When Grant Morrison kicked off his run on DC's "Batman & Robin" last year, it would seem to any outside observer that the acclaimed author had written himself a trap that would foil even the greatest literary escape artist.
Bruce Wayne was missing in action (and possibly deceased) after Morrison's "Batman R.I.P." story arc. The cape and cowl had been adopted by Dick Grayson, his fun-loving former sidekick and a far cry from the grim-and-gritty style of his mentor. In the middle of it all was Bruce Wayne's recently discovered son, Damian, a mean-spirited, egotistical brat with lethal fighting skills and a fanbase that wasn't quite sold on this new addition to the Bat-family.
But somehow Morrison and artist Frank Quitely made it work. In fact, they did better than making it work — they crafted a brand new duo that learned on the job what it meant to be one of the famous pairings in comics history, and seemed to enjoy their adventures nearly as much as readers. In fact, the creative team continues to take a rare opportunity to reinvent Gotham's protectors from the ground up and make "Batman & Robin" one of the best new series on shelves.
This week saw the collection of the series' first six issues released in deluxe hardcover format with "Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn," and I had the chance to speak with Morrison about the series.
MTV NEWS: It's not often we get to see a brand new Batman and Robin. What was going through your head when you were offered this sort of clean-slate take on one of the most well-known duos in comics?
GRANT MORRISON: It doesn't happen often, and it was great to be given the chance. It's possibly the only chance in this generation to do something quite this radical. I've been working on the Bruce Wayne version of Batman, but I thought I'd come to the end of my storyline with "R.I.P." — and then this idea came of putting these two characters together. It's the opposite of the traditional Batman and Robin, because in this case, Batman is a little more happy-go-lucky, a bit more of a lighthearted, upbeat guy, and Robin's a little bad-ass, scowling monster. We kind of reversed the dynamic, which makes it quite interesting.
I didn't expect to be doing it, but once I got into it, it became so much fun. It's really fresh, because these two characters can get involved in stories that might not suit Bruce Wayne, or had a lighter touch, a stranger touch, or some psychedelia.
MTV: What do you think makes these two work as Batman and Robin when they might not have been as well-received individually? What made this duo work for you, and in turn, for the series?
MORRISON: It was mostly the fact that they worked so well as a team. Dick Grayson makes a great Batman because he's been developed over the years as this consummate superhero. He was Batman's original partner, so he's been trained by the best. So we kind of knew what he would be like, but to throw Damian into the mix and suddenly have Batman's evil 10-year-old son as the new Robin really created the dynamic that makes the bit work.
That's what did it for me — once those two characters got together, the sparks started to fly. It gave it a real different flavor from any previous Batman and Robin.
MTV: Over the years, Batman (and Batman-related) comics have generally fit into certain niches, with "Detective Comics" and "Gotham Central" often focusing on the procedural element, while some of the other lines focused on superhero/supervillain battles, or even how he worked as part of a team. Where does "Batman & Robin" fit? What niche did you envision the series occupying?
MORRISON: When I first described it, I said it was David Lynch directing the '60s television show with Adam West. That was kind of my goal for it, to give it a pop-art feel, but at the same time, I love the dark Batman, and I love the Chris Nolan films. I didn't want to lose that and go back to a goofy Batman, but I found there was a way to combine that kind of creepy fairytale quality of some of the Batman villains and the Gotham setting, pump that up, and get something that can be quite strange, quite 'American Gothic,' but at the same time there's a lot of color and weirdness and, as I say, trippyness, in it.
MTV: Along with introducing a brand new Batman and Robin, you've also introduced a fair share of new villains into Batman's world in both this series and "R.I.P." Is there a reason you chose to bring in new creations rather than going with the old, well-known standards, like Joker or Penguin?
MORRISON: The best characters are interesting, but not all of the characters are interesting to me. The Penguin has never worked for me, and The Joker is a great character, but I think he should only be used sparingly. For me, there was a great challenge, because Batman has such a great gallery of villains — one of the best — and to come in there I felt like it was my duty to invent some new ones.
