Batman writer James Tynion IV’s next big storyline in the run up to issue 100, “Joker War,” kicks off this week with Batman #95. In preparation for the event, Tynion held court with a group of journalists last week for a virtual press conference, in which he covered a wide range of topics, from how COVID-19 has changed the experience of working on “Joker War,” the unexpected popularity of Punchline, the return of characters like Grifter and Harper Row, and much more.
Tynion kicked off the press conference with some general thoughts about “Joker War.” He talked about taking over Batman, and his desire to build towards a “big event story,” which was something he’d been a part of before going back to the “Night of the Owls” storyline and that he really enjoyed and wanted to see more of. He talked about what he wants to do to make this Joker story different from all the others, including examining how The Joker’s presence in Gotham impacts the city as a whole – “I imagine that there are entire shelves in Barnes & Noble in Gotham City filled with books about the crimes of The Joker.”
Tynion also said he wanted to bring back The Joker as the leader of a gang, versus other recent interpretations from writers Scott Snyder and Tom King in which The Joker is a more solitary character. Finally he said he wants to completely reverse the dynamic between Batman & The Joker, where The Joker now controls all of Batman’s fortune and gadgets and Batman has none of it. He praised Jorge Jimenez’s art on the story and teased new characters who will come out of the event.
Opening the floor to questions, Tynion first addressed the new Batsuit which made its public debut in DC’s October solicits on Friday, and which is first teased in the pages of Batman #95. He called the suit “aspirational” for Bruce that The Joker rips away from him, and said it will play an important role in the storyline towards the end.
Discussing coordinating the main “Joker War” storyline with the other Bat-family titles that are crossing over with it, Tynion said the interaction between the titles depends on the book, with Tynion working closely with some and letting others do more of their own thing. He cited Dan Jurgens on Nightwing and Pete Tomasi on Detective as two examples he worked closely with, teasing a “certain return” in Batman #99 as having a major impact on Nightwing. “The people who are reading the whole Gotham line are going to get something really special out of this,” Tynion said, though did say reading just Batman would still give readers the whole picture.
Asked what his favorite Joker storyline of all time is, and how it may have influenced “Joker War,” Tynion cited the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker animated movie as a story that captures “all the levels of The Joker.” As far as comics go, he mentioned Scott Snyder’s work on the character as “formative” for him in terms of establishing The Joker as the worst of the worst. “In terms of DC villains, Lex Luthor is a very Lucifer style character, and The Joker is the devil you find at the crossroads.”
A line from The Joker in Batman #95, about people wanting to see familiar stories with new elements added, was brought up as a ‘thesis statement’ for the story. Tynion said that’s a key element of The Joker’s behavior in the story, and something that Tynion himself doesn’t fully agree with. He does think people want something new, and Tynion said he’s tried to do that by bringing in new characters and expanding on the mythos of Gotham in a way that will allow new stories to jump out of it. He said he thinks fans can often agree with The Joker’s statement, and that he wants to play with that and those expectations.
In terms of seeing “The Joker Family” (as opposed to the Batman Family that Tynion previously explored in his Detective run), Tynion said that was a big priority for him going into “Joker War,” and something that led to Punchline’s creation. He said he wants to explore a Joker who’s surrounded by henchmen and other characters and a Batman who has no one, and that we’ll see how dynamics shift over the course of the story.
A question was raised about The Joker taking Bruce Wayne’s fortune away from him, particularly in relation to the common fan discussion questioning the way Bruce chooses to spend his money (i.e. as Batman). Tynion said that’s “all very deliberate,” and that he couldn’t talk about exactly how it will all play out without spoiling the upcoming issues. He stressed his prioritization of introducing new gadgets during his first storyline on the title, and how dangerous all of that wealth will be in the hands of The Joker. “Batman has created so [many systems] that he couldn’t guarantee it didn’t fall into the wrong hands, and now they’ve fallen into the worst hands possible.” He said stripping Batman’s wealth away from him will allow for telling stories without those “messy questions” hanging over the character.
Similarly, on the question of Bruce as a member of the 1% and how themes of class will play out in “Joker War” now that The Joker is suddenly rich, Tynion said “yes and no.” He explained that the way The Joker uses his new wealth will be almost a parody of how Bruce uses it, and that while he won’t dig too much into that during “Joker War” that he does plan to examine Bruce’s status in the 1% going forward.
