Start spreading the news... there's a brand-new Batman in the DC Universe, with a new city to call his own. All through 2021, writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, American Crime, The American Way, The Other History of the DC Universe) reintroduced us to Tim “Jace” Fox, lost scion of Bruce Wayne's tech and money man Lucius Fox. In Future State, in The Next Batman: Second Son, and in the ongoing I Am Batman, we've seen Jace return to Gotham and make a name for himself as a different kind of crimefighter under crimefighting's most prestigious name. And this year, Jace and the Fox family are heading to New York City. Jace has already been showing us what Batman might mean without Bruce Wayne. But what is a Batman outside of Gotham? We talked to John Ridley to find out.
When news first broke that you’d be working on a new Batman story with ties to the Fox family, the first name on everybody’s mind was Luke Fox, who was already established in Gotham as Batwing. Then you juked all of us by bringing back his brother, Tim Fox, an obscure character who hadn’t really been around since the early ‘80s. Why did you confer the mantle to the “second son?”
Very good question. And the answer is in the question. As you mentioned, Luke had established himself. He had these desires to get Batman’s attention and be part of the Bat-Family, and go out and do the things that he did. That was really established. And, you know, one of the things that fans really struggle with is when people go back and reconfigure characters to fit a new narrative. So for us, it was like, we don’t want to unwind Luke. He’s established. He’s got his identity, or identities. He’s got his drive. But there’s this other member of the Fox family who has been estranged from that family and who’s been away, with his own issues.
Much like in The Other History, it’s not even so much changing the past, but filling in these holes. Rather than take Luke and say, “Here’s everything everybody knows about Luke, but I need this to happen, or I would like this to happen, or we feel like this should happen,” why not take this character who represents the Fox family, who represents discord in the Fox family and has been estranged clearly from the Fox family? We’re saying, “Okay, let’s embrace all of that, and build off of all of that.”
Art from I Am Batman #6 by Ken Lashley
Part of the way that Jace has created that identity for himself was by changing his name, which has been an important part of the story, cutting ties with the person he once was. We don’t know yet why he chose “Jace” as his name. But, let’s be honest for a second here: how much did this have to do with avoiding confusion with Tim Drake?
Part of it was a desire, really, to have a bit of uniqueness to the narrative, and something else—that one other card that you’re going to reveal, at some point. I have a very personal reason why I like the name Jace that I’m not going to get into at the moment. But out of everything that we’ve done, that we’ve been allowed to do, the latitude that we had, the one note that came from on high early on was the name Tim wasn’t going work. And to be honest, I think part of that confusion, of hewing too close to a very, very established character who was already named Tim, I think that was part of it, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think that was all of it. I think there was just a feeling that Tim as a name, or Timothy, maybe just didn’t feel as modern or impactful. There was a lot of thought, or different perspectives, that went into the decision making, and it wasn’t like anyone said, “Well, you just can’t have a Tim for this one reason.”
You know? You could have much bigger problems.
We could have much bigger problems. And if the solution to that one problem is something that makes everybody that much happier, it was a good problem to have.
Art from I Am Batman #6 by Ken Lashley
Beyond the name, Jace has a much different approach to acting as Batman than Bruce Wayne. Part of that is being fresher to the role, but it’s also formed by his unique history and ideology. What can Jace Fox do as Batman that Bruce Wayne can’t?
He can represent in a different way.
Bruce’s mission, from being a child witnessing one of the most horrific things that anybody could witness, having his parents slaughtered in front of him, that feeling of, “I couldn’t do anything. Not only could I not do anything, but the person who did it was fearless. He had no fear. He had no fear of consequence of what he was doing, of the lives he was shattering.” There’s a moment when they first articulate the origins of Batman where young Bruce Wayne is just laying across the bed, and he says, “I swear to God,” I’m paraphrasing a little bit, “that I will dedicate the rest of my life to warring against crime.” And it’s always been about instilling fear into the criminals, the “cowardly lot.” “How do I scare them? How do I make them feel bad? That fear that I as a child felt?” That was his drive. And it’s worked effectively. Not just for Batman, but for this character.
Jace’s origin is completely different. He was the one who inflicted damage on a family. He was the one who shattered a family. He was the one who literally ran from responsibility. And he realizes he has a responsibility, not just to fight crime, but to inspire people to do better. To inspire them as a person, certainly to inspire them as a young Black person. To be part of the solution and not just wait for the system, because the system too often fails, but to have a moral compass, because he saw what happens when justice is, in his opinion, perverted by his father, who had all the means in the world to put his thumb on the scales of justice.
That’s where they’re radically different. And Bruce’s Batman, you know, he’s got the toys. He uses money. Bruce Wayne doesn’t care about money as a billionaire. He cares about “What does this money do for me to help fight crime?” And Jace’s thing is like, “I’ve seen money be used as a weapon against justice. I don’t want the money, I don’t want the toys. I don’t want to be warring on a massive level. I want people to see me and know, ‘Hey, if I can do this, you can stand up for what is right, too.’”
Art from I Am Batman #6 by Ken Lashley
That’s what we really want to explore through Batman. Yeah, the uniforms can be the same. The name can be very similar. But who is that person, and how is that unique? A lot of people are very complimentary and say, “Oh, it’s very cool, you’re writing Black Batman.” And I go, “No, I’m not writing ‘Black Batman.’ I’m writing Jace Fox, who is Batman.” And yes, he is Black, but if he can’t be completely different from Bruce, there’s no need to do it. Because Bruce is there, and he is effective, and his stories have been great over these many years. What we’re doing is different.
We’re here today to talk about a big change for Jace’s Batman, starting in a brand new story arc, moving away from Gotham into New York City. What’s the difference between being Batman in Gotham, and being Batman in New York?
