Return to the Dark Detective

 height=In the 1970s, writer Steve Englehart, artist Marshall Rogers, inker Terry Austin, and letterer John Workman combined their talents in Detective Comics to produce what many consider one of the highlights in Batman's long history. Now, they are all back for the new 6-issue mini-series, Batman: Dark Detective from DC. So, how did this new series come about?

"As far as I know, it came about in the brain of DC's Dan Didio," says writer Steve Englehart.

"With the upcoming release of the new Batman movie, DC wanted to get a number of Batman projects ready for release to be around at the time of the movie," continues artist Marshall Rogers. "I understand that they had also been talking about reuniting different teams from an earlier time that had made an impression in the market."

These things all came together, and Englehart and Rogers were contacted by editor Joey Cavalieri and asked about doing the project. Obviously, they both agreed. But there was more to the team than these two. "When DC asked me and Marshall to do this, we said we want to get Terry Austin and John Workman involved with this," states Englehart. "And it turned out that DC is on its way to doing all their lettering by computer, and Joey Cavalieri had to do a little swapping here and there to get a live letterer on it. It's a four man group who worked on it the first time and are working on it the second time. That was important for us. If we were going to do this, we wanted to get the gang all together. Terry's crisp, black line is essential, in my mind, for The Batman. It isn't to say that other people can't do their own thing, but the inking line on that felt like he was on the same page. The lettering is also important. Marshall does a lot of stuff where he does little, odd sound effects. That was something we never could have gotten from a computer."

So what was it like for these two to revisit these characters? "It's not like we're revisiting," states Rogers. "For both Steve and I, even though what we did was quite a number of years ago, to us it was yesterday. It was just coming back to some old familiar faces."

Work on the project began, but it was still uncertain if it would happen. "When they first proposed this to me, they said we want you to do this, but you've gotta give us a proposal," begins Englehart. Rogers continues the story. "Steve and I sat down together and said 'what are we gonna do now?' He had an objective in mind when he had done the first set of stories; trying to get the feel of The Batman as he had perceived it when he was a young reader. He wanted to get a similar overall objective. He wanted to play with the Joker a little bit more. We also looked at our past work and Silver St. Cloud was a very popular character and thought that she should be reintroduced. Then Steve took that, and we talked about a couple things I thought about the character, and took that home and started to run with it."

"I came up with a proposal fairly quickly and I sent it in. I didn't know if this was actually going to go forward or not," continues Englehart. "I know they called me, but it's harder to get things published these days, so it's possible that it might not have worked. They might not have liked what I wanted to do. I sat down as soon as I sent off the proposal and I wrote the first issue, even thinking it's quite possible I might never get paid for this. But I wanted to do it. I was so taken over with the possibilities. The reunion between Bruce and Silver - I wanted to see how that would play out. I have said over the years in other interviews that a lot of times I'll start down a road not really knowing where I'm going, and I see how things play out. This was for my own edification to see how Bruce and Silver would react to each other when they got back together. Then, when I finished the first issue, I said 'Hmmm. This may never actually happen.' As I waited for them to approve the proposal, I did think a couple times, 'Was that the smartest thing you ever did?' But they did approve it, so there we were."

The end result, says Rogers, is "a six issue run that I've had a hell of a lot of fun drawing."

So what can people expect in Dark Detective? "I wanted to pick it up basically as a volume 2 to the first story, so it picks up 'some time' after the first one," says Englehart. "The Batman reality is the current Batman reality, which is to say that the police don't like him and he has to operate a little more undercover than he did in the last episode. Silver St. Cloud has become engaged to a guy who's running for governor and Bruce Wayne is an influential donor who gets invited to a political thing not knowing that he's going to see her. She doesn't know she's going to see him. Then they do. That opens up a whole part of each of their lives that they thought was behind them. This is complicated by the fact that in the middle of this, the Joker decides he wants to run for governor as well. He's feeling unappreciated. He's got a lot of money, he's ruthless, he's ideologically-driven. Why shouldn't he hold high public office is his theory. His slogan is "Vote for me or I'll kill you." It's a pretty direct pitch. We got our call to do this in February of last year, so I thought of this as the Joker's slogan then, and during the course of last year as the political campaign in real life played out, there were various groups who had slogans like "vote or die." The Joker was first.

"I look at Gotham City like it's got 8 million stories. It's tradition in comics for the villains to kind of line up so they can attack in sequential order and Batman can take care of the Joker, then turn his attention to the Scarecrow. In my Gotham City, all these guys are scheming all the time. They're not waiting for permission from other super villains as to when they're going to launch their thing. During the course of this series, there's an ongoing plot by the Joker, there's an ongoing plot by the Scarecrow, and there's an ongoing plot by Two-Face. They're all happening simultaneously, which complicates Batman's life that much more. So there's a lot going on."

