“What comes after?”
Three simple words. A loaded question. It can mean so many things, have so many answers. But how does it apply to this ongoing run of Batman comics by writer James Tynion? For me, it has served as a personal thesis statement, changing, evolving to fit my mood as I followed and read this run. Each step of the way I kept asking “What comes after?” but the magical thing was, I wasn’t the only one doing this, so was James Tynion and eventually so was Batman himself.
“What comes after?”
I first asked this question in May 2019 after it became official that Tom King was leaving the Batman title after Issue #85. Rumors had been abound for awhile about behind the scenes drama and DC shifting King’s plans and cycling him off the book and now everybody was speculating what would come after. Bendis, Ellis(before he was outed as a grooming creep), John Ridley – the list of potential creator names just kept coming. I had actually been asking “What comes after?” well before King’s initial departure news broke. My opinion of King’s run is that it is a LONG, decompressed mess that was ambitious as Hell but just didnt work for whatever reason, be that King’s disheveled story ideas or DC’s meddling, we do not know. Even though it fell flat for me, King still produced three of my favorite Batman stories of alltime (Superfriends, Batman/Elmer Fudd Special & Batman Annual #4), so it wasnt a total loss. But I had really been fiending for DC to go big, to shake it up, to give me something new and fresh. I was shouting:
“What comes after!?”
In September 2019, DC finally responded: James Tynion. James Tynion?! Scott Snyder’s friend/apprentice he brought on awhile back?? That dude?! I immediately groaned and muttered, once again, “What comes after?” At this point I remembered Tynion as some guy that was EXTREMELY lucky to know Scott Snyder because he instantly got a job writing big DC material that people sometimes never even get close to the chance. I had thought the guy wrote some solid if unspectacular stuff in the backups of Snyder’s Batman run. He’d written a weird and uninteresting Talon book. He was part of the slapdash mess that was Batman Eternal. And most recently, he had written a pretty entertaining run on Detective Comics that featured some great Batfam material. I had considered it a fluke. I really did. I was unfairly harsh to this guy because he’d been chained at the hip to Scott Snyder, cowriting quite a bit with this man whose work I largely don’t care for. I had considered him to have reached his peak thinking he’d made the most of his career already. The guy was fine, but this certainly wasn’t the splash news I expected. Also, Batman #100 was right there, looming on the horizon. Knowing corporate comics I thought we’d for sure get a big relaunch once that dropped with some big name creative shake up. Then they announced what was coming up to start his run:
Batman #86 marks a new era for the series and a new day for Gotham City, with writer James Tynion IV and artist Tony S. Daniel (artists Guillem March and Jorge Jimenez also join the series in subsequent issues) joining forces as Batman—without the help of the recently murdered Alfred—takes on Deathstroke and a horde of assassins.
Oh brother. I really turned into such a cynical crab after reading this. The fresh new take on Batman was going to be him once again fighting………..Deathstroke?? This JUST happened in Priest’s Deathstroke. Slade isn’t even a Batman villain! It felt like soulless pandering. Everything the solicits and interviews mentioned seemed to convey we were getting a SAFE, boring little run that would mine the same old tired stories for Bats. “Action Horror” is how it was being hyped up. A tone that when I see those words in a vacuum, I can easily say is not for me. I’m a guy that wants something new, a guy who wants Batman to smile once in a while. Something hopeful, something enjoyable! I REALLY prejudged the shit out of this before I even read the book. It was petty, it was dumb. In my defense, this was during an era of absolute chaos in the DC Offices and we were mired in some of the most frustrating stories about how to further milk Metal and the Batmen Who Laugh, story ideas I detest. I was cranky. I was angry. I was one of those whiny fans you can easily make fun of. I was fed up with this company and comics all together. I screamed into a pillow:
“WHAT COMES AFTER?!?!”
Well, what came after was me, the eternal sucker, trying out this book. Try as I might, even as an adult, I CANNOT let these Big 2 Universes pass me by without knowing what’s going on. I’m addicted. The first actual thing Tynion wrote for his run was a three page coda featured in Tom King’s last issue:
A big ol Joker vs Batman story. I immediately went through the five stages of grief. “No, no way.” I exclaimed as I tried to deny that DC would really be returning to the same well it had never really left. At this point I couldn’t stand the site of the Joker. He had been shoved down our throats SO MUCH lately but besides an inventive, experimental use of him in Grant Morrison’s Batman run, I struggled to think of any Joker comic that I had enjoyed in over a decade. I got angry, I complained on Twitter, I tried to bargain in my head that if I just kept an open mind things may work out. I got depressed. This was legitimately the lowest point for me as a DC Comics fan. I was enjoying maybe two books they put out, realistically only one. It made me so sad that this company, this medium I lived for seemed intent on never growing, never doing anything new or of quality again. Finally, I accepted it. In my heart of hearts I still loved these characters. I’d put my head down and endure for a few months. Soon this would all pass as a new creative team and direction was announced. I was constantly asking:
“What comes after?”
