One of DC’s highlight panels at this years San Diego Comic-Con focused on Fear State, a crossover event through the Bat-Family titles. The panel was moderated by DC’s Gotham group Editor Ben Abernathy, and featured Bat-writers Stephanie Philips (Harley Quinn), Mariko Tamaki (Detective Comics), Tom Taylor (Nightwing), and Ram V (Catwoman). John Ridley (The Next Batman, I Am Batman) and James Tynion IV (Batman) also made appearances via pre-recorded videos.
The panel started off with John Ridley’s brief video. The video was too short to do much more than thank readers and plug his upcoming I Am Batman series featuring Jace Fox as a successor to Bruce Wayne.
Then the panel transitioned to Abernathy asking questions of the four panelists. The first was to ask them about their own person fears. Stephanie Phillips described her fear of snakes, Mariko Tamaki her fear of the dark, and Ram V his fear of insects, especially spiders. Tom Taylor, however, described his own feeling of imposter syndrome: the (in my opinion, unfounded) fear that people will realize that his reputation as a cool writer is undeserved.
Stephanie Phillips on Harley Quinn
Stephanie Phillips described how her Harley Quinn is a redemption story. And also that Harley is struggling with the fear that she can’t be redeemed, which is exacerbated by how Gotham City, in general, sees her as irredeemable. The Joker War was a turning point for Harley, and she’s genuinely trying to be a heroine. However, even if she does everything right, that doesn’t mean that Gotham is going to love her.
Mariko Tamaki on Detective Comics
Mariko Tamaki described how the evil forces in Gotham are shifting, and that these forces will be impacting Batman in his Bruce Wayne identity, by affecting the people he knows. She also talked of how Bruce’s life has changed now that he’s no longer isolated from life in Gotham City in Wayne Manor, but now lives in the city proper.
Tamaki also described how her stories would be looking at Gotham City from a civic, political viewpoint. Of particular importance is the character of Mayor Nakano. Nakano is similar to Batman in a couple of important ways. First, he has his own traumatic past, which Tamaki revealed is somehow connected to Batman. And second, Nakano is as invested in seeking justice as Batman. Unfortunately, his vision of justice is limited compared to Batman’s. But his experiences as Mayor will allow him to widen his view and evolve as a character.
She also hinted that during Fear State, Batman and Nakano are going to be forced together in a “gross sci-fi” manner. That last bit sounds oddly repelling and intriguing.
Tom Taylor on Nightwing
The first thing Tom Taylor had to say about Nightwing is that his goal is to show that he is an A-lister hero – a prominent force for good in the DCU. He also stressed the fact that Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl a.k.a. Oracle) will play a pivotal role in the series. And it is Barbara that draws Dick into Fear State, as Dick runs to help and defend Babs when she comes under attack.
He talked of how the hero will also be a force of good as Dick Grayson, using the fortune he inherited from Alfred to lift up Bludhaven by addressing the social problems in the city. And he also assured readers that Tim Drake and Batgirls (plural) will play a role in the title.
When asked if his dog, “Bitewing” would be getting a costume and fighting crime alongside him during Fear State, Taylor reacted with an emphatic “no”. He stressed that Dick was a responsible pet owner, and sensibly leaves the dog with a neighbour when he returns to Gotham to participate in the event.
He also warned readers not to miss Nightwing #81. That issue will contain something that is life-changing for the character. However, he did hedge a bit by joking that if readers don’t like it, it was actually somebody else’s idea.
Ram V on Catwoman
Ram V described the status quo in Catwoman headed into Fear State. Selina has carved her own corner of Gotham in Alleytown. She has also become a maternal figure to the Alleytown Strays, a gang of youngsters she has taken under her protection. However, in Fear State, we’re going to see more of how Alleytown relates to the wider city of Gotham. And Fear State will also be notable, as it’s the first time Bruce and Selina will encounter each other again after their recent separation.
Alleytown will be in particular danger, as Nakano has designs on using it as a PR stunt. He wants to use it as a pilot project for his scheme to clean up Gotham. However, things are about to go very wrong.
He also reveals that Selina’s deepest fear is not actually commitment, but of being alone. Selina has found that regardless of her role – hero, villain, or thief – people always get hurt around her. And this has her wondering if her attraction to Batman is because he’s the only person who can be involved with her and not be hurt.
James Tynion IV on Batman
James Tynion then appeared in a solo segment, talking about Fear State and the Dark Knight’s eponymous book, Batman. But first, he faces the same question as the other writers about his own personal fears. Similar to Tom Taylor, Tynion’s fear is a rather abstract one. He talks of how he’s afraid of society and how it feels that it isn’t working, especially in recent times. He also fears the antagonism that arises from the fear that things will continue to get worse.
Tynion described how he wanted to demonstrate in Fear State that Scarecrow is a top tier Batman villain. He also stressed the similarity between the two characters. Both have made tools out of the study of fear and how to use it. And like Batman, Scarecrow wants to use that tool to improve Gotham, although Scarecrow’s vision is a twisted one.
Oddly enough, Scarecrow recognizes Batman as a fellow master of fear and wants Batman’s approval for his grand plan for Gotham. But, Scarecrow is especially dangerous, because he can bring abstract fears literal. And he knows how to get under Batman’s skin. Also, Scarecrow’s plan makes a major deviation from his previous clashes with the Dark Knight. This time his attack on Gotham will be achieved without using a single drop of his fear toxin.
Tynion on Nightwing Cont.
Tynion next spoke about Simon Saint, who he describes as the number two villain in the story, and about Peacekeeper-01. Saint has built Magistrate, a hugely dangerous organization with deadly technology, but is about to lose control of it all. Peacekeeper-01, who was meant to be Saint’s main enforcer, instead becomes Scarecrow’s pawn.
He also talked about the differences between planning and writing Fear State and Joker War. A lot of the writing for Joker War came together “fast and loose”. At times, he was flying by the seat of his pants. However, he was more careful in planning out Fear State. The writers have been building a new status quo that is interconnected through the Bat-Family titles. And events have built towards Fear State in Future State, Infinite Frontier #0, and in the Gotham line of books.
While he said that Fear State connects the entire line of Batman titles, The Joker (which he also writes) will not be part of the event. This seems to imply that neither the Prince Clown of Crime nor Commissioner Gordon will have a role in Fear State.
And he concludes a with the tease that “It’s all building to bigger things to come”.
Be sure to check out the rest of our SDCC 2021 coverage as it drops.