With the arrival of Dark Nights: Death Metal #7, it's time to kick off Future State, the new DC event that is taking over the DC Universe for the next two months. There's quite a lot to see in this new era, but one of the more anticipated series is John Ridley's The Next Batman, which has Tim Fox taking over the cape and cowl after Bruce Wayne is assumed to be dead at the hands of the magistrate. ComicBook.com recently had the chance to speak to Ridley all about Future State and the newest Batman, and we had to start with the man under the cowl and if he was always going to be the choice to assume Wayne's duties as the Dark Knight.
"Tim was the first choice," Ridley said. "When we started talking about, or I should say when I was invited in to even start talking about next Batman or this project, it's obviously, as I'm sure you know, started a couple of iterations, what would have been 5G, but even absent of what the vehicle would be, whether it was 5G, whether it was Future State, there was a real commitment to have Batman be represented as a person of color. As we were talking about it, as the ideas that DC had and how they wanted to engage, even before the reckoning that we went through on race. I mean, it seems like a lifetime ago we started these conversations, but there were things that the executives really wanted to get into about perspectives, about family, about privilege, and in ways that are not, in my opinion, and to their credit, not normally engaged in in wider media."
"One of the things that was really important to me was to be able to engage in these things in ways that would not have to maybe backtrack on things that fans already knew about other characters that had maybe been in line to, or have been more obvious choices to be Batman," Ridley said. "Ways that were very connected to a family, in particular the Fox family, which is just probably one of the most prominent families, if not the most prominent family, certainly in the Gotham universe, let alone in the DC universe, and then to be able to fill in a lot of blanks and start with a character that we all could really purpose orient towards a particular narrative."
At one point many assumed Luke would be the member of the Fox family to assume the mantle, but it was always Tim for Ridley.
"When we looked at all of those things, I mean, Tim was just the obvious choice, and in particular, Ben Abernathy, the group editor I've worked with in the past, is just a great guy and a real genius editor," Ridley said. "He really pushed for it, and it just made complete sense. For me coming in, it was the only choice for us, and I'm just very happy that he is the choice because it just allows so much for the storytelling."
Another big reason for Tim becoming the next Batman is how much there was to explore in not only Tim's history but also his dynamic with his family, which plays a huge part in the story.
"And the biggest difference is that Tim has his family and that family is always there, and he, too, is driven by family, but in a very different way," Ridley said. "And he's going to have to reconcile much of that in real-time, and for me, everything about it is exciting. Everything that it lends to the Batman character is really exciting, but also just as a storyteller, as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a writer who would love to see more fully-rendered, wholly-rendered black families in the whiter culture and even stories that I'm working on now where it's, in those moments, those character developed moments and those experiential moments, in the moments where the heroes are ... You've got to feed that drive. So much of it, with Tim, it's just nexus around family and, going forward, it's going to be nexus around family and obligation and perspectives and regrets and jealousies and everything that goes on in a family, and pride and love and respect."
We also asked Ridley if the series contained something that Batman as a character, and perhaps as a franchise, has been missing that he wanted to bring a new focus to. While he wouldn't say it's been completely missing, there was one aspect of superhero storytelling, in particular, he wants to lean into.
"I would say over Batman's what, 75, 80 years of history, I wouldn't say that there's anything that's missing. He's done everything. He's played in every space. For me, the one thing that I wouldn't say is missing, but I would really want to lean into, and whether it was Batman, whether it was any of these, the Trinity at DC or frankly almost anywhere, is trying wherever we can to move away from a sense of false jeopardy," Ridley said. "And when I say that I mean, look Batman's been around forever. Superman, Wonder Woman, you go to the other comic book universes and their heroes have been around for a long time, and there's a reason for that. People, A, they love these characters, B these characters have an amazing value, a value in readership, a value with fans, and then a real monetary value. So there's a level that these characters have to endure. They have to be there for all of us."
"I love these characters and I love seeing what happens to them. Joker War, for me, was an opportunity to really get back into Batman in a way I hadn't done in years, irrespective of whether I was going to write Batman or not, it was just epic. And characters evolve, like Harley's evolved. New characters step in, the way Punchline stepped in and become a fan favorite almost instantly. But at the end of it, oftentimes things happen and there are these resets where you have to reboot, you've got to dial down Superman's powers because they've become too big," Ridley said. "You have to reset characters because we enter new ages, but within that, these characters remain extant. And for me, there's just a level of can we add in elements where the jeopardy becomes real and characters, they don't necessarily endure."
"I think if anything, the year that we've gone through, as hard as it's been, as difficult as it's been, I hope for most people it's a reminder that tomorrow's not guaranteed. You really got to appreciate the people in your spheres. Hopefully you appreciate everybody, even people you don't meet. But that in so many ways, just think about the people that we've lost this year. Think about the things that have changed. Think about just life progresses, whether we want to or not, whether we agree with that progression or not, it just happens," Ridley said.
