Under the Bat Signal

Four comic book creators formed the “Batman & The Heroes of Gotham” panel on Friday afternoon in the Hyatt International North. Moderator Jami Jones, artists Craig Rousseau, Alex Sinclair, and Babs Tarr, and writer Gail Simone discussed the continuing appeal of the Batman family.

Jones opened the panel by asking each of the creators to name the Bat books on which they initially worked. For Rousseau, it was Batman Beyond, based on the animated series. Sinclair first worked on Batman: Hush, while Tarr’s first Batman-related job was Batman, Inc. For Simone, it was Birds of Prey.

Asked what was rewarding about working on such dark characters, Rousseau cited the all-ages target ranges of the animated series and Batman Beyond. He thinks it’s cool to introduce younger readers to the Batman universe. Tarr thinks Batgirl skews younger and sees her as “the light in Batman’s den.”

Sinclair described Hush as fun because he didn’t just get his feet wet but “jumped into the pool with everyone.” Eight issues were planned before the first was published, so the series was conceived in detail. Because the creators were working in the company offices, they had plenty of opportunities to bounce ideas around. He enjoyed reading the All-Star Batman and Robin scripts.

Simone said she always breaks up the darkness with humor. For her, writing Birds of Prey was a joy from the beginning. They were their own agency, pursuing their own missions, not gossiping or having spats over guys. After DC blew up the clocktower that was their base, they recruited Lady Blackhawk and had a mobile base.

Jones asked Simone about her Catwoman/Tweety Bird crossover issue, which released last week. Simone said having Tweety and Sylvester mixed in with the story would be fun. She particularly enjoyed making Tweety so obnoxious and added that she found the pencils amazing and “so beautiful.”

When asked about the panel’s favorite non-bat characters, Tarr chose Sailor Moon and indicated that she had slipped Sailor Moon’s emblem into the Batcave a couple of times. Other artists picked up on that, so it’s now canon. Rousseau said he had no idea, adding that he enjoyed Batman ’66 because he put his kids into it. Sinclair cited Harley Quinn’s rooster, Mike, and her taxidermied talking beaver, Bernie. Simone cited Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s roommate.

Jones noted that Simone had written a lot of stories with Oracle, describing the character as one many people miss. Simone responded that she was eager to write the Nightwing/Oracle marriage story in DC’s Convergence and was happy when the company approved it. Describing the story as fun to write, she said that Nightwing and Oracle make sense as a comics couple and she had a great time working with the artist, Jan Duursema.

Discussing characters they would add to Gotham, possibly to take up the Batman mantle, the panelists chose a wide variety. Rousseau picked Plastic Man, Sinclair named Ambush Bug, Tarr chose Batgirl (who’s currently in Burnside, not Gotham), and Simone opted for Wonder Woman. Simone described Batgirl as the hope in Gotham, noting Batman is still damaged and Batgirl is more willing to help.

The moderator posed questions about how much research the panelists did for their particular books. Rousseau just sort of dove in and ran with what they’d given him, quipping, “Wow, this is a paycheck, man, this is weird,” in reaction to picking up the job. Sinclair said he did watercolor backgrounds for Hush, then digitally colored the characters, giving the book a more cinematic approach and a different texture. Tarr said she read mostly manga prior to her run on Batgirl and so read Daredevil to become more familiar with American comics. In contrast, Simone had been a fan of the Birds of Prey before working on their book. The most research she did was for her run on Wonder Woman.

When asked about shifting Barbara Gordon back into her batsuit, Simone replied that she felt a great deal of pressure to handle the move of taking her out of the chair very carefully. Barbara was one of the few disabled characters in comics, and that was something not to change lightly. She had been asked before about making that shift previously and had declined, but when the New 52 came along, the change was a done deal. The only question was whether Simone would write it. DC agreed that the book could deal with her recovery, not just be “comic book magic” to undo Barbara’s injuries and get her back in her costume. Barbara is now younger than she was as Oracle, so Simone sees the character as growing toward Oracle. Simone is proud that she fought for the story, because she’s had vets with PTSD and others with disabilities tell her that it’s helped them cope in some form.

The subject of Kate Kane arose, and Simone said Gotham needed a character who was not white, cisgender, and heterosexual. Kate is visually different, and is not a “typical” demographic for a comic character, which is great. Everyone is also excited to see what the CW does with Kate, as they’re bringing her to the Arrowverse for this season’s crossover event.

One fan wanted to know why the DC Universe comics, TV shows, and movies (both animated and live-action) aren’t consistent, and why the quality of the movies seem to have tapered off. Jones pointed out that the other media aren’t using the comics creators. Sinclair cited the Batman ’66 animated movie as an attempt at continuity across multiple aspects of the DCverse. Tarr said that the WB and DC Comics are separate entities, each doing what they think best, and there is little to no cross-communication between them to keep consistency, but she wishes they would try harder so it’s less intimidating for new readers. Simone said each creative group wants to put its own stamp on a concept and that characters need to grow. In her view, interpretations that are true to a character’s core will keep people wanting more. With some characters having 60 to 70 years of history, it’s easy to stretch too thin trying to keep every bit in there, as well.

Discussing whether Batman can or cannot be happy, Rousseau said the idea he can’t be is a valid take, but the Adam West Batman worked, as did the Batman in The Brave & The Bold. These show us there can be a lighter, even occasionally campy, side to Batman sometimes. Simone argued that while Batman has to be scary, there also must be some lightness so he doesn’t become a villain. To be the savior of a city, you have to have hope it can be saved, and he’s already close to going over the edge; without a bit of light inside it would probably topple him. Sinclair agreed. Jones added that Batman need not be an agent of pain, that he has to walk a very fine line to do what he does and not go insane.

The creators also discussed possible collaborations. Tarr said she would love to work with Tom King, although his writing and her art style are very different. Rousseau expressed a preference to work with someone with similar sensibilities, someone with whom he could bounce around ideas and produce stories he wants to read. He would like to work with Mark Waid on Batman. Sinclair chose Simone as a collaborator he would enjoy, and Simone said, “Anytime.” While noting that she has worked with many talented artists, Simone said collaborating with Bill Sienkiewicz would be an honor.

Authors of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.

Brynna Owens is a mild-mannered freelancer by day, but by night, she's working on joining the Justice League. Cutting her teeth on fanfic before she knew there was such a thing (Frodo/Sam based on the books, anyone??), she's been writing since she learned that you put words together and form sentences. Her calling as a Professional Fangirl started with the X-Files, where she honed her writing and editing skills via fanfic that she finally had a name for, and discovered the amazing world of online fandom via IRC and AOL chats. And now, having written that, she feels old! She currently resides just outside Seattle, is owned by a cat named Gandalf, aspires to save the world, and owns over 100 tubes of lipstick.