THE BAT SIGNAL: Greg Capullo Pulls The Joker Together

After an opening year where the creative duo on DC Comics best-selling "Batman" title delivered an epic that went from mystery story to revenge tale to crossover event, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are meeting a lot of fan expectation in year two. But even with the revelations of the 11-issue "Court of Owls" story behind them, the pair are promising a bigger story when the Dark Knight's arch nemesis returns this October for the "Death of the Family" story.

When the Joker returns to Gotham City, he'll be doing so sans a normal face. With the skin sliced off from his grinning visage at the start of the New 52's "Detective Comics," the take Capullo has worked up for the Clown Prince of Crime is a makeshift frightmask that will carry the villain through a story where he'll target each of Batman's crime-fighting allies from Robin to Nightwing and beyond. As part of the story's growth from solo tale to crossover event, DC announced this week that the artist will also provide a series of special die-cut covers for tie-in issues including "Batgirl" and "Catwoman" #13 and "Suicide Squad" #14 that will reveal some shocking imagery underneath a design-heavy veil.

CBR News invited Capullo to THE BAT SIGNAL, our regular dissection of the Dark Knight's world, to discuss the story, the villain and his work. Below, the artist explains how he matches Snyder's meticulously planned stories with a free wheeling approach to his pages, why the Joker is less of a horror character than you may expect, what surprises lie below the surface of "Death of the Family" and the die-cut covers and his personal thoughts on sticking to a monthly deadline.

CBR News: Greg, "Batman" has been one of the most creatively consistent titles of the New 52 with you and Scott working on every chapter of the massive "Court of Owls" story over the first year. I get the impression that you particularly don't want to fall behind and let someone else draw a chapter of this book. Is that pretty accurate?

Greg Capullo: Yeah, that's always the way I work. I did something like 80 consecutive issues of "Spawn" when I was drawing it, and 12 issues of "X-Force." I'm built that way. Because when I was a kid, I'd go into a comic book store, and if I picked up the magazine expecting a particular artist, I'd be really disappointed if he wasn't there. I never want to do that to fans. We all need to take breaks, but I would never do one mid-arc. Even on the monthly title, that can feel disruptive. But then when it comes to the collected trade, it's really a speed bump that sticks out as glaring. So I'd definitely never do that. I have a planned break coming up that Scott and I are discussing, but it's not coming mid-arc. So yeah, I'm cognizant of what fans feel about this, and I'm a workhorse. It's those two things combined.

What was the experience of the Court of Owls saga like for you as a collaborator. Obviously, Scott put a lot of work in laying out all the pieces in advance, but did you ask to know all the turns up to that final reveal when you started drawing it?

I think the "King Owl" design came a little later in the process, but I knew about the twist early on. And I had to stomach some internet chatter because of that - people saying, "Oh, look at this new character! He looks just like Bruce! Cappulo draws everybody the same!" [Laughs] At first I really wanted to respond to some blogs, but Scott kept telling me, "Shhhhh! We can't give too much away!" But apart from that, it was a lot of fun, and I was grateful that people ended up liking it so much.

I get the impression that Scott has just been keeping a notebook of all these different big Batman stories he can tell. And in the first issue, you got a chance to draw a classic Joker or at least draw Nightwing in the Joker's garb. Back then did you have an idea that you'd shift to a big Joker story after the opening year?

No. Never. This was a surprise. I hadn't read comics in a while, and so I didn't even know Joker's face had been severed off until pretty recently really. When I learned everything, I went, "I guess we do kind of have to blow this whole thing up and start again." It was a nice surprise. And I'm sure there are other things in Scott's book than Batman stories. It frightens me to think what he's cooking up there. [Laughs]

Speaking of which, I get an impression of a horror story for this "Death of the Family" arc. Is that a goal for you?

It takes on a horror element just because his face has been torn off. His new face has this makeshift element where he's holding it on. In that respect, a lot of people have heard me say that it's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Joker," and they go, "Ohhhh, it's going to be a horror thing." But the story really isn't so much "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" as it is a psychological terror. That's what we've all come to expect from a Joker story. The essence of the Joker has not changed. It's amped up in the fact that he's become hands on a bit more in this, which speaks to the level of anger he has. If you want a job done right, you do it yourself. And so we're seeing Joker act at a level that he never has in the past. In that respect, it does have some horror elements to it, but it's still a cool Joker that scares your mind more than anything.

For the Joker at this specific moment in the culture, it still feels like the Heath Ledger performance in "The Dark Knight" looms large over the character. Did you have any previous takes like that one or others that you looked and to either match expectations here or even play against type?

