When writer Tom King and artist David Finch took over DC’s bestselling Batman as part of the publisher’s “Rebirth” initiative, they did something kind of different with the character — they cracked a few jokes. In the wake of Zach Snyder’s more cavalierly-killing Dark Knight, King and Finch have crafted a funnier, more team oriented–but no less action-packed–Caped Crusader book than we’ve seen in recent years. The Observer caught up with the duo at New York Comic Con to discuss the absurdity of Batman, the pressures of jumping on to the title, and why Gotham City is more like Los Angeles than New York City.
Observer: There’s a lot of talk, especially after Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, about just how dark or violent to make Batman as a character. And your Batman isn’t afraid to use humor, or tell a joke. I’m wondering where you see the line, between serious Batman and fun, Adam West Batman.
David Finch: I would say, based on my reading of Tom’s scripts and the way that I’m interpreting it, I think Batman really works as just a totally, 100 percent serious character, but then the way that Tom is writing Alfred…we take shots at him, but it’s still respectful. It makes it funny and it lightens it up, but Batman is still a character that you can look up to and believe in. It’s a balance that I think Tom hits.
“You can never lose the sense of the absurdity of it, and the fact that this is a man who dresses in a bat costume and jumps off buildings. He’s not a Superman, he doesn’t have powers, he’s just a dude in a costume. And that absurdity has to be acknowledged”
Tom King: I think Batman himself is a serious character with a serious mission. And you can talk a lot about the emotion of loss, and talk a lot about anger and a lot about adventure through that spectrum, but you can never lose the sense of the absurdity of it, and the fact that this is a man who dresses in a bat costume and jumps off buildings. He’s not a Superman, he doesn’t have powers, he’s just a dude in a costume. And that absurdity has to be acknowledged and it has to be something you play with. Because the audience knows it’s there; it’s almost like an elephant sitting in the room. Every once in a while you want to say “Would you look at that fucking elephant?” And let the audience laugh and let the tension come out, because if you don’t do that then you’re just fooling yourself.
Gotham City itself is something that’s been drawn a million different ways. We’re surrounded by pictures of it right now. David, is there any aspect of the city you find yourself highlighting?
DF: For my part I’m drawing what Tom is asking for, and he’s very specific about some particular buildings that have a special meaning. Or Gotham Square, which I tried to find reference for, I don’t think there are any…
TK: We invented Gotham Square!
DF: Yeah, there you go, so I couldn’t find a reference. But for me it’s all about my favorite artists. From the design of the old movies in the 80s to Greg Capullo’s Gotham I think looks phenomenal, Kelley Jones and Frank Miller, I could go on all day. So one building is from this artist, and another is totally from another artist.
“I come from LA, which is the exact opposite [of New York City]. It seems beautiful and heartwarming and wonderful, and at its core there’s something real rotten. I think that’s the way I look at Gotham”
Are there any aspects of the city that you draw from real life? Locations or images from your own experiences?
Tom King: So the guy who wrote Batman for the five years before me, Scott Snyder, he’s one of my best friends and we’re both city boys, but we’re from different cities. He grew up in Manhattan and I grew up in LA. So I feel like that shapes our Gotham. Manhattan is a city that’s seems dirty and grimy and horrible, but at its center there’s a beautiful heart. And that really comes across in Scott’s writing; like the city comes across as really haunting but at the center there’s some core good.
I come from LA, which is the exact opposite. It seems beautiful and heartwarming and wonderful, and at it’s core there’s something real rotten. I think that’s the way I look at Gotham. I have a more optimistic view of the city, but at it’s core, unlike Scott, I have less hope in it.
How would you describe jumping on to the monthly Batman book? Does it feel a little like jumping on to a freight train, with the character’s long history and huge audience already there?
TK: It was scary as anything, man. I mean I’ve been to war twice, and this was just as scary as that. But the thing is, and I say to this myself, is you got to put that stuff away. A better way to put it is, you have to use it. You have to say the pressure of this moment, that’s just an element of Batman. When he took that vow and said ‘I’m going to fight crime and put the world on my shoulders’, what I’m doing isn’t close to what Batman is doing but I can use it, and put that into the character. Use that pressure to make good stories.