The two biggest conflicts in the DCU right now are heating up with Lex Luthor taking on The Batman Who Laughs and Joker and Batman gearing up for what’s being dubbed their final showdown. At the head of both stories is one writer: James Tynion IV. Tynion has grown into one of DC’s most prolific writers over the last few years and at the moment has the reins of DC’s two biggest titles: “Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen,” and “Batman.” At C2E2 we sat down with Tynion to talk about how his views on Batman have changed over the years, his thoughts on his newly co-created character (with artist Jorge Jiménez) Punchline, and the finale of “Hell Arisen” which hits shelves this week. You can find our exclusive preview of “Hell Arisen” #4 here.
James, thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Multiversity Comics. I’m going to start kind of broad and then go to “Batman” and then end with “Hell Arisen.” So you’ve wrapped up your time on “Justice League Dark” and you’re now writing two of DC’s highest profile books right now, both one with its flagship character and then one its current event. What does it feel like to be crafting so much of the universe right now?
James Tynion IV: It’s wild. It is a crazy freaking feeling and it never normalizes. It never feels like, “Oh this is of course how it is and I feel totally comfortable with every aspect of this.” It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility. We are driving the characters and trying to really deliver the sort of stories that people need to want to read. That’s the aspect that I think can get forgotten sometimes. It’s just like these are the books that have to be exciting. You have to bring the people in.
Honestly, getting to write a book like “Hell Arisen,” where we are tying up a bunch of threads and then pointing them in the direction of “Death Metal” and then picking up the reins of “Batman” at a huge moment in the character’s life and trying to set the stage for issue #100 and a massive Joker story. It’s just like, it’s a lot. It’s like…I’m not catching my breath a lot. But it’s a lot of fun and it’s a massive creative challenge.
Very cool. So you’ve written Batman and the characters of Gotham and a lot of different forms. From “Talon” and “Red Hood” in The New 52 to “Batman and Robin Eternal” to your “‘Tec” run, which is one of my personal favorites. And then now. So how has your characterization of Batman sort of evolved over the years?
JT: I think every character…It’s changed by the characters you put around him. And a lot of my work with Batman as a character before has been centered around the Bat Family who are my favorite characters in all of comic books, and I wanted…In my “Detective Comics” run, I really wanted to show a different aspect of Bruce. I wanted to…The line I said a lot in interviews when I was gearing up at the start of my “Detective Comics” run is rather than Bruce do the thing that we’d seen him do a hundred times before where new teen heroes were popping up and he’d be like, no, you can’t do it. The idea that he would actually try to take responsibility for them and try to train them so they can operate well in the city and create a bit more of like a training program and a team in Gotham. And that was important to me. That was something I deeply wanted. That was something I wanted to explore in Bruce as a character, I wanted to explore and Gotham as a status quo and I loved doing that.
But when I got the reins of “Batman,” I didn’t want to do the same thing again because I wrote 50 issues of that and I love those 50 issues and I think do, going back to the same ideas would be for diminishing returns. So looking at what I wanted to build in my “Batman” run, I needed to figure out who were the characters I wanted to play off of Batman and really dig at the heart of who I see him as a character. In the same way that I had played the bat family off of him and I wanted it to be as villains.Continued below
I think Batman has the best strokes gallery in all of comics. There are more people out there who know nothing about superheroes, who know who the Penguin are, who the Riddler is, who the Joker is, and Catwoman, even. And just seeing those core iconic villains together; even though, obviously, Catwoman isn’t a villain right now, but she was in the past and she was one of his prime adversaries for a while. Having them all come together and seeing their internal relationships with each other is awesome, and I would love to do even more.
The one character I haven’t been able to touch in this run because Pete Tomasi is dealing with him over in “Detective Comics” is Two-Face who I deeply love, especially because all of the other villains of Gotham, they hate Two-Face because Two-Face is a cop. Two-Face is a cop who’s just like, they won’t let me go far enough. He’s not like, he’s not a gangster. So he’s like the pure inversion of all of them. They do not like him.
So I got to play with that a little bit in the backup stories to ‘Death of the Family,’ the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo’s story years ago … But not in this arc. But anyway, I was able to play with these big adversaries and bring them together and play their personalities and then put them up against something bigger and stranger than they are capable of fighting. And yeah, that was what I set out to do.
So much of your Batman stuff has been really additive. And then to put it more pointedly, you’ve created a lot of villains. You’ve added to the rogues gallery. So in your current run, you’ve introduced The Designer and Punchline, though we’re waiting to see more of her. What is your, where does your inspiration for creating villains kind of come from?
JT: A lot of times it’s just sheer necessity. Something that I think a lot about is I don’t want to write…There were so many characters who we’ve seen in so many different iterations and if you’re not going to add something new to them then what’s the point of putting them at the center of the story? Because you are just going to end up writing the second or third or fourth best version of one of those character’s stories. And so part of it was I wanted to bring some of the more iconic villains in as kind of the supporting cast.
And then I wanted to create a new villain in the face of, in the form of The Designer, who would help bring those characters together to allow me to play with them but also allow me to say something big and different. You always want to say something about Batman with a villain. The Designer is interesting because The Designer is a bit more of a meta character. He is, he speaks to the fact that villains become more complex over time and he’s the weaponizer. His whole agenda is the weaponizing of that convolution of being a villain for a singular hero over years. And that’s really interesting to me. And the total flip side of The Designer because The Designer is like the big idea behind that first arc, and that’s the interesting foil there.
