Batman at 75: DC Comics co-publisher discusses the Dark Knight's future
Batman Day is finally here, and as part of DC Comics’ year-long celebration of the Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary, comic-book stores everywhere are giving away a free special edition of Detective Comics #27, which features a retelling of the Dark Knight’s first appearance by Brad Meltzer.
In honor of the big day, EW spoke to DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee to discuss all things Batman: the character’s 75th anniversary, the most memorable Batman stories from the past 75 years , the new Batman titles coming in the fall and where he sees the Caped Crusader going in the next 75 years.
EW: We’re halfway through the year-long celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary and there’s still a ton of Batman-related things to come: Fox’s Gotham, which looks great from the trailer, is premiering in the fall, and DC is also launching some new titles. What are you looking forward to in the back half of the celebration?
Jim Lee: You’ve got Gotham, which like you said looks tremendous. There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement for that. You’ve got these great series launching, like Batgirl, which I think is in October. We have the release of the Batman ’66 Blu-ray set, which I have been waiting literally all my life for. I’ve got these crappy bootleg video tapes that I’ve kind of acquired over the years—mysteriously. To finally have those episodes, with the pristine quality and all of these episodes of my youth that I’ve never been able to catch up on and share with my family is going to be a great opportunity. I expect there to be a lot of viewing parties come this fall.
The cool thing about Batman is that it just doesn’t magically stop being Batman Day after this year. He’s our perennial favorite character. So I just think this more of a celebration of the success he’s had for the past 75 years and the dominance in the pop culture landscape. We fully expect it to continue and grow.
Why is Batman your favorite character? You’ve worked on many Batman-related projects in the past. What has brought you back to the character so often?
I think Batman is a character that is so well known, but in comic publishing history, he’s also been a character that’s always been open to interpretation. So you can do something where he’s very technology driven, and then you can do a much more stripped down version where he’s the hardcore detective and it’s all about grinding it out and doing the research and not relying on the computer as much. I think that’s one of the great things about comics: when you come onto a book, you’re not super limited in the stories that you can tell. I mean there are obviously parameters, but within those set of parameters people have a lot of freedom to tell very different takes on the characters. So the cool thing about Batman is that because he’s so well known, everyone wants to come in and show what their “version” of Batman is—and I put quotations around version because it’s all Batman at the end of the day.
It’s just a real fun creative challenge, and I think any creator that is developing a career in comics, it’s something that would be incomplete without a run on Batman and kind of establishing their mark on the character.
About three weeks ago, DC announced the new series Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy, which are very different from the rest of the New 52 line-up. What led to the decision to take the Batman world in this direction?
I think there are a couple things going on. Certainly when you relaunch a whole universe, something like the New 52, you’re gonna essentially create a bible that kind of guides and dictates the evolution and growth of the universe. We’re in year three of that, and certainly every story that’s created is done through the collaboration of an editor with the writer and the artist and the rest of the creative team. So I certainly think Mark Doyle coming on and becoming the Batman Group editor was a big part of that.
I think it’s also a recognition that our audience has evolved and we wanna make sure that we tell the stories that the audiences are craving. So we identified this need. We’re coming out with these different kinds of storylines, and, frankly, it’s exciting because we have a lot of Batman books, and I think it’s a disservice to the fans and to the character to have everything feel of the same tonality. I’m a big fan of Becky Cloonan, so I’m really looking forward to her work on Gotham Academy. I think it’s healthy for the business, and it’s an exciting time to be a Batman fan.
Is there a plan to to take other DC Comics characters and stories in similarly different directions?
I think you’re always going to have that with any new series or creative team change. Even looking at [Meredith and David Finch’s] Wonder Woman, that’s a very different take than what Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chang had done prior to that. So again, I think when creators get on a book, they really not only want to tell a great story, but also want to say something about the nature of the character or the mythos or the readership or the business, and do things that haven’t been done before. Certainly those titles that you mentioned will be forging new ground, and we’re excited to see the result of that incredible work.
In your opinion, what do Batman’s next 75 years look like? Where do you see the character going?
I think it will just be interesting to see how the notion of Batman changes as technology changes. I think the core essence of the mythology will remain intact—the origins, the motivations behind the character. But, as you’ve seen over the decades the kinds of toys [Batman uses]—from the Batmobile to the Batwing to the computers—have become increasingly more powerful, more futuristic and I’ve always felt Batman’s technology is the next-gen version of everything that exists today.
So it’ll be interesting to see: What does that mean in the future? Will Batman become more reliant on technology—to the point where [he has] a suit of armor like Iron Man—which he’s never really been before? Or how will our notion of privacy and what we consider to be a good force in society today impact our impression and our opinion of a character like Batman?
I think these are all things that the next generation of creators will be tackling, and it’ll be interesting to see how the scope of his operation changes. He’s a character that hasn’t shied away from just taking down a serial killer, or a mugger or your common street thug. Other superheroes have had to up the stakes. It’s no longer about a supervillain trying to rob a bank for a million dollars, right? So it will be interesting to see how Batman, because it’s rooted in reality and the world around us, will change or not change in relationship to what all these other superheroes and supervillains are doing in the world.