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Batman writer James Tynion IV unveils the DC game plan for Bat-Family in 2021 & beyond

Batman
(Image credit: Jorge Jimenez (DC))

Batman won 'The Joker War,' but lost his family fortune along the way - and that's just the prelude to DC's big plans for its flagship Batman title by writer James Tynion IV in 2021.

After a two-month hiatus for the 'Future State' event looks at possible DC futures, Tynion and a flock of Bat-creators will descend for a new era in the Bat-family titles (and DC as a whole). Tynion is spreading his wings by taking on a second title (a new Joker series), while new creative teams take over Detective Comics and Nightwing, a new volume of Harley Quinn is launched, and a third ongoing Bat-title - Batman: Urban Legends - all begin in March.

(Image credit: Image Comics)

Tynion is charting the course ahead for DC's Dark Knight (and the Clown Prince of Crime), while also acting as a defacto showrunner (alongside Batman group editor Ben Abernathy) on this entire line of Bat-family titles at DC.

With the first blush of DC's March 2021 plans coming to light, Newsarama spoke with James Tynion IV about the 'Infinite Mysteries' of Batman and the Bat-family of titles.

Newsarama: James, readers are gearing up for 'Future State' in a few weeks, but we're already reporting on news of the return of your Batman title in March. Will 'Future State's Next Batman (a.k.a. Tim Fox) play a role in your run going forward?

James Tynion IV: I think that it's fair to say that Tim Fox and everything with the Fox family in general, that we started setting up in the pages of Batman #101, will have a direct impact on the Gotham line next year - from March and beyond. The shape that takes, I can't really get into yet, but just stay tuned.

The biggest thing that I can impart is that there's a big plan in motion right now. Like we have a bunch of plans for the Batman title, for the Joker title, for all of these titles, and we have some key moments where all of those threads are going to crescendo together. Then we have ways that they're going to continue playing off of each other.

So, if people show up and they're excited about what we're building here. We've got years of story to tell. So, just stay tuned.

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: Your new title with Guillem March was just announced - a new Joker ongoing series. What made you want to make another ongoing Bat-related book with the Joker as the lead?

Tynion IV: Honestly, it's something that was originally suggested by [Batman group editor] Ben Abernathy. It's nuts. You can't do a Joker story. Joker can't work as a protagonist. He's like the scary thing hiding in the shadows. He isn't the person you put up front and center, and Ben was like, 'Okay, tell me what the book is.' And I was like, 'Okay, fine. I'll tell you what the book is,' and I went home and I cooked on it over a long weekend. 

I came back with this pitch that was like, 'Okay, I think I figured out how to do it. And the way to do it is to center Jim Gordon, who is one of the best characters in the entire Gotham mythos. One of the most iconic, he was there from the original Detective Comics #27, he's as much at the center of the larger Batman mythos as Batman himself.'

And he has a deep and personal enmity to the Joker himself, like in a way that stands alone from Batman's rivalry with the Joker. So, it was something that once I figured out that Jim was at the heart of this book, and I started figuring out the other players who were targeting the Joker, that that's when I was off to the races.

Knowing that I get to work with Guillem March on this, who I think is one of the best unsung artists of the last generation, and this is his best work. Like I was just looking over all of The Joker #1 earlier today, and it’s absolutely stunningly beautiful.

It's going to be a scary book. It's a bit more in line with the sort of books that I've been doing in my creator-owned repertoire. It has a little bit of the flavor of Something Is Killing The Children or Department of Truth. At the end of the day, it's about Jim Gordon's struggle with evil and the embodiment of evil - that is the Joker.

(Image credit: Mark Brooks (DC))

Nrama: And how did you decide you wanted Punchline to have a back-up in this Joker ongoing?

Tynion IV: One of the key things about heading into next year is the Joker isn't in Gotham City. He got the hell out after the end of 'The Joker War.' And the Joker book is going to have Jim Gordon going after Joker outside of Gotham, but Punchline is still in Gotham. So, Punchline is the thread that carries over from the end of 'The Joker War' and the spread of this new clown gang in the dark shadows of Gotham city. She lays out what her plans are for the home front, while the Joker is out tackling some different stuff abroad. It keeps the two threads moving. So, when they clash back together it'll be a very big thing.

Nrama: You've made a few references to Barbara’s role as Oracle and the potential of Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain taking over the Batgirl mantle. Is this something you’ll be exploring further?

Tynion IV: Barbara Gordon is a character I have plans for both in the Batman title and in the newly-announced Joker title, which is going to feature Jim Gordon as that series’ protagonist. So, Oracle is going to serve as a through-line between both series. Fans of Barbara Gordon are going to get a lot of Barbara Gordon next year.

I know she's also very key to another unannounced series. [Editor's Note: This was later announced to be the Nightwing ongoing series]

But yes, part of that thread is continuing the relationship between Barbara, Stephanie Brown, and Cassandra Cain, which we saw in the 'Ghost Stories' arc. We saw a bit in 'The Joker War' and there's definitely a thread that's building there. 