I’ll talk about the difference for me, in storytelling. As somebody who just grew up on comic books, everything about them, the wish fulfillment, the action, the artistry, the cinema, all of that to me is terrific. To be part of that, all these many years later, is just a gift. Along with that, though, I like things that hew to a bit of reality. The American Way certainly butted up against that. It’s one thing to have characters that are fighting aliens and things that come through the portal, but what happens when you’ve got to deal with society and how people look at you based on your demographic, based on what they perceive?
For me to take Batman, to have the opportunity to return Batman to his roots, to take Jace Fox and put Jace and the Fox family in a real space, and then tell stories that I hope are entertaining, that I hope have the cinema feel that I love when I read graphic novels. Have the iconography, have the emotional velocity of storytelling, but marry that with elements of otherization, representation, intersectionality of demographics and policing.
Rightly or wrongly, Bruce is Gotham. I know Bruce right now is on a bit of a travel kick but, you know, Gotham is his and should be. And if Jace can exist in New York and I get to tell these kinds of stories that will fit our overall perspectives of what Jace can be, that to me is the perfect situation.
Art from I Am Batman #6 by Ken Lashley
As we were talking about earlier, the role of Batman is founded in the ideal of striking fear into criminals. Early in I Am Batman, Jace does this by demonstrating he isn’t necessarily the non-lethal Batman criminals are familiar with by removing his mouth plate and revealing his Black skin for the first time. As Jace moves to New York, the plate is gone, and his race is no longer a secret. This invites two questions. First, how does Jace really view lethal force, in comparison to Bruce? And second, how much does Jace’s Black identity play into his role as Batman?
Very good questions. In terms of his lethal force, in the first issue of I Am Batman, there’s a moment with a kid who’s out joyriding, and Jace gets the car to spill, and the kid tries to hit him and Jace just dodges. And he says, “I’m not trying to put a beatdown on you if I don’t have to.”
That was very important to me. It was really important for Jace to show restraint in that moment and point out, “Look at all these people, they’re just collecting evidence right now. Do the right thing, turn yourself in. And if you don’t, I will come and find you.” It’s very important for me going forward to really articulate these balances between equal or lesser force, which is allowed by law, and force which then becomes the thing that I think any reasonable person doesn’t want to see. If I’m going to operate in a space that is even adjacent to reality, those are very important things that are not going to go away. Those are discussions that are going to be had. When you see that first issue of New York, it’s a plot point. It is a very specific plot point of how this is going to work in a real-world situation. How Batman is going to work.
In terms of representation, that’s also a big part of it in going to New York. To me, with Jace Fox as Batman, it is not “Black Batman,” but to your point, people are going to see it as “Black Batman.” That is a huge plot point coming—how people absorb, articulate, how they even describe this Batman. I think at this point, a year plus into Jace Fox and people knowing the kinds of stories that I tell, that’s the expectation. Anybody that’s buying these books already has the expectation that this is going to deal with race, representation, policing, identity, family, estrangement, responsibility… All of that. And I look forward to telling those stories.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to address Renee Montoya, a character you’ve written quite a lot of recently. Your Other History of the DC Universe retold her story seen in Gotham Central and 52 of a woman who was disillusioned with the police, and left to seek her own truth as the Question. But, in Second Son and I Am Batman, we’ve seen a very different side to Montoya as police commissioner, enforcing laws she doesn’t even seem to believe in herself. How did Renee get here? Has she forgotten her ideals, or is there something we’re not seeing?
Renee is a character, just, her longevity and her progress has been remarkable. One of the things that’s great about comic book storytelling is even outside of the spaces I’ve worked in, there’s progression of these characters. They’ve been around a long time, but there’s progress. And Renee has gone from being a beat cop, to being a detective, to being on the Major Crimes Unit. We’ve seen her struggles with herself, with her identity, with her sense of loss. With her partner, and that feeling of guilt. And one of the things that for me was very interesting was it’s one thing to be outside, adjacent to, or part of a system, but not really a decision maker, and gripe about how decisions are made. It’s a whole other thing to then be a titular person in a system and realize it’s not that easy. There are compromises. There are things you have to do.
You know, you watch shows like The Wire, which I loved, or American Crime, they are very much about systems. And you can be an idealist all you want, and we see it every campaign. But you get in there and you realize it’s not that easy to lead. That’s what I really loved about it. It was an opportunity for Renee Montoya. Just that ascension itself was just an honor to write. But fresh from The Other History, to be able to say, “Now, how do you put all this into practice? What do you do with all this? How do you actually manage?” And to see Renee have to make compromises. To see her even have to say to Adriana Chubb, “Look, I’ve got to make some tough choices right now. And the toughest choice: I need you to be a pawn, because it’s part of the endgame, and that’s me having more authority in running the police department if you’re not here.” And Chubb going, “Well, I don’t get this.” “Well, it’s not for you to get, this is the system, and the way it works.”
I love Renee. I was so honored to introduce her as commissioner. I love where she is in the overall DC Universe right now. And without giving away too much, there are more plans afoot for me with Renee. And I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to continue building on the legacy of so many people who’ve made her one of the most interesting characters at this point in the entire DC Universe.
I mean, to many, it’s surprising that she came back to the police at all, after all she’s been through.
Yeah, sometimes it takes somebody who’s got a little scarred flesh, and can endure, to do that. But I cannot think of a more perfect person to have step in. She’s the least amoral person in an immoral world. That’s why I loved her as the Question, you know? She questions her own identity. She questions the world. She’s very philosophical. She understands very deep things. Everybody loves Jim Gordon, but every once in a while, you’ve got to renew what’s going on. And Renee is a renewal, but it’s consistency as well.
Jace Fox moves to New York in I Am Batman #6 by John Ridley and Ken Lashley, now available in print and as a digital comic book.