By James VanOsdol
Forget the box office reports you saw this past summer—Batman’s having a shitty year.
In D.C. Comics’ flagship eponymous “Batman” title, the Caped Crusader has been beaten, loaded up with heroin and crystal meth, hallucinating and getting assists from the interdimensional (or Batman delusional?) Bat-Mite. It’s all part of the current, over-the-top, “R.I.P.” storyline—another of the comics world’s “this changes everything” events, set to wrap up in “Batman #681” on November 5.
With wildly popular comics madman Grant Morrison (“The Invisibles,” “New X-Men,” “Animal Man”) on board as “R.I.P.” scribe, every page has been peppered with out-there developments, overcomplicated complications and a surprising concept that plays off a forgotten “Batman” comic from fifty years ago. Meanwhile, and not getting anywhere near as much attention as “R.I.P.”s plot developments, is the career-best artwork being offered up by Chicago-area talent Tony Daniel.
Just don’t ask Tony if he thinks it’s his best stuff. “I’m honestly to the point where, and I’ve always been like this, I do not even read my own books,” he says in a rare moment away from the proverbial drawing board for him. “I haven’t read a single ‘Batman’ issue that me and Grant Morrison have done together. If I read it and flip through it, I’ll get depressed. All I see is everything that could be better, the things that are wrong with it. When I’m done with a book, I tackle the next book. I need to be better than the last issue. That’s seriously how I approach each issue.”
The humility comes off as genuine, though he’s amassed a portfolio of work that would warrant at least some cockiness. He started his career working for Chicago-based Comico not long after high school. A year after Comico, he signed on to one of Marvel Comics’ many mutant-centric titles, “X-Force.” Soon, he found his services being requested for a handful of Image titles and eventually “Teen Titans” for D.C. Not bad for a self-taught artist who, he says, “spent most of high school drawing in my books, instead of reading my books.”
Daniel’s last memorable run was on “The Flash,” a tale which concluded with the series-ending death of the title character, a former Kid Flash who was pretty much asking for it. Over a year has passed since then, and now Daniel is on the creative team for the ominously titled “Batman R.I.P.” Is he the comic industry’s angel of death? He laughs at the thought. “Right. Every book I touch, somebody’s going to die.”
Whether the events of “R.I.P.” will carve out a historical niche like previous Bat-events “A Death in the Family” (Joker murders Robin, as voted by the fans), “The Dark Knight Returns” (Frank Miller’s epic Batman graphic-novel saga) or Alan Moore’s gritty Batman vs. Joker one-shot, “The Killing Joke,” remains to be seen. At the very least, the attention the current storyline is getting should put Daniel squarely in the industry’s A-List. “It’s [been] an amazing journey,” he reflects. “I kind of didn’t want it to end, but it has to end. After it’s done, maybe I’ll mope around for a few weeks.”
So, the big question is, how does it end? Daniel promises that all of the story’s many moving parts and dangling threads will be tied up. “I’ll say that when I read the finale, I loved it. It wrapped up all the questions and loose ends that [Morrison] opened with.” Beyond that sense of closure, don’t expect a Hollywood ending. Describing the final pages of “R.I.P.,” he adds, “For me, I kind of knew what was coming, but I would guess that if I didn’t know what was coming, I’d be in shock.”
Looking forward, Daniel will continue to divide his time between Chicago and Gotham City, planning to stay on “Batman” until at least issue 700. When asked if staying locked into the same title for years would be a creative drain, he says, “[My editors] wanted to know if I had character fatigue. I’m like, there’s no way I’m going to get tired of Batman. I feel like it’s still new to me, and I’m only getting started.”