First things first... Who are you?
Mike Marts: I'm Mike Marts, group editor of the Batman books for DC Comics. The DC Universe prints and publishes 52 titles a month. Of those 52, there are usually around 14 or so books that fit into the Batman group, so I oversee all of those, but they won't be directly edited by me. I edit probably six or seven of those titles a month, then the rest are handled by people in my group.
Talk a little about the process of creating an issue of Batman. How many people work on an issue of Batman?
MM: It's quite a few. We have anywhere from two to three editors internally — myself, an associate, and an assistant that will work on stuff, but then the creative team is usually about four to five people strong. There's a writer and a penciler — those two are the main two people — then we have an inker, a colorist, and a letterer.
And that's the order it that goes in when a comic book is being made?
MM: For the most part, yeah. Generally, we're dealing with the writer first. In the case of Batman, it's Scott Snyder. He'll be the first person I talk to when generating new stories and coming up with ideas. His partner in crime on Batman is the penciler, Greg Capullo.
Each title we do has its own writer and penciler team. In the case of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, it's not like Scott's just coming up with a story and tossing it to Greg and he just does his thing; these guys are collaborating all the time — talking about pages and panels, story beats, how to make things better, how to make things new and fresh and exciting. They're almost like one organism, these two guys.
How long does it take to get from idea to printed issue?
MM: Right now we're generating ideas for books that will come out in November or December. So we're looking six months ahead, at least in terms of core story and maybe a cover idea, that type of thing.
Five months out is probably when we want to get a script in, four months out is when it starts to get drawn. A lot of the time it runs a lot closer. Then a book will go out to the printer about a month before you'll see it on the stands.
So ideally, from start to finish, six months. The actual core production time of the writing, the art, the coloring, and the lettering is probably about a two-and-a-half- to three-month production cycle.
Which of those steps takes the longest?
MM: The pencilling usually takes the longest. That's where a lot of the time is eaten up. It takes a lot of time for a penciller to draw just one page. The pace we try to live by is a page a day. If you do a page a day, and there's 20 pages in each issue, the average guy is doing an issue a month. And you can still take weekends and holidays off.
Doesn't always work out that way, and some guys are five-week guys and some are six-week guys, so you have to plan your overall schedule accordingly.
Pencil drawings from Batman: Zero Year by Greg Capullo.
Do all the Batman writers work so closely that they're aware of what's happening with the character, or is there a character bible they can refer to?
MM: Some of the guys and girls talk a lot. They're friends, they're collaborators, they share ideas. In the case of guys like Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, they're constantly throwing their scripts back and forth, asking, "Hey, what do you think of this?" Sometimes it's on the editors to make sure all the creators are getting the information that they need, so that the writer of Batman knows what the writer of Batman: Detective Comics is doing, and vice versa. We do have something similar to a story bible. A lot of times it will be specific to a certain story arc.
For instance, last year with Batman we did Death in the Family and before that we did The Court of Owls, and for each of those story lines there was a mega-document constructed by the writer, which we shared with all the members of the Batman creative team, so they know that this is what Gotham City is like during the week of this story line, and this is what this character should be doing.
Are the writers obligated to follow that document? If they have a really awesome idea, can they rewrite the document a little bit and push that change out to the other creators?
MM: Sure, that kind of thing happens all the time. The documents are there as a road map, especially when we're dealing with the stories. The stories can change as we go. When a good idea comes along, then we'll certainly push that in there and get the most out of it. It happens frequently.
Very rarely do you get to the end of a story line and look back at that original document and it's exactly the same. It's always growing and changing. That's part of the beauty of different collaborators working on the same thing. The things that remain constant is the character stuff. Batman is always going to behave like Batman, Robin is always going to behave like Robin.
When someone like Scott Snyder is writing Batman, can he make decisions that change the character? Does that need to go through you?
MM: It depends on what's being attempted. If it's a routine thing — you know, Batman is fighting Joker this month — that's something that can be handled with the writer and the editor, me, and Scott.
In the case of something bigger — like last year when we decided to cut off Joker's face, and had him running around without a face — that was something we were doing to change the character, so that goes up the flagpole. That goes to the editor-in-chief. If it's something more serious, it'll go to the publisher.
It really depends on how risky the decision is. Most of the decisions that are being made day to day can be handled by the editor.
So something like the character Robin dying in Batman Incorporated, that's a situation where it has to be cleared by everyone?
