Interview: Adam Beechen talks Batgirl, Batman Beyond with Collected Editions

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adam Beechen has written Robin, Teen Titans, Batgirl, Countdown to Final Crisis, and more for DC Comics. He is the new writer of a "mainstream" Batman Beyond series; he is also an ardent Phoenix Suns fans. Recently we chatted by email about Batgirl, Batman Beyond, and of course, collected editions.

Collected Editions: After your Robin and Teen Titans stories were met with some controversy, it may have surprised some readers that you were tapped to write the Batgirl: Redemption miniseries. Why do you think DC Comics chose you as the writer of the series? What made you want to take on the project?

Adam Beechen: It surprised me that I was asked to write the Batgirl mini (which was originally called Redemption Road). I remember getting the call from Editor Mike Marts in which he offered me the gig, and asking him if he wantedto have himself burned in effigy outside the DC offices. But Mike laughed that off -- he knew the backstory of my work on the Robin and Teen Titans stories that involved Cassandra, and was extremely kind and generous enough to offer me the chance to write the story that tried to make sense of it all and bring her back on track.

Because the story hadn't ended the way I'd hoped it would however long before, I was taken with the idea of resolving it on my own terms, in a way that satisfied me, to finish it the way I wanted. And I think the Batgirl miniseries makes sense of what happened with Cassandra during that period. Maybe not to every fan's liking, but I think it's consistent with the rest of the story and it works on its own merits.

It initially came from a place of character that made sense to me. I'm proud of the work, and proud of the work artists Jim Calafiore, Mark McKenna and Jack Purcell put in on it. It's not a perfect story. But I've never disavowed it, and I never will. Still and all, to many fans, I'll always be "the guy who ruined Cassandra Cain," fairly or unfairly, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I suspect some of my work since has been dismissed because I'm still tarred with that brush. But you'd probably be surprised by the number of fans I meet at conventions that tell me they actually liked Cassandra's story.

CE: What pleases you most about the end of Batgirl: Redemption?

AB: That the story has a definitive ending. At the end of the miniseries, why she turned to the dark side is fully explained, she goes through a personal trial, and she's firmly back on the side of good. Some readers may still hate that she turned evil to begin with, and some readers may not like how her redemption was executed, but in my mind, the story is complete and it makes sense.

CE: If it were not for the Cassandra Cain controversy, how would you like to be known by fans as a writer?

AB: I can't focus on that. I mean, every writer wants to have his or her work appreciated, of course, but I've learned, since I started and took a lot of criticism on the web, that there's just stuff I can control and stuff I can't control. I'm never going to make everybody happy. Every writer is someone's favorite and someone's least favorite. Every reader has different tastes. I try to write stories I think I would enjoy as a reader, and hope there are others that feel the same, but not everyone will.

That's just the way it is. All I can control is trying to write the best story I can, every time out. I want to do right by the characters, I want to tell what I think is a strong, fun, story, I want to please my employers (the editors) by writing quality stories on deadline and be easy to work with when they have notes or changes, and I would love for the fans to enjoy the work I do. But the reality is, I can only control the first two, I can control some of the third, and I have very little control over the last. All I can do is the best I can do and let the chips fall where they may. And what I've really learned is that it's best for me to not search out stuff on the web too much and just write the stories, because the criticism, which can get very personal, can really bum you out and shake your confidence if you let it.

CE: Your Batgirl: Redemption miniseries drew from stories begun in a number of other titles, including Robin, Teen Titans, and Supergirl; your Robin and Teen Titans stories equally had basis in earlier stories (not to mention Countdown to Final Crisis!). How do you negotiate the role of continuity in your comics writing? Do you find that working in a shared story universe benefits or limits the kinds of stories you want to tell?

I think the best word to describe it is "challenging," because when it works, it can be brilliant. But in a crossover event in particular, you have to have a great story to start out with, and you have to have all your creative personnel across all your affected books on the same page, and you can't change horses in mid-stream and start telling a different story, or it can be a disaster. There are just so many points at which things can break down. Again, though, if you can pull it off, it's absolute magic. In terms of day-to-day comics, when there's not a massive crossover going on, it can still be tricky, because the communication isn't always there between editors, or between editors and creators, to the point that everyone would like, and so if I have Superman show up in the book I'm writing, but he's on Alpha Centauri at the same time in another book, then it becomes a matter of figuring which one came first and how does this fit into the timeline, and everyone gets a big headache.

