The writer/artist and his creative partner Brian Buccellato have just completed their first arc on “Detective Comics,” and CBR News connected with the team to discuss the story, which was very much grounded in street-level reality, but filled with just enough fantastic elements to make Gotham City a spooky place to explore — especially when the action dove underwater.
Buccelatto also shared his thoughts on how he and Manapul pulled a fast one by introducing a character that many believed was going to be the new Robin, only to send Annie Aguila in a completely different direction. The dynamic duo also discussed the New 52 debut of a little known villain named The Squid that was first introduced in “Batman” #357 way back in 1983, and how one of the absolute truths of Gotham City is that it tears families apart.
CBR News: Having worked with Batman for a complete arc, is there anything that has surprised you about him, in terms of developing his character or his look and feel?
Francis Manapul: Batman is everything that I had hoped for and more. I knew he was going to be an amazing character to draw, and I knew he was going to be an amazing character to write. What has surprised me is how developed his supporting cast is. A character that has really surprised me is Harvey Bullock. He’s easily our favorite character to write in the book, and his role has skyrocketed from a character that was going to be a supporting one to, in my opinion, the second lead.
Brian Buccellato: I am surprised by how many places there are still to go with Bruce and Batman. After 75 years, it seems like it’s a daunting task and you wouldn’t have any place to go with the characters but it’s not that difficult to find an element of Bruce’s or Batman’s character to explore because he is so complex. There’s so much to him and I was surprised how rich the character was for telling stories.
Francis, I first fell in love with your work when you were drawing “Adventure Comics.” When I think of that series, I remember everything being brushed with what felt like sunlight. It was such a warm book. Have you had to change for Gotham or has Gotham changed for you?
Manapul: I don’t feel you can change Gotham. Brian and I have adjusted our style and our palette. I loved my work on “Adventure Comics.” I am a big Norman Rockwell fan and that’s one of the things that Geoff [Johns] and I were trying to accomplish in terms of look and feel. But I also like diversity and I found that after “Adventure Comics,” nobody thought I could do “The Flash.” And after “The Flash,” nobody thought I could do “Detective Comics.” I like being able to prove people wrong.
As a fan, The Flash is my favorite character. As an artist and a writer, I think Batman is the best character to have the privilege of working on. He is a character that allows for a lot more experimentation, and he is somebody that is open to different interpretations. Sometimes I am lost for words when I am trying to explain how much fun it is to draw Batman. It’s like this really juicy fig that you bite into and can’t believe how much flavor there is.
There’s my lede. Francis Manapul says, Batman is a juicy fig.
Manapul: There you go.
Buccellato: And boy, is he delicious. [Laughs]
Manapul: That’s why he’s lasted 75 years. [Laughs]
I was going to ask you this question last, but maybe it makes more sense to ask you now. The next two issues have been solicited with Ben Percy and John Paul Leon as the creative team. But you will be back in December for “Detective Comics” #37, right?
Manapul: Everyone will have a merry Christmas in December. We’ll be back. We’re just trying to correct the schedule to a normal human being schedule. [Laughs] Brian and I are a very small team, so there is only so much that we can physically do within a certain timeframe.
The good thing about the guest creative team is that [editor] Mark Doyle asked us. I would normally say forget it, but he knew that we really needed [the break]. And we have already seen huge benefits. Brian and I have been working on the next story for the past two, three weeks, and I think it’s going to be our tightest murder mystery yet. In order to write a story like that, you really have to take your time. You have to put it away for a little bit and then come back to it. With our first arc, it was literally go, go, go.
For your first foray into Gotham, you avoided using The Joker, Riddler, The Penguin and the rest of Batman’s most infamous rogues and instead introduced the street level biker gang Kings of the Sun. Why was it important to start with something brand new for your first arc, and will you continue this strategy moving forward?
Buccellato: Part of it was practical. Let’s be honest. The other guys were doing “Batman Eternal” and Scott [Snyder] and Greg [Capullo] were doing “Batman: Zero Year,” so there were a lot of characters already in motion. We felt it would be easier for us to carve our own way and get into Gotham on our own terms.
