After starting his run as the new writer on Batman in January, James Tynion IV is wrapping up his inaugural story arc, “These Dark Designs,” while setting the stage for this summer’s explosive “Joker War” crossover event, which will be told across DC’s line of Batman titles. The upcoming story arc has the Joker escalate his eternal conflict against Batman, with all of Gotham City caught in the crossfire like never before as new heroes and villains rise from the ashes.
In an interview with CBR, Tynion IV teases what’s to come in “Joker War,” the inspirations behind new characters Punchline, the Designer and Clownhunter and how Batman’s new obsessive drive to combat crime in Gotham may cost him everything. DC has also provided an exclusive, unlettered preview of Batman #92, drawn by Guillem March and colored by Tomeu Morey, as the current story arc, “These Dark Designs,” moves to its conclusion.
CBR: So with “These Dark Designs,” we’re starting to see everything come to a head between Batman, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman and Harley Quinn’s impromptu team-up. What was the inspiration behind creating the Designer?
James Tynion IV: A lot of it was how I built the story because it was different pieces that were layered on what I was looking to do. Underlying all of this is the idea of Bruce trying to build a new Gotham City — that is the core thematic thing underlying this entire arc — and part of that is the idea of what his actual intentions for the city are. What is the design for not only how he wants Gotham City to work, but also how he wants crimefighting to work in that city and how he wants to improve himself? So I needed a character that would attack the design Bruce built for his city.
So, that’s how I got to that point with this character Designer, who has been idea that’s been in the back of my head, raw, for a long time since, honestly, before my Detective Comics run — I almost brought him into my Detective run one time — but this was an idea that was in the back of my mind and it was cooking for a while. And I realized that here I wanted to do a story that would bring together all the crazy, different elements that I love about Gotham City and allow me to sort of reintroduce them and play them off against each other.
And I wanted a good ideology sort of behind all of that, so the Designer sort of became the excuse to throw everything into the kitchen sink. And he is sort of a kitchen sink character in it of himself, his design by Jorge Jimenez, I fucking love it because it’s insane. It’s meant to be, it’s meant to be excessive. What I told Jorge when we sent the design concept over was “Imagine there was a Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid…” and one more game I keep forgetting that I would say.
Was it Chrono Trigger?
Chrono Trigger works as good as any! Imagine if there was a crossover game for all those franchises and the villain of that game was the literal devil: That’s the Designer, that’s what I wanted him to look like, I wanted all those disparate elements. I wanted him standing next to the Gotham villains — it’s like he’s come from a different genre or media — to come tell these villains how they can be better and how they can operate against Batman better, and there’s a lot of meta stuff tied into it. But, really, the heart of it is just throwing a whole gauntlet of insanity against Batman and seeing how he reacts to it and whether or not he breaks in the face of it.
Speaking of Jorge, one of the big things that’s got everybody talking from these first few issues has been Punchline, which he helped design as well. What was the idea behind creating Punchline and what made this the right time to introduce her as opposed to “Joker War?”
This is something just in general, but “These Dark Designs” has a clear ending in issue #94 that has a whole thematic loop back to the first issue; that story will be collected as one thing. But one thing I wanted to do in my Batman run was hold back a little from the firm, like “This is a six-issue arc, and this is a six-issue arc.” I wanted to create a bit more of a rolling system of stories that allows me to keep introducing characters and subplots that then pay off a little bit down the road.
In coming up with Punchline, I knew that — for pure utility reasons — Joker needed to have a lieutenant if we were going to have “Joker War,” because Joker isn’t really a general; Joker is going to do what Joker is going to do. Even though he can have a whole gang system around him, you need the person who’s actually telling the different gang members what to do, because Joker is just going to say something mysterious and then shoot one of them in the head and then go off and do whatever he wants.
You need the ordered version of that — even the chaotic ordered version of that — and Harley Quinn used to be in that role. Harley Quinn was his top lieutenant who would have been the one helping manage all the gang members as Joker sort of does whatever Joker wants to do, so I needed a character in that role. And, obviously, it couldn’t be Harley because Harley hasn’t been with Joker for years of comic books now.
So how do you build a character who stands on her own two legs — while playing off Harley in an interesting way — because fans are interested in that? So I was thinking about all of that and I pulled together ideas, like, here is this anti-Harley Quinn character, this sort of dark mirror to what Harley represents. Here’s all the ideas that I want to plug into that, and all of the stories that might sort of come from it.
And Jorge pulled together immediately this, and I was like “Holy crap, this is a great design!” There’s something when you see the design of a character, you just know people are going to respond to it, because it just looks cool. There’s an X-factor that’s very difficult to put into words, but you see it and you’re like, “Yes, this is a character that I would love to have a figure of on my desk, this is just a cool-looking character.” Once I saw that, I knew that the sort of stories that we were going to build with her, we knew we were going to use her for “Joker War.”
We started doing these little codas at the back of Batman #85 and Batman #86 that were hinting at what the Joker was up to. But I didn’t want to show the Joker in those pieces, I wanted to see more of what his clowns were up to in the shadows, and she became the perfect person to hint at. We’re going to see her just sort of talking on the phone in this one panel in this earlier issue. And I had a whole story marked out where his gang was going to come into play before Joker actually comes into play in the story, and she sort of became the focal point for that.
You revealed in your newsletter that “Joker War” was going introduce a new character named Clownhunter, and I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on that.
