Not literally, like Dick Grayson, but figuratively, like so many other comic book fans of his generation. From the classic Adam West TV series to titles like “The Killing Joke” and “Batman: Year One,” Duggan couldn’t get enough of the Dark Knight as a youngster, and now, some 25 years later, the fan-favorite writer is getting his chance to tell his own stories with the Caped Crusader in “Arkham Manor” — a brand new series recently announced by DC Comics.
Speaking with CBR News, Duggan confirmed that Batman plays a role in the new series, which features the iconic Arkham Asylum being destroyed, only to re-surface at stately Wayne Manor, home to Gotham’s billionaire, industrialist and philanthropist Bruce Wayne.
In addition to launching a new title, Duggan is also co-writing “Batman” #34 with Scott Snyder, saying next month’s issue of the best-selling series will serve as an introduction to “Arkham Manor” and the world he’s building with artist Shawn Crystal and editor Mark Doyle. He also shared details about Dr. Jeremiah Arkham’s continuing role at the asylum, which inmates to expect (and not expect) and why the unlikely series making its debut just in time for Halloween makes perfect sense. (Hint: It’s going to be scary.)
CBR News: This is a new series, so let’s start with broad strokes. What’s “Arkham Manor” all about?
Gerry Duggan: I don’t want to spoil too much, but I knew about some of the events of “Batman Eternal.” I spoke with [editor] Mark Doyle and [writer] Scott Snyder about what was going to be happening and thought there was a good opportunity, and they agreed. It will all make sense when you read the first issue of “Arkham Manor.” Years ago, some of the work Brian K. Vaughan did with Batman, in part, dealt with mental health. And he was working, I think, in a psychiatric facility at least part-time when he was getting going as a writer. He made the connection that Thomas Wayne was a healer to those with mental health issues, as well. And people suffering with mental health issues are often stigmatized.
I don’t want to give away too much, but if Batman is willing to give up his life for Gotham, what else might he be willing to do? Events are not necessarily inside of his control but in the end, he’s Batman, and for the greater good, Arkham Asylum changes into Arkham Manor.
I think readers of the first issue will agree that what seems is a crazy idea at the start is simply the product of another long emergency in Gotham.
What’s your history with Batman?
Some of my earliest memories involve Batman — the old ’60s TV show that I grew up on with repeats, the comic books that I found at a very young age and toys. I know there are big segments of comic fandom that are either Marvel or DC. But I grew up with both. I didn’t discriminate. [Laughs]
I worked in a comic shop from a pretty young age too, so I got to read a lot of comics. I didn’t have to afford buying them all; I could read them at the shop and leave them there. And probably the first real comic book that made an impact on me was “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I read that new, off the stand, in 1987. That really became important to me, as I know it was really important for a lot of people. And then of course, you had [Frank] Miller and [David] Mazzucchelli on “Daredevil” and “Batman: Year One” around that time, and that really opened my imagination too. I really fell in love with comic books with Batman, and it helped me get to where I am today.
This may be an odd question, but does Batman play a role in “Arkham Manor”?
Yes, he does. You’ll see Batman, but I should also add that it may be time for Batman to wear a new mask. I will leave that as a little tease of what’s to come. There are a lot of ways that Batman can fight crime, and he’ll be flexing some of those muscles in this series.
Will we see Dr. Arkham and the characters from Arkham Asylum in this book, as well?
Yes, Dr. Jeremiah Arkham remains head of the institution, and many of the inmates are the same. There will be some new inmates and some continuations of some of the stories that you’ve seen in recent years, but it is a new series, so you can pick up the first issue without ever having read a Batman book before. But I don’t think those people exist. [Laughs] This is a companion piece to what’s happening in Scott’s “Batman.” He’s been very kind to me, giving me some really great notes, along with Mark, of course. And it’s a thrill to get to work with Shawn Crystal. We’ve been trying to work together for a long time.
