Former editor-turned-writer Peter J. Tomasi is no stranger to anniversaries. He wrote one of the main stories in last year’s Action Comics #1000 milestone, and he returns this year for Batman’s 80th anniversary, with the milestone issue serving as a springboard for the next stage of his run. A new take on the Arkham Knight villain from the Arkham video games will make his first appearance in the comics continuity. We sat down with Tomasi at DC’s booth at C2E2 and discussed his run, as well as the role of this new villain.
Hussein Wasiti: What was the process of you jumping on Detective Comics?
Peter J. Tomasi: I had been on Batman and Robin for almost five years, I had done a small Detective run for a little bit, and I took on Superman. At this point DC wanted to build something towards Detective #1000, and Dan DiDio thought it would be great for me to take over the book and bring it across the #1000 line and further and onwards. I said, “Sounds great to me!” Little Petey Tomasi would be shocked that he would be doing the lead stories for Action Comics #1000 and Detective Comics #1000. That’s a weird star alignment to say the least.
Wasiti: Talk about your approaches to Action and Detective #1000.
Tomasi: It’s as simple as night and day. Superman had a pure, joyous story of a father getting back to his family, doing what he does to show his love. Batman had a different approach. I took the same approach with splash images for Doug Mahnke to draw, but it was important for me to play up the Arkham Knight angle and show Batman from somebody else’s perspective. This person sees Batman as a villain. Through their captions we’re looking at Batman through a very different prism.
Wasiti: Will you be playing with the Arkham Knight’s identity like in the video game Arkham Knight?
Tomasi: His identity will remain secret for a specific amount of time, it’s not going to drag out. We have a huge origin in the first arc of the Arkham Knight, about five issues in. As for my approach I can’t say too much about it, but I wanted the Arkham Knight to feel completely different from the game. It was really important for me to come up with something that had a distinct origin. It’s probably not even shocking to say that it’s not Jason Todd. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of people out there begging me to make sure it’s Jason Todd. I unfortunately have to inform them that’s not the case.
Wasiti: You’ve worked on a lot of Batman, editing his title, writing him, and working on the Arkham Knight tie-in series. Now you’re writing Detective, so what else can you say about the character?
Tomasi: Honestly, it’s just humanizing him in every issue. I like seeing a Batman who’s incredibly smart and knows how to get out of situations. But I like to put him through the ringer and show his human side, his failings. In my first arc, “Mythology”, it was important for me to break away from the villain of the week manipulating Batman, and to show that the only person who can manipulate Batman more than Batman is Batman. It’s always looking at the character from an inward angle and saying, “What kind of stories can I write that inform Bruce Wayne and what makes him who he is, that makes him understand why he chose to be the Batman.”
Wasiti: I want to talk about your first arc. It’s a bold choice to have basically the entire arc be a dream sequence. How did DC respond to the story?
Tomasi: I was scared, but DC was fully behind it. The editor, Chris Conroy, and his assistant David got what I was trying to do. I didn’t want to make it a villain thing because that’s been done to death and I wanted to show this specific angle of why Batman fights crime and what it costs him every day.
Wasiti: Give me a little tease for your run starting with #1001.
Tomasi: I don’t know what’s out solicit-wise, but Arkham Knight runs from #1001-1005. #1006-1007 is a really great Spectre/Batman story. Kyle Hotz is drawing it. I can’t say too much about #1008 but it’s Doug Mahnke back again for another issue before he starts the next big arc with a great villain. After that we’ve got a couple issues with another artist. Because it ships twice a month, you’ve got to build these out so far in advance to give the artist time. Doug Mahnke is the only guy since double shipping to do seven issues in a row. So as a writer it was so important to have that consistency. Even as a reader, you don’t get that anymore. You don’t get to see the same artist most of the time twice a month. It not only helps the book by building up the readership, it helps when its collected as it has a cleaner aesthetic to it with one team.
Wasiti: How does the biweekly process work as a writer; do you have to juggle multiple stories at once?
Tomasi: Not if you cut back on the books that you’re doing, which I did. I’m just doing Detective and I turned in my final Super Sons script. I’m building to something in the New Year that I can’t announce yet. So right now it’s not too bad. When you have other books along with the biweekly books, then it’s tough. You do get into a certain gear and the funny thing is, you realise just how long a month is between comics. It is kind of nice to have that immediate response and have the story move so quickly, to capture a reader’s imagination and to wrap it up in a relatively nice period of time.
Wasiti: How does your previous experience as an editor factor into your writing?
Tomasi: You just start to edit yourself. You know the stuff you should put in, you know when to kill your babies, as they say. When you’re coming from behind the desk, you understand the process so well that you can schedule stuff in your own mind, where to build story arcs and when not to build them, knowing the artist’s limitations, know the timing from the perspective of a letterer, a colourist, and an inker. So when you understand the whole process, it allows you to be able to build your own book in an easier way.
Wasiti: Do you conflict with your own editor because of this?
Tomasi: Anybody would be lying if they said they didn’t have some conflicts once in a while. An editor will have sometimes their own perspective on a story but you’ve got to let them know that you’ve been hired because of what you do, the way you write. If they don’t get something then you explain it and 90% of the time they go, “Oh, ok. That’s cool, that’ll work.” I’ve been in the business nearly 30 years now, so there are guys who have been working a year as a writer and then there are guys like me. So we kind of know what we’re doing, or I’m hoping to God that I know what I’m doing at this point. You’re a smart editor when you hire guys that you trust who’ll deliver on time and give you good stories and not half-ass it. Your life is easier. Then what you do is develop writers. Geoff Johns was wet behind the ears back then. I knew Geoff had the ability to be a top guy, he had the story. He always knew everything and had a great sense of continuity and history. It was just going to be a question of guiding him on a path that I knew he was going to kick ass on. As an editor, I would devote 5% of my time to the guys I know because I trust them implicitly, and then there are these other guys who should get more of my time. DC needs new blood eventually, to replenish the well. I was making sure to help DC not just in the long run, but to spend more of my time on the other end of the spectrum.
Wasiti: Do you miss editing?
Tomasi: Yeah, there are days. Absolutely. At this point I’m going to remain a writer but I miss the interaction of an office and people. It’s great at first when you’re at home by yourself, and then ten years later you think it would be nice to grab lunch with somebody to talk comics or story. Mostly it’s all emails. Nobody gets on a phone anymore. I love the creativity of coming up with covers, breaking stories, talent coming through the hallways, which they used to do all the time. It was fun.