Spoilers ahead for this week's Batman #45.
Tony Daniel might be a new regular artist on Tom King's Batman, but he isn't exactly new to the character. The writer/artist has seen Batman through some of the most high-profile stories of the last decade.
But Daniel is excited about working with King on the character, hoping to stay on the title with King for another 50-plus issues as he rotates with the other regular Batman artist Mikel Janín.
Daniel is starting his new run on Batman this week with #45's "The Gift," a wild time travel story that sees Booster Gold changing history so there's no Batman. The resulting version of Gotham City allows Daniel to invent new costumes and settings and utilizing his style's mix of "realism and cartoony," Daniel said.
"It’s eerie. And I love that," Daniel told Newsarama. "The story reads like an eerie nightmare. I can’t describe it, but it’s a work of art by Tom."
And readers seem to be responding. According to Daniel, Batman #45 has already sold out with a second printing underway. "Up over 8,000 copies from the issue before," he said.
Newsarama talked to Daniel to learn more about his run on Batman, what it's like drawing Booster Gold, and why working with King is such a great experience that he wants to stay on the book indefinitely.
Newsarama: Tony, your history with Batman has seen the character through some of his most high-profile stories. You've seen a lot happen to this guy during your various runs, haven't you?
Tony Daniel: I have, most notably "Batman R.I.P." "The Black Glove" and then Battle for the Cowl and then the Dick Grayson Batman run that led up to the “New 52.”
Nrama: As I thought back to your other comic books, it feels like you always come back to Batman, and now you're back on interiors. Are you drawn to this character?
Daniel: Since Detective Comics I’ve only done a little bit. I contributed a few issues of Batman and Robin Eternal. It seems like I’ve done more though. Possibly because he was a member of the Justice League, in "Rebirth," but even that I only contributed four issues. But I get that people identify me with Batman because I spent a lot of time with the character. It’s a good thing I think.
But truthfully, I knew I always wanted or needed a return to the character. I’m notorious for picking apart my work and demanding that I keep a forward momentum in terms of my craft. Certainly I feel I’ve grown enough since my last run, which was over five years ago, to give something new, which I think I am and will be doing. I have high hopes for creating my best work to date on this run.
Nrama: Your run on Damage was pretty short - which was said to be an artist-driven series. Was that another example of Batman calling to you? Or was it this story with Tom King in particular that brought you back this time?
Daniel: I really wanted to work with Tom King. I felt like his storytelling style would work nicely with my own style. He sort of reminds me of Alan Moore in storytelling sense, and I’ve worked with Moore on Spawn: Bloodfeud. That experience with Moore, and that style of storytelling really helped shape my own visions as an artist. Though I moved away from the wide screens and grids since then, I feel like I can do that well and it forces me to become a better storyteller.
When a writer is too open sometimes I feel like I have too many choices and I don’t know which one to pick because they’re all cool in my head. With Tom, it’s a real collaboration in that sense. He gives me something really solid to work with, a nice piece of clay that’s half molded, so to speak. Then I get to shape it and make it look pretty for everyone else.
Nrama: OK, you mentioned Tom's scripts. Can you describe a little more about what you meant?
Daniel: Tom’s scripts are pretty tight. Every panel is described and I know what everyone is saying. It’s the opposite of the way I worked on Damage, which was very loose and plot-driven.
But I prefer working this way, like I am with Tom. The plot way of drawing a book is easier for me only if I’m also the writer. So, I’m relieved that Tom works this way. I think it makes me do better work.
Nrama: Is there anything else you can tell us about the writer/artist collaboration with Tom as writer?
Daniel: We had dinner recently and he just asked me what kinds of stories do I want to draw. I want to draw whatever stories he wants to cook up. He threw some ideas at me that really clicked. But what’s awesome is, he cares about what I want to do. Not all writers give a sh*t. So I think Tom and I will make good collaborators the way we’re working right now.
Nrama: Let's talk about this story you're creating with Tom. What's it been like getting your hands on Booster Gold and getting to draw a story featuring the character?
