Following 2022’s political, introspective and heroically epic Superman: Space Age, superstar team Mark Russell and Mike Allred are at it again with Batman: Dark Age. This time, it’s a newly grounded interpretation of the Dark Knight, whose history we follow through the second half of the 20th century, all under the shadow of a looming existential thread awaiting his entire world in the mid-eighties.

We got to sit with Mark and Mike to discuss the relationship between these volumes of the “Age” saga, the search for meaning in a universe that may be ending, and what Age this creative partnership may be entering in the future.

Let’s be open with exactly what this book is about. Batman: Dark Age is your second book as a team, following Superman: Space Age. Other than the creative team and a similar naming scheme, how are these books connected?

Mark Russell: I’ll give you the elevator pitch. It tells the story of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman in a universe very much like our own. It is similar to Space Age in that it is set against the backdrop of the history that we all know. It is different in that it takes place in a different universe than the one in Superman: Space Age…but also one that has a time limit on it, one that is going to be destroyed by the Anti-Monitor at some point.

Working on Space Age together, how did that help you adapt to each other’s strengths? Has it helped inform a new working relationship for this book?

MR: For me, I realized I shouldn’t put so many damn panels on a page. Or, what I’ve sort of done is I’m just writing the way I usually write, but I know and I’ve come to peace with the fact that Mike is going to move the panels around where he wants them to create space where he needs it. Which, believe me, is by far the best way for us to work together. It’s far better when Mike makes these directorial decisions than when I do because it always pays off when he makes a panel big, or he makes a splash page. It’s always worth it. So, I write with the idea that I’m going to give him as much real estate as he possibly needs to draw the things he feels are important to the story.

Mike Allred: And that’s the only thing that’s changed for me, is knowing it’s okay for me to do that—that extra level of comfort which we’ve developed. That happened very quickly on Space Age, where I was pretty much given permission to determine if this panel should have more visual impact than another one. I’m extremely faithful to Mark’s scripts, so please, let’s make that very clear. His scripts are brilliant, and it really is just some subtle retooling on determining what I can do visually and giving a certain image or moment a little more room.

MR: My favorite moments when I’m working with the artwork is being able to eliminate entire balloons and entire sentences, because all the work is done by the image. To me, it makes the remaining words much more powerful if I’m letting the drawing do the storytelling.

Mark, a lot of the work you’ve done since 2015 has been political satire. In Batman: Dark Age, we see a lot of historical grounding in mid-to-late 20th century America, but it also has this huge, looming threat of the Anti-Monitor that’s going to make all of this null and void by obliterating everything. So, before we get any further, I need you to settle this for me: is the Anti-Monitor supposed to be climate change?

MR: I don’t think about it too much, I think of the Anti-Monitor as sort of like mortality. It’s one of a million things that will derail us. Everything we ultimately do comes to oblivion, and you have to make peace with that. You can’t really delude yourself thinking this is going to last. But just because it’s futile doesn’t mean that there’s not work to be done.

Eventually, the sun will explode. Eventually, there will be a heat death of the universe. But life is worth living while we live it.

MR: Yeah, life is worth more than just the consequence of life. We can’t think of it in terms of results. We have to think of it in terms of our chance to have a brief moment in the conversation of existence.

I think that’s beautiful.

MA: And terrifying. Existentialism can torture me. It’s something that I use pop culture to distract me from. Just a simple thought that it’s impossible that we exist. Just, how does anything exist? There had to be something that started existence. Well, how did that something start? My brain can just spin out of control with those kind of thoughts—those unanswerable questions. And so, ultimately, the way I survive and keep my mental health is to constantly be aware of what a miracle it is that we do exist. And that we do share this planet. And that we do have opportunities, and that we do have all of these incredible things at our fingertips, and relationships, and for us to be able to take this wonderful little art form—comic books—and tell stories, and to dive deep, while at the same time, have people running around in pajamas and capes. I love the escapism of it, and I love the subversive opportunity to have these bigger themes told through these genre stories.

One of the most interesting decisions you make very early in Dark Age is to leave Bruce Wayne at home when his parents are killed. How do you think that changes Batman as a character?

MR: Well, one, it just makes more sense. Why would you be taking a seven-year-old to see a movie at midnight? And two, I think it underscores the sense of guilt he has about his parents’ death. It happened sort of off-camera for him. Plus, if he was there, given the assassination attempt nature of the killing, he would have been killed too. There’s no way they would have left the heir to the Wayne fortune there to inherit the money when the whole point was to assassinate Thomas Wayne and take control of Wayne Enterprises. So, just from a storytelling standpoint, it made no sense to have him there.

It’s non-traditional, but we’ve seen that alley scene so many times that it’s refreshing to get it from another angle.

MA: One little aside… I want people to pay special attention to what happens with the pearls.

So, Batman, or at least a different iteration of Batman, was previously included as almost a deuteragonist in Space Age, contrasting with Superman’s philosophy. But it seems like, as of Dark Age #1, the spotlight is solely on Batman. Is that focus going to widen, or is there enough Batman alone to fill the story?

MR: No, it will widen. Superman enters the story. The Hall of Justice and the Justice League will enter the story. But it starts, in a lot of ways, very differently than Superman’s origin story, which is about him leaving a doomed world to come here and be fostered by people who loved him and took care of him. Bruce Wayne starts with having this enormous wealth and a family who loves him, and it’s all taken from him. So, he kind of experiences the opposite trajectory as Superman. But they do meet each other, and Superman plays a very influential role on Bruce Wayne’s development as Batman.

I would like to talk about the aesthetics of these books. What approach do you take to revisiting the DC heroes of the 20th century and retroactively reflecting the changing times in their designs?

MA: For me, it’s an opportunity to show the growth, the experimentation, the mutation, the constant upgrading and changing for these characters. And with Batman, who is a self-made hero and has the wealth and technology that’s available to him, I like doing these subtle little upgrades. You saw it in Space Age. In fact, maybe more in Space Age than what you’ll see here, because we established it there. But there’s constantly subtle little upgrades in the Batmobile, the costumes. That’s just from a practical point of view, but also to reinforce what I’m saying about him being a self-made hero.

For Superman, it all comes naturally to him, and he has this very healthy relationship with his parents, as well as being able to have guidance from his biological father. I like the contrast that we have with them, and we’ll be able to do that even more with other heroes that we plan on playing with.

DC: Superman’s got Space Age, and Batman’s got Dark Age. So, I have to ask you, and you don’t have to tell me the protagonist, but without giving anything else away, what’s the adjective for the next Age you’d like to cover together?

MA: I think we’ve discussed both New Age and Golden Age.

Batman: Dark Age #1 by Mark Russell, Mike Allred and Laura Allred is now available in print and as a digital comic book. Superman: Space Age is now available in a hardcover graphic novel or can be read in full on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.