“If you show a character’s birth and a character’s death, you own a version of that character,” James Tynion IV told me, when I asked him about his plans for the future of Batman.
It’s something he was told by Scott Snyder, the writer on Batman from 2011 until 2016, who may have heard it from Grant Morrison, the writer on Batman from (with a few gaps) 2006 to 2010. Both Morrison and Snyder gave their own takes on Batman’s end within the pages of their runs.
Tynion is applying that adage to his own work, as he prepares to leave a Batman book that he’s been writing for nearly 50 issues, on a twice-monthly schedule that’s lasted two years. But if he’s going to make his mark, he’ll have to show us the end of not just Batman, but the assorted group of allies, proteges and surrogate children he’s collected.
And that’s what Tynion plans to do with “Batmen: Eternal,” the final arc of his run on Detective Comics, which kicked off this week. He’s going to examine the end of the entire Bat-family. That’s somewhat ironic, considering that his run has also been all about recovering the past — echoing a lost era of Batman comics and repackaging its themes for a modern audience.
“A lot of people think that all my roots are in the ’90s,” he said at the beginning of our interview. “But it really is that mid-2000s era, right out of the Rucka/Brubaker era, leading into the whole family operating at the same time in Gotham.”
A perfect moment for a Bat-family
That unnamed era was a time that the various DC Comics titles set in Gotham — the Bat-books — had a very large cast of characters. Batman and Robin were there, of course. But there were also two former Robins, one tragically dead; an acting Batgirl, but also a former Batgirl turned hacker; and an up-and-coming young vigilante called Spoiler who would, a few years later, become the next Batgirl. Beyond them, there were a slew of tertiary costumed crime fighters with no powers who functioned as intermittent allies.
This wasn’t just Batman and Robin; it was a Bat-family, full of surrogate siblings, mentorships and complicated romances. And yet, this expansive cast didn’t feel bloated to a new reader — I know, because I was a new reader in that era. Tynion credits that to a clear demarcation between characters.
“You knew what everyone’s role was, each of the family members,” he told me. “You had Barbara [formerly Batgirl] in the Clock Tower, kind of really running the show. You had Bruce — he would use the other family members when he needed them, but he was still a more tortured solo character in that moment. Even [Robin] wasn’t really his partner anymore; Tim would come in on missions. But the family outside of Bruce was a really close-knit thing, and you saw how close they were when they interacted.”
The variety in Batman’s expanded cast only helped me, that new reader, get hooked on the books. There were some characters I didn’t relate to, others I enjoyed, and some that I immediately formed a deep connection to. The close relationships between my faves and the characters I just didn’t really get built bridges of empathy — and eventually I found that I loved everyone in this Bat-bar.
For Tynion, this was a perfect moment for the Bat-family, when Batman books were as much about the family members’ interactions with each other as their interaction with a juggernaut of an intellectual property like Batman. And it was something he wanted to bring back to modern stories.
But first, retcons
Tynion’s Detective Comics run is essentially a Batman-themed team book, with a Bat-cast to match. Batman, Batwoman, Red Robin (a new codename for the Robin of the Rucka/Brubaker era), Orphan (a new codename for the Batgirl of the same), Spoiler, Azrael, Batwing and a struggling-to-reform Clayface come together, following a master crime-fighting plan crafted by Red Robin’s analytical mind.
A large chunk of Tynion’s chosen lineup has something in common: Orphan, Spoiler and Azrael had all been completely erased by DC’s notorious 2011 line-wide reboot, the New 52, and Red Robin had had his origin story almost completely rewritten. Tynion wanted to restore them to glory.
“I think that there was this idea that was running around in the New 52 era — and I understand and I really like the heart of it — which was that there are lots of stories that have been done before, so if we have the opportunity [...] why tell old stories? Tell new stories. And I understand that,” Tynion said, “but I think some of those decisions were a little reactive.”
So his Detective Comics run was also an opportunity to right a wrong. Tynion was given the charge of crafting a proper death for Tim Drake/Red Robin, his favorite member of the Bat-family. But that death came with an opportunity — the mandate to later resurrect him, and restore his original origin story while doing so.
Tim’s origin, first told in 1990’s Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying, by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez and Jim Aparo, paints him as an unrepentant fan of Batman and Robin with a brilliant investigative mind and a big heart.
“The big [New 52 change] that I always had issue with was with Tim Drake; his origin was changed so that he did not successfully figure out who Batman and Robin were,” Tynion says. “That classic origin gives us everything about Tim’s character. It gives us how smart he is and it also gives us how much he cares, and how much of himself he sacrifices. Tim Drake did not want to be Robin. He became Robin because Dick Grayson [the first Robin] refused to put the Robin suit back on. And Tim knew deep in his heart that Batman requires a Robin, so he put it on himself. Understanding that is the heart of Tim, that sacrifice of himself for the greater good, for the best of Batman.”
