Writer Matthew K. Manning Discusses “Beware The Batman” And “The Superman Files”

The World’s Finest caught up with writer Matthew K. Manning to discuss his upcoming issue of the ongoing Beware The Batman comic series, based on the animated series of the same name, and his current major book project The Superman Files. Manning has a long history with DC Comics, particularly when it comes to the animated adventures of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. And now, hitting comic book outlets shelves on Wednesday, Manning pits Batman against the trouble Professor Pyg in Beware The Batman #2, the latest issue of the new all-ages DC Comics title. To find out more about Manning’s work, past and present, just continue on to the Q & A below…

The World’s Finest: First off, for those coming into Batman all-ages comics with Beware The Batman, care to give us a quick rundown of your work past and present?

Matthew K. Manning: I got my start in mainstream comics by writing Justice League Adventures for DC before becoming one of the regular rotating writers on The Batman Strikes. During that time I wrote for a few other titles for both DC and Marvel, including Spider-Man Unlimited and Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century, before I started working for DK Publishing on some of their superhero guide books and the like. Since then, I’ve written or co-written over 20 books, including The Batman Files and The Superman Files for Andrews McMeel, The Spider-Man Chronicle and the Marvel and DC: Year by Year books for DK Publishing, The Batman Vault for Running Press, and the Art of Thor and The Art of Captain America for Marvel, among other titles. My first love is writing comics, though, so I’ve been trying to get back into that a bit, writing some issues of Beware the Batman, and a couple other upcoming DC all-ages books.

WF: Jumping right into it, your issue (Beware The Batman #2) brings back Professor Pyg. Care to tell us why you opted to use this villain, and how will your story place in the overall continuity of Beware The Batman?

MM: I absolutely love Grant Morrison’s work on the Batman titles these last few years, and feel like Pyg has “classic Batman villain” written all over him. While the animated version is a bit toned down, he was my first choice of characters when I pitched for the series. As for how he fits in continuity-wise, this issue takes place some time after Pyg’s first appearance, as Katana is in full costume in our issue. And interestingly enough, Pyg is flying solo this time. His partner Mr. Toad is sitting this fight out.

WF: What are your thoughts on Beware The Batman in general? Does its premise allow for some unique opportunities in story-telling?

MM: Two of my favorite things in comics are obscure Batman villains and the Outsiders. So Beware the Batman is right up my alley. While I wish they’d given Gotham a bit more character, I like the look of Batman and the Batmobile especially. And there’s just something great about introducing the mainstream audience to characters like Katana, Pyg, Magpie and the rest. It certainly allows for writers like me to tell stories that haven’t been told before.

WF: This isn’t the first animated Batman comic (or DC Comics titles) you’ve written for. Are these animated cartoon-based titles a good bridge for new readers? How do you approach them, both in terms of who may be buying these comics for the first time, and for the fans of the cartoons looking for new stories set in that universe?

MM: I don’t believe in dumbing down stories for a younger audience, so I always try to write for me, even when working on all-ages books. I try to emulate some of the great self-contained stories of the 1970s where a new reader could pick up any issue and follow along, but where the storytelling is often innovative, and there’s a bit of subtly to the violence, rather than in-your-face blood and gore. My main goal is finding a new way to tell a Batman story, to keep it exciting for old fans yet fun and memorable for new readers as well.

WF: This isn’t your only super-hero based project hitting shelves this month. The Superman Files – a massive hardcover tome dedicated to Superman’s mythology and history – hit shelves earlier this month. Can you give us a quick rundown of this project?

MM: The idea behind The Superman Files is essentially asking the question, “What if someone kept a scrapbook about Superman’s life?” It’s compiled from the perspective of Brainiac 5 from the 31st Century, as he tries to piece together all the facts about the life and times of Clark Kent, using things like old “photographs,” newspaper articles, journal entries and the like. We did a similar book called The Batman Files a few year ago, and fans really seemed to like the approach. I know I always have a blast writing in these characters’ voices.

