Already a fully fledged superstar when he jumped to DC Comics last year, artist David Finch could probably have rested easy with high profile cover gigs alone to make his mark on the DCU. But the creator’s output has steadily ramped up over the past year, from cover work on the blockbuster event “Brightest Day” to interior pencils for a few key issues of Grant Morrison’s ongoing “Batman” saga.
This week, Finch breaks out completely on his own for the first time as he takes the writing and art duties on “Batman: The Dark Knight” — a new ongoing series featuring Bruce Wayne’s battle for the soul of Gotham City created specifically for the artist. Since it was announced, fans have known “The Dark Knight” would traffic in some of the stranger, scarier elements of Batman’s canon, but specifics have been kept under wraps as the entire Bat-line rolled out of “The Return of Bruce Wayne.”
In anticipation of the new title, CBR News shines the spotlight of our regular Dark Knight conversation column THE BAT SIGNAL towards Finch. Below, the artist opens up on his longterm plans for both the character of Batman and this specific series, tells how working with Morrison changed his take on the hero just as much as drawing him did and reveals how DC CCO Geoff Johns helped him get a handle on the Penguin while he throws a handful of more occult characters into the mix.
CBR News: David, when you first came on to DC as an exclusive creator, you were already talking about how much you wanted to draw Batman. Was this book in the works back then, or did it grow after you’d started drawing covers for the publisher?
David Finch: I knew going in, actually. When I first talked to Dan Didio about coming to DC and doing Batman, I had no idea we’d end up doing it like this. There wasn’t a requirement from my end at all. It was just, to do Batman was something I’d wanted to do for a long, long time. I feel like DC really rolled out the carpet and made this a great deal. They’ve let me do everything with the character that I’d like to do my way — better than I ever could have expected. But I did know when I started working at DC and doing covers that we had “The Dark Knight” coming up [as well as] a little bit of what we wanted to do with the book. I had Scott Williams attached at that point, which I think was the biggest thing for me with this book. He’s the greatest inker out there, and I’ve been learning so much working with him this year. It’s been great.
Talking to Batman artists over the years, there always seems to be a very visceral enjoyment people have in drawing the character. Do you have a list of artists who are influencing your take on the character, or do you just get to revel in the character as the character?
Obviously, with Batman there’s such a long line of artists that have drawn him a little bit or a lot. I could go on all day. But I’ve definitely found that as I’ve been drawing, the Batman I’m drawing is not the one I expected going in. I love Kelly Jones’ Batman — it’s probably my favorite. I really wanted this to have that flavor and go in that direction, but ultimately it’s not the character that I’m drawing. I think there comes a point where I just have to go with what’s coming out naturally. That always happens with me — it takes me a little bit to really know a character. I’ve drawn Batman for years in sketches and things, but there is something very different about sitting down and saying, “Who is this character going to be for me now that I have a shot?”
I feel like with the Batman I’m drawing now, I probably owe Eduardo Risso the most. It’s great. The fact that I have Croc as the first villain when my story starts comes from Eduardo and, of course, from Jim Lee who’s another huge influence on my Batman. I mean, Jim is a huge influence on my work in general. Really, the character doesn’t always matter because [Lee is] always going to be there. And I could say that Frank Miller is someone who’s a stylist that’s done so much I can’t even claim to really, but it’s in my mind when I’m drawing it.
The other interesting thing that comes to mind when you bring up Miller is the idea that Batman has had a lot of guys going back who’ve been cartoonists who can write their own material rather than needing a script provided for them. Now that you’re doing this book all on your own, how are you scripting things out?
I started out writing a full script — the kind of script I’d get from a writer over at Marvel with everything included — but as I’ve gone along it’s gotten more “Marvel style,” where I’ll block out pages five to six or whatever to have a few beats for what happens. Then I’ll go in and draw the story and worry about the script after. I’ve just found that working on my own stuff, I don’t feel the constraints of being married to a script. As I draw on the page, these ideas come up and I have the flexibility of going with them. It feels like I’m doing the work twice if I write everything beforehand. When the comic is right in front of me, what’s coming out of the character’s mouth seems to come a little more naturally once I’ve got the finished page rather than if I’m conjuring it out of my head. I’m just more visual that way.
How are you building the stories in “The Dark Knight?” We’ve seen four issues solicited that all seem to fit into the same arc. Will all of your stories on the series bigger epics, or will you play with some stand alone stuff as you go?
