If there was an award for the New 52 comic that had the most shocking last page, Tony Daniel's Detective Comics #1 would be the top runner.
After the writer/artist surprised readers by literally ripping off Joker's face in the first issue, the dark story of Detective Comics is now establishing a new status quo for not only Batman, but some new and familiar villains in the DC universe.
With the release of this week's Detective Comics #4, the Penguin was revealed as the villain behind recent events, and this new Bruce Wayne is in a seemingly serious relationship with a reporter named Charlotte Rivers.
Plus, that bloody face of Joker is still hanging around, leaving readers guessing about where he is — and what he looks like.For Daniel, the chance to tweak his writing and artistic style for the launch of Detective Comics comes after years of proving he was more than just a guy who draws. After starting as the penciler on Batman in 2007, he was eventually given a few writing assignments in the Batman universe.
Then in March 2010, DC made him the regular writer/artist on Batman. And the success he had with the title paved the way for quite a few more artists-turned-writer in the Batman universe and elsewhere at DC.
Newsarama talked with Daniel about the trend toward writer/artists at DC, what he did to his style when he switched to Detective, and what we can expect from his portrayal of Penguin, Scarecrow and a new-faced Joker.
Newsarama: Tony, before we talk about Detective, I'd like to discuss the recent declaration by Dan DiDio that he's encouraging creators to have more of a collaborative relationship between artists and writers, including on his own two comics, where he co-plots with his artists. Whether it's The Flash, or Batwoman, or Static Shock, the list is getting longer and longer of the artists who are now also writing for DC. And you were definitely one of the firsts in the latest trend. What do you think of your role in paving the path for this influx of writer/artists? And how do you feel about the trend overall?
Tony Daniel: Well, I think comics are a little different from other mediums in that it's truly a creative collaboration, where the artist can make or break the story as much as the writer. You know, it is a visual medium. So if there's a guy who can really tell somebody's story in a great, fascinating way, that's the first thing people are going to see when they flip open a book. They're going to say, "Wow, this is cool!" or they're going to say, "Eh...I don't like the way this looks."So it's very, very important to have artists who can convey the story well. For the most part, we're all storytellers. We're all creative in that sense where we're not just drawing pretty pictures — there are a lot of artists who can do that, but there aren't many artists who can tell a story visually. It's not something that's measurable, and it takes a lot of time, a lot of years and effort, to learn the craft. You're responsible for storytelling, which goes way beyond just drawing an illustration.
With me, it worked out, when I was on Battle for the Cowl, but at the same time, I was naturally more interested in writing. I spent a lot of years writing my own material. It wasn't very good during that time, but it was still practice, and it was good enough for me to feel like I could grow from it.
Then I spent another eight years or so writing screenplays and trying to get screenplays sold in Hollywood. And no, I didn't sell any, except for some options. I got a lot of great experience. And I got a lot of help from producers on the things I was doing to learn how to approach my storytelling.
When I was asked to do Battle for the Cowl a few years ago, it didn't take me long to adjust what I'd learned working on screenplays to apply it to comics.
So the transition from drawing comics to writing comics, for me, was very easy, but that's because I had already done quite a bit of writing. And I think that helped with my success. I hate talking about myself in that sense, but when I look back, I can't help but examine how it happened.Obviously, I really like the fact that more artists are being given this chance. I know my editors, early in this process, told me that they noticed the combination of writing and drawing had actually helped the art, at least for me. I guess I'm able to visualize the story in my head from the very beginning of the writing process, so the artwork just flows better.
So I'd like to think that those things about me influenced editors to give the same type of chance to someone else. I think when one person opens that door and is a success with it, it opens the mind of editors to look for that potential in others. So I hope that they're more willing to give other artists a chance at writing because they took a chance on me and it worked.
Besides, in the business sense, it makes sense to look for more artists who can also transition into writing.
Nrama: When you relaunched Detective Comics after having written Batman for awhile, what did you decide to do differently, and was there anything you even subconsciously shifted when you went to the new title?
Daniel: When I was approached with the assignment, there were a couple things that immediately, maybe the day after, I called Mike Marts and told him the approach I wanted.
The things I gave him up front was that, as a writer, I wanted to do darker, shorter stories with a lot of different villains, and stories that would build a lot of different storylines. I also wanted to do something that wasn't wrapped up in the other Bat-books, where I could do my own thing.
