With the second issue of DC Comics' Batman and Robin released today, we asked writer Grant Morrison why we need a new Batman, how sane Bruce Wayne really was, and whether Batman is actually sci-fi or not after all.
There's something iconic about the title "Batman and Robin" (as well as the idea of Batman as this well-adjusted, not-entirely-fucked-up character) - With getting a new #1 and new series to continue the story you've been telling since 2006, is this your attempt to open up the character to another audience who either have never been interested in the character, or who may have strayed away as Bruce Wayne became more and more grim?
I hadn't thought of it in those terms. The 'grim 'n' gritty', noir approach to Batman has been fairly successful over the last 25 years, so I don't know if I ever imagined it keeping readers away. It's an interesting thought. If the style of Batman and Robin opens the door for new or returning readers, I'd be very happy.
You've talked before about this title being a mix of the '60s Adam West TV show and David Lynch, with Chris Cunningham's peculiar brand of wrongness thrown in as well... This seems to continue to an extent both the pop-art imagery of early in your Batman run with Andy Kubert, and the weird psychological darkness of Batman RIP - Audiences are used to seeing a screwed-up Batman thanks to things like The Dark Knight, but the comedy/brightness that you bring to the character has kind of been shied away from since, perhaps, Bob Haney and Adam West. Is it important to you that the character has that balance?
Certainly. The Bruce Wayne voice I hear in my head when I'm writing is sardonic, upper-class, absolutely self-assured and hyper-intelligent. He's seen it all, he's been desensitized to a lot of stuff the rest of us might find shocking and I've always imagined him as a man with a very refined, jet-black sense of humour.
There have been other attempts to do a 'brighter' Batman, of course. Immediately after Frank Miller reinvented the wheel with The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis launched a brilliant run of stories which owed more to Adam West than to Frank Miller. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's Batman from the Animated Series was portrayed as a tough but psychologically-healthy individual and Miller and Lee's All Star Batman and Robin has plenty of room for comedy, so these aspects of the character have never truly gone away and form an intrinsic part of the appeal of Batman for many people. The Batman TV series was immensely popular after all and retains a certain undeniable charm even today.
I think any good, long-running thoroughly-developed fictional character will naturally come to have many faces and aspects. Batman's had 70 years to build up quite a complex and layered 'personality'.
Of course, one of my all-time favourite Batman panels was written by Haney and drawn by Jim Aparo and shows Batman strolling down the sunlit streets of Gotham, checking out the mini-skirted girls and accompanied by the line to end all lines: 'Yes, Batman digs this day!'
I'm not saying that's the Batman we want to see on every page, but I love that he might have this aspect to his character. I love the notion of a Batman who enjoys a peaceful stroll down the summer sidewalks of the city he keeps safe. There's something very human about that and it makes him much more relatable and rounded. I can certainly see the Dick Grayson Batman digging this day on a more regular basis!
To my mind, you've firmly put the sci-fi back into Batman, after years of his comics becoming more and more... mundane isn't the right word, but more of a hardcore crime book. Then you come along and suddenly there are crazy psychosomatic drug hallucinations of aliens and then Bruce Wayne gets zapped back in time by an evil god. Is this just trying to bring back all the pre-Silver Age ideas from the character's history that've been lost, or do you feel as if Batman works better as a concept when the weirdness of his rogues gallery gets amped up?
Putting Batman up against ordinary street criminals or organized gang bosses is fine but it's a bit one-sided in Batman's favour, given his training. I tend to assume that Batman goes out every single night as Gotham's Guardian and stops dozens of robberies, muggings, suicides or whatever all the time. Those 'ordinary', 'mundane' crimes are his bread and butter but they don't really challenge him and they don't necessarily make for compelling stories, so I prefer to focus on the wilder, weirder nights of his career and I like to see him facing devilishly brilliant, flamboyant psychos who can actually put him under pressure and take him to his limits. Watching a billionaire Batman disarm poorly-trained, poverty-stricken muggers effortlessly or beating up skinny junkies might be fun for a scene or two but does tend to raise thorny issues of class and privilege that the basic adventure hero concept is not necessarily equipped to deal with adequately.
