On one hand, you have to deal with Lieutenant Forbes, a nosy GCPD Internal Affairs officer, investigating you and threatening your number-one ally, Commissioner Gordon. On the other, nearly every villain in Gotham is coming after you, from Clayface to Deathstroke, all of them hopped up on a toxin that eliminates fear. Throw in an attractive-but lethal-new villainess going by the name of White Rabbit who’s seemingly pulling all the strings, and what you’ve got is one of Batman’s toughest cases yet, and it’s all part of the action-packed first arc in writer Paul Jenkins and artist/co-plotter David Finch’s ongoing series.
Shining its light to the heavens, THE BAT SIGNAL summoned Jenkins from his Gotham lair to speak about the book. The “Batman: The Dark Knight” writer happily obliged, diving into the current storyline, discussing the impact Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” has on the series and the sexual politics behind the creation of the White Rabbit.
CBR News: We’re still in the first arc of “Batman: The Dark Knight,” which is ending around issue #7. So far, you and [series artist/co-plotter] David Finch have really thrown a lot of classic Batman villains at Bruce. Was part of the thinking to bring in all the big elements of Batman to set the stage for what you wanted to do in arcs beyond?
Paul Jenkins: Yeah, I think the rogues are more trying to set the books apart. [For instance,] I love “Detective Comics,” I always have, and Batman is the world’s greatest detective. The problem is, if we did solely detective stories as Scott [Snyder] did, there would be a lot of crossover; there would be a lot of similar kinds of themes and similar stuff happening. I think what “Dark Knight” does is, we’re geared to be the summer blockbuster book where there’s a lot of stuff happening. Dave is so talented and has his particular way of doing it, he’s really a guy that you look at and go, “Wow, man, the way that guy draws Batman is pretty cool.” Here, we do very bombastic types of stories, or at least in that first arc. It’s not so much trying to use all of the characters so much as saying, “Let’s make sure our [series] feels like it has its own identity.” When you think of “Dark Knight,” it does this, and when you think of “Batman,” it does that. We have our own place in the Bat-universe.
Along those lines, how would you, as the writer, describe the tone and niche that “The Dark Knight” occupies?
Well, I think summer blockbuster is close; it’s relatively appropriate, because we’ve got Batman being attacked by plants, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, the Batplane being cut in half! [Laughs] It’s all great big visual stuff. Because of the development and production cycle of these books, I’m actually on the next arc right now. It’s interesting — I think perhaps the only thing we’re moving a little bit is we’re probably getting back to allowing him to be a detective, having the internal struggles and the relationships and all this other kind of stuff. We’ve got this beautiful visual element to it, but we also have these other scenes where there’s a lot more detective work. So you’ve got this great contrast between his life trying to be a detective and his life facing down the Joker or whoever the crazy person is this week.
One of those interesting relationships you guys bring in is Lieutenant Forbes, who has thrown a wrench in the works by going after Batman and Gordon. With Gordon the GCPD on Batman’s side, why was it important to you and David to bring in a guy with obvious animosity towards Batman?
Because the next arc is actually very much centered on Forbes and Gordon and Batman. It’s actually something that we intentionally wanted to keep in there because we had a plan for what the next story would be. The cool thing, and this is something, again, where I’ve had conversations with David, is we talked about where the path this kind of series will take. Dave was busy working on the original “Dark Knight” series before there was the New 52 and ran into some scheduling difficulty because, and I’ve spoken about this in other interviews, as the guy who was drawing and writing, he really wanted to get the writing down correctly. So he’d spend two weeks away from his art schedule, trying to make sure these stories work. Well, when you have four and a half weeks of art and two weeks of writing, that doesn’t add up to a monthly book. When I came onboard it, freed Dave up time-wise to concentrate on [the art]. I think we feel very vindicated, because we told people very early on, “Just so you know, we’re going to be on time with this book. You can complain or not believe or whatever, but we are going to be on time because we love the book and we think the mixture of David and myself will bring the book schedule back on track.” We’re actually planned out through at least another year now. We had long term goals, and one of them was to bring Forbes, in who could really turn the screws in the next arc. Forbes is going to be a major player. The idea of a guy going off to both Batman and Gordon and saying, “Look, your relationship is not sanctioned by the Gotham Police Department” is kind of cool.
You also have a new character in White Rabbit. What was the inspiration for her, specifically, and for creating a whole new villain in general for this first arc?
Again, without giving too much away obviously, I think it’s fair to say that one of the things that will happen is an expansion of who the White Rabbit is. First of all, let’s talk about how she was created. One of the things that can happen is, if you have a sexually provocative relationship between, say, Catwoman and Batman, that’s been carried on for a long time, there’s a sort of familiarity with those characters. We know they’ve been up and down and up and down — it’s been going on for a long time. What we felt was interesting was to bring in a character that had similar [but unfamiliar] kinds of qualities. She has a particular secret, which is, what can she do, what is her power? It’s becoming more and more evident as time passes.
