This article contains spoilers.
Writer Tom King is having a hell of a year. Not only did he write two of the best books of 2016—The Vision for Marvel and The Omega Men for DC—he’s now at the pinnacle of the comic book industry. He’s writing Batman.
King, who is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer, had the almost impossible task of following what many believe to be one of the greatest Batman runs of all-time. Of course I’m talking about Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. But there’s no doubt in my mind that King is the man for the job.
His Batman is more grounded than Snyder and Capullo’s, showing a deeper vulnerability than his predecessors’ horse-punching vigilante, but there are signs that some crazier things are coming. For one thing, Batman’s about to spend the next two months fighting kaiju in Gotham. And after that, he’s teaming up with a bunch of villains to break into the most heavily guarded prison in the world. King’s Batman is quickly shifting from a sharp, “grounded” drama about one man’s doubts about the future to an over-the-top adventure book.
I honestly can’t wait, in no small part due to the wonderful work David Finch and frequent collaborator Mikel Janin are putting out on the art side. Seriously, go look at Janin’s art in the Batman: Rebirth issue. His drawings of Calendar Man are absolutely haunting. Finch, of course, is already a Batman legend.
King has also introduced two new heroes to the Batman mythos: Gotham and Gotham Girl, two completely unexpected members of the Dark Knight’s fight against crime. Batman grows to admire the superheroic siblings, something you’d never imagine the most paranoid superhero in comics could do. But Gotham and Gotham Girl, with their Superman-like abilities, have inspired Batman. He’s even considering retirement…
Of course, the book’s called Batman for a reason, and King does a wonderful job of playing out that drama. I had a chance to chat with King over the phone about Batman #6, which is an epilogue issue to his first arc; Night of the Monster Men, the first Batman crossover of the Rebirth era; King’s love for old Batman villains; and much more. We even talked about Condiment King!
Here’s my interview with Tom King:
Den of Geek: A pretty big distinction between the start of your Batman run and past runs is that you’ve introduced two new heroes instead of a new villain. Why was it important to bring Gotham and Gotham Girl into the fold right at the beginning of your story?
Tom King: That’s a really good observation! I went back and did a lot of reading of first issues of Batman. It seemed like the general pattern was to introduce a villain as your huge contribution to the Bat universe. I didn’t want to do that, so I went the opposite way and I introduced a hero.
I think the easy thing would’ve been to do a hero who’s secretly a villain, but I wanted to do a hero who actually inspired Batman and who could continue to inspire him. I’m sort of exploring what makes Batman the hero Gotham deserves. Why don’t they have a Superman? Why don’t they have a Green Lantern? I wanted to introduce a character as good and as powerful as them into Gotham.
Do you ever see a day when Batman could leave the protection of Gotham City to another hero?
I can see that day. But I think a better way to put it is I think Batman sees that day. I think Batman thinks that his vow is attainable from inside his psyche. He’s like, “I will fix Gotham. Whether I have to do it or someone else has to do it, it’s going to get done.” But from the outside, from observing this character for 75 years, we can see that it’s a quixotic quest and he’ll never actually accomplish that. But I don’t think Batman believes that.
By the end of the first arc, Gotham Girl is pretty lost and Batman is trying to take her under his wing, which is a common theme when you look at past sidekicks like Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, etc. (Duke Thomas seems pretty well put together by comparison, actually.) So do you see Gotham Girl as an analog for this era’s new Robin?
I don’t think so. I mean, when I think of a Robin, I think of someone without powers. Gotham Girl has a significant power set. But unfortunately, she does sort of enter that parallel orphan world of all these Robins, and her parents were killed, and her brother got killed…So she has that pain that all Robins have that I think Batman helps heal and he heals for the city, which is sort of part of the answer to what makes him a great character.
But I didn’t set out to write another Robin story. I wanted to create a unique dynamic, something a little different, but maybe I settled into that Robin story. Maybe that naturally brings you back, like you try to escape that orbit but you’re pulled back into it. I don’t know.
You’ve also reintroduced some pretty old DC villains, such as Hugo Strange, Psycho-Pirate, and the Monster Men. What do you love so much about these baddies?
