If there’s one thing DC Comics Batman has always been, it’s a survivor. From the last minute escapes he’s pulled from death traps of all sorts to the emotional damage caused by his parent’s murder, the Dark Knight has made a career on the page of distancing himself from the grip of oblivion.
And that’s something writer Gregg Hurwitz is putting all his focus on in the pages of “Batman: The Dark Knight.” As the newest scribe on the David Finch-drawn ongoing series, Hurwtiz has given a frightful new “mouth sewn shut” face to the Scarecrow, introduced new emotional complications to Bruce Wayne’s latest romantic entanglement and with this month’s issue #11, sent Batman himself on a path towards entrapment and fear toxin in the second part of the “Cycle o Violence” arc.
But beyond that, the writer also has a few more survivalist stories in the pipeline including September #0 issues for “The Dark Knight” and “Detective Comics” which explore two very different sides of the Batman’s origins and his incoming crime novel “The Survivor” which throws a family man through an intense shoot out and into more personal drama from there.
To get deeper into all these topics, CBR News welcomed Hurwitz by THE BAT SIGNAL, our one-stop shop for all things Batman. Below, the author explains what drives Dr. Jonathan Crane to kidnap the children of Gotham City, what Bruce Wayne continues to hide behind the mask of the Batman, how Joe Chill’s gun and Wayne’s globe-trotting play into his #0 issues and how Bat fans can win some rare Finch swag by pre-ordering his new book.
CBR News: With “The Dark Knight,” you stepped onto a book that had a very specific tone set up by dint of David Finch’s style. How did the comic that this series has been impact how you came to the book?
Gregg Hurwitz: Well, both Finch and I wanted to do something new with the title, but something that was still in keeping with “The Dark Knight” concept – to show some of the darker corners of Gotham, to dig into the psychology of the characters, to flirt a bit with horror here and there while maintaining a fast, actiony pace. After doing a miniseries on the Penguin, I wanted to explore the Scarecrow in equal fashion, but I realized that in exploring the Scarecrow, I’d have to explore Bruce Wayne/Batman in similar fashion, so it was suited to a Bat book rather than another mini.
Speaking of David, he definitely brought a lot of specific ideas to bear earlier as a writer of the book. Now that you’re steering the script, what’s that collaboration been like? And does his shift to inking himself on the book do to guide the feel of the series?
He’s been incredible to work with. I am in awe of his talent, and we’ve found a way to collaborate effortlessly. He makes me look better and really does justice to my scripts, and we talk through each scene closely. His inks have been amazing and help him control the shading and dimensionality he wants for each panel (though I’d like to give a nod to Richard Friend for a great job inking issue #10).
You first stepped into the Batman world with the “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” mini series. What’s it been like shift into ongoing series mode? Have you been trying to develop some long term threads to use, or has your focus so far been on this first arc as a stand alone tale?
Definitely a different mode – bigger story, wider canvas, all that. And I want “Cycle of Violence” to be self-contained as its own tale, but there are a few motifs and threads there for me to carry forward.
The Scarecrow has gotten a facelift – or should I say facesew – in this story. This is obviously the kind of scary imagery that works well for Finch’s interest as an artist, but for you is at the root of that self mutilation for Jonathan Crane himself?
He is willing to do anything to instill fear in others. And what he is willing to do to himself is pretty scary – especially because it makes his victims contemplate what he’d be willing to do to them. It also contains a strong element of self-mutilation, and I believe he finds some release in the self-inflicted pain.
Ultimately, your Scarecrow is one whose emotional scars we’re seeing much more clearly than we’ve seen before. How does his own childhood provide some clues as to what his ultimate plan is in stealing children, Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself?
Oh, just wait! Issue #13 has my favorite spread in the arc – we’re gonna go down that hatch and see what lies beneath. And soon enough, we’ll learn why he’s taking those kids – and what he’s taking from them.
Another critical piece of your run so far has been Bruce’s relationship with his pianist girlfriend Natalya. Unlike a lot of his signature flings, Natalya seems to understand something about Bruce’s past that both brings them together and keeps them at a distance. How do you bring a new wrinkle into that idea?
Natalya is as smart as Bruce and perhaps more emotionally incisive than him – and she’s from a hard-as-nails background growing up in Kiev. She raises hard issues about intimacy (issues I’ll further explore in “Tec” #0) with him, and these of course tie into his (unspoken, unconscious) fears that the Scarecrow will bring to light. But I also simply like writing intelligent, quick-witted women, and I feel like having her be sophisticated and sharp makes Bruce look all the better for dating her.
