Jason Aaron and Doug Mahnke steer the Dark Knight into a genre he’s not typically known for—science fiction—in Batman: Off-World, an imaginative new space opera that finds Batman contending with an extraterrestrial threat he’s not yet equipped to fight. Set in the early days of Bruce Wayne’s life behind the cowl, Batman: Off-World introduces a whole new gallery of extraterrestrial foes for the developing young hero, who will encounter things his lifetime of training hasn’t prepared him for.
With such a unique premise and absolutely killer art by Mahnke, we wanted to learn all we could about where this new Batman miniseries might take us, so we sat down with Aaron, who’s returning to the world of DC comics after a far-too-long stint away, for an exclusive interview.
How did Batman: Off-World come about?
Jason Aaron: I’ve known Ben Abernathy a long time, going back to his days at WildStorm. We both worked on a Friday the 13th series, which was in the earliest days of my career. Once I was able to start working for DC again late last year, Ben was the first person I called. I knew I wanted to tackle a Batman project. The only other comic I did for the character was Joker’s Asylum: The Penguin, but this was a chance to do a Batman story proper.
When coming up with this story, was the approach to make a Batman story with aliens, or an alien story with Batman in it?
JA: It’s very much a Batman story—in space. Right away I knew I wanted to do something different, something that took him to somewhere we’re not used to seeing him and set him up to face a very different kind of challenge. Batman’s still early in his career, still fresh from the Batman: Year One days. He’s just figuring out the nooks and crannies of the city, and how he can be the Batman the city needs him to be. Suddenly he encounters a threat from beyond the stars and he realizes while he spent years traveling the Earth to become Batman, he left himself oblivious to what lies beyond the boundaries of Earth, and that there’s a whole universe of threats out there that he’ll have to be prepared for to protect Gotham. So, he sets out on a mission to complete his training in space.
We pick up with him thrust into the middle of a new corner of the DC cosmos filled with all manner of new alien threats and a couple of new allies. Lots of new characters from planets we know from DC’s history. But the main thing is taking this young Batman and dropping him in a situation he knows nothing about and is completely unprepared for, so he can become the Batman he needs to be to overcome it.
Were there any guidelines from editorial to depict a specifically younger Batman?
JA: We figured it all out as we were going along, in terms of his attitude and look. I wanted a look that felt closer to that David Mazzucchelli Batman. But the look changes and evolves as the book goes on before we get a version of Batman that we’ve never seen before. It’s pretty much been me, Ben Abernathy and Doug Mahnke figuring it all out as we go.
Doug Mahnke is no stranger to early days of Batman—Batman: The Man Who Laughs comes quickly to mind. Was this one of the reasons he was the right artist for Off-World?
JA: Doug was the first artist I asked for this project. I’ve been a huge fan of his for years, but our paths never crossed. He’s the kind of artist who can draw anything, but with a story like this, my one note off the bat was that Bruce Wayne is the only human we see in the entire book. Everybody else is an alien, whether they’re of a species from DC’s past or something completely new.
It’s easy for me to say and write, but Doug has to draw a giant planet-sized spaceship filled with all manner of alien warriors. If you’re casting a book like that, Doug Mahnke would be the first person you would want to hire. He’s absolutely born to draw a book like this, and he’s truly killing it.
Batman and aliens are a peculiar mix. Can you describe what readers can expect from bringing the Dark Knight into space?
JA: You get to see a Batman who changes and grows as the story goes along. Initially, he’s fresh from the days of Year One, fresh from the alleyways of Gotham, and he finds himself in a galaxy far, far away. It’s one that’s torn by war and strife and bloodshed, and his first thought is that he has absolutely no business being there. Everything is different and strange, and he doesn’t have the first clue how to go about achieving his goals.
As the series goes on, those goals get more complicated, becoming a question of what it really means to even be Batman. He has to answer this question, not just in the context of Gotham, but what Batman means to him. While he struggles to answer that question, he’s faced with a myriad of wild and exciting new alien threats, who will help him find his answer.
On that note, in coming into this story, did you feel required to research the vast alien races in the DC Universe?
JA: The references made in the book point back to a lot of the comics I read as a kid. This is in large part a love letter to the books I pulled off the spinner rack that made me a fan and led to me ultimately writing comics for a living. Certainly, The New Teen Titans was first and foremost among those. That first space arc of Titans where Starfire is kidnapped by her sister and the Titans and Omega Men rush off to save her? That was a pivotal story arc for me. I loved books like Omega Men and Atari Force—which was a brand-new series when I was getting into comics with gorgeous José Luis García-López art. Along with Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns—that was the pivotal period for me that made me a lifelong fan. You will see references to those books sprinkled throughout Batman: Off-World. So, the research was really just the books I read when I was ten years old.
Batman: Off-World #1 by Jason Aaron, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza and David Baron is now available in print and as a digital comic book.