Last Friday I was lucky enough to get to sit down as the representative for Batman News at a roundtable interview with Joshua Williamson regarding his upcoming work on Batman, specifically regarding issue #118. As many of you who read my Robin reviews know, I’m a big fan of what he’s been doing there and in the realm of the Bat-books lately, so getting to chat with him a bit about his upcoming run on Batman was an absolute joy.
Since the discussion was a round table I’ll be labeling all press questions as Press, and Josh’s answers as Williamson for clarity’s sake, because I know what you guys are here for is to hear from the man himself. So, let’s see what Williamson has to say about Batman # 118 and the future of our Caped Crusader.
Press: Alright, Josh, thanks for joining everybody today. Appreciate you getting up and doing this on a Friday. With that in mind, the first question we have is: Issue #118 of Batman is really a showcase for Jorge Molina with plenty of splash pages and big set pieces. How was it writing to his strengths and stepping back and letting him do his thing?
Williamson: It was planned that way.
Well, so with Jorge, I have been trying to get Jorge at DC for years. I had been trying and showing his work to Ben Abernathy, who at the time was the talent agent. He was in charge of wrangling everybody. I would always show him Jorge’s stuff like, “This guy should be doing DC stuff. Look at all these Batman pinups and Batman stuff he’s done, like Batman commission’s he’s done.”
I was very aware of what Jorge liked and I would go –I was a fan of his at Marvel– so I started talking with him about what he was interested in, but I was also thinking if I’m an artist and I get to draw Batman, what do I want to draw? Well, I want to draw the cool villains, and I wanted to see Batman doing cool shit. Right? So that was actually what inspired the whole scene where Batman is at the party with all the villains. Because I was like, “How do I get a situation where he can just draw these villains that isn’t a flashback?” The obvious thing is, “I’ll do a flashback.” I was like, no, what if there was a reason for them all to be there somehow? And then clicked on like, “Oh, it’s a billionaire’s ball.”
I remember I was pitching it to, like, Scott and I was telling him what I was doing. I remember getting that part. And I could feel like as I was explaining to him, I could feel myself getting excited talking about it, you know? You can feel that you start talking faster, and I knew I was like, “Okay, no, I have something here”. So, I was going through and thinking about what I’ve seen Jorge do in the past, what I thought was really cool. And being like, let me try to just give him cool stuff to draw, right? It’s his first time getting to draw Batman. Let’s give him all of it, the villains, big moments, splash pages.
I was trying to kill him with all the crowd scenes. I didn’t realize until way later there was a ton of crowd scenes. And then when we get to the second issue #119 there are no crowds by design. Same thing with #120, I really went through and was like, “How do I bail this guy out and try not to kill him?” But I also wanted to give him stuff that I hadn’t really seen a lot of, which is Gotham being happy, Gotham celebrating, and just showing fireworks over Gotham. Because I think I’ve seen it sometimes, but I really want to make a point that this was a Gotham after Batman had won. I wanted to visually show how it was different. Like what does the city look like after Batman solves a case and how we get to see how the city is celebrating. But that Bruce can’t let himself celebrate. And so I was able to go through and find ways of giving Jorge, all this stuff and that together. There is one flashback for the ending that shows part of why Bruce doesn’t feel like he can celebrate in this moment. That also came with the opportunity to give Jorge a chance to draw Alfred and Superman, and one of the Robins and Catwoman. And Jim Gordon. All this stuff that you want to draw.
I think when you go back and look at Hush, right. One of the things about Hush that is really fascinating is that Hush is almost like the Greatest Hits book, because it’s like here are all of Batman’s villains and Superman, right? You have the Superman fight, you have all the villains, you get all this cool stuff, right? You get Catwoman. And I think that’s one of the things that really works about Hush and makes it stand the test of time. It’s something I think about when I’m working on these books.
Then I wanted Jorge to have fun. It’s his very first book at DC. As far as I know, I’m not sure if he did stuff a long time ago, but he’s been a Marvel for a long time. So, I just wanted to give him really fun stuff to draw. That was all my motivation there.
Press: Great, next question. Batman seems to be a bit more jovial overall, in his own Batman way, of course. Was that something you wanted to bring out of him more during your run?
Williamson: Yeah, yeah. I wanted a Batman that was a little –jokey is the wrong word. I think that he knows how to crack wise, like a little, but it’s in this very odd, passive aggressive way, sometimes, right? It’s in a –I’m not really sure what the wording for it is, but yeah, I just wanted to make sure that the book was fun.
I think a big piece of the book is that you go as far back as the beginning of Tom’s run and it’s been very, like –Batman’s gone through it, right? Like, pretty consecutively gone through hell. And you go from City of Bane and into Joker War and then to Fear State and Gotham and Batman –which are linked– have gone through awful experiences. And, you know, in a lot of ways, so have we. We’ve all gone through a lot the last couple years, we need a break.
I think that’s a lot of what I was thinking about when I started working on this was like, “Let’s give Gotham a win. Let’s give Batman a win. Let’s show how Batman processes that, and show the idea that Batman is actually struggling processing the idea of a win, right?” Like, what does Batman do when he wins one? And I sort of wanted to show all that stuff.
