Exclusive Interview: Grant Morrison on Batman Times Three

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The next few months will see a whole colony of Batman comics written by Grant Morrison. Besides the ongoing Batman and Robin, whose most recent issue ended with one of those classic Morrison twists that are obvious only in retrospect, he’s writing the six-issue miniseries Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (which launches next week), as well as three issues of Batman dealing with the Batmen of the past, present and future. Morrison spoke with us this morning about his plans.

So Oberon Sexton is actually Leo Quintum, then!

(Laughs) Is that how it works?

Or maybe Xorn. Was the plan from the beginning for the last panel of Batman and Robin‘s first year to be that revelation?

Always, yeah. The Joker’s been kind of haunting the book since the beginning. The next issue’s even better, because it’s a different Joker than anything we’ve seen before. It’s a black mass for Batman, basically, from page one on.

You’ve mentioned that the next Batman and Robin storyline, “Batman and Robin Must Die,” will reflect the themes of “Batman R.I.P.”–can you say a little bit more about that?

I got the basic idea for this new version of the Joker, which I don’t want to say too much about, because I hope the next issue will be quite exciting to read, but it came from the notion that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce; this is “R.I.P.” as farce. But how do you make farce even scarier than tragedy? That was the idea that I built this story on. Each issue’s got the title of a different painting: the first one is “The Garden of Death,” the second one’s “The Triumph of Death,” and the third one, best of all, is “The Knight, Death and the Devil.” So, that said, it’s based on how far you can take the gothic feeling of “R.I.P.,” beyond ultraviolet, beyond humor… it’s everything about Batman going wrong and upside-down. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

You’re also writing three issues of Batman this summer–what’s going on there?

Well, #700 is my version of a traditional anniversary issue, so it’s a kind of done-in-one story. Tony Daniel is doing the Batman of the past, which is Bruce Wayne, Frank Quitely is doing Batman & Robin of the present, with Dick Grayson, and Andy Kubert is doing Batman of the future, which is Damian. And there’s also a final section with David Finch doing the Batman of the far future, right up to Batman 1,000,000. It’s three Batman, one impossible crime, and there’s a time-travel story involving Professor Nichols, who vanished from Batman around 1964, and it’s got the Neal Adams Batman and the Carmine Infantino Batman… it’s a mindbreaker of a story. It took me two months to write this monster. I hope it works. It’s a stand-alone celebration issue–it’s got a bunch of pin-ups in the back as well, I think.

Then #701 and #702 are me and Tony Daniel again, doing what happened to Batman between the end of “Batman R.I.P.” and Final Crisis, to basically bring everyone back up to speed before Bruce comes back. And also, just because I wanted to try something different–something I’ve really missed is the kind of literary strand, which has been lost in cinematic comics. One kind of comic I haven’t seen for a while is narration from Bruce that really shows his point of view, and takes us into his head in a way that we’ve never seen before.

You’ve been writing a book [Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero] about the history of superheroes; how does that relate to working on Batman? How do each of those projects feed into the other one?

What I’ve noticed in writing the book–and this has nothing to do with Batman, but just as an example–is that you spot patterns that you can start to impose or even create. There are lightning strikes all through comics history, and every time there’s a jump or a paradigm shift, there’s a lightning bolt involved, [as with] Hermes, and Ganesha, and all these different gods who are personified by lightning. So you get the Flash and the Silver Age, and you get Captain Marvel and the lightning bolt, and you get the first Marvel comic starting with “the sudden fury of a lightning bolt,” and Marvelman coming in with Alan Moore and the lightning bolt, stuff like that. It helped with conceptualizing Batman as a single entity–coordinating all of the legends of Batman. In one chapter, I’m looking at all of the Batman movies, but only in terms of the costumes and fighting styles, and how they evolve, and how ridiculous the early costumes are. You know, they couldn’t even stop a cigarette, never mind a bullet!

What’s your lightning bolt with Batman–is it the lightning at the beginning of “R.I.P.”?

I think Damian’s the bolt. I know where it’s all going to end up now; I’ve plotted it to the very end. Damian’s the thin end of the wedge that cracked open Batman. The idea that he could have a son and not lose his integrity and not be like somebody’s dad–that opened up a lot of possibilities. Hopefully Damian will persist in some way or another–I think he’s got a lot of potential. If that one lasts at all, I’d be quite happy.

I was going back and reading #666, the story about Damian in the future, and seeing how everything in your Batman comics since then seems to sprout out of that story.

Even the way the whole thing ends really goes back to the very first issue that I did–it was all kind of implicit there. Every so often, I was thinking I’d be leaving the book, and maybe leave it for someone else to pick up the threads, but I got into my head the idea that I would actually pick up every single goddamn thread in this absolutely perfect self-reflecting gem of a thing, and so I decided to stay on to do that.

You’ve already had Bruce overcoming madness, the devil and death; what else can he have left to overcome in The Return of Bruce Wayne?

I was taking some of the ridiculous stories from the ’50s, when Batman would be sent back to the Roman Empire, or to caveman days, and thinking: what would happen if you exposed them to the cruel radiation of the modern, logical, grounded approach of superhero comics? I wanted to put Batman in a place where he would suddenly be vulnerable again, like “R.I.P.” was about making him psychologically vulnerable.

In the first scene from Return of Bruce Wayne that went live today, you’ve got the rocket from the end of Final Crisis, which seemed like some sort of grand poetic device in that series, and now it’s a physical rocket stuck in the ground. Where do you go from there?

Everything’s about physicality now. I wanted to take anything that seemed potentially supernatural and magical and symbolic and suddenly be instantly grounded in the dirt, which is why there’s a rocket with a bunch of kids in the past. It was kind of a reaction against the idea that the stories are somehow difficult to decipher–I want to make sure you completely understand everything that’s happening.

Finally, a couple of people have mentioned that Peter Milligan “Dark Knight, Dark City” storyline as a possible source for Barbatos–is that where it came from?

That’s exactly where it came from, but to be honest I didn’t know it was Pete originally. I’ve been working of The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes: Batman by Michael Fleischer, and also the book by Bob Greenberger, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, plus a bunch of collections–I read the story about Barbatos, and I kind of evolved the whole thing in my head, along with stuff from “The Cult” that Jim Starlin did. Hopefully they all tie up, but it came mostly from the reference material.

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