Joker War allowed Ridley to bring some of those core elements of Batman into the spotlight. "For me, I don't look at and go, well, 'Batman's never done this. He's never done that.' It's not even like he's never lost. His whole narrative is built on the loss of his parents. But for me really getting into it, that things feel connected in some ways to a world that is recognizable, which is not to say just replicate what's going on in the world because so much of comic lore is to try to escape the things. But also comics I mean, look, Batman's parents, back in the Great Depression, wealthy people being murdered was connected to something that was very real. Superman, as fantastic as his story is, it's still the classic immigrant story that's connected to reality for immigrant families who just wanted to fit in and be thought of as being part of the American fabric. Wonder Woman's story, even though it was originated by a man, a woman coming from outside during a war, showing men how to be better. During a war showing men how to be better was very connected to reality. So for me, those are things I want to lean into. It's certainly, again, not things that didn't exist specifically for Batman, for other characters, but yeah, to have the opportunity to lean into things that feel fundamental, things that feel grounded, jeopardy that feels real, loss that exists. That's very exciting to me. And I think the vehicle of a Tim Fox and a Batman and a hero is just an amazing vehicle for those kinds of stories," Ridley said.
Those who have read The Next Batman know there seems to be a divide between the Gotham PD and the Magistrate, both in their approach to masks and the populace in general. Law enforcement has been under the microscope in recent times, and because this has been in the works for quite some time, we asked if current events caused elements. tobe tweaked or changed relating to the police, the magistrate, and their relationship to each other.
"That's a really, really good question. I'm going to speak on my end with the books that I'm handling. I don't want to speak for anybody else, their books, or their circumstances. But, unfortunately, for me, just as for pretty much every Black person in America, this moment that we're going through right now, it's hyper realized, it's very raw, and while the wider culture, and certainly the prevailing culture, is very aware of it, this isn't new for us," Ridley said. "And going back to my runs on American Crime, where we started that show in the wake of Trayvon Martin, and then it becomes while the first season is on, we've got Ferguson, we have Freddie Gray and what's going on in Baltimore. So, to me, it wasn't adjusting one way or the other. To me, it's when I know going into it having a young Black man who is going to be an extension of law enforcement, in this world, again, you don't have the hyper realize any of that."
"There are going to be people who just recognize, 'Okay, the storytelling has a capacity to be very politicized.' But with Batman: Future State, in particular, it's going to a whole other level, because there are elements within that story, when you're talking about the militarization of any kind of representation of law enforcement, whether it's police officers themselves, whether it's extra legal organizations, again, those are things that people have been grappling with for a long time. So it wasn't about modifying it," Ridley said.
"I know what Batman represents just in terms of individuals who want to just have a good read, but I know, again, that Batman is always dealing with crime, dealing with impoverished areas, dealing with street-level crime, dealing with systemic crime. That's always been there. But, yes, you make that character Black, you talk about a militarized police force, you talk about policing, and it becomes, again, more political," Ridley said. "But in those first two issues, for me, again, it's very ground level, it's very fundamental. It goes back to things that feel like there's real jeopardy. When you have people who are not bat characters, who are interacting with the police, and anything can happen, again, that excites me, not just as a Black man who is telling stories, but as someone who's going to write, just even if this were for Tim Fox, four issues, things that can happen that have real consequence, real loss of life, real, genuine stakes, that's exciting as a storyteller before you start to add in or worry about or be concerned about, well, how are people going to take this on a political level?"
"It's always been there and what people bring to it, they bring to it, and that I can't do anything about, but I can certainly embrace, again, all of those things that I hope would make this story feel a little more grounded, a little more fundamental, a little more like a guy who's just kicking off his career as a hero," Ridley said. "You can't start where Bruce is ending. Bruce has been, even if every 10 years in DC time represented one year in Batman's life, he's been doing it for eight years or 10 years. He's exceptional at this point. So more than anything, just a young man starting off. There are folks out there, a police officer with a gun who doesn't understand who this new Batman is, he doesn't know what race he is under the collar, he just knows, 'I don't know this guy.' That's going to be a fraught interaction before you start adding in things like race or being reflective of what's going on in the real world."
As for how this sets the stage for what comes after Future State, Ridley teased the long term plan in place.
"Well, going into the next phases there are some things I can't talk about specifically for various reasons, but I can say that there has been a long-term plan for what's going to happen," Ridley said. "And certainly in the early phases of the storytelling, it's going to be very much within a hyper-specific bat universe. So there's going to be... James has some very big plans that trickles down to other folks in other books. We want it to feel unified. We don't want it to feel like there's just a lot of different people operating in different spaces. I think that's good for the storytelling. I think that's good for the fans. I think that's good for a cohesive universe."2comments
"Then beyond that we who are in the next Batman sort of micro verse, there are other very specific plans that have been created that are going to be implemented, and then make Tim very much his own individual, his own character, and have his emotional velocity to his storytelling," Ridley said. "So in the early going, I mean, very much look for a unified universe, very much look for some very exciting things that are going to happen. I think on the heels of Joker War, which was very successful, that idea is that there's a lot of things going on in a lot of spaces, but they're not disconnected, and I think that's going to be a lot of fun. But there are plans for Tim to be able to engage in a very, very specific way on his own."
Future State: The Next Batman #1 is in comic stores today, and let us know what you think of the issue in the comments or as always you can talk all things comics with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!