Charles Soule may be winning fans with his work on superheroes of the DC, but at heart, he's a puzzle guy.
That comes in handy for his new Batman story, which launches today in Legends of the Dark Knight, DC's digital first Batman comic. The three-chapter story will run for the next three weeks on DC's various device-based apps before being collected in print.
Titled "Riddler in the Dark," the story features art by artist Dennis Calero, focuses on the greatest puzzle guy of them all: The Riddler.
Soule is quickly becoming one of the most prolific writers in comics, thanks to his existing indie work combining with some new ongoing gigs with DC and Marvel. He takes over the Green Lantern-based comic Red Lanterns this month and Marvel's Thunderbolts later this summer, plus he already started on the edgy DC title Swamp Thing earlier this spring.
He's also doing a few of DC's newly announced Villains Month one-shots in September — Lex Luthor #1, Black Hand #1, and Arcane #1. And he's publishing indie work at both Archaia and Oni.
For his Riddler story, Soule is joined by Dennis Calero, who's probably best known for his critically acclaimed artwork on the series X-Men Noir. He's also been equally busy, illustrating the Dynamite series MASKS and a Stephen King-written webcomic, The Little Green God of Agony, plus his own work with The Devil Inside and getting a pilot picked up by Syfy.
Now they're both getting the chance to work on Batman with a Riddler story in Legends of the Dark Knight. Newsarama talked to Soule and Calero both to find out more.
Newsarama: Charles, what was the genesis of this story about Batman and the Riddler?
Charles Soule: Honestly, I’ve always been a puzzle guy, and every Riddler story (well, the vast majority of them) has conundrums as a central plot point. They’re fun to read, because they have a few different entry points to the story – the riddle might hook you just as much as the action or characters. Some of my previous work has prominently featured puzzles or secret messages (especially 27 and Strange Attractors). Writing a story featuring one of the great riddlers in popular culture was a natural fit for me.
Nrama: Dennis, what attracted you to the chance to work on this project?
Dennis Calero: This new character, "Bat Man." I think he’s going to be a big hit.
Nrama: [Laughs.] I think you're onto something there.
Calero: Seriously, all Hank [Kanalz, DC Digital Editor amongst other titles at the publisher] had to say was "Dark Knight" and I was on board. To me, he’s the by far the most inherently interesting character to work with, and add working with Charles, who’s doing such amazing work…it’s a no-lose scenario.
Nrama: Charles, what’s the basic premise of the story?
Soule: Riddler does something very odd – he attacks someone on the steps of the Gotham Central Police Department, in full view of a few of Gotham’s finest. He’s taken into custody, and a riddle is discovered. Batman gets involved almost from the moment the cops realize who they’ve got, and it spins from there into a fun adventure with some cool action and neat cameos. It’s definitely a Riddler/Batman story, but I tried to get in as many Batman-world characters as I organically could.
Nrama: How would you describe the Riddler as you’re writing him, and what makes him interesting to you as a writer?
Soule: I think he’s obsessive compulsive in a particularly strange way. The things that he does in the story could have been accomplished much more simply if he were anyone other than the Riddler. But since he is Mr. Edward Nigma, he has to make it complicated – he has to try to prove he’s smarter than everyone else. That’s a fun Achilles heel to write.
Nrama: What about you, Dennis? Who is the Riddler as you’re portraying him visually, and what influenced your approach?
Calero: To me, the key to the Riddler is that he’s not the Joker. He’s not a clown. He’s the smartest guy in the room: cool, collected, a master planner. It’s only when he’s thwarted that he loses it. I’ve always loved the Riddler for that, the idea that a brilliant, capable mind can be warped not by chemicals or radiation but by ego, simple ego. Smart people can be the dumbest.
Nrama: What was your approach to Batman in this story? What were you trying to convey in the way you drew him?
Calero: I had a very simple theory about my approach to drawing Batman: when he’s in action, in public, he’s almost nothing but shadow, a wraith, a ghost. Black, a lot of black. Only when he’s in the company of a friend or trusted confidante does he let you see his face. It speaks to me of a primary aspect of the character: he wants to be alone. The mask is a wall between him and the world. So you only see his eyes if he trusts you.
Nrama: What fun Batman toys are you getting to draw? (We saw on Twitter that you said you’ve “drawn the greatest Batmobile in history.”) And what’s it been like getting to play in Batman’s sandbox?
Calero: It was a thrill to draw the Batmobile my way: based on a 1965 Mustang fastback. Here I got to play up a little bit of 1960s Batman with the small details like the Bat hood ornament and the license plate, that sort of thing. I maintain: best Batmobile ever. And to draw Batman in a convertible…just made me happy. Mustang: there is no substitute.
