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C2E2 ’21: A panel of Batman creators discuss the appeal of the dark knight

Stephanie Phillips, Joëlle Jones, and Brian Azzarello share their thoughts on all things Gotham.

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By Andrew Warrick

A trio of icons behind the Dark Knight himself– and some of his allies and sworn enemies– convened at C2E2 on Sunday afternoon. Stephanie Phillips (Harley Quinn), Brian Azzarello (Batman: Damned), Joëlle Jones (Batman, Catwoman), and moderator Chris Arrant discussed everything Batman– his world, his history, his present, and his future. 

(L to R) Moderator Chris Arrant, Stephanie Phillips, Joëlle Jones, Brian Azzarello

“At this point,” Phillips began, “Bruce is the mask that he puts on and Batman is really like his personality.”

“I have a slightly different take,” Jones argued. “I always thought that Batman was a compulsion for Bruce Wayne… almost like a drug addiction.”

“I don’t think he’s ever left the Crime Alley,” Azzarello said. “He’s an emotionally stunted man-child… he’s done everything to stay with his parents… he might be crazier than The Joker.” Azzarello went as far to say that Batman should not even be in the Justice League, because he only cares about Gotham City, “what raised him in the absence of his parents.” He is a man “really not capable of having a relationship that’s healthy in any way.” 

“What an empty life also,” Jones added. “Pretty much every rich kid I know that inherited all their money is pretty empty inside.”

For Jones, the reason behind Batman’s popularity is that “People can imprint on Batman,” calling him “wish fulfillment.” Phillips agreed. “Compared to some of the other pillars in DC… it’s easier to wish to be Batman because there’s a feasibility there… if you just had the billions.” To Azzarello, Batman is an icon because he “looks badass. Ask any artist.”

Jones, who has drawn Batman, has the same opinion: “You get to really fling ink around because it’s all shadow… and it’s impactful on a white page. It’s really fun.” As an artist, she felt a duty to be part of the tradition, and hit the character’s key visual notes. She pointed out that writers can occasionally be picky about minute details, such as the number of pouches on his utility belt. 

Batman has become more sinister to Azzarello as politics have shifted: “Look at Gotham… its main law enforcement is a vigilante who’s friends with a cop… unfortunately, I think we’re seeing that kind of stuff now.”

According to Azzarello, the hardest thing about writing Batman is “telling a story that no one’s told.” Jones felt the same way, seeking to put her “personal stamp on it.” Phillips recalled writing her first Batman title and thinking “it was just such a pivotal figure in my childhood that I was like, this should be the moment… [but] I sat there for three days. I was like ‘I don’t know, why am I doing this?’” She felt “a fear… this pressure that I put on myself.” Eventually, though, she came up with a “million things” that she wanted to do with the character.

The easiest thing about Batman? For Jones, it was making him look cool.

Killer Croc is Azzarello’s villain of choice–– “he’s good to punch.” 

Harley Quinn, whose series Phillips currently writes, is her favorite: “it personally… means a lot to me…. Being a bisexual, I get to write Harley and write the experience of her every day as a Bisexual character, and a huge character too, and get to have a page where it’s like yes, here’s her kissing her girlfriend and I don’t have to explain it. I don’t have to qualify it… it is really important in that way, and I like to see them getting a lot of love and attention for that reason. She’s also just, like, badass.” Phillips hinted at exciting things for the character, since, in the current timeline, Batman has left Gotham City: “with that kind of absence, there’s gonna be something really big for Harley to do that I think solidifies, like, ‘this is why she’s in Gotham, and this is why she’s important’… she’s going to solve this in a very unexpected way.”

Jones loves Catwoman–– “to draw it was really really fun. My take on her was always that, you know, she’s a lot like Batman, but on the other side of the coin, so instead of growing up in wealth, she grew up in poverty. She’s also compelled to put on a mask… she’s also really messed up… She’s compelled to stay in Gotham, and steal shit… It’s really damaged and I find her fascinating, just because she hasn’t fallen into the trope that most female characters do. She’s not a villain. She’s not a hero. She plays in this gray area that Batman can’t do.”

“Batman is all about control,” Azzarello chimed in. “His core is control. That’s why Batman and Joker work so well together. Because there’s control and there’s chaos.”

Interestingly, Phillips is currently “really fixated on Superman” because of the comic’s positive tone, “because I need it. We all need it… I just want somebody to be friggin’ nice.”

The panel’s final question: What could save Gotham City?

“Bruce Wayne and some money,” Azzarello deadpanned. “He really wants to clean up Gotham? Start throwing some of his billions at it.”

Miss any of our previous C2E2 ’21 coverage? Find it all here!

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