THE BAT SIGNAL: Jenkins Suits Up with "The Dark Knight"

Mon, August 29th, 2011 at 10:58am PDT | Updated: August 29th, 2011 at 11:21am

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Josie Campbell, Staff Writer

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When DC Comics first announced a new Batman series, "Batman: The Dark Knight," written and drawn by Marvel Comics superstar David Finch, many wondered what they should expect from the "New Avengers" artist. While the 2010 series started off strong, "The Dark Knight" soon ran afoul of scheduling problems, skipping months to come out successively later and later. When DC announced its company-wide relaunch this year, many had doubts that "The Dark Knight" would be returning, let alone be able to finish its initial story.

Enter writer Paul Jenkins. Though "The Dark Knight's" continuation after September was announced months ago, when the solicits for issue #2 came out, DC surprised fans with the announcement that Jenkins would be taking over writing duties while Finch remained on art. Jenkins, who up until this point has been a predominant Marvel writer and creative force behind "Wolverine: Origin" and "The Sentry," is also writing the Deadman story for DC's anthology series "DC Universe Presents."

In the darkest hours of the night, THE BAT SIGNAL paid Jenkins a visit to discuss "The Dark Knight" and his involvement. Jenkins enthusiastically agreed, speaking frankly about the scheduling problems, touching on the philosophy behind his Batman and explaining how actual bats have sent him messages to write "Batman: The Dark Knight."

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CBR News: Let's start with the question I've been thinking bout since you mentioned it in an email -- what is your story with the bats?

Paul Jenkins: [Laughs] Well, you know, I work until really late at night, and I like to write at nighttime so I don't have people calling me in the day. I think it was about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning when I went to bed; I'm on an issue of "Batman: The Dark Knight" right now, and I was just thinking of Batman and bats and stuff. I have these squirrels that keep jumping off of the trees onto my roof, so I thought I heard them slapping around, and I turned on the light. Lo and behold there's a bat flying around my room, just flicking around in a circle. We just had an addition to our family, so my wife is sleeping in the baby's room right now, so there I am in this room with this bat -- and I think this is hilarious! I get my wife up, she comes upstairs, and I see one of the windows is slightly open which is where it got in. So we open the widow to get it out, and lo and behold another one flies through the window! Now I've got two bats circling around, which is so completely surreal! I jumped up and caught them both in the net, which took me a while, and got them outside. So I guess it's just sort of providence that I write Batman now. Bats are trying to send me a message!

Paul Jenkins takes over writing duties with the relaunch of "Batman: The Dark Knight"

You've been primarily working at Marvel up to this point. What made you decide to switch to DC and "The Dark Knight?"

I always had a great experience at DC. I wrote "Hellblazer" for a number of years -- in fact, I actually wrote more issues of "Hellblazer" than anybody, and it was the first really big gig I got in comics as a writer. Obviously when I went to Marvel I had a lot of success with the Marvel Knights stuff, all the way through "Wolverine: Origin" and the "Civil War" stuff that we did. And I'm good friends with the folks there. So I would see Dan Didio at conventions, and he would always ask me, "What's the chance you’d come back to DC?" I told him good, I like DC, I have no issue or problem at all, I was just having a great time at Marvel. I had good books to do, and so on. But after a while you kind of want to make a change; you want to do new things and write different books, and the opportunity presents itself. So I came over to DC to work on a couple of their new books. Nothing exotic is the answer, really; I just felt it was time to make a change and go over to DC for a while, because I told Dan for years I was going to do it. And I'm having a great time, it's so much fun.

Is issue #2 the first "Dark Knight" issue you're writing, or are you writing issue #1 onwards from the September relaunch?

It's issue #1. Understand it's part of the job, we have a responsibility to the people that we're doing contracts with; I had a contract with Marvel, so the timing of me coming onto "Dark Knight" #1 and the ending of my contract were kind of close, so I couldn't be listed on the first solicitation because of that reason. Having said that, yes, I wrote the first issue, so I've been on board since the first one.

Tonally, David Finch has been describing the book as really dark, dealing with gritty, street-level crime. Is that Batman darkness part of the reason you wanted to come on to this book?