We thought that it would be really nice to create a character where — there’s always this question of what’s cheesecake and what’s interesting sort of sexual antagonism and what’s just what you might call exploitation. The truth is, and David has put this to me pretty well, if we’re concerned about stereotypes — because she’s obviously quite a cheesecake-y kind of girl. Parading around in pink and white lingerie pretty much is kind of pushing it a little bit! [Laughs] But you know Batman is himself a stereotype. He’s a very powerful man and that’s the male stereotype of a sexual creature. So we thought it was fair game to say, “Hey, let’s do a new character where clearly there’s an attraction between them, but it’s more a mysterious attraction. Who is she, how is she able to do this thing that she’s doing, why is she doing it?” We’re going to expand on that through the next year. We’re going to keep her around and show that there’s more to her than the pink lingerie. There’s something that she’s doing and places that she’s going. What I quite like about her is, she’s disarming, or will prove to be, because what she’s doing is standing up there and pretending to be kind of cheesy, “Look at me, aren’t I pretty?” But at the same time she’s a lot smarter. When you find out what she’s doing and how she’s doing it, people will go, “Well that’s interesting!” She uses sexuality, in a sense, as a weapon to disarm people, to make them think that she’s not that important or clever or interesting, but she’s really smart.
And she can sense the Flash coming before he gets there in issue #3.
There’s a revelation where you’re going to find out this thing about her, what she can do. I think it’s in issue #7. And when readers find out what she can do, they’ll say, “Ah, she’s an interesting one.” She has a power that, I think, is kind of unique. As she says at one point to Batman, “Alice never did catch the White Rabbit,” and the power she seems to demonstrate right now is that he cannot catch up to her.
The last time we talked you mentioned that one of the big themes you’re tackling in this first arc is fear, and it’s obviously woven into the plot itself. After this initial arc are there other emotional themes you are playing with, or will fear continue to be the underlying series theme?
We are going to play with certain emotional themes. Once we conclude this arc, we’ll sort of wrap up the concept of what fear means to Batman — is he afraid, does he carry fear? The different things fear means to different people. Once we finish issue #7, we’ll have explored the theme of his fear and whether fear is good or bad. The particular thing about this new toxin is, rather than Scarecrow’s toxin that induces fear, this thing seems to be, and again we’re at issue #4, so I’m not going to give it away, but this thing seems to be a combination of Venom and the Scarecrow’s toxin. Instead of inducing fear, it removes fear from a person’s body. There are certain physiological reactions that happen because of fear, and when you take fear from a person’s body, the end result, unfortunately, is that people kind of max out and then start bleeding out of their eyeballs and pass out! It’s a very dangerous substance. What people will see in the next few issues is where it came from, who did it.
But once we pass that, the next arc, the one to do with Gordon, really deals more with how a guy like Batman can continue to stay the course when all around him is blowing up. How do you have that dogged determination to continue to be that man? Is it a functional thing or is it completely a product of dysfunction? Does this mean he’s divorced himself from reality, divorced himself from his own humanity in order to do such a difficult thing? The counterpoint to this, of course, is a working stiff like poor Jim Gordon who is a human being. He’s a cop, he’s taught how to be dispassionately involved in a case, but it comes into people. No matter who you are, if you are at a crime scene investigating a family murder/suicide, it would really affect you. It always does. It’s this great contrast between Batman and Gordon that we’re going to explore.
The next story arc is really what begins after issue #7, and what happens is we begin to talk about the differences and the similarities between Gordon and Batman when the screws are applied. When you apply the screws to Batman, he keeps going no matter what — but here’s Forbes, applying the screws to Gordon. Gordon is doing the best he can, but at what point does he get really badly affected by the craziness and the pressure that’s going on around him? What’s the difference between the guy who is single-minded and dedicated like Batman and the guy who dedicated of course but there’s only so much single mindedness to go around? It’s a cool thing!
So your next arc is going to be much more about the personal and the internal, as well as the relationships between Batman and Gordon.
Yeah. The thing I would say is, one of the things going on at the same time is that’s the theme that you asked about. Visually, what’s essentially happening is there’s madness going around the city. We’re going to develop some new characters that work with existing characters — again, not going to give away who they are, but you’ll see this great crazy kind of bombast that I think we’re good at. Here’s Gordon dealing with the mundane sordid crimes, here’s Batman dealing with the, “Oh no, I have to save the world again!” thing, and that shows good contrast between the two of them.
In issue #4, Gordon called Bruce Wayne to complain about Batman hassling Forbes. With Bruce openly “supporting” Batman in the new DCU, are you playing with the idea that people in Gotham might start look at Batman less as a hero and more as hired muscle for Bruce Wayne?
