There are few comic creators alive today who have had a greater influence on Batman and Gotham City than Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Ty Templeton. Dini and Burnett brought Batman: The Animated Series into our homes – Dini co-creating the series, Burnett as one of its earliest writers and producers – launching the original DC Animated Universe, and Templeton wrote and drew much of the in-continuity tie in comic, regarded by many as one of the best Batman comics of all time. When it was announced that the three would return to that universe for a new digital-first comic from DC, Batman: The Adventures Continue, the first question that leaps to mind is how things might have changed in this version of Gotham City.
“I’ve actually consciously made Tim [Drake] a little taller and a little thinner in the face just so he looks like he’s maybe a year older. It’s a little thing, but I’m trying to just tweak him up slightly towards The Return of the Joker Tim,” Templeton tells us. But only slightly older. “I don’t want anybody to anticipate that he’s about to be tortured in 10 panels.”
The trio is excited about their return. “I love being back,” Burnett says. “It’s been a whole lot of fun and it’s like riding a bike.”
For Dini, it’s been fun getting back into the creative groove of the old show. “…The other day, I said ‘Here’s an idea for if we were going to continue this element of the story.’ And I just sat down and wrote off some notes, sent them down, and that’s the way we work. It’s a very open door, back and forth,” he tells us.
The DC Animated Universe that they helped create is coming up on 30 years old, and with the exception of Justice League vs. the Fatal Five last year, has been mostly untouched for 15 of them. But it’s still at the front of fans’ minds, according to Templeton. “I find that every time I do a personal appearance at a comic convention or a store or something, three quarters if not higher of the sketches people ask me to draw are the characters from The Batman Adventures comic book and show.”
As formative as their Batman has been for the character, this team (and especially Dini)’s greatest influence on pop culture might actually be Harley Quinn. Dini is one of her creators, and the show set her on a path to being an enormous multimedia star. But the Harley of the movies, or of the comics, or of the Injustice games, or even of the cartoons now, is a vastly different one than the Harley left at the end of the comics and The Animated Series. “I love watching [Harley Quinn] be all these other places, but I don’t think that we look at the Harley Quinn in our universe as having to follow that,” says Templeton. “Not just because Paul co-created her, but because our version of Harley Quinn hasn’t gone through all the things the other Harley Quinn has.”
There is a feedback loop with other characters in other formats, though. Seeing what other creators do and how they inject new characters into the mix set by the original team helps keep the story fresh, as does walking away for a bit. New ideas come from seeing new combinations of characters. “I wrote Detective Comics for a while and then Streets of Gotham, and I began using characters I never used in the animated series before that had been around in comics for a long time or else I created some new ones,” Dini recounts. “And once I threw them into that mix I was going like, ‘God, this is a lot of fun. These new characters are great, these old timers, that we, for whatever reason, never used on the show, are kind of opening up possibilities here.’ It would be fun to weave in in animation but it’s also fun weaving them into the books we’re doing here a little bit as we go.”
So it’s safe to expect the new series to go places the old one didn’t. Like Deathstroke. The villainous mastermind features prominently in Batman: The Adventures Continue, and like his depiction in the comics, he’s a bit of a dark reflection of the Dark Knight. Deathstroke “sees what Batman has and says, ‘I think I kind of want that, but I also think I can do it better,’” Dini tells us. “The problem is that Batman’s in the way. ‘Everything works for me except this guy right here. Everything else was fine. So what can we do about that?’’
Their approach sounds similar to the epic Deathstroke comic run that recently wrapped from Priest and Carlo Pagulayan. It stars a Slade Wilson who is a ruthless mercenary and unrepentant villain, but one who has accreted a large family over time, and cares (?) for them in his own way. And it tracks with the Deathstroke who was immediately the archnemesis of the Teen Titans. “He’s a little more flamboyant and a little more deceitful I think in what we’re doing,” Burnett says. “Batgirl and Robin when they meet him, they’re kind of intrigued by, they don’t know what to make of him at first, but he seems to be doing what Batman does, maybe a little more extreme, but not in an unattractive way or not in a way that they can’t admire him a bit. At least the first time,” replies Dini.
Even with all these changes and all this time passed, the world created by Batman: The Animated Series holds up. “There’s a weird timelessness to the Gotham City of the animated series because when you look at the cars, they’re all from 1947,” says Templeton. “So you don’t have to think of time having passed there because it kind of doesn’t.”
If the first issue is any indication, it’s going to feel like no time has passed at all.
Batman: The Adventures Continue is out on ComiXology on April 1st. No foolin!