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After a full day of panels I returned to whence I began, Empire Stage, for another big one, this time presented by the distinguished competition.

Gone were the charming advertisements – apparently someone thought better of them – and now we simply waited, glancing occasionally to the silent screen which informed us that we were sitting in DC Comics – Batman.

John Cunningham, a DC marketing VP, took the podium and introduced us to our guests. At the far left of the table was the beloved creative team behind DC’s relaunched Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Beside them was James Tynion IV, who writes Talon and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Next came Marc Andreyko, the controversially incoming writer on Batwoman. Beyond him was Kyle Higgins, who writes Nightwing, and Ann Nocenti, who pens Selina Kyle’s adventures in Catwoman. On the far end were John Layman, the surprisingly mild-mannered-looking man behind the current run of Detective Comics, and Peter Tomasi, writer for Batman and Robin.

As in nearly all things DC, this was largely Snyder’s show. Cunningham gave Snyder every opportunity to discuss last week’s Batman #24 (review here), but Snyder, in classic form, really just wanted to talk about how honored he was.

Snyder opened with a heartfelt thank you to the fans for not only letting him tell his stories, but supporting him in doing so. He waged charming, unassuming war on the notion that he did not respect the power and responsibility given to him in writing Batman’s origin story. Snyder called “Zero Year” his favorite story ever and seemingly could not help but show off some of the tricks that he brought to the table. Though he’s never been shy about it and his writing reeks of love for the character, Snyder put his status as a massive Batman fan on full display for this panel.

Snyder’s schoolboy fandom and Capullo’s rockstar persona couldn’t have seemed more opposite, but the chemistry between them was undeniable, each speaking highly of the other. Capullo picked up Snyder’s point about responsibility, claiming that he can’t stand giving the fans any less than he can muster, often going back to redraw completed and, to Snyder’s eyes, excellent, pages when he was personally unhappy with them.20131017-211035.jpg

Snyder told the assembled masses that “Zero Year”, and especially issue #24, was a love letter to Batman in all his forms. In one particularly adorable example he told us that DC wanted to do away with the police blimps, feeling that they didn’t fit with the modern aesthetic that they were reaching for, but Scott insisted on them, as a call back to Batman: The Animated Series, before letting out a mighty cry of “BLIIIIMPS!”

Snyder then moved on to spoiling issue #25, showing the first few pages unlettered, before explaining what he was trying to do with them and the next few. Only Cunningham’s moderation prevented him from reciting the entire issue on stage, as Capullo assured us he had done before.

Though Bruce’s adventures with the Red Hood Gang came to an end last week, Snyder was eager to hype the rest of his “Zero Year” odyssey. Apparently the megastory will have three parts, the first having been “Secret City”, starring the Red Hood. Now we move into “Dark City”, which will feature the Riddler. Snyder discussed the interactions between Batman and Gordon in this section, saying that they would lay the foundation between the two men and hinting that things won’t be as smooth as they have been in the past.

20131017-211015.jpgAccording to Snyder, this is not the Gordon we know from Batman Begins, the good-natured cop who makes a little boy believe that “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” Instead, Bruce believes that Gordon is the worst cop in Gotham and that something that happened on the night of his parents’ murder has caused him to hold a strong grudge against Jim Gordon ever since.

Snyder paused to restate his firm commitment never to change the essentials of Batman, before flat-out saying that Gordon did not murder Bruce’s parents.

Snyder also warned us that “Dark City” would see a reinvention of a lesser appreciated villain and revealed that Poison Ivy would appear before the “Zero Year” was up.  He reminded the crowd of the Mad Max-style Gotham we saw at the beginning of “Zero Year” and wondered aloud if the overgrown city was Ivy’s doing.

Next we moved onto the recently announced Batman: Eternal. Snyder discussed the pleasure of working with all of the other creators, speaking especially highly of James Tynion. The series is clearly going to be a huge undertaking, but most of the information revealed was nothing new.

That changed quickly.

About this time Cunningham noticed, or seemed to notice, two cosplayers standing at the mic. Unsurprisingly they were Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, both in their Batgirl costumes. Cunningham asked if they had a question and Steph responded, almost confused, “you already know my question. When are Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain coming back?”

By now you’ve no doubt heard, but in that moment, as Scott Snyder began to speak, it seemed that fans of the ‘forgotten’ Batgirls would do much better this time around and receive Snyder’s sympathies. Obviously what they got was a lot more.

“Stephanie Brown will return in Batman: Eternal,” Snyder announced.

There was a cheer and I raced to my phone – I was reporting after all – but knowing no shortage of Stephanie Brown fans, I just knew that, for a lot of people, things had gotten slightly but undeniably better in the world.

“We were never trying to shelve her,” Snyder assured the crowd, saying that they were waiting for the right method to present itself and that the accepted pitch had come from Tynion.

