As DC Comics rolls out more of its new Infinite Frontier publishing initiative, one of the most intriguing titles has been Gene Luen Yang, Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, Sabine Rich, and Saida Temofonte‘s Batman/Superman, the first issue of which seemed to combine alternate earths belonging to each character with hints of flavor from the Golden Age of comics.
In Batman/Superman #17, the second issue by the new creative team, the series is introducing the villain behind it all, Aueteur.io. Recently, The Beat caught up with the series writer Gene Luen Yang, for a phone conversation about the book, the new villain, and the many bits that have inspired this new run on the title, both past and present.
ZACK QUAINTANCE: I wanted to start by extending an open invitation to tease the new villain in Batman / Superman #17 a bit, asking just generally what you can tell us about Auteur.io?
GENE LUEN YANG: So, in #16 we introduced this idea that Batman and Superman live in two different worlds. By the end of the issue, we show that Batman and Superman are actually in alternative universe. So, Auteur.io is actually the reason they’re in these alternate universe; one for Batman and one for Superman.
Ultimately, he’s kind of like – without giving away too much – he’s a fusion of old mythological ideas and new technology.
QUAINTANCE: With almost like a little bit of metafiction thrown in…
YANG: That’s right. With this storyline, what we’re thinking about is playing with the medium of comics. We really wanted to tell a story that would be best told through comic books. We’re using film as a device, kind of ironically, but ultimately this is all about comics. Auteur.io’s powerset is structured for us to be able to do that, to play with the comics medium.
QUAINTANCE: One of the things I really enjoyed about #16 and #17 was the way the visuals so effectively conveyed what he was doing. Can you talk about how you worked with Ivan Reis and the rest of the art team to get the visuals to realize the vision for this?
YANG: We started with a conversation. It was Paul [Kaminski] and Ben [Abernathy], who are the two editors on the book, and it was Ivan and me. We talked about all the things that made us excited about comic books, about Superman and about Batman. Ivan was on board with playing with the form, and also constructing these two worlds. The same way Auteur.io is a combination of old and new – mythological ideas with new technology – we wanted these two worlds to be a combination of today’s technology but infused with the visuals of the late 1930s and the early 1940s, which is when Batman and Superman got started.
We looked at the old film serials for Superman and Batman for visual inspiration. I just feel like Ivan really knocked it out of the park. For some of the pages, I did some really rudimentary thumbnails, because I just couldn’t explain what I was thinking with words. Then when he turned in the pages, he took what I was thinking and turned it up 12 notches.
Originally, I wanted to tell a story that was Superman on top and Batman on bottom for all of #16. I also wanted to use the language of film at the beginning, but I told Ivan it was too labor intensive to keep that up for 21 pages. I tried to figure out an out for him where we would move from film to comics at a point, but he never did it! He kept the film up all the way through, and that is so intense. Even in #17, in the first few pages, him and Danny [Miki], they must have gotten hand cramps. When I was describing it, I described it as silhouettes – silhouettes of film hanging from the ceiling – but they drew each individual frame. It’s shocking, the level of detail and passion they put in each page is shocking to me as the writer of the project.
QUAINTANCE: It looks absolutely incredible. I’ve always really enjoyed Ivan’s work, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this level of experimentation. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read this year. It really stands out.
YANG: I put out an idea, and he just runs with it in this really intense way, even the Batmobile. I remember the process of developing a Batmobile that was 1940s-inspired. He went through multiple iterations of it to land on the one that shows up in the book, and every iteration was amazing. I wanted a toy of every one of his designs for the Batmobile.
QUAINTANCE: You mentioned inspiration was drawn from the era Batman and Superman were created, and historically they didn’t mix as much when they were first created. Can you talk a little bit about combining the two tones of the histories of these characters?
YANG: Yeah, Batman and Superman, I don’t think they crossed over in the serials. They crossed over in radio, but I don’t think they did it in film. That’s kind of what we were going for. I grew up in the ‘80s, and when I was growing up, Batman and Superman teamed up all the time. It was just a thing.
Then I did Superman Smashes the Klan, which is based on the 1940s radio serial. I was reading a lot about the 1940s and what DC Comics – and superheroes in general – were like in the 1940s. Back then, when Superman and Batman got together, it was an event. It felt really special. What Ivan and Danny and I wanted to do was re-create that feeling – Batman and Superman getting together for the first time, and it feeling special.
That was one of the reasons I wanted to create these two worlds. We wanted these worlds to feel very special, and for each of them to reflect a part of their main character. Superman’s world was more futuristic and more hopeful; Batman’s world was darker. That way, when they come together, it will really feel like a coming together of two worlds.
QUAINTANCE: I thought you did a good job too of getting that darkness in there without it ever feeling oppressive. For example, I enjoyed the Robin’s homework bit that ran through it. Were you deliberate about tapering the darkness?
