REFLECTIONS: Paul Dini, Part II

Thu, December 11th, 2008 at 12:02pm PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer
7

"Batman" #685 on sale in January

Paul Dini is back this week and still has plenty to chat about. What’s that? You missed last week’s Top Cow-centric Dini interview, where he dished the dirt on the return of Madame Mirage and all things DiniCartoons? Fear not, dear reader, simply follow this link and you’ll be in the know.

This week in REFLECTIONS, Dini focuses on his work for DC Comics. Formerly a writer/producer of the legendary “Batman: The Animated Series,” Dini’s been writing “Detective Comics” since 2006, mainly telling stories contained within a single issue, something few other mainstream ongoing series embrace in this era of writing-for-the-trade and decompressed storytelling. Many of the one-shots in Dini’s run have become instant classics for Batman fans, including a morbid Christmas tale of The Joker holding Robin hostage while taking a joyride through Gotham City. Dini’s multi-parters, particularly, “Heart of Hush,” has also been well received by readers and critics.

Get ready for Dini to dish the dirt about his views on villainy in the Batman universe, his favorite story, and his opinions of the various Batman crossovers he’s worked on. And, more than that, learn what team books Dini does and does not want to write.

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CBR: You’ve been writing “Detective Comics” since 2006, and of course have an even longer history with the character going back to the early 1990s with “Batman: The Animated Series” and its related spin-offs.

Paul Dini: I really like writing Batman. He’s a great character and it’s a challenge to spend time in his weird world each month. And I like doing the one-shot stories because it is fun to construct the little mysteries and then put Batman into the middle of it. At the same time, I was thinking that people do like longer stories, like the five-part “Heart of Hush” epic we just finished up. So even as I was doing the one-shot stories, I was looking ahead to a big wrap-up and planting seeds and characters here and there to bring back later. Once I had mapped out the Hush story, I was thinking it was time to wind up a bunch of these loose ends in an interesting way. Even when I’m writing a script I’m thinking four or five issues ahead.

"Batman: Detective" collects issues of Paul Dini's run on "Detective Comics"

Looking back, which of the shorter stories stick out to you as your favorite?

Let’s see. The first Riddler-detective story was fun to do, because I always thought Batman needed a dirty detective to match wits with. Somebody who was really in it for the money and the glory, and when I was coming up with the idea I thought about creating a new character and establish them over a period of issues, but then again, what if I take the character of The Riddler and do that with him? Yes, he hates Batman. Yes, he’s got the death traps. Yes, he’s psychotic and has the room at Arkham Asylum. But what if he, for whatever reason, made an effort to clean himself up and hire himself out?

In a way, it was a very broad commentary on modern society, where it’s almost impossible to do anything that can bring you permanent shame in the public eye. You can be a celebrity and do the most nasty things, and yet still people will want to see you. No one commits a transgression and withdraws in shame any more. With the possible exception of The Joker, I don’t think there is any character in Batman’s rogues’ gallery who couldn’t make that jump from despicable villain to interesting celebrity.

You did it in a different way with The Penguin, too.

I look at Penguin and his motivations have always been:

1) Get wealth

2) Kill Batman

3) Ingratiate himself into society

Taking out factor number two, I think Penguin has realized that his best revenge is living well. Yes, he’ll always be basically a criminal, but a lot of people making big money are criminals too. He’s somebody who realized, “Why am I breaking into jewelry stores and holding up people with trick umbrellas? I’ll just trade on my dangerous image, people will flock to meet me and I’ll charge them an arm and a leg. I’ll franchise this! I’ll make more money than God!” It’s still larceny of a sort.

"Batman: Death City" collects issues of Paul Dini's run on "Detective Comics"

And yet new ideas always come to me. Yesterday, I was thinking about The Penguin and also about how bad the economy is right now. Not many people are going out to eat just now. Penguin has got a big, fancy club to keep open, and people aren’t going there, so maybe that trick umbrella is looking pretty good right now.

And, going back to The Riddler, it was the same thing. He thought, “Why should I keep getting beaten up by Batman when I can hire myself out as a security consultant and detective? It doesn’t matter if I solve the case or the wrong person goes to jail—it’s the notoriety that matters.” That’s been an interesting concept to play with for awhile.

