When Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato were announced as the new writer/artists on The Flash for the New 52, few DC fans knew what they were going to get.
More than two years later, the pair have become so trusted by DC for their approach to Scarlet Speedster Barry Allen that they're getting the chance to work their brand of magic on Batman with Detective Comics in 2014.
Manapul and Buccellato will take over Detective after the departure of current writer John Layman, who's going to be joining the team of writers on the new weekly Batman: Eternal, which launches in the spring.
This creative team has become well known during their time on The Flash for being able to combine art and words to tell the story in a unique way, since they both write and draw their comics. Because Manapul does the pencils, inks and watercolors, while Buccellato does the coloring, their co-writing has become an integrated process where art and "script" blend, forcing the audience to read the art instead of just relying on captions and dialogue. "We're able to really utilize every aspect of the art to tell the story," Manapul once told Newsarama of the process.
Now they'll bring that approach to Detective, but the creators told Newsarama that working on Batman will be a whole new ballgame — where they're going to be able to let the story "marinate" and take time to develop. In the first installment of our two-part interview with Manapul and Buccellato, we talked to them about Detective Comics.
Newsarama: Brian and Francis, was the main draw of this project the character of Batman?
Francis Manapul: Yeah, it was one of those things where, when me and Brian decided we were going to leave the Flash, we put it out there, to our editors, what we wanted. And we got what we asked for.
Nrama: So what you wanted was Batman?
Brian Buccellato: Absolutely.
Manapul: What we were doing with the Flash was something special. And it was something that, you know, people were starting to grow accustomed to seeing from us.
So we felt like we wanted to shake things up a bit for us creatively, and going over to Gotham was something that felt very different than anything they had seen from us before.
So while it may not have felt to fans like the logical choice, for us, it felt like the best choice for us creatively, to continue growing and doing things that would keep us interested.
Buccellato: I think we had been underdogs before; we'd been doubted. It's easier to see what somebody has already done, and then assume that they're not a fit for something else. And I think it's a creative challenge that both of us totally embrace.
For those out there that know Francis and I, they know that there's more than one side to us. We're not all bright reds and yellows and happy faces. There is definitely a grittier side to us, creatively.
Nrama: So as you sit down and you guys imagine what you want to do with Batman, what are your goals? What do you want to bring to the world of Batman in Detective Comics?
Buccellato: You know, it sounds silly, but we mainly want to bring ourselves to it. Part of being creative is being passionate and bringing yourself to the table.
So it's tough to talk in specifics, because Francis and I are going to bring our personal experiences and the things that are important to us to Gotham, the same way we did with Flash, and being overwhelmed, and moving forward. I think we're just going to apply who we are today to Gotham.
Manapul: I think, with the Flash, in the same way that everything was — pardon the pun — but it felt like everything was coming at us very quickly, from the deadline to the change to of the entire universe. We were having to build a new world around Barry, at a very quick pace.
With Batman, we have a bit more time to be methodical as we plan what we're doing.
In some ways, we have opportunities to do things we weren't able to do with the Flash. We were eager to tell detective type stories with Barry, but as the story moved forward, the course it took had to lean more toward the Flash being a superhero. But I think with Batman, we have the opportunity to tap into those types of detective stories that we were wanting to get into.
Batman is the world's greatest detective, and I think Batman has to be about mystery and intrigue and the hard-boiled detective type of story.
Buccellato: Yeah, I think we kept on moving with the Flash, and we had to make all the best decisions we could in order to keep the story flowing, and to sort of pay off all the things we set up. I think we did a pretty good job of paying off the things we set up. In hindsight, you always wish you had more room to breathe — you always wish you could have paid a little more attention to something, or not left Iris in the Speed Force for so long, stuff like that. But I think there's been a huge momentum with Flash, and I think maybe now, with Detective, we have a chance to slow it down and do more of a slow burn story.
Nrama: With The Flash, you were able to really revamp Barry's world, taking pieces of characters and concepts from the past and tweaking them for a new audience. Is that part of what you're doing with Detective, or is that less of a focus with this character, since his background is being established elsewhere in the Bat-universe?
Buccellato: With The Flash, we had a different job. We were starting with a #1, and like you said, we were introducing Flash to this New 52 universe, so there were a lot of requirements, a lot of demands on us, to set up the world and the characters and the villains.
Now we're in year 3 of the New 52, and Batman had a ton of books out, so he's pretty firmly entrenched.
So for us, it's just about telling stories, at this point.
Manapul: The world is already, so we're going to be telling stories within the world that's been set up by other creators.
Nrama: I'm sure you guys are aware of the Batman: Eternal weekly. Does Detective Comics just explore a different part of that world?
Manapul: I think it's too soon for us to say. It would probably be naive to say we're going to be completely apart from that. It remains to be seen. As we start our run, it will be apart, but there may be other opportunities down the line.
Buccellato: But we'll both be integrated in the Bat-universe. We're not doing anything out of continuity.
Nrama: You mentioned the themes you explored in The Flash, including that feeling of being overwhelmed. And you also said you're bringing yourself into the Detective stories. Can you speak to the themes that you think you're going to be exploring in Detective, and how they might relate to you?
Manapul: I think, right off the bat, one of the things Brian and I latched onto was the sense of family that Bruce has and has lost.
I think a lot of the new characters that we'll be introducing will be there to amplify that feeling.
Buccellato: And keep in mind that although we'll be creating new characters, we don't see ourselves creating characters for the sake of creating something new. He's got such a rich cast of characters. We just want to add to the universe in areas where we feel there may need to be something new.
For Francis and I, it was really important for us to look at the concept of family and isolation. So that's the direction we're going.