Well, I think there are all kinds of layers to it. Obviously, neither Dave nor I came up with the idea solely of Bruce Wayne supporting Batman. It’s an interesting idea we get to play with as much as any other writers and artists. What we did is we used that concept to define how much pressure this would put on their relationship. That’s my take on it. Gordon is under investigation. He’s got a lot going on. He’s got Forbes on him like a rabid poodle. He’s not happy, really frustrated, and that particular scene shows that he’s been trying to talk to Bruce Wayne saying, “Hey, I’ve got all this pressure and I didn’t hear back from you. Where were you when I needed your help?” He’s just a guy, he’s doing the best he can and he doesn’t know Bruce Wayne is Batman. As far as he sees it, Batman just accosted Forbes in an alleyway, smashed up Forbes’ car and threatened him. That’s the worst thing that could happen to Gordon [while he is] under investigation. That’s just going to make Forbes angrier. So there’s this great interplay of who knows what, showing the different approaches of the two men.
You mentioned that you see “The Dark Knight” as the summer blockbuster of the Batman line. Of course, this summer we will also see the release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan’s new movie. Simply because you share the same name, with this movie coming out has there been any concern to make sure people know it’s different from the movie, or on the other hand to try and capitalize on it?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that we’ve particularly gotten an editorial mandate about that or whether we’ve considered it that much. Obviously, the comic is not the movie. But on the other hand, I think one of the things Warner Brothers has done with DC and has been very diligent about is how the characters behave in the comics — they are not asking the comics to relay or reflect the film, but there are certain things they don’t want happening in the comic because that destroys their view of what’s happening in the film. I’ll give the pretty outrageous example and one of my favorite kind of ideas, which is, let’s say that Jim Gordon has become a cross-dresser! We think this is funny and cool and we’re doing this, but — quite rightly — whether DC wanted to publish that or not, Warner Brothers would say, “Look, we can’t deal with the way the comic is in the way we’re approaching the film, so please tone down Jim Gordon as a cross-dresser.” I’m using this as an outrageous example to point out they’d suggest, “Eh, we’d rather not go there simply because it’s too contradictory to the movie.” But it illustrates the point that they’re not telling us, “Here’s the movie, now draw a comic of the movie.” They are not telling us to do that.
Hopefully we get some mileage out of, if the movie comes out and it does really well, people will turn and race towards the “Dark Knight” comic! [Laughs]
While you are continuing on the writing side, after these beginning issues, is David going to continue to co-plot?
There are two answers to that. The actual answer is no, I take over scripting with issue #8, something that we’ve been planning for a while. When he and I began, you could see that after the New 52 was announced, I was just brought in due to timing of contract. So I came into “Dark Knight” slightly later in the game than would allow me to be involved in the press release and press announcement. David and I were co-plotting, we were working on this thing. He had an idea, he had a bunch of stuff and he really wanted me to come in and help him make the idea real. With issue #8, I go on to full scripting, so it’s not a situation of us co-plotting. However, the one thing I’d add is that Dave has a lot of good sensibilities for creating stories. What I try to do is, even though I’m fully breaking down and writing full scripts and so on, what I want to continue with Dave is for he and I to have this collaborative input in how these things are working. While I am the scripter of the book, I’m doing it very much in tandem with David so I can keep talking to him and get some ideas from him. I love working with artists that way, anyway. That’s my favorite way of doing it.
To wrap up, looking at the book itself, there’s a lot going on with the story and art, not just with White Rabbit but all the villains and the twists and Joker turning into Clayface and planes being cut in half! For you, what’s your favorite part of working on “The Dark Knight”?
That’s actually quite an easy answer, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. I love writing, I’ve had lots of success doing it, but I always think, if you are going to continue to be a good creator, you have to kind of continually learn and see new things and try new things. If you don’t reinvent yourself, if you say that you’ve arrived creatively, then you are correct — that’s as far as you’re ever going to go. I don’t want to be that guy.
One of the coolest things for me working with Dave is that he has this really big visual sense. If I look back at my career, I realize that many, many times, I concentrated solely on this characterization and emotional quality of it. I would say that the weakness that I have had is in thinking of those great big bombastic visual ways of presenting something. I have no fonder memory of working with John Romita Jr. then when we did those two “Hulk” issues together, and I got to put in the emotional things that I wanted, but I got John’s input on, “Well, let’s have them fight next to a dam and have the dam explode!” I really learned from that. Dave’s a lot like that, too. Dave has this really good visual sensibility about what would be big and what would be cool. So when I work on the themes and the emotions, I like listening to him as he’s saying, “Well, why don’t we do it here, or how about we do this?” I learned a lot from it, and we’ve got a lot of it. Sometimes it’s wacky — there’s nothing so great as watching Deathstroke cut the Batplane in two! [Laughs] That stuff came from Dave. He was like, here’s this crazy thing, and I was like, “Yeah, man!” I love that. It’s really interesting to learn a thing that I hadn’t really concentrated on, which was the big visuals and why people love those characters.
“Batman: The Dark Knight” issue #5 hits stores January 25.