The Joker and the Riddler are going to war over who will kill Batman first
July 5, 2017 at 11:48 AM
Cover art for “Batman” no. 26 by Mikel Janin. (DC Entertainment)
After giving Batman fans one of the Dark Knight’s most romantic moments in a marriage proposal to Catwoman, writer Tom King is now taking him to a darker place before any wedding plans are made.
“The War of Jokes and Riddles,” the new eight part storyline taking place in “Batman” (part two/issue no. 26 is available now in print and digitally) is exactly what it sounds like: a turf war between two of Gotham City’s biggest crime lords, the Joker and the Riddler.
The battle takes place in Batman’s past, only a year into his life as a vigilante, and serves as a confessional of sorts between he and Catwoman/Selina Kyle.
“Batman has gone through a lot of emotional things. He’s come to the point where he proposed to Catwoman, he’s trying to find a piece of happiness in his life,” King told the Post’s Comic Riffs. “What [Batman] says is before you marry me, I have to confess my darkest moment, because you can’t marry me until you know the worst of me.”
Batman, it turns out, is the cause for the war.
King writes the Joker as a maniac who has lost his laugh, because Batman’s constant winning takes the humor out of everything. Nothing is funny to him anymore.
Meanwhile, Edward Nygma, the Riddler, perhaps Gotham City’s most dangerous mind, always ten steps ahead of everyone, becomes obsessed with the one riddle even he can’t figure out: Who is Batman? And what makes him tick?
Both villains realize the only way to end their suffering is to kill the Batman, and the race begins to see who can do it first.
“Both of them have something they want and that if the other one gets will ruin them and so they go to war over it,” King said. “And then it gets personal and as wars tend to do, the first cause is lost once the first victim gets shot.”
Twenty-six issues into his run writing “Batman,” King says he’s more comfortable now with the character than he was when he first took over after the end of Scott Snyder’s five-year run.
“When I was first taking on Batman, I was writing a trilogy of other books, ‘The Omega Men,’ ‘Vision’ and ‘The Sheriff of Babylon’ simultaneously,” King said. “I had to put those books away and sort of focus in on who Batman was and why he appealed to me as a character.”
The Joker and the Riddler are battling for the right to be the first to kill the Batman. Art by Mikel Janin. (DC Entertainment)
King’s take on Batman’s rogues gallery is that he considers them to be dark extensions of the hero.
“The Joker is [Batman’s] insanity. The little part of him that broke when his parents died and he couldn’t put back together. That’s all the Joker is. It’s Batman without love,” King said. “The Riddler is the opposite of that. It’s the detective in him. That utterly logical, has to get things done, has to solve this problem [guy]. It’s Batman without the humanity.”
When plotting with artist Mikel Janin, King mentioned bulking the Riddler up a bit for his duel with the Joker.
“Mikel is widley known for drawing the sexiest men in comics,” King said, in part referring to his rendering of Dick Grayson/Nightwing. “The idea of doing a buffer, sexier Riddler — I like that. I think he’s a reflection of Batman and I think of him like a scary, evil Batman. Like Bruce Wayne without a conscience.”
King remembers Jack Nicholson’s Joker performance in 1989’s “Batman” combined with the release of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke” a year earlier as moments that raised the Joker’s pop culture profile. He’s looking to take the Riddler to that level, even giving the character a scene that “mirrors” the “Batman” movie as a symbol of his evolution.
“We’re trying to elevate Riddler the way that movie elevated the Joker,” King said. “Sort of be a villain worthy of that much attention.”
Even though Batman is the rare hero whose villains are big enough to take all the attention, King says this new tale is still a Batman story at heart.
“That’s what’s great about the Batman universe. When you explore Gotham, when you explore the villains, all of them point to this one character,” King said. “This iconic American symbol for how we deal with pain and loss and how me move forward after it.”
Cover art for “Batman” no. 27. Part three of “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” available July 19. Art by Mikel Janin. (DC Entertainment).
Cover art for “Batman” no. 28. Part four of “The War of Jokes and Riddles.” Available August 2. Art by Mikel Janin. (DC Entertainment).
How one man went from the CIA to writing Batman’s adventures
June 2, 2016 at 11:30 AM
Exclusive: A variant cover of the new “Batman: Rebirth” ahead of this weekend’s Awesome Con DC. (courtesy of DC Entertainment 2016)
TOM KING just might, professionally speaking, have a screw loose. He has, and is fascinated by, the mental chemistry that compels some people to save lives at the distinct risk of their own. You and I might call it courage. King simply calls it “crazy.”
“I’m in the right wheelhouse of crazy,” King says one afternoon this week in Washington. He is talking about what qualified him to work in the CIA for seven years, often overseas as an operation officer with the Counterterrorism Center. “You’re going out and you’re going to go places and you have to be willing to die for your country and not betray your country.
“You have to be crazy enough to go to these horrible places — and be insane enough to know you won’t go mad.”