This week the solicits for August go up and that includes issue #96, which is the introduction of Clownhunter. The way I keep thinking of it is Clownhunter and Punchline are the first children of this new Gotham City that I’m building, they’re both young characters. Punchline represents young people getting radicalized by dark ideologies, and she has been radicalized by the dark ideology of the Joker. She’s a full believer in what the Joker is and what he represents, probably even more so than the Joker actually believes anything that he says that he represents because the Joker is more of a nihilist than he claims to be when he’s waxing poetic.
But Clownhunter is sort of the heroic new child of this new, twisted Gotham. He’s a new type of vigilante who’s going to pop up in the city because in the first issues of “Joker War,” Joker is going to incapacitate Batman in a way that allows his plot in Gotham to spread into a war that takes over Gotham. And this is a kid in the Narrows who all of a sudden realizes “Batman is not coming. I’m going to put on a mask and start killing these clowns that are terrorizing the people in my neighborhood.” And he’s not doing it wearing a cool bat costume, he’s putting on, like, gear and a helmet that he could get in his apartment by cutting up stuff there. And he’s just going out there with a baseball bat with a Batarang hammered into it, and he’s just messing up people causing trouble in his neighborhood.
And that’s going to create a big problem for Batman down the road because he’s not a member of the Bat-Family; he will never be a member of the Bat-Family. But he does represent sort of represent a new wave of youth in Gotham City who are like “Batman’s been doing this for a while now, and the city hasn’t gotten better. Everything’s pretty bad here, and we might need to take it into our own hands.” And these strains of ideologies are the sort of things that are really going to set the stage for the next year or two of Batman stories.
At the start of this, Catwoman and Batman are together as he’s trying to reinvigorate Gotham and pick up the pieces from Alfred’s death but, as these new characters show up, Catwoman is playing for herself. I was wondering if you could tease her role at the end of “These Dark Designs” into “Joker War.”
There’s going to be a big moment in the next couple of issues that sets the stage for her role in “Joker War.” This arc has sort of driven a wedge between her and Bruce because the existence of Designer and her culpability when he came to Gotham last time is a problem. But there’s also everything Bruce has been doing to push away all of the people that he has human relationships with in his life, which is also a problem. So we’re going to see a lot of that come to a head, Bruce and Selina have some work they need to do and that’s going to be something that we’re going to address.
It’s hard to talk about the role she plays in “Joker War” — and she does — and not only does she play a role in “Joker War” in the Batman book, but also in the Catwoman book which will tie into it. All of these threads are going to come together, we’re building one big tapestry of story in Gotham right now. But, yes, Catwoman is very, very much a part of that.
You mentioned Bruce is going full tilt, and we’ve seen him rely on Lucius Fox more. You started out introducing plenty of new vehicles and gadgets for him. Is that a natural outgrowth of his renewed partnership with Lucius and is that going to come back to bite him in the very near future?
Definitely, yes to both [laughs]. All of the gadgets were meant to show the level is kind of being excessive into how he’s pushing into Gotham right now and it’s really fun to read and fun to write. But he’s so focusing so much on all of these different toys that he can throw at the problem while not solving the deep hurt that’s still within him from the death of Alfred. And this is something that’s going to blow up in his face, especially because there’s one character who knows Batman well enough that he can stick a knife in the exact wound and get in deep against Batman’s soul…and that’s the Joker.
“Joker War” is definitely going to strip back a lot of these elements. To be blunt, I think now is the time I’m going to start talking more openly about this: Joker is going to get his hands on all these new toys that Batman has been building, and he is going to use them against Gotham City; that is “Joker War:” All of the tools of Batman used as weapons against the city by the Joker, that’s the core concept.
What made you want to do a big, bombastic Joker story so relatively early into your run?
Part of it was why not go bold out the gate; I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t encouraged [laughs.] But I wanted to tell a big story. I’ve been writing Batman on-and-off for the entirety of my eight-year comic book career right now and coming back on to the character, I didn’t want to do something small, I didn’t want to go quietly into this title. I think that we wanted to do something that could unite the entire Gotham line and help reinvigorate all these connections and open up lots of potential for new story, and this is the story meant to open all those stories up.
We’ve all been coordinating across the different books, like, Batman and Nightwing will tie in very closely together at the climax of this story. You will always be able to read everything separately, but you will see how the tapestry comes together if you read all the books, that’s really exciting. That’s always something I’ve loved being a part of; I was writing the back-up stories for “Death of the Family” and “Endgame,” all of the Scott Snyder big, New 52 Batman stories, so this is me kind of getting the chance to do my own.
To close us out, James, how has your collaborative process been with Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March?
Honestly, it’s been really, really great. Tony really helped set the stage for everything that we’re doing here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. And Guillem immediately bringing in each of the villains from the start of his first issue, like, the way he brought in Penguin and the way he brought in Riddler, just immediately set the tone that we were doing something a little bit different. These are still the same characters down at their core, but we are trying something with them and I love, love, love working with him; he’s been knocking it out of the park. And, honestly, my favorite issues of his are the next two issues of Batman that are about to come out that have the first big fight between Harley Quinn and Punchline, which starts in the pages of issue #92 and continues into issue #93.
Guillem is a force of nature and so is Jorge Jimenez. I cannot wait for people to see “Joker War,” I think it is the work of his career. It is a powerhouse of art and every single page of it is just glorious.
Written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Guillem March, Batman #92 goes on sale June 9 from DC Comics.
James Tynion IV reveals the secrets of Batman: Joker War, including its major new players and why now is the perfect time for Joker to strike.