With a reputation as the world's greatest detective, DC Comics' Batman is known for his stone cold demeanor, coldly logical mind and overriding sense of justice. Luckily for readers, all that grim resolve gets balanced out in the comics by one of the weirdest, craziest rogues' galleries in superhero history. In truth, when it comes to Gotham City, madness is king -- and that madness has a home at Arkham Asylum.
This week, CBR's ongoing THE BAT SIGNAL feature shines into that corner of crazy with the newest writer to step into the Dark Knight's world: David Hine. After joining the Batman franchise during DC's "Battle For The Cowl" event with an "Arkham Asylum" one-shot that focused on ineffective psychiatrist Jeremiah Arkham's plan to rebuild the institution, Hine and artist Jeremy Haun teamed up to tell further tales of psychological trauma with the three-issue "Arkham Reborn" miniseries. This week, in "Detective Comics" #864, the pair have their final say with the doctor who's since been revealed as crime boss The Black Mask before Hine moves on to a regular gig writing on both "Detective" and "Azrael" in July.
After you've prepared for the psychological drama of this week's "Detective," explore the ins and outs of CBR's official "Batman Hub" - home to a wealth of information on the Dark Knight, from creator interviews and art previews to character bios and comic book reviews. And be sure to come back next week for another exciting installment of THE BAT SIGNAL!
CBR: All right, David! There's so much to talk about with all your work on the Bat Books these days, but let's start with how we got here. You've known about the plans for Jeremiah Arkham being the Black Mask since they were conceived, and it appears work on the character has split between Tony Daniel doing the crime side of the character with you taking on the psychosis through your asylum stories. What was it that made you gravitate towards the mad end of things?
David Hine: I have a natural affinity for crazy people. If you look at my work, particularly [my Image graphic novel] "Strange Embrace," you'll see I'm more interested in twisted psychological thrillers than action stories. I've learned to write action scenes because that's so much a part of the American mainstream comics scene, but those scenes are always less important than the psychological stuff. The trick is to externalize the psychosis so that you can make it work dramatically. Having a guy laying on a couch talking to his analyst for 22 pages is not going to sell comics.
Since Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle created the character in the 1990s "Shadow of the Bat" storyline in the 1990s, the hook of Jeremiah Arkham has always been "the madman who runs the madhouse," which is an idea that follows strongly on what Grant Morrison built with Dave McKean in "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth." Was turning the doctor into one of Batman's rogues himself the natural conclusion for the character's decades-long arc?
You could see in Alan Grant's "The Last Arkham" that Batman and Jeremiah absolutely loathed one another and the tension has been there ever since. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean set all this up of course. "A Serious House on Serious Earth" was a brilliant piece of work and established Arkham Asylum as an extension of the warped personality of Amadeus Arkham. No matter how many times the building is torn down and rebuilt, that personality will always infest the building. The location itself is infected with the madness of Arkham, and it spreads out through the whole city. Gotham City is one big madhouse with the Asylum at its heart. This explains why there are so many crazy twisted villains in the Batman Universe. The city breeds them. And in a sense it all comes back to the Arkham bloodline. The Arkham name is of course, an allusion to Lovecraft's fictional city of Arkham, which is similarly infected with insanity.
You've spoken in the past with CBR about making your third and final Arkham story that starts in this week's "Detective Comics" #864 both a true mystery tale and an exploration of your ongoing theme of masks as metaphors for the characters' inner lives. Taking these each in their own turn, I found it interesting that so far, the Black Mask side of the doctor and the Jeremiah side have remained separate and at odds. How will you reconcile the "sides" of his "mask" in this two-parter?
Jeremiah has always tried to deny the evil side to his nature and that's why he couldn't accept that he was The Black Mask. He always had an idealized notion of himself as a great psychiatrist, a healer. His greatest flaw is his own mediocrity. It's only when he wears the Black Mask that his true talents come to the fore. We'll see how far these two sides do actually reconcile themselves in this two-part story. We will see how the two sides of his personality have been relating to one another and how that schizophrenia came about, but the relationship between The Black Mask and Jeremiah Arkham hasn't yet run its course. It's interesting because the Black Mask can be worn by anyone. It's theoretically possible that anyone could have a Black Mask version of themselves. A Mister Hyde side to the personality that's just waiting to be released.
