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MORRISON IN THE CAVE: GRANT MORRISON TALKS BATMAN
In one issue, he's reset Batman's world to a place like it hasn't been in years - if ever.

With an unabashed admiration for Batman as he was seen in the '70s and '80s ("hairy-chested Neal Adams love god"), Grant Morrison has kicked off his run on DC's Batman like a bat out of…nah - far too easy.

In his first issue, Morrison (along with artist Andy Kubert) have taken Batman out of Gotham, brought Bruce Wayne back to the fore, and reintroduced Kirk Langstrom, Talia, Man-Bat(s), and - Batman's son into the mix.

Morrison's second issue of Batman (#656) hits this week, and we caught up with the writer to talk more about the character and his plans for the book.

Newsarama: First off, why Batman? You've revitalized obscure heroes, are writing Superman, and have done your time with…everyone, and could have anyone…what's the appeal of writing Batman for you?

Grant Morrison: I wanted to work with Andy Kubert, which was a big part of the appeal, and I really got into Batman again after writing JLA Classified in 2004, so when Peter Tomasi came up with this offer it seemed worth pursuing even on top of all the other work. I was already doing Superman in 'All Star', so the idea of writing the Batman comic at the same time, and going back to the source of superhero fiction with the two most primal characters, seemed like too good an opportunity to miss (I had a Wonder Woman pitch too but I stopped with the World's Finest team)!

I felt that by combining the action-movie 'superhero' aspect of Batman with a more candid, behind-the-scenes reality-TV look at Bruce Wayne's life, I could create something that might feel a little fresh and unpredictable. It's definitely a challenge - I'm more comfortable doing surreal science fiction-y stuff and it's good to get a chance to expand my range.

Batman has traditionally been the 'superhero' book, while Detective Comics has always been the crime and mystery book, so it worked out perfectly when Paul Dini chose to focus on the self-contained whodunnits and left me with the superhero action soap opera.

NRAMA: You said some interesting things at San Deigo this year, and I was hoping you could touch upon them again here - the gritty, grim Batman worked for a time, but now…there needs to be a change. What's at the root of the change? Is it the shift in the DCU, a change in the larger zeitgeist of the culture?

GM: Personally, I wanted to see a psychologically 'healthier' Batman - the last couple of decades have seen the character in the comics deconstructed almost to the point of no return and the Bat-books were heavily-laden with an extended family of characters, many of whom existed only to stand in for some part of Batman's personality that had been lost or suppressed over the last twenty years. It seemed like the right moment to step in and start gluing him back together again.

NRAMA: But still, looking at the larger cultural subtext you're writing this in, what makes a grim Batman not appropriate for the world we live in now? Miller's working on a Batman vs. Al Qaeda story, and it's hard to think of a time when we've seen such grimness on the news…shouldn't Batman reflect that in a way, as he did in the late '80s when he first took that turn?

First off, the idea that superhero comics should reflect the news headlines is not one I tend to subscribe to. I've always preferred using my comics to talk about the world around me in the language of symbolism and metaphor and I'm more interested in telling stories about how people behave in bizarre situations than I am in commenting on current events.

Having said that, Batman will always reflect his times: the idea here is not to soften or emotionally reset Batman as an exercise in nostalgia but to make him more real and relatable, while at the same time offering some rationale for his complex multi-faceted personality I want to see a Batman that combines the cynic, the scholar, the daredevil, the businessman, the superhero, the wit, the lateral thinker , the aristocrat. He terrifies the guilty but he has great compassion for the weak and the downtrodden and will lay his life on the line for anybody who's in trouble. He's a master of yoga and meditation who has as much control over his body and his feelings as any human. He has a wider range of experiences than most people will dream of in ten lifetimes. This is not a one-note character! So, while I won't pretend we all live on Sunnybrook Farm, I don't think its appropriate - particularly in trying times - to present our fictional heroes as unsmiling vengeance machines. I'd rather Batman embodied the best that secular humanism has to offer - a sour-faced, sexually-repressed, humorless, uptight, angry, and all-round grim 'n' gritty Batman would be more likely to join the Taliban surely?

NRAMA: Er…

GM: And while we're on that subject...Batman vs. Al Qaeda! It might as well be Bin Laden vs. King Kong! Or how about the sinister Al Qaeda mastermind up against a hungry Hannibal Lecter! For all the good it's likely to do. Cheering on a fictional character as he beats up fictionalized terrorists seems like a decadent indulgence when real terrorists are killing real people in the real world. I'd be so much more impressed if Frank Miller gave up all this graphic novel nonsense, joined the Army and, with a howl of undying hate, rushed headlong onto the front lines with the young soldiers who are actually risking life and limb 'vs' Al Qaeda.

NRAMA: Swinging things back then to your larger picture - you've said that your take on Batman will be a return to the Neal Adams-esque, hairy-chested love god Batman. What's the appeal of that style and those elements for you?

