The idea was as simple as it was potentially extraordinary: Take the world that Tim Burton created in his first two Batman films and bring it back to life in the pages of a comic book. The series would serve as a version of the third and fourth Batman films that Burton never got to make and that fans could only dream about after Joel Schumacher step
ped in as director of the franchise in the 1990s.
Reading such a comic while listening to Danny Elfman’s timeless “Batman” score? A cosmic certainty.
DC Comics had already secured the perfect illustrator for the project: Joe Quinones. His Twitter feed is consistently filled with his art inspired by the Burton Batman movies that could easily be mistaken for movie stills.
There was only one problem: There was no one to write it.
“It was sort of a book with an artist and without a writer for a bit,” Quinones said. “We went searching over months and it kind of seemed like
it might happen, or it might not.”
Quinones ended up suggesting something that now seems obvious: Why not just ask the person who wrote those Batman movies? Veteran Hollywood writer Sam Hamm is that person. And the result is “Batman 89,” a new six-issue monthly miniseries featuring a Batman inspired by the performance of Michael Keaton — and a nostalgic joyride for the many hardcore fans of Burton’s two iconic trips to Gotham City.
Quinones sent Hamm a direct message on Twitter and was surprised not only to get a response but to find out Hamm is a fan of his artwork.
Hamm was hesitant about returning to super-heroic tales. He’d written two Batman films (the first with Warren Skaaren, and he was replac
ed on the second by Daniel Waters) along with the first movie script for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s legendary “Watchmen” comic. He’d even worked with Chris Columbus on a Fantastic Four movie that was never made.
“I had a long stretch where I just didn’t want to do comic book [stories]. I had been very much typed as the comic book guy,” Hamm said. Still, he added, “I thought about it for like a day, and I said, I think I can have some fun with this.”
Part of the fun for Hamm and Quinones would be exploring potential plotlines that were ripe for the taking but never used in the first two Batman films. Both agreed that classic Batman villain Two-Face should be this series’ main antagonist. Hamm had included Harvey Dent — played by Billy Dee Williams — in his “Batman” script with the intent of the character eventually transitioning into Two-Face. But Williams never returned to the role, and when Two-Face debuted in Schumacher’s “Batman Forever,” the character was played by Tommy Lee Jones.
“Batman 89” will feature a Williams-inspired Harvey Dent/Two-Face up against a Batman who is wondering whether his crusade against crime is one worth continuing.
“I find myself sort of dropping back into the heads of the characters and hearing their voices in the way the established actors would have read the lines, and that’s been big fun,” Hamm said. “What we’re trying to do in this comic book is making Batman question the legitimacy of his whole enterprise. Things do not work out smoothly for Batman in this story. There’s collateral damage. Sometimes when you’re trying to do something a little sketchy it turns out even worse.”
Another new addition: Robin. And this Boy Wonder, with the name Drake Winston and a new costume design by Quinones, isn’t a sidekick. He will be Black, a nod to the rumor that Marlon Wayans was originally attached to play Robin in the Burton films. Chris O’Donnell eventually played the character in Schumacher’s films.
Hamm remembers the days during “Batman” and “Batman Returns” preproduction when Warner Bros. was insistent that Robin appear, but the studio later backed down when each movie went over budget during filming. This time around he’s inspired to see a different kind of Robin, one he realizes could have had an impact in the ’90s when there were hardly any on-screen Black superheroes — and one who is still relevant today.
“My hope is that Robin in this series is going to be a strong enough character that people are going to see the logic of [him] in this story,” Hamm said. “It’s not so much a story about Batman and Robin as it is a story about Robin and Batman.”
Quinones says there is no substitute for someone like Hamm, who worked side-by-side with Burton developing this world.
“He just has such an entangled sense of all these characters. He’s doing stuff with this story that I think is so poignant, that just make so much sense as the next steps of the movie we didn’t get after ‘Batman Returns,’ ” Quinones said. “Which for me as a fan, just if I was reading this, I would be so excited. It’s such a privilege to be able to draw it.”
An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect real name for the new version of Robin's character. The story has been corrected.