Next week, readers will finally get their hands on Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, the mini-series from writer Grant Morrison.
Promising to bring Bruce Wayne back to the DCU, the mini-series traces what happened to the Dark Knight after he was presumed dead, but apparently traveled through time.
And it all starts with Caveman Batman.
Since each issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne will be drawn by a different artist, the first look at the character's journey will be drawn by Chris Sprouse, who is establishing Issue #1's setting in prehistoric times.
Sprouse is working with Morrison after having attracted several other top-notch writers over the last couple decades, from Alan Moore on the Eisner Award-winning Tom Strong, to Warren Ellis on the 2004 mini-series Ocean, to Brian K. Vaughan on the two-issue Ex Machina Special.
While Newsarama readers already got a look at his impressive cover and interior pages, we decided to follow up with an interview to find out more about what Sprouse is drawing for Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
Newsarama: How did you hear about the opportunity to draw this issue?
Chris Sprouse: While I was getting ready to wrap up Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom, my editor Ben Abernathy called and said DC had asked if I was available and interested in the project. I'm not sure why DC thought of me as a good choice for caveman Batman. Maybe it was the fact that they'd seen that I could draw caves reasonably well, since three entire issues of Robots of Doom are set in underground caves. Whatever the reason, I wanted to do the book!
Nrama: How do you choose what projects interest you? Knowing your history working with writers like Alan Moore and Brian K. Vaughan, is it the writers that attract you? What was it about working with Grant on this story that appealed to you?
Sprouse: I often choose to do projects based on the story idea itself, as with Ocean, which intrigued me immediately when it was pitched to me. Sometimes it's the chance to do something different from what I've been doing, which is why I drew Midnighter, and other times it's simply that the project sounds like a lot of fun to draw, which was why I worked on Wildstorm's Number of the Beast.
It seems that most of the time, though, the writer is definitely the deciding factor, and getting to work with Grant was about 80 percent of why I said yes when they offered me the book (the other 20 percent was getting to draw Batman again, something I haven't done since the early '90s!). I had read and been a fan of Grant's Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and I knew that this could be really interesting.
Nrama: What did you think about the concept when you first heard it?
Sprouse: At first I wondered why they chose me for caveman Batman, but once I read the script, I loved it. I loved how each issue of the series is an examination or exploration of what makes this man, Bruce Wayne, do what he does. Also, Grant had written in several really nice visual moments that I just knew would be a blast to draw. I never got a chance to talk to Grant while working on the book – I just jumped in and had fun.Nrama: How has it been working on Grant's script?
Sprouse: Grant's script wasn't as dense with description as some I've worked from, and it didn't even have the final dialogue in place – he wanted to take another pass at the dialogue once he saw the pencil art, which is a great idea and leads to a more cohesive whole. But it was very clear on explaining the ideas behind what he was asking for and I never once had to wonder exactly what he was asking me to draw –always a good thing. If I had to compare Grant's script to any other writer's, I'd say it was closest to the way Warren Ellis' scripts for me felt: very "no-nonsense" when it comes to the description of action.
Nrama: Let's talk about the cover you did for Issue #1, the close-up facial shot where Bruce is wearing a caveman version of his cowl. Is that a literal picture from the comic, or more of a figurative representation of Batman's journey in the first issue? How did you come up with the idea and design for the cover, and what were your thoughts behind how it looks?
Sprouse: I suppose that cover is literal – Bruce Wayne actually wears that "costume" in the issue and he definitely looks that serious and scruffy!
Basically it evolved out of the fact that I needed to get comfortable drawing the character and costume and sat down to definitively work out the Bat head dress one day. Once I saw my own sketch, it just looked like it would make a good cover image for this particular script, a sort of "this is Bruce Wayne" image –simple as that.
Then I started to think that a close-up head shot of each new Batman would be a good thing to do for the cover of each issue of the series. Each one is Bruce in a different mask, culminating in Bruce Wayne as the Batman we all know, but the fact that the covers focus on his face only reinforces the idea that this series is about Bruce Wayne, the man underneath whatever mask he's wearing. I nervously pitched the idea to Bat-editor Mike Marts, who went for it!
Nrama: Did you come up with your design for caveman Batman overall? Did you approach the character a little differently than how he looks in the modern era? How is it different/ what can you tell us about how he looks in this book?
Sprouse: Andy Kubert designed all of the "lost in time" Batman costumes, and I just did my own take on his Caveman Batman idea, refining it a bit for myself and definitely playing up the darkness and scariness of the idea of a guy wearing the skull and hide of a dead giant prehistoric bat!
I have to say that Andy's idea of having an actual bat as Batman's chest symbol was just absolutely cool and right-on. Grant originally had Bruce scavenge a bunch of other hides and animal bones to fabricate a crude approximation of a Batman costume, but Andy turned in a design that had Bruce dressed in the bat hide and it seemed perfect. I loved drawing it. I tried to really go for the whole "striking fear in the hearts of evildoers" idea basic to Batman. I tried to make caveman Batman as dark and as frightening as I possibly could. I've always thought that that's the way I'd try to draw Batman in any era if I got the chance again: less of a superhero and more just plain scary.
Nrama: When you were designing the settings for the era where this takes place, what kind of things did you take into consideration and keep in mind?
Sprouse: First, I just gathered as much reference on the period and setting together and just immersed myself in it –something i do for any project. Then, since the story takes place primarily in two locations – in and around the cave system that will one day become the Batcave and in a Neanderthal camp – I worked out a general map or floor plan for each so I'd be able to stage or choreograph everything that needed to happen. I tried to maintain the accuracy of everything, like Neanderthal shelters and weapons, but again I tried to really accentuate the darker (visually speaking) aspects of the settings.
Nrama: Did you have to design a few new characters or creatures?
Sprouse: Not too many new characters, but I did get to design a primitive, early Vandal Savage. I also had to design a small band of cavemen, members of the Deer Tribe, which was the tribe that DC's character Anthro belonged to. Actually, Anthro's son and grandson are in this small band. Anthro's grandson has a large role in the story, so I had to really work out his look.
Nrama: Is there an overall feel you're looking to establish in the comic that goes with the story?
Sprouse: I imagine that living as a Neanderthal or Cro Magnon was filled with major brutality and severe conditions at times – at least that's how we'd see it – so I tried to get that across. But again, I tried to just do the best Batman book I could with the story elements I was given. If Grant asked for something to be dark and eerie, or nightmarish or idyllic and peaceful, I just tried to give it my best shot. This was Batman in the paleolithic era striking fear into the hearts of evil-doing primitive men, and I tried to deliver that: a dark, frightening, almost mythical Batman in a harsh, hard land.
Nrama: You have more than one project coming out over the next couple months. Where else can we see your work as we head into summer?
Sprouse: I just did three backup stories for DC's Human Target tie-in comic, two of which are already out. I've also drawn a variant cover for the Rip Hunter: Time Masters comic that ties in to The Return of Bruce Wayne. Someday, we'll see some covers I drew for WildC.A.T.S. and Authority. The main thing I've been working on for the past year, though, is the return of Tom Strong in the mini-series Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom, which will hit stands beginning June 2nd. Tom Strong is my dream project, so I'm very excited about this!
Nrama: Then to finish up, Chris, is there anything else you want to share with fans about Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne?
Sprouse: I just hope it's a good and satisfying read, and that the fans enjoy it.