I love different things about each of them. Hugo Strange was a way to give a shout out to the original Batman #1 from Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Since I was doing a new Batman #1, I decided to take a villain from that issue and put him in my issue and I even used some of the original lines. I loved that idea.
Psycho-Pirate was a revelation to me as a child. I read Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was about this huge, Earth-shaking apocalyptic villain called the Anti-Monitor, who could do anything he wanted. But the weapon the Anti-Monitor used to accomplish his tasks was this weeny little guy with a mask. How utterly amazing! As a kid, I was like, “What? This little villain?” And that always fascinated me. When I had a chance to put in a big bad, I went with Psycho-Pirate.
The Monster Men actually came from Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando, James Tynion IV, and I sitting around a table. Sometimes we play games. One of the games we play is “What would be an amazing Batman image?” I think James and Mark [Doyle, Batman group editor] were like, “Picture a silhouette of Batman standing on a roof and a kaiju like Godzilla was walking by. What would Batman do?” And I was already using Hugo Strange and we had this idea to have huge monsters. Hugo Strange’s Monster Men just clicked together.
And the Monster Men have gone through a kaiju redesign. Was that in place from the start?
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, it really comes from the imagination of Steve Orlando. I’d like to take credit for it because it’s so cool, but he took the idea of Monster Men and ran with it and created these monsters, each of which has unique characteristics and is uniquely disgusting. The Monster Men crossover is so awesome.
What can fans expect from the Night of the Monster Men crossover?
You know, James is doing this huge story over at Detective Comics, which is probably my favorite back of [Rebirth]. Tim Seeley is doing my second favorite book, which is this huge story about Nightwing. Why are these all separate? All of these people know each other.
This is our first chance to say, “Look, we’re all living in the same universe. We’re all playing in the same sandbox. And all of these stories are going to merge.” And when they merge, it’s going to be chaos and sparks are going to fly. It’s our chance to show that each of our series impacts the other. I like that.
It’s also a chance to have Batman fight something he normally doesn’t fight, which is the whole point of writing Batman. People expect Batman to punch a robber in the face. I don’t think they expect him to a punch a 100-foot amoeba in the face, but that’s what Batman does.
That’s a wonderful image to think about.
Now that you’ve reinvented Hugo Strange’s early appearances with the Monster Men, are there other early Batman villains you’d like to use? Maybe the Monk?
Yes! I’m doing some deep diving for all this stuff. You’ll see in issue #6 that Kite Man makes an appearance. I guarrantee it’s the best Kite Man you’ve ever seen. Ivan Reis is a brilliant artist. I really liked what I wrote, but when I saw Ivan Reis’ art, I was like, “I really want a Kite Man toy!” And Colonel Blimp appears. I have some deep cuts in #6.
As we advance past Night of the Monster Men, you’re going to see Tweedledee and Tweedledum are in #9. Condiment King is in #9…
Did you just say Condiment King?
I’ve talked about this before, but Batman is forming his own Suicide Squad from Arkham Asylum, so it lets me dig a little deeper into some specific villains.
Is Condiment King in his Suicide Squad?!
I can’t say! You can look it up in the covers, but the actual reveals in the issues haven’t been said yet.
Anything else you can say about your next Batman story?
I’m a huge [John] Ostrander Suicide Squad fan. When I first signed on, when Geoff Johns first tried to convince me to do Batman, he was like, “What can we do to convince you?” My one ask was “I’ve always wanted to tell a Suicide Squad story. Can we do Batman and the Suicide Squad?” And he was like, “Yes, let’s do that.” Before I had any idea what my Batman was going to be, I wanted to tell this part. I just want to tell something that’s as good as what I think is the greatest superhero comic of all-time.
The story is called “I Am Suicide” because this is mission impossible. This is a mission Batman can’t win, and he knows it going in. That’s what makes this fun.
The real big thing is that Mikel Janin is coming to the Batman universe, and the pages are going to blow everyone’s mind. Everyone in the world is going to be buying Mikel Janin Batman statues and toys. The guy is setting a new standard.
Does this mean we’re going to see shirtless Bruce again?
If Mikel and I are together, shirts will be removed!
Tom King, thanks so much! Batman #6 is out now.