Earlier this month, readers got their first taste of the new approach on Detective Comics, as writer John Layman and artist Jason Fabok took over the title with #13.
And already, reviewers and Batman fans are raving.
Next, he'll add The Joker to the already rogues-filled issues coming up in Detective over the next few months, as the title participates in the "Death of the Family" event.
Layman, an Eisner Award winner for his series Chew, seemed like an unlikely fit for Batman. The former WildStorm editor was best known as an indie writer with a slightly unconventional approach and sense of humor.
But with Detective Comics, he's proving that his quick pacing, dark humor and enthusiasm for Batman's rogues gallery are combining to make readers excited for more.
Newsarama talked to Layman to find out more about how he wowed critics with that first issue, and what we'll see next.
Newsarama: John, now that readers have seen the first issue of your run, we're getting the feel for your overall style. Would you say that #13 is indicative of what we'll see in Detective Comics going forward, including the pacing and that bit of humor we saw?
John Layman: I guess it is. The "humor" that a lot of people commented on is not something that I overtly went in trying to do. I think it was more of a bi-product of my personality and the stories I try to write, which is a bit lighter and more playful.The pacing, however, was intentional. I tend to write stories that aren't perfectly linear, and wasn't sure how it would go over with both editors and the audience. I think, though, a nonlinear story may better serve a detective story, where certain facts need to come to light in a certain order to achieve desired revelations and resolution.
Nrama: We got to see a concentration on Bruce as detective. Do you hope to make that an ongoing focus of the series?
Layman: Yeah, it's called Detective Comics, after all. I was very aware of that going into the book, from Sentence One of my initial pitch document. Every issue should feature some sort of case, or mystery, or something that needs to be resolved, using brains every bit as much as brawn, if not more so.
Nrama: Your current story features Penguin. We've seen the Penguin get his own mini-series in the New 52 not too long ago, but what do you hope to explore about the character in this story?
Layman: Sorry to be cagey, but I can't really answer this question without revealing some bigger points of the story which is as of yet unrevealed. All I can say here is the story people think is coming is not what they expect, and seeds are planted in #13 which won't be obvious for a while.
Nrama: You appear to have several villains showing up in the first storyline. Are you more drawn to the villains of Gotham City? Or is this just the approach for the first arc?
Layman: Well, yeah. Villains are simply more interesting. To me, anyway, and I'm enjoying doing these short, largely self-contained cases that channel flip to a new classic Batman villain each issue, while a larger story slowly reveals itself.
Nrama: Issue #14 and #15 have appearances by Poison Ivy and Clayface. What compelled you to use those characters in particular, and can you tell us anything about what we'll see from them in the story?
Layman: Clayface and Ivy were both chosen because I discovered a very cool connection between the two of them, and their powers, that I've never seen before. Can't really say more than that, without ruining the story.
Plus, it was fun to use two more classic villains characters. I'm still sort of in shock to be writing Batman, and expect to be fired every time I turn in a script — or give an interview! — so I'm trying to use as many characters as I can before DC and the Bat-office get wise and kick me to the curb.
Nrama: This series also has back-up features. As you took over the series, what did you decide to do with those?
Layman: I'm not a huge fan of $3.99 comics, so if somebody is going to shell out that sort of money, I want to make good and sure it is worth their money.So despite my schedule, which is a bit crushing at the moment with Chew, Mars Attacks and Detective and Detective back-ups, it was important that I tackle the backups — and that they specifically compliment the main story and are not in any way forgettable or superfluous.
I'm working on my fifth script and fifth back-up, and am quite please with how each of the issues and their back-ups have come together, individually and working in unison as a more cohesive whole.
Nrama: Since you're apparently working ahead, can you describe your approach to the back-up stories coming up for the next few months? They seem to involve villains quite a bit.
Layman: [The back-ups will be] a different perspective of the main story, often involving a villain, that provides more light on what's going on in the "meat" of the issue. No throwaway stories here.
Nrama: Issue #15 and #16 are billed as a "Death of the Family" tie-in. Is this about making sure Bruce's various appearances in DC Comics line-up, since he's fighting The Joker elsewhere?
Layman: I approached the tie-in much in the same way I do the back-ups. It's my hope that my "Death of the Family" stories compliment what's going on in Batman, while standing up as something satisfactory and (largely) self-contained on its own.
That is, if you want to read every bit of the tie-ins — and you should! — my Detective issues will help paint a fuller picture. But if you're pinching pennies and can only buy Detective, it's still going to give you the appropriate bang for your buck. Even if you have no idea what's going in "Death of the Family," Detective should still hold up on its own. That's the intention, anyway.This is what Gotham is like when Joker is in town. This is the effect Joker has on people. These are the sort of people who follow Joker. That's the story, along with some twists and surprises and even, I suppose, a bit of dark humor.
Nrama: You're working with Jason Fabok on Detective, who's fairly new to DC audiences, but also getting great reviews for his first issue on this series. How's it been working with him on Detective so far?
Layman: Jason's great. Unlike me — old and bitter and cranky and cynical about the comics industry and life in general — Jason is young and fresh-faced and enthusiastic. He is the Anti-Layman! Super talented, fast, and yet still pushing himself to improve every issue, page and panel. I think he's on track to be one of DC's next superstar artists.
Nrama: Then to finish up, John, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Detective Comics?
Layman: Each issue is better than the last. So if you like #13 and #14, it's only going to improve from here. Or if you hate it, that's cool too, 'cause it's still only going to get better!
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