batman panel senycDC really only had one big panel at SE: NYC but Batman’s 75th anniversary is certainly nothing to scoff at. On Sunday, DC VP of Marketing John Cunningham hosted a panel with some of the most interesting voices currently writing in Gotham, providing hints about what’s coming for the Bat-family and an exploration of what makes Batman such a special property.

The panelists included Gail Simone, the definitive Batgirl writer in many minds; James Tynion IV, one of the key minds behind the flagship Batman: Eternal; Greg Pak, who writes Batman/Superman; and Francis Manapul, co-writer for Detective Comics.

The panel opened with a reminder and a couple of announcements about Batman-day. Celebrating the Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, Batman Day will hit comic shops on July 23 and the wave will reach participating libraries that Saturday, the 26th. DC will be giving away paper masks and a free book containing the original “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” from Detective Comics #27 (1939), Brad Meltzer’s reinterpretation of the story from this year’s Detective #27, and a hint at a new story that will appear in the 75th anniversary hardcover.

Cunningham also said that there would be plenty of Batman related celebrations throughout the year, featuring all kinds of archival material. He also warned us to expect some fun things at San Diego Comic Con. He couldn’t say exactly what DC would be doing but said that it would be similar to their celebration of Superman at NYCC 2013, who received an exhibition of his various live-action costumes, and encouraged us to emulate the world’s greatest detective in putting the pieces together.

He also announced Batman-specific DC Essentials books, $1 reprints of classic first issues that would be hitting stores later this year. The slide show revealed The Dark Knight Returns and “Batman and Son” as two storylines getting the Essentials treatment.

With that Cunningham turned his attention to the panelists, opening the discussion by asking what story first exposed them to Batman or left an early and defining idea of the character. Greg Pak had to go with Batman: Year One, which brought him back to comics after a brief hiatus in high school. For James Tynion, the first was probably Batman Returns but the essential Batman came from the animated series. Tynion described B:TAS as the perfect distillation of the character and his world. Gail Simone cited the 1966 Batman television show.

Simone spoke about how drastically Batman’s bright world contrasted with the small farm she grew up on. A five year old Gail Simone would frequently force her brother to play Batman with her, Simone as Batman and her brother as “the damsel in distress”, naturally. She told us that when she could she’d get all her friends involved and would work out intricate plots and choreography ahead of time.batman panelists senyc2

Next Cunningham asked which of the three modern Batman directors best captured the character in the panelists mind. He said that he wasn’t expecting to hear any cries of Joel Schumacher but wouldn’t mind it, leading Gail Simone to answer, “Well, I do like nipples…”

For Pak it was clearly the Nolan trilogy. “The look and feel of those are tremendous and those soundtracks are incredible!” Pak admitted that he frequently uses the soundtracks as writing music for Batman/Superman.

Tynion also felt that Christopher Nolan best captured ‘his’ Batman, but admitted that Batman Returns holds a very special place in his mind. Tynion cited the strangeness of Burton’s Gotham as a major influence. The film opened up his imagination and got him thinking about the world of Batman.

Simone also couldn’t deny the Nolan movies her vote. “I have seen the Nolan’s films change people’s lives,” she said. She also went on to say how much she adored the Nolan trilogy as horror films, an element of Batman that she connects to very strongly.

Perhaps inspired by Simone’s memories of the television program, Greg Pak wondered why Cunningham didn’t include the Adam West movie among his choices. Cunningham, without missing a beat, said how fortuitous it was that Pak should bring up the Adam West show, as it’s coming to blu-ray and DVD later this year. He also chimed in himself, citing a preference for the Nolan movies and praising the final minutes of the trilogy in particular. Simone agreed, saying that she enjoyed the movies as a single narrative far more than as individual episodes.

Cunningham moved onto his next topic, a very different television show in the form of Fox’s Gotham. Cunningham revealed that he’s seen the pilot and, acknowledging his status as a corporate shill, thinks that it’s fantastic. He couldn’t say too much but warned us to expect big things from Oswald Cobblepot, telling us that the show could easily be subtitled “Rise of the Penguin”. He also said that while it’s a very different version of Gotham than we might be used to there are clear influences on the production. He likened the show’s take on Alfred to the version in Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One while claiming that Gotham Central and “Zero Year” were inspirations for Renee Montoya and Edward Nygma, respectively.

But of course this was a comics panel at a comic convention, so, as Francis Manapul joined the panel, Cunningham quickly turned things over to Greg Pak to discuss Batman/Superman. Issue #11 will be part of the “Doomed” storyline and will be heavily Batman-focused, with no appearance from the Man of Steel. According to Pak, Superman will be felt more by his absence, as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Krypto venture into the Phantom Zone to investigate the strange affliction of their friend.

Then issue #12 returns the series to Earth-2 briefly to wrap up some unfinished business. As seen in Earth-2 #1, Batman and Superman’s counterparts don’t fare well in that world and our version of the world’s finest heroes will be making a trip across dimensions to try to change their doubles’ fate. Pak says that this issue will really deepen the relationships between the Batmans and Supermen.

Before moving onto issue #13, Pak noted that it was Father’s Day and mentioned that Alfred would be appearing in issue #12 and in the next arc of the series. Though he hadn’t given the character much thought, Alfred snuck up on Pak and is now “[his] favorite character ever.”

Finally Pak spoke about issue #13 which will team Batman up with Lois Lane and Superman with Catwoman. Unfortunately Pak was double booked and had to slip out shortly afterwards.