As mentioned, Englehart and Rogers have brought in Two-Face and Scarecrow, who are new characters for them. What did they think of them? "I had a lot of fun with Two-Face. Scarecrow was a little less interesting," replies Englehart. "What I try to do when I do Batman is, I want to run through the classic villains. If there's more, and hopefully there will be down the line, I've already figured out who I'd do for volume 3. I wanted to do the Joker because with the return of Silver St. Cloud, it seemed like the Joker needed to be involved. If I did a volume 3, I wouldn't have the Joker in that. I don't want to use the Joker every time. In addition to that, I wanted to do guys that I hadn't done. The next guys on the list of villains were Two-Face and Scarecrow. Two-Face is interesting to me. Scarecrow, when I went and looked at him, his history is he basically goes around and scares people, but not necessarily killing them. Most of the time that's done by slipping somebody some drugs and freaking them out. He turned out not to be as complex a character as I might have thought when I went into it. I still found stuff to do with him, but if you're asking, I liked Two-Face better than Scarecrow.

"And then I threw in Doctor Double X just for the hell of it. He appeared in 1962. He was in the era just before Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino totally revamped the book. It was sort of the end of the 50s Batman vibe. His thing was he could turn himself into an energy double and he could be in two places at once. He appeared a couple of times. In our incarnation, he's long since retired. He turns out to be a good guy to hang around with Two-Face, since Two-Face likes everything to be double. He's a minor character, but an interesting minor character."

Rogers also enjoyed working with these classic villains but his reason is more conceptual. "I like having a comic book nemesis for a comic book hero. I think that makes for the strongest comic book story and what we're doing is comic books and having fun. By having very villainous characters, the hero works best against that. Something that is rooted much more in reality changes the scope of the hero. I had a very good time. We would like to continue on and I'd like to play with a lot of the old Batman villains while creating a couple new ones along the way also."

Do they feel any pressure to live up to the previous story? According to Rogers, "I know there's going to be comparisons made, obviously, but I don't think of entertainment in those terms. I have a view of entertainment that one-upmanship pushes things to ridiculous parameters. I just like to try to approach whatever work I've got and do the best job that I can and not worry about trying to be better than before. My objective is to be as good as I can be and bring as much as I can into a story. Hopefully that will bring a satisfaction to the audience. If, in my mind, I try to do more than I've done before, that can get in the way of just doing the best that I can."

Englehart feels similarly. "I'm always trying to do something special. That's just what I try to do. It comes from being a fan. I try to come up with something that's going to be memorable that people are going to enjoy. I put that on myself. This has had a big impact previously and I was quite aware that there was a possibility that if this thing doesn't work, if it looks like I've lost a step, that's not good. So I had that in mind, but it doesn't bother me. For better or for worse, I'm convinced that I can do it. I do believe that what we came up with is a worthy successor to what's there. When it's all over, you guys can tell me."

Their run on Detective was the first time Englehart and Rogers worked together, although that was quite by chance according to Englehart. "I wrote all of those script in advance and left the country. They were going to be handed off to whomever they were going to be handed off to. As it happens, they got handed off to Marshall and Terry Austin who did the perfect job on that."

Since then, they've worked together on other projects such as I Am Coyote, Madame Xanadu, and Silver Surfer. What makes their collaboration work so well? "We're both very strong in our approach," replies Rogers. "It translates into the other work we've done together also, but by using The Batman as a frame of reference, I think I can answer the question a little more succinctly. The character is very straight-forward, a strong character stereotype who always leads with his right. We both have that quality in our storytelling. Things plow forward rather than meander forward. When I got the original storyline on The Batman, it was a very powerful straight forward story that moved straight ahead, without being particularly linear, but there wasn't any hesitation or any whimpering going on in the main character. The heroic figure is that to me. When Steve writes the hero that way, I can add my straight forward, no wavering type of attitude to it. The Batman is very dark and mysterious, but he's always very strong and very solid."

This is a quality that's enhanced by Terry Austin's inking, says Rogers. "I have always really enjoyed Terry's work. He's got a clarity in his work and it translates well over my pencils. Terry is very true to the work that I put down and brings in the tonal quality that I like to try to achieve in my work."

So what do Englehart and Rogers have planned for the future? According to Englehart, "We'll see what happens. I really can't say more than that at this point."

Rogers has no immediate plans. "When I had gotten into this, I had wanted to get back into comic books because I had done a couple of different things in a couple different fields and found it to be not as satisfying or fulfilling to me personally, because I enjoy storytelling and there's no place that I can do it like I can do it in comic books. The Batman was a joy to have presented to me and I'm getting down near the end of this series and I'm going to start putting out feelers and see what else I could possibly do."

In conclusion, Englehart says, "If you can remember the fun you had somewhere back in the past when it was summertime and you were reading comics - school was out and you were kicking back for the summer and getting to read something fun - that's what I hope to be providing. So I hope people will buy the comics, instead of waiting for a collection. If the comics don't sell, there is no collection."

Rogers concludes by saying, "I would like all of the readers to get all of their friends to start to read also. America's becoming much too illiterate and it's impacting the comic book industry. Have everyone tell everyone about the upcoming series and get everyone to buy their own issue so that the sales are up there and we can get another series happening after this one."