GM: That particular take on Batman seemed to have a broader emotional range than the hand-wringing, self-flagellation that came to serve as a shorthand for the deconstructed Batman of the 80s and 90s. It's not all O'Neil/Adams though; I was influenced by the animated series portrayal of Batman, by Christian Bale's definitive performance in Batman Begins and by Mike Barr's '80s Batman stories with Alan Davis, which swam bravely against the prevailing trends at a time when the grim 'n' gritty current was at its strongest. Rather than a basically unhinged individual who was driven mad , bad, and pointy-eared by the death of his parents, I saw Batman more and more as someone who had saved his own sanity by doing the one crazy thing that actually allowed him to turn his loss into something positive and proactive.

So before starting the book, I read through every Batman story I own and tried to synthesize all of the portrayals - from the '30s to the present day - and all that history into the real life of a single extraordinary man. When you condense nearly 80 years of Batman's adventures into a little more than ten years of Bruce Wayne's life, his descent into grimness becomes not only clear but quite understandable! And the need to get him out of it is even more urgent.

The very rough timeline I have in my head runs as follows - 19 year old Bruce Wayne returns from his journey around the world and becomes the (1930s style) Dark Avenger Gothic Vigilante Batman for his first year of adventures. Then, aged 20, he meets Robin and his whole outlook changes - now he has responsibilities, he becomes less reckless, now he has a partner, he lightens up and learns to have fun again for the first time since his parents died. The police stop chasing him, the Joker stops killing and becomes a playful crime clown, and Gotham is bright and crazy like Vegas. Batman's having the time of his life in his early 20's, fighting colorful villains and monsters with his irrepressible young pal.

But by the time he's in his mid-20s things are starting to go wrong - the first Robin leaves to go to college and hang out with the Teen Titans. Batman enjoys a period as a swinging bachelor for a couple of years but it's not long before the hammerblows start to fall - in rapid succession, the now-homicidal Joker kills Jason Todd, the new Robin, and maims Barbara (Batgirl ) Gordon, Bane breaks Batman's back, then Gotham is devastated by earthquakes, plagues and urban warfare, the Joker kills Jim Gordon's beloved wife, Jason Todd returns corrupted, and a betrayal by his superhero friends leads Batman to the creation of Brother Eye and leads him on to Infinite Crisis where Batman winds up pointing a gun at Alexander Luthor's head before deciding to leave Gotham for a year,

Thinking about it this way, the grim Batman of the last decade or so makes a whole lot of sense - the guy went from cool, assured crimefighter to shattered ***-up, barely clinging on with his fingernails. His mission, his life and his sanity had all gone off the rails. His confidence was shot. After a few years of relentless pain, bad luck and betrayal like Batman's had, any normal man would be canceling the papers, pulling the blinds, then pulling the trigger. We had to address the effect of these tragedies and then move him beyond them.

In the upcoming issue #30 of 52 we see the post-Infinite Crisis Batman reaching rock bottom. The story of how he starts his comeback is revealed in a later issue of the weekly and it's that revitalized Batman Andy and I are picking up on in our book.

NRAMA: And when we catch up with him in issue #656, he's revitalized, reenergized, and kicking ass. Setting things up a little, just prior to this issue, Batman decided to have a blitz on crime? Catch 'em all in as short a time span as possible, right? And the Joker was the final guy?

GM: Pretty much. I wanted to get the traditional villains offstage fast so that I could concentrate on giving Batman a slightly different set of problems to deal with - I knew James Robinson was doing something that wiped out a lot of the bad guys so, in the end, I piggybacked off that.

NRAMA: Just so everyone's on the same page - that was the real Joker getting shot in the real face by a real gun by a guy who wasn't Batman in our reality, right?

GM: No, it was Xorn.

NRAMA: This other guy in the Batman suit - anyone to worry about, or stage dressing to get things where they needed to be?

GM: Everything in my first issue is significant and yes, the un-named cop who shot the Joker and died dressed as Batman feeds into a story which will begin to unfold an arc or two down the line. A nasty can of worms is about to open for the Gotham Police Department and Batman.

NRAMA: Tim mentioned it in the 'cave, but what is the effect of hearing that "Batman" shot the Joker in the face in regards to the rest of Gotham's other criminals? Is there a wave of "Oh shit, he's pissed!" going through the underworld now?

GM: Definitely, but that doesn't stop newer adversaries trying their luck.

NRAMA: Both you and Paul Dini mentioned that you were looking to bring Bruce Wayne back to your respective books. That brings up the obvious - is Bruce the mask for Batman or Batman the mask for Bruce, or…both are the masks of the boy who saw his parents killed decades ago, and, in some respects, ran and hid and hasn't been seen since…or, until now?