Asked how his experience has been putting this event together during social distancing and the COVID-19 pandemic, Tynion described the lockdown situation as “surreal beyond belief.” He also said that everything shutting down for a time allowed he and the rest of the creative teams to work way ahead on the story, to the point that artist Jorge Jimenez will be halfway through Batman #100 when issue 95 hits this week. Having the chance to look at the story as a whole, Tynion said, is not something he would otherwise have been able to do. He mentioned that the Joker War Zone one-shot was added during the shutdown due to the overwhelming interest in the story. “Creatively the work has been a light in a very dark tunnel,” he said, “even though the story is pretty dark.”
The new character Ghost-Maker, who has yet to appear in the series but has been teased in solicits, was brought up. Tynion said he would show up at the end of Batman #100, but who would play a big role going forward. “He’s going to show up as an adversary to Bruce, but he’s not necessarily a villain per se. He is someone that Bruce has known since he was a young man traveling around the world training to become Batman, and now basically Bruce’s rival from when he was fifteen years old has come back to Gotham City because he doesn’t think Bruce is doing a very good job.” Tynion said Jimenez’s design for the character is “incredible,” and that we may get a look at that next month.
A question about how the story has changed in light of what’s going on in America surrounding police excessive use of force was raised, and how Tynion reconciles both Batman’s capitalism and ‘copaganda’ with what’s happening in the real world. The writer said he thinks Batman comics are perfect both for leaning into stories about that and for leaning away from them. He explained that they’ve been having conversations about how to address social issues in Batman, but that the benefit of a story like “Joker War” is that it’s “not meant to be a grounded story,” and that that was part of what went into developing the story, but that “core aspects” of the story are relevant to what’s happening in the world. He said going forward they’ll be addressing more of the social aspects of Batman, particularly “Batman being confronted with the ways in which he should do more in Gotham City, and the ways in which he wants to do more and wants to be better.”
Regarding where “Joker War” will leave the relationship between Batman and the larger Bat-family going forward, Tynion said the family has been “breaking” for a while, and that he wants to “heal some of the rifts in the Bat-family” to allow for new stories to be told with them. He described a “robust Bat-family” as a key element of what will be happening going into 2021.
Punchline’s massive popularity came up, and Tynion expressed his utter shock over it. “She came about for a lot of practical story reasons,” he explained. He went on to describe her as a lieutenant in The Joker’s army, and as a “dark mirror” of Harley Quinn, who he didn’t know he would be able to use initially. Jorge Jimenez’s design for the character was when she really came together for Tynion, he said, and led to her being elevated and repositioned in storylines, and placed on covers. He described her growing fandom as “a phenomenal experience.”
Asked about how he goes about adding new elements to an eighty-year mythos, Tynion said his goal is to “use new characters to give voice to aspects of the mythology that haven’t been voiced yet,” and to approach stories from a more modern perspective. He cited the aforementioned Punchline as his attempt to address people who “look up to” The Joker and other dark ideologies. Another new character, Clownhunter, was described as “a way to give voice to the man on the streets in the midst of Joker War. The Joker has broken a bunch of people in Gotham City, and those people are angry and they’re sick of Batman not doing anything about it, so they’re going to take it into their own hands.” Ghost-Maker will be his way to look at Bruce when he was younger, while The Designer is about the way Gotham’s villains have evolved over time. Each new character is Tynion’s attempt to reveal something new about the Gotham mythos, and also to bring in new readers who want to connect with new characters as opposed to the older ones. Tynion also said that won’t stop him from bringing back some old favorites, though, naming Harper Row/Bluebird as a character he’s bringing back solely because he loves the character.
Did Tynion want to bring in any non-Bat-family characters for “Joker War”? The writer said no, having just come off of working on Justice League and Hell Arisen and Death Metal. He said he’s excited to zero in just on Gotham for a while, though he’s also excited to bring Grifter into the mix. Grifter’s entry came about because Tynion needed a character for a specific story beat, and he and group editor Ben Abernathy landed on Grifter because he’s “frickin’ cool.” Tynion named Plastic Man as a character he would love to work on at some point, but that he doesn’t see Plas becoming a member of the Bat-family any time soon.
The final question was about how the other villains of Gotham will respond to the events of “Joker War.” Tynion said that story will appear in the Catwoman tie-in to “Joker War,” and will feature Catwoman convincing The Penguin and The Riddler to do something that will “twist the entire dynamic of Gotham City moving forward.” He described it as something that will pay off both in Batman and Catwoman following “Joker War.”
“Joker War” kicks off in Batman #95, which goes on sale in comics shops and digitally tomorrow.