As for the sci-fi elements, there's actually very little genuine sci-fi in the Batman title or in Batman and Robin. Batman RIP was certainly an attempt to recuperate those elements of Batman's long and contradictory history which no longer fit the profile of the Grim Avenger (although it's nice to see a lot of that material resurfacing in the Brave and The Bold cartoon, which features one of the most enjoyable takes on the character I've seen for a long time).
I don't have many comics in my tattered, bath-damaged 'collection' that date before 1972 when I became a 'fan' and a collector. My era of comics is the 'dark age' of the 70s and 80s, not the so-called 'silver age', so contrary to popular belief, I don't have any particular emotional attachment to 60s comics, other than John Broome's Flash stories which enchanted me as a small child.
I grew up with Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil, Len Wein, Engelhart, Starlin, Gerber, McGregor so my comic-writing style can be traced back to some combination of O'Neil' 'relevance' and Starlin 'cosmic'. Silver age, not so much.
Something that struck me about Batman RIP was the meta-deconstruction of the Batman mythos - When Jezebel Jet told Bruce Wayne that it wasn't healthy to be Batman, she may have been evil and trying to undermine his mission, but was she really completely wrong? With a new (and probably temporary) Batman who's going to not have those demons, are you trying to show how a healthier Bruce Wayne would do things?
I never really subscribed to the idea that Bruce was insane or unhealthy. As I've said before, Bruce Wayne's physical and psychological training regimes (including advanced meditation techniques) would tend to encourage a fairly balanced and healthy personality. Bruce Wayne would have gone mad if he HADN'T dressed as a bat and found a startling way to channel the grief, guilt and helplessness he felt after the death of his parents. Without Batman, Bruce would be truly screwed-up but with Batman he becomes mythic, more than human and genuinely useful to his community. I believe he began to slay his demons the moment he became a demon.
I also wanted to show a healthier Gotham City too. That whole Son-of-Sam, Rorschach-narration - 'This city is an open sewer where the rats feed on the broken dreams and filth of umm...other rats...where sneering, gnawing urban predators...blah blah...' - has become clichéd, tired and unconvincing. If Gotham was so bloody awful, no-one normal would live there and there'd be no-one to protect from criminals. If Gotham really was an open sewer of crime and corruption, every story set there would serve to demonstrate the complete and utter failure of Batman's mission, which isn't really the message we want to send, is it? You've got Batman and all his allies as well as Commissioner Gordon and the city still exudes a vile miasma of darkness and death? I can't buy that. It's simply not realistic and flies in the face of in-story logic (and you know I like my comics realistic!) so my artists and I have taken a different tack and we want to show the cool, vibrant side of Gotham, the energy and excitement that would draw people to live and visit there.
Gotham needs as many faces as Batman - it should be the loudest, sexiest, jazziest city on Earth. It has the best restaurants, the best theaters, the best art, the best criminals, the best crimefighters etc etc. People put up with the weird crime for the sheer buzz.
Why does Damian want to be Robin, if he can't show off to his dad?
Ultimately, Damian wants to be Batman. Being Robin is a step along the way.
Are you going to reference Dick Grayson's previous attempt to be Batman in the early '90s at any point in Batman and Robin?
Probably. I've tried to keep Dick Grayson's entire character history in mind, much as I did with Bruce Wayne in the earlier volumes of the story. Issue 2 has a reference to Grayson's time as a beat cop in the Bludhaven PD and the Bat-Bunker has a few trophies of his Nightwing adventures.
You've talked before about how the first year of the series works out, with artist Frank Quitely drawing the first and last three issues. What happens after the first year of the book? Are you planning on sticking around with Batman as a character, or will you be finished with Gotham for awhile once #13 rolls around?
That was the original plan but I can't seem to stop coming up with ideas for Batman, so we'll see how it goes.
Okay, last one. How would you sell Batman and Robin to people who haven't picked up a Batman comic in years?
Batman is dead. Robin is now Batman and Batman's evil son is now Robin. Everything is new again. If you ever liked Batman and don't want to see how that dynamic plays out, then may the Lord have mercy on your dry and shriveled worthless husk of a 'soul'! G'wan, g'wan, g'wan and buy Batman and Robin before the whole world starts laughing at you for missing out! Missing this is like missing your own birthday!
Batman and Robin #2 is in comic stores now.