But that also meant showing him having, you know, fun, a little bit, right? And just give it a little light heartedness to it and I think that’s through. Then I also always have a habit of in all the books I work on, I always give the character a character to bounce off of. Right? So it’s like with Flash it was with God Speed, or it was Wallace or it was Wally. I was always able to give somebody for Barry to bounce off of that’s a little more fast talking than him. I’m always trying to give them somebody that they can bounce off of. So with Batman, you get a little bit with Oracle. And then you get a little bit with Detective Cahill later. I always want to just make sure that they have something to bounce off of. That they can bring that fun out of Batman, but also bring the fun out of the book.
Press: Right. The next question: True to his name Abyss introduces a potential supervillain with that moniker. Where did the idea for him come about?
Williamson: One of the things coming on to this book was I was coming into an interesting situation where there were already Batman plans in place. The Batman as a line has been very cohesive this last year. Even working with them on Robin. Obviously I talk to James Tynion, every day, right? So I was very well aware of plans for Gotham as a whole. I didn’t want to mess with that. I knew where most of the villains were. So you look at something like what happened with Arkham being destroyed with A-Day, right? Some of the villains are just gone, or they’re already being used someplace. I’m worrying about spoilers and trying to think –I don’t want to make a mess of someone else’s book. But I know where all of the characters are, all the villains. I was like, “I don’t want to throw a wrench in anybody’s plans”. I never want to do that, it’s like one of the worst things you want to do when you’re coming on one of these books or doing it. And working on all the event stuff I’m working on, I’m very conscious of trying not to blow up somebody else’s day.
So I was like, what villain do I use? Well, why don’t I do a smaller story with a smaller case? Just let Batman get out of the big event cycle for a moment, and do something a little smaller, a little bit more Batman in a case kind of thing. And I was like, what if I create a new villain for that? Then I started thinking about what I wanted to see, what I thought was interesting, and just started bouncing around ideas and thinking about what I was doing with Batman. And then I started thinking a lot about the idea we were just saying: I’m trying to have Batman be more lighthearted, have a little more fun with it, and bring him into the light, right? So I was like, Oh, wait, if he’s trying to get to the light, somebody else should be the dark then. That’s when I started developing the idea of somebody representing the darkness. And that’s where Abyss came into play. Who Abyss is, and how Abyss came to exist is part of the mystery of the four issues and it’s a gradual slow burn to get you there. And then the stuff with Abyss will spin off later into other things.
Press: Are there any core Batman stories that influenced or inspired you in terms of how you understand or approach Batman?
Williamson: Yeah, I look back at a lot of books like Nightfall. One for me personally, would be Matt Wagner’s Faces. It was a Legends of the Dark Knight story back in the early 90s and it’s not really a Batman story, it’s kind of a Two-Face story. But it was one that really started at a young age shaping my thoughts on Batman and the world of Batman. And then there’s Long Halloween, right? And there’s the obvious ones like Dark Knight and Year One. Those are embedded in my head no matter what. But I would look at other stories that maybe aren’t as well known.
I also was looking at things like Hush, but one thing about Batman’s voice that always stuck with me was this interview with Michael Keaton. He was talking about Batman ‘89 and Batman Returns –I think he was primarily talking about Returns in this interview– where he was talking about how he would get the script and he would read it, and he would take out a red sharpie, and he would just cross out lines of dialogue. Because his opinion was, as Batman, that Batman doesn’t talk that much and when Batman does talk it should be shorter shorelines. He should never give speeches. And I remember thinking about that a lot.
And you know –I say this with respect to all of my dear friends– but Scott, Tom, and James are much more wordier writers than I am. So, I was like, Okay, I’m gonna lean into this. My Batman is quiet. My Batman only says short sentences, or he very rarely talks. And you’ll notice throughout the issue he’s very short with things. I don’t have him say long speeches, I have no inner monologue. I wanted Batman to be a bit shorter with the way he talked and be more focused in his head and try to visually show what he was thinking about versus talking about it. Once I started figuring that piece out of like, “Oh, my Batman is quiet”. Then it started to shape my ways of writing him. And that was one of the biggest influences on how I write him.
Press: We’ve seen you write Batman and a few other titles now. What is different about working about writing him in his main title than in previous books you’ve written?
Williamson: I guess with this it’s all about his point of view. Whereas in other books, he’s always sharing it, you know? I like writing team up books. Writing Batman/Superman and team books are the greatest challenge. I think they’re the hardest thing to write for superhero books. Anytime I’ve written Justice League, they’ve been really tough and it’s hard to find a focal point in those books.
So, I think the biggest difference would be that I just always stick to his (Batman’s) and his point of view on everything. I think in this first issue, he’s in every scene, There’s never a moment where we leave Bruce. And that stays that way up until #120. I think we leave Bruce for like four pages. Yeah, we leave Bruce for four pages in issue #121, but for the most part, we stay with him. So that was the thing I guess that’s the biggest difference, is his point of view.
