This interview contains Detective Comics spoilers.
Like his beloved characters, veteran comic book writer James Tynion IV set out on a mission when he became the new writer on Detective Comics, a legendary series whose standing as a leading ongoing has waned over the years. Detective Comics, which featured the first appearance of Batman, was once one of DC’s flagship books (along with Superman’s Action Comics) until Batman’s own solo book began to gain popularity and overshadow the original Batbook. At one point, DC even considered cancelling the iconic series altogether.
While there have been great Detective Comics runs since Batman first fought the Chemical Syndicate – Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla’s “Black Mirror” storyline comes to mind – has never quite been able to step out of the main Batbook’s shadow. For many comic book fans, Detective Comics is just sort of a companion piece to Batman, not a vital part of the mythos as much as just an extra helping of the Caped Crusader. Tynion IV, along with artist Eddy Barrows, wants to change that. He doesn’t want his run to just be known as “the other Batbook.”
How’s Tynion IV doing things differently? He’s turned Detective Comics into a team book starring many of the members of Batman’s extended family of superheroes, such as Red Robin, Spoiler, Cassandra Cain, Azrael, Batwoman, Batwing, Harper Row, and even one of his quirkiest villains, Clayface. Together, these characters team up to defeat the threats that are too big for just one hero.
I talked to Tynion IV and Barrows at NYCC ’16 about why these characters work so well together, what’s next for them, and why Clayface deserves a chance to be a good guy.
Note: Eddy Barrows useda translator to answer questions. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
James, you are one of the writers who brought Cassandra Kane and Stephanie Brown back into the New 52 continuity, and now they are in Detective Comics. I didn’t grow up reading comics in the 90s, but have quickly grown to love these two heroes. What makes these characters so important to you?
First off, I am thrilled to hear that I am doing my job. I want to show people exactly why I love these characters and where they fit in the DC mythos. I want you to feel everything they feel.
Now we are seeing them sort of incorporated in this group, and in the next arc, “Victim Syndicate,” are going to have a very big Spoiler threat through that story. Stephanie Brown is up front and center as they deal with the ramifications of everything that has happened with Tim.
Then we are going to see, in the third arc, Cassandra Kane step up front and center as they deal with the larger threat. Like going back to some of the ideas from our first story arc.
I love these characters, they were the Bat family for me. This is the Bat family that I fell in love with in the late 90s and early 2000s when I really got into the Batman mythos. The fact that I am getting the chance to really make a new generation of readers fall in love with them means the world to me.
Now that you mentioned Spoiler, aside from losing Red Robin, she had to deal with her parents trying to kill her and a lot of other terrible stuff. But what I like about your rendition of her, and I don’t know if this goes back to the 90s, she has always kept things on the bright side. I think that is really cool. How do you get from all these really terrible things happening to her to keeping thing lighthearted and upbeat?
Tynion IV: It’s hard and we are going to see exactly how hard that is in the next arc. Because the other thing with her is that she didn’t come to this through the same way as all the other Bat family did. She wasn’t chosen by Batman to become a trainee, she started on the run from her father who was trying to kill her. That is a different starting point. Through her history, she has also been one of the characters most willing to tell Batman exactly what she thinks, even if she completely disagrees with him. She is not entirely sure that Batman is a good thing in Gotham City. She wants to do what’s right, and she is more willing than the rest of the members of the Bat family to question Batman, and that is going to be a big threat in the second arc, the “Victim Syndicate.”
Eddy, I know you’ve done Batman work in the past, but this is the first time you are playing with the whole Bat family. What has it been like playing with all of these characters?
Barrows: First of all, it’s a pleasure for me. I’ve [wanted] to draw Batman for the past fourteen years. So it’s really great. The biggest challenge is getting to know characters that I didn’t know and make them interact. For an artist, it is a dream come true.
Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Barrows: Clayface! [Laughs] I like Clay Face!
It’s really interesting what you guys are doing with Clay Face, of all the villains you could have chosen, you chose Clay Face, which is out of left field but makes a lot of sense with what you guys are doing. Why did you guys choose to redeem him?
Tynion IV: Honestly, the heart of that decision was twofold. One answer is that Batman as a character very intimately knows what it is like to go through something horrifying that destroys your life and the way that kind of trauma can lead to the world expecting you to become some type of monster or fall apart in a way, and that expectation can lead you to fall apart. Clayface, once the accident happened that transformed him into Clayface, the world saw him as a monster so he played the part that was laid out for him. Batman understands that. Batman coming to him and saying, “I see you can be a good person. You did not want to become a villain or anything. It was all happenstance.” Giving him the chance to go back and overcome all of the dark things he has done. That is going to be really powerful.