We invented a bunch of them for the "Batman R.I.P." story and then again in "Batman & Robin." We really focused on just making everything about the new in this series. Hopefully they are in the spirit of Batman, and I hope some of them will be able to endure — like Professor Pyg. With Pyg, Batman fights all of these deranged criminals, and we thought, "Just how deranged can we make this criminal?"
MTV: Yeah, he's certainly one of the more disturbing of the bunch...
MORRISON: [Laughs] He just popped up out of the blue. He's a great character. The fact that he manages to give Robin a lap dance — that we have a middle-aged man lap-dancing a 10-year-old boy in a Batman comic — that's a great achievement for modern civilization.
MTV: Every new Batman has always had a few echoes to the past, outside of just the costume. What echoes of previous Batman iterations did you find yourself writing into Dick Grayson?
MORRISON: "Batman & Robin" is all very reverential with the past. When I came in to do Batman, I was kind of stuck with it, because so many people have written Batman over the past 75 years. What I chose to do was work with the idea that every single one of those adventures had happened. Even though it was 70-80 years of publishing history, I imagined it was 15-or-so years of Batman's life and it was all hyper-compressed.
So what you then get is a really interesting biography of a guy who starts off as an odd, vigilante of the night, kind of like the first movies, and then he gets friendly with the cops, and then by the time the war comes around he's a patriot and he's helping the cops, and then he's almost this boy scout character, and then in the '50s he's fighting aliens, and then in the '60s he's the pop-art Adam West Batman, and so on. Then the dark Batman comes back in the '70s and '80s again. so he's been in this constant progression. So imagine if he really was just this one guy and all this had happened to him.
To combine every version of Batman into one — in that way, it's constantly referencing Batman's history. I didn't look at anyone for Damian, or for Dick Grayson, except for portrayals of him I'd seen before. Damian was kind of my own character, so it was more a case of giving him a stronger story arc that people could really follow. Readers used to hate the kid and now they love him.
MTV: When you take on a task like that — compressing all of those adventures into one man's history — I have this vision of you surrounded by 75 years' worth of comics, studying each and every story. what is that research process really like?
MORRISON: [Laughs] I don't have 75 years of comics, but I do have bunches of Batman encyclopedias and collections and such. It's a lot of research — and I had to do the same with Superman. Whenever I do one of these projects, I feel like you have to ground yourself and get back to what the original creators wanted for a character, and then develop that and rethink it for a modern audience, because obviously people's tastes change.
MTV: With writing "Batman & Robin" alongside the "Return of Bruce Wayne" stories, I'd imagine you're able to do a lot more crossover between the series. Tell me a little about that process?
MORRISON: These books have been written simultaneously, so there's a lot of clues in "Batman & Robin" that turn out to be clues from Bruce Wayne in the past. Then we see the adventure from Bruce Wayne's perspective in the "Return of Bruce Wayne." It's been a real headache, but it's starting to look fantastic.
MTV: What type of clues are out there? What should readers look out for?
MORRISON: The latest issue of "Batman & Robin" has sort of a Dan Brown-style hunt around Wayne Manor when Batman and Robin realize there might be clues left to them by Bruce Wayne in the past. We see the portrait of Mordecai Wayne [in "Batman & Robin"] which nobody could identify, then we see that being painted in "Bruce Wayne" #2. We see parts of his uniform left in the past turning up in the present day all tattered and ruined.
There's a lot of that crossover, along with a lot of weaving in and out of Gotham's families and their histories. I had to find out every member of Bruce Wayne's family, and there's surprisingly many of them for a fictional man. So I wanted to build it all into actual historical information, but at the same time, make it pulpy and cool as well. It's a very different project.
"Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn" The Deluxe HC is on shelves now. New issues of the series arrive monthly.