WF: What attracts you to such projects as The Superman Files – or even your previous similar works, such as The Batman Files, The Batman Vault or DC Comics Year by Year?

MM: Like nearly every single comic book writer and artist working today, I’m first and foremost a comic book fan. I grew up loving this stuff, and love the idea of researching it even more and learning facts I wasn’t aware of previously. It’s fun to have an excuse to get the comics out and read through them every now and then. It’s even better to get paid for it.

WF: What kind of work goes into these large Files-type projects? I assume endless months of research, fact-checking,and so forth, to ensure not one thing is skipped?

MM: The outline is the toughest part. I literally flip through every comic from the era we’re discussing and then figure out what we need to include and what we need to skip over. I grew up a Batman fan, so that one was a bit easier to write, but staying in Batman’s head for too long can get depressing. It’s not a happy place. So each book has its challenges. But in every case, it always means a lot of comic book reading. Which is great, but after 400 issues or so, it does start to feel like work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.

WF: As a follow-up to the last question – and a bit of a poor segueway – how does working on a Files-type project compare to writing a comic book story? And, save from the length, what would be the major differences?

MM: The good thing about comics is that I get to make it all up. Sure, I’m a stickler for continuity, but the story is mine, and I don’t have to worry about having any facts wrong in that respect. So things on the research side are pretty limited. For the Files books, I do get to write “in character,” so that’s a nice creative outlet as well, but more times than not, I’m telling someone else’s story. It may be a story I love, but it’s still one that needs to accurately reflect the source material. That does make it a bit more labor intensive. There’s also the format itself. I actually prefer writing prose, as you’re not constantly breaking up the flow of the story with panel descriptions and the like, but I absolutely love the format of comics, so that sacrifice is worth it. There’s something really interesting about pacing a story and adding visual input and cool page turn moments that you just can’t do in any other type of writing.

WF: Moving back to comics, outside of Beware The Batman, where will we be seeing your name in the coming months on the comic racks?

MM: I have a creator-owned series in development at DC Comics, but that seems to be paused at the moment. In the immediate future, I’ve just seen the first ten pages for my next Beware the Batman story, and they look amazing. I can’t wait to share it with everyone, as we’re trying something that I’m pretty sure has never been attempted in a Batman story yet. I’ve also just turned in two scripts for two other DC all-ages books, so keep checking my website, as I’ll be sure to plug them as soon as I can. In the book world, I’m currently writing another massive Batman hardcover called Batman: Year by Year for DK Publishing. It chronicles the entire history of Batman, filling readers in on the month by month developments of his life, both in the real world and in the fictional world, from 1939 to the present. I’ve also recently finished a book for Insight Editions called The World According to Wolverine, and I have a few other children’s books and young reader books in the works.

WF: Now – can you give us one last reason to check out Beware The Batman #2 – hitting selves on Wednesday? And why should we also snatch up The Superman Files at the same time? (Have fun with this one…it’s more of a light question)

MM: Our issue of Beware the Batman is a pretty great jumping-on point for new readers, as I originally pitched it as the first issue of the series. Not only do you get to see Batman, Alfred, and Katana in action, there’s a fun little mystery involved, and everything’s wrapped up nicely in 20 pages. There’s even a hidden theme that sharp-eyed readers may be able to pick up on. As for The Superman Files, it’s easily one of the best books I’ve ever written, and probably one of the most thorough life stories of the modern adventures of the Man of Steel ever attempted. The book includes hundreds of images from the comics, as well as plenty of newly commissioned artwork and “artifacts” from Superman’s life. Plus, it even has a crossover entry with The Batman Files as we include a page from Batman’s own journal, as well as bits about the Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes. So there’s pretty much a little something for every DC fan. If nothing else, it makes a great blunt object to fend off intruders and/or solicitors. So that’s worth the price tag right there.

Beware the Batman #2 hits shelves Wednesday, November 27th, 2013, from DC Comics and is available at comic book shops and through digital outlets. The issue, written by Manning, features artwork by Dario Brizuela. Additionally, The Superman Files hardcover book title is available at all retail and online book outlets.

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