DC Comics’ all-new Batman digital comic series “Legends of the Dark Knight” launched this week with the release of its first installment, “The Butler Did It.” The 10-page story is written by “Lost” co-creator and “Prometheus” screenwriter Damon Lindelof and features artwork by Eisner-nominee Jeff Lemire (“Sweet Tooth,” “Animal Man”).
Having already connected with Lindelof to discuss the project, CBR News followed-up with Lemire just hours before the series’ launch to see if the Canadian cartoonist would give us a look under the cowl, but just like Gotham’s Caped Crusader, he wasn’t about to lead us to the Batcave.
Lemire did share some insight into what incarnations of Batman permeated his psyche growing up in rural Ontario and what modern day artists inspired his take on the world’s greatest detective. He also teased what his and Lindelof’s story, set six months into Bruce Wayne’s superhero career, is about and why their version of the billionaire playboy has some growing up to do if he wants to truly embody the winged creature of the night.
CBR News: Working with Damon Lindelof on a project would be a dream come true for many fans, and you were a fan yourself not too long ago, weren’t you?
Jeff Lemire: Obviously, one of the best things about doing work like this is that you get to meet people whose work you admire. And you get to meet them as a peer rather than a fan. That has happened to me a lot with comic book people, as I have worked in the industry for a few years now, but Damon [Lindelof] was a guy I never expected to meet. I have always admired his work and I was a big “Lost” fan so when he tweeted about “Sweet Tooth” one day, it was really unexpected.
Via Twitter, we connected a little bit, and we started emailing after that. We tossed a few ideas around of something we might want to do together someday, because we were clearly mutual fans of one another’s work, but there was never anything concrete.
Then, at the end of last year, I was actually supposed to write one of these Batman stories for another artist, but I was too busy and had to back out. At the time, Ben Abernathy, the editor of this project, mentioned maybe when my schedule cleared up we could try again. I can’t remember if it was him or me, but it was suggested that it might work best if I just drew my own Batman story.
When he re-connected with me, I had been talking to Damon that week about a lot of things, and I proposed to Ben that Damon write something for me to draw. Ben and I were obviously excited to get Damon involved and Damon was really excited to work with us, too. He loves doing comics, but because he is so busy with film and television, he can’t really commit to any long-term comic projects. But something like this, a 10-page story, is something he could do.
Damon mentioned the Adam West “Batman” TV series and “Super Friends” as big influences on his early love and understanding of the Caped Crusader, as well as “Batman: Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” Do you share those influences?
Like Damon and a lot of people, the 1960s’ “Batman” TV series was probably the first time I got interested in Batman. People our age, you and I, probably saw it in reruns, and when you are young, you don’t realize how campy and silly it is. You just take it seriously because you just love the world of Batman. So yeah, definitely, that’s where I first got into Batman. When the Tim Burton movie came out, I was 12 or something like that and that was huge. That was the first successful comic book movie of our generation, where you saw something come to life on screen after reading it in the comics, so I’m sure that had a big impact.
Also at that time, like you said, a lot of the seminal Batman stories were coming out like “Year One” and “Dark Knight Returns,” and that stuff was incredibly influential to me when I was 12, 13, 14 years old. There was a lot of other stuff out at that time too like “The Killing Joke,” which is still a real touchstone for any real Batman fan. They all came out when I was at a really impressionable age, so it is hard not to be impacted and excited about working with that character.
You obviously have a unique drawing style and would not be considered the traditional or safe way to go when selecting an artist to draw Batman. Did you revisit any particular versions of the character before tackling this assignment or reference any specific artists’ takes?
Drawing him was a lot harder than I thought. Everyone presumes that it’s going to be so fun to draw Batman, but the truth is, other than the “Jonah Hex” issue I did, I’ve never drawn a character that I didn’t own or create myself. When I draw my own characters, whether it’s Sweet Tooth or whatever, however I draw it that is how they look. There is no pre-conceived notion of the character. It’s all up to me and there’s no pressure in that way.
But when you take on something as iconic as Batman, finding your take on that character is actually really hard because you are influenced by all of the great artists that have drawn him in the past. It’s really hard not to be influenced by them.