As a writer and artist, I wanted to go bigger and bolder. That was my exact description of how I envisioned it before I started drawing it. I wanted to do a lot of big images, bold imagery, a lot of big black and whites — I ended up not doing that as much, and still utilizing a lot of panels, but that was the direction I was leaning when I started. And I was still able to make the artwork bigger and bolder, even though I'm not doing the three-panel pages I first envisioned.
Then as an artist, I also wanted to transform my style to be a little more expressive. With Batman #701 and Batman #702, I had such a great reaction from my peers and fellow artists. And even Grant Morrison told me that it's favorite work of mine were the issues where we teamed up again. He thought that was my best work.
For me, hearing this from my peers and the people I worked with and, of course, Grant Morrison, it was like, well, I did that as an experiment just to have fun with that two-issue story arc. And I really liked the reaction I got, and I also really enjoyed drawing something a little more expressive and not so tied down to reality, where I can have more exaggeration.
Even though I'm still semi-realistic, compared to before, there's more freedom going on with things like the characters' faces and things like that. I think I found a happy medium with style, where I open it up a little bit, and I'm happy with the black and white imagery.The last component of the changes I made for Detective was Tomeu Morey, the colorist. He has a lot to do with the way this book looks because he's bringing that hand-painted, watercolor-like, almost old-school-type look, and I think it goes perfectly with what I'm trying to do. To me it feels like a throwback to some of the older classics where they actually did hand paint those comics. It just looks phenomenal.
So with the whole team on the book, you see what a different style is. It's not just me. It's everybody involved on the creative end. If someone else would be coloring it, then it wouldn't look the same as it does right now.
Nrama: As you came into this relaunched universe with the New 52 initiative, what opportunity did that give you as you introduced these villains to a revamped universe?
Daniel: It's been a lot of fun. I'm in the process now of writing the Penguin arc. What I'm doing now is really thinking of ways we can show him as if we're seeing him for the very first time. Everybody has seen him and knows who he is, and you can't deviate too much from the core elements of the character. But we can magnify some things about the character: his quirks, or his villainy, or add another layer of personality to him that was true to him, yet makes it feel like it's a fresh approach to the same character.
The same thing with the Scarecrow, who is coming up soon after. We're going to have some very good character developing moments where we get to see who this character is and why he's the way he is.
My only framework is to not deviate too much from what makes the character special. As long as I keep that in mind, I think the fans will enjoy the new takes on these characters.
Nrama: With the Penguin, we've seen continuity set up in the Penguin mini-series. Will your new version of him, as he sets up his "Iceberg Casino," follow what we saw in the mini?
Daniel: Yeah, he's going to reflect the Penguin mini-series. I'm definitely keeping that, but I'm adding more to that.
He's a character that you don't want to throw away any part of him. He doesn't need fixing. You just want to show him in a light that makes him look fresh, but makes him even cooler. Kind of like Christopher Nolan has approached his villains in the films.
Penguin will have the same issues and problems, but my job is to add another layer to that. I'll keep him true to his roots, but try to make him unforgettable. Hopefully, you'll remember the things he does and the things he says, and it will stick in your head 10 years from now.
Nrama: You mentioned that you wanted stand-alone stories, and you also mentioned the Penguin mini-series. How much do you coordinate with the other Bat-books? Or do you try to stay in your own storyline to establish your own approach?
Daniel: That was one of the parameters I had when I was offered this assignment. I wanted to do a bunch of little short stories with Batman. And the idea was that they'd be self-contained stories, where if you were to put them into a volume, and five years from now, if you'd pick up a volume and read it, you'd feel fulfilled and you'd enjoy and understand it without committing to a year of stories or something.
That's the ideal thought in my head in terms of what I'm trying to do here.But yeah, I really don't have to think too much about it. Of course, I can't do things that are out of character. For instance, if I would use Catwoman, she still has to be represented in a way that goes with what she's like in Judd [Winick]'s book. But it is a little bit looser. I have to think about what the other guys are doing, but I'm not messing around too much with what they're doing or the characters they're using.
And I think that's part of the appeal for me and for readers, so I foresee us continuing with that approach.