Manapul: And we are doing a “‘Tec” story, so everything is more grounded and smaller in scale. It’s an alternative to the larger, epic stories like “Batman Eternal.”
Buccellato: All of those choices were intentional, because they naturally fit the story that we wanted to do.
Manapul: By being in the DCU, we are in a shared universe with a lot of other talented writers and artists. There is something neat about bringing back and old character, even one that is ridiculous as The Squid. A lot of people don’t realize that he did have a colossal squid as a pet. That was there. We didn’t just pull it out of nowhere.
Yes, a colossal squid named Gertrude, living and breathing in the Gotham River, is a bit more fantastic than the rest of the arc, but what an awesome plot thread to explore.
Manapul: Thanks. And something else I want to throw out there is that at the end of the arc, Gertrude is still out there. There’s something really, really creepy about the Gotham River having this dangerous creature always out there, swimming around.
Manapul: It’s so Gotham! What I’m most excited about is that I am hoping that Brian and I have a really long run on “Detective Comics.” I’d love to get to a point where Gertrude living in the water has become an old wives’ tale or a campfire story that you tell to kids and then, boom, she’s there.
Have we seen the last of the Kings of the Sun?
Buccellato: They’ll be back for sure, with perhaps a slight makeover in terms of their hierarchy.
Manapul: For now, we are moving forward with an Anarky storyline, but yes, the Kings of the Sun will be back. Beyond that, I don’t want to spoil anything.
And no doubt that makeover will include Annie Aguila, who obviously made a very difficult decision in the closing pages of #34. We last see her leaving Gotham, wearing a Kings of the Sun jacket. There was a lot of online speculation that Annie might be the new Robin, but that doesn’t appear to be her path. Will she return to Gotham?
Buccellato: She has her own path to go down and it will end up taking her back to Gotham, for sure.
Manapul: I think you just answered your previous question. [Laughs]
Without a Robin in the toy box, what does the introduction of a troubled youth allow you to do, as creators, to better explore Bruce Wayne and Batman,? His role as mentor has always been an important part of who he is.
Buccellato: I think it allows us to play against expectations. I know that everyone assumed that we were going to try and make Annie into a new Robin. That was all intentional. We crafted that character with that in mind. One of the great things that you can do as a writer is use other people’s intelligence and their vast knowledge of characters and history to switch things up in a story. Making Annie young and giving her a tragic story that echoes Bruce’s allows us to write interesting stories and explore very specific elements of Bruce.
Manapul: One of things that you can say about Gotham is that it is constantly tearing families apart. To have Annie come to Gotham at a specific point in Bruce Wayne’s personal journey, having lost his son Damian, and we now see a character that just lost her parents she just represents so much of what Bruce is going through. He also lost his parents. Bruce wants to help Annie because he knows she could go down a very dark path, but he’s changed. He’s not that same guy that says, “Come along with me. I will show you how to turn vengeance into something else.”
In fact, he’s emotionally scared to get involved. That’s why he was focused so much on solving the crime and not realizing that the people left behind could still be saved. I think that was a critical error for Bruce in terms of how he approached this situation. But it was completely dictated by where he is emotionally. If you lose your son, that’s not something that just goes away, and as a result, I think he’s now in a very guarded place. He wanted to help in a physical way by helping find Annie’s mom. He was doing something tangible, rather than helping in an emotional way.
A giant squid lurking in Gotham River is pretty fantastic, but not impossible. Again, this story was grounded in reality, but the arc closed with a nuclear-infused felon jettisoning into the sky. Did we just meet Icarus?
Buccellato: I’ll say I think you are right to call him Icarus. [Laughs] And yes, we will see more of him.
Manapul: A lot of the characters that we’ve introduced will be back. Our second arc will focus on Anarky, but everyone that we’ve introduced so far in our story is part of a bigger story that we’re telling. If they’re not back in the second arc, they’ll be back by the third or fourth.
“Detective Comics” #34, by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, is on sale now.
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