Crafting a miniseries that still holds up, reboots be damned…
UPDATED 6/12/21: The late, great Len Wein — one of comics’ most prolific and talented writers — was born 73 years ago on June 12, 1948. Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Len for a series of stories about his time working on Batman. (Click here for the COMPLETE INDEX.) We’re re-presenting this particular installment because of a new sister column urging DC to reprint The Untold Legend of the Batman. Click here for that — and dig the piece below, as well. — Dan
Grant Morrison made it abundantly clear in interview after interview when he was Batman’s primary steward: All of it happened. All of it mattered. That is, Batman’s decades-long publishing history was all in continuity, somehow, someway.
That macro approach allowed him to blend in such disparate elements as Bat-Mite, Ra’s al Ghul and the Club of Heroes.
It took about seven years, but Morrison accomplished an epic that in its twisty-turny fashion, told the whole story of Batman. It was classic Morrison — alternately brilliant and frustrating.
Len Wein accomplished the same feat about three decades earlier in 1980, and in only three issues: The Untold Legend of the Batman — one of the very first comic-book miniseries, with art by John Byrne and Jim Aparo and covers by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. And while Morrison’s story bent the idea of time itself, Wein’s was straightforward, offering late Bronze Age readers a largely linear, definitive Batman history that incorporated a wide array of elements that might at first glance seem in conflict with one another.
There’s a framing device that sets up an overarching plot: Someone has gotten into the Batcave and ripped apart what’s perhaps Batman’s most valued possession — the “Batman” costume worn by his father to a masquerade party, which served to subconsciously inspire elements of Bruce’s own costume years later.
And we’re off. There’s a mystery to solve with very personal stakes and at every turn, Batman is reminded of his personal journey up to that point in his life. Every character and Bat-concept of import is included in nifty, concise fashion.
Even today, it stands as a legitimate Batman history and newer readers could easily view it as a CliffsNotes version of Batman’s publishing run for his first 40 years or so.
In this, our finale to The LEN WEIN Interviews, we discuss his one Batman story that has everything — and which you can find in the hardcover, TALES OF THE BATMAN: LEN WEIN.
Dan Greenfield: Now, let’s talk about The Untold Legend of the Batman. I went back and reread it fairly recently and it really holds up. Of course (it’s no longer official canon) but to me that doesn’t really matter anymore. It really holds up well as a complete Batman story. At least as of that moment, it really captured everything. So tell me a little bit about how that was created.
Len Wein: The cover of the third issue is the cover of the (hardcover) volume.
Dan: Yeah, I noticed! So tell me how that came about and what went in to putting that together.
Len: Somebody had done a Superman thing (The World of Krypton) I think and they wanted to do one on Batman and I was writing the book—or had been—and everybody knows my relationship with Batman, so they asked me to do it.
I was thrilled because there were a couple little bits of business that I actually wanted to address that had never to my knowledge been addressed before in the Batman books. The big question: Why does he become Batman?
Len: Your parents are murdered one night and you decide you need to “get justice” for them, so… you go away, study and become a lawyer. You go away, study and become a policeman. You don’t go away and study to become a bat-winged creature of the night.
There was no logical place for that to happen… initially! Which is why I added the scene where he’s actually in law school and there’s a case where we deal with the difference between justice and the law.
My wife is an attorney and I actually asked her, “Can you give me a scenario where a person could end up going to jail for something he did where it wasn’t illegal or shouldn’t have been, but was considered illegal in that scenario. And I put it into the book and I stole a line. I used to love the old Naked City when I was a kid and there was a title of an episode of that show that I never forgot— “Is It Justice? No, It’s the Law!”
Dan: That scene and that line stuck with me, too, after I read it in the comic as a kid. I’ve thought about it many times over. … That scene actually boomerangs, where (in the news) you see someone kind of getting screwed because that’s the law but that’s not necessarily a just result. That’s interesting. I didn’t know that that came from Naked City.
Len: That line was one of the great lines I’d ever heard in my life. There’s a difference between law and what Bruce wants — which is justice, not the law! That’s where he starts becoming the Batman as opposed to becoming Bruce Wayne, Esq.
Dan: Did you read any of the Grant Morrison run on Batman?
Len: I did. Yes. I read as much of it as I could understand.
Dan: (Laughs) You and me both. I thought that it was up and down, and some of it was inscrutable. But the parts that I loved, I really, really loved. But what I thought was interesting about it was that he had this idea that, at that point, 70 years of Batman’s history had all actually happened in some form.
Len: I liked that, too. I thought it was a tremendous challenge and I thought he addressed it probably as well as you could.
Dan: Yeah, and the way he kind of made some of the ‘50s stuff hallucinations or psychotic breaks — it made sense in context. Even his riff on the Batman II and Robin II stories which, as a kid, I used to love when I used to read the reprints in Batman Family, where it was the son of Batman and Dick Grayson and they were Batman and Robin. I mean, he took that and that’s where we get Damian (as well as from Son of the Demon).
Dan: That was very similar to the approach of Untold Legend of the Batman: You basically distilled all of these various points in Batman lore like Harvey Harris (a detective who trained a young Bruce Wayne). I never heard of Harvey Harris until I read it in your story. Was that something you had read as a kid or was that something you went and found? Did you do research?
Len: All of the above. I remembered a lot of it as a kid. Remember, when I started reading comics, there were a lot less years of them to have read! So it was much easier to find stuff, and I research everything I do first, especially doing those kinds of stories.
— The LEN WEIN INTERVIEWS INDEX: In His Own Words. Click here.
— Why DC Should Reprint THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN. Click here.