An FYI on John Ridley and Tim “Jace” Fox and The Next Batman…
Den of Geek: As soon as I saw that Tim Fox was the Next Batman, I was really excited to talk to you about that choice. You’ve spoken before about other lesser known Black heroes that meant something to you, who you’ve then later explored in your DC stories. Was Tim another one of those characters or was he someone who came up as you were researching and planning the series?
It’s been a really interesting journey getting to The Next Batman. I was working on The Other History and the second series of The American Way and I just felt very fortunate to be doing any of that. And at first I got these emails that Dan DiDio wanted to talk to me but I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But there was some weird thing where they were having trouble emailing it and this was prior to the pandemic, so finally they got all frustrated and were like, “Dan wants to have lunch with you.” We sat down and he said, “Oh we want you to write Batman.” That would have been tremendously cool in itself, but they said, “We want to approach Batman in a different way. We want Batman to be a character of color. But he’s going to be Batman. It’s not going to be an Elseworlds story, it’s not going to be, you know, the Dark Knight having his back broken. It’s not going to be temporary.”
Everything about it was trying to find the right way to express Batman. Who is Batman who’s a person of color? Not replacement Batman, not fantasy Batman, it’s going to be Batman. Going back a little bit, everybody in DC was very excited about The Other History. And initially the approach was, “Well, we’d love for you to create the next great DC comic book character.” That was the initial conversation before it became about Batman as a person of color. Initially, when Dan and Jim Lee approached me with that idea I was like, “Wow, I don’t know if I want to do that.” I know it sounds like a great opportunity, but I sincerely felt like, “Well, I’m too old to be writing a character that hopefully the next generation of comic book readers are going to want to be involved with.” Honestly, I think trying to create the next great character is a great way to fail. Anytime anybody in any space says, “I’m gonna do the next great whatever,” it’s just an opportunity to embarrass yourself.
So when they first approached me, I said, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be the right person.” And ironically both Jim and Dan said to me, “John, because you have that attitude, that’s all the more reason we feel like you’re the right person.”
That was that. And then, you know, months later Dan sits down and says, “Hey, we want you to do Batman. But we want you to do the next Batman.” We didn’t even have that title at that point but that was the phraseology he used. Then there were all of these things that happened with what people thought or what was meant to be 5G, and then Dan leaving the company and all of these changes. But what never changed was the desire to have a next generation of heroes. And one of them was going to be Batman and he was going to be a person of color.
Then we really got into who this person was going to be. Ben Abernathy is the group editor and I have a long history with him. Frankly, I wouldn’t be writing comic books if it weren’t for Ben, so I was very excited when he was going to be the group editor. He really was instrumental in saying, “I think that the right character should be Tim Fox.” The idea that one of the Fox sons should be Batman was a no-brainer. The conversations were out there and they were unmissable. But for me and Ben, Tim was the correct way to go.
He was always the second son. He was always this kid who just did not get along with his father. Who had divergent views about the family and the family status, and concepts of money and wealth and society. But also he disappeared for a long period of time. One of the things that was really fun for me on The Other History was leaning into things that happened in the DC Universe that may have happened because a character’s book got cancelled or that storyline just dropped away. And instead of ignoring it, how do you embrace things that happen in real life but really turn them into narrative arcs? And with Tim disappearing from the DC Universe for decades, why was he gone? Why did he go away? So using all of that negative space and saying, “Okay, we’re going to fill that void.”
You straddle that line, like so many of us, of being both a creator and a fan. So what’s it been like for you being a part of crafting this new DC Trinity?
It’s been great in every sense, starting with being able to write a Batman comic. Being able to write Batman who is a person of color. Being able to embrace the past as well as the future. To have a character like Renee Montoya become the Commissioner. And what that means as a legacy character to embrace the entire Fox family. To be able to say, “Okay, this is what Tanya actually does for a living, her attitudes, her points of views. Here’s Tiff as a person. Here’s Tam, who’s going through this crisis that everybody is focused on. Here’s Luke and his attitude. But then here is Tim, who’s not wholly a new character, he’s obviously existed before.” To really embrace what’s happened with the Fox family and Gotham Future State. But to have a Batman who’s got a different attitude, a different approach, and a different belief system.