It’s weird because I was talking to Tom King about this yesterday. I feel like I’ve been working on Batman in some form or another for the last six years. Because I’m so close to Tom, Scott, and James –even though I wasn’t writing Batman– I have been talking about the Batman title to someone for six years now. When Tom got the job, I actually didn’t know Tom when he got the job. I met him maybe when the first issue was coming out for the first time and we hit it off, and would talk about Batman all the time. We would talk about our plans on Flash and Batman. Obviously when Scott was working on All Star or building toward Metal or Batman Who Laughs. And then clearly with James. I remember I was with James when James realized that he was going to try to pitch for Batman. I could see in his eyes the gears already turning when he realized he was going to do it and talking with him about it. I feel in a weird way like I’ve been working on Batman this entire time in some form or another. So it’s been very surreal and weird that now I have my hands on it. And I’ve been thinking about it for so long already. It’s like I feel in some ways I’ve already been working on it and dealing with this version. This solo Batman.
Press: This is a fun question. What is the appeal of taking Batman out of Gotham City?
Williamson: Well, to be honest there’s multiple levels to that. As I said before, I didn’t want to mess anyone else’s plans up. James always had a plan of Bruce leaving Gotham, that was always his plan. He was gonna leave Gotham for a little bit. And as you know, Mariko is doing Shadow the Bat in Detective and that is weekly. It’s very exciting, that was cool and they have been working on a very long time. When you’re doing a weekly book, a weekly book is a beast, and they’re doing it for three months. I’ve done a weekly book for like six weeks in a row, but three months in a row that is intense. So, they’ve been working on it for a while and it’s great. I did not want to mess up their plants. That meant that we still had to have Bruce leave Gotham.
I think that sometimes having those characters leave their normal grounds and putting them in a new situation gives you new toys to play with, right? It gives you new situations and new characters, allows you to kind of mix it up a little bit. It’s not as familiar to you or to them. It adds kind of a fun thing to it. I had already done that with Damian last year, taking Damian out of Gotham and out of his normal circles of the Teen Titans and of the Bat family and getting him over to Lazarus Island. Getting to play with him over there, it allowed me to tell this story with Damian that wasn’t as tied to everything else. And that allows me to do the same thing now with Bruce. There’s a weird freedom to take them out. There’s a challenge too, because you have to like, again, it’s unfamiliar to you that’s unfamiliar to them.
I’m doing –I don’t think this is too much of a spoiler– I’m doing the backups in Batman #122 and #123. I’m writing the backups for those. That’s a story that takes place in Gotham. And it’s a flashback, it takes place in the past and because they take place in Gotham it’s very easy to lean into, “Okay, here’s the Batsignal, here’s Gordon, here’s this, right?” It’s very easy to lean into those defaults of Gotham, defaults of Bruce. Taking them out of that is a challenge but it’s also freeing, it’s some fun, and you get to mix things up a little bit.
Press: Why did you decide to bring Luthor into Batman’s world? What are you most excited to showcase about their dynamic?
Williamson: That was actually when the book came together in my head. Because I was really struggling with –when I got the idea of being able to pitch it and talk to them. The one thing we knew from the very beginning was that Batman Inc was going to be in it. That was the biggest piece of the conversation we had: well Batman Inc is in it. And we started talking about the ideas and one thing DC said to me was “What if there’s someone trying to kill Batman Inc?” And I was like, we’ve seen that. That’s every Batman Inc story. Someone’s trying to kill Batman Inc. So, I started thinking about “Oh I don’t know, what if Batman Inc had killed someone? And Batman has to deal with that.” They kill somebody, and now Batman has to deal with it, so it was a flip on it.
But then I was like, I need a bad guy. This is just like whiteboard stuff, where you’re standing in front of a giant whiteboard mapping out the characters and everything and I’m like, who do I want Batman to go up against? Who’s a big villain? Who’s fun? Who I haven’t seen in a while? And I remember landing on Lex and being immediately like –You sit up straight straight, you’re like, “I think I got this I can hear it in my voice. I can hear it.” In #119 there’s a scene where it’s Bruce and Lex. It’s not Batman and Lex, it’s Bruce and Lex. They have a conversation about the idea that Batman is broke. That Batman doesn’t have money. And it’s essentially Lex taunting Bruce and just poking at him and trying to crack the Bruce exterior, right? Bruce is trying to be Bruce and Lex is doing everything he can to try to piss him off. He wants the Batman to come out. So he’s constantly poking at him and saying things.
I actually figured out that scene first. I feel like writing the two of them talking and having there’s a part –there’s all kinds of stuff in there– But there’s a part where Lex is basically, talking about Bruce not having any money, and he makes fun of his clothes. You know, he’s like, “You gotta get a tailor again man.” Just these little passive aggressive things. Then at one point, he starts talking about Nightwing, about Dick, and he’s just like, “Oh, I heard that Dick gave away your butler’s money to charity. What a fool.” And then he was like, “He was always a bit of a soft one, wasn’t he?” And that’s when Bruce finally was, “Alright, I’m done with this.” And he finally–the Batman comes out, right? Like you don’t get to talk about my kid like that. So he just erupts in anger. Once I figured out that scene, of the two of them, I knew I had something.
