The Spirit Of Batman
♦ Tripwire welcomes the return of former contributing writer Scott Braden in his second in an occasional series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Round Midnight…
Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Round Midnight
“What’s so interesting about Round Midnight,” Jeph Loeb began, “is that if our editor Archie Goodwin had said. ‘Let’s do this,’ then I would have never told the Scarecrow story – the first Legends of the Dark Knight special – which, in turn, meant (artist) Tim Sale and I would never have done The Long Halloween.”
Having written and produced movies and television for more than a decade before he even considered writing for the four-color page, Loeb became one of the hottest and most prolific writers in the comics industry. Having scripted everything from Marvel Comics’ Cable, X-Force, Avengers and Captain America to Awesome Entertainment’s Coven, Fighting American, and Kaboom, Loeb is arguably best known for his critically acclaimed work with longtime partner Sale on their Legends of the Dark Knights Halloween specials for DC Comics, as well as the groundbreaking Batman maxi-series, The Long Halloween. With these pivotal works, Loeb and Sale brought comic book storytelling to a new level, while capturing the very essence of who and what Batman is, as well as what he could become.
What they are not, though, are Loeb’s original plans for the Dark Knight. That’s another story.
“In 1993,” Loeb explained, “Tim had just finished ‘Blades’ – a three-part story he had done with writer James Robinson forLegends of the Dark Knight. Even though the whole idea of the series was to not repeat creators, Archie immediately asked Tim back to do another story arc. It was then when Tim asked Archie if he could work with me the next time around. Fortunately for me, Archie was one of the seven fans Tim and I had for our Challengers of the Unknown mini-series – my first comics work. He said something to the extent of, ‘Sure. I’d love to work with Jeph. Have him give me a call.’
As I started thinking about what I’d like to do with the character, I started reflecting on conversations that Tim and I had about why Batman needs Robin, what Robin does for the story, and the importance of Batman having a partner. And from those conversations, a story began to take shape.
“I’d seen the Brian Bolland cover to the Secret Origins trade paperback the DC Comics published. The cover shows Clark Kent, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, and a bunch of other guys sitting at a booth in a coffee shop talking, while behind them stands ghostly visions of their secret identities. After seeing that, I thought, ‘That’s such a cool idea. After a hard day of crimefighting, you go and have a cup of coffee with someone that does what you do. Someone you can talk to.’ Then, I started to think about how – at the end of the day – when Batman has just risked his life yet again to save Gotham City and the world, he comes home to his butler, Alfred. Basically, all Alfred wants him to do is get out of his costume so he can have it cleaned, then go upstairs and start acting like Bruce Wayne again. So, that was the start of it for me – questioning why Batman didn’t actively go out and seek a partner that he can relate to.
“From there, I began to imagine that before Dick Grayson, Batman would look for someone who was his own age. And, since I’m a huge fan of Will Eisner’s Spirit, I set out to create a hero who was, in some ways, a homage to that character.”
“I had this idea for a character called Midnight,” Loeb continued, “who was a slain police officer that lived in a cemetery, and had a relationship with a police commissioner and his daughter. I was taking all the iconic parts of the Spirit, and giving it to this guy. At the same time, I really wanted to pair this Spirit-like hero with Batman. I mean, when you look at the two characters, you just can’t get over their similarities. There’s Commissioner Dolan and Commissioner Gordon, Ellen Dolan and Barbara Gordon, even Ebony and Robin. And, as far as their respective villains are concerned, who else has a greater gallery of nuts than Batman and the Spirit? After looking at everything, teaming up these two characters really worked well for me.”
After fleshing out the character of Midnight, Loeb was ready to begin work on what was intended to be a two-part story. “In Round Midnight, I had Batman going to Detroit, where Midnight was operating, and having them become friends as they were fighting crime. I had in mind the image of these two larger-than-life heroes leaning off a building, looking down over the city, and realising that together they could be as twice as effective as they are separately. I would then have them reveal their secret identities to one another, and we’d do the Brian Bolland scene in the coffee shop, where they bond with one another and talk about the day and how well it went. Then, I’d end the first part of the story with Batman inviting Midnight back to Gotham City to join him in his fight against crime.
“In the secret part, I had them going up against Joker and Two-Face. Here, Midnight realises the crime in Gotham City is different than the crime he was dealing with back in Detroit. In Detroit, he was very urban and very ordinary – with gangsters and that kind of thing. But, when he gets into Gotham City, Midnight soon discovers he’s dealing with freaks. So, what happens in the course of the story is Midnight comes to the belief that when you come up against a power greater than your own, you need more power. And, the only way he believes he can resolve this is with a gun – which is a line Batman will never cross. Batman would never resort to the violence that took his parents away. But, from Midnight’s point of view, it’s the only sensible thing that Batman can do to stop these criminals, or he’d always be fighting the same people over and over again. And, in an ironic way, Midnight is right, because Batman has never really put an end to the crime that took his parents away from him.”
After having Batman and Midnight come to the realisation that their methods of fighting crime were just too dissimilar, Loeb was going to have the two heroes part ways. “Batman and Midnight don’t part friends, but they do part with a mutual respect for each other. Midnight then goes back to Detroit and off into the annals of history.
“At the very end of the story, Bruce explains to Alfred that, for one brief moment, he basically had a friend he could talk to. Alfred then says to him, It seems, sir, you need some cheering up. I’ve managed to get you tickets to got to the circus. You always enjoyed that as a child. Why don’t you go? And, as we see Bruce go to the circus, we also see one of the circus posters read, ‘Tonight! The Flying Graysons!’ You then come to the realisation that the idea of having a partner is in his head when Batman meets Dick Grayson for the first time. That’s how the story ended.”
As good as an idea as Round Midnight was, Goodwin decided against the project. According to Loeb, justifiably so. “The reason why we didn’t do the story was because Archie brought up some very real problems we had with the story. First of which was that the story lost its impact by not having the real Spirit in it. What we had with Midnight was a shadow of the original character, whom would ultimately be seen as a second generation hero. Personally, I don’t know if I’d ever want to do another story with Midnight . . . and I created him.
“Archie also had problems with the character’s name, since there was already a Dr. Mid-Nite in the DC Universe. Lastly, one of the things about Legends of the Dark Knight’s stories is that you have to be very careful about setting continuity. We all know Robin was Batman’s first partner, and there wasn’t anybody who came before him. So, in order to tell this story, we would’ve have had to change the history of Batman – although it would have only enriched the story of why he chose Robin to begin with.
That reason alone makes Round Midnight an amazing story. Loeb’s lost tale would not only have shown readers “the partner no one ever knew about,” it would have also explained why Batman chose a child as a sidekick – a question many longtime Batman fans would like answered. “It was my intention to make the argument that Midnight was a grown man and someone who had decided using a gun was how he was going to operate. Batman would be aware of this when he took Robin on as a partner; a sidekick that Batman could mould into anything he wanted him to be – without questioning his authority.
As far as his Round Midnight story goes, Loeb said there are no regrets. “From a historical perspective, it’s always interesting when something better – like The Long Halloween – grows out of something that I thought at the time was just really good.”
Lost Tales©2018 Scott Braden. All Rights Reserved