With the Joker returning to the streets of Gotham in this week’s Batman Beyond #25 (er…Neo-Gotham, that is), DC tapped veteran artist Cully Hamner to bring the present-day villain into the future.
Hamner, well known by DC fans for his design work and the invention of characters like Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle, was brought on board to draw the oversized issue that kicks off the four-issue storyline, “The Final Joke.” He gets some help from Marco Santucci on the issue, then on the next three issues of the story Brett Booth will illustrate interiors.
Following up on our interview with series writer Dan Jurgens about “The Final Joke,” Newsarama talked to Hamner to find out more about the challenge of bringing the Joker into the future and what happens when he hits the streets of Neo-Gotham.
Newsarama: Cully, how did you get involved in the “Final Joke” storyline?
Cully Hamner: Pretty simple: my DC editor Rob Levin called me up just after I had finished Batman & The Signal and asked if I was interested. I’ve always loved the look of the show, and I was super-interested in working with Dan - he’s someone I’ve always admired as both a writer and an artist.
Nrama:How is this version of the Joker visually different from the Joker we know?
Hamner: Well, the thing here is two-fold: This is the Original Joker. He has to look like the same guy, to play as the Joker that we all know. So, I figured I’d do that; the only real change would be to just creep the hell out of his face and age him. It’s like his entire face is covered in laugh-lines emanating from his pink, bloodshot eyes.
In my mind, I kept thinking back to these dolls I would see as a kid in old country stores around where I grew up, where the heads were carved out of old, dried-out apples. The artistry was pretty amazing, actually, but they always had this ancient look.
And other than that, it was just on the page as written by Dan, you know? He was very specific that, since he was going to be confronting Barbara Gordon in the cliffhanger of the issue, the Joker’s style would evoke The Killing Joke. Not an exact copy, mind you, just an echo.
So, Dan asked for him to be in a Hawaiian-style shirt and to be using a revolver. Obviously anachronistic to the period we’re in, but to make the reader feel the same sense of dread that Barbara must be flashing back to.
Nrama:Is it challenging to take a green-headed character developed decades ago and place him in a world of the future? How did you try to make that translation work?
Hamner: You know… not so much, actually. And the reason is that, at least in the part of the story I drew, he’s not really supposed to fit in that way. He’s supposed to be out of place. The Joker is always that random element that comes in and takes over, and that’s exactly what he does here. In a way, he’s a character that’s sort immune to his environment. Does that make any sense? The only stimulus he reacts to is Batman and his cohort. He could give a crap about the world around him, really.
Nrama: Where there any other specific art challenges about Batman Beyond or the Joker’s return in particular?
Hamner: Well, as I said, I always admired the look of the show, but for this, it was definitely a struggle to pay homage to that while still amping up the size and detail of Neo Gotham and handling the action in the way that you need to.
To a degree, any time I do something that isn’t really based in the concrete now or in the easily-referenced past, it’s a challenge. I’m going to want to make it live and breathe, and that does mean throwing a lot of thought and detail into the world-building aspect of it.
And look, I’ll admit here that sometimes makes it a situation where I need a bit of back-up, and I’ll tell you…I was quite relieved when Rob brought in Marco Santucci to help out. He did a great job.
Nrama: Can you describe your favorite scene or visual moment with the Joker in this story?
Hamner: It’s that last scene, with (spoiler alert!) Barbara finding the Joker in her office. I mean, look, it’s obvious who it is before the final-page-reveal, but it was still fun to lengthen that moment and try to stretch the anticipation over a couple of pages.
Nrama: What’s it been like working with Dan on this issue and the art team overall?
Hamner: I have been following Dan Jurgens’ work since probably…I guess, the Flash Gordon series he did for DC in the late ‘80s. No, wait - it was Sun Devils even before that. And his original run on Superman is obviously a high-water mark for the character. He’s just…he’s Dan Freakin’ Jurgens. As a classic visual storyteller, he’s like granite; as a writer, he’s got all the nuance you want. He just knows how to do everything. I seem to remember that I cornered him in a bar during a DC summit a few years ago and fanboyed out a bit on him. Guy’s a legend.
As far as the art team, like I said, we were lucky to get somebody like Marco to take some of the weight off of me. I mean, we’re pretty different in our approaches, but kind of oddly complementary. Our pages fit together pretty well, I think.
Val Staples is just great. He’s someone I had worked with before on my Red: Eyes Only prequel one-shot and on an Action Comics Annual a while back. He’s on my list of go-to colorists. He just gets how to render my stuff. I’m deceptively hard to color, I guess, but he knows how to do-that-voodoo-he-do on me. And my favorite bit that he added with no instruction from me or anyone else is that he treated the inside of Mr. Freeze’s helmet like a shaken-up snow globe! He put snow floating around in there. Loved it.
Nrama: With the issue out this week, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Batman Beyond #25?
Hamner: Just that it’s an awesome Batman Beyond story, with a fair amount of classic Batman stuff in flashback. It was fun to do, and I’m banking on that meaning it’ll be fun to read.