In an extremely meta twist of fate, writer Ron Marz’s “Legend of the Dark Knight” tale with artist Bernie Wrightson became a legend in its own right among the comic book professional community-a long-lost story the writer himself believed would never see print. However, legend crosses into reality this October when the saga finally sees the light of day as part of DC Comics’ “Batman Hidden Treasures” special.
The writer and artist duo first began the early planning stages of the project nearly 15 years ago, back when the two lived only a mile away from each other in Woodstock, New York. At that point, Marz was halfway into his infamous “Green Lantern” run, which introduced and established Kyle Rayner as the new ring-slinging emerald hero. Of course, Wrightson long ago made his mark on countless terrifying titles, including “House of Mystery” and illustrations for an edition of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The two discussed an idea for a Batman story and pitched it to then-DC editor Archie Goodwin, who accepted the idea as an entry to the “Legends of the Dark Knight” ongoing series.
“Archie accepted it, I wrote it and Bernie penciled it and at that point, Bernie was going to ink it himself. But somewhere along the line, Bernie ended up moving to Los Angeles and wasn’t going to get a chance to ink it in the near future,” Marz told CBR News regarding the project’s early days in development. “We ended up going out and had a beer and kicked around what to do with it and I suggest Kevin Nowlan to ink it because I’m a huge fan of Kevin’s and I know Kevin is a huge fan of Bernie. That’s kind of where everything stopped.”
Goodwin eventually succumbed to cancer in 1998, leaving not only Marz with a heavy heart over the loss of his friend, but also left the story they all worked on in publication limbo. “The story kind of became an orphan. It passed into Bob Schreck’s office when Bob came to DC from Oni [Press] and Bob kind of took ownership of it,” recalled the writer. “At that time, it was decided that the story was just too special to just toss out onto the market as just a single-issue story in ‘Legends of the Dark Knight’ or whatever Batman book it was going to be in at that point. So, we talked about some different formats for adding some material to it and either none of them quite fit with what we wanted to do or it didn’t quite fit what DC editorial envisioned for it.”
The tale ended up “in a drawer” for a while, but Marz said that at various points throughout the years he would hear from DC Art Director Mark Chiarello, who took ownership of the story and tried continuously to find a way to publish it. Marz said that ideas included a “lost tales”-type special that included various unpublished Batman stories as well as a Wrightson-centric issue of “Solo.” Neither idea panned out, however. Marz said he felt as though the story was to remain hidden forever. The writer even laughed and admitted that when Chiarello approached him at the inaugural C2E2 convention this past April he expressed a little skepticism at the news of the story’s impending publication.
“It was like the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf,’ you know? After a few times, I just assumed it was never going to happen. But this one obviously is the one,” said Marz. “For so long it had been one of those stories that you hear about that was literally buried in a drawer somewhere. I’ve given copies of the artwork to any number of comic artists, who either see me at a convention or get a hold of me and say, ‘Oh my god. I heard about this Wrightson, Nowlan job. Can I get a copy of it?’ It’s been this hidden gem, I guess, artistically for years that different people have heard about.”
And although Marz said that he’s glad the public finally gets a chance to read this legendary tale come October, the writer does admit that the idea of the “legend of the Wrightson, Nowlan Batman story” was pretty cool. “But now getting to have this thing out there with the words on the page and letting everybody see it really is the best thing,” he added. “And frankly, to me, what means the most is that this was a job that was started for Archie and finally we’re bringing it across the finish line. That means the world to me-that something that Archie Goodwin started is finally coming to fruition.”
The story itself-the lead feature in the upcoming “Hidden Treasures”-stars the Dark Knight detective, Batman, and the man infamously born on a Monday, Solomon Grundy. However, beyond the two main characters lays intriguing design and narrative element to the tale. “It’s 22 splash pages with a text gutter on each page,” revealed Marz. “It’s this amazing looking art job with a full page illustration on every page and then blocks of text down the side of the page as the story is being told to you. At the end of the story, you get to see who the narrator of the story really is.”
