THE BAT SIGNAL: Tony Daniel on Dick Grayson, Two-Face & Classic Villains

Dick Grayson has dealt with myriad threats to Gotham since taking up the mantle of Batman, but despite recently defeating the evil Sensei and The Mask of The Beholder, things actually look bleaker as Dick and writer/artist Tony Daniel tumble headfirst into "Pieces," a new three-issue story arc launching in May's "Batman" #710.

The artist behind DC Comics' "Batman R.I.P." and "Battle for the Cowl," Daniel returned to full "Batman" writing and drawing duties with issue #704. Under Daniel's pen and pencil, the series has featured the Black Mask, begun restoration of the Riddler's memories, created a Catwoman protegee and, most recently, introduced a mysterious woman who seems to stolen Two-Face's signature coin. Add in appearances by I-Ching, the Penguin, the Riddler's daughter/sidekick Enigma and the Reaper, not to mention the Falcone crime family, and you begin to feel that Daniel is actually a human Bat-universe encyclopedia.

With everything going on in Gotham City, CBR decided it was time once again to shine the light of THE BAT SIGNAL on writer and artist Tony Daniel, the one-man creative force behind the ongoing "Batman" series.

CBR News: Tony, let's start off with your next arc, "Pieces" which has Two-Face, Catgirl, an unnamed villain, and mobsters all getting involved. What can you tell us about that story?

Tony Daniel: It's about what happens to Two-Face when he's without his coin. Someone contacts him with information that sets off a series of chain events which will either lead to his demise or his salvation. Of course there's a character named Batman in the book as well. I prefer keeping story elements from the public until the book comes out, but I can reveal that much!

You've mentioned before how much you enjoy "The Long Halloween," and with this next arc involving Two-Face and mobsters there seems to be the potential for connections to that story.

I wanted to bring that mob element back to Gotham City because I felt Gotham was lacking non-super-villain types. For me, the Falcones were a crime family with name recognition and their mere presence in Gotham City alludes to the type of corruption I wanted to accentuate. With the fallout from the Black Mask storyline and the criminal underworld hierarchy sort of up for grabs, I figured this would be the type of scenario the crime family would exploit in order to take root again in Gotham City.

Does this mean we'll also see a resurgence of the Maronis?

I have no plans for the Maroni crime family, but you never know. Someone else may open that door. I would be interesting to see them involved in a Two-Face story, but it's not in the cards at the moment.

Within the pages of "Batman," you predominately utilize iconic bad guys (Riddler, Two-Face, Catwoman, the Penguin, etc). What made you decide to use classic villains?

Batman's rogues are the best in all of comicdom, so it's always an honor to work with the more iconic characters. What I try to do is stay true to the character, yet keeping the feel current. These characters have evolved over the decades and will continue to do so; I'm just helping the characters, good or bad, as they continue their personal journeys. The key is to not go overboard and alter a character to point they're unrecognizable.

Let's touch on some of the big plot points from your run so far, starting with the Riddler. Why did you decide to have him start reclaiming his memories?

For me, it was just the time to do it. I identify the Riddler with being a villain, one of Batman's most iconic villains, at that. I'm old school when it comes to my bad guys. I think bad guys should ultimately stay bad, even if they teeter on the edge of hero occasionally. You can't have it both ways. Your heroes are only as good as their villains. And though I'm taking my time in restoring some of the Riddler's evil traits, I feel ultimately he needs to get back to that place. I deal with some of this in the upcoming arc with Two-Face. He wants to be whole again, and for that, it means remembering who he is.

Will we be seeing more of the Riddler's daughter?

After this arc, probably not for a while. I don't intend to use her again unless I come across a specific story that I think would suit her. She's more of an accomplice in the upcoming arc, and Batman deals primarily with the big dogs.

Judging from Robin's response to her in issue #706, that's probably going to make Damian happy!

Well, Damian's like ten years old, and in my mind still has the mindset that boys and girls don't play together. He doesn't like Squire trying to lead the charge in "Battle for the Cowl," either. Maybe he doesn't want to be shown up by a girl. Not that he could be shown up by many, but he's a kid and occasionally those kinds of insecurities can pop up with him. That's my way of interjecting a bit more humanity into the character so we understand he's not just a fighting machine, he's also a kid.

That reminds me of another kid who played a large role in your last arc: Catgirl. What is the origin behind Kitrina Falcone?

I wanted to create a character that would bridge the old characters with the new. The Falcones haven't been seen or heard of since Jeff Loeb's classic stories, so a character like Kitrina lets you naturally fill in new readers on who the Falcones were without having to resort to too many flashback scenes.

Is part of the appeal of Kitrina that she's basically pre good-guy Catwoman?

