INTERVIEW: Brian Michael Bendis & Nick Derington—Living Vicariously Through Batman
Brian Michael Bendis is a creator whom I’ve admired for over a decade back when I was still a pimply-faced young nerd on his Jinxworld message board getting back into comics. Now that I’m an older nerd (who only occasionally breaks out from time to time) I have a much greater appreciation of his work now.
So when it was announced that after nearly two decades at Marvel he would be leaving for DC Comics, I too like so many others was completely thrown for a loop. Given his work writing noir characters like Daredevil, most readers expected Bendis to write Batman sooner rather than later. Sure enough, it was eventually announced that as part of DC’s Walmart exclusive comic book line initiative Bendis would be teaming up with artist Nick Derington, fresh off his work on Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol Young Animal imprint book, for a 12-part story entitled “Universe” beginning in Batman Giant #3.
During New York Comic Con, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down with both Bendis and Derington and over the course of our conversation, this Dynamic Duo teased some of the unexpected corners of the vast DC Universe landscape you can expect the Dark Knight to travel over the course of this year-long storyline. Plus, learn Bendis’ favorite line of dialogue he’s written at DC all year, the Portland comic creator vortex, and more including the story’s big bad villain reveal!
Dar: Let’s start with the obvious question, how did this Walmart Batman project come about?
Brian Michael Bendis: When I first came to DC, I think they were bracing for me to want some sort of Batman project so when I said Superman it kind of threw them. Actually I know that for a fact. For years, and you saw it on the [Jinxworld Message] Board, people would go, “When you go to DC, do Batman.” It was like predestined that I would Batman.
Nick Derington: You got cornered as the “crime guy.”
Bendis: Yeah, but over the years I wondered, “Would I do Batman?” Me and Alex [Maleev] would talk about it. So when I was faced with it I realized, “Oh my God, I’m actually scared of it. I’m actually scared of Batman.” And that’s not where I live. So it took a little out of the process and I realized that so many people had made their greatest art with Batman. Not just a couple of people. Like a lot of people had made REAL art out of Batman. It’s intimidating. It’s God damn intimidating.
So I thought about it for awhile and thought about what we could do And then the Walmart gig came and the shape and form of it immediately removes you from any other preconceived idea of Batman. Nobody has ever told a Batman story in 12 chapters and 12 issues. It immediately formats itself into a different kind of story.
It just so happens in my giant reread of things I opened up a book and immediately there’s a Frank Miller quote. I think it was an All-Star Batman and Robin Absolute Edition. He said, “I learned early on of all the things in pop culture, the one thing you can throw anything at and it’s still the thing that it was is Batman.” Last year we had LEGO Batman and the Teen Titans Go! trailer but it’s still Batman. And the audience never goes, “That’s not Batman!” That is so freeing to do your thing. You do you.
I dove into this with the opportunity that what I need from Batman is to travel around the DC Universe. It’s a new home for me. I’ve moved to a new town and I need to go look around.
Derington: Live vicariously through Batman.
Bendis: Yeah, Batman is going to take us around. I’m going to see what we like to draw, what we like to write—
Derington: It forces you into research too.
Bendis: Yeah! So we have a mystery that will genuinely take us all over the DC Universe, to the edge and back. That gives an opportunity for Nick who had never drawn anything in the DC Universe, he also gets to travel along.
Dar: I guess Nick’s Doom Patrol isn’t technically part of the DC Universe?
Bendis: Well, not the mainstream DC Universe. He came to me, “I’d never drawn superheroes like Green Arrow.” There’s a lot of stuff coming that he’s never drawn before.
Derington: Green Lantern, Gorilla City.
Bendis: He drew me a Batman in a Hawkman outfit, so we’re going to Thanagar!
Dar: Hearing your description, I’m very much reminded of what the people behind the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon did by taking Batman on these crazy big adventures in the weirdest parts of the DC Universe.
Bendis: This is a VERY Brave and the Bold project. It didn’t need to be because everywhere he goes there’s somebody to visit. So this visit or conversation becomes a team-up. Green Arrow teams up. Green Lantern teams up. Jonah Hex is showing up. It does feel that way. I mention it in the scripts, “I’m ‘Brave and Bolding!’”
Dar: Any new characters being introduced
Bendis: Yes, in the next issue that comes out, it’s the first appearance of Jinny Hex who’s the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Jonah Hex. We announced her as one of the new members of Young Justice that’s coming out in January. The first appearance of her will actually be in the Walmart Batman books.
Derington: Have you got the family tree figured out yet?
Bendis: I do! I said I just need the linchpin where she could physically exist and Dan [DiDio] sent me a panel that Jonah Hex had a baby and I go, “Lineage!”
