Tom King has spent the last 3 years rushing to comics superstardom. His landed on the scene cowriting Grayson with Tim Seeley, and from there it’s been one hit (critically or otherwise) after another: an Eisner nomination for “Black Death in Brooklyn,” a short story about an African American World War I hero who died in poverty; Omega Men, a critical darling that only a handful of people read; Sheriff of Babylon, the outstanding political thriller/murder mystery set in 2004 Baghdad; and Vision, a comic where the consensus review by the entire internet for each issue was “Jesus, that was pretty messed up.” Unlike Omega Men, Vision sold quite well.
He’s now writing Batman, the flagship book for DC’s strongest family of books, and he took a few minutes to sit down with us and talk about issue #12, the current arc and his plans for Saturn Girl.
Den of Geek: So [I’m] very stoked about the rest of “I Am Suicide”, and I’ve been a big fan of your work for a long time. I’ve been banging the Omega Men drum to everyone who’ll listen.
Tom King: Thank you so much, man. Nobody read that book, so anyone banging that drum is…
Oh my God. It’s so good. I’m giving it away for Christmas presents this year. But it seems like especially after the annual on Batman, and compared to stuff like Omega Men or Vision, it seems like you’re having more fun writing Batman. Is that accurate, and how did it work out that way?
I wish it was accurate. (laughs) No, oh my God, I had a ton of fun writing Vision and Omega Men. I have a ton of fun writing Batman, too, but I wouldn’t put Batman above those books.
Not that it’s more fun, but maybe being more playful with Batman.
I mean, I appreciate that. I guess…I think I’ve written…I’ve written comics for three years plus I was a novelist, and I think I’ve written one happy ending in that time. :laughs: And it was that Batman annual. So in that sense I’m being more playful. “I Am Gotham” kind of had a happy ending.
Well, ONE person survived.
Yeah! One person survived. But I love humor stuff. And I love being able to stretch that out and do some jokes. I just went to the editor of MAD Magazine and begged them to give me a gig, so we’re doing something over there. Just because I think that…when you’re in the midst of the crazy serious that I seem to do, that’s when the best stuff, the stuff that really makes me laugh comes out. I get really happy and proud of those little moments that make me smile. Sorry, I’m going off.
No, that’s alright! One of the biggest smiles for me was Punch and Jewlee showing up in the first issue. I know you’re a huge fan of Ostrander/Yale and their Suicide Squad run. Did that slant your selection process, or was the team selection for Batman’s Suicide Squad strictly utilitarian?
That really affected my process. I love the new Sucide Squad and what it’s sort of morphed into, but I miss that old version of it, and the core characters, the Shade the Changing Man and Bronze Tiger and Vixen. That’s the Suicide Squad I picture when I close my eyes.
So I wanted to take…if I was going to do a Suicide Squad story, I wanted to pay tribute and take as much of that from there as I could. And Punch & Jewlee appealed to me because people don’t realize, they get a lot of flack, like “Jewlee seems just like Harley.” I’m like “Yeah, but Jewlee preceded Harley by 20 years.” And that relationship between the two of them of the crazy yuppie couple that’s become part of her and the Joker, that relationship was there 30 years ago. So that sort of appealed to me. And also there was a utilitarian aspect in terms of…or there should have been a utilitarian aspect until they were killed (laughs) in terms of the role they play.
That was the best part about their Suicide Squad! They’d use these little crappy heroes and you’d think “Oh they’re going to serve a great purpose.” And then they’d get killed before they could do their great purpose. I always loved that.
So even in the mechanics of how the story is operating, it’s a tribute too.
Yes, of course. Yeah, that Suicide Squad run by Ostrander…and you know, everyone calls it the Ostrander run, but Kim Yale came on with issue like, 13 or something and wrote 40 issues of it. So it should be the Ostrander/Yale run. Yeah, it’s maybe my favorite super hero comics of all time, so I pay a lot of tribute to it.
You’ve said in earlier interviews that for Batman you use Alfred or Robin, or the people around him as a substitute for an inner monologue. Is Selina functioning in that role here?
Yes, in the “I Am Suicide” arc. If you know Omega Men, I love cyclicals or reflections. So I built one here so we could have these two inner monologues as a conversation. You have a normal issue, then you have a Selina letter issue, then you have the climax, the head of the pin which is when Selina betrays him, and then you have another issue which is his response and inner monologue. Then you have the climax. So you have sort of a mirrored structure.
And yeah, so we can get inside the heads of these two characters a little bit and see some of the background, the emotions going into this story. Because it’s a story of so much action, so many twists and turns that the emotion can be lost, and that’ll come out in the two letters.
Are there parallels in Bruce and Selina’s relationship with Bruce and Gotham Girl’s relationship? Or am I reaching?
No, I…I think there are parallels in that I think that when Bruce looks at Gotham Girl, looks at Gotham, he sort of sees an idealized version of himself. He says “Here are people who are willing to sacrifice themselves and they can succeed in a way that I’ve never succeeded.”