On the flipside, you’re also taking occasion to dig deeper into Batman himself through the story. We’ve seen hints at how fear has shaped his own creation so far – a common trope for the character. How does Crane’s kidnapping of him help peel away the layers of Bruce’s mind moving forward?
I am interested in seeing all the armor stripped away from Batman and getting to what drives him. Much of that derives from a devastated, terrified kid in an alley outside a movie theater, on his knees, seemingly broken. I think he made some quiet vows to himself in that alley-not to become Batman, but to feel less, to strive to be indomitable so he wouldn’t have to feel pain like this ever again.
Speaking of Bruce’s origins, your #0 issue is coming up as well. We know you’ll be focusing on Joe Chill in the story. How did you take on the challenge of visiting that most pivotal of points in Batman’s legend in terms of making this story feel new while not erasing the core of what we know about it?
With great hesitation and (I hope) great sensitivity. We’re gonna see a key defining moment in Bruce’s life and in the legend. That’s a lot of responsibility, and I took it very seriously.
How did you approach “Dark Knight” #0 in terms of Batman himself – the vigilante I mean. Is this all young Bruce Wayne and his parents and Joe, or is there a way the final form of the Dark Knight works in?
It’s both – and I’m gonna be purposefully vague here. It is mostly Bruce, but we will see shadows of the life to come.
You’ve also got story duties on “Detective Comics” #0 – the granddaddy of all DC titles. How did your work on the “Dark Knight” one-shot influence this story, both in terms of the topic itself but also in terms of how you view Batman’s character?
The #0 issues, taken together, form a snapshot narrative of Batman’s emergence. So my “Tec” #0 occurs after “TKD” #0, but before Snyder’s (terrific) #0.
Bruce’s years abroad are one his the core elements but are also a somewhat underdeveloped portion of his story. What specific pieces of his globe-trotting training felt most important to get unveiled in this story with Tony Daniel?
I wanted to focus on a tale, ultimately bloody, that shows a key lesson Bruce learns from a master in the mountains of the Himalayas. It is not the lesson you would think.
Of course, comics is only one of your pursuits, and this month your new novel “The Survivor” is on tap. Can you tell us a little bit about the origin of the novel and how working on a project like that compliments your work in comics?
It is, I believe (and hope) the best opening I’ve ever written. It starts with Nate Overbay, a man at the end of his rope, who has crawled out onto the eleventh-story ledge of his bank building to end it all. Just as he moves his foot out into the open, ready to the take the leap, he hears gunshots from inside. A swath of blood paints the window to his side. He looks into the bank and sees a heist crew storming the bank, shooting innocents. So rather than leaping to his death, Nate goes back through the window, picks up a gun, and now-with no regard for his own well-being-squares off with the gunman.
It started with that opening for me, and went from there. I wanted to show a character who thinks he has nothing left to lose. But when he gets on the wrong side of the man behind the men on that heist, he’s gonna learn just how wrong he is.
In comics and novels, alike, I love digging into the psychology of characters by having it unfold within high-pressure choices they must make within a driving thriller plot. I put the pedal to the floor in chapter one of “The Survivor” and don’t let up.
How does the premise of Nate’s journey out of that tight spot synch up with what you wanted to say about Nate as a character?
He becomes an inadvertent hero, but has to learn what it means to be a real hero. I suppose it’s a bit like what Natalya calls Bruce to task for in my “TDK” arc. Nate thinks he’s got nothing left, but when his (somewhat estranged) wife and daughter are threatened, he’s going to discover the lengths he’s willing to go to protect those he loves. The ending was inspired in part by “Man on Fire,” one of my favorite movies.
Finally, I hear you’ve combined the two halves of your writing life right now for a contest combining “Batman: The Dark Knight” and “The Survivor.” What’s the situation there?
Here’s the skinny, as related on my website: Wanna get your hands on a signed variant cover of “Batman: The Dark Knight” #10? (It’s a really cool sideways front-and-back cover of David Finch’s insane Batman/Scarecrow image).
One lucky winner will receive a rare, limited edition of “TDK “#10, signed, sealed, and delivered.
Interested? All you have to do is pre-order my latest novel, “The Survivor,” in any format from any store. Whether you download it to your kindle, order it from B&N, or buy it from your favorite independent bookstore, you will be entered to win this limited edition comic. Simply email your proof of purchase to HurwitzContest@kayepublicity.com.