Early last year, DC introduced a series of Walmart exclusive comics featuring new stories by some of comics’ top creators. One of those featured a Batman tale written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nick Derington. These stories were kind of difficult for many fans to find on a consistent basis, so DC’s faithful will be thrilled to hear that Bendis and Derington’s Batman story is currently being reprinted as Batman Universe, available wherever comics are sold.
When Bendis arrived at DC, many fans predicted that the author, crime writer extraordinaire that he is, would be all over Gotham City. Instead, Bendis made Metropolis and the Superman titles his home, making Batman Universe his first crack at the World’s Greatest Detective. It was our pleasure to sit down with the writer to discuss the Dark Knight.
Den of Geek: Can you talk about how your involvement with Batman and the Walmart deal happened?
Brian Michael Bendis: When I first came to DC, we were talking about the future of DC Comics and some of the different initiatives that we were doing and there was this Walmart project that was described exactly as it landed. I was very intrigued. Then we began discussing me taking over the Superman books, and DC said, “Great! You’ll do Batman and Tom King will do Superman for Walmart!” and I was like “Yikes!” And we were off to the races. We brought aboard Nick Derington who became a good friend of mine. It has been a great experience from top to bottom.
Did you begin Batman Universe before you started on Superman?
I began with Action Comics first and then I had one hand writing Superman and the other hand writing Batman. It was funny, I was completely empowered to write Superman and I was nervous to write Batman. So many of my heroes made great art with Batman. Batman is a figure of art and expression and I had to roll up my sleeves and figure out what my Batman was right now.
Why was I scared of it? I was researching all my stuff and I came across this quote by Frank Miller. The quote was, “The interesting thing about Batman is he’s the only character in fiction and in pop culture who you can do anything to and he’s still Batman and still truthful.” He can be as silly as Lego Batman or as terrifying as Scott Snyder’s Batman but he’s still Batman. There’s no one who can say, “That’s not Batman!” That’s the only character you can do that to. There’s something so freeing about that so we dove in and did what we did. I just needed to be reminded of that by my hero on Batman.
In the first issue we saw Batman try and stop the Riddler and the Batman Universe adventure begins. Why the Riddler for your first Batman story?
It’s the Riddler! The Riddler is the character that brings out the most detective in Batman. I just thought that’s the flavor I wanted.
There have been many distinct versions of the Riddler from Frank Gorshin, to Gotham, to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s arrogant genius, where did you look to find Edward Nygma’s voice?
Mine was a brilliant thief who was going to wear whatever Nick Derington wanted him to wear.
When you first signed with DC, many fans suspected you would be doing Batman. Why choose this unique project for your first Batman instead of a regular monthly Batman title?
I said this to Dan Didio both publicly and privately, it was really a masterstroke on his part. I was scared of Batman creatively which is so unlike me. I’m taking on Legion of Superheroes and I’m like, “Bring it on!” But with Batman I winced, but Dan kind of pushed me on stage and the same happened with Tom King on Superman. This was all really brilliant.
In fact, the 12 page chapters of Batman Universe are unique to comics. You do eight page chapters, but no one’s ever asked me or any of us to write 12 page chapters. It happens to be a great size for a chapter in comics for particularly pulp types of stories. So, I was just charmed and delighted with that format that we were working. I know that sounds weird, but I was running around to other writers and saying, “Get a Walmart book! They’re really, really fun!”
I know what you’re saying, it all kind of reminded me of the Silver Age stories. Maybe because it was in that “100 page format.”
Classic is modern at the same time. I would totally buy it if I was in a Walmart. As an author, that’s all you can worry about. Would you buy this? If yes, so would everybody else.
I’m happy to have it all collected in Batman Universe because the Walmart books were kind of hard to find.
Yeah, but that’s the other thing. We’ve lost the art of the hunt. If you’re looking for something you can find it online, right? You can find anything. But the Walmart books were a bit of a hunt, and that was fun.
Talk about the coloring. You and the art team went with the classic dark blue instead of the modern black. What went into this choice?
This was Nick Derington and Dave Stewart. They are two of the greats of all time. If you get a chance, go on Nick’s Instagram and you can see his sketchbook to see his mind at work. You can see the choices he makes and why he makes them. As a writer, you have to write to an artist’s strengths. Sometimes an artist draws whatever a writer says, but that’s not really how it’s supposed to work. It’s the writer’s job to dive into the artist’s world and try to find the moments for artists to explode and shine and do what they do best. So, this is the perfect example of that.
Batman isn’t the only hero in Batman Universe, so talk about the wonderful Jinny Hex and her creation.
Here we are a year later, so I can talk about it with some confidence that people like her, so it’s really cool. Jinny is the great, great, great granddaughter of Jonah Hex and we meet her in Batman Universe for the first time. It’s her first appearance. Batman comes to town because someone donated a Fabergé egg to a museum and the Riddler tries to steal it. When Batman goes to find out who originally had the egg, he finds this poor girl in Texas who may or may not be related to the great Jonah Hex. From that comes her debut in Young Justice. Jinny Hex and her trunk of Jonah Hex’s historical mysteries of the DC Universe, and for those who want to know, that trunk will be opened, and you’ll see everything inside of it, in Young Justice #10.
For those who haven’t finished the Walmart version of this tale, what can we expect next?
Batman is on a quest. A very valuable Faberge egg has been stolen out of Gotham Museum. Inside that egg is an item of immense power that may or may not be out of control. Jinny did not know this when she donated it. People have been after this thing for hundreds of years. Vandal Savage has been after it, so Batman and Vandal Savage will literally be chasing each other through the DC Universe so Batman can stop a very bad abuse of power.
You get Batman teaming up with Green Arrow, with Green Lantern, with Nightwing. I get a little bit of my Brave and the Bold on. I didn’t mean to but when I looked back on it, I said, “I’m writing Brave and the Bold,” and that’s okay. I had a scene with Batman on the rooftops of Amsterdam, and I’m going, “This is The Brave and the Bold.”
What aspects of the Batman universe did you enjoy exploring the most and can we expect to see you writing some solo Batman anytime in the future after Batman Universe?
First of all, I know you can tell by the tone of my voice I deeply enjoyed the collaboration. It’s also weird to be promoting something that some audiences have seen and I already got a response that is so heartwarming. I’m just so excited for more people to see it. I love the idea of using Batman as my travelogue character into the DC Universe. I did Gorilla City and beyond. There was some gorgeous artwork by Nick Derington. It was fun having a project where we can kind of all go with Batman together and visit all these places as he chases after this magnificent treasure that Vandal Savage is after.
As for more Batman, I am actively writing Batman as one of the leads in Event Leviathan, which is a six part big mystery going on in the DC Universe. There’s one coming out this week with gorgeous art by Alex Maleev. I know when I came to DC, people thought that it would be me and Alex doing Batman. And we are, but we’re doing it in Event Leviathan with Lois Lane, the Question, Plastic Man, Manhunter, and so many more. There’s another super secret Black Label Batman project coming from me next year.
Wow! Have you debuted that anywhere else? Is this a Den of Geek exclusive? I mean, when it was announced Tom King was leaving Batman for his Batman/Catwoman book, there was speculation you could be the new writer.
You know, the Legion of Superheroes is such a monumental undertaking creatively, there’s absolutely no way I could take on Batman. I have made my bed with my Legion. It takes up all of my brain.
Batman Universe #2 is in stores on Wednesday. We’ll have more from our chat with Brian Michael Bendis later this week!
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