But the challenge was, Lex hasn’t been seen a little bit. The last time we really saw Lex it was during Death Metal. I was trying to figure this stuff out, but then I was also just like, okay, if I’m gonna use Lex, I got to talk to Tom Taylor as well, because he obviously is doing Superman stuff. And Lex hasn’t been a Superman villain in I don’t know how long. He was also in Justice League for so long. He was the primary villain Justice League for Scott’s entire Justice League story. And so I went to them, and I was able to find out what their plans were for Lex. I knew they were gonna put him in the annual. I was like let’s just bring –there’s two things to Lex that helps us out. It allows us to show Lex as the money Lex. The guy who was president at one point. It’s to show us that version of him again. But it also brings Batman back into the DCU. One of the things about the Batman book is that it’s been existing over here for a little bit. I wanted to show –and you see a little bit in this issue– we’re bringing it back into the DCU. So, I referenced the stuff that was happening in Justice League last year –two years ago now I guess– and this year. I get to show these other pieces of Batman in the DCU and I get to use Lex as a vehicle for that.
Press: Even if this Batman is on a case, this is not the straightforward Who-Done-It it fans might expect. How did the opening act and the structure of this Abyss mystery take shape?
Williamson: Roughly. It was an interesting thing where I was kind of doing it as I went and then working backward, right? I’m trying to figure out all these pieces of, why would Batman Inc kill Abyss? What was Abyss doing? And then what are the twists? Because I think it’s obvious that Abyss is in the next few issues, he’s on the covers, right? Batman is going to fight Abyss, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a spoiler to say that Abyss isn’t really dead.
I started working my way through what the actual mystery was. And then what I had to do was –because the stuff with Abyss and stuff with Batman Inc is important for later in the year and then the spring– I had to sort of work backwards. I was figuring out bits and pieces. Then I was like okay, what do I need the end game for this to be? Where do I need Batman to be at the end? Where do I need Batman Inc to be at the end? And there’s a bunch of other characters that will pop up throughout these issues. Where do I need them to be? And where I needed Lex and Abyss to be at the end. Once I figured out all the relationships between those ideas, then I worked backwards through the mystery and tried to structure it that way. So it was really weird. It was like I worked the beginning a little bit and then I figured out the ending and I worked my way back through.
Press: You mentioned wanting to show Batman processing a win after he in Gotham had been through a hard time. Do you have plans to take him through an emotional journey similar to what you’ve been doing with Damian in Robin?
Williamson: Not as much. With these four issues it is about him learning it’s okay to get a win. You know, and kind of letting himself celebrate a win a little bit. He knows how to do it he just doesn’t have the resources to do it right now. There’s so much going on with him. You know, all those people in that shot –and there’s a shot in the book where it’s like all the things he used to do with people when he would solve the case. All those people aren’t around. Damian’s gone, Superman is in space on War World, Alfred’s dead. Obviously he and Catwoman are still on the outs. I think they’re okay with each other but they’re not necessarily like hanging out all the time. I don’t think he can just call her up the way he used to. Then Gordon has gone hunting for Joker. All those people are gone. But there’s also the idea that he doesn’t need those people to celebrate a win. Right? Like, I mean, I think he does. But you don’t always have to –he’s not codependent, I guess is what I’m trying to get to.
These four issues are a lot about setting up a couple things. And then there’ll be more emotional stuff in the stories that we’re doing in the spring with him. There’ll be a bigger emotional arc, because, you know, I don’t think it’s surprising to see that eventually –we’ve been teasing some of the stuff we’re coming to. There is a story coming with Bruce and Damian together. And that’s where the bigger emotional stuff will be. I was just working on it yesterday. I was writing the scene –I’d already written a while ago but I had a note on it yesterday to finalize it for the artist. But I was doing a note about the first time Bruce and Damian see each other in a long time. Like, we’re talking about a year and a half. For us. For them it’s been like, a week or a few months. But getting to show the two of them for the first time and how it’s not easy. There’s a couple of different scenes in Robin #11 and #12 with Damian talking to Flatline and Connor Hawke about his dad and what he’s going to do when he sees his dad next, and that’s where I think that really heavier emotional stuff is coming. And you know, as Michael was saying earlier, we’ll be announcing some of that stuff in about two weeks.
Press: To speak to that cohesiveness, how has it been working with Ben Abernathy to coordinate all of this? Was the move to go international one to strip Batman down a bit?
Williamson: Well, Batman I feel had already been stripped down a little bit because of losing the money because of Joker War. But also again, this was part of separating myself from James’s run. I wanted a lot of visual things to create a line in the sand. So it was the costume change, the international stuff, and not having as many toys. When James started on Batman, part of his big pitch was toys. He wanted to have Batman use a lot of gadgets in the beginning, take those gadgets away with Joker War, and then gradually bring them back in. Leading into where we’re at now with Fear State stuff. So yeah, I wanted to draw a line in the sand. All those things were a piece of that.