Asked about Batman: Eternal, James Tynion reiterated his belief that this series has the potential to radically change Gotham City and allow stories that have never been possible before to come to light. One such story was the modern day appearance of Carmine Falcone, the original crime boss of Gotham. “Falcone has always been Gotham’s past,” he noted, so the opportunity to put him in conflict with a more developed Batman and later introductions to the mythos (chronologically) was something that appealed to the writers.

He also spoke about Julia Pennyworth, Alfred’s daughter who recently entered the series. The storyline confirms that the New 52 Alfred was a part of the British Secret Service and that Julia was conceived during his service. An Anglo-Afghani raised in England, Julia has followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Special Reconnaissance Regiment. Tynion says that her resentment of her father will be mixed with an honest curiosity for why he would leave a life of noble service to demean himself as some spoiled American’s butler.

Unfinished artwork from Detective Comics #33.

Unfinished artwork from Detective Comics #33.

Cunningham asked Francis Manapul if he found it daunting to be taking on DC’s namesake title. Manapul responded that, in many ways, it’s actually “a lot easier” than his run on The Flash. With The Flash, Manapul had to reestablish an entire section of the DC universe. That was a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure on his storytelling. With Detective, the groundwork has been laid by the previous writers and all of the other Batman writers and Manapul feels freer to just tell his story.

He then discussed the kind of story that that would be. Manapul said that he wants to do justice to the Detective Comics name. In telling a focused detective story in Gotham City, Manapul and his partner, Brian Buccellato, discovered that Harvey Bullock was naturally becoming an incredible personality, to the point where Manapul claims that the Detective role in the title is actually equally divided between Batman and Harvey.

Manapul and Buccellato spend a lot of time collaborating on their “Sunset Noir”, as Cunningham so accurately described it. Their way of working allows them to devote a lot of energy to plotting and coloring. Manapul acknowledged that ‘Tec would always be a DC book, but said that working with Buccellato felt very creator-owned. The pair have a lot of freedom. Writing, drawing, inking, coloring, lettering; it’s like working four or five jobs, he said. Nevertheless, he concluded, “It’s Batman – you’re kind of willing to kill yourself.”

Gail Simone is very excited for her upcoming issues of Batgirl. The most recent issue sets off stories that she’s been looking forward to since the series started. She also mentioned how much she loves the look that her artists have come up with for Ragdoll, calling it “weird and scary and beautiful.” While things are looking bad for Barbara Gordon and her roommate, Alysia, Simone assured us that “Batgirl has allies she didn’t even know she had.” The arc is called “Deadlines” and runs through Batgirl #32-34.

With that Cunningham turned the panel over to the fans. The first question was whether there were any stories that the panelists wish they could have been involved with but weren’t. This one took all three writers somewhat off guard and, after a prolonged silence, Francis Manapul answered no. In Manapul’s mind it’s much more fun to be a reader of those scenes than a writer. He cited an example from Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin #1 that sent shivers down his spine. “I’d much rather be in the audience,” he said. Simone agreed wholeheartedly.

Asked what it’s like to see fans cosplaying her characters, Simone said that it’s the coolest thing in the world. She actually had an example from this show: a Birds of Prey group including a Misfit and a Black Alice. Simone said that the Misfit cosplayer stole her heart with her pitch perfect mannerisms and commended those who go the extra mile to act as their characters.

Another fan asked why the panelists think it is that Batman is so much more vital than Superman in the Modern Age. Manapul wondered if it had to do with the long-lived appeal of mysteries and the broader context that Batman falls into. Simone picked up on this thread, citing the malleable nature of the character and the myriad interpretations he’s survived while Superman holds a little more closely to the classic superhero mold. For James Tynion, the answer is psychological. Batman represents that part of us that fears shame and hurt and wants to never feel that way again. He’s a character built on our innate desire to strike from a place of safety and guard ourselves against others. We all have that, Tynion argued, and Batman takes that flawed but human trait and makes it into something idealistic and heroic.

The panelists were then asked which artists they most associated with Batman, the definitive look. Gail Simone answered Greg Capullo and Neal Adams while Tynion said David Mazucchelli and Bruce Timm. Manapul had more trouble deciding and opted for the questioner’s original offer of a top three, including Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, and Jim Lee.

The next question concerned Batman’s rogues gallery and why it continues to expand while many other heroes tend to face off with their classic enemies. The panelists echoed earlier statements about Batman himself: Simone pointed to the psychological resonance and varied history of the character, Manapul blamed it on the setting, and Tynion said that it had to do with changing fears. Tynion expressed a particular attachment to the Gotham rogues and even some sympathy, saying, “villains try to rise but Gotham pulls them back down” but noted that what marks these tragic figures as true villains is that “they’ll try to take you down with them.”

Next the panelists were asked which of their Gotham stories they were proudest of. For James Tynion it was easy, his Robin backup from Batman #0, the first story he wrote for the characters. Gail Simone went the other way and said she really liked her recent Batgirl Annual #2. She said that it was an opportunity to connect with the character of Poison Ivy, who she had never cared for until that issue. Francis Manapul took the trend one step further and asked if it would be self-serving to say his next issue, Detective Comics #33, citing a scene featuring Batman, Harvey Bullock, and a toothpick. He also let slip that Batman will drive Harvey to start smoking again before this story is over.

Finally a fan asked the panel which character, besides Alfred, has the closest relationship with Batman. Manapul opted for Damian Wayne, calling him “the personification of love and everything he is scared of all in the same package.” Tynion, perhaps unsurprisingly given his current projects, chose Jim Gordon. Tynion called the friendship between the two men representative of the city. Gail Simone simply opted for Dick Grayson.

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