Steph will return early and, if what appeared to be a slip of thee tongue on Snyder’s part can be trusted, she’ll be doing so as the Spoiler.

Though it would later become clear that Snyder had asked her to interrupt the panel, it was still an amazing moment.

With that cavalcade of information out of the way, the panel finally acknowledged the rest of the table.20131017-211045.jpg

Peter Tomasi was first, hyping the Two-Face story that started today. Tomasi’s Batman and Robin has been an interesting little book ever since he took it over two years ago and it made perfect sense hearing him talk about it. All of the grim wonderings and thematic resonances that have defined the book were present. Tomasi warned us to look for split faces in the artwork, whether it be one partially in shadow or a side effect of Commissioner Gordon’s daily shave. Tomasi was also very excited to introduce his new character, Erin McKillen.

We also found out that this arc would contain the New 52 version of Harvey Dent’s origin – the first glimpses you’ll be able to see in this week’s issue – and  that Harvey’s story would play out with a “backwards progression.”

John Layman was up next, talking about Detective Comics #24 (which I review here). Layman admitted that he wanted a really big ending to this arc, likening it to a Michael Bay movie, “but not bad.” He also told us that issue #24 was partially a gift to his artist, Jason Fabouk, who loves drawing gadgets.

Unfortunately Layman didn’t discuss the next, and possibly final, arc of his run though he did remind us that his Zero Year tie-in would center on Jim Gordon.

At this point Marc Andreyko took the mic, for a short but honest discussion of his plans for Batwoman. He said that he’d be working with a Gotham villain who hasn’t been seen post reboot. Though we didn’t get much in the way of hints, Andreyko was adamant that he held the previous creative team in high regard and would try to let his own take grow organically out of what had come before.

Sadly, Kyle Higgins’ presentation offered no hints about Dick Grayson’s fate post “Forever Evil”, but it did give us an idea of what to expect in the next few issues. Higgins described the annual issue due out at the end of this month as “one last time” for Dick and Barbara Gordon, who have shared a mutual attraction for many years in the reboot timeline. Apparently, Dick will be returning to Gotham to pick up his belongings and will encounter Batgirl, who is in the middle of her own crisis.

Higgins also spoke about his Zero Year tie-in, calling it a modern dark fairy tale, with the shadowed streets of Gotham playing the part of a dark forest. Playing with that theme and the rich tradition of parents and children in the Bat-mythos, Dick will go see a movie against his parents’ wishes, only to be caught on the streets when the lights go out.

When Catwoman’s turn came, Nocenti spoke about her reinvention of the Joker’s daughter and the prospect of giving Selina a cat. She is reportedly still conflicted over what kind.

Finally James Tynion spoke, saying that he’s interested in exploring the weird corners of the Batman universe, which led to further discussion of Batman: Eternal.

The panel said that we’d be getting a deeper look at Batman’s world, making me particularly happy by promising stories involving the Gotham Gazette. While I admit that part of my excitement comes from “Gates of Gotham’s” revelation that the Gazette belonged to the Elliot family, I expect that there are plenty of juicy plots buried within one of Gotham’s premier news sources that have nothing to do with Hush. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Newsroom, but, especially in a post-Snyder Gotham, I don’t trust the news when it comes from the old Gotham elite.

At this point Scott Snyder couldn’t contain himself any longer and insisted that this would be a big year for Batman, assuring the crowd that Eternal would be big news and reminding us that it will be the best place to get your modern Batman fix while he’s off in the Dark Knight’s past.  He also stressed how close the Batman office is and that the panelists are actually close friends. It was kind of adorable, but, tellingly, there was a definite sense of connection that wasn’t present in many of the panels I saw. Obviously Batman will pretty much always sell well, but it does seem that the confidence that DC has in the current Batman teams is a significant part of their success.

“We are your stewards,” said a grateful Snyder, promising to give the fans the Batman that they deserve.

Attention soon returned to Tynion, who told us that he thinks of his Red Hood and the Outlaws run like a movie and that this is the final act. He told us that big things were coming, from the reveal of the arc’s puppet master to “Lady Shiva riding ninja man-bats with spears”, both of which came to pass in this week’s issue.

Turning to Talon, Tynion said that Calvin Rose would be returning to Gotham and teaming up with Batman for an extremely tense partnership. He also said to be on the lookout for more of the Gotham Butcher and that we were “reaching the end of the plan” that he set out in his original pitch. Now that Tynion is confirmed to leave Talon, it’s clear just how near the end we are.

With that the panel turned to questions, but I’m sad to say that I wasn’t able to hear most of them. I had gone after the Stephanie Brown cosplayer to get her thoughts on the long fight to revive the character and her reaction to Snyder’s announcement. You can read her thoughts here.

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