Right. She's sort of on the wrong track when we meet her. She's out for herself. When Catwoman meets Kitrina, she sees a lot of herself I her; that's part of the reason Selina Kyle takes her under her wing. It's sort of a Bruce Wayne/Jason Todd dynamic.

It's interesting that you compare Catgirl to Jason Todd, as we all know how that turned out. Is taking Kitrina under her wing a potentially bad thing for Selina?

That's the thing with developing a new young character -- she can go in either direction. There's no hurry to develop her right now, but the process of growing the character over the next few years will hopefully lead to good stories.

Being an artist, when you sit down to write "Batman," do you first plot out how it's going to look in your head and have that influence the story?

Starting out, I just wrote like I would for another writer and not myself. When I look at my own scripts to draw from, the visuals come in the moment. The next arc, which I'm writing and drawing, I have made a conscious effort to think of the style beforehand. I have a very specific style and idea that I will be working to get across.

Artistically, you have very distinct differences in the way you draw Bruce Wayne under the cowl versus Dick Grayson. How do you approach drawing the different Batmen?

It's hard. The main difference is the size of the characters. Bruce is bulkier, meaner looking, grittier, snarls and is almost wolf-like to me. Dick Grayson is of slimmer build and a bit cleaner. Every time I tried to draw Dick Grayson snarling or looking menacing, I found myself having to pull back and redraw him. Some of that just isn't in Dick's character and it doesn't work. As far as movement is concerned, Dick Grayson if more graceful. One is graceful like a deer and the other a bull.

Does this translate into how they approach crime fighting?

I think so. Dick is certainly less intense than Bruce. As an artist, you always have to remember who is under the costume. The personality should still shine through. I would compare Bruce to more of a rugged, albeit very smart, barbarian warrior and Dick to a graceful Musketeer.

So, you try to highlight Dick's acrobatic background through the way he moves.

I try, let's put it that way. There are certain impossibilities when you have a big cape on! Some graceful flips and whatnot just won't work. But where I can, I try to accentuate that [aspect of Dick]. We'd really have to see me draw Bruce Wayne as Batman again to compare the two; it's been such a long time and I'm certain I'd have a different handle on him if I were to do him again today.

Damian also feels like he is a bit more graceful in his fighting style.

I kind of think of Damian's style as being a little ninja. He doesn't have the strength, but he can overpower you with technique. Bruce Lee wasn't big by any stretch, but he could dominate opponents three times his size, no problem. I see Damian as a mini-Bruce Lee, I think.

For both "Batman R.I.P." and "Batman," your artwork sets a very dark and moody tone. When you learned you'd be taking over "Batman," did you consciously want the feel to remain similar? And do you have a lot of conversations with the colorists of the books?

I'm always looking at how I can be better. I felt I wanted a smoother look [for "Batman"] than "R.I.P.," which I felt was much grittier looking. Plus, with this being Dick Grayson, it only made sense for me to try to have a more streamlined look. But I'm always changing things up and forcing myself to grow artistically. The next arc, which I'll be drawing and writing again, starts in September, and I'm looking for my art and writing style to both make a leap. Things will get lot more serious and a lot darker, then.

I like to be as hands off as possible with the coloring of my books. I figure it's best to let [the colorist] work their magic without having me micromanage things. I know what I'm going to get in regard to style, so other than minor notes, like 'Hey, you forgot to color a part of Batman's belt in panel three,' there's not a whole lot that I do in terms of guidance. Also, I just don't have the time to put in to discussing the colors or inks. That's why having a great team is essential. If I trust the people around me, my life is much more manageable.

Obviously it's quite a ways off, but is there anything you can say or hint at about your September arc?

I can't say a whole lot, but I'm going for a more serious cinematic approach with both the art and the story. It'll be much more serious in terms of character development and story beats.

Between you, J.H. Williams and David Finch, artists are getting a lot more chances to write the books they draw at DC, these days. Do you feel there is a conscious push from the publisher to give artists more creative control?

You would have to ask DC that question, but I think they've shown they are willing to take chances on artist/writers. For the last decade or so, the industry has been writer-driven. But as an artist, and also a writer, I know the art needs to be good inside the book. That's what's going to help sell the book, especially to new readers. You want them to open up the book, or see view the digital file on their mobile device or what-have-you, and say wow! This is a visual medium, first and foremost. That seems to have been forgotten.

Yes, we need great stories and great writers. But when people think comic books, they think of the characters jumping off the page. They think of amazing images, larger than life heroes and villains and details. So if you have an artist who writes well, you then have someone who has those types of creative sensibilities that could hopefully translate to a winning combination.

Batman" issue #710, part one of "Pieces," hits stores May 18

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