As fans of his "Nocturnals" comics are well aware, Dan Brereton knows how to bring the spooky to comics. He's also got history with Batman, as the artist of the "Thrillkiller" miniseries and "Thrillkiller '62" graphic novel sequel. So a return to Gotham City as artist and writer of a gothic-tinged arc on DC Comics digital-first anthology series "Legends of the Dark Knight" makes perfect sense.
"Six Fingers," the story that kicked off this week, features Batman investigating the disappearance of a teenage mob princess from the infamous Falcone family, and no one in Gotham is talking.Â
In an interview with CBR News, Brereton shared that the story includes a mostly original supporting cast, but confirmed that Alfred Pennyworth plays a role along with classic rogue, the Mad Hatter. The writer-artist also says his new story shows the influences of industry luminaries like Frank Miller and Gene Colan, and that he's more than ready to re-team with Howard Chaykin for another "Batman: Thrillkiller" story should DC want one.
CBR News: Some readers may not know this, but you actually illustrated "Legends of the Dark Knight" #114 during the original run of this series, back in 1999.Â In that issue, a still inexperienced Batman fights for his life in the streets of Chicago. Is there any connection between it and this new four-chapter digital series?
Dan Brereton: Not really. That story was written and drawn so long ago, it's like another lifetime or something. [Laughs]
Batman is relatively seasoned in this new tale, so he's learned a lot more, and tends to be more prepared. He's had lots of run-ins with the underbelly of Gotham, and is very comfortable there. However, he hasn't seen it all. In "Playground," [writer] James [Robinson] and I wanted to portray Batman as a wounded tiger, an indomitable survivor, but clearly a heroic figure who puts his life on the line for others.Â
The focus this time out is a confident and dogged Dark Knight detective, completely out of his element, possibly even out of his league, working to solve an unsettling mystery. As an aficionado of hard-boiled mystery stories in the tradition of writers like Hammett and Chandler, this was a chance to do it, but with a gothic twist, in a setting readers may not find at all comfortable.
What makes "Six Fingers" so uncomfortable?
It's an eerie story, both for the Batman and for readers, I think. There's something intoxicating about getting caught up on a dark journey, and this is just that -- a journey into the dead of night, all alone, facing a gauntlet of nightmarish antagonists he only thinks he's prepared for.
The less said, the better, but what I can say is that Batman starts out in Gotham, but the case takes him outside the city and way out of his comfort zone on a missing daughter case. A teenage mob princess in the Falcone family goes missing and no one in Gotham is talking -- not even her own father.Â
What can you share about the name "Six Fingers," specifically? The only connection I can find between Batman and "six fingers" is a character named Alison Wears from theÂ "Batman: Arkham Knight" video game. Is that supporting character the one with the six fingers?
Polydactyly has an important bearing on the story, yes, but as this is a "Legends of the Dark Knight" tale, it owesÂ very little to any sort of continuity, which is something I tend to gravitate toward when I've told Batman stories in the past.
Beyond Batman and the Falcones, who plays a role in this story?
Alfred figures in the story to a degree, and there are several cameos, the Hatter being the least of them. The main villains are new, but in the context of the story, quite familiar to the underworld and extremely feared by Gotham's worst.Â Your new story is presented as a Digital First series. As an artist, do you have to make any major changes to your creative process when delivering a digital comic versus a traditional one?
I still draw and paint each panel by hand, but I did make one major change in how I work for this story. Because I wanted to work in as much detail as I could without feeling too cramped on an 10x15 inch board, I painted many of the pages in separate halves. For the digital format, each page is really two horizontally formatted pages. So for this 40-page story there are something like 62 separate pieces of art that accompany it, not counting the cover! It was a ton more work, and it played hell with my deadline, but I think the results are totally worth it.
Your most notable work with the Dark Knight is arguably "Batman: Thrillkiller," which features Bruce Wayne as a former GCPD detective in the 1960s. Do you have more stories to tell with that version of Batman?
Yes! I think a strong premise is a fertile one. I brought the idea to Archie Goodwin in 1996 and we both agreed Howard Chaykin was the writer for the project. I remember the first conversation with Chaykin clearly. He was into the idea and expanding on it in no time. We ended upÂ having a blast telling stories in that world and I venture a guess he would return to it any time we were asked. I'm pretty sure Howard already has at least one story waiting in the wings.Â
Why do you feel that storyline worked so well back in 1997?
My guess is the idea of Batgirl and Robin as a crime-fighting couple was unique but familiar. I always thought the idea that Bruce Wayne is a hard-bitten cop working for Gordon was a fascinating concept, as well. I think I was also able to use my art style to give it vantage and depict a sort of garish version of an alternateÂ early 1960s' timeline.Â
For your money, who draws the definitive Batman, and did you go back and look at their work when you were gearing up for this story arc? And what about a favorite Batman writer?
Dang, that's a good question! My personal favorite Batman artists are Gene Colan and Kevin Nowlan. I have been inspired by their work for years. When it came time to sit and write the dialogue and get back into the flow of Batman, I think Frank Miller's work has always stuck with me, particularly, "Batman: Year One," which inspired "LOTDK" in the first place. It strikes a chord because Miller is one of those hard-boiled pulp guys, too, and really injected his Batman work with that energy and style in a fresh way.
I'm also a fan of Steven Grant, and his seminal "Punisher" mini-series, which had a huge effect on the industry so many years ago. As far as other writers I like in comics, I'll shout out to Brian Azzarello and "Broken City," one of the best Batman stories, period.
Finally, Batman is known for going bump in the night. I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about your creator-owned project, "The Nocturnals." Can fans of your horror/fantasy series expect to see more adventures with Doc Horror and Eve in the future?
Yes. After finishing "Six Fingers" some months ago, I've been working full-time on a newÂ graphic novel, "Nocturnals: Sinister Path,"Â with a projected release date of Fall 2016. It's been some time since I had illustrated anything as long as "Six Fingers," and now I'm primed for the graphic novel, I think. Personally, it's been a great year to be a storyteller.Â