Over the years, Joshua Williamson has become an integral part of the DC Comics lineup. In addition to his extensive, genuinely great run on Flash, he’s also written for and/or contributed to Batman/Superman, Dark Nights: Metal, Justice League (and Justice League Incarnate), Robin, Voodoo, and much, much more. Now, though, he’s tackling perhaps his biggest challenge to date as he (alongside artist Jorge Molina) assume an A-list title in Batman.
The pair’s run officially kicks off with issue #118 (out December 7), the start of the “Abyss” storyline. Coming after a maddening two-ish years for the Bat Family, the issue sees the Dark Knight celebrate a massive win… by leaving Gotham City for a brand-new adventure. The storyline not only promises fresh “thrills and chills,” but a tale featuring the titular new villain and old faves in Batman, Inc. It’s an intriguing new start for Batman, and a clear achievement in Williamson’s half-decade run to this pivotal moment.
We were part of a group interview with Williamson late last week. During the hour-long chat, Williamson discussed a wide array of topics, including his favorite Batman stories, working with Molina, his conversations with past Batman writers, how he’s developed as a comics writer, and what comes next. We’ve assembled some of the more interesting tidbits below.
On working with artist Jorge Molina and the art style:
I’ve been trying to get Jorge at DC for years. I’ve been trying and showing his work to [Gotham group editor] Ben Abernathy, and I would always say Jorge should be doing DC stuff. Like, look at all these Batman pinups and Batman stuff.
So, I started talking with him about what he was interested in, but I was also thinking, like, if I’m an artist, and I get to draw Batman, what do I want to draw? Well, I want to draw the cool villains, and I wanted to see Batman doing cool s--t. Right? So that was actually what inspired the whole scene where Batman is at the party with all the villains. Because I was like, How do I get a situation where he can just draw these villains that isn’t a flashback, right?
It’s first time getting a draw Batman, and so let’s give them all of it. Villains, big moments, splash pages. You know, I was trying to kill him with all the crowd scenes I had. But I realized until way later there were like a ton of crowd scenes. Then when we get to the second issue, #119, there’s no crowd stuff by design.
On referencing Hush:
I really want to make a point of this was a Gotham after Batman had won. Like, what does the city look like after Batman settles a case and how do we get to see how the city is celebrating even if Bruce can’t let himself celebrate.
That also gave the opportunity to draw Alfred and Superman and one of the Robins and even Catwoman. It’s like when you go back and look at Hush, which really is like a greatest hits book. I think that’s one thing that really works about Hush and makes it stand the test of time.
On creating a more “jovial” Batman:
I wanted a Batman that was a little… jokey is the wrong word. I think that he knows how to crack wise a little, but it’s in this very odd, passive-aggressive way sometimes. But I wanted to make sure the book was fun.
I think a big piece of the book is that, if you go as far back as the beginning of Tom [King’s] run, Batman’s gone through it, right? I think that’s a lot of what I was thinking about when I start working on this — let’s give Gotham a win. Let’s get Batman to win. Let’s show how Batman processes that and show the idea that Batman is actually struggling processing the idea of a win.
I also always have a habit, in all of the books I work on, where I always give the character [another] character to bounce off of. So with Flash it was Godspeed. With Batman, you get a little with Oracle. And then you get a little bit with Detective Cahill later.
On the new character, Abyss:
One of the things coming onto the book was there were already Batman plans in place. The books have been very aligned, and I was very well aware of the plans for Gotham as a whole. I didn’t want to mess with that. I want to make sure I don’t mess up someone else’s book — that’s the worst thing you can do.
So I got to thinking, ‘Why don’t I just do something to do a smaller story with smaller case?’ I’ll just let Batman get out of the big event cycle for a moment, and just do something a little smaller. And I thought to create a new villain, and I started thinking about what I wanted to see and what I thought would be interesting.
We were just saying that I’m trying to have Batman be more lighthearted, and to have little more fun with it and bring it into the light. So, if he’s trying to get into the light, somebody else should be the dark then. So that’s when I started developing the idea of somebody representing the darkness. And that’s where Abyss came into play. Who Abyss is and how this person came to exist is part of the mystery of the four issues. There’s a gradual slow burn to get you there and then the stuff with Abyss will spin off later.
On other influential Batman stories:
For me personally, it would be Matt Wagner’s “Faces,” which was a Legends of the Dark Knight story back in early ’90s. It was one that really started, at a young age, in shaping my thoughts on Batman and the world of Batman. Then there’s Long Halloween, right, and Year One and the other obvious ones.
One thing about Batman’s voice that always stuck with me was there’s this interview with Michael Keaton, where he was talking… about Batman Returns. In this interview, he would get the script and read it and then he would take out a red Sharpie and just cross out lines of dialogue. Because his opinion was that Batman doesn’t talk that much. When Batman does talk, it should be shorter shorelines he should never give speeches. And I remember thinking about that a lot. My Batman is quiet. My Batman only says short sentences, or he very rarely talks. wanted Batman to be a bit shorter with the way he talked and be more focused in his head and try to visually show when he was thinking about versus talking about it. Then it started to shape my ways of writing him and I was so that was one of the biggest influences on how I write.
On pulling Batman out of Gotham City:
As I said before, I didn’t want to mess this plans up. And James [Tynion IV] always had a plan of Bruce leaving Gotham. As you know, Mariko [Tamaki] is doing Shadows of the Bat, and that mean Bruce could leave. But I think that sometimes having those characters leave their normal grounds and putting them in a new situations gives you new toys to play with, right? It gives you new situations, new characters as you kind of mix it up a little bit. It’s not as familiar to you or to them. So it adds kind of a fun thing to it.
