They say a hero is only as good as his villain, but what happens when the villain becomes the hero in his own story?
That’s just a part of the idea writer Gregg Hurwitz is taking in to his new DC Comics miniseries “Penguin: Pain And Prejudice.” The five-part miniseries, announced exclusively on CBR earlier this week, focuses on the origins of Oswald Cobblepot from high society outcast to Gotham crime lord. Hurwitz is perhaps best known to comic fans for his work on Marvel’s “Vengeance of Moon Knight,” however the writer is also all over the mainstream media landscape with his latest thriller novel “You’re Next,” which hit bookstores earlier month, and a recent stint as a writer for ABC’s sci-fi drama “V.”
CBR News spoke with Hurwitz about his very first DC gig, the influence artist Szymon Kudranski has on the book, what drew the writer to Penguin’s story to begin with, how Batman plays a decidedly different role in “Pain And Prejudice” than anywhere else within the DCU and how comic fans can earn some free autographed issues by deciphering a four-color mystery in the pages of “You’re Next.”
CBR News: Gregg, you’ve been a very busy person in the past year, writing both for ABC’s “V” and on your new novel “You’re Next.” How, amongst this work, did you come to write for DC for the first time, and why did you want to expand your comics-writing oeuvre into this universe?
Gregg Hurwitz: I was working on “V” at the Warner’s lot when Dan DiDio came into town. We’d wanted to connect for a while, so we got a meeting on the books — not about any specific project, just a general discussion. When I was heading over to see him, I let my mind wander and thought about what would be the all-time dream project for me at DC. I figured if I did have an option to do something at DC, I might as well shoot for the moon. It’s funny sometimes how you know something before you know it, and as soon as I started thinking about this, the answer was right there — what I wanted to do more than anything else was a big story about the Penguin. I brought it up and Dan was equally excited. A short time later, I was on the phone with Batman guru Mike Marts and the rest is history.
With this book, you’re writing the story of the Penguin who despite being one of Batman’s longest-running villains is also one people seem to have a harder time nailing down than some of the other big names like the Joker. What was your first exposure to and first impression of the character, and where was the moment where you felt you got what he was really all about?
Yes, Oswald is tougher to nail down, and there have been quite a range of interpretations. If you look at TV and movies alone, it’s a wide span between Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito. For me, the moment I got the character — and a huge inspiration for this series — was reading Jason Aaron’s (and Jason Pearson’s) “Joker’s Asylum” story. I thought Jason A. approached Oswald with compassion and care, as well as tremendous insight into what motivates a man like the Penguin. The contrast in that story between the Joker and the Penguin is a compelling one since Oswald, unlike the Mad Hatter and the Joker, is not insane. In fact, it is his cold sanity that is so chilling.
There’s no two ways about it: fans are very invested in the ongoing talk over what the September relaunch means for DC and its characters’ histories. Do you view this take on the Penguin as a reinvention or reboot of his story at all?
I do think of “Pain and Prejudice” as my comprehensive take on Oswald and the insecurities and quiet rage that drive him. In a way, every time I take on a character it’s a reinvention of sorts. I want to honor who that character is while also bringing something new to the table, which at the end of the day, is my job as a writer.
This series does focus on Oswald Cobblepot’s origin. Where for you did that story need to start, and how much ground did you want to cover in his life overall?
It starts at the moment of his birth. And I dig into his childhood quite a bit, his relationship with his mother, his brothers. How he finally spread his wings, so to speak, and lumbered into infamy.
We know from the solicit that his Mother plays a strong role in the book, and a name like “Pain and Prejudice,” can’t bode well for that relationship. What kinds of torments in general really shape the man who will be the Penguin through his rise as an adversary of Batman?
You might be surprised at the role Mother plays in his life.
An overbearing father, tormenting older brothers, and ceaseless bullying play huge factors in shaping Oswald into what he becomes. Once he attains power, he wields it with an iron fist, never to return to the powerless weakling of his childhood. He is someone who will not suffer an ounce of (perceived) disrespect. And no matter what you do, don’t laugh at him.
Speaking of the Dark Knight, what kind of role does Batman play in this story? If we’re following Penguin throughout, is there a chance you’re first time writing the Caped Crusader will cast him as the villain?
Very interesting question. While the focus is on the Penguin here, Batman does swing into the story and play a key role. And yes, if you’re Oswald, Batman is the villain. He represents everything that Oswald is not. A broad-shouldered hero who inspires awe and respect merely by entering a room. And Batman also represents all the bullies of Oswald’s past, everyone who ever pushed him around and told him what he could — or couldn’t — do.
Szymon Kudranski is a new name to many comics fans, but his work has gotten around on “Spawn” where he’s done some creepy, gothic horror action. In what ways do you feel his style compliments your script and vice versa?
You simply will not believe how good the art is in this book. I’m not one to oversell, but I was spellbound as the pages came in. I just saw an image this morning that made my jaw drop. Szymon has been staggering. He’s drawing the script as I saw it inside my head — only a better version.
Of course, before readers can see this story of the Penguin in October, your new novel “You’re Next” just hit stores. It’s the story of a man whose choices in the past come back to haunt him in a very literal way. In what ways did this book develop differently from your books in the past, and what might comic readers see in its pages that they’ll dig?
The idea for “You’re Next” started, as my books often do, with insomnia — a three-in-the-morning scene played out on the dark screen of my bedroom ceiling. A four-year-old child is dropped off at a strange playground by his father and told to play with the other kids. His father seems panicked, grief-stricken, and the pressed white cuff of his shirt sports a splash of blood. This child’s story begins with the slow-dawning realization, as he sits on the swings, that he has been abandoned.
The story picks up after that abandoned boy has grown up. He’s a man with a wife and a daughter of his own and the unknown violence of his past returns to stalk him and his family. And the book is really about the lengths one man will go to to protect his family. There were a number of movie influences for this one — “Straw Dogs,” “Cape Fear,” “Man on Fire” — and it’s interesting that a difficult childhood is the backdrop for this story, just as it is the backdrop for “Pain and Prejudice.” Must’ve been swirling around in my brain as I was writing them both.
One of the villains in the book, named Dodge, is a fan of comics and is often thumbing through a trade or graphic novel — which I drop hints about but never name. I have a contest for astute readers who can win one of my signed comics if they can identify which comic Dodge is reading up at http://gregghurwitz.net/2011/07/05/new-contest/
Are there ways in which your comics work has come to inform your novel writing as you do more of each?
Comics are the ultimate challenge, in that a story must get told in (generally) four to six snapshots per page. So they’ve been wonderful in reminding me to write in stark, arresting images. I really try to bring strong visuals to the novels, and comics have kept me acquainted with the importance of that.
To keep up with more Penguin news and announcements, readers can check me out at www.gregghurwitz.net, follow me at http://www.facebook.com/gregghurwitzreaders, or find me on Twitter under the inventive handle of @GreggHurwitz.