Batman’s back. Now, that may sound like an odd thing to say—of course, DC publishes multiple Batman comics a month—but the past two months have been dominated by Future State, and there hasn’t been an issue of the flagship Batman series since December.
Luckily, the Batman team of writer James Tynion IV and artist Jorge Jiménez have been hard at work planning a 2021 that will equal their prolific 2020—which included “The Joker War” and the introduction of new breakout characters like Punchline and Clownhunter. This week’s Batman #106 is the start of a new arc called “The Cowardly Lot,” featuring the rise of a new gang with the ominous name “the Unsanity Collective,” the return of Scarecrow and the introduction of new power players like shadowy billionaire Simon Saint.
DC Nation spoke with Tynion and Jiménez to get more details on what’s coming up in Batman, including the new role of Ghost-Maker, Scarecrow’s absolutely terrifying new design and if the mass surveillance brought about by the Magistrate in the pages of the Future State Bat-books could be a glimpse of what’s to come in present-day Gotham City.
The title “The Cowardly Lot” references Batman’s origin, but what does it mean for this story?
James Tynion IV: The classic line is that “criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot,” which is part of the original logic of why Bruce Wayne put on the Batman costume as a part of his war on crime. Back in the day, he was leaning into the fears of criminals by making himself seem more than human, something supernatural and strange that they could never overcome.
But the real world has shown us over and over that it’s not just the criminals of the world who are susceptible to that kind of tactic. There are so many forces in the world that prey on the fear of the public in order to bend them to their will. This story will spotlight a dangerous, wealthy man with his own crimefighting agenda for Gotham City, and his theory is that all Gothamites are a superstitious and cowardly lot, not just the criminals. And to cut right to those ordinary people’s fears, he’s allied with one of Gotham’s most dangerous and frightening rogues. One who knows a whole lot about fear and how to use fear to manipulate people: the Scarecrow.
The Scarecrow has re-emerged with a suitably frightening new design. What influenced your visual approach?
Jorge Jiménez: I am very excited about this character. He has always been one of the most terrifying in the Batman universe and when I designed this new look, I wanted him to be scarier than ever. I thought that his silhouette is very important, so I worked on something that at first glance from afar already generates some discomfort, like how birds react to a scarecrow— when you see it, you are not clear if it is alive or a doll made of branches and fabrics. When you look at it a little more, you discover those eyes, like creepy headlights staring at you.
I imagined that underneath the suit, there must be a fragile person, very thin and tall, and this makes the clothes themselves feel alive; as if no human was inside. I also wanted to include some aesthetic elements from a Japanese horror movie, long straight black hair; and some Mexican poncho textures in his suit, plus some syringes simulating his long fingernails. I just want that if in the middle of the night, you wake up and see that next to you, you automatically faint.
In 2020, you both introduced multiple new characters to the Batman mythos. What can you share about newcomer Simon Saint?
Tynion: Simon Saint is a new major player in Gotham City, who just moved back to this city he was born and raised in from out west in Silicon Valley. He’s come to town with a dangerous idea about creating a privatized crimefighting force he calls the Magistrate program, with highly trained and cybernetically enhanced agents called Peacekeepers. The first and most dangerous of these agents will be the man he chooses to become Peacekeeper One, and we’ll meet the man under the mask for the first time in Infinite Frontier #0.
And that’s just two of the incredible characters I’ve cooked up with Jorge for 2021. Last summer, when we were still deep at work on “The Joker War,” I started laying out all the character possibilities I saw. I believe that new characters enrich and expand a mythos, and revitalize the core iconic characters…and I think that’s doubly true when you have a creative partner like Jorge Jiménez, who makes each of these characters look vibrant and exciting. I know I’m biased, but I want statues and action figures of all the characters we’re introducing into the world of Gotham.
Jiménez: When you design characters for Batman, you realize how important this series is in the comic industry. I discovered this last year when I saw how some lines drawn in a few hours went around the world a few weeks later—I'm talking about Punchline. This is not very common for artists, that a design goes viral so quickly. But it is very exciting.
For 2021, we have included a new cast of characters and designing them is my favorite part of the project! I don't want to go into too many details because I think the surprise is important. But I promise you that I am thinking about every detail of these, taking care that the charisma of each one of them is in line with their appearance, that they all have their own identity—and quickly, just by looking at them, a part of you knows exactly what kind of person you are watching. Or not! (Laughs)
Without a doubt...my favorite is Miracle Molly. Note that name, I trust it will generate the "Punchline" effect this year too!
Every day I am taking new notes and seeing many references. I want all these designs to feel fresh, and that my style is noticed in each of them.
What echoes of the Gotham City of Future State do we see as Batman picks up in the present day?
Tynion: Readers of Future State have already seen that it’s a future where the Magistrate has cemented itself as a dark power looming over a Gotham City where the people believe that Bruce Wayne was killed by Peacekeeper One. So, people might want to take some hints from that in terms of where our story is heading if everything goes terribly wrong for Batman…
The glimpses of the future we see in Future State are not prescriptive, they only represent possibilities. But those possibilities are informed by the direction we’re planning on taking the Batman titles. Think of Future State as a tease of what may come, but we’re going to keep readers on their toes.
What I can say is that I think the most fun thing about Gotham in 2021 is that we’re further down the timeline than we’ve ever been allowed to go. The era of peak Batman, where he had his immense wealth, an ally running the police department and Alfred in the cave is in the past. Gotham is more dangerous than ever, and Batman is going to have to push himself to his absolute limits if he wants to survive what’s being planned for his city.
Ghost-Maker returns to Batman in a key role going forward. He is now an ally, rather than an enemy, with Batman. How will that dynamic play out in the book?
Jiménez: I introduced the character in Batman #100, but I still hadn't had time to enjoy it on the inside pages. That moment has come!
The whole process of designing this character was great, James had a very clear idea that he wanted, and my hand just moved by itself. The first thing that was clear to me is that he must feel like the opposite of Batman, and what is the opposite of Batman? The color white. From there, I thought of a very functional suit and what it would look like in today's modern high-tech context. Images of video game-style armor rained on my mind. However, everyone knows that I am a fan of manga and that aesthetic. So I took a series of elements that I like from manga such as the oversized and wide fabric, and I combined them with elements of military engineering. Obviously, I simplified everything to a comic language, to be able to move it comfortably around the stage without overloading the pages.
I tried to get a character that the fans would want to have as an action figure! Now, I am also working a little more deeply on his acting and his aesthetics outside of his suit. We will have very funny moments of interaction between Ghost-Maker and Batman, I promise!
Batman #106 by James Tynion IV, Jorge Jiménez, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles (also featuring a Robin story by Joshua Williamson, Gleb Melnikov, and Troy Peteri) is now available in print and as a digital comic book.