GM: It's a slightly different way of looking at the secret identity dynamic. There was a time when I might have argued that 'Bruce Wayne' died on the night his parents were shot and was replaced by 'Batman' but that approach seems a little naive and needlessly dualistic - Bruce Wayne didn't die that night, he survived and then decided to deal with his feelings of loss, rage and vulnerability in an unusual but highly effective manner. Bruce and Batman are the same person - that's the really interesting thing about this character to me now, the way they reflect and create one another to play different essential roles in this man's outrageous life.

NRAMA: Alfred seems to always be on Bruce's case about being more "human" and available…why does Bruce listen to him this time?

GM: The Batman I'm writing about has had a massive change in perspective following events which are detailed in a couple of upcoming issues of 52, as mentioned above - he's a lot more open to suggestions and more willing to act on them after what he's been through.

NRAMA: As you said as well in San Diego - this "humanizing"…it's almost as if Bruce has turned over a new leaf, so much so he's - as you said - telling himself black jokes while he's fighting? He's no longer the caption-box guy with "I hear their bones snap and grind like wet cement?" Can you give an example or two of what's coming in that direction?

GM: Well, I still intend to do 'Miller'-style first person narrative captions which give some insight into Batman's thought processes but it seems more 'realistic' to imagine Batman as a hardcore fightin' man who wouldn't even notice his injuries until long after the fight was over, so no more of that 'MY BACK SPLINTERS INTO A THOUSAND SHARDS OF AGONIZED BONE. HE'S GOOD. HE'S YOUNG. HE'S TOUGHER AND YOUNGER THAN ME. AND TOUGHER. DID I MENTION TOUGHER ? MUSN'T BLACK OUT...' In Batman #657 we see some of the pulp noir narration and non sequitur imagery that goes through Batman's mind during a fight and keeps him from being distracted by his aches and pains.

The boy with Talia - again, just getting everyone on the right page - he's the baby from Son of the Demon? Why pick that particular piece of history (that was at one time argued out of continuity, by Denny O'Neil) back into play?

GM: I was a huge fan of Mike Barr's Batman stories and well aware of the controversy surrounding Son of the Demon, so I thought it might be interesting to launch my run with a story guaranteed to raise some eyebrows. I also really liked the Ibn Al Xu'ffasch character from Kingdom Come (who was essentially the Son of the Demon baby all grown up) and felt that the notion of the bad son had a strong place in Batman lore and could be used to generate some interesting new stories.

I'm trying to put all kinds of things back into Bat-continuity in a way that makes sense, including Bat-Mite and Ace, the Bat-Hound.

NRAMA: Obviously, you're playing up the playboy image of Bruce, and then, there's a kid…recently, Matt Wagner said that he feels Batman/Bruce Wayne is one of the DCU's better-sexed heroes…dunno - just seems natural that you might have a thought or two on all of this…does Bruce Wayne score with any regularity?

GM: I like to think he does. In fact it's my job to imagine it happening, may the lord have mercy on my soul. I figure Bruce does whatever it takes to maintain his health and stay stress free and fit. He would see sex as just another form of exercise with proven health and efficiency benefits. Someone in Bruce Wayne's position would be surrounded by beautiful women all the time and I can't imagine he'd resolutely say no to all of them, and remain uptight and frustrated. I think he'd find partners in his own social circle - party girls, heiresses, models etc - who would be up for no-commitment, no-strings liaisons and who could be guaranteed not to run straight to the tabloids.

NRAMA: Fair enough. So - this week's issue - we're set up…Talia and son have a squad of Man-Bats with them…this can't be good can it?

GM: It's good for readers who want to see Batman duke it out with scores of winged monstrosities. The first arc's a twisted domestic drama about a playboy confronted with his responsibilities.

NRAMA: Where do things spin out from there? Any long range teases?

GM: The plan is to take Batman's life to places we've never seen before, and to pick up on stories and incidents people may have forgotten or overlooked. The fifteen issues I've worked out combine to tell one long story comprised of several smaller arcs - the first one re-introduces Talia and Batman's son in a big splashy James Bond adventure. Then there's a creepy Joker one-off done as an illustrated prose and comics piece, followed by a three part story re-uniting Batman with the Club of Heroes in a 'Name of the Rose' style murder mystery with clues for readers to solve. After that we return to the story of the cop who dressed as Batman, and why, and everything starts to feed into the larger storyline, which takes Batman on a very strange and unusual journey to face a terrifying new villain.

NRAMA: When do we get to see the new Batmobile?

GM: Not for a while - it appears somewhere around issue … but I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.

NRAMA: Finally, how long do you plan on hanging around Batman, Gotham, and everything else?

GM: As I say, I have fifteen issues planned and there's a good chance I'll do more. My goals are to make the Joker soul-destroyingly scary again, to get the reader further into Bruce Wayne's head than ever before and to create at least one good new Batman villain.

We'll see.

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