Tom King on Batman: City of Bane

After almost 75 issues, Batman writer Tom King is coming into the final stretch of his time on the [...]

After almost 75 issues, Batman writer Tom King is coming into the final stretch of his time on the book, beginning with a story that pits Bane and Thomas Wayne (the one from Flashpoint, remember?) against Batman in one of the series' more unlikely team-ups. Next up is "City of Bane," where Batman has fallen as far as he will ever fall, and starts clawing his way back up. And, yeah, along the way fans will get answers about long-dangling things like the nature of Bruce's relationship with Selina Kyle, who left him at the altar back at Batman #50...and whether Bane should really be putting his trust in Batman's father and fiancee to make his master plan work.

King recently joined to talk about what's going on in the title, what's next, and why things had to take exactly this shape to get Batman to where he wanted the story to go.

Now you're officially in the final third of your run, right?

I would say it's definitely the home stretch because after issue #90, there's going to be a lot of sort of tying up. I'd say the story that started at #10, ends around issue #90. So I'm in the last 10 issues I have to write now. That's crazy. This is the end.

How is it for you, being that far ahead of the schedule and having to think, "okay, I got to rewind and talk about 'City of Bane,'" when mentally you're already several steps beyond that?

No man, the "City of Bane" -- for 75 issues, that's all I've wanted to talk about. I've been wanting to talk about it forever. When the wedding busts open, I just wanted to be like, "you got to see what's coming, you got to see this." I feel relieved; this whole run was just building to this arc. I remember being at the DC retreat and literally drawing lines on the board, and I was like "when you hit 50, this is going to be Batman's highest moment, this is going to be as happy as Batman gets. And when you hit 75 you'll be as low as Batman gets." And I just knew those 25 issues would be painful for the audience. They're painful to write, it's painful to see your hero lose. So, it just to me feels like a great relief, which is what it's supposed to feel like to the audience as a storyteller. You're like "okay, great. Now Batman can start punching back."

(Photo: DC Entertainment)

Way back when we first talked about the first arc of Batman, you and I talked about the fact that Bane was introduced as this kind of master tactition, , bnd he's never really gotten back to that point again. I feel like your whole run has been 80 issues of that. And at the time, I didn't know what was coming.

I mean, I think it's important to say that Gail [Simone] did some very interesting work with Bane in Secret Six. I wish I could fall back on those threads of this almost gentle monster, you know? I love what she did with Bane in that thing. So I don't think it's been neglected on that front. But yeah, you look back at the movie versions, he's sort of like this symbol of big, muscly '90s dudes and people just forget that his power was that he was better than Batman. That the two of them were matched on one way and one way only -- in willpower. And that's all Batman has, right? At the end of the day, just willpower. And here's a guy who can match him will for will. So, yeah, we've been building this forever.

I remember back in one of my favorite arcs in my entire run with this is "I am Bane" arc, which we did with David Finch. And Batman defeats Bane with this big headbutt, right? And it leads up to this big moment, everyone's like "no, no, you built up this villain, so you can't just beat him with a head butt." Yes, exactly. Exactly. The people were seeing exactly what they're supposed to be seeing, because of course this wasn't the end of the story. This was Bane planning. You could beat up that sort of muscle bound whoever with a headbutt, but you can't beat up the Bane that we have in this book with that. No, that's not how it works. This guy's planning, this guy's six steps ahead.

Is it safe to assume going into this back third of the run, the inclusion of Thomas Wayne is going to pay off in a big way, and that that character is going to be kind of the thing to watch?

Oh, it's not safe to assume; that is something you should know. The easiest metaphor would be Thomas Wayne is the Vader to Bane's emperor. They have a very complicated relationship. And Bane sees himself as above everyone and, as we saw in issue #69, Thomas doesn't exactly accept that terminology. The Thomas Wayne/Bruce Wayne dynamic, which has been building since "The Button" issues, will pay off huge and be part of this entire conflict. I mean, Batman versus his father is what this is all about. And again, it goes back to that moment on the plane where he just, he faked his own death and he was like, is this a good death? Am I worthy of this death? What does a man do after that? Part of that is understanding who your father is and what he could've become.

Batman and Catwoman Wedding - What Happens
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

I feel like more than any other book, except for possibly Scott's Justice League, your run has been defined by the villains. How much fun is it getting to this point in the story while DC's doing the whole "Year of the Villain" thing?

