mark russell batman dark age interview dc comics

INTERVIEW: Mark Russell on Bruce Wayne’s Fight to Save Gotham City in Batman: Dark Age

In a recent interview with Mark Russell, Vanessa Young dug into the first two issues of Batman: Dark Age, his series with artists Michael and Laura Allred.

Eisner-winning author Mark Russell took time to talk with us about his newest series for DC Comics, Batman: Dark Age

MoC: Before we even dive into Batman: Dark Age, you have Superman: Space Age, you have Dark Age. Are we eventually going to get Wonder Woman or Green Arrow?

Russell: I can’t speak out of school, but our goal is to have a Wonder Woman, either a Golden Age or a… we’re probably gonna call it Golden Age. But assuming the Batman one does well they’ll approve us for a third chapter in the trilogy, surrounding Wonder Woman.

[Editor’s note: my original question was if we were getting Wonder Woman: Bronze Age or Golden Age, so I was close in my guess.]

MoC: So in our last conversation we talked about Pariah in Space Age and his purpose in that book being kind of the antithesis of Superman. What is his purpose in this book for Batman?

Russell: I think it’s largely the same. He sees himself as the savior of Gotham and the fact that the world in this universe is facing destruction is more of an annoyance to him. He feels like it’s distracting him from what his real goal is, which is to save Gotham and complete the legacy of his parents in building this wonderful, futuristic, very livable city. 

Russell: I think more than that, he sees cities as sort of a test for humanity, like if we can live together largely in the city and we were all from different backgrounds. He [Batman] thinks that is the ultimate test of whether or not the human race can survive without destroying itself. So he sees this as being incredibly important. 

Russell: Whereas he feels like most other people see a city as just a place to get tacos or just some grimy hellhole that should be avoided at all costs. So I think it’s very much about Batman and his love for cities and how he wants to save, not necessarily humanity, but people. I think that’s the big difference between him and Superman. Superman is always looking for ways to save humanity, whereas Batman is looking for ways to save people.

MoC: Why is Pariah so embedded here in this world, much more than in Space Age?

Russell: Well, each universe that’s been destroyed, he’s forced to watch so it’s sort of like Groundhog Day like Bill Murray. You know, you have to live the same day over and over again. You got to do different things. So this one, he just wants to get incredibly rich. In some of them, he’s trying to actually stop it, save himself. He’s just like, I’m gonna go with the ride. I don’t want to give too much away about what Pariah is up to. But this one he’s not trying to warn Superman. He’s not trying to tell people what’s coming. He’s like, well, I’m just going to get incredibly wealthy, because I know everything’s going to happen, which makes him the world’s best investment banker.

MoC: Noting the timestamps, we have Pariah in 1968 talking about the world ending in 20 years (Crisis on Infinite Earths started in 1985), but we also see Bruce as an old man in 2030. Is this the same universe? Does this Earth not get destroyed? You probably won’t tell me.

Russell: I won’t tell you! I mean, obviously, you’ve noticed Bruce Wayne somehow survives. But I won’t tell you whether it’s the same universe or a different universe or what’s going on there. It will be revealed.

MoC:  Switching to Bruce’s military service. Why did you connect the League of Assassins’ rise with the Vietnam War?

Russell: One of the things we’re trying to do with this series of books is connect them to American history. These are happening against the backdrop of actual events in our history. For a young man getting guerilla training, in the 1960s, where would that be other than Vietnam? So I felt like that was so natural to have him earn his Batman skills as sort of a commando behind enemy lines in Vietnam. It also seemed like Ra’s al Ghul would be the perfect guy to teach him there. 

Russell: So I created this new backstory for Ra’s al Ghul. And the importance as Bruce Wayne’s sort of…his tertiary father. He really is a combination of, not only Thomas and Martha Wayne and his early childhood with his parents, but also then Alfred taking over. Alfred showing him amazing patience and not giving up on him the same way he doesn’t give up on Gotham. Then Ra’s al Ghul’s training, like this is what it takes to survive in a hostile world. So really, he’s the child of all those people. He’s the child of everyone who helped him survive when he was young.

MoC: Did we also spy Maxwell Lord and Oliver Queen in the mix there?

Russell: You’re right. Yes. They are both in his commando legion in Vietnam. Because the idea behind that legion is if there was a rich kid, who you did not want to inherit their money, that was where you sent them. So powerful people basically pulled some strings to get them all sent to this commando squad. They really thought that for sure they were gonna get killed.

MoC: We didn’t actually see him, but the first time Bruce learns about Superman sends him into a spiral that has him questioning himself and what he’s being taught. “Is that all we are to Superman, just fleas with flags?” Did hearing about Superman send him down a more radical path to his conversation about saving Gotham with Lucius Fox or am I reading that wrong?

Russell: No, that’s absolutely right. I think Lucius is another one of those figures who becomes a father to Bruce Wayne, because he shows him the way forward. If you want to save Gotham, if you want to use the skills you’ve learned from Ra’s al Ghul on how to win when you’re stranded in a hostile environment, Lucius shows him, this is how you do it. You do it using this technology that your father’s already paid for and you use the guerrilla warfare tactics. In that way, you fight back against Wayne Enterprises, which is trying to destroy the city for profit.

