With the release of their third issue of “The Dark Knight III: The Master Race,” the A-list art team of penciller Andy Kubert and inker Klaus Janson is proving to be as dynamic a duo as Bruce Wayne and Carrie Kelly.
Both of the artists bring a longtime association with Batman to the story created by original “Dark Knight Returns” visionary Frank Miller and co-writer Brian Azzarello. In the late-2000s Kubert served as the penciller of DC Comics’ flagship “Batman” title, co-creating fan-favorite Robin-to-be Damian Wayne with writer Grant Morrison. Janson inked Miller’s pencils in the original, game-changing 1986 miniseries following their acclaimed collaboration on Marvel’s “Daredevil,” and has illustrated many a Batman tale before and since. Together, their work deftly bridges the three decades between the original and the current installment.
The two much-admired — and mutually admiring — artists joined CBR News to discuss their work to date on the new series and the lessons learned in the process. They also comment on the allure of teaming (or in Janson’s case, re-teaming) with the iconic Miller, and why Batman is still a character they find so well-suited to their individual approaches to comics art.
CBR News: At this point, how is the work flowing? Have you guys hit a stride on putting together the layouts all the way throught to the final art? Where are you each at this stage of the game?
Andy Kubert: When I first started on it, it was a pretty harrowing experience, you know? But as it is going now, it is going very smoothly. I have it in my head how to handle things, how to approach things, how to approach the storytelling, the layouts, the compositions. It is a pretty smooth process.
Klaus Janson: Yeah, I would say that we have reached a level, I have reached a level, of comfort. And when we get that point usually that means that the best is coming up.
Andy, when it came to designing the pages and finding a way to make everything feel very much a piece of the established Dark Knight world, what were the things you had to keep in mind and the lessons you learned that helped you get there? What allowed you to keep your own style, but also capture the essence of what Frank and Klaus started earlier?
Kubert: Before I started on the book I had to analyze what Frank was doing, what Frank and Klaus were doing, in the first one. And it wasn’t just their style, it was their composition on the page — it’s more their storytelling and story beats. Of course with Brian writing it, also, it has a different story beat to it.
But I just wanted to approach it — I wanted to find a similarity in everything that would come across as the Dark Knight world, and a lot of it is in the compositions and the use of negative space for the panels. That took me a while to figure out: when and where to use that negative space. You want to use it for scale, for distance, for depth and it just took awhile to figure that out.
But now things are going, I kind of have it in my head when I’m reading the script, how to approach the page, how to lay it out. I keep pushing myself, I never get comfortable — even throughout my career, I’m the type that tries to do better and better not with every page but with every panel. It’s just a competitive factor in me, it’s just ingrained. So I never really rest on my laurels and say, “Okay, this is good enough.”
That’s why I go a little crazy at times, I start wigging out on things. The most frustrating thing is when I’m drawing something and I know it could be a better shot or I know it could be a better composition or I know the composition is not working but I can’t visualize the set — that’s so frustrating. But for now, as I’m working on this stuff, it is a lot smoother, especially since I first started, but I still am sitting there pushing myself to do better on it.
Janson: And Andy, I have to say that I love hearing you say that, because I think a lot of people are under the impression that we just sit down and things come out of us. And what you are talking about is how much hard work and second-guessing and erasing and redrawing, recomposing goes into the work. And for people like yourself who take these things very, very seriously really work hard at it, it’s not that easy.
Kubert: Yeah, no it’s not that easy at all. I don’t take anything for granted, and for me it is part of the fun to do the best you can on it, to have it work the best you can.
Janson: That’s right.
Kubert: It’s either that or I’ll go find something else to do, because then, you know, it’d be totally boring to do it.
Janson: That’s what I was going to say. And in a way, that struggle to get better is part of the pleasure of it.
Kubert: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
And Klaus, you’ve had 30 years to evolve your own style. Did you find yourself figuring out a way to take a step back and get closer to what you were doing in 1986?
Janson: You know, that’s a good question. I’m not sure how to answer that. I think that one of the differences between my work thirty years ago and my work now, in general, is that I work a little bit cleaner. Not quite as hairy. But I still try to do very much emotional or gritty or moody inking. So I think I approach it in a bit more of a cleaner style, but I think the thinking behind it is still the same.
And for both of you, now that you have a few issues under your belt: Is there a character in the story that you find yourself getting excited as soon as you get a chance to work with again? Is there one that’s kind of creatively grooving with you in this story?
Kubert: I’ve gotta tell you: with me, of course I love drawing Batman, Carrie, and all those characters, but when I got to draw the Batmobile in the second issue, I sat back when I read the script, I put my head back and said, “Oh man, I’m getting to draw the Frank Miller Bat-Tank — Awesome!” Seriously, and that’s when I wanted to turn it into a full-page splash. I really — I don’t know, I was really excited about it. When I saw the ink, when I read the inking, I thought it was the coolest design and I was all — I fanboyed out when I got to draw it in the second issue.
Janson: Well that, Andy, that is not an easy vehicle to draw, and you nailed it. I tried to do it myself for one of the variant covers and I just couldn’t do it. I just gave up and said, “Forget about it, I just can’t do this.”
In three issues you’ve already covered quite a bit of ground in terms of story. Does it get bigger, crazier, and wilder — as Frank’s projects and Brian’s projects tend to as they go on?
â€¨Kubert: Yup, yes.
I know you need to keep some stuff close to the vest, but can you tell me about continuing to make it bigger on your end as the story moves forward — the challenges and the joys of that?