The story also sees the return of Arkham's "family" of beauties with No Face, the Hamburger Lady and The Mirror Man. At first, these three seemed to help ground Jeremiah and keep him hopeful that his treatments may have helped the inmates. With the end of "Arkham Reborn" that seems more in doubt. What role do they play in the doctor's continued madness in this new story?
I don't want to say too much about that, but I can say that they are the key to explaining everything that has happened to Arkham throughout this story. They are the one thing that has kept him clinging onto his sanity, the only people that have shown him any love and respect. It's tough to go through life being despised and rejected. Jeremiah really is one of the most truly pathetic characters in comics. He doesn't even have a decent haircut.
Another outstanding mystery thread from your first two stories was the mysterious Jester character who appeared along with the beauties to push Jeremiah towards madness. Like the pages from Amadeus Arkham's journals instructing the doctor to build this new asylum with a secret layer, the Jester seems to show that there are outside forces at work beyond the Black Mask persona who have a stake in the fate of Arkham. What's to be revealed on this front?
Arkham is being manipulated, has been manipulated all along, and we'll see who has been doing that very early in the first issue. There were a lot of hints in the Batman series over the last few months. It was interesting that Tony Daniel was also playing with masks in his side of the story. Although we never discussed that aspect of the story, it all tied in very well.
As to the instructions in the journal, they are very enigmatic. Jeremiah has interpreted them as a personal message, but they are all actually quotations from the journal of Amadeus Arkham in Grant Morrison's book - written over 20 years ago. It's spooky to think Grant was manipulating these events across the decades.
You've also introduced a few supporting characters in your cycle of stories, including the mad psychiatrist Alyce Sinner and head of security Aaron Cash. What role have they left to play as Batman crashes into the asylum?
Aaron Cash isn't mine. Dan Slott created him for his "Living Hell" series back in 2003. He and Alyce are going to be rivals for control of the asylum in the future. Aaron doesn't trust Alyce. He has a nose for insanity and he has suspected her from the start. But he's a professional and he'll do his job, which is to keep the crazies locked up no matter how screwed up his various bosses have been over the years. I'd like to see future writers of the Bat Books explore Alyce Sinner further. She's got a lot of potential. I see her as a female version of the Diceman character from the novel by Luke Rhinehart. Instead of rolling the dice to determine her decisions, she consults the seven deadly sins that are embroidered onto the ribbons woven into her hair. That makes her unpredictable, but she's always going to be Bad.
When you'd started thinking about some of these stories, having the former Boy Wonder become Batman wasn't what you were expecting. The new Batman showed up at the end of "Arkham Reborn." How have you gotten better at fully integrating the character into your plans with "Under The Mask"?
Honestly, it didn't really matter to me who was under Batman's cowl. The Batman has become such an iconic figure that from the perspective of this story, it's the symbolic nature of Batman that Jeremiah is interacting with. You'll see how that plays in the opening scene of "Detective" #864, where once again I've gone back to a key event in Batman's history - this time from a Devin Grayson story - to see how it resonates across the years.
The arc you launch in July with Scott McDaniel is called "Batman: Imposters" - another riff on the masks concept at the heart of the franchise. How do you traffic in some of that same metaphorical territory while changing the milieu from the madhouse to the streets of Gotham?
You know this whole thing with masks seems to come up whether I plan it or not. The basic concept of "Imposters" was presented to me and it does indeed deal with people taking on identities that allow them to release their inner demons. Another take on that fundamental Jekyll/Hyde theme. And it's not such a great leap to move from the Asylum to the streets of Gotham. As I said before, I see the city of Gotham as an extension of the asylum. It's one big madhouse.
