Dark Multiverse: Knightfall’s Kyle Higgins Talks Batman and a New Crisis
October 15th, 2019
An Interview with Kyle Higgins
Interview by L.D. Nolan
Running from 1993 until 1994, “Knightfall” remains one of the the most iconic tales in Batman’s long history. After sustaining a backbreaking injury at the hands of Bane, Bruce Wayne gives up the mantle of Batman to Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael for a time. However, Valley proves too brutal. Wayne eventually has to return and defeat his former protege in order to protect others and once again become the Dark Knight. However, Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Javier Fernandez’s Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman — Knightfall #1 imagines a world in which Valley beat Wayne and remained Batman.
Announced earlier this year, Tales from the Dark Multiverse is a set of one-shots set in the worst-case-scenario universe first introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event. The book picks up 30 years after Wayne fails to take his mantle back from Azrael and explores the dystopian world resulting from such a cataclysmic change, as well as the new Batman’s extreme methods.
CBR caught up with co-writer, Kyle Higgins to talk about the new “Crisis” teased in the book, why Azrael fails as Batman, writing fascism, and world-building for the newest world in the Dark Multiverse.
CBR: My first question for you is about something right towards the start of this issue in the preview that CBR ran. Tempus Fuginaut, who’s heavily involved with Flash Forward teases a new Crisis. What can you tell me about that and how it fits into these one-shots?
Kyle Higgins: I really kind of started my career at DC. I started at Marvel, but my big breaks came at DC, and those were in conjunction with Scott Snyder, working on Gates of Gotham. And then I transitioned for the New 52 to Nightwing and Scott transitioned to Batman. Anyone who remembers that era probably would remember that we often interlinked arcs. So there’s a natural fit here as to why he and I decided to do this initial one-shot to kick off all the Dark Multiverse one-shots that are forthcoming.
And that particular point that you just keyed on about the tease of a new Crisis, perhaps the biggest yet, is absolutely a component of that… I can’t say anything specific about it, but what I can say is that it’s there for a reason, and it’s not a coincidence that Scott and I did this issue together.
Azrael really struggled with being a hero when he first took over for Batman during the original “Knightfall.” Why do you feel that he fails at being Batman?
There’s kind of two components to that. The first is that he was really kind of designed and set up to fail. From a narrative standpoint, if you look at the era that that story was built during, and you look at old interviews that Denny O’Neil gave, he talks about this kind of proliferation of antiheroes. Whether it be Lobo, Punisher, Wolverine, the popularity of these antiheroes of that era is what really sparked this idea for the Bat office, which was “okay well let’s explore this and let’s show people what a Batman that kills looks like, ultimately as a cautionary tale as to why it’s so significant that the Batman as we know him, Bruce Wayne, Batman does not.” So that was kind of the initial set up for what became the “Knightfall” event in the comics.
As far as in-story reasons, I just don’t think Jean-Paul was really equipped for the task at hand. And if you look at a lot of his conditioning under the Order of St. Dumas and his background, he did the best he could with the wiring that he had. But I think that as the pressure mounted and what it means to try to be Batman in a city like Gotham, some people are kind of cut out for that and others aren’t.
I mean, you look at quarterbacks in the NFL, and the ones that come in with immense talent and are playing off of that talent purely for a period of time. They might have success early on, but eventually, there’s enough tape on them, that opposing defensive coordinators figure out how to scheme away a lot of that natural ability, and they’re forced to actually figure out how to play at a higher level within a scheme and that’s where you see careers go off the rails, or you see them rise above… I just don’t think Jean-Paul Valley had the fundamentals. He didn’t have a strong enough foundation that would have made him the type of Batman that could have risen to the challenge.
So, going off of that: your Knightfall picks up a long time after Azrael defeats Batman. Were there any stories from that time that were kind of floating around in your head that you didn’t get to tell. Maybe of successes, maybe of failures? Because as you said, he wasn’t quite equipped for that role.
To me, because of the answer I just gave, I was only interested in exploring this era that was. I think it’s in the solicit. It’s about 30 years after he became Batman. When someone’s not equipped for it, but is either enabled, or, well, I don’t want to get into how and why he was able to, in our version here within the Dark Multiverse, stay as Batman, but to me looking at what that kind of darkest timeline with a Jean-Paul Valley who does not have the right foundation and perhaps moral compass to rise to the mantle that he’s taking on… showing the extreme of that after a significant amount of time [had] passed was the best way to explore it. I wasn’t as interested in jumping in and looking at a few months after the point of divergence and what that would look like.
