Since fall 2007, when Gary Frank began his exclusive contract with DC Comics, readers have been experiencing a recurring artist-writer team-up through his celebrated collaboration with Geoff Johns.
Now comes word that in 2010, the two will work together again on a project that puts Batman in a whole new universe – and potentially in the hands of a whole new audience.
As announced yesterday, DC Comics is beginning a line of Earth One comics that will tell the stories of iconic DC superheroes in a modern setting. While J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis will be creating Superman: Earth One, Johns and Frank will reunite for Batman: Earth One.
The Earth One comics will not only update the stories of the heroes themselves, but will be presented in a more modern format as well, with a continuing series of graphic novels.
As Johns and Frank finish up Superman: Secret Origin, Newsarama talked to Frank about his upcoming work on Batman: Earth One and why he keeps coming back to Geoff Johns as his creative collaborator.
Newsarama: Finally, we hear what your next project with Geoff is. How did you find out about this project, and what did you think of this opportunity when you first heard about it?
Gary Frank: Wow, we're going back a bit!
Nrama: That long ago?
Frank: Geoff told me about the project a while ago when things were pretty embryonic but the actual format of it came (at least, to me) a long time later. It was just an incredible time. We had the Action stuff with some really iconic beats either done or coming up. We had the return of the original Legion to Superman's continuity, the death of Jonathan Kent and Secret Origin to follow and then, not one for an anti-climax, Geoff threw down the Batman news. That he wanted me to be involved was just unbelievable.
Nrama: Besides the chance to work with Geoff again, why did working on this type of project appeal to you?
Frank: First off, if Geoff said right now that he was writing his version of Arm-fall-off Boy, I'd be throwing my name in the hat for the pencils. The fact that this book is Batman makes it a no-brainer.
Also, I love stuff which is in continuity, but the freedom that a project like this gives us is a huge bonus. It's a blank slate.
Nrama: The format of this ongoing is a little different because it's being treated as a series of graphic novels. How do you think that benefits both the objective of these comics and the story itself?
Frank: Honestly, I don't know yet. It's nice to have something coming out regularly but it's more satisfying to hold a trade or a hardback with a big juicy chunk of story in your hands. The Secret Origin books are pretty big at thirty to forty story pages per issue, but they still fly by when you read them.
But, you know, I think DC just wants to try something different. Times are changing and comics don't sell what they once did. Every few years you hear people talking again about how the industry is on it's last legs and, while Hollywood has been good to us in recent years, no one knows how long that will last. There's an awareness that we all need to adapt in some way and I'd personally prefer to go this way than digital. Call me a dinosaur but I like paper.
Nrama: Let's talk about your take on Batman here. How is he different from the Batman in current continuity?
Frank: He's Bruce Wayne!
Nrama: Good point.
Frank: Sorry, couldn't resist.
But look, this isn't just the story of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman in a world where people have cellphones and wi-fi. It's not just the old story in a modern setting. This is a young guy who has a long way to go before becoming the Batman that we all know and love. I don't want to get into specifics because the journey is going to be the fun part.
Nrama How do you represent that difference visually? It looks like you've made some tweaks in the costume.
Frank: A major thing is that his eyes are visible. That might sound trivial but it creates a very different effect. You can never forget that there is a man in there when you can see the eyes staring out. This really lends itself to the story we will be telling which is far more about the forming of the character than a cool-looking superhero doing his thing (though I'm sure we'll get to that, too).
Nrama: We've seen how you and Geoff have handled the in-continuity story of Superman's origin. Is this story of Batman being handled similarly? Will the same types of emotional beats be tackled in a similar way?
Frank: I think it's going to be just as character-driven as the Superman stuff but there are less constraints. Everyone knows where Superman is going in Superman: Secret Origin, but the Batman book could go anywhere. Gordon could get killed on page three. Bruce could change his mind about crime-fighting and decide to open a petshop. If the petshop only sold bats we could even make the books name continue to be appropriate.
Nrama: Have you changed up your style for this? Is there a certain type of look you're going for with this project that might be a little different from what we've seen from you in the past?
Frank: I'm still working on that. I don't want to use Superman as a transition phase so I'm not trying out anything on paper yet. Obviously there will be more blacks and a general darker feel to a lot of it. I want to handle the public Bruce Wayne and the secret Bruce Wayne in two very distinct ways. I want people to see the public mask drop away as he exits a room full of people.
Also, the brutal, crazed world of Batman is a stark contrast to the world of Bruce Wayne with it's clinking glasses, Brioni suits and polo ponies.
Nrama: Since DC readers are already very familiar with your take on Superman, what would you say are the main differences between the character of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman? And how is that difference reflected in the way you draw the characters?
Frank: Superman/Clark is open and relaxed most of the time. Sure he might be nervous occasionally but it's that same kind of nervous we all get. As Clark, he even acts more tense than he is.
Batman/Bruce, at least in his early days, is the opposite. He can fake relaxed but his core is always in roiling. I'd like to have him feel tightly-wound, very controlled because, underneath there is the rage. Don't forget that we aren't dealing with the seasoned crimefighter/detective here. This is a raw you man trying to fill a hole in his soul.
The young Clark was given wonderful parents and spends the rest of his life trying to say "thank you." Bruce is robbed of his family and decides that the criminal world is going to pay.
Frank: Anything else you want to tell DC readers about Batman: Earth One?
Frank: It's going to be printed upside-down.
Nrama: [laughs] Riiiight. Gary, I know we've talked about this before, but it's tough not to notice that, since you've been at DC, you've been working with Geoff Johns. What's been the attraction of working with Geoff time and again on DC characters?
Frank: For me, It's partly because he just knows his characters so well, so clearly that they feel so real. His stories are so warm even though horrible things take place in them sometimes. How often did you get the feeling when you read a Superman story that the writer actually liked Lois? And his stuff is just so much fun to read. Actual fun!!! Sorry, I know that's not always fashionable these days but I like stories that are fun.
The other thing, from a professional point of view, is that he is so creatively generous. He wants to hear what I think about things. If I have suggestions and ideas. Even when I find myself coming out with some half-baked nonsense, he'll put it graciously aside, and listen to what comes next. I don't know how many other artists would love to be included like that in the building of the story but I imagine it has to be a pretty high percentage. We pencillers spend more time working on the books than anyone else in the chain and that's a lot of time to chew stuff over. Sometimes things just come up and it's great, if some of those things are usable, to have the outlet.