A lot of that came from talking with Ben Abernathy. He and I are good friends. I’ve known him for, I don’t know, 16 to 17 years. I met him very, extremely early in my career when I was still self publishing. He was working at Wildstorm at the time, and we’ve been friends ever since. I was able to see him a few times here, he doesn’t live that far from me. So I’m able to actually go and meet up with him for drinks or to go to his house. He came over here a couple times to talk about stuff. We’ll get pizza and talk about Batman. That actually was a huge help in figuring out a lot of the pieces of Batman, actually being able to meet with somebody and sit down and talk about it. Which obviously, in the last year and a half has been extremely challenging. It was one of the weird things about DC the last two years is that, you know, Scott, James and I were mapping out all of our giant plans we would see each other every three months. And we haven’t been able to do that in a very long time. But there was a time we were able to do that and it made our lives so much easier. We were always mapping out all of our plans and everything was connected. But yeah, working with Ben –you know, Ben is a workaholic like me, and his head is always in a million different places. He’s one of those people I talk to throughout the day on chat. We’re always talking to each other about stuff. lt’s been great working with Ben. Ben is a terrific editor. You know, he’s a terrific voice at DC Comics and he’s great, I love working with Ben.
Press: What’s most refreshing or challenging about working on Batman?
Williamson: I’m not even sure if there’s been anything necessarily challenging, I mean, to be really, super honest with everyone, the biggest challenge has been my schedule. I’m doing a lot. Obviously Robin and Deathstroke, and there’s a few other things that haven’t been announced yet. And working on Infinite Frontier.
The biggest challenge was working on Batman can be very intense, you have to get yourself in that mind, you have to be able to let yourself really get into his world Which is true of all books. But there’s a certain level of pressure with Batman that exists nowhere else, right? Like it is the job. So giving yourself over to it, you have to be able to really do that. Like when Scott was working on it, he gave everything he had to Batman, he would do side projects, obviously, like Swamp Thing and Superman, he would do all these other things, but so much of Scott was Batman. It’s the same thing with James and Tom. Once you’re working on that, that becomes so much a part of you. So that was one of the biggest challenges, having to switch gears in some places. But I didn’t want to let anything fall. I wanted to make sure that things didn’t slip through the cracks. It just meant an increase of workload while also just really trying to bring myself into it.
Refreshing wise, it was fun getting to tell a Batman story just from Batman’s POV. I never got to do that before. Like I said before, it was always him with somebody. It was always him and Superman or him and the Justice League or even him and Flash. Which, when I was doing that –and I think you can tell when you go back and look at The Button or you look at The Price— both of those books, it leans heavier on the Flash aspects because I was the Flash writer at the time. I was living and breathing, it was a double ship book. That was my every day, morning to night was working on Flash. And so my POV on those books was always from Barry’s perspective, like my voice was his voice kind of thing. Now over here with Batman, I get to do something a little different. But again, like I said, like it has to be a quieter book. There’s something really refreshing about just getting to tell a Batman detective story case.
Press: How did writing The Flash prepare you at all for Batman, especially if you’re trying to maybe play up more of those jovial elements.
Williamson: I learned a lot about writing comics when I was on The Flash. I learned a lot about myself as a writer, myself as a person, and I learned a lot about writing working on that book. What was interesting about working on Flash was I was figuring things out on Flash as I was going. You start to figure out bits and pieces of how to write superhero books and twist things up. I had this conversation with Mark Waid years ago, when I first got the job. We were talking about how The Flash is a book primarily with a lot of inner monologue, because who else is he going to talk to when he’s running, right? Occasionally you’ll have another Speedster there. But at that time, I wasn’t able to have other Speedsters there. So it was mostly just Barry. It was a lot, a lot, of inner monologue.
When working on The Flash, because it was a double ship book, I always described it as like I was in the middle of running a marathon. But I was learning how to run at the same time. And I couldn’t stop to digest it. I couldn’t stop, stop running, think about what I had learned, and then start running again because it was double ship. I could never stop running.
The moment I was done with Flash and I had a little bit of a break I was able to finally digest everything I had learned working on that book. And then that informed everything since. That informed Robin. It’s why Robin has –you’ll notice I think nothing I work on right now has inner monologue– you know, it’s like there’s nothing there. No, Robin doesn’t have it, Batman doesn’t have it, Infinite Frontier, Justice League. I’ve had moments where an editor’s been like, this scene can be fixed with inner monologue. I’m like, nope, no, no, we’re not adding inner monologue here. So I was able to learn all this stuff. All of that, all of those ideas, really went into this book, I was able to figure a lot of pieces out. Even with Robin, like the stuff I figured out working on Robin— You’ll notice also in the first issue of Robin and those earlier issues he doesn’t do a lot of talking. Like he does talk, but it’s shorter.
It’s interesting, working on Flash I learned the lessons that Barry learns: you’ve got to slow down. A lot of that got put into this, we’re able to slow things down a little bit and let things breathe. You look at Robin and how in Robin, there’s no arc marker. With Flash, I would change gears every three months, every six issues, every five minutes, I was always changing gears. Whereas when you look at Damian, with the Robin book, there is no clear marker, there’s no clear like, well, that’s the result, we’re now moving on to the next one. Whereas that’s how Flash was. And so I was able to kind of –like with DC they trusted me to be able to just let things breathe and let these stories take the time they need to be told versus how with Flash a lot of times I was having to rush things or having to truncate them because I had to change gears every few months. So with all of that, with Batman a big part of it was like, all right, Batman’s coming off of a win. He needs to take a deep breath, we need to take a deep breath, I need to take a deep breath. Let’s put all that into this book.
