Imagine this scenario: Batman and Joker are both in the same building, both wearing disguises, both putting their secret plans into action — but each unbeknownst to the other.
It turns out that's the scenario playing out in Arkham Manor, the comic by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Shawn Crystal. As revealed in Batman #36 (spoilers!), Arkham orderly Eric Border, who stars in Arkham Manor, is actually the Joker — having disguised himself for months now, fooling even Batman himself.
And although Arkham Manor might only be getting six issues to tell its twisted story (as revealed in this week's March solicitations), Duggan promises that December's Arkham Manor #3 will reveal more about Batman and Joker's twisted masquerade.
We talked to the writer to find out more about Eric's role, what the clues so far have meant as the murder mystery plays out at Arkham, and what readers can expect next.
Newsarama: Gerry, readers learned in Batman #36 that Eric Border is actually the Joker. Scott Snyder told me you were one of the earliest people to learn this secret, and it informed your development of the Arkham Manor comic and the Batman issue you did with Scott. What did you think when you heard about Eric being the Joker?
Gerry Duggan: Scott told me at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City, and I stood up, walked over and picked up a coffee mug so I could drop it like Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects.
Nrama: Well you weren't alone in your surprise. But let's fast forward to the development of Arkham Manor. Although the comic's ending in March, you're utilizing this character in disguise, even though your readers know it's the Joker. How much of a role does Eric Border's secret identity play in the comic in the upcoming issues?
Duggan: Well, once the reveal happened in Batman, Eric becomes the elephant in the room in Arkham. I don’t want to say too much about him specifically, but Border has a profound influence on a particular patient, that might stick around as a new villain in the toy box. Or not. We sure have fun with what Border does with this person.
Nrama: Will you begin to reveal Eric's true nature at some point in this comic? Or is the intent to completely treat him as an innocuous character for a while?
Duggan: No, Arkham Manor # 3 is when Border’s mask will slip off for the readers. Because of Arkham’s compressed timeline, however, Batman will not realize the truth about Border [before March].
This upcoming issue is fun because you get to see Batman play Jack Shaw, Joker masquerade as Border, who has a very important “Border” moment, and at the end of the book...a very important “Joker” moment.
Nrama: That true! Batman and Joker are both in the same building, both wearing disguises, each unbeknownst to the other. OK, but since Batman: Endgame obviously takes place after the end of your story — are you dropping any other hints in the comic about what's taking place in Batman? Or are you at least seeding info that's being picked up in the Batman back-up stories by James Tynion?
Duggan: James’ stories are so great, that they don’t feel like back-up comics. With regards to our book, at the moment we have some connective tissue to Gotham Academy. Something important happens in issue three.
Nrama: Yeah, in the last issue, you threaded in some information about what's happening currently in Gotham Academy, as Batman revealed some information about Olive's mother.
Duggan: Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor were conceived at roughly the same time and I think Mark Doyle initiated some fun ways to cross pollinate Olive’s story.
If there is ever anything I can to do accommodate another comic’s needs, I’m only too happy to reciprocate — Arkham Manor couldn't have existed without Scott Snyder, James, and everyone on Eternal making accommodations for Wayne Manor to be converted. I knew they were destroying the asylum. We had so much help setting up this book. If it helps the Gotham Academy crew, then it’s good business for all the books.
Nrama: It's too bad you didn't get to do a little crossover.
Duggan: I hope none of those kids have to visit our book.
Nrama: Good point! OK, we learned in the last issue that Batman is actually enjoying his time as Jack Shaw. How would you describe his mindset as he was sharing in group therapy sessions with his nemeses?
Duggan: The inmates obviously would be acting much differently with Batman lurking about, so this is a good way for him to observe them. I think it humanizes the monsters a bit.
Nrama: Batman's there to find a killer, who might be Victor Zsasz, but then again, he might not. How much have you been giving clues to the killer's identity?
Duggan: The work is brutal enough to be Zsasz, but something about it doesn’t feel like him, does it? Then again, he’s missing. He’s certainly Batman’s prime suspect.
Nrama: OK, but I have to ask — point blank — who was the old guy that Batman recognized?
Duggan: Batman saw something in those eyes, and on those fingertips. I will only say: you won’t have a long wait before the reveal.
Nrama: You've got a few issues left before the end of the series. What can you tell us about what's coming up between now and March?
Duggan: We could never exactly come right out and say “Arkham Manor is a masquerade.” We had the Joker’s disguise to preserve, but now that it’s been revealed...I can say there are more surprises to come in Arkham Manor.
Nrama: Since you're departing the Bat-universe, anything you want to tell fans as you depart, or maybe tease about what you're doing elsewhere in comics in 2015?
Duggan: Lots of fun comics in 2015. Very grateful to have had the kind of 2014 that I could only dream of. If my time in Gotham had ended with Batman #34, I would still be the luckiest guy in the world. Collaborating with Scott, Matteo and Mark on that one and done story is one of the most satisfying creative experiences of my life.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Arkham Manor?
Duggan: It’s been a unique opportunity not just for me, but for some of the rogues. I will forever be grateful to everyone that helped make it happen, from the writers and editors, and especially to the fans for supporting it.