When Tony Daniel announced last week he was leaving “Detective Comics,” the identity of his successor quickly became a hot topic in the CBR forums, Twitter and comic book shops across North America. The writer/artist has set his mark on the Dark Knight over the past several years, having helmed “Batman” before taking over “Detective” with last September’s DC Universe-wide relaunch, so the publisher needed to deliver a superstar talent to satiate readers appetite.
Well, chew on this: DC Comics announced Thursday that the mighty John Layman, who co-created “Chew” with artist Rob Guillory, is coming on board “Detective Comics” with issue #13 alongside rising art-star Jason Fabok.
Layman, who has won Eisner Awards with “Chew” for best new series in 2010 and best continuing series in 2011, previously worked with DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee at WildStorm as an editor before transitioning to writing comics in 2002. His relationship with the industry icon, as well as Batverse editor Mike Marts, led, in part, to the hire, but the desire to bring a new, independent voice into the New 52 fabric was equally important. “Chew” trade paperbacks are consistently counted as New York Times bestsellers, so coupling Layman’s non-traditional market appeal with a top-selling title like “Detective Comics” makes sense.
Calling his latest assignment a “happily surreal and exciting turn-of-events for his career,” the always candid Layman told CBR exclusively that while he will bring his own unique brand of storytelling to “Detective Comics,” he will, of course, do right by Batman. Layman also discussed his introduction to Gotham City’s defender through the classic “Super Friends” cartoon, his love for the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery and how he plans to focus on the titular “detective” aspect of the DC Comics icon.
CBR News: In the announcement of your new gig, you said this was “a happily surreal and exciting turn-of-events” for your career. Was this the result of a pitch from you or did DC come to you?
John Layman: They came to me, and it was kind of unexpected. Mike Marts and I are friends. We were hanging out at Emerald City [Comicon]. I wasn’t looking for work — and I actually told him, “I am not looking for work.” “Chew” actually keeps me plenty busy, and “Mars Attacks” keeps me plenty busy. He came to me a month later and said, “I know you said that you’re jammed up, but if I had something really good, would you consider it?” I said, “Well, what’s really good?” And when he asked me how I felt about “Detective,” well, that was really good.
It just so happens that I’m pretty far ahead on “Chew.” I’m three issues ahead, which is good for comics. And I’m through “Mars Attacks” #5. I’m about 100 pages ahead of my artists. I don’t consider myself the fastest guy in the world, but I could do this. It’s Batman. It’s “Detective.” And Mike Marts and I worked on “Gambit” together. He is one of the best editors in the business, as well as a great guy, and I thought, when is it going to get any better than this?
Again. It’s Batman. It’s “Detective,” which is one of DC’s highest profile books. I think DC is grooming Jason Fabok to be the next superstar artist, and I think he has the potential to be. It’s the absolute best case scenario.
Since “Chew” and since Jim Lee took over, DC has approached me a couple of times with New 52 projects, but the timing was always bad. They hit me when I was writing “Godzilla,” “Aliens” with Sam Kieth, Marvel annuals and “Chew,” and I wasn’t far ahead. Then they hit me up with something else that really wasn’t my area of expertise. The good thing about the success of “Chew” is that I don’t have to take work. I am in this really great position where if I am doing something, it’s because I want to do it, not because I have to pay the phone bill. Basically, I looked at my schedule and said, “Yes.” And also, it’s awesome.
Batman is obviously one of the most recognizable, iconic characters in the history of comics. What was your introduction to the character?
I grew up in a weird farm town and I am super old, so we didn’t have cable, so I wasn’t exposed to Adam West until long after that. For me, it was definitely “Super Friends.” Every Saturday morning. Never missed it.
Batman, traditionally, is a pretty straight shooter. I mean, he’s the Dark Knight for a reason. “Chew” and “Mars Attack” are both really funny. Are you bringing the bwa-ha-ha to “Detective”?
It’s not going to be a comedy and I am not going to treat the character with disrespect, but I don’t think it’s going to be as heavy as some of the other series. Scott Snyder does fantastic Batman stories, but he’s got more of a horror writer background and it shows. This is a delicate question. I don’t want it to sound like I am making Batman into a wuss, but I would like to concentrate on more of the detective part of the character. I want to make very smart, surprising stories and make them a little bit more adventure-y rather than horror.
And if you go back to early Bob Kane Bruce Wayne/Batman, that’s what he was. “The World’s Greatest Detective.”
But that’s not to say that I’m going to make it goofy. I just don’t think the body count will be as high. I don’t know. I am just going to have some fun and be true to Batman.
The teaser cover by Jason Fabok features Penguin more prominently than Batman. Certainly, part of Batman’s appeal is his stellar rogues gallery. Will Penguin and the rest of the rogues play a major role in your run?
Absolutely. I am trying to do this like “Chew” in that every issue will be a case or its own self-contained adventure. I am not a huge fan of decompressed storytelling where you spend three or four bucks and you get one scene of one guy doing one thing. I am going to try and satisfy everyone, every issue, while leading to a bigger story. I am doing that with “Mars Attacks” and I am doing that with “Chew.” That’s how I think comics give you the most satisfying experience for the non-trade waiters.
As for the rogues, my first pitch had all this villain stuff and they were like, “Where is Batman in this story?” [Laughs] Instinctively, I do think about the villains first. The name of the first arc, or at least the name of the arc that I am doing, because you never know how long these things will last, is called “Emperor Penguin.” But I don’t want to go into details, because it’s one of those things where Scott Snyder certainly didn’t explain the Court of Owls right out of the gate. The story is not going to become apparent initially, so I don’t want to spoil it other than it’s called “Emperor Penguin.”
Does Robin play a role in your run?
I’m still coordinating, but I know that there will be guest stars. This is going to work concurrently with all the other books and the things that are going on, but Robin, Nightwing, they all have their own books, so it’s kind of a learning curve as to how I get to use certain characters as a supporting cast member when he is in his own book. This is new to me, so we shall see.
You’ve already answered this on Twitter but for non-followers, this certainly doesn’t mean the end to “Chew,” does it?
That idea is ludicrous. From a financial standpoint, “Chew” will pay me forever because it’s mine and abandoning that would be foolish. But Batman, five or 10 years from now or whenever, will go on with a rotating cast of writers and artists. “Chew” is mine and Rob’s forever. Realistically, I wouldn’t have got “Detective” or possibly even “Mars Attacks” without it, so why would abandon it for a quote/unquote prettier girl?
“Detective Comics” #13 by John Layman and featuring art by Jason Fabok hits in October.
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