Press: Since Bruce will be out of Gotham for a while, will we get to see any of Damian in Batman in the future since they’re both out of the city?
Williamson: Yeah, yeah, I mean, obviously like I was saying before we’ll get there. We have some really big stuff coming with Damian and Bruce in the spring.
Press: I know Bruce is going silent for a while but we’ll Barbara still be a regular part of this series?
Williamson: She will come into play again in the spring. She’s not in these four issues. But she does come up after the first four issues –the Abyss arc– they immediately start talking again.
Press: With Jim Gordon going international, as well as the Joker, will any familiar Gotham faces see Bruce overseas?
Williamson: Not yet. We’ll eventually get there. There’s gonna be obviously– something’s gonna happen, right? I’m getting a little into spoilers. Something is going to happen, and when this thing happens, it’s going to lead to a bunch of other stuff. That’s like a domino, right? We’ve been kind of building to it mostly over in Robin and Deathstroke, where I’m clearly building a story between the two books that’s going to collide. When those two things collide, it’s going to –it’s interesting, there’s like a build to it. And it’s one of the first times where Oracle reaches out to Batman where she basically, for lack of a better phrase, she’s like, “You need to turn on the news”. And he sees something is happening, and he’s like, “Okay, I have to pay attention to that.” He goes to pay attention to it and then something very bad happens. When that happens, it pulls in all of this stuff, a lot of things that we’ve been building a lot of things with Bruce and Damian all these things kind of start coming together and then we will start seeing some more familiar faces we haven’t seen a little bit.
Press: What is one Batman trope, idea, or gadget you’d love to see or use even if it’s been used a lot?
Williamson: Oh man, it’s tough because I’m not a gadget guy. I’m not a Batman gadget person. This is one of the things that made it easy drawing that line in the sand between me and James because James loves all the gadgets, all the toys.
I use the batarang a lot. Probably more than I should. I’m always having Batman pull out his batarangs. The Batmobile would be really fun. Cars and car chase scenes are a hard thing to pull off. I would say I probably use the batarang too much. I’m not really a toy person you know? I don’t really need to show Bruce using a lot of gadgets. I like the Bruce that’s a little more detective-y. I mean he still has gadgets he uses for a reason as a detective but I wanted to ground him a little bit. I was thinking about this a lot because I’m obviously talking to James, and it’s like I’m not really a big Batman gadget person.
It’s funny I’m looking at this wall –okay so this wall over here from floor to ceiling are all Batman trades right? You can’t really see right here, but there’s Batman trades and I have all this Batman stuff up here. I have the Batman launcher replica and I actually have this batarang on my desk. This thing is deadly. Like when I got this I was like holy shit you could 100% kill somebody with this thing. This is not a toy for children. Over here on the other side, I have like a shit ton of Batman statues. I have like a ton of Batman Black and Whites and a bunch of Batman toys and so I’m looking at them all I was like what are things that I would want Batman to use? Only looking and it’s like obviously one of the toys I have is this great Greg Capullo Batman armor. I had a big Batman armor thing. And I did a lot of that already, I used Batman using toys. I had Batman smash a whole Batwing into Shazam in Batman/Superman, so I’m not sure how many more gadgets I want to use. I kind of want to get him down to a more grounded level. So I won’t be using as many gadgets as normal, I guess.
Press: Fear State had really great themes about the need for criminal justice reform, and recontextualizing superheroics. Does some of that carry on into your run?
Williamson: Yeah, a little bit, especially once we get into the stuff that we’re doing in the spring. I’m sorry to be vague on spoilers and vague on the stuff that we’re doing after these first four issues. Everything I’m working on at DC, except for like one project is all connected in some way. So it’s hard to talk about the stuff we’re doing now and not talk about those things down the line. But yes, it does.
You know, Batman’s thoughts on what to do with criminals definitely plays into later, there is a big piece of the stuff that I’m doing in the spring is about, if a villain is in danger, do you protect them? When you’re a hero, where do you draw that line? You’re supposed to save good people. If there’s a bad person in danger do you still need to save them? The answer is yes. But then you have to keep questioning that. Because if let’s say the Joker was in danger –and it’s not the Joker to be very clear– I’m using the Joker as an example. If the Joker were in danger would Batman save him?
One of my favorite Batman stories is this hardcover –I think it was Graham Nolan, no it was Norman Breyfoglel*– I may be wrong, somebody can correct me. But it’s a story about the Joker is going to get sent to the electric chair, he’s finally getting the death penalty. Then Batman realizes that like, oh, wait, he didn’t do it. The case that he’s actually being charged with he didn’t do, and he has to figure out who did it. That means he’s going to catch the real killer that did it, but that also means the Joker won’t finally get justice. Right? So there’s a question you have to ask, where’s that line of when you are willing, how much of that are you willing to go? With Batman I think the answer is always: save a life. Same with Superman: always save a life. But there are other people who might not agree with that math. And that might bring them into conflict with other people. So that’s a big piece of the story we’re doing in the spring. And that does tie back into some of the stuff that James was setting up in Fear State.
Press: Paging, Jason Todd, right.
Williamson: Oh, yeah! There’s a few. Yeah.