But the other story and building to in ‘Joker War,’ I was hit with a problem. It’s just like, I don’t want to just do a half-ass version of the amazing Joker stories that Scott Snyder told years ago, or ‘War of Jokes and Riddles’ more recently. I didn’t want to just go back to the same well, so I needed to do something different. And one thing that has been true of the Joker for almost the last 20 years of iterations of the character is he’s been a very solitary character. He’s been kind of a devil moving around alone. Even though in the past he’s been a character who had a gang, who had a group of followers who he didn’t treat very well, but were around him at all times. And it changes the dynamic. So I realized from the first coda I wrote to “Batman” #85, I started adding in those henchmen and I realized I needed a chief henchman. And I realized it’s just like, I kind of need someone who would be in the Harley role of if he’s going to have a gang again. I need the person who can translate the Joker’s insanity to actually direct henchmen to do actual literal things.Continued below
And then in realizing that, it was just like, okay, I need to build someone new and then I realized then that means I need Harley as a part of this story, too. And I need to create a character from scratch who is an inversion of Harley and who has a very different core philosophy and core idea behind her because she rather … Harley believed that there was humanity in the Joker. Any little hint of humanity would upset Punchline because she sees Joker as larger than life. She sees Joker as a symbol that means something and something important to the world. She buys into the idea that Joker is this larger than life concept even though the Joker really just wants to fight Batman. He doesn’t stand for anything. So she is also seeing something that doesn’t exist in the same way Harley saw something that didn’t exist. But they see a very different something that doesn’t exist.
We’ve seen Punchline I think two, three, two or three times now. What are your thoughts about how quickly she’s taken off and about how much people are kind of excited about her?
JT: It’s crazy. [Laughs] It is because especially from my first “Batman” issue, and previously in my “Detective” run, I’d throw new characters in all the time. I did The Colony in the first arc of “Detective Comics.” I did Mother in “Batman and Robin Eternal.” I’ve created a bunch of Batman villains before. But I think, I mean, one thing is especially because people haven’t really been introduced to her in the story, it’s this, it’s the power of the design. And Jorge Jiménez knocked the design for Punchline out of the park. She is a dynamic character who looks like she could only have been introduced in this era of comics. It’s a character that feels today and it’s like if you want to see 2020 Batman, she looks like a 2020 Batman villain. And that I think is very exciting. People want a piece of ownership over a new character who can do new things and say new things about Gotham.
And then I think beyond that it’s just like … I don’t know. I know that there’s a huge amount of speculation around the actual physical comic issues, and I know that can be frustrating to people. But the thing that really excites me, which is the very different angle, is seeing the number of cosplayers that have already started making their Punchline outfits and posting them on Instagram. The amount of fan art I’ve already seen. And seeing that is just like, “Oh, we’re tapping into something here and we need to run with it.”
So, as much as there’s a … I know people are running around with “Batman” #89 for the couple of panels of Punchline and all fair play to them. I’m excited for people to actually meet the character and see her role in the story because that’s what excited me. It was the idea behind her was the thing that excited me and my editor Ben Abernathy, and then seeing the design was like, “Oh my God, this is a character that just looks really cool, so let’s get Artgerm and do a variant cover on one of these issues.” So, that was one of the things that we were thinking about right from the start. But we weren’t trying to … Honestly, it was just like we wanted to play with a cool new toy we had created and we weren’t expecting it to blow up as big as it has.
Yeah. Yeah. Very cool. Well, so picking up then on more of the villains talk. So you’re also writing the culmination of the Year of the Villain with “Hell Arisen,” which you’ve said is leading into “Dark Nights: Death Metal.” How long have you known that you were going to be writing “Hell Arisen?”
JT: About two years.
JT: This is something that you’ll see in the last issue of “Hell Arisen” #4. It opens kind of quiet with the little flashback to something that happened technically during the events of Issue #3, which is a conversation between Mercy Graves and Lex Luthor in which Lex Luthor describes what he experienced all the way back in “Justice League” #5, which was the first Legion of Doom issue of that “Justice League” run. And it was just like the road that we’ve been taking Lex on and how he has been twisted and changed, compromised things that you would think he would never compromise in pursuit of this higher goal. And we are going to see that come to a head and pay off in this issue and I’ve been waiting for it for a very long time.Continued below
Because you wrote “Justice League” #5, right with art by Doug Mahnke?
Issue #3 came out last week. It ended with a stalemate between the villains of the DCU against the Infected and leading both sides are Lex and The Batman Who Laughs. What makes those two characters good foils for each other?
JT: Batman and Lex Luthor are the two smartest characters in the DC universe and this is a Batman who has no restraints. From the very beginning, and also going all the way back to the second Legion of Doom one-shot I wrote, which was a conversation between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs, it’s just seeing these two people who believe in a kind of dark pinnacle of what humanity can be. And we are sort of leading them down those paths. But Luthor’s path is the one that’s probably … Luthor cares about humanity in his own way. The Batman Who Laughs doesn’t. Getting to play those two characters off of each other has been extremely gratifying. And yeah, no, I’m just really excited for everyone to see how it all pays off.
Very cool. Well, thank you again. Is there anything that you want to tease about the finale of “Hell Arisen” or about anything else that you have coming up that we didn’t get to?
JT: I would just say I hope people pick up that issue. I hope they really enjoy it and I hope everyone reads ‘Joker War’ because it’s the biggest, craziest thing I’ve ever written for DC comics.
“Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen” #4 and “Batman” #91 are both out this week.