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THE BAT SIGNAL: “Detective Comics” Unveils Emperor Penguin

by  in Comic News Comment
THE BAT SIGNAL: “Detective Comics” Unveils Emperor Penguin

SPOILER WARNING: The following story contains spoilers for “Detective Comics” #15, which is on sale now.

Earlier this week, writer John Layman was promising readers how his third issue of DC Comics’ flagship title would allow his story to “come into focus.” Today with “Detective Comics” #15 on stands, his plans for Gotham City and the criminal hoping to take it over stand revealed.

In the first installment of a run tying into the current “Death of the Family” event, the writer and artist Jason Fabok pivoted away from Oswald Cobblepot - the longtime Penguin who clashed with Batman in their first issue – and towards Ogilvy, the Penguin assistant who has scheme of his own. That switch-up in story doesn’t negate Penguin’s own plans or Joker’s incoming takeover of the city, but it does change where the story will go next.

To dig into exactly what this means for “Detective,” CBR spoke to Layman as part of THE BAT SIGNAL, our ongoing exploration of the Dark Knight’s world. Below, the writer reveals what exactly Ogilvy’s move will mean for the book, how he’s plotted his story from the start to focus on solo issues over trade-ready arcs, why the full gamut of Batman’s world shows up in his run and more.

CBR News: John, with the release of your first issue, fans are getting a better idea of where you’re going long term with your “Detective” run. Was your initial inspiration for this story finding a way to do the Penguin different than he’d been done in recent years?

John Layman: The thing is, mine is not a Penguin story disguised as a Penguin story. We haven’t explained what the story is yet, but it’s become very apparent with the end of issue #3. But this story is all about a Penguin minion who deposes Penguin and declares himself Emperor Penguin. I didn’t want to suddenly have this right hand man at the beginning come in and depose Penguin. It’s been a slow rollout where we first had to establish his place in the universe, and then we can see him knock Penguin off his perch.

So what were the inspirations for Ogilvy? I noticed that in your first issue, the backup focused on the other side of criminal thugs. Is that something that interests you?

I think that’s a failing of superhero comics. It’s sort of dumb that there are all these guys, and I don’t understand why you’d be a criminal in Metropolis. There’s a man there who can hear your heartbeat from miles away let alone a woman scream when you steal her purse. Why even take it? But you’ve still got all these generic underlings running around superhero stories. And you’ve king of got to have them because you need the superhero to be beating on things. But you’d like to think occasionally one rises above the mediocrity of the rest, and that’s what I wanted to explore.

In another sense, this run is shaping up to focus on big villains each month, from Penguin to Poison Ivy to Clayface. Was there a big of “playing the greatest hits” that you wanted to pull off as the Emperor Penguin storyline ran through everything?

I never thought I’d be writing Batman, and then I didn’t think I was going to last. [Laughs] I’m seven issues in, and they want me to do more. I was like, “I thought I’d be fired by now!” So I just want to grab as many character as I can and have fun with them. And I try with all my books to make you not trade wait and to make each issue satisfactory. It’s called “Detective Comics.” Let’s make every issue a case. So I’m channel-flipping around with the villains, and by the time the fourth or fifth issue comes around, we get to some new ones. My plan is to give you your $3.99’s worth with a backup story that actually compliments the issue and really make it worth your time.

You’ve also brought a different take to Batman/Bruce Wayne. The opening pages of your first issue were a funnier take on what drives him as a philanthropist, but you’ve also teased out new elements of his character from how he views the Wayne legacy to his relationship with Poison Ivy. Is there one throughline for him for you?

That’s a tough question, and I’m not sure I can answer it with the right articulation. I look at that first page, and I’m not sure I was going for humor as much as I was trying to approach the psychology of a guy like that. He is this rich playboy, and this is the sort of stuff he’s doing to honor his family’s legacy. I don’t want to say he’s the world’s greatest mama’s boy, but he does have these huge parental issues. And at the end of the day, all he really wants to do is go out and bang heads. But that one note can get kind of redundant if you don’t add to it.

Do you think he feels guilty sometimes that all he does is beat on people?

I would think he must, because on some level a billionaire can go into a city and offer jobs programs. He could do all this legitimate good with things. That’s not to say beating on bad guys isn’t good, but is it better than putting people to work? So he does do that kind of stuff as a mental justification for what he’s doing. But the humor was really a side benefit of what I was going for, which was a character bit. It just ended up, because of my skewed sensibilities, being kind of funny.

We’ve also seen Nightwing and Robin at the edges of the book. Any plans for the expanded Bat cast?

That’s just me doing the same thing I’m doing with the villains. I’m playing with as many people as I can as quickly as I can before DC gets wise and shows me the door. It tends to make each issue a little more satisfying when you see different members of the family as well as the villains. If you only read “Detective,” you can get a real sense of the rich universe Batman has.

Overall, how has working with artist Jason Fabok helped pull all these threads together as the story moves forward? What has the collaboration been like?

He is a Batman nerd. I write a scene with the Bat-plane or the Bat-copter, and he geeks out. He gets a chance to draw Clayface, and he’s just wildly enthusiastic about it. He’s also as fast as can be, so he’s the best sort of artist to have. AND he improves issue to issue. He’s ridiculously young, has a crazy work ethic and is super enthusiastic. So we communicate about things, and I’m getting to know more about what he wants. He wants lots of different characters and all the gadgets and pretty much everything the fans want.

“Detective Comics” #15 is in stores now from DC Comics.

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