Press: Will Batman miss Gotham, the city?
Williamson: Yeah, I think he does. I think again, there’s a familiarity about it. But then right now, it’s not his Gotham. I think that’s what bothers him. It’s changed. There’s all these little bits and pieces and things that he knows aren’t there. There’s no Gordon, there’s no Alfred. He’s not in the Batcave, he’s not in the mansion. He’s in the brownstone. But it’s a different Gotham. And then, after going through everything from City of Bane, to Joker War, the Magistrate to Scarecrow and Fear State. All of those things, I think it changed Gotham a little bit and he’s sort of in this position where there is a disconnect and he feels that disconnect. And that’s part of why he leaves. He obviously does come back to Gotham at least when he’s ready to dive back in, and not just because there’s an emergency but because he’s ready to come back.
Press: What got you into writing comics? What about this medium is so special to you or different from others that you’re still working in it?
Williamson: I have wanted to work in comics since I was a little kid. I’ve never known anything else. I’ve had other jobs I worked on when I was trying to break in, working as a graphic designer, but I never wanted to do anything else really. Even when I had that job, at night I would come home and I would start work again at like eleven and work on comic book stuff from eleven to four or five in the morning and then sleep for a few hours and go to work.
I just really love comics since I was a little kid. I grew up in a house where both my parents read comic books. So I’ve never lived in a house that didn’t have a short box in it. And so, being around my parents, always absorbing it, reading different books. I think by the time I got around to fourth grade –third grade/fourth grade– I knew this is what I wanted to do. It seemed impossible. I would talk to people and even then people are like “comics are dying”, all this stuff, as far back as that. Comics have been dying my whole life. But I remember back then, there’s that line, right? The Hamlet line. Like I’ve been dying my whole life. I feel the same way about comics and sometimes.
Even back then, I would just read these books. And I started reading books about other writers in interviews, and there was Wizard and there was Hero and there were other magazines at the time. I just felt like I was pulled into it. I really liked superheroes, I liked comic books. By the time I got around to high school, I always knew I wanted to write superheroes. When I got into high school, I started discovering Vertigo and picking up more independent books. I remember the first time reading Creature, it really started clicking in my head like, “Oh, there’s more than superheroes here” and I can do different kinds of stories. And I started getting more and more into it.
There’s never been a time that I didn’t want to write comic books, I guess. This has always been the career choice, the whole time. There’s been some bumps in the road, but I’m here now. I’ve just always wanted to do it. And there’s something about the medium even now, it’s like, I do talk to other people about other mediums like animation, film, and TV. But there is just something about comic books that really appeals to me. I love the medium, I love the things we can do with it. I love how we can –there’s this line in Understanding Comics, where Scott McCloud has this page where he is breaking down these rules, the rules of comics, his observations. And there’s a part where he says, “Can you hear me? Did you hear me?” And in your brain you’re like, “Yes, I understand. I heard you.” and he’s like, “Because I didn’t say anything.” And you’re like, Oh, my God, like it blew my brain when I read that? I didn’t hear, I read it. But that’s what comics does, right? It’s magic. I mean, writing in general is magic. There’s something about comics that I think accesses a certain part of our brain that’s this marriage of words and pictures and all these pieces. It’s really just, something that really massively appeals to me, and I’ve been obsessed with it my whole life. And trying to tell stories as medium, there’s this interesting challenge to it. And, you know, I’m gonna use the word manipulating the reader, being able to lead your reader in a certain direction on a visual level and with the words you put on the page. Then getting to move them. I think that’s a big piece of it. One of my rules is I should make comics that I would want to buy, that I would find interesting. If I can find a way to move myself when I’m working on this stuff, and then try to transfer that to somebody else, that stuff is so much fun.
And there’s no medium like ours, as fast as ours. If you talk to people from other other mediums, they don’t understand that the comics are weekly. These things go out every week. There are times where I’ll write something, I’ll write a scene and I’ll see the art for it a week later and then it comes out two months later sometimes. There’s something so powerful to that, to be like I wrote this and then two months later I’m holding it.
I’m different from a lot of other creators. I worked as a graphic designer so I actually had to make books. I know how to letter, how to flat, how to color, I know how to do production. When I was doing books in Image I was doing a lot of the production and the design work for it. My buddy and I, we did a book called Dear Dracula. It was one of the first books I ever did. It was a hardcover book at Image and it was for kids. That book? It was just me and him. We did everything from writing to art, coloring, lettering, production, everything. I remember being on the phone with the printer at like one in the morning –because they were in China– talking to them about the printing and talking about the end papers of the book and explaining it. So, I know how to do all that stuff. For me I love the very process of getting to make these things. I think they’re just works of magic. It’s just something, I don’t think I’ll ever leave this. I know some people move on to other stuff. And I’m like, no, I’m a lifer. This is it. Keith Giffen once said, somebody asked him what he would be doing if he wasn’t doing comics. He said, “Oh, you act as if I had a choice.” And that’s how I feel sometimes.
Press: Apart from the supervillain party and new environments, what are you really excited about that Jorge gets to bring to life in these first four issues of this?
