Arts, Culture & Media

Batwing: An African Superhero Takes on Congo

Batwing-Issue-4.jpg

Batwing Issue 4. (Illustration courtesy of DC Comics)

DC Comics has created an African superhero modeled after Batman. His name is Batwing and he’s battling evil in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

By day Batwing is David Zavimbe, a cop in a fictitious capital city.

That’s a departure from the wealthy roots of Bruce Wayne.

Anchor Marco Werman finds out more about Batwing from his creator, Judd Winick.

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. DC Comics has a new superhero and he’s African. His name is Batwing, modeled of course, on Batman. Batwing battles the evil all around him in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Judd Winick created the new character, whose normal name in the series is David Zavimbe. I asked Winick how David Zavimbe compares to Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne?

Judd Winick: He’s like Bruce Wayne in the sense that he’s a superhero. He’s got an alter ego, he’s got a life ball zone and then at night he slaps on a costume and goes and fights crime. Aside from that I kind of wanted to make as big a departure as I possible could between the two of them. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire. Everything was sort of handed to him that way. But his life was struck with tragedy at a very, very young age. And for David I just really thought what could represent Africa today, real Africa, not forgive me, not The Lion King, not Tarzan, not so many stereotypes we often hear about when we’re talking about Africa…what Africa is actually like.

Werman: So tell us about Batwing. His name is David Zavimbe. Who is he? What’s he like?

Winick: David Zavimbe is a police officer in Tanasha, which is the fictional capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. That is his day job where he’s a cop. And his backstory is simply that he is an AIDS orphan and was later kidnapped and became a boy soldier. And then coming out of that tragedy and trauma he grew up, joined the police force, and then by night decided to don a costume and fight crime as Batwing.

Werman: Now, the other thing that is interesting about David Zavimbe is unlike Bruce Wayne, he’s a policeman, he’s you know, he’s a working stiff.

Winick: Yeah, I like the idea that he has a job. I like the idea that he worked in an office and he’s actually, he’s not a street cop. He does it so he can kind of keep tabs on what’s going on in the city. He’s a researcher. He you know, keeps records and whatnot.

Werman: And why did you choose the Democratic Republic of Congo of all the countries in Africa to place Batwing?

Winick: I did a lot of research. I spoke to a lot of oh, heads of African studies at a couple of universities. I spoke to people I knew who had lived in Africa and even reached out to people who are currently living in Africa.

Werman: Were you able to visit Congo?

Winick: No, no, no, I mean I think I made a couple of requests and DC made a point of pointing to my phone and my computer as excellent forms of research. Comics being what they are, you know, we come up with a book a month. No, I was not lucky enough to go to the Congo, but did as much research as one could possibly do sitting in a chair, talking on the phone and looking on a computer and going back and forth. We’re also telling stories, it’s not a trip to the social studies class. Its just fantasy, so we try to tell a great story that can enlighten people about what’s actually going on there, and hopefully they can delineate between you know, between what is pure fantasy and what is actually based on certain levels of reality.

Werman: It is realistic and Batwing takes us into some pretty harrowing stories that do happen in Africa and we see the horrors we hear about — decapitation and rape. Maybe, do you ever wonder, is a Batwing story too real?

Winick: No, I think there’s that line we don’t actually ever cross. Our readers are not as young as everyone thinks they might be, teenagers and on up, but it’s also unfortunately, close to reality. He was a boy soldier. He was kidnapped by a war lord. And these are not super villains we needed to make up, unfortunately.

Werman: Now, Batwing’s arch enemy is called Massacre and he’s called that for a reason, and it’s related to the birth of Batwing. Can you just give us that part of the Batwing backstory?

Winick: It’s slowly being unfolded. So Batwing as we’ll learn is actually tied to this villain whose name is Massacre, who we wanted to make as realistic as possible. He wears beat up body armor, he carries two machetes, and for some reason he is hunting down retired super heros. And one by one he has been killing them. Batwing is now chasing him trying to get just one step ahead of him before he eliminates his team.

Werman: You spoke earlier about stereotypes, I’m just wondering if maybe you’re pushing a different type of stereotype here, you know, that Africa is a mess, all the soldiers are savages, and all citizens are victims from birth?

Winick: I don’t know if that’s what we’re showing across the board. I don’t know if it’s about that. I think I try to get into what is the beauty of Africa as much as it is the horror. Again, it is an action comic and our job isn’t necessarily to educate the public. We like to. That being said, I like to think that it does have a positive image, someone who can come from something as horrific as this and is able to turn it around. On the flip side, Batman in general is not a book that is all about positive energy. It’s about a boy whose parents were murdered in front of him, who now puts on a costume and goes out and night and you know, beats the heck out of criminals. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s a dark book. Batman in general is a dark universe, which this is also inhabiting.

Werman: Judd Winick, a writer and creator of titles such as Barry Ween, Boy Genius, and the graphic novel, Pedro and Me. His latest creation is Batwing, about a superhero trying to fight evil in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Judd, thanks a lot.

Winick: Thank you!

Werman: The next issue of Batwing goes on sale March 7, but in the meantime you can see some images from earlier issues of the Batwing comic series at theworld.org.

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