I’ve been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember. The first comic I remember buying was DC Presents No. 30 in the spring of 1981 at age seven featuring Superman and Black Canary. The first comic that really meant anything to me I bought a few months later, X-Men No. 144. I began a love affair with Charles Xavier’s gang of kooky mutants that would last decades with that one book.
I loved everything about comics; the battles, the interaction between the heroes and villains especially when the line was blurred between the two, but especially the writing when it was done well. Chris Claremont was one of the masters with John Byrne a close second. For me, Marvel was where it was at.
I never got into DC Comics because their titles seemed so stale and boring. As I was sucked deeper into the monthly dramas, I began looking at past titles and it was St. Louis native Denny O’Neil and his Batman of the 1970s that showed me a darker, grittier side of comic books than even Marvel showed with a couple exceptions. I always followed Batman on the side; never as a regular book, but every now and again, I would grab a couple Batman books and head to Gotham.
I stopped reading comics around 2000 because it was getting too expensive and the X-Titles were getting out of hand. I kept up by reading trade paperbacks at the library or buying them whenever I found a story arc I liked. Last year, however, DC gave me a reason to start reading them again full time when they completely retconned their universe with what became known as the New 52: 52 new titles that almost completely erased the history of some of the most iconic characters in American literature, including Batman.
So I began my descent back into comics, devoting myself solely to Batman, Batgirl, et. al. I started following different Batman social media sites to get more information about Batman, Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, etc., and one stood out among the rest: Batman-News.com. And as luck would have it, I discovered one of the writers from the site, Andrew Asberry, lives in St. Louis.
So without delay, I tracked down this Gateway Gothamite to ask him some questions. He was kind enough to provide some answers from an undisclosed location, deep beneath the skyline of South County.
Kurt Bali: Most common question in St. Louis: Where did you go to high school?
Andrew Asberry: Ha. Just the other day, someone sent me a flow chart from the River Front Times that was all about which high school you likely went to. It’s always amused me not only how this is the go-to question among St. Louisans, but that we’re all so self-aware of it. I went to high school in Bonne Terre, Missouri. North County Senior High, so my answer to this doesn’t really apply because I grew up outside of St. Louis, and most folks in the city probably haven’t heard of that town or that school.
KB: Totally get that. Bowling Green High School, Bowling Green, Missouri. So how did you get your start writing?
AA: I still don’t even see myself as having started. Not until I’ve actually created something of my own that people can love, hate, and discuss. There’s not the same level of vulnerability in authoring a critique as there is creating something original and asking the world to judge it. Right now I only talk about the work that others do and I do ghost writing for companies that sell products. Freelance copy writing.
Writing Batman comic reviews was my way of liberating myself from the day in and day out typing of product descriptions and big content articles marketing the latest vibrating weight-loss belt or some other nonsense for various vendors. There are plenty of great copywriters out there with jobs that require plenty of heart and enthusiastic creative energy but the assignments I receive definitely don’t fall into that category. As a freelancer, I often get the jobs nobody else really wants to do but it needs to get done. So a desire grew in me to take up a hobby that was the opposite of the ads I was typing to make a living. I thought that I could stay sharp and relieve some tension by writing about a different product of my own choosing that I could be honest and passionate about instead.
The one thing I knew I cared deeply about and that I could write about on a weekly basis was Batman comics. I just needed a venue to do it in. Luckily, I was acquainted with Chris Begley, the creator of Batman-News.com, from my days posting on the SuperHeroHype.com message boards. His site was new and growing in popularity every day. It had just overthrown the previous “biggest Batman fansite” but it didn’t have a comic book section. I knew that the New 52 would be starting and that would be a good time for me to get back into comics and a good time for Chris to broaden his website’s horizons.
I did some digging, found his contact information, and sent him some writing samples and a passionate letter about what I had to offer. The usual route for this sort of thing seems to be starting your own blog. There are countless fan blogs out there with comic reviews on them and you have to do a lot of networking to get people to take notice in a flooded market, but I didn’t really want to do all of that. Chris had to convince me to sign up for Twitter, he made a Google + profile to tag my articles to, and I deleted my Facebook page two years ago. I got lucky that Chris was eager to expand on what his site was capable of otherwise. My plan worked out just like I wanted and my articles had instant exposure to their target audience.
KB: When did your love affair with Batman begin?
AA: It actually started with the comics and it’s one of my first memories. My second-earliest memory, in fact. I remember a trip to a grocery store when I was four years old or so. I reached out of the shopping cart and grabbed a comic from a wire rack as my mom steered past the magazines and into the canned goods. My mom didn’t take it away from me and put it back on its shelf—probably just because it was something to keep me busy while she got some shopping done. She let me flip through it and ultimately she bought it for me. I still have it, Batman No. 445. It’s tattered and beat to hell, but it’s one of my most prized possessions. She taught me how to read with Batman comics.
KB: Batman started in 1939 and almost all that history was wiped away last year with the introduction of the New 52. Are you for or against the New 52?
AA: I think it would have been cool to have seen the numbers continue going higher, but changing everything to No. 1 was smart on DC’s part. It’s too hard to get new readers interested in picking up a book that, to them, looks like it’s part 687 of a story that’s been spanning decades. No one wants to take a chance on that when comics are three or four bucks and a movie at RedBox is only a dollar.