If that last line sounds like something out of a daring adventure tale, King says that “it probably will be.” He may have the soul of a field agent, but he also has the ear of an author. And such language permeates his current line of work.
“You’re crazy, you know that, right?” a sidekick says to the “insane” title character in King’s latest comic book, out this week. At another point in the story, an older character says of becoming a doctor: “The sick need someone crazy enough to believe they can be better.”
King, who turned to scripting his own stories after leaving the CIA in 2009, has found the perfect character to suit his penchant for dealing in lifesaving “insanity.” He now writes Batman.
And King, whose missions once took him to Iraq, says that inheriting the iconic DC Comics crimefighter from such rock-star writers as Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison has instilled its own kind of trepidation.
“Honestly, it’s scary,” King says upon the release of Batman: Rebirth (the one-shot, co-written by Snyder and drawn by Mikel Janin, debuted Wednesday as part of DC’s wide relaunch of its monthly superhero comics). “I feel tremendous responsibility to the character, and to the readers who are shelling out good money for this series.
“I want to offer [my] take on this character, who’s been around for 75 years,” says the author, whose Rebirth debut pits the Caped Crusader against a villain’s environmental threat. King is teamed with David Finch on the flagship Batman, Issue No.1 of which lands in two weeks.
(courtesy of DC Comics)
King, who will appear this weekend at Awesome Con DC at the Washington Convention Center, needn’t have worried. In recent years, he has honed his sharp narrative voice on such comics as DC’s Grayson (with Janin) and The Omega Men (with Barnaby Bagenda), Marvel’s Vision (with Gabriel Walta and Michael Walsh) and DC/Vertigo’s The Sheriff of Babylon (with Mitch Gerads) — all steps on a path that has King poised for a breakout year in 2016. Besides, whether fighting terrorism overseas or scripting heroism at his home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, he works best when under pressure.
“I think that’s a good thing when I’m not relaxed,” King says. “Whenever I’m writing scared, I’m writing good.”
(courtesy of Marvel)
Ever since he was a kid, King has reveled in the art of storytelling. He grew up mostly in Southern California, where his mom worked on the business side for film studios. “My Jewish mother wanted me to be a lawyer or doctor,” says King, who as a young boy would visit the Warner Bros. lot where “Die Hard” was shot. “By the time I was 7, I wanted to make up stories for a living.”
That desire led King to intern at Marvel and DC Comics beginning in the late ’90s, while he was studying philosophy and history at Columbia University. He relished the work as an assistant, vividly recounting how he was in the room when writer Garth Ennis and editor Axel Alonso were working on the DC/Vertigo comic Preacher (on which the hit new AMC show is based).
Upon graduation in 2000, though, King didn’t pursue writing. “I thought that was beyond my abilities,” he says. “I thought maybe I’d be a lawyer.”
While weighing law school as an option, he headed to Washington and went to work for the Justice Department, helping victims through a Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program. There, sitting at the next desk, was a woman he would soon date; today, Tom and Colleen King are married with three children.
“She’s my best reader,” he says of his wife’s editing contributions. Although she didn’t read comics when they met, he notes, she was “superhero-ready.”
King might have continued with Justice, but then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He says he felt called to serve his country in a direct and immediate way. So he logged on to CIA.gov.
“I literally applied [to join] through the website,” says King, who was in his early 20s and had almost no relevant experience — no overseas travel, no foreign languages. “I wanted to be as close to the action as I could get. I don’t know who was more surprised [by the application] — me or them.”
King endured the agency’s battery of tests and interviews. “It’s a real tough process to get hired,” he says, before getting a bit more vague and close-lipped. So just how long did it take? “That’s classified.”
Despite his inexperience, King had certain skills. “I’d been fortunate to have been in diverse environments, and I am a quick learner — I get things real fast. Those two qualities made them see: This is a guy who can see different sides of things, and who can pick up things quick.”
Also classified, King jokes, is whether his CIA experiences directly find their way into his comic-book tales. After he left the agency, he was a stay-at-home father for a time, and so he began writing at night, in various genres. Eventually he began pitching ideas at comics conventions, and within a few years, his career was gaining traction.
King is at liberty to talk about why we, as Americans, gravitate toward heroes and superheroes in different eras. “I think during the Cold War, people liked westerns and the idea of the good guy and the bad guy,” he says of that geopolitical clarity that came out of World War II. By comparison, King is intrigued by today’s less black-and-white climate — by “the ambiguities … in a time of perpetual war.”
“The world you encounter is much more gray,” King says, so the challenge becomes how to write with moral clarity in muddled times, even as superhero comics still traffic in grand themes.
“There are no easy answers,” King says, “so the best Batman can do is to actually be a hero at the end of the day.”
Tom King will appear in a Q&A at Awesome Con DC (Sunday at 12:30 p.m.); King and Comic Riffs will appear on the “Election Year Comics” panel at Awesome Con DC (Sunday at 2:45 p.m.).
Washington-based “Batman” writer Tom King says he brought the right kind of “crazy” to the CIA. (photo courtesy of DC Entertainment)