Williamson: Abyss. I think the stuff with Abyss and Abyss’s powers are really fun. It’s something different. You get to see how Abyss uses his powers, how he manipulates things. How he messes with Batman, that stuff’s been really, really fun to see. That stuff has been fun and just getting to see him do cool Batman stuff like. It’s fun with Batman, trying to make Batman mysterious again, in some ways, but also, like I said, fun. Those are all things I think are really cool to see Jorge do.
Press: Can you talk more about how the Batman of Snyder or Tynion influenced you? Did you feel pressure to try to cultivate a different side of the Dark Knight?
Williamson: Yeah, of course. And also, Tom. Like Tom is someone I talk to, and those are people I talk to fairly frequently. I was with them through a lot of that. I think also, being with them through that, and picking up bits and pieces of what they were working on, what they struggled with, it was almost– it was like an aggregate. I was able to see the stuff that I liked, the stuff that I thought worked, the things that I wanted to do differently, and how to make sure it was still fine. Right? Like that was a big piece of this.
I talked to Scott a lot about his Batman run. I had reread it –not before I got this job– but I think maybe like a year and a half ago/two years ago, I reread all of Scott’s run. And I talked to him about it while I was reading it. It was almost like a weird training in some ways. Like I said, I’ve been training for this the last six years. And that’s the same thing with James. Talking to James through that whole process. You know, talking to and knowing what was important to them. That was what was interesting, I knew what was always important to them while they were working on it. I knew the stuff that Scott was like, “I have to make sure I do these things”. These are things that are important to him. And then knowing with James. James is like, well, here are the rules that James had when he was working on it. And the same with Tom, like Tom was like, these are the things that I want, that I think are important working on it. So, it wasn’t a matter of taking what they did and being like, “Okay, I’m gonna copy that”. It wasn’t about that. It was like, okay, it just reminded me that I need to find out what is important to me. So those kinds of reminders really influenced me.
Press: Great, well, we are almost at time. So with that in mind–
Williamson: I can talk faster. If you have more questions, I can burn through a few.
Press: We’ve got about five minutes. So if anyone’s got one more question, just shout it out.
Williamson: Yeah, and thanks for everyone taking this again. I know it’s early. I’m sorry. I had to do this so early.
Press: Here’s one. How much do you pay attention or try to engage with and integrate stories across the Bat canon? I’m thinking about great stuff being done with Nightwing or Batman The Imposter?
Williamson: With Batman The Imposter, I think that’s a Black Label book if I’m not mistaken? I think that’s over there. I haven’t read that one yet, to be honest.
When it comes to paying attention, Oh, I’m a nosy nosy man. I pay probably too much attention to what’s happening across the line. I talk to a lot of creators. I talk to Tom Taylor, I was still talking to James, and to Jeremy Adams. I talked to Stephanie Phillips –I’m actually going to talk to her later today. We’re talking about some stuff for next year, she’s really great. And yeah, so I talk to a lot of the other writers, and I talk to editorial probably way too much. I’m very very nosy and so I try to do –if you look at Flash I was always reflecting everything that was going on, even the silliest little stuff. I was always reflecting what was happening in the rest of the line. It was Justice League, Superman, Batman I would always reference. Or when Bendis was doing his Leviathan stuff and he had Argus get destroyed I made a point of it in Flash that there’s a scene where Barry is like, “Well Argus got destroyed, but there’s a place they put the evidence I’m going to go there instead.” It was a warehouse, which means it’s less secure. So I was able to use it as a story fodder. I’ve always done that and I will always do that. Even now I’m always trying to find ways of reflecting. So I definitely really pay attention. I try to engage where I can.
I’m also always very event minded. This goes as far back when I first got the job on The Flash. When I first got the job on The Flash, I was only writing Flash, that was it. But I was always asking what was going on, all the time. I was super nosy in every meeting, I would raise my hand and be like, what’s going on with this? What’s going on with that? That’s how I got the job on Justice League Versus Suicide Squad because I kept asking about it. The moment I heard about it I’m like, oh what’s that? What’s that? What’s that? What’s that? I kept asking about it until finally they were like, “Oh, you actually know the most about it.” And I was like great, cool and then I was able to do that and implement what was going on with all of those books into that series. So I’ve always been very nosey and I do like to engage other creators and engage with other books and try to try to build something together. Like I said, I’m very event minded and because of some of the things I’ve been working on, you go back as far as the Rebirth and then working on Metal and No Justice and you know, working on Death Metal, really putting a lot of Death Metal together. Working on all those things I’ve always been that way. I’m not sure if I necessarily had enough. I don’t know if I know how to not be that way at this point. That’s the thing when I look at what I’m doing now with Batman and Robin and Deathstroke, and some of the other things we’re building. All this stuff with Infinite Frontier, all the stuff with Justice League Incarnate all those pieces are connected. That involves me talking to a lot of people all the time about what’s going on, so I can try to build a cohesive big story for the next year.
Thanks again to DC and Joshua Williamson for taking the time out to sit and chat about all things Batman and comics, it was a genuine pleasure! For you readers, be sure to pick up Batman #118 on Tuesday, December 7th!
*If you’re curious, the comic where Joker was sentenced to death for the wrong crime book was: The Joker: Devil’s Advocate by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan.