WARNING! This interview contains SPOILERS for Batman #697.
Little did readers know, writer David Hine's small yet delightfully macabre stories about Jeremiah Arkham and his creepy asylum weren't that small after all.
It turns out that Jeremiah Arkham is the twisted mind behind the Black Mask, the villain whose rule over Gotham City's underworld has been giving Batman so much trouble over the last year.
Beginning in next month's Detective Comics #864, Hine will continue his exploration of Jeremiah's character and Gotham's Arkham Asylum in a two-issue story titled "Under the Mask." This time, the writer will be free to show both sides of the madness that consumes Jeremiah Arkham, now that his identity as the Black Mask has been revealed in this week's Batman #697.
Since last year's Battle for the Cowl event by writer/artist Tony Daniel, readers have been guessing about the identity of the new Black Mask, the villain who emerged as a mob leader in Gotham City when Bruce Wayne allegedly died. When Newsarama spoke with Batman writer/artist Daniel earlier this week, readers were still guessing the Black Mask's secret identity to be everyone from Tommy Elliot to the Riddler.
Now that Black Mask has been revealed as Jeremiah Arkham, it's Hine's turn to finish the story he started a year ago. While Daniel has been telling stories about the Black Mask in Batman, Hine has been concurrently exploring Jeremiah Arkham in last year's one-shot Battle for the Cowl: Arkham Asylum and the Arkham Reborn mini-series.
Newsarama spoke to Hine about how he was able to approach the character for so long without spoiling his villainous identity, and what comes next for Jeremiah Arkham in Detective Comics.
Newsarama: You've been working with Jeremiah Arkham for months now. Have you known Black Mask's secret identity since back when the character first showed up in your Battle for the Cowl one-shot about him?
David Hine: Yes. In fact I was writing that this time last year. That was an awful long time to sit on it. My original plot for the Battle For The Cowl one-shot had a lot more clues in it. Too many for editorial to pass on. I kept getting my outlines returned until I figured out I really couldn’t say too much about what was going on in Jeremiah Arkham’s head, so I came up with the story of the Three Beauties instead. I was a little worried that it was too much of a digression, but it actually went down very well with most readers.
Nrama: Is this why Arkham Reborn ended with a few things unfinished? Will you be finishing them now?
Hine: By the time Arkham Reborn came around, I was hoping that Black Mask would be unmasked and I could wrap the story the way I intended, but the mystery still had to be maintained for a few more months. The story of Jeremiah and the Three Beauties has ended up as a three-act story. The two-part Detective story is the final act, and this time all those loose ends will be tied up very firmly.
Nrama: What were some of things you included in your Arkham stories that hinted about Jeremiah's secret activities as Black Mask?
Hine: It was made pretty obvious from the start that Jeremiah was cracking up and had been heading that way for a very long time. In fact, he says at the start of the Battle for The Cowl one-shot that he has been "dancing on the edge of madness" all his life. I had to be very cagey about it in that first issue though. There are messages scrawled on a mirror and I wanted to have them signed "BM." So Jeremiah would have been looking into a mirror and seen himself reflected against the message "Perverted, Twisted, Crippled – BM." A strong hint that the person who wrote the message was Black Mask. The image stayed in but the "BM" signature had to be left out.
There are lots more clues in Arkham Reborn. By now, the recurring theme of masks and Jeremiah’s obsession with them should have been a big clue that he was also wearing one.
He has become a truly fractured personality. Part of him wants to rehabilitate the inmates of Arkham, while another part of him is haunted by his Uncle Amadeus, who ended up turning on the inmates of the asylum as he descended into his own state of madness. When we see Black Mask trying to break Jeremiah, this is really the “evil” side of Jeremiah trying to break down the last walls that Jeremiah has built around the “good” side of his personality. By the end of that mini-series, the walls had crumbled and he gave in to his insanity.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Jeremiah's motivations for being the Black Mask? What are the origins of the madness that brought him to this point?
Hine: Jeremiah is a very complex character. He set out to be the great psychiatrist that Amadeus Arkham failed to be. He had every intention of curing the inmates of the asylum but from day one he screwed up.