To be honest with you, I think one of the things that has served me best is having not looked at comics for a while. I didn't come in with a lot of previous images on hand, and the movie never crossed my mind. So what's coming out of me is just my feelings as a guy who grew up on the same planet as everybody else and has been exposed to this stuff. Whatever I'm bringing is just coming from my gut. I'm just drawing upon the well that's inside me. [Pause] That's kind of scary, right? [Laughter]

Let's hope not. Tell me how the story opens for you as an artist. With "Court of the Owls" we started very slowly - setting up the ball and Bruce's ideas and then meeting the Owls and eventually the Talons. With the Joker, is there less need for preamble there?

Well, there's definitely a terrifying scene in the first issue! And it's terrifying for how much you don't see, actually. It's escalating quick, and in issue #14, which I just completed yesterday, that's when things really open up. It's really pulse-pounding stuff. Scott's kind of a slow burn guy who builds to his crescendos, but even with that, a lot of explosive stuff happens early. It seems from what I've read of the scripts so far that it'll just build more and more.

Last time your book ended up calling the shots on an event in "Night of the Owls," it was a bit unexpected. The story grew, and Editorial decided to get more books involved. This time, you're launching this story with some crossovers built in right out the gate. Have you been doing more design work and turnarounds to catch the other artists up with your vision, or are you just leaving them to play into your issues?

They weren't as elaborate as turnarounds. I did about three character sketches showing off the possibilities for what you can do with the Joker after Scott and I decided how we wanted him to look. That got passed around to the other guys to draw from. But there's a lot of possibilities with his face that I personally plan to mess around with. I've established the main look with the belt in the back and the hooks in the mouth kind of holding everything in place, but think about that. You move in different ways, and that skin can shift on you. Maybe a hook busts loose, and part of your face is flapping free. There's only possibilities for me to capitalize on depending on the story Scott provides me. I can always accentuate on a particular scene by adding little flourishes there. I've even talked about the fact with Scott that being that the face isn't on ice in Gotham P.D. evidence anymore, it'd start to decay, right? And things that decay stinks a bit and attracts flies, and it might be cool for little touches with flies swimming around his head here or there. It can change is what I'm trying to say. It'll probably look different through the story than the prototype face you've seen so far.

You're also working on a series of special die-cut covers for "Batman" and many of the tie-in titles. They themselves tie into the concept of Joker's new face, but who dreamt up this scheme, and what was your initial reaction to it?

[Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio and [Art Director] Mark Chiarello. Dan actually mentioned it to my wife first. I later talked about it over dinner and he sold me. Dan is so enthusiastic about all of this stuff. It's contagious!

In the past, things like character designs mean the final product can be a little more unfinished to get the idea across to your peers. Here, you're working on a number of different complete pieces for the public. What are you doing here to keep each one unique while also using the die-cut idea to its fullest? Do you have a favorite so far?

Well, it was a bit of a challenge. The die cut itself had to have straight edges. The other challenge was working within the limitation of using only have of a characters face and reusing the same angle for all. Trying to show individual personalities within these confines. I think I pulled it off. As for favorites...is that a trick question?

We know that the story involves Joker targeting members of the Batman family, and he'll likely bring along some different villains as well. What's it like to be looking at an arc that expands the cast out in some ways. Is this more like drawing a team book in this arc than a "Batman versus villain" kind of story?

First off, I don't know what's coming really on the full story, so I'm not sure what other villains may be showing up. But to me, this whole thing is nothing but a party. I don't think too much about any of those issue is the truth. When I get the script, I try and let the movie of the story play in my head. Then I pick out a few stills and go, "Okay, how can I translate that so it looks like a comic book page?" To me, that's nothing but a party. I don't give it as much thought as people would like to give me credit for. I just let my gut take over and have fun.

Everyone flipped for that issue where you literally turned the pages upside down mid story. That was an unplaned addition by you, so having a writer who doesn't want to dictate exactly what happens must be a boon to your process.

No, we wouldn't be able to work together if he was like that! [Laughter] We trust each other, and we both know that we equally love Batman the same. What you've got to realize is that the things that mess this stuff up are egos. Egos crush it all, man. If you let egos collide and take over in place of the products and the fans, that's where it comes undone. Scott and I like each other. We trust each other. And we work together to tell the best story we can. Ego doesn't come into it. That's not to say that neither of us has an ego. It just means we don't let them clash as we work to get in the way of the product. Our #1 goal is to make the baddest ass Batman that there is, ever was, ever will be and put that out for the fans. That's how it is - putting our blood and sweat and soul into this thing. We just try to put that out there for the fans and set it on fire and hope that everybody likes it.

"Death of the Family" kicks of in "Batman" #13, on sale this October from DC Comics.

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