DC Comics co-publishers reflect on Batman's 80th birthday
It’s a big week for Batman. On Wednesday, DC Comics published Detective Comics #1000, a landmark issue of the comic series that has run continuously since Batman first appeared in issue #27 way back in 1939. So in addition to the big issue number, DC is also celebrating this week as Batman’s 80th birthday.
The Dark Knight has been through a lot in his eight decades. One of the variant covers for Detective Comics #1000, by artist Nicola Scott, showcases several of his costume redesigns over the years. But this birthday is also about looking to the future and the next 80 years. EW spoke with DC Comics co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee about the Dark Knight’s past, present, and future. Check that out below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With all these big Batman anniversaries this week, how do you guys, as DC co-publishers, see your roles as shepherds of this character’s legacy in 2019?
JIM LEE: When a character has been around for 80 years and you’re publishing stories featuring that character every single week of the year, it’s about how do you keep the mythology fresh and vibrant while still recognizably Batman at the core? There’s a lot of leeway in that as well. We aren’t locked in amber, we allow our creators to add to the mythology. That’s ultimately our mission: Keep this mythology healthy, exciting, and on point.
DAN DIDIO: That’s why the final story in Detective Comics #1000 added a new character, the Arkham Knight. It wasn’t just about the reflection about how people perceive him over the years. We used this book, because we knew so many people were going to buy it, to launch ourselves in a new direction with a new character, and show that we’re ready to add to the lore.
LEE: That character was actually introduced in the Batman: Arkham Knight video game. Part of our mission also is to take elements that might be introduced in other media and figure out how to introduce them into publishing lore. That was a two-fer on that one: It was fun to tap into that fanbase of people who love those Arkham games, and do our take on that particular character.
Dan, you’ve been editing overseeing DC comics for much of my comic-reading life. Jim, you drew the iconic Batman story Hush, and you contributed another story to Detective Comics #1000 (written by Kevin Smith). How do you guys see your personal relationship to Batman?
LEE: There are two stories that can be told for me. The first is I was introduced to the English language through comic books. My family moved here when I was 5 years old. I didn’t speak any English, but I knew superheroes from cartoons I watched in Korea. When you read a comic book, you can understand it without knowing the language through the pictures, if the artist does their job properly. That inspired me and motivated me to learn English. My big introduction to America and American culture was through these fabulous comics. Jump forward many decades later, I’m getting to draw and contribute a small story to this landmark issue. No kid could dream of being in that position. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants that preceded me. I can’t think of a better job than where you sit down and draw these amazing characters. It’s certainly the funnest part of what I do for a living.
DIDIO: Coming to DC, one of the most intimidating things was working with these characters like Batman and Superman that I grew up with. I was first introduced to Batman through the Adam West TV show. You have fond memories of these characters and remember them a certain way, and the goal and the challenge is to always find ways to reinvent and reinterpret the character while staying true to who he is, so other people have that same experience that I did. Where I get most excited is where I see stories we’ve worked on while I was here being used as the basis for other media like video games, movies, and TV shows. That’s exciting because even just by editing and overseeing the product line, I was able to help steer the course of Batman so that he’s making that same impression on others that he did on me when I was younger.
This birthday comes a year after Superman’s big 80th birthday celebration with Action Comics #1000, but the interesting difference is that DC actually gets its company name from Detective Comics. How integral would you say Detective Comics, and Batman himself, are to DC as a whole?
DIDIO: I think he’s essential, he’s a staple of who we are. I got the story from my predecessor Paul Levitz about this time in the late ‘70s when Detective Comics was on the cusp of cancellation. They did everything they could to keep that comic going, just because they knew it was the namesake of the company. They knew this had to be one of the best books out there, something that people constantly gravitate towards.
LEE: I think the fact that Batman was introduced in Detective Comics #27, not #1, shows the evolution of comics from pulp adventures to the world of superheroes. From a historical point of view, it’s super significant. There’s a bit of history and Americana in the title itself.
Stories like Detective Comics #27 or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns are pretty famous. Do you guys have any personal favorite Batman comic stories that you think don’t get enough love?
DIDIO: My personal favorite Batman story does get a lot of love, but I always have to say it’s my personal favorite Batman story. It’s Batman: Night of the Reaper, from Batman #237 (1972). It’s this classic story that has this beautiful Neal Adams cover with Batman rushing to save Robin. It’s spectacular because it was a story that had a real sense of purpose. It shows Batman at his greatest strength, using his detective abilities. It didn’t feature any of the main villains, but it really showed who Batman was as a character. That resonated with me. I was always a big horror fan, and that was the story that brought me from horror comics into superhero comics.
LEE: I have a favorite era of Detective Comics. They were a larger size with multiple stories in them that featured other characters as well. It featured a Walt Simonson story about Manhunter. I consider it obscure but a lot of comic fans have very fond memories of that story. It was this new version of Manhunter, it’s a great Detective story that tangentially has Batman there, but that’s what I love about Detective is it also featured other great, grounded characters.
DIDIO: That’s Detective Comics #443, from the early ’70s. Manhunter was the backup in Detective, then they finally teamed up together and it was the final Manhunter story. [Walt] Simonson and [Archie] Goodwin.
As we’re celebrating 80 years of Batman, how do you guys think about the future of the character? Tom King’s current run on Batman has floated the idea of him getting married at some point, or at the very least accumulating this tightly knit family around him, and then there are other stories in Detective Comics #1000 that suggest maybe one day Bruce Wayne really will get old and stop being Batman. How are you guys looking ahead at this point?
DIDIO: We’re working very closely with the editorial teams on this one. We have so many books with Batman, he’s integral to all the stories we’re telling. In the mainstream DC continuity, the Arkham Knight is being introduced, and that’s a story that will play out in Detective Comics. In the Batman comic proper we’re going to be really dealing with the “City of Bane” story, where Bane takes over Gotham, and also exploring the mystery of the return of the Flashpoint Batman, who he is and how he affects Bruce Wayne’s life in a very dramatic way that will play out all the way through issue 100. But we also have a few key miniseries coming up to. We’re doing Batman: Last Knight with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. They’re coming back to tell their final Batman story. And then Sean Murphy is coming back for White Knight part two.
LEE: On a general level, if you look at the next 80 years of the character, the challenge is, as technology evolves and we become empowered through tech, how much of Batman’s mythology is upgraded? I think at the core he’s a character who doesn’t have superpowers, relies on skills and gadgets. But if he starts incorporating too much, maybe he starts to resemble other characters if he can fly on his own and shoot missiles from his arm and things like that. There’s always that challenge, how do we keep him at his core Batman as the world around him evolves and changes? That’s part of our special mission going forward, creating new mythology and new lore.