Kubert: You’ve just gotta roll with the punches, which means as I read the script I’ve gotta enhance what’s going on. Hopefully I’ll do a good job with the storytelling and that kind of thing. I can’t telegraph it, I can’t foresee it, I can’t even think about it until I’m actually sitting down and doing it. That’s a hard question to answer.
Janson: You know, let me jump in: everyone knows now that the “Master Race” is referring to the Kandorians, and there is a shot in issue #3 where Andy introduces the Kandorians — a lot of them, let’s say that — and it is a pretty amazing shot in terms of what Andy was able to do. When the book comes out you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Klaus, what was it like for you to be able to work directly with Frank’s pencils again on the Atom mini-comic after all this time?
Janson: I liked the word that Andy used earlier, which was “harrowing.” It was nerve-wracking, I’ve got to say. We hadn’t worked together in 30 years and I felt a lot of responsibility and I felt a lot of obligation. Obligation to make sure I don’t mess up.
I’m a big fan of Frank’s work and I want him to be happy with the work that I do. I want do his pencils justice. So it was fairly nerve-wracking but I was just so happy to have the chance to work with Frank again in that capacity. So, once I got past the nerves it was a very satisfying eight or nine pages to have done. I’m really, I’m just really happy that we got a chance to do work together again.
You’ve both very successfully captured Frank’s original use of the media in the storytelling, but also kept it very fresh and modern. Tell me what you had to do to reach that effect, as far as using media sound-bytes and talking heads and such in the way that Frank did in the original series, but also maintaining a contemporary feel — evolving it forward with the kind of technology that we know today.
Kubert: We all have flatscreen TVs now so it’s not the rounded tube TVs that Frank did in “Dark Knight [Returns].” So everything is squared off. The other thing is that we put in up-to-date news people like Wolf Blitzer and Bill O’Reilly.
Janson: And texting. That kind of makes it contemporary.
Aside from those news people caricatures, are there any Easter eggs that you guys slipped into the first three issues, or anything to look forward to as far as something added on your own initiative?
Kubert: No, no I haven’t, no. This stuff is so, no, there’s not a lot of detail in it. You’ve really got to be careful with that kind of stuff, so no I didn’t put any Easter eggs into it.
What has the character of Batman, who has been so significant to both of your careers, come to mean to you at this point? How are your feelings about the character reflected via “Dark Knight III”?
Kubert: I don’t know what is it with me and drawing the character of Batman. I’ve been drawing the character of Batman ever since I came to DC from Marvel in 2006 and I’m not sick of him at all. I love the character. I don’t know if it is the cape. I don’t know if it is the cowl. I don’t, I think a lot of it is the history. And I’ve drawn him in very different incarnations, and styles and looks. Maybe it is the legacy, look, I don’t really know.
I mean, for me to be working on this project, it is definitely the pinnacle of my career and I don’t know what I’m going to do after this. I mean, cause, where do you go? This is the most exciting, biggest-profile, coolest project I’ve ever been on and I don’t know what I am going to do after this. It’s really an honor to have been involved in this project and it was an honor to be asked to be a part of it; a real big honor.
Janson: Yeah, it’s like winning the lottery in a real big way, you don’t know what do after this, it really is true.
Klaus, given how prominent he’s been in the work you’ve done, do you have a special feeling about Batman now?
Janson: I have to mirror what Andy is saying. I just have such affection for the character. I think part of it may be that Batman allows me to work in a style I really love. It’s dark, it’s moody, its cross-hatching, it’s expressive, it’s gritty, it’s all of those things. I couldn’t do that working on Ms. Marvel — not to say anything bad about Ms. Marvel, but that’s a style that doesn’t fit with that character. And so it allows me to be very true to a style that I particularly love.
And the character is amazing, I mean, when Andy draws the five o’clock shadow on Bruce Wayne, on Batman, it’s such a terrific look, it is just so amazing. There’s something that just feels so appealing and so very natural to me, yeah.
What’s been the fun discovery or big reveal about working with Frank? Of the exchanges you’ve had with him, what’s been kind of the unexpected treat or anything struck you because you didn’t see it coming?
Kubert: I’ve got to say that if you told me 30 years ago when I was reading the first “Dark Knight” that I’d be working with Frank, getting to know Frank… You know, when that book came out, even when Klaus and Frank were working on “Daredevil” I was a big fan of them back then, before I even got into the comics industry. If you told me back then that I’d be working with these guys I would have said you were crazy, I wouldn’t believe it.
Really, I’ve known Klaus since the ’90s when Klaus was working at Marvel and stuff and I was working on “X-Men.” I got to know Klaus and it is pretty amazing that this is the first time that we’ve gotten to work together, because I’ve known him for so long and — as far as I’m concerned, Klaus, I don’t want it to be the last! I definitely want to work with this guy again.
Janson: I’m glad to hear it. Now we know what we are doing next.
Kubert: Awesome! And I’ve gotten to know Frank, talk with Frank, pick his brain, and I’m going to see him this afternoon. So it is really kinda a dream — no, not kinda — it is a dream come true for me. That’s it.
Klaus, any new revelations in your working relationship with Frank this time around?
Janson: You know, a lot, we’ve all changed in 30 years. I know I have. Thirty years ago I was not the person that I am now, and I know neither is Frank. But reigniting our friendship at this point, one of the things that really impresses me — and I think that this realization is due to the fact that we are much more relaxed about life and work and just ourselves — one of the things that I’ve learned recently about Frank is just how smart he is and I’m just genuinely really impressed by that. He’s a very, very, very smart guy and he knows what he’s talking about and he knows what he’s doing. You know, I’m impressed by that.
“Dark Knight III: The Master Race” #3 is on sale now from DC Comics.