Finally, the run starts and I pick it up. “Action Horror”, the gimmicky Batman vs Deathstroke fight – it’s all there, but it’s not in your face, it’s done on a drip feed with nuance and subtlety. I’m cautious. I finish the book and…………….I like it?? Sure all the buzzword stuff to draw people in that they marketed it with is an element of the book, but so much of it revolves on reflecting on the human core of Bruce Wayne and dealing with the fallout of Alfred’s death and more importantly the work and all the characters seem to be saying:
“What comes after?”
Cut to a few months later and we’ve arrived at the end of the first arc “Dark Designs” a story that revolves around the theme of “What comes after?”, first in a flashback story about what may happen to Gotham under a plan by new villain The Designer but also a present day tale of “What comes after?” as Joker is revealed to be behind all the planning and evolution and change being forced into Batman’s life.
At this point my mantra of saying “What comes after?” turns into my excited musings after I ravenously devour each issue. I’m hooked. I can’t get enough of this. Tynion has almost immediately given me a Batman run that pushes every single one of my buttons. He’s also proven himself to be the pound for pound best Joker writer in the past 15-20 years. I’m engorged on the foot in my mouth and all the humble pie that chases it. I was ignorant. I was an ass. I have proven once again that comics fans are an emotional pre-judgy mess of nerves that should think before they Tweet. I am ashamed at how much I wanted to know “What comes after?” for this run. I start to realize I was wrong about everything – Tynion especially. While I’m sitting here a dorky, entitled fan, this man is asking about his own career:
“What comes after?”
James Tynion started a Newsletter right when he started developing his run on Batman. It’s an amazingly intimate, exploratory read that lets you connect with the man personally. His comics start to become YOUR comics because it feels like he’s speaking directly to you. During this article series I’ll be sharing and referencing quite a bit from this resource as it has REALLY helped make me appreciate and love not only Batman but his entire body of work. Reading his pieces, you can feel he wasn’t satisfied with his career and he asked “What comes after?”. He stepped out of Scott Snyder’s shadow and he seized the day. Right around the same time as his Batman run starting, he also launched Something Is Killing The Children, then The Department of Truth, and the insanely unique wonder that is Razorblades: The Horror Magazine. Along with Batman, they are 4 of the best, most creatively standout hits of 2020. Books that push the medium and deliver something NEW. This man whose career had seemed to peak and plateau was now launched into the stratosphere. We are now in the era of James Tynion IV – Comics Superstar. This doesn’t happen in comics. You don’t start at DC ON BATMAN then about a decade later become a comics juggernaut. There’s a particular passage from a June 17th, 2020 newsletter set amidst the pandemic where he voices his anger and frustrations with the current state of affairs and this is where I really connected with the guy where we both ended up asking “What comes after?” simultaneously. He says:
“I wish the generations that came before us left us a better future. They sure talked a good game, and I do believe they thought they cared about us. But thoughts and words are cheap. Actions always speak louder. And their actions built the world we live in today.
I think as every generation comes of age they have a choice of whether to reform and rebuild the systems they live in to make things better for the next, or whether to hoard their gains for themselves and their closest friends. I hope the rising generations make better decisions, and become better role models. The people who came before us, largely, decided on themselves. I hope we can decide on each other. I hope we’re willing to dispose of systems and practices that have proven time and time again to hurt people, and try new things.
I’ve been writing in general language, because I feel much the same about my country as I do about my profession. I’ve always been skeptical of ordered systems. Entropy is too powerful. The center does not hold. And yet we live in a society and an industry where power insulates and resists change to the point that it can’t function. We’re operating in systems that are decades out of date, that we cling to out of familiarity. It’s time for more new ideas, new ideas of how society can function, and how comics can function. And it’s up to the rising generations more than any other to provide those ideas and put their heart and soul into them and make them real. To stop being beholden to the way things have been done. Roughly, the same people are in charge of the country and the comics industry as when I was born. A thirty year reign.