The other answer is that Clayface looks really cool. Clayface is just one of the more interesting characters. I remember when we started talking we were like, “What is the character with the most interesting silhouette for the cover?” Because it is just a bunch of ninjas in street clothes and capes and cowls. And then you have this big hulking figure behind them. I think Eddy is drawing the definitive Clayface right now.
I also love that he is so funny. He is like the comedic foil for all of them. James, I know Red Robin is your favorite character on the book, so why did you choose to put him through the wringer this arc and “kill him off?”
Tynion IV: For one, he is playing into the larger story that is going to cross all of the DC line and I can’t talk much about that. But once I sat down with Geoff [Johns] and I knew the plans for him, instead of just pushing him off to the side I wanted to pull him front and center into this story. I wanted to remind everyone how important Tim Drake was to Bruce and how important he is to Gotham and what he represents, which is a more optimistic viewpoint on everything Batman and what that means. It is really establishing him as the heart of Gotham City and then ripping that heart out.
We are going to go to some emotionally dark places in “Victims Syndicate.” Like in the aftermath of that, and that is going to be some good stuff.
I am so thrilled that we were able to pull that moment off, and I can still see every page of it in my head. Every page of the death scene is just, it’s an iconic Tim Drake moment. Not just because of what is happening but factually, these are iconic images. Batman with the bow staff, there at the end is going to be the iconic image of this scene forever.
Eddy, in terms of the art, do you have a process when it comes to killing off such an iconic character?
Barrows: I killed a bunch already so… It is just another one, but this time it was one I like.
What was it like drawing that big drone scene. It was one of the biggest action scenes in the current run…
Barrows: I drew a bunch of different layouts until I was satisfied with the pose and everything and the drama of the scene, which was really important for the story. I liked one version and the editor liked the other, so I went with the editor’s choice, but it was cool in the end.
Tynion IV: I may have bought that page.
In your next arc, you’re reintroducing Batwing, Harper Row, and Jean-Paul Valley. Can you talk about what you are doing with these characters?
Well, we’ve already seen Azrael. Azrael is in the first issue of the series and we have seen how Leslie Tompkins was sort of taking care of him after he was almost killed by the Colony. So we will be seeing that he is actually working at the Leslie Tompkins free clinic in Gotham, which is also where Harper Row volunteers every day after school. So we will enter that world. I sort of imagine the Tompkins clinic will be sort of like a secondary location in this book.
Leslie is also a great character because she has known Bruce since he was a little kid and she can go up to him and be like, ”Bruce, it is crazy what you are doing. You should stop doing this. Get some psychiatric help and stop putting on a Batman costume and fighting people.” Putting her back in that role, I am very excited by [that].
Those characters are really nice because it shows – especially with Harper, who was up front and center as a hero for a while and is now trying to find other paths to be a hero. That’s a character that does not exist in Gotham right now, an ex-superhero, and that came from being in a room with Geoff and talking about the characters I wanted to do. I admit, right at the beginning I wanted Bluebird to be a part of it and [Geoff] pointed out a character like Bluebird, at least on this team, would be doubling up on characters because her tech [skills] are similar to Tim and her personality is a bit similar to Steph. But then I thought, “What if we retire her at the end of Batman and Robin Eternal?” She has a voice and can have conversations with these characters that no other character can have. She can exist in the book. She is part of the supporting cast not part of the main cast, but she can have a unique voice in Gotham. It is the characters that have a unique iconic voice that really stick around.
Azrael is a character that we’ll be seeing built up in the background, and we will definitely be putting him back in the suit because the suit is really cool. I am very excited to really work and develop that character in current continuity.
Honestly, the relationship I am most excited to write in the next year is the Jean-Paul Valley/ Luke Fox Batwing relationship because Luke is a very ego-first character. He was an MMA fighter who turned down tech jobs and then decided to become a superhero. He is caught up in how cool all of it is, and he is also this tech genius. He is the coolest guy that walks into the room. And Jean-Paul Valley is someone whose entire ego [was] stripped away from him, and he’s had to build himself back up through humility. We are going to be able to see the balance between ego and humility.
James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows, thanks so much! Detective Comics #943 is on sale today!