The biggest failing with ongoing comics is that they do a terrible job of making it evident to new readers when there is a good jumping-on point. Changing everything to No. 1 gave a lot of folks an opportunity to approach what was once intimidating. I know I gave quite a few more superheroes a shot when the New 52 launched, characters that I would never given a second glance to otherwise. Anything that gets more people interested in comics, interested in reading, is alright with me.
As for the history being abbreviated, of course I’m against that. The clumsy way they’ve consolidated a lot of that mythology is annoying but you also mustn’t take the continuity so seriously otherwise Joker has escaped from Arkham a thousand times. Reading comics has always involved some selective memory on the reader’s part otherwise Batman really is quite foolish for not killing these rogues. Honestly, I would have preferred a pure reboot of every franchise. Wiped away, as you say.
Fans don’t know what’s canon anymore and really it would’ve been fun to have started Batman from the very beginning. There aren’t that many people out there who have even read a Dick Grayson as Robin comic, nor do they know how the Riddler came to be.
KB: Biggest story in the Bat titles right now is the return of the Joker in the “Death of the Family” arc. Where do you think this is going to go and who, if anyone, won’t see the end of the story character-wise?
AA: I’m not quite sure. The whole premise is that Joker is going to kill all of Batman’s allies, but there are several cross-over titles that showcase the Joker running into these allies and he isn’t doing anything but giving the same monologue in each installment followed by an easily-escapable death-trap. Perhaps the “Death of the Family” isn’t to be taken literally, but figuratively. Something will happen in this story that will cause the group to collapse and everyone will set off on their own path? I think that would be far more interesting than a death.
Many out there think Alfred would die or maybe Damian Wayne, but death has no permanence in big comics like Batman. After the resurrection of Jason Todd, the murdered Robin of the 1980s, death lost any significance. Threatening a life doesn’t scare comic readers anymore because these characters always find a way to come back from the dead. What a writer has to do is threaten the livelihood of the characters, not the life.
KB: You just saw Batman Live when it came to town. Your thoughts?
AA: It was a great time, especially for kids. I have five-year-old nephew who went as well and he loved it. Most of the crowd was made up of children. It was a show for families and it was thoroughly entertaining. Of course it lacks the pathos that makes Batman such a great literary figure and is the very reason why I’m still a fan even though I’m no longer a kid myself, but the play wasn’t trying to be The Long Halloween or The Dark Knight. It was about giving kids a moment to believe that their hero was real and for one night they could watch him beat up all these colorful bad guys. It was good fun.
KB: Back to our craft. What are your overall goals as a writer?
AA: I want to write something of my own and let someone else write a review of what I did for a change. It could be a play, a novel, a comic, a film, whatever. I’ve written a number of short stories and then destroyed them after the fact because nothing ever seems good enough.
I applied for the ABC/Disney fellowship once but my teleplay submission was rejected. I’ve also had the rare opportunity to doctor a film treatment for Universal. That was rejected too, because it was too dark and not “popcorny” enough. My reasoning was that every disaster movie tries to be fun but there really shouldn’t be anything fun about it.
As with most occupations, I had that chance to work on that because of who I knew. A friend of mine works for an agency in LA. I doubt the movie I attempted to work on will ever see the light of day, though. At least I hope it doesn’t if it resembles the original treatment in any form. It was even bad for disaster movie standards.
My goal last year was to get a high number of readers for my comic reviews, get DC to recognize me and even send me some free books, and to have an interview with someone in the industry. It only took me three months or so to achieve that and since then I’ve just been pushing my luck. Warner Bros. invited me to the LA premiere of The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and I was able to stand on the red carpet and conduct interviews with the likes of Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano who were responsible for Batman: The Animated Series. Next is the San Diego Comic-Con. Once Comic-Con approves me for a press pass, I think that I will have reached about as high as I can go in this field and I really don’t know what would come after that. Perhaps like Nolan’s Batman I’ll pass the mantle to someone else. “AndrewBatReview could be anybody. That was the point.”
KB: Finally, if you could change ONE thing in the world of Batman, what would it be?
AA: Just one? Things like making sure Jason Todd was never revived or that Barbara Gordon was never healed or perhaps never even shot come to mind! But ultimately, I think if I could change anything about the world of Batman, it would be that I would sever its ties to the rest of the DC Universe. I know some good stories have come from Batman teaming up with the Justice League and other great DC characters, but when you ask someone what their favorite Batman story is, it’s likely never going to be one of those tales. Batman is at his best when writers don’t acknowledge the magic and alien business going on in the rest of the DC universe. It’s crime, detective fiction with a tragic human character.
I don’t think it’s necessary for all comic books owned by a single publisher to share the same world when most of them were created by entirely different writers and artists with vastly different views. With Marvel, it makes sense because nearly all of it came from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and was built to be a cohesive universe. DC bought many of its characters by absorbing smaller publishers over decades and I doubt the individuals who first dreamt of these worlds would’ve wanted to share space with one another. You don’t see Little, Brown and Company trying to tie Twilight, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Catcher in the Rye together.