CCI, Day 4: Niles Haunts DC with "Batman: Gotham County Line"

For months now, rumors have spread about a possible DC or Marvel project horror master Steve Niles would write. Then it was narrowed down to a DC Comics project. Most people could guess at that point what the project might be and today it was confirmed during a panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego Saturday. Later this year DC will offer up "Batman: Gotham County Line," a three-issue series written by Steve Niles with art by Scott Hampton. Each issue is 48 pages in a prestige format. CBR News spoke with Niles to get discover what he has in store for the Dark Knight Detective.

"I don't want to give away too much, but I'm trying some new things in this book," Niles told CBR News by phone from his Los Angeles home earlier this week. "I've taken Batman out of his element and he's in the suburbs now. The whole thing is sort of about Batman's belief system, or lack there of, and putting him on his heels. Putting him in the suburbs is really keeping him out of his element."

Niles is loathe to share too many plot points as he's hoping to surprise readers with what he'll be doing. He did mention that familiar characters such as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred make appearances, as well as a Joker cameo.

"I've even brought in a new invention for [Batman] to play with," added Niles. "He doesn't want to bring the Batmobile to the suburbs at first. He feels too exposed, so he has a new mode of transportation."

When asked if this is a horror series, as fans might expect, Niles responded, "Not at first. I'm trying to sneak up on people here, but I guess I'm the last guy who'll pull that off."

Niles says "Batman: Gotham County Line" won't be your typical super hero fare, nor will it be typical horror fare.

"I'm trying to combine the two and meet somewhere in the middle. For me, with Batman crime fiction is always the first thing I think of.

"The book is in continuity. Commisioner Gordon is still retired in these books. He's the kind of guy who just can't relax, so he's always on the police scanner all night long and calling Batman on the red phone still. There are a lot of old favorites in there."

Niles has created a number of new characters for the series, necessary since the series doesn't take place in Gotham City proper.

"I've got a new villain and a new supporting cast in the series. I've basically created the Gotham County Sheriff's Department. In this case, Jim Gordon has been asked for some help by a friend in the Gotham County Sherrif's department and he in turn asks Batman to help. I'm just trying to populate the outlying areas of Gotham City.

"I find the suburbs to be pretty damn creepy and scary. When Batman lands there the first thing he notices is the lack of cars on the streets, the lack of street lights and row after row of houses on a grid. The setting really keeps him off balance. For example, in the suburbs it's not like he can jump from roof top to roof top because he'll wake everybody up. I find it creepier and darker than the inner city, myself."

One aspect of the the story involves Batman attempting to adapt to the most alien of climates - the suburbs.

"Part of it is Batman trying to deal with that as well as just how differently the people behave compared to the inner city," said Niles. "It's also a different sort of crime. Whereas in the city he might deal with a mugger or a shooting in an alley, in this story he find a family dead. Then another one. Not only does that push his buttons on a personal level, but also in this tidy place where crime isn't supposed to happen and it does. Somehow that makes it scarier."

Niles was introduced to DC Vice President Dan DiDio and editor Joey Cavalieri by a friend and they asked him if he had any ideas for something he'd like to do Batman. The writer immediately had an idea and noted that if there was one character he's been reading since day one of his comic collecting habit, it would have to be Batman. Once the idea was approved, DC set him up with artist Scott Hampton.

"They brought Scott up and I jumped at it because I have known Scott since the Eclipse days, way back when," said Niles, who published numerous books in the '90s with the now defunct Eclipse. "I'd go out to the Eclipse farm and I'd see Ted Adams there, who was a junior editor at the time [who's now Publisher of IDW] and Scott Hampton was always there. He was there painting, doing 'Tapping the Vein' and all the other stuff he did for them. I've known him for a really, really long time, but we've never had the opportunity to work together. So, when his name came up, I remembered what he did on 'Nightcries' and how dark it was. Much like Ben Templesmith does, he can really capture dark mood."

In finishing up, Niles had one more thing to add about "Batman: Gotham County Line."

"I think by page 48 of the first issue, people are going to be surprised."

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