You've got a new villain at the heart of this arc with The Imposter. What are the challenges in creating a new foil for Dick Grayson that fits within the pantheon of great Bat-villains past? How does The Imposter compare to past rogues in terms of outlook and ability?
As his name suggests, he is an imposter. He takes on aspects of a certain classic villain, but he's also a true anarchist. He wants everyone to join in, so he invites the citizens of Gotham to throw off their inhibitions along with their street clothes and live out their most villainous fantasies. It's Flash Mobbing taken to the ultimate extreme. One of my inspirations for this story is the Bartholomew's Fair. In the 17th Century, for two weeks, London was given over to a chaotic revelry featuring circus acts, freaks, wild animals and general lunacy. It was finally suppressed for encouraging "debauchery and public disorder." It sounds like it was a hell of a lot of fun.
You're teaming with Scott McDaniel, who's been away from the Bat Books for a good long while. In what ways did you tailor your script to fit his kinetic action style?
I didn't have an artist assigned when I submitted my outline but I'm working on the script now and I will certainly be writing to his strengths. There will be lots more action than usual in my scripts - manic and massive action scenes. Scott does fantastic stylized action and he also uses the city to great effect. The city will play a big part in this story and Scott is great at personalizing a setting. He did some fantastic backgrounds on his run on "Nightwing."
And speaking of collaborators, you and Jeremy Haun are moving from your Arkham run of stories into "Azrael" with July's #10. In general, what clicks in that partnership, and in what ways are your strengths suited to a book like "Azrael"?
I would have loved to work with Jeremy again, but that solicit was a little premature. Jeremy is committed to his creator-owned work for the immediate future so he wasn't able to commit to an ongoing series. The artist will be Guillem March. Guillem is a terrific artist. I'm just starting to discover the massive body of work he has done in Europe before he began working for the US publishers. I think "Azrael" is a book where he'll be able to show off a side to his work that American audiences haven't seen yet.
Azrael as a character has always trafficked in religious iconography and themes, and it seems like you're taking those associations to a new level with your "The Killer of Saints" arc. How do you ratchet up the kind of cult conspiracy mystery story while also keeping this a superhero comic?
I tend to forget I'm writing superhero comics, and after a while most of my readers seem to forget about that too. Azrael wears a costume and he gets into fights, but so did Robin Hood, so does Doctor Strange. What I'm interested in is the mystery, the cult and the occult. There are strong elements of horror in this story too. Fabian Nicieza set up some really strong plot lines and I'll be drawing on some of that - particularly that "suicide" scene set up in issue #1. But it will be a while before we get to that.
I'm leading off issue #10 with a whole new mystery that ties in to the history of The Order of Purity. I've done masses of research on the history of Christianity and the various offshoots of the early Church. What starts out as a murder mystery ends up tracking back to the a conspiracy by the established churches to suppress the heretical religions of medieval times. That conspiracy continues to this day, and in "Azrael" we will finally reveal the truth that has only been touched on in books like "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail." All the so-called revelations you've heard about are just more lies and disinformation. For the real lowdown, you'll need to read "Azrael" in the coming months.
The hook is that someone is tracking down members of the Order of Purity and killing them in grotesque imitations of the martyrdoms of various saints. And believe me, a lot of saints experienced some horrendous deaths. This killer also displays paranormal abilities that appear to be miraculous in the Biblical sense.
Overall, there have been a lot of changes to the Azrael name since Nicieza brought the character into play last year. What are the pieces of Michael Lane's personality and background that you're looking to build on most over the course of this arc?
Poor Michael is, dare I say, even more screwed up than Jeremiah Arkham. He had Dr. Hurt messing with his head, preparing him to take over from Batman in the Grant Morrison "Batman R.I.P." stories, then he gets stuck with a costume that drives the wearer insane and ultimately kills them. Michael has to fight to maintain a balance between good and evil, sanity and insanity, and in the end to confront his own crisis of belief and faith.
"Detective Comics" #864, part one of Hine and Jeremy Haun's third Arkham story "Beneath The Mask," is in stores this week.