(Image credit: DC)

You can see a Future State: Batgirls storyline happening. So, take that for what it is and that there's a lot more to come.

Nrama: Jim Gordon and Barbara are going to be in a title together – are they going to be interacting as father and daughter or as Oracle and Commissioner?

Tynion IV: A bit of both - that's a story that's going to go right into the heart of Jim Gordon and everything he's been through in his entire career of fighting crime in Gotham City as its commissioner, on everything he had to do to get up the ladder to become commissioner. And now that he's in this post commissioner retirement life, he's trying to figure out what is his final act and what are the last things he can do to the world? And his relationship with Barbara is key to that.

So that relationship is going to be very much upfront and center and the relationship of him to Barbara and him to Oracle. Is that going to be one relationship or is that going to be two relationships? You'll have to wait and see.

(Image credit: Hicham Habchi (DC))

Nrama: It's always great to see the Bat-family together and I know you're a fan of writing them. Are we going to be seeing more team-ups in 2021?

Tynion IV: Honestly, one of the biggest things that I am excited about is we have this incredible line of talent that we're seeing across the entire Gotham spectrum right now. That includes all of the writers and artists working on the Bat-family characters, and as you start getting the full picture of that, you're going to see how interconnected these titles are. Not in a way that will stop anyone who just wants to follow their favorite character, but there will be more touchstones that you can follow across the whole line.

What that does is - it allows me to touch on the relationships between Batman and some of the members of his supporting cast in the larger bat family without making the Batman comic a Bat-family comic, which for anyone who's followed my work knows how much I love the Bat-family, but my Detective Comics run was like a 50-issue ode to the bat family.

So, in my Batman run I'm a bit more concerned with the new characters we've been introducing to the Gotham mythos, and then honestly, Batman's incredible cast of villains. The focus of the central Batman title isn't going to really veer into a lot of bat family stuff, but the bat family is always going to be there to touch upon key moments. The one exception to that is Barbara Gordon, who, as I said, will be a key supporting character both in the Batman title and in the Joker book.

(Image credit: Yoshitaka Amano (DC))

Nrama: Speaking of the Bat-Family, would you now consider Harley Quinn to be a part of the Bat-Family?

Tynion IV: Right now, the fun thing in the dynamic between Batman and Harley is that Harley considers herself Batman's new sidekick. She thinks she is the new Robin, essentially. Batman disagrees. Harley keeps showing up at the scene of the crime and keeps escalating things and getting into trouble, and Batman is supportive of the idea of Harley trying to make things better and make up for past crimes. But at the same time, Harley is a chaos agent, and throwing a chaos agent in the mix is an often disastrous proposition.

Harley is going to be a key character in the Batman title next year, and I love writing her. I'm very, very excited for everyone to see what we've got cooking for her, and I'm working closely with Stephanie Phillips and Riley Rossmo on their Harley series

But I would say, right now, Harley probably considers herself more part of the Bat-Family than Batman considers Harley a member of the Bat-Family.

Nrama: There's been a few references to Harley's relationship with Poison Ivy. Is this something that will be explored further?

Tynion IV: I think people are going to see the threads that we've been planting for all things Ivy. You got a hint of that in the 'Ghost Stories' arc, like when we saw the big message in vines on the walls sort of pointing who took Harley and where.

So, there are definitely seeds that are being planted that are going to pay off next year. You can also see today the planting of some other seeds in the Catwoman title. 

And in the solicits for March you also see the mention of a Harley/Ivy story in Urban Legends. All of these things are connected and they are all part of one big picture. As people start seeing elements of that picture come into focus the story will slowly reveal itself, but there's a key Poison Ivy thread that's going to be playing out in Gotham across many titles next year.

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: You've introduced characters like Clownhunter, Ghost-Maker, and Punchline this year. Any plans to create more new characters for the Bat mythos?

Tynion IV: Absolutely. I mean, at this point I can't stop myself. I'm just having fun.  This is part of the thing that I think is so exciting about the new slate as it's kind of built right now, where we're introducing a title like Batman: Urban Legends, which allows us to do a lot of short-form content that focuses on supporting cast members in the larger Gotham mythos.

And we also have backup stories in the main titles. As announced, we're going to have a Punchline backup in the main Joker series. So, that continues her story from where we started it, from 'The Joker War' aftermath to the Punchline Special one-shot that came out last month.

The thing that I'm very excited about is - I would have a harder time introducing more new characters into the Gotham mythos if I didn't feel like the characters I had already created had homes where their stories could continue to play out, but thankfully people keep responding to this new cast.

Yes, all of the characters are introduced this year will continue to appear in the Gotham books next year, and we have some very exciting new characters. Both heroes and villains, who will be introduced both in the Batman book and in the Joker book.