I’d always planned on staying with the title for a while, so I’ve go a six-issue arc as the first storyline, and I’m trying to make sure I’ve got some things that extend past that into my next story. I really haven’t got that story planned out all the way, but I do have some of the broader parts. There were some things I’ would’ve liked to do right at the beginning, but editorial said — and I had to agree — that it would be better to save some of the really great stuff for the second six-issue arc and have something special there. So I’ve got a lot I’m very excited to have coming up in the book and I’m already starting to hint at things and play up to them, certain characters who are building towards things in this first arc. I’m trying as much as I can to plan ahead while finding that my overall story is changing as I go — especially as I get input from other writers and editorial. In some ways, I feel like I’m just learning to do this job on the fly. So there are always changes, but broadly my story is set well into the future.
Everyone knew going in that your series would deal with the occult or some of the darker supernatural elements associated with the character, but it was a surprise for me to see you’d be playing with co-stars like Etrigan The Demon and Ragman. Did you have a wishlist of guys you wanted to draw at DC, or did you start with the supernatural theme and ask what characters fit that corner of the DCU?
I think a mixture of both, though I think the supernatural story really sprang from the characters I wanted to use rather than the other way around. I think Etrigan is a great character. There’s a lot of potential with that character, and I wanted to explore him a bit. I love Neil Gaiman — and I certainly don’t want to claim my book will have any Neil Gaiman to it — but I love the elements he’s played with and want to do the same a little bit. Etrigran more than any other character really defines where I want to go with the book.
How does that supernatural element combine with Bruce’s personal story? At its heart, this first arc is about a character from his past coming back into his life. Is it hard to ground this kind of a story with real emotions?
Yeah, it is. I think it’d be really easy for me to take Batman and put him in a supernatural, no rules apply kind of setting and just lose all the elements like Alfred and his responsibilities as a billionaire or to the rest of the Bat-family. I could just walk away from all that stuff, but I really didn’t want to. I feel like what has always made Batman work so well are his relationships and his city. The stuff that Grant Morrison is doing is phenomenal, and to ignore that stuff would be a mistake. I really wanted the supernatural stuff to be a flavor and an element of the book — something that’s an undercurrent — but I wanted it to be a Batman book first and foremost. It’s Batman in Gotham City, dealing with Gotham City’s villains and problems.
The Penguin also plays a big role in your opening story. He seems like a villain some people have a hard time getting a handle on, as he can be played from comical to grotesque. What strengths are you developing for the character?
You know, I watched a cartoon written by Paul Dini years ago that really defined the Penguin for me. He’s an outsider who wants to be one of the beautiful people. He wants to be part of the Gotham City aristocracy, and he never can be because he’s ugly and sweaty and different. They’re never going to accept him, and that’s what drives him. He’ll never be happy because he’ll never have what he wants the most. I really relate to that alienation, and I love that about the character.
I talked to Geoff Johns, who’s obviously such a smart guy when it comes to this stuff, and he said the best villains for Batman — or any character — are the villains that really reflect something about he hero. I don’t know that Penguin does that, or I haven’t found that way, but where he comes from for me with the alienation he feels is strong enough that it works anyway. It’s kind of its own thing.
You did “Batman: The Return” with Grant Morrison to help launch his latest super-story, where you got to draw a lot of classic Batman elements, including the bat through the window, the cave and a lot of the supporting cast. How did that help you prep for your own series? Did you work on both at the same time?
I actually had started on “Dark Knight” #1 and then went into the Grant thing, sliding back and forth between them. It definitely influenced my book more than I expected. Grant really touched on so many different elements that I had to draw in that book, and it had a visual impact, for sure. Then some of the research I had to do in order to draw his script effectively changed the way I thought about Batman. Grant is really so expansive, and it’s hard to work with him and not come away with an expanded view of the character.
To wrap, people have been waiting for the series for a while. After all this anticipation, what’s the thing you’ve been most excited to share with people that they may not be expecting from “The Dark Knight?”
That is a bit of a tough question. I think what I’m most excited about getting in front of people — and this honestly won’t be much of a surprise — but I love how Batman is such a visceral character. He’s so physical and dark, and that’s the kind of stuff that plays to my strengths the most. I’ve got a lot of ideas and new things to introduce — things related to his costume and the Batmobile doing things it’s never done before. I can’t wait to get that in front of people. Really, the thing I’m most excited about is Batman punching the hell out of whoever’s in front of him. That’s what it’s all about for me. [Laughter]
Finch’s “Batman: The Dark Knight” #1 is in shops on Thursday, December 30 from DC Comics.