Thrilling Origin Stories: Episode One

In which I confess the true origin of the Batman vs. Bigby six issue mini series.

Several years ago I was at a convention. It was either the last Chicago convention I attended, or the last San Diego show I attended. My memory for comics conventions tends to fuse together into one uber-memory, because I’m old and because they do tend to be much alike.

At that time Fables, my long running Vertigo comics series, had been done for several years. Sitting at my table, DC editor Mark Doyle (since fired from DC), and one of the truly fine fellows in comics, wandered by and floated the idea of bringing Fables back to coincide with the 20th anniversary of its first publication.

I was of two minds about that. On one hand, Fables was done. We ended it well (in my opinion) and fairly. One of the things I have been guilty of in my career is not finishing serialized stories. Elementals never got finished because its publisher, Comico, self destructed, was bought out for pennies on the dollar by a crook, and he let the book die and rot. Coventry was never finished because the Distributor Wars of that era (you’ll have to look it up, as it’s too complicated to explain here) left my publisher Fantagraphics at a huge loss of income and scrambling for ways to pay their contributors in a timely manner. I had to end Coventry to find better paying jobs. Other books I was on failed to end properly because they were not my properties and I didn’t control what the owners wanted to do with them.

In any case, I did control Fables and decided to end it while we were way ahead, which we did. Fables was done. At least one of my projects had a definite ending, and that wasn’t something to mess with lightly.

But on the other hand, still considering Mark Doyle’s intriguing offer, it had been awhile and in the years since Fables ended, I’ve had an idea or two about possible additional stories within the Fables fictional universe. I couldn’t help it. The “what happens next?” urge is strong in me. I realized I wanted to see more Fables too.

Since I was of two minds on his idea, and since I would more or less be equally happy with either outcome, I had noting to lose by asking for the moon. So I did.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said to Mark Doyle, “I’ll do another Fables story, if I can also do two other projects of my choosing. Basically I want the comic book equivalent of the fabled Hollywood three-picture-deal.”

“What other two stories did you have in mind?” Mark replies.

“I’m not sure yet,” says I. And then after a moment, “Wait. I do know what one of the other projects needs to be.”

At that point I proposed the crossover between Fables and the DCU in which Batman and Bigby Wolf team up on a detective mystery. It’s an idea I’d had since the very beginning of Fables. If you’ll recall, the first Fables story arc was a murder mystery and it established Bigby Wolf as a detective.

As soon as that story was in production I started thinking of how fun it would be to have my detective team up with DC’s best detective. And I proposed that idea to the two Vertigo editors wrangling the Fables series. They were Shelly Bond (since fired from DC) and Karen Berger (since fired from DC).

This would have been early in 2001.

The problem was both Shelly and Karen thought I was joking. I believe they thought Vertigo does more serious stories than the DCU and doesn’t cross over with the sillier side of DC, which is the world of men in tight suits and capes jumping off of buildings. I can’t say that was their attitude for certain, because I’m not great as a mind reader, but I think it’s a good guess.

I brought up the idea, and they laughed, thinking it was a joke.

Thirteen years of Fables publication followed, and from time to time, during that time, I would float the idea again, and each time I got a reasonably good laugh in response and nothing else.

But I was serious. The more I was told the idea was a joke the more I wanted to do it.

So then, when Mark Doyle came to me with the notion to celebrate the Fables 20th anniversary with more Fables, I added the Batman-Bigby crossover as the required 2nd of three projects to seal the deal.

“Let me think about this and talk it over with the bosses,” says Mark.

Later in that same convention, the next day I think, publisher Dan Didio (since fired by DC) wandered by my table and stopped to chat for a bit.

He mentioned talking to Mark Doyle. I told Dan about my three-book-deal offer as my condition for doing more Fables and he agreed on the spot. We shook hands on it, and for all the reader bitching and moaning about him, here’s something you should know about Dan Didio. A handshake deal with him is as good as gold.

A new Fables story would happen.

The Fables/DCU crossover, Batman and Bigby story would happen.

And one other project.

“What’s the third project going to be?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” I said. “Something in the DCU?”

And we were off to the races.

We had plenty of time — a couple of years at least — until the Fables 20th anniversary, so we took our time codifying the deals and doing up contracts and such. The details of the various stories were left up to me.

But now here we are. Batman vs Bigby issue one is about to hit the stands — 13 days and counting from today. It’s written by me. It’s drawn by Brian Level. I’m pretty happy with the story.

I didn’t have room to include everything I might have wanted. There are some guest stars I was able to include (wait and see), but others I had to reluctantly save for another time (perhaps). For example, since this was ultimately going to be a team-up of my favorite comic book detectives, an early draft of the plot included Detective Chimp, whom I’ve had a fondness for since writing him in my runs of Days of Vengeance and in the short-lived Shadowpact series. But that would have required a longer story, and so, with greatest of regrets, the good chimp hit the comic equivalent of the cutting room floor.

Yeah, I know. When this was first announced, many folks complained about, “Yet another Batman book? Are you kidding me?” But when this was first conceived by me and championed across the years, I had no idea it would finally happen at a time when there was a glut of Bat Books. One thing I hope readers and critics alike will consider, no one writing his dream Bat Book is the architect of said glut. That’s due to publisher planning and whatever other considerations drive the machine from on high. We’re just trying to tell the best stories we can.

That said, I hope you’ll consider giving this six issue series a look and a fair chance.

Thank you.