Daniel: I didn’t have much experience with Booster Gold. I learned about him after getting the first script. But he was easy to grasp, and now I love the character, and I love Tom’s take. He has so much personality and I get to really get into the character’s "acting," and expressions and postures, to pull off what Tom is trying to do with the character.
I think my style which is a mix of realism and cartoony and is the perfect balance for this story, as well as for Batman in general. My predilection for darker toned stories and characters helps me out here as well. I think also growing up tough in the streets as a kid and teenager, helped shaped my gritty point of view which lends itself to Gotham City in particular.
Nrama: Time travel always offers the opportunity to draw interesting things, and it looks like this one is specifically tied to Batman's history, although changing it in a way that affects the whole world. What sorts of scenes are you getting to draw?
Daniel: We see what effect Bruce never becoming Batman had on Gotham City and it isn’t pretty. Everything is worse, crazier. It’s almost apocalyptic in a sense. Our colorist, Tomeu Morey, really set the tone with the skies, and we see parts of Gotham continually on fire. It’s eerie. And I love that. The story reads like an eerie nightmare. I can’t describe it, but it’s a work of art by Tom.
Nrama: Is the tone different from your past runs on various Batman titles?
Daniel: It’s very different from my past Batman work. Everything is different and twisted. The story is supposed to read that way, and I think I pulled it off. That said, I’m sure the next Batman story I do will be much different in tone than this story, “The Gift.” It will probably be more traditional, I would imagine. I just have to wait and see. I should get an idea soon.
Nrama: You're putting the Bat-characters in completely different environments, with Dick Grayson wearing a different Bat-costume and Tim Drake stuck in an office. What's it been like designing these other versions of Bat-characters?
Daniel: It’s interesting, because I get to make it up a bit. Dick Grayson is Batman, but he’s not really a good guy, not like Bruce would’ve been. So I approached him with a more rough-around-the-edges look. I have him sort of tattered, raggedy and heavily armed as well. The opposite of what Bruce Wayne would’ve become.
We get a glimpse of my own Bruce Wayne Batman before the arc is through. I think people will be really interested in how Catwoman is handled in this story. She has been so much fun to draw. And she’s in a costume sort of resembling the Batman Returns/Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman suit. There’s so much fun in just three issues.
Nrama: Any new techniques or visual approaches that you used on this Batman story that readers might be interested in knowing?
Daniel: Well technique-wise, I’ve gradually come to this place I’m at now. It’s been a journey for me, and it’s rewarding to get comments from fans who notice that I keep getting better and better each story, or each year. Though that trajectory wasn’t linear, I was always moving forward. The bumps and bruises you get when trying to reach the all but impossible expectations we can put on ourselves, it helps you overcome and put you a little bit closer. My attitude is I’m good now; I’ll be better soon. I’m working on it. It’s the way artists should think of themselves, at least those of us who strive to reach levels of excellence that seem out of grasp. You have to believe you’ll get there, wherever that place is.
And for this arc, I’ve been inking myself. I’d say 98 percent of issues #45 and #46 is all my pencil and ink work. In Issue #47, I have Danny Miki and Sandu Florea chipping in, and me doing the other half of the book. I’m loving inking myself, partly due to new tools I’m using, which make it much easier for me to get what I want out of the inks.
In the old days (five years ago), you had to be a master of the brush and quill, nib pens, to be any good at inking. That was always tough for me. I’m having a much easier time using brush pens from Japan. So that sort of affects my look a bit.
Nrama: It looks like this is only a three-issue story that you'll be working on Batman. What's next for you?
Daniel: I’m going to do a lot more Batman. I hope to stay on as long as Tom King. I hope to stay to issue #100. I will be alternating story arcs with Mikel Janin, because we are remaining bi-weekly. So between the two of us and Tom King, there’ll be a lot of great Batman stories for us to put out.
Nrama: That's great news for fans of your Batman work. Anything else you want to tell fans about your return to Batman?
Daniel: I will just say, hold on to your hats; it’s a wild ride. Sometimes horrific, sometimes funny, and all at once, an epic story that I think people will really enjoy. It’s a memorable story, that’s for sure. And this is a small taste of what’s to come.