Things that happen in Future State are not a destiny that cannot change. What happens there doesn’t mean that it has to happen when we come back to a regular timeline. But what’s interesting is that there’s the opportunity to say, “Well, these are things that could happen.” This is sort of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the things that work and the things that fans like, we can embrace those and we can use those as sort of a guiding light. We’re going to arrive at some of these elements. But more importantly it’s a way of saying to fans, “Look, here’s the durability of these characters.” They’re so far in the future that we’re probably never gonna see them, and they’re probably never going to be part of a timeline. And I hope I’m not giving anything away but the Magistrate, that program, those things, they’re on the horizon. A lot of what fans are reading, it’s not fantasy on top of fantasy. It’s going to happen.
This next part is paramount to me…
Yeah, The Next Batman really leans into the family aspect. What is so exciting for you about getting to explore Lucius Fox’s family?
It’s been great. Anytime there’s in any entertainment space an opportunity to really excavate Black characters, female characters, LGBTQ+, Asian characters, Latinx character. Not just as characters, but to see them as people. Anytime there’s an opportunity to show marginalized demographics as fully formed people, that some of the biggest issues that they deal with are not necessarily the Joker or the Riddler, but just each other. That we’re not all monolithic. That there’s a greater service sometimes in the ‘tween pages. Those are the kinds of things that make it real.
So to me it’s great writing Batman, and it’s great writing Batman as a person of color, but the things that I really enjoy are just those real little moments where it’s just a line in 22 pages but it has such an impact. And it doesn’t necessarily have to have impact for every reader, it’s not hyper-politicized. But it’s one of those things where for particular audiences they love it because they’ve never really seen a scene between Tanya and Tiff. More page counts with Black women, great! Generational divides, great! However, people read it in that one panel, in that one line. There’s so much going on. And to me, that’s the stuff that I really love.
Those little moments. That one panel, that one line. That can be so huge sometimes.
A scene between Tanya and Tiffany. Let’s see that. I would count myself among that audience.
After The Next Batman you’ve got The Next Batman: Second Son. Could talk about that and how it’s gonna connect and build up to what we’ve seen in The Next Batman ?
I guess in its strictest form it’s an origin story, but it’s more than that. It’s really about bridging that space between where Tim has been and where he is in The Next Batman. It’s about what he’s been through, what the Fox family is going through. So it’s a little more immediate than going completely back into the past, but it is going to get us to the now of Jace [Tim] Fox, the whole Fox family, and even Gotham City.
Within that, yes, we will certainly go back to and explain and excavate Jace’s worldview, where he’s been, why he went away, why he feels certain things about his family–particularly his father–and what drives him to want to do more and do better. As well as some very serious mistakes he’s made in his life.
So a “The Next Batman: Year One” in a way… cool.
One thing, since honestly, I’m not really that crazy about his Batman costume, I hope they keep Jace (Tim) in regular clothes and maybe never actually get to The Next Batman point.
The variant cover to BATMAN #106.
I honestly like Jace in that look best; or how he was in this sneak peek.
I would assume, if there is more Jace Fox after THE NEXT BATMAN: SECOND SON, and in the current continuity, that he would have his own identity or alter-ego, his own costume. I seriously doubt they would have him as Batman in the current continuity. That would be weird to me, and maybe even a little dumb, in my opinion.
Let’s see what they do.
EDIT: Okay, after reading BATMAN BLACK & WHITE #3 I’ve warmed up a little more towards Jace as The Next Batman.
Olivier Coipel’s art makes a world of difference.
More from John Ridley and Olivier Coipel, yes, please.