MoC: Speaking more on that conversation with Lucius, they spoke on how much Gotham had changed in Bruce’s absence. I’ve noticed lately more writers separating Bruce from his money to align more with modern sentiments around billionaires and their actual contributions to society. What is your take on Bruce the billionaire and how does that inform your stories about him?

Russell: Well, it’s not that I think, or in-story, that billionaires are inherently bad people. It’s more like we create a series of incentives that destroy civilization, whether we want to or not; when all we’re trying to do is extract wealth from society and from people. That’s all we’re concerned with. But it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a good person or not. If you’re participating in that set of incentives, you’re gonna be a destructive force on humanity. So this is what Bruce Wayne is ultimately having to fight against, not just these villains, but the very set of structures and incentives that he was sort of born to take advantage of.

MoC: How does the decay of the city tie into the rise of the False Face Society?

Russell: So the False Face society, under the direction of Carmine Falcone, had to assassinate Thomas Wayne, so that they could ultimately take control of the Wayne Enterprises wealth. One of the big things they wanted to accomplish by taking control of the company was to scrap all of Thomas Wayne’s plans for the future of Gotham; they realized this was not going to make money for Wayne Enterprises. This was going to cost a lot of money. But Thomas Wayne’s vision was that, in the end, this will be good for everyone. This will make a lot of money for Wayne Enterprises and create a much more livable city for people in Gotham, but he was thinking long-term. He was thinking this will be best for everybody in like 50 years, 100 years, whereas Wayne Enterprises was thinking more like a criminal operation. ‘It’s like how much money are we going to take in this week?’ 

Russell: So I think the fact that Wayne Enterprises is taken over by this criminal organization underscores what has happened a lot in American economics in our world. Which is, people are thinking more like the economy, which was supposed to be there for all of our benefit, which is supposed to help allow us all to make a living, they’re thinking more in terms of a smash and grab. It’s like, ‘what can I do to make as much money off of the stock or out of this company now? And then whatever happens to the company, whatever happens to its employees and the shareholders two years from now when I’ve gone and made my bundle, that’s their problem.’

Russell: That’s sort of a commentary that late-stage American capitalism is being run like the Falcone family would run Wayne Enterprises, basically just a bust-out operation.

MoC: Speaking of father figures for Bruce, can you talk a little bit more about Alfred and Bruce’s relationship evolving in this series as Bruce grows from party boy to jaded veteran?

Russell: Well, Alfred is really the one who has to do the hard part, I think, with Bruce, because he has to be his father, during probably the lowest point in Bruce’s life. Also just the worst point in his life, because he does become this entitled brat. Part of it is that he thinks he’s going to be killed. Bruce Wayne thinks he’s going to be assassinated, just like his parents were. So he thinks well, ‘why bother being good? Why bother thinking about my future, long-term? Why not just enjoy myself while I still can?’

Russell: It’s only when Alfred teaches him, this is what your father wanted and this is the way you should act, that he begins to realize there’s more to life than just using people as toys or there’s more to life than just enjoying it.That the responsibility is not just there for other people’s benefit. Your personal responsibilities and the responsibility you feel towards other people are also what make your life worth living. That’s what Alfred helps them discover.

MoC: We saw a little bit of Selina [Kyle] in the first issue, hopefully we’ll be seeing her again. Will we also be seeing Talia, since we met Ra’s?

Russell: Unfortunately, I don’t have room for everybody. So Talia doesn’t make it in but you’ll see a lot more Selina.

MoC: Can you talk a little more about what we’re going to see with Selina and Bruce’s relationship going forward with Bruce’s new growth as a person?

Russell: I think that part of the bond that forms between them, and for a long time, he doesn’t realize this is Selina when he gets to know her as Catwoman. He doesn’t know this is the same girl that he fell in love with at the police station. A lot of the bond between them is that he feels like this is what he would have been if he had been poor. He would have been more like Catwoman. Also he feels like she’s maybe the one person who knows Gotham better than he does and he really respects that.

MoC: Is there anything else you can tease, maybe about issue three?

Russell: Issue three really ramps up the war for Gotham between Batman and the False Face Society and the criminal enterprise that has taken over Wayne Enterprises. It’s really where it starts becoming more like an action… becomes a lot more fast paced. So I hope people will really like it.

mark russell batman dark age interview dc comics

(Interview edited for clarity.)

Batman: Dark Age is a history-bending, grittier addition to the universe Russell and the Allreds have already created (and destroyed) in Superman: Space Age. Dark Age issue one is on sale now and #2 will be available everywhere on Tuesday, April 23.

Summary: Meet Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s favorite delinquent son. In an origin story like no other, witness the boy become a dark knight shaped by a city in turmoil as it marches towards its prophesied doom. Set against the backdrop of actual historical events, Gotham comes alive, filled with the iconic characters who’ve loved and hated Batman over the years like you’ve never seen them before.
Spinning out of the Eisner-nominated Superman: Space Age, Mark Russell and Mike Allred return to give audiences a look at Batman as a figure in American history fighting for justice in a world gone mad.