That's all by way of saying, for me, writing Justice League Unlimited was so wonderful, because I was beholden only to the animated series' continuity (and even then, only slightly, as we hardly ever referenced it), and because I was the only one working with those characters and that continuity. I could tell the stories I wanted without having to check with a hundred different people first. Batman Beyond is similar, but a little more tricky. I'm mostly beholden to the animated series' continuity, and I'm the only one working in it, so I can kind of cherry-pick what elements of current print continuity to mention. But when I do, I find it's best to check with the Editorial Batcave at DC so they know what I'm up to and can make sure I'm not throwing off anything they have in their plans. Fortunately, the decades-long gap between current DCU continuity and the future in which Batman takes place is so long, there are plenty of opportunities to write off or explain little things that might seem inconsistent. Anything could have happened in that time, you know?

CE: In both Batgirl: Redemption and Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, Dick Grayson plays at times an antagonizing role. How do you see the relationship between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne (historically or in your own work)? How do you think your approach to Dick Grayson follows or differs from other writers of the character?

AB: A really interesting question I've never been asked before. My perspective on Dick is this -- he came to Bruce almost completely unformed, at a very young age. He came to worship Bruce as a father and a role model, but at the same time, he didn't get a lot of paternal love from Bruce because that's not how Bruce is wired. Bruce doesn't know how to express love very well -- so Dick, now that he's an adult, is more determined to let the next generation of "Bat-kids," like Tim, know they're loved.

Anyway, Dick grew up with this curious mix of awe and gratitude and resentment toward Bruce, wanting to be just like him, but be his own version of him, while knowing he was never going to be exactly what Bruce is as Batman -- for better or worse. He's always going to be thought of, first, by way of his connection to Batman/Bruce. That might make others want to rebel and go the other way, but Dick has such a strong sense of morality that he's super-loyal to Batman's mission -- and still, there's this undercurrent of anger below it.

In Batgirl, it made sense to me that Dick would be wary of Cassandra, given all the ups and downs she'd had prior to that storyline, even though she was theoretically "part of the family" and someone close to him. Having been through everything and seen everything, Batman wouldn't trust her -- therefore Nightwing shouldn't. And he hated that he found himself not trusting her. In Batman Beyond, Dick found out that, in the most extreme conditions of Batman's mission, even he, Dick, was expendable, or at least not of primary priority. On the one hand, having been raised by Bruce, Dick understands that. But on the other hand, as Bruce's adopted son, it's gotta be incredibly painful. It all makes Dick, I think, an incredibly complex and interesting character, always fighting conflicting impulses, never really finding peace.

CE: Despite a large fan following, Batman Beyond would seem to me a difficult title to write, in that it's removed from the ongoing DC Universe and to an extent crossovers and other methods of drawing in new readers are limited. How will you keep Batman Beyond relevant in a comics market often based around event tie-ins and such?

AB: The animated series has an incredibly devoted fan base that seems excited to see the character back in action in any form. And there's a certain percentage of fans that will pick up the book just because it's an extension of the Batman mythology. Our hope is that, by tying the series just enough to mainstream continuity through these little "drop-in" references, we'll attract more mainstream readers who might not otherwise give it a chance, and who will then regard it as sort of an island from the event tie-ins. A universe that crosses over with the mainstream universe just a little bit, like two circles in a Venn diagram.

CE: How does the fact that your stories will most likely be collected in trade shape how you put together story arcs? Do you find a certain benefit as a writer to the monthly versus the collected/long-form formats? In what formats do you enjoy comics as a reader? (Not to worry, I'm not biased just because it's "Collected Editions!")

AB: I thought about that a lot before we moved into the monthly series, and discussed it a good deal with Editor Chris Conroy. "Accessibility" became our watchword. We wanted to have the tension of ongoing stories, but not make them so long that new readers had to wait forever to jump in, if they wanted. We settled on three issue arcs (though we may go longer at some point, if the story dictates), with stand-alone issues in between them. That seemed to be the best of both worlds. If a new reader wanted to get in on the series and we were in the middle of an arc, they wouldn't have to go back too far to catch up, or wait too long for a story that served as a better jumping-in point. The stand-alones would spotlight important parts of the Batman Beyond universe and, to some degree, advance the larger story arcs, while the three-issue stories would be complete in their own right as well as lead into things down the road.