Nrama: Speaking of newer characters, one of the newer characters introduced in Tom King's run was Gotham Girl. Will we see her anywhere in the Bat line’s 2021 plans?

Tynion IV: Right now, I don't really have any plans for Gotham Girl. I thought Tom brought her story to a good close. So, no immediate plans there.

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: What can we expect from Clownhunter, Ghost-Maker, and Punchline in 2021?

Tynion IV: I think Ghost-Maker is going to serve as a really interesting foil for Batman in 2021. Suddenly you have someone who Batman is going on some cases with, and also just sparring with, training with, and honing his own skills. 

Ghost-Maker has a lot of the similar basis of all of his abilities as Batman, but is a very different character. As he's someone who is very willing to point out all the ways he thinks Batman is lacking and all of that, which honestly is a very fun dynamic. Especially in a world where Alfred is no longer a part of the core Batman mythos since his passing, having a character who can poke fun at Bruce and tell him 'No, you're wrong. This is the wrong way to handle this.'

It adds this nice layer of tension. It's also nice writing Batman working with a friend, which is an interesting dynamic because now we have Bruce in this position where it's kind of like all of his kids have gone off to college and the other father figure in his life passed away and he's sort of figuring life out on his own.

Now it's just like he's reconnecting with old friends and all of that. There's something different with the dynamic between Bruce and a friend/rival character like Ghost-Maker than there is with Bruce when he's working with one of his former proteges, and that's a dynamic that I'm very excited to play with next year.

With Punchline, we laid all of the seeds for the next stage of her story in our one-shot issue last month, where we see her on trial and the hint of a larger clown conspiracy all throughout Gotham city. That story is going to continue to play with all of the core pieces we laid out in that special, and play with the ideas of people who are grappling with the spread of an extremely dangerous concept. Like the Joker's brand of anarchy, and who are latching onto that as an ideology in the city. So, being able to chart the spread of a dangerous ideology in Gotham leads to some really interesting storytelling, and I'm very excited for people to see what me, Sam Johns, and Mirka Andolfo have planned in those backup stories in The Joker series.

Last but not least is Clownhunter, who is one of my absolute favorites. I mean, I love all of my children equally, but he's a character very near and dear to my heart. And I'm very excited for people to see next week the release of the Batman Annual #5 with art by the phenomenal James Stokoe, which finally tells Clownhunter's full origin story, and that sets the stage for the next step in his evolution. I'm very excited for people to see all my babies as they go off into the world and have more stories told about them.

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: What are some 2021 Batman plans you want to just scream to the rooftops?

Tynion IV: Honestly, the biggest thing that I'm excited about heading into 2021 is I'm finally able to put one of my favorite Batman villains up front and center this year. And I think I've hinted at this in a couple of other interviews. So, I'll say it outright here. The big villain of the main Batman title next year is Scarecrow, who is one of my favorite Gotham villains.

We are going to be doing something very big with him. Jorge Jimenez has a phenomenal new design for him. We're off to the races, and what I'm setting out to do is I hope I can tell one of the best Scarecrow stories ever. It's more than just a Scarecrow story. He's not the only key piece to it. We also have some of the threads that are set up in the 'Future State' storylines, particularly with the Magistrate and Peacekeepers. You'll see the origins of those threads start in the Batman story in March. So, all of that's going to come together. It's going to be a big, crazy story, and I could not be more excited about it.

Nrama: Will this story redefine Scarecrow or just pull out things we've already seen with the character?

Tynion IV: It's a little bit of both. The goal is always to capture what is at the heart of the character that I've always loved and I've always been drawn to, but also open that character up. Like, one of the core principles of everything I've done in Batman is that I'm trying to write a comic, not necessarily for people like me who have been reading, living, and breathing Batman comics nonstop since I was 14 years old.

The fact of the matter is in the comics business a lot of people will start picking up a book - a lot of people just like try out a book and they'll try it on for size for like six issues and some of them become diehards and read the whole thing. But I'm always trying to write for trying to capture the attention of someone who is picking up a random issue in the middle of a Batman run and just filling that issue chock full of exciting imagery and cool characters - trying to excite them with the pieces of the mythology that they heard of, but may never have been introduced to in a Batman comic before. So, I hope by the end of my story, I have a whole bunch of new Scarecrow fans.

Stay up to speed on all the upcoming Dark Knight stories with our constantly-updating rundown of the new Batman comics, graphic novels, and collections in 2020 and beyond.

Kat Calamia

Kat has been working in the comic book industry as a critic for over a decade with her YouTube channel, Comic Uno. She’s been writing for Newsarama since 2017 and also currently writes for DC Comics’ DC Universe - bylines include IGN, Fandom, and TV Guide. She writes her own comics with her titles Like Father, Like Daughter and They Call Her…The Dancer. Calamia has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and minor in Journalism through Marymount Manhattan and a MFA in Writing and Producing Television from LIU Brooklyn.