To me, looking at how the city would have changed, how his support structure would have changed how the very idea of Batman would have changed some 30 years later, that started getting exciting for me.
A lot of that change is that Azrael is kind of running an almost pseudo-theocracy. And in your previous work — I’m thinking specifically of Nightwing: The New Order, which dealt a lot with fascism — what draws you to these stories about authoritarians misusing their power?
Without getting political or anything, I think they’re very timely right now. I think they often make for really compelling cautionary tales. In something like Nightwing: The New Order, or even my Power Rangers work with Lord Drakkon, the idea of someone, for the greater good, doing what is necessary, but ultimately what is necessary undercuts why they got into the work in the first place, that to me is always, like I said, a fascinating kind of cautionary tale.
And in the case of Jean-Paul Valley and the setup of this story, it was pretty ripe for that exploration. Like I said, this is someone who has not equipped morally or mentally for the task at hand, and when left to his own devices, this is a story of how things can go incredibly wrong.
I guess I hadn’t really thought of that before, that I have explored some of those kind of authoritarian tendencies in past work. But, again, I do think that there’s something very — we write about what we’re afraid of. At least I do. And there are definitely things in the world that we live in right now that, again, without getting political, echo some of those fears.
How do you view Azrael’s relationship in Knightfall with the rest of the DC Universe? What’s his relationship to all the other characters who are kind of floating around. Superman? Nightwing?
I don’t want to spoil too much here, but that was something that Scott and I talked quite a bit about. What does the outside world look like? And the idea of cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world as a result of what has happened in the rest of the world… Azrael definitely believes that the ends justify the means, and that he has kept Gotham standing, and he has turned this city into a paragon of virtue that the rest of the world could only ever dream of becoming through strong moral conviction and willpower. But so much of what the rest of the world has become, you could argue, is actually a direct result of Azrael cutting Gotham off from it. So, there’s a little bit of a chicken and egg kind of question at the core of this story.
There are little hints throughout the issue as to what things look like. Whether outside of Gotham, whether it be other heroes or other threats, different types of plagues. Even just kind of the status of Lazarus Pits in the larger DC Universe. To me, that wasn’t the core of the story. And this a story with a pretty limited amount of space. I mean, larger than most one-shots, but still, to build out an entirely new status quo, you have to really kind of pick your battles as far as where you decide to focus your page real estate for world-building. So again, we kept things pretty tight on what Gotham looks like in this world. But I think eagle-eyed readers will see hints about the fate of different characters throughout.
You have worked on a lot of alternate worlds and continuities or things that give you more room for play. When you’re writing something like Tales from the Dark Multiverse, what storytelling possibilities does that open up for you?
Well, I definitely pride myself on finding the most interesting through lines within a kind of higher concept. And a lot of alternate timeline stuff really allows for that, because at their core there tends to be a point of divergence or a higher concept that, for lack of a better term, a quote unquote “elevator pitch,” right? This is a story of where it’s this but in this era, where this happened and then that naturally leads to questions. Well, how did that come about? What is this person? As you just said, what happened to Superman? What happened to these people, and then it allows for really interesting world-building opportunities.
I kind of really spend a lot of time figuring out the world- building and in the most efficient and, hopefully, emotionally resonant way. It’s kind of like a tumbler lock, where each pin is a different possibility within a concept, and you have to get them all to kind of lineup right for the lock to open. I just really enjoy that challenge. And the “what if?” of it all, to me, is always a lot of fun to play around with. You can take it to an extreme that you couldn’t in standard continuity and use that extreme and the exploration of that extreme status quo to ultimately make whatever kind of emotional or thematic point interested you in the story in the first place.
Is there anything else you’d like to add just as we finish up?
It’s always fun to come back to Gotham, and I’m really proud of the issue and really happy to be working with Scott again and hopefully people will pick it up, give it a chance. The other Tales from the Dark Multiverse stories are all very exciting. And I think this is a really cool line that’s coming up and hopefully people won’t sleep on it.