In April, DC Comics artist and writer Tony Daniel delves into the world of Batman more heavily than ever before thanks to the addition of ten extra pages in “Detective Comics,” his monthly Batman comic book series.
Besides both writing and penciling “Detective Comics,” starting with issue #8 Daniel will also write a monthly backup feature for “Streets Of Gotham” artist Szymon Kudranski, the first of which explores villain Two-Face’s past. However, as Daniel told CBR News in our exclusive interview with the writer, “Detective Comics” is going to be his main focus in 2012 as he is officially leaving “The Savage Hawkman,” the comic he currently writes with art by Philip Tan, after Daniel’s second arc wraps up.
Speaking in-depth about his work, Daniel discusses the current “Detective” story arc, writing the new Two-Face backup feature, and his reasons for leaving “The Savage Hawkman.”
CBR News: Tony, you just started your second arc on “Detective Comics” with the villain Penguin at the forefront and Charlotte Rivers missing. What can you tell us, or hint at, about the overall story and what’s coming up in this second arc?
Tony Daniel: Thanks for having me and Happy New Year to yourself and all of your readers. As for my second arc, let me say, if people haven’t caught on yet, that what my solicitation copy describes often has differences from what appears in the comic. Part of that is because as writer/artist I have more time to improve on my story ideas, whereas a writer who only writes must get it all straight from the get go.
In the case of the second arc featuring the Penguin, we see the introduction of a few big story beats that will have a larger ripple effect later, both throughout Gotham City as well as the players involved. We have the grand opening of the new Iceberg Casino, a four city-block sized floating hunk of ice just off the Gotham River, as well as several new, up and coming ‘freaks’ of crime in Gotham, who Penguin takes under his “wing,” so to speak. As for Charlotte, well she’s made the journey to the grand opening for her own purposes and doesn’t really mind that her boyfriend, Bruce Wayne. has “stiffed” her again. Of course, her public figure status as a famous investigative reporter wins her very little friends, especially where corruption is concerned.
And all the while, Batman is busy tracking down a ruthless killer who’s been bumping off Gotham’s underworld bosses. His unique brand of detective work leads him back to the Iceberg, where he finds more than one life at stake and more than one villain on the take. That rhymed, it’s probably the cold medicine talking.
How do you approach writing and drawing Oswald Cobblepot? What is your take on this classic Batman villain that you feel separates him from the other iterations that have come before?
Honestly, a character like the Penguin, or Joker or Two-Face, I really try to stay away from the need of putting my “stamp” on them just for the sake of it. These characters are icons who will outlive us all. My approach is to take what they are, their essence, and try work in something we haven’t seen with them before, yet feels completely natural and recognizable. I really think that the Penguin miniseries, “Pain and Prejudice,” by Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski, provides a great introspective on the character. Penguin plays a big role in the arc, but in this story, there’s more than meets the eye, and we’re forced to focus in and out on a few different characters within it.
This arc also gives you a chance to dive into writing and drawing Gotham’s underworld in a more intimate way, as the Iceberg Casino is a prominent set piece. To your mind, does Bruce fighting on Penguin’s terrain put him at a disadvantage when it comes to the mystery killings? And how do you as an artist go about visually reimagining Penguin’s lair for the new DCU?
There’s definitely a disadvantage for Batman here. He’s never set foot inside and when he finally does, he’ll be in full-on crisis mode. I love being able to use locations or characters that are new to Batman because I like using the unknown as another element of danger. The more obstacles you throw at your hero, the more danger they face, the bigger they seem when they are able to overcome them. I like having temporary setbacks for Bruce, because it really keeps him grounded into reality. And it keeps him real. It’s how we all learn to cope, and it’s how we all better ourselves. That’s a long-winded answer, but I think it shows why I tend to gravitate towards the unknown in “Detective Comics.”
As for the Iceberg, the idea first came from editor Mike Marts to make a big floating casino. Initially I laughed. I thought, “Like what? Floating in the sky you mean?” We were just throwing ideas around over beers — or maybe it was something harder — in the summer and that was one of them. Then my mind went back to it a few times and suddenly I didn’t find it funny. I thought there would be a cool way to do it. So I sketched out some basic ideas and I ended up going with something that sort of resembles the Sydney Opera House — only bigger and made to look like it’s made of ice. In the concluding issue we’ll see Penguin’s awesome lair, complete with a lifelike penguin habitat.
Of course, starting in issue #8 you are also going to be writing the Two-Face backup feature appearing in “Detective Comics” with Szymon Kudranski on art. Why start with a Two-Face story for your backup, rather than a Batman ally or another character?