I think we as the rising generation need to own more of our own ideas, and better control the means of getting them into the world. I think we need to experiment more, and try the strange and exciting. If we’re not able to explore our creativity in its exuberant youth, we’ll shave off our rough edges most capable of hurting and changing the systems we live in, or we’ll allow others to shave it off for us for the sake of something more easily packaged with the other VC-friendly intellectual property that will never fully belong to us. We need to stop self-editing to placate the gatekeepers, and tear down the old stogy gates.
I hope ten, twenty, thirty years from now I’m not working in a comics industry with the same systemic problems as exist around us today. And I hope I’m not living in a country with systemic problems that exist today. I believe women. I believe black lives matter. I believe trans people are who they say they are. And I hope beyond hope that I get to grow old in a world where the platitudes don’t matter, because everyone has their space and the means to live a full, fulfilled, and happy life.
But I can’t just hope. I need to act. I need to do what I can in this moment. I saw the tweet going around of Gen Z-ers mocking my fellow Millennials, and I couldn’t help but cheer them on. We need the kick in the pants, and stop thinking of ourselves as living in perpetual adolescence. Millennials are in our thirties now. We’re adults, and we’re getting boring like all adults do, but we can’t start failing the next generation just because we’re exhausted fighting for elbow room at the dinner table with our elders.
We need to be better, starting now. “
This floored me. This endeared me. This encapsulated so many of my own feelings. Between this and the peek behind the curtain of the development of his Batman run, Tynion went from a guy I unfairly underrated to one of my favorite comic creators EVER. I was STUNNED! This had become MY Batman run. I loved it dearly. The Joker story I scoffed at, the eventual Joker War? It became one of my alltime favorite Batman/Joker stories. I hungrily slurped up each issue like I do the endless bowls of soup you get at Olive Garden (Helpful tip: Order an entree, get the soup with it, eat 4 bowls with the breadsticks, ask for a 5th, then have them wrap up the soup and entree for an at home meal the next day!). During my transformation into a Tynion Stan, I now instead of angrily shouting “What comes after?” I was worriedly, quiet as a mouse whispering “What comes after?”. Issue 100 loomed and I was terrified this run was going to end, that the second coming of past Batman scribe Alan Grant, was going to be removed from the title. In his newsletter Tynion confirmed this was the original plan:
“I’m just going to confirm something that is basically common knowledge at this point.
There’s another universe where Batman #100 was going to be my last issue on Batman. Ask me in another 5-10 years and I’ll tell you what my original plans were, and the key moments through the year when I basically needed to throw out my roadmap because very major top-down story priorities shifted.”
Suddenly the run isn’t about “Action Horror”. It’s not a cash cow Joker story to tread water for an incoming writer. Suddenly the whole run, the whole theme of the book moving forward becomes “What comes after?” Tynion confirms this in the same piece:
“Everything we’re doing here, especially now to the end of the year, is in service of setting up 2021 to be your new favorite era of Gotham City.
I’m INSANELY excited about next year.
This time, I’m working off a 22 page story bible that got approved by the big bosses last month. That bible took everything I learned flying by the seat of my pants in 2020 and apply it deliberately to a HUGE story that will take us to every weird corner of Gotham City in 2021. Jorge Jimenez has taken everything he’s learned on Joker War and taken it to the next level in this work. I have a tab open on my computer with a video he sent me back in June to help define the mood he wants to capture in our story next year.
The plan has a whole host of new characters, and there are two of them in particular I think the fandom are going to lose their minds over. Jorge’s initial designs has me in love with them already.”
Issue #100 ends giving us a whole new status quo, a whole new Gotham City with every person living there, but most of all Batman, saying “What comes after?”. Joker sums it up best here in that issue:
And really that’s what this run is all about. Something new, something different. Something that “comes after” everything you’ve already read for Batman. Join me as I dig into this seminal Bat work issue by issue, pointing out the “What comes after?” theme but also digging into what makes it so special to me. Why I think it’s ALREADY one of the alltime best Batman runs. We’re going to dissect everything Tynion shares in his newsletter. We’re going to dig into his influences. We’re going to dig into what he does so well, what he fails to do and everything in between. We’re going to marvel at the incredible team of artists. This will be a fun series to examine, especially as it’s still coming out. It’s new and fresh in my mind so I’ll be reacting live to it and everything around it, so expect some recency bias but most of all expect a crystal clear journey through my eyes as I, along with Tynion and Batman, ask:
“What comes after?”