The Joker’s reign of terror has just beginning across DC Comics’ Bat Family line of books, but for writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo the Joker’s war on the Dark Knight heats up in “Batman” #15 as Bruce’s allies assemble and attempt to make sense of Clown Prince of Crime’s deranged plans.
Thus far, the Joker has made his presence known to Batman, Commissioner Gordon and all of the DCU by taking out the GCPD and stealing back his face, only to don it like a grotesque mask as he sets his sights on anyone, friend or foe, Batman’s ever tangled with. Drawing Batman further into his plans and into Arkham Asylum, Capullo and Snyder’s story culminates in “Batman” #17 next year as Batman and his foe face off — literally, in the Joker’s case.
Giving readers a peek at the interior art for “Batman” #15, Capullo spoke with CBR about the issue and the ongoing “Death Of The Family” story, including his visual take on Batgirl and the Robins, Frank Miller’s influence on his art and the Joker’s twisted feelings towards the Caped Crusader.
CBR News: At NYCC 2012, you spoke about how you see Batman as a single, solid silhouette. In “Batman” #15, the whole Bat family gathers together. How do you visually approach drawing them? Is it with that same eye for shapes and silhouettes you use with Batman?
Greg Capullo: No, because I see Batman as an entity onto himself. For me, what I’m trying to do is capture what I know of their personalities and maybe put that into their body language, their facial expressions, their hand gestures, what have you. But no, that monolithic shape is reserved only for Batman! Anybody posing next to him always has to look less than him, so that’s just the equation.
In the very first issue of the “Batman” New 52 relaunch, readers saw most of the unmasked Bat family together — at least all the Robins. That’s a big group of handsome, blue-eyed, black-haired guys. How do you approach depicting the personalities of each one in a visual way and differentiate between these sort of similar-looking characters?
Well, again, I try and make them a little bit different — it’s like when you look at the faces of models. They all sort of have the same features but somehow look a little bit different, it’s like a trick of nature I guess. But body language is a lot easier, especially when you have a character like Damian who’s just brimming with attitude. I’ve got a ten-year-old stepson at home and Damian’s ten, so I have some reference to what ten year olds are about — even though our kid’s nothing like Damian! [Laughs] So with Damian I’m giving him almost hip-hop poses in a couple of things, that gangster attitude in a couple of shots, because that’s more in line with his personality. It’s just more or less playing it up like that, saying, “How can I make it different?” Batgirl’s got a strong personality, so I try and make her stand a little bit proud. I try to play off those things and sometimes it’s small, whether it’s a tilt of the head or the way she’s bending her leg or whatever. I try to make it all natural.
“Batman” #16 leads into the big showdown between Joker and Batman — do you feel issue #15 is more of the calm before the storm, or is it more frenetic than that?
There’s some explosive stuff that happens in #15, it’s definitely not a sleeper issue! But things definitely get more macabre as we move forward into #16 because now we’re going into the Asylum; just by virtue of that things will get kooky! If you’re paying attention the Joker, he’s going to be taking over. He’s remodeled all of Arkham Asylum so it’s going to be Arkham Asylum like you’ve never seen it before. You’ll see some familiar faces and some — I don’t want to spoil things — but it’s big, crazy, off-the-wall stuff that’s been so much fun to draw. It took such restraint not to Tweet off a million pictures! [Laughs] It’s stuff that you would never expect to happen, there’s even animals, there’s everything in this issue! I’m telling you, Scott’s putting me through the paces on this one!
During “Night of the Owls” when Batman was in the Court’s maze you played with a lot of surreal visuals, like the image of Batman turned into an owl. For this story it sounds like the Arkham Asylum stuff is approaching that level of surrealism. Are things a little more abstract, a little more disconnected from reality?
I don’t know if I would call it that or define it quite that way. I mean, some crazy stuff is happening, for sure, but Batman is not on acid this time and so he’s not having such crazy hallucinations. He hasn’t been starved of food so his mind is not quite degraded to the point where we’d see some of that crazy surreal stuff. But the setting itself — some of the things Joker has set in place for Batman and I came to enjoy — are quite surreal just by virtue of what they are. There’s no need to play it kooky. You don’t have to bend the angles or give it a fish-eye lens on the scene, just what is in the scene is crazy and disturbing enough. You could do old-school Jack Kirby six-panel grids and the content is just messed up, the content itself delivers the goods!
Going into issue #15 and #16, were there any definitive Joker artists or ways Arkham has been portrayed that influenced or inspired the way your Arkham and Joker look?
