Over the years, the Gotham City of the DC Comics Universe has grown beyond a mere pastiche of New York's scarier aspects and into a fictional playground uniquely suited to the Dark Knight. This January, Brian Azzarello and a host of collaborators from both sides of the Atlantic will take that hero and remix him into some less familiar but hopefully equally effective cityscapes in the four-part "Batman: Europa" - just one of a few newer Azzarello projects to involve his past artistic partners, from Jim Lee to Lee Bermejo to Eduardo Risso and beyond.
"We picked some cities in Europe that are really sort of iconic,Â that have a real personality," the writer told CBR News about the Batman mini. "So it's similar to Gotham. Batman wouldn't work in Metropolis, so we didn't put him in Metropolis. We put him in Prague. It's about bringing the personality of each particular city to the character just like Gotham does for him."
Announced in advance of the New York Comic Con, "Europa" has been in the works for many months, Azzarello explained. "It started with Jim [Lee, who will draw January's #1]" he said, adding that with artists Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Jock set for the later installments, the series should publish monthly. "We've got four different artists. Everyone's working on it at the same time right now. All four scripts are done. It's out there and being worked on.
"I worked on the script with Matteo Caselli, an Italian writer who's done a few things in the U.S. but is mostly known in Italy for his work. A really talented guy, and it was fun working with him. But the way I approached this book was that this was going to be painted, so it's got to have big action because essentially it's a showcase for the art."
When it comes to providing what artists enjoy, the writer admitted that DC's Dark Knight seems to have a soft spot in almost all their sketchbooks. "They do like to draw cityscapes and stuff, and if you can throw Batman in there, they flip out. They love it. That seems to be the character that every artist wants to draw. You never hear anybody say 'Spider-Man,' you know? 'I live to draw Spider-Man swinging through New York!' Never happens. But 'If I could draw Batman up on a rooftop with a gargoyle in Gotham City...yippee!'"
The story of "Batman: Europa" pushes Batman across Europe on a race for a cure to a mystery virus that's set to kill him. Over the course of the four issues, Azzarello said, fans will see a take on the character they haven't seen from him before as the Dark Knight's arch-nemesis rides shotgun in an unlikely role. "It is more towards a traditional, high-action Batman/supervillain deal, but that character is open to interpretation. I don't think I've ever treated him the same way when I've written him. I always look for something new, and in this one he's got to rely on the Joker to stay alive."
Much like last year's "Batman In Barcelona," "Europa" should draw interest from American readers as well as the European comics market, which Azzarello couldn't be more thrilled about. "I go over there as much as I can. I love it over there," he said, noting that the diversity of material in Europe works in a way that the American comics scene rarely tries to duplicate. "They're not like us. The fans over there aren't close-minded to what we're doing over here. The stuff in Europe doesn't succeed here because it's not what American comic fans are interested in. Comics over there show a wide-range of stuff. I don't think I've had anything I've done that hasn't been translated over there.
"I was brought to AngoulÃªme [France for the International Comics Festival] by Panini France because for the show they'd translated 'Joker.' They brought Lee [Bermejo] and I in, and we signed for hours and hours and hours. Because Superman and Batman...they don't belong to us anymore. They're global icons. Everyone knows them."
Of course, on sale this month is "Luthor" - the "remixed" version of Azzarello and Bermejo's 2005 "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel" miniseries focusing on Superman's arch foe. "When you're working on a monthly book, you've got 22 pages," the writer said of the new material being printed in the "Luthor" hardcover. "When I was working on some of those scenes, I had to cut stuff to make it fit. Now that it's being collected, I don't have those limitations, so we could put that stuff back in. The story flows fantastically now. And, no bullshit, it's a nice companion piece to 'Joker.' I mean, it came out of the same conversations that Lee and I were having. First it was 'Luthor,' and when we were done with 'Luthor' it was a question of 'Who's next?' DC was very happy with 'Luthor' and was interested in us doing not just 'Joker' but kind of a run on the villains."
With that tease, will the pair be collaborating on another villain project soon? "I don't know that there's going to be a next one," Azzarello laughed. "I mean, you do Luthor and Joker and where do you go? I think there's other people that can do the other villains better than we can."
There is more on the morally shady end of the storytelling spectrum for the crime scribe as he'll reteam with his "100 Bullets" artist Eduardo Risso for a new Vertigo series in 2011. Asked why now was the time when a new collaboration came together, the writer laughed and said, "We got all the contracts sorted out, that's all. There are signatures, so now there are announcements."
And while he promised that this new series wouldn't go quite as long as their multi-award winning epic, Azzarello did reveal a bit about how their next book will come together. "We're not saying 'Let's do another 100 issues.' We're definitely not going to do that. It's going to be some shorter-form stuff. Everybody [from '100 Bullets' is] working on it. We're putting the band back together! Trish [Mulvihill on colors], Clem [Robins lettering], Dave [Johnson doing covers]...they're all coming."
"Batman: Europa" #1 of 4 will ship to comic shops in January from DC Comics, and the new "Luthor" hardcover ships this month.