The first time Batman and Superman shared a comic book cover was in 1940, so it’s pretty fair to say that the two legendary heroes are no strangers to teaming up. Yet, since the debut of Rebirth in 2016, the DC Universe has lacked on ongoing team-up title featuring the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. That changed this summer, when writer Joshua Williamson and artist David Marquez debuted our new Batman/Superman comic, which has come strong out of the gate with an integral Year of the Villain story featuring the Batman Who Laughs. Yet, along with serving as a frightening example of how destructive Bruce’s dark doppelganger can be, it’s also been a welcome reminder of just how great a friendship Superman and Batman have long had. In Williamson’s capable hands, Bruce and Clark feel like the sort of friends and partners you’ve always imagined them to be—familiar, friendly and willing to put their faith in each other even when they’re at their most unsure.
It’s a good thing, too. With several of the DC Universe’s heroes secretly corrupted by the Batman Who Laughs, the only people that Batman and Superman can trust in is each other. Their long-running partnership will be crucial in uncovering which other superheroes are in the grip of the Batman Who Laughs, and what it’ll take to put a stop to the villain’s still unknown plan. The problem is that, as a version of Bruce Wayne, the Batman Who Laughs knows exactly how strong their relationship is and likely what it would take to destroy it. Three issues in, we don’t know what it will ultimately require to defeat the Batman Who Laughs, which makes one wonder—even if Batman and Superman survive this latest struggle, can the same be said of their partnership?
We recently had a chance to discuss our new Batman/Superman series with Williamson, who let us know how he wound up working on the series and some of what we can expect from it going forward. He also discussed how writing a team-up comic like this can actually be easier than writing a solo book, why he loves working on event comics and how he views the relationship between his two heroes. (And we even tossed in a few questions about The Flash!)
Most comic writers have a dream of writing Superman or writing Batman. With this title, you’re writing both. Is it like checking off both of those boxes at once?
Yeah! About ten years ago, I was just starting in comics. I was making a bunch of independent comics and an editor at DC came to me and said they liked my work and wanted me to write an inventory story. They said I could pick either a Batman inventory story or a Superman one, but I shouldn’t say Batman because everyone always says Batman. So, what do you want to do? And I said I wanted to do a team-up—both Batman and Superman.
The editor said that no one had ever said that before, and to go on ahead and do it. So, I got to write some Batman and Superman inventory stories and ever since then I’ve been like, “This is for me, I need to do this.”
Whenever I had an opportunity to pitch or talk to an editor, I was always suggesting something with Batman and Superman together. Two years ago, when the topic came up again, I asked again if I could do it. It’s been like a mission. For the past ten years, I’ve been trying to do this. It definitely scratches that itch of being able to write two characters that I love.
You’re of the mindset that they’re very good friends and operate with a lot of respect for each other. Where do you think that comes from with these characters?
I think they definitely are friends. They’re an example of opposites attract in some ways, but when you get right down to it, they’re not that different. They both have a lot of the same goals. They might do things differently, but yeah, they’re friends. They like to poke at each other and antagonize each other a little bit, but at the end of the day, they both want the same thing.
I’ve always felt that Superman has the utmost faith in humanity, but I don’t always feel like Batman has that. Is that something you agree with?
I think Batman does. I think Batman has faith. The fact that he’s kept his vow going this entire time and never given up on it. I think he recognizes that there’s darkness around, and you need to pull that darkness through. But I think he’s never given up faith in humanity, no.
How do you approach writing a book where you’ve got two equal protagonists? This obviously isn’t a solo title, but it’s not really a team book either. Is there a different approach with a book like this?
It’s actually easier to write. Team books are hard because there are a lot of voices and a lot of characters. You want to make sure everyone has screen time and everyone has a story. Solo books can be a challenge. But here’s the thing, even when I’m writing The Flash, I’ve always got Iris around. I’ve got Kid Flash, Wally or Godspeed and the villains. I’ve always got somebody there for them to bounce things off of. For me, having two characters that know each other really well and can play off of each other, that makes it so much easier to write. I know their voices. I can hear them. I can hear Batman and Superman. So, when I’m actually writing the book and I can hear them talking to each other in my head, everything’s easier after that. When you know these characters as long as I have and have thought about them as much as I have, it feels second nature to write them together and to be able to hear the scenes with them.