Yes, I love that choice as an artist. He brings an interesting bent to any series he draws. Have you had much of chance to connect with Shawn and discuss your plans?
Yes. I like to have as detailed a road map as possible. I don’t like sitting at a computer, staring at a page without knowing what I want to do. That kind of writer’s block can and does happen to anyone, but I have a pretty detailed road map for this. I even was color coding pieces of it so I could make sure that it all tracked. [Laughs] I hadn’t done that before. I’m very, very lucky to be working on a bunch of different stuff so I can flex these Batman muscles, and then the next time at the computer, I can flex something else. I know how lucky I am to be able to do that.
And it’s a real special treat to get to collaborate with Scott and Mike and Shawn, especially in an anniversary year for Batman. That’s a real treat that I didn’t even hope that I’d ever be able to do. It takes a lot of luck to be able to get to where I am. Hard work doesn’t always pay off for people — you need that luck, and I have been very lucky. I met Mark Doyle years ago, and Scott Snyder years ago at a convention. Mark was actually at Vertigo at the time, and we talked about trying to do something together. And when the opportunity came up for him to edit the Batman books, obviously our conversations quickly changed gears to match his job. It was right place, right time.
We know that catastrophe strikes Arkham Asylum, hence the move to stately Wayne Manor. But what does Bruce Wayne’s home offer in terms of setting?
In an emergency, often times hard decisions are made. I think a logical place, at least from the outside, to put these dangerous inmates is Wayne Manor. It’s a relatively secluded place that doesn’t have a high density of neighbors. Maybe it’s not a great solution to put these inmates there, but sometimes not a perfect answer is the one you go with. I think it’s a fun little take. The setting offers up a lot of suspense in and of itself, and I hope to take advantage of that. DC editorial has been very supportive and I am thrilled that this is all happening. I am also looking forward to “Gotham Academy” as much as anyone else. I am also really thrilled that I get to launch this suspenseful and scary series in time for Halloween.
You know the line: It’s the inmates running the asylum. Are we going to see a mix of classic rogues and new villains inhabiting the Manor in this series?
Joker is missing — and his absence is just as terrifying his presence. That’s fun. That’s one of the toys that I won’t get to play with, but that rogues gallery is as good as anyone else’s in comics. I am really excited about a few of them in particular, and one or two of them will play very key roles, but I don’t want to give away too much. If you like Batman’s rogues, this is your book.
And while I also have an opportunity to find a little bit of humor in this book, I do want to talk about the tone. I’ve had weird questions on Twitter, asking me if this is a comedy. It’s absolutely not a comedy. It’s more of a horror book than anything else.
But to get back to your question, yes, you will see some familiar faces. And you’ll also see some faces that you haven’t seen before that in years to come might be familiar. I have no idea about the longevity of these things, but there are some new toys being added to the box.
I always thought it would be awesome to have a “Star Wars” novel, comic or TV series following the everyday life of the everyday people inhabiting the Death Star — the custodians, the technicians, the kitchen staff. Will “Arkham Manor” include stories about any of the men and women working to assist and better the lives of the criminally insane?
Yes, there is actually. I’m co-writing “Batman” #34 with Scott in August, and some DNA from that issue will infect “Arkham Manor” in October. Matteo Scalera is providing the art, and he’s doing such a wonderful job. It’s a one-shot that follows “Zero Year,” and there will be characters from it that will come back around for “Arkham Manor.” I’m looking forward to it. It’s a nice way to warm up for the series, and to get to collaborate with Scott and Mark and Matteo Scalera is really wonderful. It’s an opportunity that you would never turn down. I actually left some other work to free up time to do this work. It was actually the last non-comic book work that I was doing in Los Angeles. I really hope the fans will give it a shot. I’m not nervous, but I am very anxious to be able to share it with everyone.
“Arkham Manor” #1, by Gerry Duggan and illustrated by Shawn Crystal, is solicited for October 22.