A new year means new beginnings, and DC is kicking off 2021 by introducing a new Dark Knight in Future State: The Next Batman. This exciting four-issue limited series is written by Academy Award-winning writer John Ridley and illustrated by Nick Derington and Laura Braga. The Next Batman sees Lucius Fox’s son, Tim (or Jace, as he prefers), don the Batman mantle and take on Gotham’s corrupt ruling class.
While crafting his story, there was no question for Ridley on who the next Dark Knight would be.
“Tim (Fox) was the first choice,” explains Ridley. “I think there are a lot of characters out there that could have been Batman, but for me, I think their motivations were not hyper clear. And I don't want to force change to either the detriment of stories that came before or having to overly modify what was going to come. Tim just allowed for a really particular narrative, which we believe is going to allow for a very particular incarnation of his Batman.”
Tim Fox first appeared in 1979’s Batman #313, where he was introduced as Lucius Fox’s troubled son. Ridley had fond memories of reading Len Wein and Irv Novick’s Bronze Age Batman storylines and enjoyed catching up on them in preparation for this series.
“DC's got an amazing library of stuff that they've lent,” he reveals. “PDFs going back in the day, going back finding every occurrence of Tim. More than just the Batman stuff. Honestly, it's just where the Fox family showed up, getting as much of a primer on them as humanly possible.”
The Gotham that Tim faces is a bit different than the one most readers are familiar with. In the world of DC Future State, the city resembles a police state, with a law enforcement agency known as the Magistrate ruling with an iron fist.
“There are going to be changes in the hierarchical structure of the Gotham City police, of the administrations—all kinds of things going on with Bat people,” Ridley teases. “Gotham is a character. It represents any major urban area and all the challenges that go with it—all kinds of crime, high and low, all kinds of people, all kinds of neighborhoods, all kinds of perspectives, people on the right side of the law who view what implementation of the law means, and certainly all kinds of people on the wrong side of the law, who want to take advantage of everything that's in the city, take advantage of people and opportunities. I want to lean into the human vastness of Gotham City. You look at any major metropolitan area and there are just difficulties of policing those cities, and I don't mean the political difficulties of it. I mean just how many officers per capita, per square mile. How do the beat cops see things differently than the detectives and the political administration?”
The Dark Knight has always had a complicated relationship with law enforcement, and Tim’s tenure as Batman will be no exception.
“There are folks out there, a police officer with a gun who doesn't understand who this new Batman is, he doesn't know what race he is under the cowl, he just knows he doesn’t know this guy,” explains Ridley. “It's going to be a fraught interaction before you start adding in things like race or being reflective of what's going on in the real world.”
As a Black creator, Ridley was blunt about some of the parallels between Batman’s fight against the Magistrate and the current movement for police reform. “Unfortunately, just as for pretty much every Black person in America, this moment that we're going through right now, it's hyper realized, it's very raw, and while the wider culture is very aware of it, this isn't new for us,” Ridley shares.
“Having a young Black man who is going to be an extension of law enforcement in this world, there are going to be people who recognize that the storytelling has the capacity to be very politicized. But with Future State: The Next Batman in particular, it's going to a whole other level because there are elements within that story, when you're talking about the militarization of any kind of representation of law enforcement, whether it's police officers themselves, whether it's extra-legal organizations, those are things that people have been grappling with for a long time. So, it wasn't about modifying it—this is going to be part of the storytelling.”
Ridley continues, “Batman is always dealing with crime, dealing with impoverished areas, dealing with street level crime and dealing with systemic crime. It's always been there. But yes, you make that character Black, you talk about a militarized police force, you talk about policing, and it becomes more political. But in those first two issues, it's very ground level, it's very fundamental.”
Of particular interest to Ridley is how Tim’s reintroduction to the Batman universe allows him to explore the Fox family, a dynasty that the writer feels is one of the most important pillars of the DC Universe.
“They’ve been incredibly integrated into the Batman universe,” he suggests. “Certainly with Lucius, when a character goes from the page to the screen, they become indelible, and what he represents as a friend, as a partner, as a father figure for Bruce, as a character that the world sees, and as a remarkable man who has the capacity to run one of the largest companies in America. That's pretty remarkable in and of itself. Luke has risen to a particular level on the page, and he hasn't gone beyond that yet. Tanya, as far as I know, never stated what her job was, what her role was. Same with the sisters and certainly with Tim.”
The hope, at least for Ridley, is that Future State: The Next Batman will cement the Fox family’s place in the DC Universe.
“The legacy would be to leave a wholly rendered family, and that any of these characters can then move on and inhabit other spaces in the DC Universe, whether they're heroes, whether they're just prominent characters that can be in the legal profession, business, finance and all the other things that really underpin what's going on with Gotham,” he reveals. “If fifteen years from now, every one of the characters within the Fox family was a strong, durable, well-known, well-understood, individual character, that when they showed up, they had a history with specific narrative events—to me, that is the legacy that I would love to leave.”
Other characters have taken Bruce Wayne’s place as Batman before, but Ridley assures readers that Tim’s tenure will be memorable.
“Even when people didn't know who was behind the cowl, you didn't want to feel like it's just another iteration of somebody playing Batman for a limited time because we knew that there was just much more for Tim to do,” he says. “Everything about Bruce was driven by the loss of his family, never really being able to attach himself to people, and that need to be Batman, that need to be an avenger. That's made him a very, very lonely man, but also one of the most compelling characters in literature. And the biggest difference is that Tim has his family and that family is always there. He too is driven by family, but in a very different way. He's going to have to reconcile much of that in real time.”
One thing that Ridley and everyone else involved with the comic wants to make clear is that Future State: The Next Batman isn’t about erasing or replacing Bruce Wayne—whose DC Future State adventures take place in Future State: Dark Detective—but rather honoring the Batman mythos and everything that makes it special.
“Over Batman's eighty years of history, I wouldn't say there's anything missing,” Ridley admits. “He's done everything. He's played in every space. I think the great thing about The Next Batman is it's not being opposite Bruce Wayne, or different from Bruce Wayne, or denying Bruce Wayne, it's embracing all those things that has made Bruce and Batman one of the most enduring characters in literature and saying what's next for that lineage. And next is building on the past and really making it urgent and durable in the moment and for tomorrow.”
Future State: The Next Batman #1 by John Ridley, Nick Derington,Tamra Bonvillain and others is now available on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. Look for the remaining three issues to debut on the service in the months ahead.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.