This article reminded me of one of my favorite Batman stories I ever worked on. It was from the Cataclysm storyline—an earthquake has hit Gotham and the city is in utter chaos.
The original idea for the story was Chris Renauld's—at the time a newish penciller, now the award-winning director of Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets. He mentioned to Darren Vincenzo an article from (I think) The Atlantic Monthly which discussed what would happen if even a relatively small earthquake hit New York City, the place most of us lived and we all worked at the time...and the outlook for such a scenario was not pretty, to put it mildly.
Darren mentioned Chris's idea to me, Jordan Gorfinkel and, of course, Dennis O'Neil and we all agreed it was worth kicking around. We loved the potential in a story of the Dark Knight finding out (and showing the readers) just how different and frustrating it is to fight the after-affects of a natural disaster as opposed to inmates from Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
Our writers and artists did spectacular jobs—this was the exact kind of story that Alan Grant, for instance, really teed off on. And in those early CGI days, comic book artists were able to demonstrate visually the hellscape far more effectively than films.
But the other thing I loved about a story like this was that it gave us the opportunity to look at so many different characters and see how they were affected and how they would react. Supporting characters, villains, even regular citizens: each and every person in and around Gotham would have a tale.
So we did several specials and oneshots, in addition to devoting several issues of the regular monthlies. This enable not only our core creative teams to do their thing, but gave a shot to new creators and writers of other books, like Devin Grayson and Kelley Puckett, to play around. Chris himself wrote several stories and pencilled one (a fantastic story, inked by the great Bob McLeod, showing Ra's al Ghul observing the devastation from half a world away). And Kelley Puckett and Rick Burchett delivered an absolutely gut-wrenching portrait of a small child who's lost absolutely everything and the amazing woman who tries to help him by finding at least one small thing from the past he can hold onto.
But my favorite was "A Bird with a Hand," the vignette (always one of my favorite forms) wherein we discover how the Penguin is cold-bloodedly turning this horrific situation to his long-term financial advantage.
My favorite Batman stories still tend towards the one-and-done. But these character portraits are really only possible in the kind of huge storylines that Cataclysm was.
And of course I later moved into the San Andreas Fault's neighborhood. Fortunately, we moved away from that about a year ago...and into the Cascadia subduction zone.