The decision to design the story in this manner came rather easy for Marz as the writer said that there was a very simple, fan-ish reason for his choice. “For the most part, it was just desire on my part to see Bernie draw 22 splash pages,” laughed Marz. “Sometimes you have to make the form fit the job at hand and I knew that we could come up with a really amazing looking job if we had a reason to tell the story in that fashion. So, I came up with a story that hopefully fits that form. It also gave me a chance to tell a story in a completely different voice because the story is told by a narrator.”
In fact, writing a story from a narrator’s point of view and comprised of only full-page spreads provided Marz with an opportunity to try some stylistic choices he normally doesn’t get to employ. “Certainly it’s a departure from what you would think of as a standard comic-which I think is good,” he said. “I think it’s great to have some variety. You wouldn’t want to do all your gigs like this, but as a change of pace I think this one works pretty well.
“There was a bit of challenge to it. The real fun aspect of it is picking out the 22 images. I really feel like this is a 22 page story and not a 22 panel story, if you know what I’m saying,” he continued. “The job really became for me in the script to pick out those 22 images that best conveyed the story. It’s almost like we took a standard comic script and picked out the most important image on each page and cut the rest. So, the narrative takes you through the story and describes some things that you don’t particularly see in the artwork. It’s really the connective tissue for all the illustrations.”
Along with the approach to art and story, form also followed function in terms of Marz’s approach to the characters. Wrightson’s interpretation of Frankenstein’s monster from Mary Shelley’s famous novel heavily influenced how Marz saw Solomon Grundy. “Working with Bernie on this story led to my interpretation of Solomon Grundy as a misunderstood monster, mostly from Bernie’s amazing Frankenstein illustrations, which to me are always going to be the pinnacle of his career. Although, I think that this job was pretty damn good, too,” said the writer. “But Bernie’s Frankenstein stuff is utterly amazing. Seeing his portrayal of the monster, I think you can’t help but have that influence this kind of story.”
As for the Caped Crusader, Marz said that he mostly likes standing back and letting him work, preferring to take a more impersonal approach to the character. “I am most comfortable as a writer and as a reader with a Batman who is presented as more of an iconic figure. You don’t get into his head. You don’t hear his thoughts,” admitted the writer. “I like to keep a distance when I’ve written Batman because I don’t want to humanize him. I want him almost as a force of nature when I write him. There’s certainly character bits in this story for Batman, but we’re not getting all touchy feely inside his head.”
Many of those character bits come out through the narrative text of the tale. And although when Marz originally scripted the story he included notes and suggestions about the text blocks, the penman disclosed that it wasn’t until years later that he actually was able to sit down and write up those text pieces. “I didn’t go back into the story until 2005, when I was still living in Florida, because I remember taking a few days to spruce up the text while living down there. So, I went through it in 2005 and did some pretty extensive work on it and then obviously it went back in the drawer for five years. When it was decided that it was definitely come out this year, I went back in once more and tweaked a few things, but it was only a few minor things,” he explained. “I think that the 2005 draft is certainly better than the first draft, and that’s the way it should be. Though the story itself didn’t undergo any serious changes, there were no continuity concerns or outside factors that became involved. It’s a very iconic, standalone story.”
Between the long history of the story and the emotion and time put into it, Marz said that it really does feel like a hidden treasure finally unveiled. The writer said that between the beautiful art and the connection of the story to his friend, the release of this lost legend of the Dark Knight means more than is easily expressed. “Like I said, the most important thing for me is that something we started for Archie goes on long after we lost Archie, and that means a lot to me,” said Marz. “I can remember the minute details of sitting in Archie’s office and talking about this story with him just because there was nobody else like Archie. And I think anybody that did any work for him would tell you the same thing. I’m very proud that this job that Archie thought enough of to give a go ahead to is finally going to come to fruition.”
Unearth “Batman Hidden Treasures” on October 6 at comic shops everywhere.