I think when he looks at Catwoman, he knows that that’s the unidealized version, that’s the real him. And she sees the same thing in him. When they look at each other, they see their true souls. That’s what soul mates do, right? You see your faults and love each other still. I think that that’s the parallel, or what I would take away from how he’s used those two different women. One’s an idealized…one he sees in sort of an idealistic way, and sort of puts her up on a pedestal. Catwoman he sees who Catwoman is and that means more to him because he sees someone that’s real.
This whole conversation is kind of circled around Bruce being more visibly empathetic and almost borderline emotive, and it seems like that’s been a goal of your work and the rest of the crew working on the Batman books right now. In circumstances heading into issue 12, prior incarnations of Batman would have assumed that Selina would betray him and planned with it in mind. Does his emotional openness, his “trying a new thing” mean he’s more vulnerable to a betrayal like this?
It’s funny you see that, because when I first came on Batman, my editor said…because I don’t use inner monologue, and that’s a classic Batman thing that almost every Batman writer has used. And my Batman, he never says more than four words. You’re very rarely in his head. To think that I’m doing a more emotionally open Batman, I kind of like that.
Yes, I do think that makes him vulnerable. And I think that’s what the letter in this issue is about. It’s about him opening himself to this vulnerability. And telling Selina something that’s true to the core of him and not accepting something that doesn’t seem like it’s true to her. By doing that, he’s opened himself up for an attack, and he knows it, but he thinks that’s the only way forward.
I think Bruce is a man who has, he’s very goal oriented, right? When he opened up to Gotham Girl in issue 6 and talked to her on a level…the only way he could save her was to share his story. So when he shares his story, he’s doing it to save someone. That’s always him, he can’t get away from that. Even with the psychological impulse we all have is to open up, his opening up has to be towards achieving that goal. And this moment, when he opens up to Catwoman, he’s trying to bring her back and be like “Look, you say you killed 237 people. That’s not who you are. I’ve known you for all of, in real time, for 75 years, and that’s not in your character. I just don’t believe you. I don’t believe you because you’re like me. So I’m just not going to accept that.” And that decision will drive the rest of the series forward.
You mentioned in a different interview that you view Bane as another mirror reflection of Batman himself. How does Bane’s existence as a dark mirror interact with Bruce and Catwoman’s relationship in your mind?
I see them as three sides of the same coin, but it’s a really fucked up coin, right? (laughs) The unifying theme around them is that they were both exposed to childhood tragedies. They were all orphaned as young people. And they all had to sort of rebuild themselves and become different people than the broken children they were. And how that rebuild happened shaped who they are.
With Batman, the rebuild happened through Alfred and through love. That’s why Batman’s a force of good in this world, because Alfred found a way to reconnect that boy to his parents. And that’s what the annual is about, right? It’s about the whole, Alfred raising the dog is a parallel of how Alfred did it with Bruce.
Catwoman had to do it by herself, she had to do it on her own. So she wasn’t like Bruce, she didn’t have an Alfred. She never could reconnect the way Bruce did, so she’s a little disconnected from the world. It’s why she doesn’t see laws as laws. She sort of sees through all the bullshit that the rest of us have to live with.
And Bane did it through anger, just getting as angry as he could. Being trapped there, being isolated, being utterly alone, the only world he had to fight against for his survival. And that’s why he’s just a little evil and withdrawn into himself. That’s why this whole thing starts with him. This isn’t Bane coming out and attacking Batman, this is Bane retreating into himself and being like “I want to be alone again.” And Batman is like “you can’t be alone because you’ve done something bad.” I see the three of them sort of rotating around each other. Like the good, the bad and the ugly. Selina’s not the ugly.
No. Probably Bruce in that case.
Is Saturn Girl in Arkham something you’re going to get to come back to, or is it something that you’re seeding for other people to use?
The plan right now is that I’m going to come back…yeah, Saturn Girl plays out in Arkham. I think around issue 20. Yeah, that builds up and builds into that central spine of the DCU.
Last question: Kite Man?
(laughs) Hell yeah! Kite Man is my tribute…I’m doing a lot of tributes. He’s my tribute to Stilt Man from Frank Miller’s Daredevil. I don’t know if you read that run, but that’s what Frank did with Stilt Man. Sort of used this like, background character. Although I actually have plans for Kite Man. I have something to sort of give him an emotional journey. It’s going to be a while from now, but eventually he’s going to pull the strings on some hard stuff. They’ll be kite strings, but…
(laughs) Listen, if he just keeps showing up once an arc and only saying his name, I’ll be a happy person.
I’ll see what I can do, man.
Batman #12 is out on Wednesday, December 7th. Den of Geek was provided with a review copy of the issue, and it is our strongest recommendation that you read it in print or on the largest screen possible: Mikel Janin drew the issue as a series of gorgeous, kinetic two-page spreads. It is one of the most visually interesting issues of Batman in years, and with a story that is as good.