Classic pulp hero the Black Bat returns in 2013, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment’s. Helmed by “The Flash” writer/artist Brian Buccellato, the new series was revealed as a part of the publisher’s impressive slate of New York Comic Con announcements.
Created by writer William Jenkins, aka Murray Leinster, in 1933, the Black Bat first appeared in “Black Bat Detective Mysteries.” A second iteration of the character hit newsstands in 1939 in “Black Book Detective,” written by G. Wayman Jones (the pen name of Norman Daniels). The first incarnation battled bad guys sans costume, though later versions dressed the hero in a black cape and cowl and added an origin story, detailing that being disfigured by acid, a subsequent operation to save his sight resulted in mild-mannered District Attorney becoming a masked vigilante.
Now, Buccellato puts his own spin on the character, modernizing the pulp figure in a way that, in his words, “Figures out the essence of who he is, and then updates it [into] a modern take that still honors his history.”
Speaking with CBR about the newly-announced series, Buccellato dove into his approach to the 1930s character, explaining that Dynamite Entertainment President, Publisher and founder Nick Barrucci and Buccellato had been trying to find a project at Dynamite for the “Flash” writer/artist for a while.
“I’ve known Nick Barrucci for quite a number of years; back in the mid-2000s I colored some stuff for those guys, I was working at Top Cow and they needed some emergency help on one assignment, so they contacted me,” Buccellato explained.
Approached by Barrucci roughly a year ago, “He wanted us to work together, so what he did was he kept giving me different properties and asking, ‘What do you think about this?'” Buccellato said. “I read a lot of different material from Dynamite and one of them was Black Bat, and that’s really the one I responded to personally.”
A fan of traditional pulp heroes, Buccellato stated that the Black Bat’s tone really interested him as a writer.
“Properties like ‘Vampirella’ and things like that, I couldn’t come up with a take that interested me; I know the kind of stories that I like, and I like the pulp, dark tone of character like The Shadow, or even Batman. So there was some similarities to the characters I liked,” Buccellato said, adding, “For me it was a matter of coming up with my take on the character that, although he existed before, most people don’t know. I guess it all sparked from there!”
While there was no confirmed artist for the series as of yet, Buccellato said that unlike many of his past comics, this project would see him squarely in the role of writer.
“Nick is putting together the rest of the art team. It’s a writing gig for me, more than anything else — it’s the only one I have so far, because with ‘Foster’ I self-publish it and color it and do everything, and with ‘Flash’ I co-write it and color Francis [Manapul’s] art,” Buccellato said.
As for how it felt only having to worry about the plot and writing side of things, Buccellato writer laughed and declared, “It’s so easy! It’s great!”
“It’s so much easier just to write your story and then have some conversations, check out the art, but the pressure’s not on you every step of the way. It’s pretty cool!” Buccellato added with another laugh.
While Buccellato told CBR the plan was to have “The Black Bat” be an ongoing series, so far the writer had agreed to an initial six-issue arc.
“I’ve committed so far, I believe, to doing six-issues and then we’ll reevaluate once the first story arc is done. Hopefully we’ll all have a great time and people like it and we’ll be able to continue with it!” Buccellato said.
Talking about his version of the character, Buccellato stated that the biggest change he wrought was taking the Black Bat out of his 1930s pulp setting.
“My story takes place in current times, so it’s not a period piece,” Buccellato said. “Interestingly enough, a lot of his history had already been shared by characters who came after him, so that presented certain challenges. One of the main things in his origin is he gets acid thrown in his face, but there’s a very well known DC character who has an origin just like that! So things like that I changed.”
As for other changes, Buccellato continued, “In the original he gets acid thrown in his face while he’s in court, he’s a lawyer, which may sound like another character in comics. I didn’t see how in modern times someone would be able to throw acid in his face in the courthouse, so I made some changes to the overall origin — but I tried to stay in tone with the character as he was originally created.”
While Black Bat both influenced and held similarities with many now more famous superheroes and villains — in 1939 Black Bat publisher Thrilling Publications nearly went to court with National Comics over the similarity to Batman — Buccellato jettisoned things too much like other characters, saying he considered his version both superhero and pulp vigilante.
“I latched on to him particularly because the character has a journey that involves discovering where the line is and whether he should cross the line in the search for justice,” Buccellato said. “He’s a vigilante, so he’s not like a gumshoe or a vanilla superhero, he definitely will toe the line, so I think I added quite a bit to this version that wasn’t there before.”
“I think part of it is I don’t want to be writing Batman as Black Bat; I don’t want to write The Shadow or Green Hornet as Black Bat. I wanted to do something a little bit different.”
Though mum on the plot details, Buccellato told CBR that going too far in the name of justice was a major theme he tackles in his first arc. “It’s definitely an origin arc. He’s going to discover who he is and he’s going to have to change quite a bit about himself.”
This, in turn, led to another big shift in the character’s origin. “Instead of him being a prosecuting attorney as he was in the past, I made him a defense attorney who’s sort of been lying down with the dogs and defending some bad people, and because of that there are harsh consequences and he almost loses his life. Basically, he feels like he has a debt to pay and his strategy is going to be undoing some of the wrongs he did by defending the criminals he did when he knew they were guilty,” Buccellato said. “That’s a complete departure from the original Black Bat, but I didn’t want to do the prosecuting attorney because it was so similar to Harvey Dent.”
Though Buccellato labeled his role on the series as “just a writing gig,” he admitted that he did take a stab at designing his main character.
“We’ve gone back and forth an awful lot with the character design. Actually, recently I did my own version of the character design and turned it in to Nick. It remains to be seen where we end up, but I would say I’m rooting for the one I came up with!” Buccellato laughed.
“You definitely won’t see me on the art team, I don’t have enough time to do that!” Buccellato added with another chuckle. “I’m a pretty busy dude!”
A comic book and screenplay writer for the past fifteen years, Buccellato realizes most people only knew him from the past year of writing and coloring “The Flash,” though he explained his approach to story and process on “Black Bat” would be a very different one from the scarlet speedster’s title.
“‘Flash’ is a true collaboration,” Buccellato said, referencing his “Flash” writing partner Francis Manapul. “I have a process, and I always start from characters first and build outwards from there, so it’s not different to me or new to me because I’ve done it…I feel like I’m a really good collaborator in the past, I’ve had writing partners and it helps when you have a friend like Francis to work with. It’s just different, I don’t think one’s better or worse.”
While Buccellato was vocal about what initially interested him in the Black Bat, when it came to what he hopes fans will take away from his series, the writer’s stated aims are a little more humble.
“I think beyond being entertained, I hope they’re interested in the sorts of things that I am, and that they think about the themes I’m putting forth,” Buccellato said. “I try to put that in everything I write, because if it’s important to me, I’m interested in exploring it. With ‘Foster’ it’s fatherhood; with ‘Flash,’ our first arc was all about being overwhelmed. In a way, with Black Bat it’s about where you draw the line in justice.”
“I’m hoping that it provokes thought and people are entertained,” Buccellato added, laughing. “That’s pretty much all I can hope for!”