One of the things that’s cool about this book is how much it ties into the DC Universe. It’s an essential book if you want to keep up on the bigger picture. How much pressure is that?
That’s part of the fun of the DC Universe. If you’re writing for DC, you want to work on crossovers and big events. It’s part of DC’s DNA. When you’re working on characters like Batman and Superman, it has to be that big. Why else would they be together? I mean, other than just to hang out. But no one wants to read a comic book about the two of them eating a pizza. Maybe I could pull that off for a page, but that’s it!
In some ways, it feels like I was built for this. With DC, it feels like the sort of thing that I’ve been doing since I got here, with Flash: Rebirth, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, Metal, The Button, The Price… I’ve been working on these events nonstop. Almost every event that’s come through in the last three or four years, I’ve had some kind connection to. So, for a book like Batman/Superman to be an important part of an event, I’m not intimidated by it—I love it. I love the challenge. I love figuring out how to make it all work. I’m addicted to it at times. If I wasn’t working on a DC event of some form or another, I would feel lost.
How has it been getting a chance to write the Batman Who Laughs?
Scott and I first met about a horror book. I met him when he was starting American Vampire. We’ve always been connected when it comes to horror comics. I know he has a passion for horror, and I have one too. I’ve written a lot of horror books.
I was there in the room when the Batman Who Laughs was created. That said, I’m definitely his babysitter right now. Scott and Greg created him. I’m just taking him and running with him. But what was important with the Batman Who Laughs is that Scott and Greg did such a good job, and then Jock with the miniseries, of establishing his voice and character so that I can hear him too. I know him now.
Here’s the thing to remember with the Batman Who Laughs. This is the thing that I see a lot of people forget about. He is not the Joker. He’s Bruce. He’s the worst version of Bruce. What would Bruce say in a certain situation if he was mean and over the line? That’s the version of him we’re seeing here.
Do you take the same approach with the infected superheroes? Is this the worst version of Shazam? The worst version of Commissioner Gordon?
Yeah. The way I approached it was, if I’m the Batman Who Laughs, who would I pick to infect? These were the characters I would pick. Then, when I started thinking about the different voices of these characters, I had to think about how they’re not evil. This is them acting on their worst impulses, but they are not evil.
In issue #3, you have Superman going undercover. He’s an investigative reporter, but it feels like going undercover would be much more of a Bruce thing than a Clark one.
It is! That’s the thing, whenever Batman and Superman are typically around each other—and I think Bendis has picked up on this too—what do they usually do? They hang out in the Batcave and Batman’s the one who goes undercover. So, with this I was like, “Let’s have them hang out in the Fortress of Solitude and have Superman go undercover.”
The Batman/Superman book often seems to be about Batman. Yes, we’re using a Batman villain, but I wanted to try to find ways of making sure Superman has his moments. Him going undercover is one of those, but it’s also for a story reason because they know that the Batman Who Laughs wanted Superman. So, let’s give it to him and let’s see what happens. They’re trying to figure it out.
You’ve launched this new book with such an important, integral storyline that it then begs the question—how do you follow that up? Do you know what you’re going to do after?
Yeah, but it’s too soon to talk about. We have an artist coming on for two issues that I love and that I’m really excited about, and that’s the most I can say.
While you’re here, I can’t NOT ask about The Flash. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Commander Cold stick around and become part of the team. Was that always part of the plan?
Yeah, it was always intended that he would stay. We knew he was going to stick around after “Flash War.” It was always going to about him being around…but keep reading.
“The Death of the Speed Force” ends in this week’s issue #81. What comes next?
It immediately leads into the Year of the Villain “Rogues’ Reign” stuff we’re doing. The Flash is missing and it’s all about the Rogues. That’s going to run from issues #82-#87. We’re slowly seeding the stuff with the Rogues, and it’s about to blow up in a big way.
Finally, I have to ask, are there any plans to bring Wally back into the book?
I would love to. I’m not done with Wally.