Nrama: Charles, how has it been getting to write a Batman story, and does it challenge you in new ways as a writer?
Soule: Writing a Batman story is probably on the checklist of most aspiring comics writers, and I’m no exception. It was a real thrill to write Batman dialogue for the first time – not that I wrote much, because we all know Batman isn’t much of a sharer. I also particularly enjoyed writing Batman in his detective mode, figuring out the meaning of Nigma’s puzzle piece by piece. The biggest challenge in this story wasn’t Batman – I’ve spent enough time over the years thinking about Batman that I was able to get his voice pretty quickly (at least I hope so) – it was Riddler. I wanted to make sure the puzzle I came up with made sense and had all the requisite elements. Puzzle stories have to be constructed pretty carefully, and it was certainly a fun challenge to work it all out.
Nrama: How is it different writing Batman from the work you’re doing on Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns?
Soule: Well, for one thing, there’s much less swamp magic, and it isn’t set in space. To put it another way, Batman is grounded. The situations he encounters, while heightened and intense, are just a few steps away from actual reality, as opposed to some of the more fantasy/sci-fi stories I get to tell in Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns. I enjoy writing all of it – different flavors, but they all taste great.
Nrama: Might we see you writing more Batman in the future?
Soule: I would love to. We’ll see what the future brings – Mr. Wayne and his various protégés, associates and enemies are certainly in excellent hands with the current crop of writers, but I wouldn’t say no to another chance to slip on the cowl. Figuratively, I mean. I didn’t actually put on a Batman outfit to write this story. (Sigh. I did.)
Nrama: Are there any differences for you, working on a digital-first story? Is your approach different?
Soule: Somewhat – first of all, the story will be released as three digital chapters, which gave me a perfect opportunity to build the story in classic three act structure (introduction, complication, resolution). That would be true whether it’s digital or not, though. The thing that’s primarily interesting about writing for digital is that you’re writing for screens, not pages. It doesn’t affect the storytelling, but it does affect panel count and layouts – it’s just a slightly different way of thinking. I can’t wait to read it digitally, though. Dennis drew and colored the story, and he made some really slick design choices. I have a feeling they’re going to pop like nobody’s business on one of those hi-res displays.
Nrama: Dennis, what are the benefits/challenges of drawing for a digital release?
Calero: I read most of my comics digitally. I love being able to read stories on any number of devices and a lot of times, I’m willing to take a chance on a book I’ve never heard of if it’s free on an app, or less expensive. That’s how I came to "Smallville Season 11," which I’m enjoying. The books read a little different and you have to compose the page to work both as a traditional comic page and as a screen as small as a smart phone. It’s not particularly difficult, it’s just something you have to be aware of.
Nrama: For fans of your series “Masks,” is there a chance we’ll see more of your work in that pulp-based world? And what else are you working on?
Calero: I’m fascinated by post-war New York, which is as prominent in Noir stories as any character. Batman is a logical extension of that Noir sensibility. High moral stakes, a man alone using his fists and his brains to make things right, against an immense backdrop. His morality is what makes him an outlaw in an unforgiving city. I expect I’ll be exploring these themes for all of my career.
Nrama: Charles, between your work at DC, Marvel and Archaia (and I’m probably forgetting something else), you’re one of the more prolific writers in comics right now. What’s it been like for you the last year, and where else might we see your work coming up?
Soule: Well, I also have something coming up for Oni! (A cool ongoing sci-fi series called Letter 44 that will hit this October.) The last year has been absolutely unbelievable – the last six months, really. I’ve written more pages since March than I ever thought I’d be capable of. It’s averaged out to almost four pages of script per day, every day, since the beginning of April, plus revisions, lettering passes, etc. A lot of work, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m getting to write stories about characters I love – I’d be a fool to complain. In addition to the Batman story we’ve been talking about, you can find me as the ongoing writer for DC’s Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns (plus some of those neat Villains Month one-shots that were just announced), Marvel’s Thunderbolts, my most recent OGN Strange Attractors for Archaia and that ongoing for Oni I mentioned. Busy year!
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else both of you want to tell fans about this Legends of the Dark Knight story?
Soule: It’s a great Batman adventure, with killer art – especially Dennis’ Batmobile design, which is literally one of the coolest versions of that vehicle I’ve ever seen. I liked it so much I asked Dennis to draw me a pinup of Bats lounging against his sweet ride – great stuff. You know you want to see that Batmobile. Check it out!
Calero: It’s a great story, well told. It’s fun and it pops, but is also nuanced and has real depth. I hope everyone enjoys it.