I had already done that with Damian last year — taking Damian out of Gotham and out of his normal circles of like the Teen Titans and the Bat Family and getting him over to Lazarus Island to play with him over there. That allowed me to just tell this story with Damian.
I’m also doing the backups in Batman #122 and #123, and those take place in Gotham. It’s a flashback that takes place in the past. And because they take place in Gotham, it was very easy to lean into the past. Like, ‘OK, here’s [Commissioner] Gordon.’ It’s a challenge, but it’s also freeing.
On the value of utilizing Lex Luthor:
The one thing we knew from the very beginning was that Batman, Inc. was going to be in [the book]. We started talking about ideas, and one thing was, ‘What if there’s someone trying to kill Batman, Inc.?’ I said we’ve seen that — that’s every Batman story. So I started thinking about what if [Batman, Inc.] killed someone, and Batman has to deal with that, right? It was a flip on it.
But then I thought, I need a backup. Who’s a big villain who’s also fun. Who haven’t I seen him in a while? In #118, there’s a scene where it’s Bruce and Lex — it’s not Batman but it’s Bruce and Lex. They have a conversation about the idea that Batman is broke. It’s essentially Lex taunting Bruce, and just poking at him and trying to crack the Bruce exterior. Like he wants the Batman to come out.
But then at one point, he starts talking about Nightwing about Dick and he’s just like, Oh, I heard that, Dick gave all your Butler’s money to charity. That’s when Bruce finally said, alright, I’m done with this. And finally the Batman comes out. Once I figured out that scene of the two of them, I knew I had something.
There’s two things to Lex that helps us out. It allows us to show Lex as the Money Lex, the guy who was the president at one time. But one of the things about the Batman book is that’s been existing over here for a little bit. I wanted to show, and you see it a little bit in this issue, we’re bringing it back in the DCU. So I referenced the stuff that was happening in Justice League last year. I get to show these other pieces of Batman in the DCU, and I use Lex as a vehicle for that.
On exploring bigger emotional sentiments:
There’s a shot in the book where it’s all the things [Batman] used to do when he would solve the case. All those people aren’t around, right? Him and Catwoman are still on the outs. And Gordon has gone to hunt the Joker. These core issues are a lot about setting up a couple things. There will be more emotional stuff, and the stories that we’re doing in the spring with him, there’ll be a bigger emotional arc.
There is a story coming with Bruce and Damian together. And that’s where the bigger emotional stuff will be. We’re getting to show the two of them [together] for the first time, and how it’s not easy.
The challenges of working on Batman:
The biggest challenge has been my schedule. But, also, working on Batman can be very intense. You have to get yourself in that mind, and you have to be able to let yourself really get into his world. When Scott [Snyder] was working on it, so much of Scott was Batman. I wanted to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. And so it just meant an increase of a workload. It was just fun getting to tell the Batman story just from Batman’s POV — I never got to do that really before.
On how working on Flash helped prepare him for Batman:
Working on the Flash, I learned a lot about myself as a writer and myself as a person. What was interesting about working on Flash was that I was figuring things as I was going. Like, you start to figure out bits and pieces of how to write superhero books and twist and things. I had this question for Mark Waid years ago, when I first got the job. We were talking about how the Flash is a book primarily with a lot of inner monologue. Because who else is he going to talk to you? He’s running, right? I was learning how to run at the same time, and I couldn’t stop to digest it.
The moment I was done with Flash, and I had a little bit of a break, I was able to finally digest everything I had learned working on that book. Then that informed everything since… and that informed Robin. So, with all of that, batman is a big part of it. Batman is coming off a win, and he needs to take a deep breath and I need to take a deep breath. Let’s put all of that into this book.
On “avoiding” a gadget-heavy Batman:
I’m not a gadget guy. The Batmobile would be really a fun, but car chases are really hard to pull off. I don’t really need to show Bruce using a lot of gadgets. I like the Bruce that’s a little more detective-y. I did a lot of that already — I used Batman using toys. I had Batman smash a whole Batwing, the Bat Plane, into Shazam in Batman/Superman. I kind of want to just get him down to a more grounded level.
On furthering certain themes/ideas from “Fear State”:
Yes, especially once we get into the the stuff that we’re doing in the spring . Batman’s thoughts on what to do with criminals definitely plays into it all later. If a villain is in danger, do you protect them when you’re a hero? Like, where do you draw that line? If there’s a bad person in danger, do you still need to save them? The answer is yes. But then you have to then you have to keep questioning that.
On learning from past Batman writers:
Tom and Scott are guys I talk to fairly frequently. I was there, picking up bits and pieces of what they were working on. It was almost like an aggregate, and I was able to see the stuff that I liked and that I thought worked. But also the things I wanted to do different and how to make sure it was mine. Maybe two years ago, I re-read all Scott’s run, and I talked to him about it while I was reading it. So it was almost like a weird training in some ways. And, like I’ve said, I’ve been training for this the last six years.
I’m a nosy, nosy man, and I pay probably too much attention to what’s happening across the line. I talked Tom Taylor. I was talking to James and Jeremy Adams. I actually talked to Stephanie Phillips today. I talked to other writers and editorial probably way too much.
If you look at Flash, I was always reflecting everything that was going on, even the silliest little stuff. I was always reflecting what was happening in the rest of the line, whether it was Batman, Superman, or Justice League. When [Brian Michael] Bendis was doing Leviathan, and A.R.G.U.S. was destroyed, there’s a place they put the evidence. ‘I’m going to go there instead, like a warehouse, which means it’s less secure.’ So I was able to use it as a story fodder.
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