Because the place I’m at right now as a writer, I think it suits me best. I really want people to see what it’s like, delving inside the mind of a man who’s losing himself in a battle between good and evil in his head. The dichotomy of both personas, with the dark side eating away at the light, and the man himself, going through unthinkable lengths to keep himself from losing completely. Going first person, using Harvey Dent’s own words, as we witness him fighting for his demons will definitely leave an unsettling feeling in the pits of our stomachs. Some of it won’t be easy to digest, this dark and destructive path he finds himself forced to march down, all the while clinging to that tiny bit of light at the end of what looks like eternal darkness. Having Szymon Kudranski on art is a giant plus, too. I think he’s perfect for the seriousness and despair-filled tone of the story.
Will this psychological look into Harvey Dent revise or change parts of the villain’s past for the New 52, or are you looking to touch on things we’ve never seen before, really fleshing out every part of Two-Face’s history?
The latter, really. I want to take us on a journey inside his mind, and out, and reveal how he came to be the iconic figure he is today. The end result will hopefully leave people with a new understanding of Harvey Dent and Two-Face.
After the Two-Face backup is complete, are you going to continue to explore the makeup of other villains in your backups? Will the “Detective” backups be a place where each month you get to explore Batman characters more thoroughly, almost like an action-packed character study?
The great thing is, working with Mike Marts and the gang at DC, we’re all on the same page with what’s working. The bottom line is that if the readers respond enthusiastically, that will influence what’s next. I want the readers to be happy, so I’d probably be inclined to bring out another villain. Or at the same time, I might have an idea that springs up in a month or two and feel strongly about that as the backup. But like I said, we’re usually reading each others’ minds when it comes to what’s next.
What’s it like working with Szymon Kudranski? As an artist yourself, do you two find you share a common language when talking about story that makes the whole collaboration process smoother?
What’s great about Szymon is that he’s very, very gifted and a very talented storyteller. He made my job so easy in the back-up feature he drew for me in “Detective Comics” #5. You can tell he’s confident and challenges himself. As an artist, I can tell if someone’s taking the easy way out or setting a high bar for himself. I don’t have to worry about Szymon. And I can’t wait to see his approach to Two-Face.
After this second Penguin arc ends, what’s next for Bruce? Are you dovetailing right into the “Night Of The Owls” crossover?
One of the things DC has let me do is to maintain what I’m doing on “Detective Comics.” I think what people are enjoying most from “Detective” is that it’s very self contained and focused on Bruce Wayne as Batman. And that would’ve been the dilemma if “Detective Comics” was included in the crossover. Basically, Batman couldn’t be in two places at once.
Will threads and events happening in “Night Of Owls” have repercussions in “Detective Comics” and your corner of the DCU even after it is over?
Though the style of “Detective Comics” is more claustrophobic than the other bat-titles, I’m sure if there’s an elephant in the room, Bruce would address it.
To switch away from “Detective” for a moment, I understand at the end of this Craddock arc you’ll be leaving “The Savage Hawkman.” Is part of your departure so that you can more fully focus on “Detective” and its back-up feature? Or was the plan always for you to set up the world of “Savage Hawkman” and then pass the baton after the initial arcs?
Yes to both questions. It’s really a lot of work to write two books, (and be the artist on one of them) and I took on the challenge of relaunching “Savage Hawkman” knowing it could only be for a finite number of issues. I had hoped to make it up to issue #12. But by issue #4, I realized it was going to be too hard to juggle it with “Detective Comics.”
My focus for “Detective Comics” in 2012 is for it to be my best work ever in both story and art. And I feel like I’m reaching a point in my career where now when I say something like that, that I’m much more prepared to make it happen.
At this point is there a brand new creative team, both in writing and art, in place for after issue #7? [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement of Rob Liefeld plotting “Savage Hawkman.”]
I believe so, but DC will make that public when they’re ready I’m sure.
With this Jim Craddock arc being your final one, are you aiming to wrap up all the loose ends so that the next creative team comes on has a clean slate? Or will threads from you first two arcs tie into what the next team is doing?
A new writer is like a new GM on a football team. I think they pick what they like or think works for them, cut what they don’t like, and then add their own recipe for what they think will make the book, along with themselves, the most successful. Of course, in my metaphor, the editors would be the football team’s owners, so they’d have to run all that by them first!
Finally, what will you miss most about working on “Savage Hawkman?” And conversely, what are you most excited for fans to see coming up in your “Detective” and other work?
I think I’ll miss working with Philip Tan the most. The guy put his heart and soul into the book and it was a real treat.
As for “Detective Comics,” I’m really excited for fans to see what I have planned for Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’m excited delve much deeper into Bruce’s psyche and what makes him tick. I have some heavily guarded secrets that I can’t wait to reveal as we get deeper into the New Year.
“The Savage Hawkman” #5 hits stores January 25; “Detective Comics” #6 is in stores February 1.