Not really so much. Certainly, Scott was inspired by certain stories or what have you, but for me it was a conversation with Scott. Scott said the Joker’s face was cut off. Wow! Ok, I missed that one, what do we do? One of the things he mentioned which was pretty much the only prerequisite is he said, “I want the skin to be stretched really tight so that he’s got the biggest Joker smile that we’ve ever seen.” That was one of the directions he gave me to go on, so I said, “Yeah, alright, we can do that, we’ll have some hooks and stuff we’ll pull it real tight!”
What’s great now is he’s not a one-trick pony — there’s a scene where Batman punches Joker and it busts loose! So then you got a character that, like how you adjust your necktie or fix your hair, he’s got to actually fix his face. And not like women fix their face, he’s got to reattach hooks and stuff! It provides a lot of expressions you could never possibly achieve without this vehicle. Also, even though you have all this fear and dark stuff, you have this black humor. To me it’s funny when he’s fixing his face! It’s kind of sick because it’s his skin and it’s falling off his face, but it’s funny at the same time. But maybe I’m messed up because I laugh at that!
As the artist on the flagship Bat-book, do you talk to the other artists and architect the crossover in a way similar to the writing process?
No, [editor] Mike Marts has me usually provide some art so I gave them my looses sketches, nothing finished, and I go, “Here’s how the face works and here’s where the hooks are and here you go, have at it.” The Joker at some point will don some familiar apparel and some of those artists are ready to roll with that but I’m not, so I set aside some time and put together how I plan on doing that look to shoot that over to them. Being the lead guy, so to speak, I have to provide for the guys, “Here’s what this is going to look like,” when I get to it so we keep up continuity.
Back in “Batman” #1 we actually saw a version of your Joker — albeit really Dick Grayson in a disguise — before he took off his face. How had your concept for the villain changed or stayed the same from then to when you and Scott began talking about “Death Of The Family?”
Again, Scott really wanted him to look less wooden dummy-ish with the big nose and the big chin, because that’s not so much the guy you’d expect to ever really meet. In that respect I both trimmed back and the chin and the nose, and as far as from my own perspective based on what I heard from issue #1 I said, “No way is he going to have that hair-do! I’m just going to give him straight-forward, time-tested, fan approved hair!” [Laughs] And that’s how I kept it! So the only cognizant thought I had was to not do the Heath Ledger hair — I don’t want to get stoned by fans while I’m at conventions!
Not only are you doing the interior art, you’re also doing the covers, each one showing a sort of faceless or shadowed Joker. Do the ideas from the covers spring from the themes of the issues or are these images you’ve had in mind for a while?
Usually what happens when there’s a cover the first thing is to find out what’s going to be taking place in the issue, so I’ll say to Scott, “Got any suggestions for the cover?” He’ll say this, this or this, and sometimes I’ll throw all that away but it inspired something else entirely different. Or I’ll go, “That’s awesome! I really want to do something with that!” The one where he’s wearing all the different [Bat allies’] apparel, I think that might have been Scott’s idea, saying “He’s wearing so and so’s this, and so and so’s that,” and me going, “Yeah, that’s cool, man!”
The last cover, issue #17, which I am very happy with the way it came out, he had a completely different idea for it. I like to make iconic, simplistic designs for covers and the other thing would have been more like an illustration for the interior, I didn’t really want to do that. So I go, “How can I take the essence of what Scott is saying and make an image out of that?” That’s how I came up with him dancing with the burned-out Batman costume. It’s “Singing In The Rain” and it’s sort of like “Clockwork Orange;” I want it to be something messed up and twisted like that. And the whole lesson we’re learning through all of this is the Joker is madly in love with Batman! So I think that’s even there as he so lovingly dances around with this thing, it’s so messed up! But anyway, that’s how it happens — we come up with ideas and put them through the blender. Sometimes we use them and sometimes we discard them, and come up with some kind of image that will hopefully last more than five minutes after the viewer has seen it.
As you said earlier, Scott’s certainly got a couple of favorite Batman stories he’s drawn inspiration from. What is your favorite definitive Joker or Batman story?
I’ll tell you, and I say it all the time, I loved “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller. I could shove that in anybody’s hands, it’s like the first thing you’ve got to check out. Actually, my whole Batman cowl design is borrowed from the scene where Batman’s armored up to fight Superman, wired up Gotham City for power and he’s got that flat helmet. I can’t do that because I have to give a little more shape but I just love that look. If I could and get away with it, I’d make Batman’s face just as flat as that: a forehead that goes straight to the nose. There’s just something badass about it! It’s appropriate because he’s the Dark Knight and it’s like a knight’s helmet, just flat with the eyes. That’s one of the very biggest sources that has inspired me and I love it to this day. I just think it’s genius!
“Batman” #15 hits shelves December 12.