Nrama: You guys have worked on Batman as artists before, but what do you see as your ideal Batman? Who is he in your mind, and who is it that you want to write as Bruce Wayne? How would you describe him?
Manapul: I feel like he's just like us in a lot of ways, but you know how they say, "Everyone's just one bad day away from going over the edge?" I think he's that guy, you know? In some way, it's almost like he's Michael Douglas' character in the movie Falling Down, or at least that's one part of him, because he's a very complex character, obviously.
Nrama: Is that something you can relate to? Or is there something else you specifically relate to with Batman?
Manapul: Oh, for me… well, you know, I'm a little bit OCD, and there are a lot of things that I, emotionally, can't let go of. And it's one of these things that sounds like a bad trait to have, because it makes you very obsessive about what you do, but that's something I see in Batman. He's the guy who has this idea that he wants to accomplish, even though he's never going to be able to completely accomplish it. You can't stop crime. It will always be there. And that's the tragedy of his emotional condition, that he's always trying and he always keeps going. The obsessive nature of it is bigger than him. And I think that's what's really intriguing about him.
Buccellato: But to tie that back to you, Francis, your success and the fact that your art is always at an ultra-high level speaks to that same type of inability to stop. You know, you say you're a bit OCD, but that's what makes you a great artist. And that's what makes you always push for something better.
Like, just because you're never going to achieve perfection, it doesn't mean you're not going to continue to move forward. So in a way, you're just as tragic a figure as he is. [Laughs.]
Manapul: [Laughs.] Vaneta, I have to tell you a story. You know, with us — [Brian and Francis] — being in different times zones, when Brian emails me a file, I will almost always reply immediately, no matter what time it is. So what he's started doing, in order to make sure I sleep, is he will wait, and he won't send it to me until the next day. He knows that if I hear an email come in, I'm going to get up and I'm going to look at it.
Buccellato: Or if there's a deadline, I won't send it to you until you're done with what you have to get done.
Manapul: Yeah! I mean, I'm not complaining. It's a really good team, in that we look out for each other like that. So I don't know… I mean, if I'm Batman…
Buccellato: I'm Alfred!! [Laughs.] We're onto something!
Manapul: I think we are like the Bat-family, in some ways though. I mean, we're up all hours of the night. We don't sleep until it's done.
I think one of the things I have to say I'm most proud of with The Flash is that Brian and I have been working our asses off on The Flash. We've been under a lot of deadlines where we would have two weeks to pencil, ink and color an issue. I remember we turned in an issue in a week and a half. You know?
Buccellato: Right. We'll do ink wash in four days. Three days.
But we're willing to do that.
Manapul: Yeah. Brian and I have sacrificed a lot, physically, emotionally, just to get the book out there.
Buccellato: It's monthly publishing, and the deadlines don't stop. And you make concessions in life. And we're incredibly proud of the work we've done. Nothing's ever perfect, and there's always hindsight, but I stand by our body of work.
Nrama: We talked a bit about how Batman is obsessed with fighting crime. But you also talked about how you want to explore themes of family, loss and isolation. Do those two things tie together in the story of Batman?
Manapul: Definitely. When you're operating at that level, it's hard to relate to other people. Unfortunately, the way Batman is, and what keeps him motivated, he keeps himself from being happy. The more successful he is as Batman, the more isolated he becomes from the rest of the world. For him to operate at such a high level, he needs a certain sense of separation. A character like Superman needs to be emotionally grounded, Batman has to keep his humanity at bay a little bit in order for him to function at such a high and drastic level, to do the things he does. At the end of the day, he's just a human being.
Nrama: Who's the first villain? Are you able to describe the threat that Bruce is facing?
Buccellato: Not really. Maybe in general terms.
Nrama: Can you just talk about it in terms of the themes?
Buccellato: We want to reflect a sense of family, and Francis can speak more about this. But part of the idea was to create a reflection of Bruce Wayne and his relationship with his Robin.
Nrama: You said earlier it's a "sense of family that Bruce has and has lost," which I'm assuming refers to his lost Robin. So Francis, I think you do need to speak more about this…
Manapul: I don't know if I want to say more about that! But essentially, in this story, he's going to be investigating a murder of somebody who is very special to a friend of his. And he gets pulled into that world, both as Batman and as Bruce Wayne.
Whereas in most stories, there's a clear separation that, you know, this is Bruce Wayne, the disguise of Batman. But this one is going to have a little more integration as both sides of his life are pulled into this single moment, and a single murder that he's going to have to try to…
Buccellato: The lines are going to be blurred.
Nrama: With The Flash, one of the things you challenged yourself to do was portray the super speed and Central City. Is there anything you have your eyes on with Batman, to really bring a unique visual or something new from a visual standpoint?
Manapul: I hope people aren't disappointed that it's not going to be like The Flash. Like the text being part of the layout? You know, how that was born was that I was supposed to work on a Spirit story that was canned, and I carried that over to The Flash. So The Flash became a de facto homage to Will Eisner.
Buccellato: He only intended to do it for the first issue, and then he did it for the second issue. And he was like, I guess I have to do it for every issue now. So it snowballed into this thing where it was like, OK, what's it going to be this issue. Right?
But I think with Batman, Brian and I are really going to focus on a very cinematic way to tell our story. And I'm hoping that people will like it even if it's not quite as experimental as The Flash was. With Batman, our main focus is to just tell the best story that we can.
In this scenario, I think the art is going to take a bit more of a back seat than it did on The Flash. While Flash was a very visual book, in Detective, we're going to focus a lot on our pacing and the way that we tell the story. We want to tell the best story that we can.