Nrama: You've introduced a love interest for Bruce in Charlotte. In this week's Detective #4, Bruce took off on vacation with her. That was very strange to see, as Bruce tries to relax with her. What can you tell us about their relationship, and this uncharacteristic vacation he's taking with her?
Daniel: In this first arc, we don't know how long he's been with her. It hasn't been years or anything, but it's obvious that they're very close. I wouldn't say they're in love right now. But he looks at her as a challenge to him. Because of who she is, she kind of mirrors himself to a degree, and he likes that. He likes that she can disappear and do her own thing.
She's almost like a detective herself, because she's not just some reporter on TV who reads from the teleprompter. She's an investigative reporter who gets her hands dirty and uncovers stories and actually gets herself in trouble and has people who want to kill her because of some of these stories. And we're going to see some of that stuff coming out in the next couple arcs.
So she's not just a regular "date" that Bruce has. She's his mental match. She's cunning and clever. So he's intrigued with her. And she's intrigued with him. She also has secrets and things she's hiding, and she can sense that she's not getting the whole story from Bruce about his life. Her instincts let her know that there's more to Bruce than meets the eye. She doesn't know he's Batman, of course. But she finds that appealing about him.
I like that kind of dynamic where they're interested in each other, but they're also a lot alike.
A character who's like Bruce, that he's dating, like Charlotte, gives him a justification that he doesn't need to grow too close to her, because she's like him. He doesn't want people to get close to him. So they're kind of two birds of a feather.
We'll see what happens if they do get too close. We'll find out more about that relationship. We'll find out more about Charlotte's path, and some of the things that Bruce, as Batman, uncovers. Some dark secrets that he didn't know existed, about her and her family.
I wanted to create a character that was somebody he could be himself around, to a degree. And somebody who allows us to see another side of Bruce Wayne, besides just the one-dimensional playboy who's screwing around with chicks in a hot tub. Charlotte gives him more meaning in his life. Someone besides Alfred.
Nrama: I've always thought Bruce Wayne would be a bad boyfriend, not only because of his trust issues, but because he'd investigate every little problem from his date's past.
Daniel: Right! But you know, I think it's not something he always does initially, because he knows that if he digs deep enough, he will find something that will make him withdraw from people, no matter who it is.
But in her case, he has no choice.
I don't want to reveal too much about it, but it's going to be interesting, and he'll have choices to make.
Nrama: He's also got a strained relationship with the police department, but even Harvey said in this last issue that he doesn't believe he's a cop killer. We've seen some of his relationship with Jim Gordon in this first arc. Will his current status with Gordon and the police department continue to be a part of Detective?
Daniel: Right now, he's being treated like a vigilante who's operating outside the law. So he can't be seen walking through crime scenes and getting whatever he wants and taking evidence back to the Bat Cave in front of the police. He has to have secret meetings with Commissioner Gordon, because the mayor wants to put an end to Batman. He doesn't want a vigilante ruining his town. He thinks Batman made Gotham worse. He thinks all these supervillains appeared after Batman, so he's pinning the blame on Batman.
If that's your boss, and you're Gordon, you can't let it be known that you're working with him, or you won't have a job very long.
But I do have a plan in place for when and why the hounds are going to be called off. But we have to get to that so it's a natural thing that happens where he's outside the law and doesn't have access like we've seen before (which I always thought was too much), but eventually, the police won't be shooting at him anymore. It will take some time to get to that point.
Nrama: You've got a lot of readers interested in Joker's face, and issue #4 ended with his face hanging there. Can you tell us anything about that part of your story and what we may see from it again in the future?
Daniel: Well, with a character like the Joker, there's a lot of potential for stories about a guy who is the Joker but doesn't look like the Joker, who's unrecognizable. Who has a different identity.
I think that's going to be the ultimate challenge for Batman. When he does rear his head again, it's going to be a head he's never seen before. And we won't know who it is, or how he's been there all along.
I do have some big plans for him and why he had the Dollmaker do this and change what he looks like.
I'm sure people are wondering, is he walking around with no face? Well, yeah, maybe for a few hours. But not for long.
We will definitely be getting back to that and finding out what his whole scheme is, and why he did this. And it is part of something diabolical and sinister. And it's something that a guy like Joker would do. No one else would do this and go through these extraordinary means to change his appearance and put his life on the line for this twisted scheme.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!