Grant has very specific structures and foundations put in place for their stories where they might set up something in issue one, and that’s not going to pay off until issue 24.
That’s good for a book sometimes. But other times, you’re working within a shared universe where things can change from month to month, and sometimes that would be a tough fit. And also trying to align Grant’s major storylines and Geoff’s major storylines was also sometimes a challenge.We had two fantastic writers, both with fantastic ideas, two trains running 3000 miles per hour at the same time on parallel tracks, and you want to make sure that they continue to run together. So that’s kind of my long way of saying that, yes, in a perfect world, “Batman Incorporated” would have launched at the same time. I’m sure that we planned on that happening but it didn’t line up because of the schedule and other storylines kind of playing out and things like that.
Looking back at the Bat line at that time, you know, there were a couple of takes that were a little bit outside of what was happening earlier, but for the most part, it was very much a continuation of the sort of tone and stories that were happening before “Flashpoint.” So when you were looking to put together ongoing Batman titles every month, how was it plotting out which lane each of those four books would be taking?
MM: It’s tricky, not impossible, but it is tricky. When you do the same thing with the X-Men, you’re dealing with multiple characters and multiple teams and it’s a little bit easier to kind of separate the storylines. With Batman, he’s a single character, and can he sustain four books a month? Yeah, maybe he can, you know, maybe four is a bit overkill, but you know, we wanted to give it a shot. So it did require intense coordination.
And, you know, no secret about it, you know, Scott at the time was emerging as the premier Batman writer, and he was on “Batman,” so he was the leader. Many times, the other books followed the lead. And sometimes that’s easy, and the other writers are more than willing to do it. and other times it can be problematic. Maybe there’s a story they want to tell, and it has to get adjusted.
The good thing is that the writers, Tony, Peter, Scott, all got along great. We had a good relationship with the Batman office, and so we all talked a lot, we planned things out. When we started doing the kind of intergroup storylines or crossovers, whether it was ‘Court of Ows’ or the Joker storyline, or eventually the weekly book [“Batman Eternal”], it became a little bit easier to have the books come together when they needed to, but then also have natural points where they could go off and do their own thing.
At the time, what did you see the role of “Batman: The Dark Knight” in the Batman line?
MM: It was the more specialized, standalone, boutique stories. So, if Scott Snyder’s “Batman” was the monthly continuing adventures, and “Batman and Robin” was the team up book, “The Dark Knight” was the specialized book where if we wanted to spend four issues on a story that dealt with Clayface, that’s where we could do it, regardless of what else was happening in the line. And they would still reflect continuity from the other books and still be in the same universe, but it could kind of take its time and do its own thing on individual stories.
Now, this was David’s first book, I believe, plotting. I know he had Paul Jenkins teamed with him for a while to help with the scripting. How did David take to writing?Continued below
MM: Well, you know, like I was talking about with Tony, David was a natural born storyteller. And it was one of those things where as an editor, sometimes you’re not sure what you’re going to get after you ask for it. And when David would turn in plots, or you know, oftentimes there were scripts, you know, he would go beyond plot and actually have a lot of the dialogue, it was more than I had expected. And better than I expected, to be honest. He was a natural. I think he would have continued doing more and more and more of that, if there wasn’t so much demand on him to produce great art pages every month.
I think it was after issue 16 or 15, that David left the book, and there are a number of people like Alex Maleev and Ethan Van Sciver all came in and did a run on the book, with Gregg Hurtwitz writing it. It seemed like at that point, and this is no offense to Gregg, it just seemed like the book had been sort of set up to be one thing and then I think when David left, it was trying to find its place a little bit. Is that an accurate reading?
MM: I think so. When David came into DC, “Batman: The Dark Knight” was more or less created to be his vehicle. When something happens, like David moving on to something else, and a book like “Dark Knight” is selling X amount of copies each month before saying like, “Hey, we’re just going to end this because David’s leaving,” you really weigh the different options. “Well, can we keep this going? Can we bring on another creative team that can stay true to the spirit of the book, or bring the same level of quality that David did?”
Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t, or, you know, sometimes like in the case of “Dark Knight,” you go for a while, as long as you can, trying out different story arcs. You know, I, the stuff that Greg brought me was so proud of, you know, I think they’re great stories.But then after a while, you kind of realize that something has run its course. And I’ll be honest, I can’t remember if I was there, still when it ended, or if I had already left. But I do remember having those conversations with Dan.