MM: Exactly. That's an enormous thing that we had planned for many years. When Damian Wayne was created seven or eight years ago, the idea was always that he'd eventually die, so that's very big and it's not just the editor and writer saying, "Oh, we're going to kill this character."
It's something we have discussions about, and everyone has to approve it and feel good about it. Even if we made that decision seven years ago, things could be different now. The character could be more popular, which, in this case, he was. So you have to think about the equity in the character, how the readers will react, whether this will be a good thing in the long run, whether there's a plan in place.
When something big like that happens, are all 14 Batman titles prepared for it?
MM: We're primarily dealing with the one character, and he appears monthly in five different books, sometimes more, so there's a lot of coordination across all the Batman books. We had a special month afterwards where we had each of the titles reflect upon the death of Robin in their own special way. Now, in the ongoing monthly stories, it's still something Batman is dealing with.
What about smaller things? If Batman gets injured in an issue, is that something that's reflected in the other Batman titles?
MM: It can be, if we feel it's big enough. Commissioner Gordon broke his nose once, so he had a broken nose when he appeared in Batgirl and Nightwing. If it's something less serious, or something that you or I could bounce back from in a week, then we don't have to coordinate.
Does each Batman book have its own Batman? Is the Batman: The Dark Knight Batman a different character from Scott Snyder's Batman?
MM: Not necessarily. With all the books we publish here in-house, that Batman is the same Batman. We go to great lengths to make sure he operates and behaves in the same manner in all the books. Where things are different is in the type of story we're telling. In Scott Snyder's Batman, that's the "continuing adventures of" or the soap opera book. Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated may be more of an ensemble cast, with more sci-fi and more epic storytelling. Greg Hurwitz on Batman: The Dark Knight might be telling Batman stories, but they're from the villain's point of view. It's in the type of stories that we tell that we make the differences and vary things.
Batman as seen in Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman, and Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison
Was the pre-New 52 Batman character more difficult to wrangle? He was going back in time, and there was a caveman Batman, and for a while, Dick Grayson was Batman. Was that more difficult to keep tabs on than the current Batman?
MM: Maybe just a little bit, yeah. Nowadays, with only two years behind us, if I have to pull a reference on a character, or go back to a story line, there's only 21 issues that I have to worry about right now. That being said, the job of juggling a character's continuity is always going to be a little bit tricky and always going to be part of the job. It might be a little bit easier now, but ask me that same question four years from now, and I might say it was as tricky as it was before.
Are you saying that Batman is going to go back in time again?
MM: Anything is possible.
How many issues does a story arc take to tell?
MM: It varies. For instance, the issue we're currently working on with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Batman: Zero Year, is aggressive. It's 11 parts. Some people might see that as long, but we've proven that these two guys can tell the longer story arcs with Batman, and people really respond to it and enjoy it.
That's probably as long as we go. Sometimes stories are two parts, sometimes they're three or four, depending on the nature of the story and how much story you're trying to tell.
Final pages — colored and ready for print — from Batman: Zero Year.
You mentioned Batman: Zero Year. Is that a new origin story for Batman?
MM: It is. It's an origin story and more. We're starting six years prior to the current timeline. This is a period of time before Bruce Wayne has become Batman, before he has decided to put on the mask, before he has thought of the name Batman. We see him returning to Gotham City after several years journeying the world and training and educating himself in various fighting forms. Things are starting to fall into place in Gotham to help mold him and to help him create Batman.
So the Batman origin story we all know, with his parents in the alley, that's already all happened?
MM: Yep, that's happened in the past. That's all set, and those are all important things that have happened to Bruce, and some of those things we'll see in this story line, but that happened when he was about 10 years old. In the Batman: Zero Year story, Bruce is in his twenties, and the bulk of the story line takes place there, just prior to him becoming Batman.
Are we going to just be following Bruce Wayne in Batman: Zero Year, or will we see some of the supporting characters as well, like we did in Batman #0?
MM: Yeah, in fact, people who read #0 will, right from the get-go, see the Red Hood Gang and the Red Hood Gang leader. They're involved in this story line. In the first issue, you'll also see the Riddler in his very early days, before he's really grown into the Riddler persona. Other characters like Alfred will be there, of course. You can probably expect to see Commissioner Gordon in the story line. A lot of fixtures of Gotham will be there.
Is anything going to change from what we know about Batman's origin?
MM: I don't want to give away too much, but there will be things here that we have not seen before. At the same time, I'll say that anything that's essential to the core origin of Bruce Wayne and Batman, you can expect that to still be there, but you'll see it expanded in a very interesting new way.