The Joker has always been the great unknown and the character who just never will come clean. He’s beyond it. He’s more a sinister force than an actual human being. And that’s not to say I want to reform every member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery, where’s the fun in that?

Speaking of The Joker, a fan-favorite issue of your “Detetive Comics” run depicted the villain capturing Robin and taking him on a violent joyride around Gotham City during Christmas. Tell us about this standout issue.

The Christmas story was my favorite too. Back when I was first talking to [DC Executive Editor] Dan DiDio about “Detective,” that story just popped into my head full blown. The story wouldn’t work with Batman because Joker would have probably steered clear of him. But it seemed like a perfect Robin story, especially as it’s Robin’s overconfidence that gets him into trouble. I really have to give a nod to Joel Chandler Harris for that story, because it’s really a riff on Bre’er Rabbit and the Briar Patch.

Tell us about working with the other Batman writers and artists on both of your major crossovers, “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” and “Batman R.I.P.?”

"Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" hardcover on sale now

With Ra’s Al Ghul’s story, we had a framework to follow and knew the story was going to go from point A to point B and finish at point C. It worked as well as it could have under those circumstances. Ideally, I’d like to do it TV style with everyone in the room discussing the story and ending up having something really tight, but the risk you have there is that you are writing a story anyone could write and no one is bringing their own personal touch to it.

For “Batman R.I.P.” it was much looser than that. Grant [Morrison] was taking the lead on the story with other writers tying-in to it in varying degrees. In my case it was very tangential because I took Hush and did a big story about him and tied it into “R.I.P.” but making it happen over two really bad nights before Batman got involved with the whole Black Glove scenario. So that was the tie-in, that they were happening around the same time.

Aside from your creator-owned work at Top Cow, are you still DC-exclusive for work-for-hire?

Yes. I have an exclusion for “Madame Mirage” and certain humor characters.

What speaks to you right now about the DCU?

I have an affinity for pretty much all the characters. I like Batman and his world. I like the team books, though I’m not sure I could ever do justice to the JLA or JSA over a long period of time. There are just a lot of characters with a lot of demands.

Sometimes I would like to start my own team of characters. I don’t know what that would be—perhaps something like The Secret Six—but again, the thing I would really like the ability to cut loose and not tie anything in to anything or check in to see where characters are in other books. I just want four or five characters that were just exclusive to that book.

"Batman: The Heart of Hush" hardcover on sale in April 2009

Lightning round time! What was your first comic book?

It was “King Leonardo and His Short Subjects” way back in the early ‘60s. I found a copy at someone’s house as a kid. At the time it was a five-year-old comic already. I was aware of what comics were but it was mostly through the funny papers and daily strips.

What is your favorite comic book of all time?

“Uncle Scrooge.”

What is your favorite comic book movie of all time?

“The Dark Knight” was really good.

What is your biggest strength as a writer?

I get into the heads of characters that you might have seen before, shake things up and find a new way to set things off.

Biggest weakness?

I don’t know that I am as adept as the other guys out there to call in every bit of knowledge about certain established characters. When I write a character, for better or for worse it is my own skew on them. I don’t have as encyclopedic a mind as I would like.

If you could only write one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

Probably one of my own, like “Mutant, Texas.” Or an anthology with the other goofy characters I’ve created. I always liked variety my books when I was a kid, and years later, I guess I still do. I loved “Disney’s Comics and Stories,” where you could see a lot of different characters under one title. Then again, I liked the same thing about R. Crumb comics, when you get solo stories about Mr. Natural, the Snoid or any of his other characters. Same with “Love and Rockets” and Hernandez Bros. characters.

Who would be drawing it?

I’d throw it open to any of the artists I’ve worked with before, like J. Bone, Stephanie Gladden, Bill Morrison, Stephen DeStefano or anyone else who wanted to come and play.

If you could only be remembered for one thing in your career, what would it be?

I don’t want to answer that because I’m afraid I’ll drop dead and no one will remember me for whatever it was I said. [laughs]

There’s always the new horizon, why limit myself?

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TAGS:  paul dini, detective comics, batman, batman r.i.p., hush

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