YANG: Yeah, I do think some of that is just the kind of stories that I’m drawn too. When I first started working for DC Comics, I was given the advice from somebody, ‘Oh, you should try to write like Frank Miller and Alan Moore.’ And I was like, ‘I can’t write like Frank Miller and Alan Moore.’ [Laughs] I like their stuff, but that’s not me.
The writers I admired the most from the DC stable when I was a kid were [J.M.] DeMatteis and [Keith] Giffen, and their whole Justice League run. It was a sitcom-y kind of thing. They also did this run on Doctor Fate that I felt was this perfect mix of humor and hope and also these really deep explorations of human fear. For superhero comics, that’s always been the gold standard in my head. I don’t know if I could go super dark.
Between Batman and Robin – I love Batman as a character, I think every character does – but I feel this tighter affinity for Robin. I like Robin a little bit more.
QUAINTANCE: Another character I thought you’ve used really well in Batman/Superman is Lois Lane, a favorite character of mine. She seemed almost like the focal point of this arc. What went into the decision to make her such a prominent part of this story?
YANG: I think of her as the embodiment of truth. She’s constantly chasing after the truth, and in her arc from the 1940s all the way up through this day, it’s really about discovering the truth. Ultimately, she discovers the truth about the man she loves. That’s the driving force. So, if this story is about this mystery that’s in between these two worlds, she has to play a key role.
QUAINTANCE: In taking this somewhere new but also exploring history, did that inspire the creation of the villain?
YANG: The main villains, there’s the Spider Lady, who we pulled straight out of one of the old Superman film serials. Ivan updated her look a little and gave her some new weaponry. In the old film serials, she had low impact webbing. It was on the wall of her hideout, so she would have to have henchmen push people into it. [Laughs] We changed it to these electric web shooters.
Doctor Atom is kind of an homage to The Atom Man, another Superman villain from the film serials, and then The Unknown Wizard is an homage to The Invisible Wizard, who is a Batman villain from back in the day.
QUAINTANCE: One thing I was struck by is that the last time you wrote Superman for a monthly comic, it felt like Superman was a little boxed in by what was happening in universe. Now it feels totally free, like anything could happen in these comics. Did you have that sort of freedom and did it change your approach to what you did with your story here?
YANG: In the New 52 era, I did Superman #41-50. It was part of the DC You era, and I think a lot of great comics came out of that era. Mark Russell did some really interesting stuff at the time, and a bunch of other creators as well. But I’m not sure I was the right writer for the mandate of that era. The mandate of that era, they wanted to shake things up. Jim Gordon becomes Batman, or Superman goes through all these changes, losing his powers and his cape even.
The version of DC’s most iconic characters that I’m drawn to are rooted in their past. The versions of Superman and Batman that I’m most drawn to are rooted in the Golden Age. The versions of Flash and Green Lantern that I’m drawn to are rooted in the Silver Age. With the current era, Infinite Frontier, the freedom of the multiverse is I can deal with the versions of the characters I love the most. I can write versions of the character that are deeply rooted in the Golden Age, in the 1940s.
QUAINTANCE: It feels like they’ve added this incredible legacy to the storytelling toolbox, that’s the impression I’ve gotten.
YANG: It’s been a lot of fun. Infinite Frontier is such an exciting initiative, and I feel really lucky to be part of it. One of the things Ivan and I wanted to do with this book was exploit the strength of the monthly comics medium. Comics shops had a really hard year. It was a hard year for everybody, but it was an especially hard year for comic shops. A lot of comic shops, they are huge advocates of the monthly comic book format.
I do read comics in digital format, and I obviously love graphic novels – that’s how I started my career – but I do love the monthly comics format. That’s how I fell in love with comic books, buying a Superman comic off a spinner rack. So, we wanted to tell a story that would be best read in that format. In my head, it was my way of supporting my local comic shop.
QUAINTANCE: Is there anything you can reveal about the scope of your run on this title?
YANG: The first arc is all about this mystery we’ve produced. Where do these worlds that are based on the old 1940s serials come from? On a deeper level, we’re trying to explore what the point of stories are in general and why we as a species seek fiction. But on a surface level, we just want it to be a super fun, slightly mind-bending adventure story.
Moving forward from there, what the editors and I talked about was for Batman / Superman to be a place of exploration of the comics medium. It’s to kind of have fun with the medium using these two iconic characters.
QUAINTANCE: The last thing I wanted to ask is whether there will be a lot of multiverse stuff in this run? It seems like it, but I would love if your answer is yes.
YANG: That’s definitely part of the first arc. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike with the creative team: we want it to be fun, we want it to be mind-bending, we want to play with form, but ultimately we want it to be about this friendship between Batman and Superman, between two characters who have the same goals but completely different methodologies.
Batman/Superman #17 arrives in stores and digitally on Tuesday, April 27th.