Matt Wagner Interview

Matt Wager is the popular creator of Grendel and Mage. He has also done lots of work at DC including Batman: Faces, Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity, and covers for Green Arrow and Batman. This month, he begins a new mini-series, Batman & the Monster Men. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke with Wagner to find out more.

Westfield: How did the series Batman & the Monster Men come about?

Matt Wagner: I should preface it by saying that Batman & the Monster Men is the first of two series that run under the collective title of Dark Moon Rising. Batman & the Monster Men is the first six issues and then the second six issues is Batman & the Mad Monk. The series came about as a result of looking for a project to follow up Trinity with and I didn't just want to do Trinity II. And yet I thought it would be a good idea to stick with the format of spotlighting some early stage of the career of any or all of DC's major heroes. With Batman Begins coming out this summer, I thought the logical choice was Batman. Additionally, I've done a lot of Batman in the past, so I'm quite familiar with the character. So I started scanning around for missing links in the existing mythos. It struck me that one transitional stage that was missing was how Batman first starts encountering what ultimately will be super villains, because in Batman: Year One, he's fighting gangsters and mobsters and that sort of opponent. It seems like all of a sudden he's fighting all costumed super villains. I wanted to examine that transition and made the pitch to DC. They thought it was a good idea and here we are.

Westfield: You mentioned this is the first of two series. How is this going to work? Is one going to follow right after the other?

Wagner: I think it's a two or three month gap. There's a little skip there to make sure I'm on schedule and also to just kinda stoke the fires a little bit. The first series comes out, then you've gotta wait just a few months to get the next series.

Westfield: Will they both be self contained?

Wagner: They're self contained, but there's a running storyline thread that connects the two and that is Bruce's relationship with his girlfriend. The gist of these series is that I went back and scoured through the Golden Age Batman stories that were all pre-Robin. Basically I'm re-weaving two of my favorite Golden Age Stories. Batman & the Monster Men appears in Batman #1 and Batman & the Mad Monk is in Detective #31 & 32. As a result, I also gave him his Golden Age girlfriend, Julie Madison. It's Bruce's relationship with her that is the connecting thread between the two series.

Westfield: What more can you say about the story in Monster Men?

Wagner: Well, if you read Year One, at the end of that narrative, he seems to be kind of on top of things. He's made a significant blow against organized crime, he's concocted this night time persona, and this frightening disguise that really works well. Everybody's scared of him. The crooks are running scared and operating under suspicion and fear now. He's quite young at this point and, as most young people who experience a sudden bout of initial success in their chosen directions, he's got his share of youthful arrogance. He thinks he's winning. I don't picture Bruce as this megalomaniacal character that he seems to evolve into in the later versions of Batman. I don't think he thinks he's gonna eradicate crime world-wide. I don't think he even thinks he's going to eradicate it in Gotham. At the moment, he's very practical. He does think he can crack the back of organized crime's stranglehold on Gotham. Truthfully, he probably wouldn't be doing this if he didn't think he could win. And so, I don't imagine that he thinks that this is the sum of the rest of his life. This is a task he feels he needs to do right now and that someday it's gonna be effective and he's gonna win and he's basically gonna hang up the cape and have a normal life. As a result, he has a girlfriend because he feels that the war's gonna be ending soon. He needs to enjoy the results of this better world he's helping to carve. But, as we know with Batman, most of his relationships end in tragedy of course. [laughter]

Westfield: Anything you can say about which villains will be appearing?

Wagner: That was the other thing I wanted to examine. He thinks he's winning. What happens when he first starts to encounters villains that aren't necessarily tied into the organized crime scene in Gotham and that aren't scared of the costume in the least? What happens when his well-crafted crusade kinda gets tossed back in his face? If you read any of the reprints of Batman #1, you know that the Monster Men are created by Hugo Strange, so you've got his first encounter with Hugo Strange in modern continuity. The Mad Monk I'd prefer to leave as a mysterious character that we learn about as that series approaches.

Westfield: With both this book and Trinity, you've looked at the early years of the characters. Is there something that fascinates you about that time period?

Wagner: Yeah. It's so raw. Those early creators had no concept of the historical context of what they were doing. They had no idea these characters were gonna go on to become such grand cultural American icons. They were just doing what they thought was cool and exciting. In fact, there's not even an origin story for Batman until Batman #1, and even then it's just a little 2-page summation, here's how his parents got killed and here's how he trained himself. It's almost tagged on as an afterthought. Batman was, when you really look at the early incarnations of the character, very obviously derivative of both Zorro and the Shadow. The Shadow, for the longest time in the pulp tradition, was completely mysterious. Even his supposed secret identity of Lamont Cranston was a disguise. There was a real Lamont Cranston that the Shadow had convinced to travel the world and keep out of sight while the Shadow assumed his identity for his own purposes in Manhattan. The early Batman stories are very much like that. You know he's Bruce Wayne, but you have no idea why Bruce Wayne is doing this. Again, they're just so unfettered; unrestrained. They're just grand.

Westfield: Returning to an earlier comment you made, would you like to go back and look at Wonder Woman or Superman again?

Wagner: Eventually. Yeah. It just seemed like good marketing sense what with the movie coming out to do a Batman series set in his early days. I've been working on this series for about a year now. I'm up to issue #6, so once it starts coming out it should be very regular. When I actually saw the movie finally, there's a couple of points of overlap where people are going to think "Oh, he stole that from the movie." No, I didn't. We just stumbled upon the same sort of narrative points. [laughs]

Westfield: Do you have any other projects you're working on?

Wagner: No, this is pretty much taking up all my time right now. The next big project on the horizon for me is the fact that the year 2007 is Grendel's 25th Anniversary, so we have a lot of special projects we're gearing up for in regards to that, but that's still a bit away.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Wagner: I think readers will really like this. The original version of the Batman & the Mad Monk story features the first Golden Age appearance of not only the Batplane, but the Batarang as well. I tried to include some things, developmental things, that haven't been covered yet in regards to Batman's continuity; how he develops this, how he develops that. DC seems very excited about the project, so I'm hopin' readers are as well.