Pushing The Future Forward: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel Talk Batman Beyond 2.0 [Interview]
Of all the titles in DC Comics' "Digital-First" initiative, Batman Beyond 2.0 has been possibly the biggest surprise. Kyle Higgins and artist Thony Silas launched a series that expands the beloved Batman Beyond animated series storyline from the 1990s in exciting and unexpected ways, without losing the elements that made the Warner Bros. Animation original so popular, and fans have noticed and responded. The story of young Batman Terry McGuinness and his mentor Bruce Wayne and their adventures in Neo-Gotham, DC recently upgraded the Batman Beyond 2.0 from bi-weekly to weekly, and as of Chapter #25, Higgins brought his C.O.W.L. collaborator Alec Siegel and venerable comics veterans Phil Hester and Craig Rousseau onboard the series for what the team has promised to be a particularly dramatic new movement in the young series, one that includes a return of the Phantasm, one of Batman: The Animated Series' most rarely scene yet fan-favorite foes.
During a few spare minutes as San Diego Comic-Con, we stopped by the DC booth to chat with the Higgins and Siegel about their love for the Batman Beyond characters, their collaborative process, "Mark of the Phantasm", and their further plans for the book's future.
ComicsAlliance: Were you familiar with Batman Beyond when you started work on this series? Were you a fan of the cartoon, or was this something you learned about in preparation for the gig?
Kyle Higgins: We're huge fans. The reason I took the job was because I was such a huge fan of the show. The DC Animated continuity was my introduction to DC Comics growing up. So I know that stuff inside and out, and I actually know it better than the books. So the opportunity to come in and continue Terry McGinnis' story, taking him into the next stage of his superhero career (hence the "2.0"), was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
And now I'm a year into it, and Alec has come on board, and we're co-writing the series going forward as it switches to a weekly schedule, and that couldn't be more exciting. Alec and I have been really good friends since high school, I think we've probably talked about [Batman Beyond] since high school, when it was on the air, and now to do it together is a lot of fun!
CA: How does the co-writing break down? Are you sitting around and talking over beers, and figuring it out as you go?
Alec Siegel: Yeah, our process is very…it changes depending on the project, the deadline, but more and more frequently what's happening is we break something down together, talking it out, working out the outline, and then I'll actually write up the outline. And on Batman Beyond, since they're ten-page chapters, we'll actually script it together. We'll actually sit at the computer and just power through it. He'll type and I'll throw out lines of dialogue, and then we'll do the breakdowns afterwards. Or I'll type and he'll talk through things. It really is an amalgamation.
CA: And when working with the artists, is one or the other the point person?
KH: It mostly goes through our editor, Alex Antone, although right now we're working with three different artists and three different colorists – Thony Silas, who's the main series artist; Phil Hester, who is doing all of our Phantasm arc, which is a flashback arc; and then Craig Rousseau who's doing flashbacks within that arc to the original Batman: The Animated Series timeline.
So the Phantasm arc takes place one year ago, and then within that, we have some big flashback sequences to the era just after the death of the Joker.
CA: Do you ever have moments, working with these artists, where some art comes back and it inspires you to go off on a tangent, or push things in a different direction?
AS: Yeah, there are certain bits. For example, we're finishing up…Thony is drawing the next arc after the Phantasm right now, and he started drawing Batman's wings differently. He's drawing them more like the Lord Batman Beyond suit from the Justice Lords crossover arc. I asked him about it, and he's like, "Well, I just really like those wings."
So I started thinking, "Okay, well maybe Terry started upgrading his own suit, post-Justice Lords." So you start finding different story reasons for things depending on what artist you're working with and what they're doing. That's the nature of collaboration. That's what makes the book so fun!
CA: Given that this is continuing on from the cartoon continuity, how much room are you given to explore and push the story to somewhere new? Are you concerned about readers getting lost, if they come straight from watching the series to reading the new comic?
AS: We did a certain amount of homework to make sure we knew where everybody ended up, the last time they were seen [on the cartoon], where their story was at that point, and then jump off from there.
KH: And there are certain elements in our series that are informed by Adam Beechen's run on Batman Beyond [1.0], that happened before ours. And there are other things that Adam did that are more directly influenced by DC-proper continuity, and that's where it gets a little more…what's continuity and what's not? So we always go back to the show.
I don't think it's limiting. I think if you know and understand it, and don't feel hindered by it, it's truly liberating. Again, that's where the "2.0" comes from – we are taking it forward. Terry's in college now, it's a whole new world and a whole new cast of characters, much in the way the original show was not about what happened between Batman: TAS and Batman Beyond, it was about Terry McGinnis and a whole new cast of villains that weren't just Bruce villain knock-offs.
CA: So you're not planning to bring in too many elements from other iterations of the DCU?
KH: Not really. Adam used characters that had never appeared in the animated universe, characters that had only been in DC comics, like Hush. He also introduced some Batman Incorporated ideas into his Batman Beyond stuff. And while that's stuff we're not really touching on or exploring. What we are exploring from his run is Jake Chill, who after being part of the murder squad that killed Terry's father, has become a hero by the name of Vigilante, looking to make amends for what he did. hat's a character that figures very prominently into this new arc with the Phantasm.
There's a villain that I created in my first arc, Rewire, and he's the son of the mayor, an electricity-powered villain in the vein of a Livewire or an Electro. And he's never appeared in comics or animated stuff, he's brand new. I'm much more inclined to do brand new characters than I am to just pull in a Who's Who from the comics.
CA: So Kyle, now that you're starting your second year on the book, and Alec, you're coming on to co-write, are you looking at this as a chance to stretch out a bit? You've established the 2.0 digital series as a success, you've set up your ground rules, and now…
KH: I'd say that the first arc, I went back and re-read it when I was proofing the trade, and looking at it now, I feel that there were some growing pains. But by the time I got onto the Man-Bat story, and Thony and I gelled more and more, and then Emilio Lopez came on and started coloring, the book started to have more synergy. I feel like we found our legs.
The story that we're telling right now is a story that I pitched a year and a half ago. So if anything, it's incredibly liberating and exciting that I'm able to tell that story. That's not very common. Ongoing series change directions all the time. That's the nature of the business. But with this, everything is planned out. Everything we're doing with the Phantasm, all the nods that I set up in the first arc, everything I set up going forward and teased, it's paying off here and that sets up the next big story.
I think there's a natural expansion that comes any time you're building off your own continuity, the stories that you've written before, but it's not necessarily a conscious thing.
CA: So how carefully and how far in advance do you actually have things planned? Is it a meticulous game plan, or do you just keep plot beats in mind that you want to hit, enjoy the ride along the way, and see where it takes you?
AS: The details are always malleable.
KH: Yeah, I have a lot of it set, but there are definitely…there are arcs where I thought, "It'd be fun to do something with Man-Bat!" or "it'd be fun to do something with Shriek!" And I'm not sure what that is quite yet, but I know the big beats I have set, so far as Terry's character goes, throughout this whole thing.
Batman Beyond 2.0's "Mark of the Phantasm" storyline is on sale now from DC Entertainment.