Speaking personally, that's the kind of storytelling in comics I enjoy. I like sitting down with a collected edition, but if it's enormous, or is part of a series of volumes all telling one story, I find myself getting impatient and having trouble keeping track of what came before. The essential meat of "The Great Darkness Saga," one of the great multi-part stories of our time, was told in five issues. Five! Nowadays, the temptation would be to have it run over an entire year and incorporate three or four other titles. I want Batman Beyond to be accessible to readers no matter where they start, and no matter how much of it they read. My goal is for every chunk of "Batman Beyond," whether it's a one-off or an ongoing storyline, or a mixed package of the two, to make sense on its own terms.

CE: Speaking of "The Great Darkness Saga," do you have other stories or runs that have inspired you as a comics writer over the years?

AB: Gosh ... if you were collecting the story arcs that have inspired me the most over the years, it'd be an awfully big collected edition! "The Great Darkness Saga" would be there, but so would there:

- Alan Moore's Marvelman
- Dave Sim's Cerebus
- Garth Ennis' Preacher
- Grant Morrison's Zenith
- Greg Rucka's and Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central
- Paul Grist's Kane
- Howard Chaykin's American Flagg
- Both runs of Frank Miller's Daredevil
- The "Who Remembers Scorpio?" arc by Dave Kraft and Keith Giffen in The Defenders, which deserves a color reprinting more than any storyline yet to be so collected.
- The "Panther's Rage" arc by Don McGregor in Jungle Action.
- The "Devils and Deaths" arc by Darko Macan and Edvin Biukovic in Grendel Tales.

The list could be a lot longer than that, but all of those would be absolutely indispensable arcs that affect me whenever I sit down to write comics.

CE: Finally, do you have a favorite Batman Beyond episode to share?

AB: "The Call, Parts 1 and 2," because they give us a glimpse of the world outside Gotham and how Terry's Batman might fit into it.

Thanks to Adam Beechen for taking the time to answer these questions. Don't miss our Batgirl: Redemption review from earlier this week, and be here tomorrow for the Collected Editions review of Adam Beechen's Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond. See you then!
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10 comments:

  1. great to see this type of feature on the site CEB!

    After reading Batgirl: Redemption a few months ago, I've been gathering Adam's Robin trades and finding lots to enjoy there. The Klarion arc is my personal favorite and other stories show a bit of that mature influence that Adam lists. I hope Adam gets to have a play with some of the Vertigo toys now they're out of the box.

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  2. I quite liked his Robin run, as well as that creator-owned book he did, Hench. Lovely interview.

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  3. Admittedly I'm mostly familiar just with Beechen's DC work, but as Jeffrey points out, he's also written the creator-owned Hench and Dugout, and a number of Wildstorm titles (as well as DC Kids titles and a number of cartoons).

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  4. Thanks for the nice words and support, folks. And thanks to Collected Editions for devoting so much bandwidth to me this week!

    Best,
    Adam B.

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  5. So, Mr. Beechen, can you confirm whether you're going to write the new Justice League book that will be set in the Batman Beyond universe?

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  6. And thank you, Adam, for participating and for answering everyone's questions. Looking forward to the next collection of Batman Beyond.

    And as for shagmu's question ... ?

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  7. I may be critical of some of his comics work, but I will say that I've really enjoyed pretty much everything Beechen's done in the realm of animation. His Teen Titans episode was probably one of the best of the series. And his JLU comics work was pretty good, too.

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  8. Remind us the particular Teen Titans episode?

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  9. Haunted, the one where Robin hallucinates that Slade has returned and is stalking him.

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  10. Shagmu, I cannot confirm that. :-) I can confirm that you should call me Adam.

    Nathaniel, thanks -- That was a hard episode to write, and lots of credit goes to the TT producers, David Slack and Glenn Murakami, and crew for making it work. I'm proud to have my name associated with that series in any way.

    Best,
    Adam B.

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