In James Tynion IV's subscriber-only Empire Of The Tiny Onion Substack newsletter, he is continuing to talk about his Batman run at DC Comics, as editorial ructions were bursting out around him, including the arrival of 5G – which it seems a number of DC Comics creators were relying on Bleeding Cool to tell them the latest twists and turns. 5G of Generation Five would have seen the main DC Comics characters replaced by new individuals, with Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and the like aged up and moved on. When publisher Dan DiDio was fired, it was junked, plans changed, some stories repurposed for the imaginary Future State, and millions of comic books pulped before they hit the shops. But what was it like when 5G was still a thing? Well, James Tynion IV tells us about his own 5G pitch, The Joker.
I had had some brief discussions about the sort of 5G titles I might be interested in… I also had a meeting with the higher-ups at DC, after the release of SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN, where I was told that DC wanted me to create a horror series in the superhero line that captured more of the tone of my independent work… So, I wrote up a pitch that nobody asked for, one that I thought embodied the potential I saw in the 5G line (How do you tell generational stories that you can ONLY tell in the DC Universe, with broad appeal that aren't steeped in deep continuity?) This is a story about a seemingly ordinary young man, the shining star of his New York City high school, and his devolution into a serial killing terrorist.
Because we get a brand new Joker – and a series that the original Joker would not appear in, as James Tynion IV was still trying to get to be allowed to kill the original Joker off, in a Batman #100 final battle between The Batman and The Joker.
CHASE KERRY is everyone's best friend. He's got that natural charisma that makes you feel comfortable to talk with him, to joke with him. He's the Senior Class President of his New York City private school. He got an acceptance letter to Princeton a few weeks ago. He's the son of the New York City Police Commissioner, and the latest son to a few decades of city civil servants. His father jokes to his friends that Chase is going to be president one day, but it's the sort of joke everyone understands is true. That's the life he wants for his son. That's the life Chase has been groomed for since birth. They already call him the crown prince of his private school. But he has a secret, darker side that nobody knows. He's obsessed with the villains of the more colorful cities. More than any of them, he's obsessed with the most frightening, the most notorious. The Joker. He's read every book on The Joker. He's got copies of the crime scene photos that have leaked online. And the tapes of his Arkham Asylum psychology sessions. More than anything… it's the ideology that speaks to him. The idea of Chaos. The idea that the world around us is too corrupt, so we should burn it all to the ground. In his darker moments, Chase agrees. But one thing is for sure…lt's gotten into his head…
He would later have taken another name, potentially Smiler. And when 5G didn't happen and he was staying on the main Batman book after #100, James Tynion IV thought waste-not-want-not…
It would be two months after I wrote that pitch before I realized that I could reshape the elements into the character that would ultimately be named Punchline. The idea of a figure who watches and shapes villains into what they are meant to become would come back into the mix sooner (keep reading, True Believers!). But before that happened, a bombshell hit my still nascent Batman run.
At the time, Bleeding Cool speculated that Punchline could have been planned as the 5G Harley Quinn. Had no idea she was originally the 5G Joker. It's not the only thing that was repurposed from James Tynion IV's Joker plans.
Basically, I wanted to establish that the thing that made NYC different from the other big east coast cities in the DCU was that it enacted very strict anti-vigilante laws in the 90s. There were some underground heroes that I thought up based on their respective communities, but the city would only have one sanctioned hero… A corporate stooge that basically only protected Wall Street, despite him coming from a Brooklyn Irish background (like my family). I called him Protector One. (This idea would keep gestating over the next year until he became Peacekeeper-01).
For more, much more, including James Tynion IV's breakdown plans, issue by issue, for a story that didn't happen, except it did, and in a different way – who he was going to kill off to get headline news, what the two-month gap was originally going to be, what happens when a comic switches to twice-monthly and artists can't cope, and also just who The Designer was originally going to be, who The Witness was, you are just going to have to subscribe to his Substack like everyone else.