Dar: The first chapter featured a great sequence that began entirely through Batman’s POV. Was that Nick’s idea or always in the script?
Bendis: No, it was in the script, but I knew he could pull it off. The reason it was in the script was that my most visceral Batman experience in the last couple of years has been Batman VR. I have the Playstation VR Batman and all my friends have played it. [Matt] Fraction has played it. Nick, you did too, right?
Derington: No, I haven’t!
Bendis: What?! Then I’ll make that happen! You get to be Batman.
Derington: I’m busy drawing some comics right now.
Bendis: I thought that for a lot of other people the visual experience of being Batman would be a very inviting one for the new readers. That imaginary 10–11 year old kid or 30 year old person who’s going to pick up a Batman book who may have experienced the POV of Batman through video games. I want to give them something to make them comfortable in the DC Universe and welcome [them] to comics.
Dar: So Nick, since Brian just invited you to play the Batman VR, I assume you also live in Portland?
Derington: I just moved.
Bendis: It does seem like there’s a vortex but I think my wife is the vortex.
[Nick’s] Batman is so different from all the other Batmans that are out there right now that it will stand out. There’s obviously something very appealing and reader friendly about his work and engaging to someone who doesn’t have a comic book education.
Derington: That’s a real big part of what I try to achieve with my stuff. It was a big part of Doom Patrol and why I took it on. The idea of bringing comics to people who may have never picked up a comic in their life which is what Gerard Way brought to that project. I want to draw this in a way that’s reader friendly so if you’ve never picked up a comic before you won’t be confused. But you do it in a way that you also won’t be bored which is a real fine line. Clarity without being simple. I felt that same pressure on this one too. This is going to be some kid’s comic they ever picked up and I feel responsible for making it not too jumbly or incoherent—a nice flow, lines of action, clarity and those kinds of things.
Dar: As new reader friendly as “Universe” is, how much does it line up with not only Tom King’s Batman but DC Comics continuity in general?
Bendis: The idea of this is this is in continuity. What you want to do is compliment each other’s work and not repeat it or step over each other’s work. There are four different writers doing completely different Batman work and it’s all unique and valid.
There have been other times, like I remember at Marvel there was a lot of Spider-Man stuff going on that you had to navigate and make sure yours was special. With this [Batman] one at this particular time, what Tom’s doing in Batman or what’s going on in Detective Comics is so unique and different that no else needs to be doing what Tom’s doing.
Derington: That’s also fun too that you have DC staff as research partner. “I want do do this thing. Can I?” We have Green Lantern coming up and that’s going to be Grant [Morrison]’s baby very soon. Do you have to check in with that stuff at all?
Bendis: No, just to make sure Green Lantern is alive this month.
It’s literally twenty minutes of Hal’s life that we’re taking. He could literally do this between panels of Grant’s thing and not interrupt an iota. Literally my favorite line of dialogue that I’ve written at DC all year is when Green Lantern says to Batman, “You’ve never been to my house.”
By the way [Nick], that conversation that you read that no one else has? There was a version that was so long that it could have been a graphic novel of Green Lantern just devastated when he wonders if he’s a better friend to Batman that Batman is to him.
Dar: That’s really funny to hear because you’ve been playing with Green Lantern’s friendship with Superman in those books.
Bendis: Green Lantern doesn’t have a normal relationship with anybody. And I got to the point where he just realizes it. He goes, “You’ve never been to my house!” And Batman goes, “I’ll come to your house.”
Dar: Thus far, you’ve mentioned Green Lantern, Gorilla City, Hawkworld. Is there anything else you can tease readers?
Bendis: Dinosaur Island, Deathstroke—that was for Nick! The big villain is a reveal coming but it’s Vandal Savage completely redesigned by Nick.
Dar: I guess you can’t say how how it ties-in with what Scott Snyder did in the first issue of Justice League?
Bendis: Don’t ask me continuity questions but Vandal Savage is in the book with a very intense agenda.
Dar: I make it no secret that I’m an unabashed fan of Dwayne McDuffie who wrote a lot of Vandal Savage episodes for the Justice League animated series, with the great Phil Morris voicing the character, which happened to my introduction to Savage and his origin.
Bendis: I will tell you that that is a big part of the DNA in our Vandal Savage. In my research of Vandal Savage, my favorite was that too. You just kind of empowered me a little bit because the biggest chance I’m taking on Vandal Savage isn’t so much the redesign but it’s that I think that the cartoon version found such an iconic voice for him and I leaned on that kind of heavy. But I’m glad you like it too because it makes me feel it’s a good road to go down.
Batman Giant #3 is available at Walmart stores now and Batman Giant #4 comes out 10/21
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