I feel like everyone's just catching up to me! [Laughs] No, I think there's two things that define my writing. One of them is yeah, this idea that there's sort of this Batman is being torn down by a villain in a way he's never been torn down before. That is what Bane does, right? When he breaks Batman's back, he brings him up and brings him down. That's what he did here, he brought him up at the wedding and brings him back down to break him. This time metaphorically instead of literally. But that, to me, that's half of it. The other half is Catwoman. And I don't know if you'd consider her a villain or not. I don't know if she would consider herself a villain. But I think the other half of the story is the "Batman loves Catwoman" arc. And I think, although Bane's manipulations play into that, I think the feelings that they have towards each other and the potential in that relationship goes beyond Bane and beyond just the villains' conception of what Batman's life is. It goes right into the soul of that character in ways I don't think we've seen before.

A lot of writers have depicted Bruce as a character who pushes everybody away. You can read Dick Grayson stories where the premise is basically "stop doing that, you a--hole."

Yeah. I wrote one or two of those.

So it's interesting that Bane has Selena and Thomas working with him throughout the story. The idea of taking the two people closest to someone who pushes people away is kind of diabolical.

I think that after issue #50, we saw that that was sort of his natural reaction. That's his great defense mechanism, is to push people away. And you saw in issue #54 how Grayson comes in, and he's like "don't do that, don't do that," and then Bane literally sees it happening and she shoots him in the head. Then Batman was working through it again, because it's the anger invokes this thing of pushing people away, and I think that comes naturally from a guy who lost his parents and draws strength from that loss. To him, that willpower, that ultimate strength comes from his vow, comes from being alone, right? So when he needs to go to a place where he needs to gather strength to fight a villain, his natural inclination is to be like, "I need to go back to that moment." I mean every writer has that, where Batman is falling down and needs to get off the floor, so he goes back to the moment where his parents died, right? So I think that's natural, and you're seeing that over these last few issues, saw Batman punch Gordon in the face, we saw Batman alienate all of Gotham city by almost torturing criminals in order to get information.

And then the last issue came out, and you see him alienate himself from his family and he'll push them away out of that same anger. And Bane is aware of that, Bane is playing him. He's being played. (Or is he?) But yeah, that aspect of it is exactly what Bane's taking advantage of. He gave Batman that wedding, he gave him that moment where Batman's actually reaching out to someone and not pushing them away and then he took it away, Batman reverted to the norm. And that norm is a weakness.

Bane has his twisty-turny master plan, but so does Tom King. So when you have a character like Thomas or you have a character like Selena, how much of what they say can you really take at face value?

I mean, you saw in issue #69, the Thomas reveal -- what he said in Batman #22 is his motivation, which is that he doesn't want his son to become Batman. And in order to do that, he's basically saying, "I could just ask him but that he's never going to listen. I need to bring him to his lowest point. This is an addict, I need to bring him to that low point." So he and Bane are sort of temporary allies while he gets [Bruce] there. Now, whether that allegiance stays solid as we go forward with the "City of Bane" is one of the huge plot points that's going to run through this, right?

I do remember talking to people around that time and thinking the sendoff in #22 was note-perfect for Thomas Wayne. To then bring him back and have a kind of twisted exploration of what that moment could mean -- was that fun?

I mean, to me it's embracing the continuity of Thomas Wayne. People forget, in Flashpoint continuity, Thomas Wayne's wife becomes the Joker, and he has to fight her to the death. So this is a man who has some mental issues. So to me, it's taking that moment and mixing it with the actual continuity. It's like when a moment that seems sweet when taken seriously, becomes something a little bitter. Also, Batman has to come to terms whether Thomas Wayne is his real father, right? Because in some ways he is, because in some ways Batman only knew his father up until the day he died, and this Thomas Wayne was that guy up until then. Batman didn't know his father one day after he died, and this Thomas was that guy but he so changed after that. So I think it sort of tests that limit. To me, the fun of comics is the to be continued. It's Bendis giving Brubaker Daredevil and putting him in jail and saying, "what can you do with this?" I feel Thomas Wayne, I feel like Geoff Johns was like "here, what can you do with this?" You know? And I was like "ooh, watch me, the pitch is over the plate, watch me hit it."


The build-up to "City of Bane" and the conclusion of Tom King's epic run on Batman continues on June 2 with Batman #72.