Coming in just four weeks on March 20th, Wildstorm and DC Comics will release the first issue of a 3-issue series "Batman/Deathblow" written by Brian Azzarello. CBR News spoke with the artists of this book, Timothy Bradstreet and Lee Bermejo, hoping to find out what we all can expect.
Fans won't have to wonder if one of the characters in the upcoming "Batman/Deathblow" cross-over will die or not, especially since one of them is already dead. Bradstreet explains. "Deathblow is dead. Is that an unusual direction? Maybe, but I think that's a problem you have to solve as a writer given that one of your main characters is no longer eating sleeping and breathing. The fact that Deathblow is dead is not much of a hindrance. His story is told in flashback. The flashbacks intermingle with the present day storyline and together the answer to the mystery unfolds. It's a crafty storytelling devise. There is a lot of tension in the script. I think it's the perfect answer to the problem. Batman's dilemma is unraveling the mystery behind Deathblow's last case. Look at it like this. Wouldn't you want to see a movie about Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out who killed Snake Plisskin? (given that Plissken had been KIA and Holmes existed in Snake's timeline of course.) My original idea," said Bradstreet, "Was to kick Lee off the book and bring in Bernie Wrightson, then we could have Deathblow shambling around, the walking dead, searching for the bastards that killed him (only kidding)."
Bermejo agrees that Azzarello's story is one of the great things about this book. "In a way, its like Brian took a good story and put these characters in it as opposed to the focus of the book being, 'Hey look, its a Batman comic!'".
Surpisingly, the genesis for this book began, not in the mind of writer Brian Azzarello however, but with a phone call from Bradstreet's friend Bermejo over a year ago. "I got a call from this kid, Lee Bermejo, not long after I moved to San Diego," Bradstreet said. "I say 'kid' but I'm just giving him grief. Lee wanted to get a project together for us and he needed my help. He wanted to take advantage of the DC/Wildstorm partnership by doing a book with his favorite character from each company. That meant Batman and Deathblow. Being like-minded I agreed that those two characters were a perfect combination. I started to get real excited about working (inking) with Lee's pencils on these two characters."
After agreeing to be one half of the artistic team, Bradstreet and Bermejo were still left without a writer. "Lee knew that Brian Azzarello was a pal of mine. He also knew that Brian was his only choice to have write this story. I concurred, Brian was the only guy I wanted to work with as well. We felt that with the three of us together we could make something very special. I called Brian the second after I got off the phone with Lee. Ten minutes later the team was in place. To top it all off, there was only one person to color it and that is the fella I work with, master painter, color genius, Grant Goleash."
The rest, as they say, is history. "A little while later at the San Diego Comicon we all met with Jim Lee, John Layman, and Scott Dunbier over dinner and they green-lighted the project."
Of course, you can assemble the greatest artistic team on Earth, but without a good story you've got nothing but a picture book. Brian Azzarello brings his own style of grimy realism to the book. Couple that with DC and Wildstorm's two most enigmatic characters and you have the ingredients for something special.
Telling a story about characters like Batman and Deathblow was also something that appealed to Bradstreet's darker side. Especially Batman. "He's the dark to Superman's light," said Bradstreet. "He's the original anti-hero. The Lone Ranger with a black hat. Basically, he's fun to draw and to look at. I guess it's a bit different for each individual. It's the whole package, the cowl, the cape, the belt, the bat icon. Immediately recognizable in the light of day or in silhouette. Batman is just cool, no two ways about it."
Bermejo agrees. "The thing about Batman is that he's one of the few characters who remains iconic no matter who draws him and how. There have been so many interpretations of Batman over the years, yet essentially he has almost always been the same guy. Artists all want to work on Batman because they can put their own personal stamp on one of the most enduring comic book characters of all time."
Bradstreet and Bermejo have a long-standing friendship that goes back several years. "I'd known Lee for some time," said Bradstree. "I met him at a San Diego Comicon back about 4 or 5 years ago and we'd kept in touch. He wanted sorely to be working in comics. He showed me his work and I was very impressed. I gave him a critique, which was pretty enthusiastic and positive. I told him he was on the cusp of getting work but that he needed to concentrate on a few things to get better. Not long after he was working in-house at Wildstorm. I was not surprised that a larger company snatched him up. He was always sending his work to me and wanted to know my honest opinion. I was most impressed because his stuff was really good and we had like sensibilities insofar as we both loved the shadowy figures and storytelling. Dark, not dark themed mind you, dark as in moody and dramatic. That aside, what mainly impressed me was that he was genuine about wanting to get better and took my comments seriously. Each sample he sent was better than the last. He got real good, real fast. Finally I said we definitely have to work together on something."
The artistic chemistry of the Batman/Deathblow team has helped to make the creation of the book something exciting for each of them. Bermejo couldn't be more thrilled to be working with such a quality team of professionals. "I think we've almost become a symbiotic unit. Working with Tim and Brian is a humbling experience. Brian challenges me, and out of fear of looking like an idiot, I'm forced to try and do the best work I can. It's the same with Tim. I'm so afraid of handing him bad work that it just pushes me. He is a perfect compliment to me as far as sensibilities go. His work has been extremely influential on my own as well so we just work together. The colors are hand painted by Grant Goleash, and are absolutely stunning. He makes the book look like it was shot by Darius Khandji and makes all my ugly drawings look ten times better."
"Working with Lee is easy," said Bradstreet. "With Brian it's working with a professional who I can trust completely. We've worked together on two sequential projects and have been partners on 'Hellblazer' for 29 issues. We're friends outside of comics. Brian and his wife, the stellar, Jill Thompson are two of the best people in the world, let alone in comics. It's a joy to do anything with Brian. Lee and I are also friends outside of comics. Like I said before, Lee is a guy who just wants to get better. There is no ego there. He takes his lumps and comes up smiling and the better for it. Every page he draws is a learning experience for him and he treats it that way. Lee reminds me of me ten years ago. We both benefit from the relationship, professionally and personally. I'd work with Lee any day of the week."
Even though working together was easy, even fun, the length of time that they've spent on the book isn't something that Bradstreet likes to talk about as much. "Well that could be a sore subject. Lee is not fast. I'm busy doing 3 regular monthly covers as well so the going hasn't been break-neck. Suffice it to say we started the project last year. One thing is for sure, we've been picking up the pace significantly this last month and we'll be at a good pace until it's done."
The three-issue, 48 page, prestige format book should reach a broad demographic of comic book fans across the board. Bermejo spoke about who the comic would appeal to. "I think the main reason people should pick this book up is that it's a different kind of Batman book, and a different kind of crossover. It definitely will not appeal to people who want to see a 'Joel Schumacher, hundred of gadjets, shiny Batmobile' Batman book. We're handling everything as realistically as possible. I know Brian and I share alot of the same ideas about what we think Batman should be. The way I've been describing it to people is...if you like movies like 'Se7en' and 'Fight Club,' you'll be into this book. If you like movies like 'American Pie' and 'I Know What You Did Last Summer,' I'd pass this one up."
"I think it will appeal to all Batman fans," said Bradstreet. "Deathblow fans, Azzarello fans, Bermejo fans, hell, even my fans, mystery fans, crime fans, action fans. Most importantly, it's a damn good book. The story is grade A, the artwork is breathtaking, and the characters are enigmatic. You've got Lee Bermejo doing the front covers and me doing the back covers. It's a prestige format book, and it's painted by the best colorist in comics. It's three 48 page issues of class. What comic enthusiast in their right mind would not pick this book up? I think there will be good word of mouth on this after issue #1 shows up. The Dark Knight has indeed returned."