Although Detective Comics has a new creative team — and yet another young, female Robin candidate — co-creators Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul are calling it an extension of the work they did on The Flash.
"It was very much a natural progression," Manapul told Newsarama, talking about the start of the team's run with this week's Detective Comics #30. "When we did Flash #25, which was a tie-in to Zero Year, we knew full well that we were about to take over Detective Comics. So it was one of those things where, within the Manapul/Buccellato universe, we wanted the experience to feel like we've taken you through Central City, and the story that we started there has not transported over to Gotham. So for us, it's less of a transition and more of a natural progression of us as creators, and a natural progression of where the story is going."
As the two start their new run on Detective, they are both credited as "storytellers," which they said is reflective of the way they create the comic with story and pictures, not necessarily distinguishing the two processes.
"The first issue, we actually didn't write a traditional script at all," Buccellato said. "We talked it out, he laid it out and started drawing it, and we put dialogue into it after the art. That's how integrated it is. We didn't even have any of the shorthand of coming up with a document first."
Manapul said the editors have allowed them to approach the story in a way that made them comfortable as creators. "We have an even tighter collaboration," Manapul said. "The editors have set the tone for what our collaboration as a team would be like. And I think the looser leash has resulted in a much more creatively rewarding and hopefully a better story than we would have been able to do under a tighter leash."
The comic mixed existing events from Bruce Wayne's life — even referencing the death of his son, Damian Wayne — but also introduced some new characters — including a new character named Anna Aguila that DC is publicizing as if she's a possible Robin candidate.
While Manapul and Buccellato did confirm that Anna plays a large role in the series coming up, the two aren't quite ready to confirm she's the next Robin.
"All the characters that we met in our first issue play quite a big role in the storyline," Buccellato said. "You're going to see a lot of those folks. And then there may be one or two surprises in terms of new characters. And as we've mentioned before, Harvey Bullock, starting in the next issue, will play a big part."
They described all the characters they're introducing — and choices they made in creating the comic — as "growing from the story."
"The inspiration for the new characters came out us deciding what kind of story we were going to tell, and what areas of Bruce's life we were going to explore," Buccellato said. "So there was some planning, and a lot of evolution as we planned out our story. And that's normally how it goes, you know, You start with the story, and then during the conversation and collaboration back and forth, the story grows from there."
Manapul said he started the issue with Anna and her mother Elena Aguila standing by the waterfront — actually making the first panel in the issue look like its camera angle was looking up from under water — to echo some of the themes being explored during the team's upcoming Detective arc.
"One of the main things at stake in this story, and one of the main locations that's fought over, is the waterfront," Manapul said. "The waterfront of Gotham City is this underdeveloped area that showed a lot of promise, perhaps, in the past. But now it's become like this slum, this gritty area.
"The funny thing is that I actually live on the waterfront in Toronto, and right now it's under heavy, heavy construction and it looks like hell. There's a lot of promise of what it could be, but I don't know what it is," he laughed.
But there are other aspects of the story foreshadowed by the water, Manapul said. "For us, that represents so many things for the story and for us as creators," he said. "It's one of those things where we wanted to take the reader to the core of where it's going to start, and where it was going to end."
One of the tie-ins to water is the story's first villain, The Squid, who's also more of a street-level villain — something Buccellato said is in keeping with the comic's concentration on Batman as a "detective."
"The story was going to be more street-level and more detective and crime centered, so I think it was just a natural fit," Buccellato said. "Obviously, we re-imagined him as a street villain, and it's not like we had a lot to be beholden to, so he definitely fits into the story that we had planned out.
"We felt like a street level story would really show Batman as a detective — and also, coming up, Harvey as a detective," Manapul said. "And a lot of things we're doing in the first arc, while we do tie it up, it is building toward a bigger story for our second arc.
"It's one of those things where it's going to be bigger in scope, but no less intimate than the story we're telling now," he said.
Manapul said he was also thrilled that the Squid has a pet. "When I found out that he's got, like, this colossal squid named Gertrude as a pet, that was amazing! … When I was working on this show Beast Legends, I got to go to New Zealand and got to touch, hold and play around with the tentacles from a colossal squid. They swim in such depths, it's not common to find them alive.
"So to me, when I realized that the Squid has this pet, Gertrude, it was like, 'Oh my God! This is perfect!' In a way, it harkens back to these old, classic Batman stories, where these villains have these elaborate booby traps," Manapul said. "I'm sure everybody around our age grew up on the Adam West Batman, and mind you, our story is nothing like that. But it's almost an homage to that era.
"A colossal squid is just such a visually striking thing to have," the artist said.
Of course, the entire story is visually striking with Manapul and Buccellato working together. Not only do they co-write the story, but they also collaborate on art, with Manapul on pencils and Buccellato on colors. And while the story might be a natural progression from The Flash, the team's approach to the art is different for Batman.
"We had a very specific vision of what Central City looked and felt like," Buccellato said. "It was a brighter and more hopeful place [than Gotham]. And Barry [Allen, the Flash,] was a character who felt more hopeful. In Gotham, I don't know that hope is the strongest word, and Batman is more haunted and more a spirit of vengeance than Barry was. So I think our color choice, the way we choose to depict Gotham City, should reflect that."
Manapul said their approach layout on the Batman story is also different from The Flash. "The way we decided to do the panels was much more controlled, and I think it's a lot more reflective of who the character is," Manapul said.
"Again, it's just the natural progression," he said. "Everything came out of the story we wanted to tell — the art and the layout and the pencils and the inks and the colors — everything followed suit to service the story that we're trying to tell."