The world’s greatest Detective
Tynion told me that he thinks the first time he brought up the idea of a Batman team book was during his work on 2014’s Batman Eternal, a yearlong weekly series that involved an expansive cast of local Gotham heroes and villains — and that brought Spoiler back to the DC setting for the first time since the New 52.
“It was a drumbeat that I kept hitting” throughout Batman Eternal and its spiritual sequel, 2015’s Batman and Robin Eternal, Tynion added. That was another weekly series that united an expansive cast of Gotham-related heroes — and one that reintroduced Orphan and Azrael to the modern DC canon with updated origin stories.
“The thing that I wanted to do with Batman Eternal and Batman and Robin Eternal was show that if you bring those characters together — yes, you might not be able to do a solo book for every single member of my Detective Comics team — but put them all together, and they have enough die-hard fans that they can become a powerhouse team.”
“That’s sort of what I wanted to prove,” he continued. “That you can bring the feel of that entire era to life in a single book.”
His idea had been to start the team off in a secondary Batman book, going so far as to propose resurrecting the Shadow of the Bat title, while DC was working out the initial lineup for its ship-righting, mea culpa-ing Rebirth relaunch. It was then that Tynion found out that he was going to get a bigger stage for the concept than he’d dreamed: Detective Comics, history’s first and longest-running Batman book. The comic that the DC in DC Comics stands for.
He rewrote his pitch, crafting a long game of character arcs, placing Red Robin and Batwoman in different ideological corners and setting up an unlikely friendship between Clayface and Orphan.
“A lot of the time, long-form stories can blow up in your face,” Tynion told me, “because all of a sudden they change the tracks on you. But this was something where I built this big tapestry, and thankfully, people responded well enough to it that we had something really incredible that we got to do.”
And for the culmination of all those threads, his final six-issue arc, he’s not pulling any punches.
The future of Batman is ‘Eternal’
As it stands now, the team is reeling. After being provoked into an unstoppable rage, Clayface was executed by Batwoman, combining the shock of betrayal with the breaking of Batman’s most cardinal rule. Red Robin has seen that in one future timeline, his attempt to bring a peaceful utopia to Gotham City only results in an inter-team conflict that boils out into the streets, perpetuating Gotham’s endless war. And most damningly, serious questions have been posed about Batman’s motivation when founding the team. Maybe it wasn’t about making Gotham a better place by uniting a group of fledgling heroes — maybe it was just about Batman trying to control Batwoman, one of his only living family members. And maybe it completely failed.
This is the situation in which Tynion is crafting an end for the entire Bat-family, starting with this week’s Detective Comics #976 and culminating in his final issue on the title, #981.
“This is really the arc where I’m going to come at them all the hardest,” he said. “I’m not going to go easy on them just because it’s my last few issues.”
Craft a beginning and an end to one moment in a never-ending timeline, and you put your stamp on that incarnation. In Grant Morrison’s Batman run, the legacy of Bruce Wayne falls on his son, Damian, a character Morrison half-created, half-rescued from the cutting room floor of abandoned comic book plot threads. Scott Snyder imagined a Bruce Wayne so selfless he would never allow his burden to fall to another. Instead, he’d clone himself and implant his memories in the clone — there would be a Batman for a thousand years, and longer.
Tynion can’t be specific about his end for the Batfamily, of course. But he was able to sketch out some of the questions he hopes to answer. Questions like “What happens to all these relationships over time? What does the legacy of Batman become?”
A large part of the arc will be about Tim Drake wrestling with the weight of the dystopian future he saw, and what lengths he should go to keep it from coming to pass. It’s a theme that Tynion admits is in a lot of his work.
“I feel it comes from the current moment in our world,” he told me, “which is just the fact that we really don’t know what the future holds. And the more you try to act based on a possible future and the more control you try to wield to get a result, the more you lose in the present.”
But it’s also a bit more personal than that. In “Batmen: Eternal,” Tim is going to struggle with living in the moment. That’s “something that frankly I have a lot of difficulty with,” Tynion admitted, “which is why I keep writing about it.”
As for his own future timeline, Tynion is going to be leaving Gotham City for a while, after six years on one Batman story or another. Although he was my only interview subject for the day, he made sure I knew that his run was as collaborative as any other comic project, mentioning the help of his editors, his co-writers on various issues and a group of artists more than a dozen strong who kept up the twice-monthly (twice as fast as usual) book on schedule for two years.
Tynion might be leaving Gotham, but he’s leaving after accomplishing the best goal of every Batman writer since Bill Finger and Bob Kane: making a lasting mark on a character who was here before they were, and will be here for decades afterward as well.