Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington are taking a "sampler platter" approach to the DC Universe in their Batman 100-Page Giant stories for Walmart, the second issue of which is set to hit stores this weekend.
But when we sat down to talk with Bendis and Derington at New York Comic Con last weekend, the first thing we wanted to know what was to actually call it. During a conversation with Derington at San Diego Comic Con earlier this year, he had reveled in going from the oddball, artsy Doom Patrol to the world's most mainstream comic, which he called "Walmart Batman." Bendis, however, has consistently referred to the story as "Batman Universe" in interviews and on panels.
“I did not know the history of the hashtag #WalmartBatman, and now that I know it, I just want to call it ‘Walmart Batman,’” Bendis told ComicBook.com.
After a critic referred to Arrow’s Oliver Queen as “Walmart Batman” once upon a time, series star Stephen Amell decided to own the hashtag and roll with the joke rather than being offended. When Bendis first tweeted the #WalmartBatman hashtag, a fan asked him about reviving it — but neither he nor artist Nick Derington were in on the gag.
“Literally the only ones out of the joke were the two people working on Walmart Batman,” Bendis mused.
The story itself is a mystery that spans the breadth of the DC Universe and will given the pair an opportunity to discover a lot of new territory together.
“It’s Batman, and with Batman you want a mystery,” Bendis said. “Sometimes, because Batman has such deep, big adventures and personal stories, sometimes those good, old-fashioned mysteries about the DC Universe are few and far between. Both of us are kind of new to the DC Universe as creators…so it occurred to me that this is an opportunity to use Batman to tour the DC Universe so that we can see what we like to write, draw, and visit things that we have a lot of passion for, and that really worked out well.”
While some writers might struggle to condense their stories into the shortened 12-page format of the 100-page giants, Bendis saw it as an opportunity to flex some new muscles.
“Twelve pages an issue really worked out well for this kind of story,” Bendis said. “It’s twelve pages, twelve issues, and it’s a mystery graphic novel….With every chapter you get closer and closer to the truth and find out more and more about the DC Universe.”
As far as clues, Derington was mum on whether he was putting anything in the art that might help fans with the mystery -- but he did say that he surprised Bendis by inserting a reference to the Flugelheim Museum, from Tim Burton's Batman, in the background of their first issue.
“Oh, God, I love putting weird stuff in the backgrounds,” Derington said. “I’m a huge Batman ’89/Tim Burton fan.”
Bendis is, too, noting that he asked for the job of writing a potential Batman ’89 comic during DC’s Meet the Publishers panel earlier at the convention.
The pair will be going back in time further than 1989, though, compliments of a new character named Jennie Hex, who will appear in this week's issue before popping up again in Bendis's upcoming Young Justice series.
“There is a mystery about the DC Universe in Batman Universe that will play out, and it’s just one of those great things that I was building Young Justice at the same time we were building Batman, and I needed someone who would have this thing. Oh, over here — she would totally have this thing! It really came together.”
Jennie is Jonah Hex’s great-great-great-great granddaughter, who inherits Jonah Hex’s old Western trunk full of old DC memorabilia and artifacts. Bendis compared it to a "Jonah Hex meets The Greatest American Hero," where Jennie has stuff and she doesn’t know what it does.
Hex will show up in the next issue of Batman 100-Page Giant, due in Walmart stores on Sunday, before her first full appearance in Young Justice #1, written by Bendis and featuring art by Pat Gleason.
“I spent my whole life living in Texas, and so to help put a little nudge on another Texas DC character is kind of cool,” said Derington.
For Bendis, he said that he has never written a “Red State” character before, and this character gave him the opportunity to check that off his bucket list.
“We’re going everywhere,” Bendis said. “We’re going to Gorilla City, we’re going to Dinosaur Island, we’re going to Thanagar.”
Derington interjected that the story is “like the sampler platter of the DC Universe.”
“This MacGuffin that he’s chasing keeps throwing him places and bringing him places,” Bendis said. “We’re going to the Old West, we’re going to meet Jonah Hex.”0comments
Bendis credits publisher Dan DiDio with making the decision to flip the main-line Batman and Superman writers so that the Walmart-exclusive books feature his Dark Knight and Tom King’s Man of Steel.
“He looked in my eyes and he saw that I was scared of Batman,” Bendis said. “As well I should be, and as a teacher of students — if you’re scared of it, do it. That’s the stuff that matters….I winced at the idea of doing Batman, and so he came back at me with twelve chapters, twelve pages, freedom, do it, knowing that I would love this job.”