It looks like you had just left the book a couple of months before; you were listed as editor on 28, but not 29.
MM: Okay, yeah, so I’m sure I was there instrumental in whatever the close of the book was going to be.
The New 52 was very much a moment in time, that I think when you look back on it, it’s very easy to pick out the good and the bad, but in the moment, I mean, it was a huge deal for comics and a huge deal for DC. What is sort of your most enduring memory of working in the new 52?
MM: Two different memories come up. One is what I described already sitting in that war room with four or five other individuals and basically just mapping out what would be the future of DC Comics for the next number of years.You felt so empowered and creative, and it’s like Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] you know, sitting down, you know, trying to create the Marvel Universe and starting fresh, starting from scratch. We were able to not inherit something but to plant it and watch it grow and choose the different artists and writers that would go on those books and then be able to see if your decisions were the right ones or the wrong ones. You know, there’s something really gratifying about that and rewarding about that whole experience.
The other memory was when we laid out the plan. And we were working so far in advance at that point that none of the books shipped late for a long time. That that was a great feeling. Seeing the numbers come in was great; knowing that people were coming into comic book shops for the first time in years, or coming into comic shops for the first time ever.Continued below
I never, I never liked leaving DC I didn’t want to leave. I thought I’d worked there forever. But, you know, the fact that they were moving to California kind of, you know, forced my hand there.
You can try, but you can’t take the boy out of Jersey.
MM: Not when he haa a mortgage and a kid and all this other stuff. But I’m glad I left while the New 52 was still going. Because to me, in my head, it’s still going on there, because that’s how I left it.
Was there a creator you really wanted on a Bat book in the New 52 that you just couldn’t get to work out?
MM:Oh, that’s a great question. Paul Dini didn’t continue on with us in the New 52. Paul had done such great work with us up till then, on “Streets of Gotham,” and “Detective” and stuff. Paul was someone I really wanted to continue working with. I think having Paul do something new 52 would have been fantastic.
I had heard from other creators that there was a lot more editorial influence on some of the books that had been in the past. Is there truth to that in the Bat books?
MM: Not to toot my own horn…
Toot away, man
MM: Our books were working before New 52. And they continue to work, once new 52 started. And for the most part, we were left to do our own thing. Did I have daily conversations with Dan and Bob Harras? Absolutely. We talked about where books were going, where characters were going, how the creators we’re doing, how the schedule is going. We talked about that stuff daily. Did I receive much in the way of interference or contradictory notes? I didn’t.I edited the way I always edited, trying to get the best work out of people.I was fortunate to have a really strong core foundation with Scott and Grant and Tony, and lots of other people, and we just kept doing our own thing.
I wouldn’t say I was left completely alone, but I was more or less left alone to run the office and the group and that’s how we did it.
Now, looking back on the bat line of the New 52 Is there a book that you feel didn’t get its due in its time, but would be nice to go back and sort of reevaluate going forward?
MM: Alright, so there was an oddball in the Bat books, and that was “Blackhawks.” Here’s why. Okay, so growing up, I was a huge GI Joe guy growing up, okay. Okay. And when we were thrown around all these different ideas for books and Blackhawks came up, you know, I, I really envisioned that you could turn this into the modern day, the 21st century version of GI Joe, this could be our GI Joe book.
And I took on this challenge. It was really one of the things were like, Alright, who wants to do “Blackhawks?” And everyone’s like [looking at the floor], I was like, “I’ll do it.”
We gave it our best shot. Mike Costa did a really good job writing it but there are books you throw up on the wall, and they just don’t stick and you know, the audience out there wasn’t demanding a Blackhawks book at that time.
But do I still think there’s the potential for something really cool there? I absolutely do. And, and I wish we had got there, but we didn’t.
It’s been 10 years since the New 52. Do you think it was a good move for comics?
MM: I certainly think it was a good move for comics. I mean, going back to some of the things I said earlier, like where we would get letters from people saying, “I haven’t been in a comic store in 20 years, and I’m going back now.” Or people saying I’m picking up every single title that you publish, or people saying, “I never knew what comics was, and then I heard about the New 52 and I thought it was a great chance to dive in.” It created new fans and, you know, for that reason alone, it was a good move.