More recently, the J.H. Williams’ stuff has been so awesome. Jock’s Batman with Scott [Snyder] was so amazing, and it was so fresh in my head. I almost had to spend a couple of weeks drawing Batman every day — which I know sounds like the worst job in the world — but I just sat there. You almost have to get all of those influences out of your system and try them. I looked at Jock’s stuff a little too much one day. And I looked J.H. Williams’ stuff a little too much one day. But once you get all of those out of your system, you can really start to find your own take on him — and just draw him like yourself. So again, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But you eventually get through it and you start drawing him as if he is one of your own characters.
I’ve interviewed Batman artists in the past that have said it’s difficult to draw his cape or they have a tough time incorporating the cowl. How did you make Batman your own?
There is always something when you are trying to figure out a character, whether it’s Batman or anybody else, where you do one drawing and it just clicks and the rest of it comes together. I think for me, perhaps not so surprisingly, it clicked for me when I really started to exaggerate his nose. [Laughs] At that point, it became me again. I thought: “If you can go that far with the nose, everything else will fall into place.” I was no longer worried about the ‘right’ way to draw the cape or the mask. I was just drawing him my way and doing him the way I wanted to.
There are certainly different ways to do Batman. It’s so open to interpretation and yet, he’s such an iconic character. You can go with the well-muscled, bodybuilder, or you can go with the lean, athletic look. For me, since we were doing a story set in the early days of Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman, I thought I could have him look a little bit out of sorts. The costume doesn’t need to fit him quite properly — maybe it was an early prototype of the costume. You have fun making it look a little more low-tech.
With news coming this week that Damon is apparently heading back to TV land by signing a major deal with Warner Bros., can we expect to lose you to Hollywood sometime soon?
No. There is no way. Comics are my love and that’s what I do. There is no way I would ever leave comics for Hollywood. Having said that, I think it would be fun to experiment with screenwriting, but only on the side. That would never replace my love for comics.
Okay, but do you foresee working with Damon again on a project?
Yeah. Maybe in comics or maybe in some other medium. Who knows? But we’ve both talked about it and I think it would be really fun to work with him on something. If nothing else, he’s just another great creative person like Scott Snyder or Matt Kindt or one of these other people that I am lucky enough to have in my life. And when I do come up with stuff of my own, he’s another great person to bounce ideas off of or to get an opinion. He’s been really great about that.
What is it about his brand of storytelling that you like so much?
I think there are a couple of things that we both have in common in terms of how we both like to tell stories. We like stuff that has a genre edge to it, whether it is sci-fi or mystery. But whatever genre elements there are, we always focus on character. That’s what made “Lost” so great. It just had such an incredible cast of characters. The mystery and everything else is always secondary, and that’s kind of the way I approach “Sweet Tooth.” And I think we also both have a good sense of humor in our work.
When we spoke with Damon, he shared that your Batman story was set in early days of Bruce Wayne’s crimefighting career and that it riffed off the character’s origin, though it isn’t a retelling. The story is only 10 pages long, but can you share anymore about what to expect?
The first thing that I should say is that I think people are really excited about the project, and I just have to reiterate that it is only 10 pages. It’s not an epic Batman story that’s going to change your world or anything. It’s more a little taste of what we would do if we had more time. But yes, it’s a 10-page story, and it’s focused on a really young Bruce Wayne as Batman. What the story really is about, without giving away plot, is, it’s at a stage in Batman’s career where Bruce still hasn’t figured out what Batman is and what that persona is. This Batman that we’re doing is still much more Bruce Wayne than Batman. He hasn’t learned how to separate the two, and that’s what the story is about. It’s about him learning a hard lesson of, if you are going to go out and be Batman, you better be able to let Bruce go.
You mentioned that this is a taste of what you and Damon would do with Batman if you had more time. Might you do more stories together for “Legends of the Dark Knight”?
I would always want to work with Damon on stuff, and it’s always fun to draw Batman, but there is also a part of me that says, “Okay. Now I’ve drawn Batman. And that was fun — but what’s next?” It’s always more fun drawing your own characters and creating your own worlds. I think if I ever did work with Damon again, and I know he feels the same way, rather than doing a cover song, we’d like to write our own song. So I think if we ever did something again, it would probably be an original creation — half him and half me.