This goes all the way back to the 1992 “Shadow of the Bat” series written by Alan Grant. He actually never was very good at his job, and that failure and the ridicule that he was getting, particularly from Batman, drove him to become increasingly bitter and twisted. Beneath the nerdy exterior, he was always a megalomaniac. He never gained the respect from the heroes of Gotham and he never got to cure the criminals. He uses the Black Mask persona to gain control. If you look at the way he manipulates and dictates to the various villains he releases from Arkham, you’ll see that it is all about ego.
I wouldn’t want to say too much about his ultimate intentions for Gotham, as I’m sure Tony Daniel has his own plans. But I would say that Jeremiah/Black Mask believes that the entire city of Gotham is a sick and perverted place. Arkham Asylum is the black heart of the city but all of Gotham is a madhouse. It may be that, despairing of ever curing the city of its madness, he wants to push things towards some kind of apocalyptic end. He has certainly expressed the desire to see the city go up in flames.
Nrama: In your upcoming Detective Comics issues, what story will you be telling?
Hine: There are still a lot of twists in this tale. The stories of The Three Beauties, The Jester and Alyce Sinner will all be tied up neatly by the end of the second issue. No more loose ends this time. We’ll see who they all are and where they fit into Jeremiah’s twisted psyche. We’ll also discover who or what has been manipulating things behind the scenes.
Nrama: What will Batman be doing in this story arc?
Hine: He sets out to save a man’s life, but to do that he has to force Jeremiah to face up to his own duality. At the start of the story, Jeremiah is still in denial. He still has no memory of what he did as Black Mask, and Batman has to take a crash course in psychoanalysis to break through to those hidden memories.
Nrama: This arc is called "Under the Mask." Is Jeremiah the only one under whose mask we'll be looking?
Hine: There are many many masks, and they’re all coming off. The story will also be re-visiting an old Hugo Strange story, written by Devin Grayson, which appeared in Gotham Knights 10 years ago. In that story, Strange tried to take the place of Batman, and one of the first images we see is of Strange wearing the Batman mask. On the opening page we also see, among others, Batman in the gasmask he recently wore in the Batman series, Alyce Sinner in a devil mask, and No Face wearing a mask of Joker makeup.
Nrama: Will we see many of the characters return who were in Arkham Reborn?
Hine: The Beauties and Alyce are back. No sign of the Raggedy Man though. My intention was to create a character so repulsive that no one would ever want to see him again. So he’s well and truly dead.
Nrama: Are there any other DC characters that might show up over the course of your story?
Hine: Brief appearance of Nightwing and Catwoman. And the rather wonderful Mortician. Now I didn’t actually know that this guy existed, but I thought The Mortician was a great name for a character, so I wrote him a role and then Googled the name, as I always do with new characters, just to check and... Lo and Behold, he already existed and he was just exactly how I pictured him. It’s become virtually impossible to create a new character. All the names have been used. I have a new version of The Jester, but DC does have a character by that name going back to the '40s and of course, Marvel has a Jester as well. I despair of coming up with a decent original name. Anything you Google these days will find a match. It’s easier to plunder the archives.
Nrama: How important are the Arkham Reborn and the Battle for the Cowl one-shot to the story you'll be telling in Detective Comics?
Hine: Clearly, as I’ve said, these are the three acts of a single story, but if I’ve done my job properly, you’ll be able to pick this up and read it as a stand-alone. It will definitely be worth re-reading the whole thing again though, after reading these two issues of Detective. A lot of plot elements will take on a new meaning.
Nrama: What effect does this story have on Batman?
Hine: It will probably drive him crazy.
Nrama: How has it been working on this story with Jeremy Haun? What has he brought to the depiction of Arkham?
Hine: Jeremy has been great. We met up shortly before he began work on the first one-shot and it was obvious that we were on the same wavelength. He really got into the scripts and his depictions of the characters have been perfect. He has taken the characters of No Face, The Mirror Man, The Hamburger Lady, The Raggedy Man and Alyce Sinner and made them live and breathe.
Nrama: Fans seem to love what you've done with Arkham, David. Will we see more Arkham or Batman stories from you down the line?
Hine: I hope so. Arkham Asylum is a rich breeding ground for the kind of idiosyncratic stories and characters that I like to work with. I’m going to be tied up for a while with a couple of other projects for DC, but some time in the future I’ll be bugging Mike Marts to let me loose on the Asylum again.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers about your Detective Comics story?
Hine: This one really is a detective story, and I can guarantee one or two surprises for everyone by the time it ends.