I'm at GenCon, in Indianapolis at the moment, and earlier today, Tracy Hickman held a panel on his new Batman novel; Wayne of Gotham. The novel follows Bruce Wayne as he's forced to re-0pen the case of his parents' death and, in 1957, Bruce's father Thomas Wayne as he struggles with a mystery that looks set to blight his burgeoning romance with Martha Kane. It's initially a hard sell, after all, the relative merits of Thomas Wayne as a father were central to much of the early stages of Grant Morrison's Bat mega-epic, but a the panel went on, and Hickman explained, the audience were visibly won over. Here are the highlights:
-Hickman originally intended for the novel to be entirely about Thomas Wayne. He joked that Warners had returned it to him with a note saying 'This is great, but where's Batman?' and he'd feigned ignorance and sent them the 'right' outline once he'd modified the plot.
-Central to the novel, Hickman said, is the realization every child has that their parents have clay feet. He made the interesting point that their murders denied Bruce of this fact, and that he was interested in writing the story of what happened when Bruce was finally forced to realize that his parents were mortal. He also hinted that the relationship between Thomas Wayne and his father, Patrick, followed the same thematic path.
-He singled out the cover, a wraparound piece by Ryan Sook, for praise, stating that he'd been a little unsure about the proofs he'd been sent but was hugely impressed by what Sook had produced.
-Hickman addressed the issue of continuity head on and said that it informed every stage of the novel's development. He set out to, and feels he has, honored every era of Batman's history, from his origin all the way down to the present day and The New 52. He specifically cited the Golden Age, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Earth 1, Earth 2, the '80s, the '90s and The New 52 as eras he'd had to work out how to connect. The decision he reached was to draw the threads of the case down through history, touching on every era of Batman's history on the way.
-The example he gave of this was chapter 2, where Batman takes the new Batmobile out for a test drive. Hickman used this to get inside Batman's head, and write 'cameos' for previous Batmobiles. The one he clearly most enjoyed writing was Bruce fondly remembering the Lincoln Futura he'd inherited from his father and rebuilt into a Batmobile. This is of course the Adam West-era vehicle and Hickman launched into a genuinely funny story about what an epically terrible car the Futura was. Even that quality, he said, has been folded into the novel.
-Hickman made it clear that this is not in continuity, and described the novel as an Elseworlds story. However, he said he views this as 'his' personal take on Batman and his history.
-Hickman then took questions from the floor, including being asked about what other Batman novels there were. He mentioned a Batman/Superman title. He was also asked whether he'd read the comics for research and said he had but didn't elaborate on which. He did state that he'd read all the previous novels.
-Another audience member asked him what characters he'd enjoyed writing the most. He cited Harley Quinn as a joy to write, likewise the Joker, and said one of the highest pieces of praise he's ever received is being told that the Joker's dialogue in the novel reads like the classic Batman Animated version voiced by Mark Hamill. He also mentioned a hypnotist and an obscure doctor, two very old Batman villains he loved bringing back. Hickman went on to say that he particularly liked using one who had died prior to the novel as this gave him the opportunity to have his villain dig the corpse up and taunt Batman by placing it for him to find.
-Endearingly, Hickman asked for the audience's help. He keeps being told that Batman kills someone in the novel and he's positive he never wrote that. He asked audience members who buy the book to let him know when they reach that point.
-Hickman was asked about what version of Gotham City he used for his layout and said that, ultimately, he'd settled on the Elliott Brown design from the No Man's Land novel. Hickman liked the mild re-design for the Nolan Batman movies a good deal, but said that the layout on the Brown design suited him a little better.
-Regarding the Nolan movies, he emphasized that there had been no contact in either direction between him and the production team. However, there are apparently several 'happy accidents' where minor story beats are mirrored in the film and the novel.
-Hickman closed telling a story about the problems he'd had getting rights passed by DC/Warners. Despite it being covered under fair use, they had refused to let him name the Everly Brothers track Wake Up Little Suzie during a scene where Thomas is driving home. Hickman protested and, in the end, replaced the title with 'On the radio a male close harmony quartet sang louder about the troubled reputations of two teens.'
-He built on this by pointing out that one of the central plot beats of the novel is Thomas Wayne's own foray into crime fighting, dressed like Zorro at a costume party. Hickman went into great detail as to how he'd researched the correct Zorro costume, worked out how it would look Bat-like and enjoyed writing the sequence, only to have DC/Warners refuse to let him use Zorro on the grounds they didn't have the rights to it. Hickman went as far as getting in contact with the holders of the rights, Zorro Productions Inc. and explaining the situation. They, like Hickman, thought it would be covered by fair use and granted him use of the character in return for two copies of the novel. Despite this, DC/Warners still refused to let him use the name and Hickman closed by joking that he's often heard singing the Zorro theme tune, but substituting the words 'vigilante guy' for Zorro.
Batman: Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman is published by HarperCollins and is available now.