The biggest reason probably is Dave. I've known Dave since we both worked at Top Cow, and he's a tremendous artist. I do think that type of material suits me, but it's interesting what happens along the way. I've always been known as a guy that's really delved into character stuff, and I do a lot of dark material. I love it, I think it's great. But if you ever think you've arrived creatively, you've just called your own shot -- you have arrived creatively, that's as far as you're ever going to go. This is kind of a long-winded answer, but the bottom line is I got this book with Dave, and one of the things I found out was that he has really big ideas and we complimented each other. I have really big visual ideas; I'd be really dangerous if I could draw! But Dave has really good storytelling instincts as well, so I'm learning. At the same time we're getting a little bigger. We have this really, really big bombastic story to begin with. It has a darker side to it I'm sure, but it also has these massive visual elements that I think are tailored to Dave's art style. It's not necessarily navel-contemplating crime-scene investigation, there's a lot more big visual stuff going on, as well.

Since you two have known each other for so long, when you came on board did David sit with you and explain where he wanted to take the series, or did you guys throw any over-arching plans out the window?

We didn't throw stuff out the window, actually; he had a bunch of really good visual-based ideas. The first story that we're doing really lends itself to this massive scale, so I think that we're going to hit the ground running with big stuff.

The other thing that Dave had worked out through his first five issues of "The Dark Knight" was he wanted to do a book that had meaning within the Batman world that fit into continuity, that changed things, adapted to things and worked with the other books. So he built a couple of really interesting devices into it, and I pointed out to him these were really well-done character-based devices, this really suits Batman. Dave is really self-deprecating, so one of the things he does first is tell you what a terrible writer he is, which is not true. He's a really good writer! So he had great ideas, and I came in and saw this massive, massive plan and said, "I think that's good, but where I can help is I think we're losing the focus. Those ideas are really big and interesting, but we're losing this character and that character and the structure and stuff like that." So I got a lot out of what he had already done. He had a big plan; I think that plan just used a little tender-loving care from myself, and together I think we've made a really good team. The one thing Dave and I, now that we're working together, are really excited about is each other. If I can speak for him, he's excited to work with me because I think like he does and I talk with him about the story, I don't just write a script and send it in and say, "Hey, what do you think of this?" It's a true collaboration.

David Finch remains on art for "The Dark Knight"

Had you two collaborated before?

This is the first time, and it really took off once we spent a little time together. We were talking over story ideas before and saying, "Hey this would be a good fit for both of us." The one thing -- and I want to address this early -- I suppose it matters very much what the fans say, but in some ways the fans don't really know the whole story sometimes, like how they don't know the whole story about actors or athletes. But one of things that was happening with Dave was this perception that he was going really slow as an artist. "The Dark Knight" obviously got behind in its first incarnation. But let me kind of address that, because I think it's important. When I came on board, the one thing that happened for Dave was that he was doing pretty well as a writer, but he didn't realize how time-consuming it is. And so he'd finish an issue and spend a week trying to prepare the next one and write it and set it up and do it meticulously. Well, if you're going to take six weeks to do one book and it's a monthly book, you cannot supply a monthly book. The math doesn't work. So he was doing a good job, but he really wanted to get back into art. It's really hard to deal with things you've never done before, like dealing with editors and other writers and such. When I came on board it made things a lot easier. The best part of it is Dave's hurtling along really speedily on the book, and he and I have already talked together on wanting to do some big things on this book for a long time. So at the moment he's moving ahead really well, and that bodes well for the readers, I think, because they want this book.

So does that mean the comic will go back to being a monthly comic starting in September?

It absolutely will be. Obviously I couldn't go to San Diego this year because of the little one, but Dave told me he fielded a lot of questions: "Is the book going to be on time now?" "Are you going to come out with it regularly?" The answer is absolutely yes! At the moment, against the publishing schedule, we're really beginning to pick up speed. I think the readers were frustrated a bit, that's why they asked so many times. We didn't get all these books in the can before, what's there to think we'll get them all now? What there is is that he doesn't have the two to three weeks it took him to write an issue, so I know the schedule is going to be hit this time.

Since the series as it was set up is somewhat tied into "Batman Incorporated," and because David wanted it to impact continuity, has the relaunch affected the way you write and draw the book or the timelines of the book?

That's not an easy question to answer, to be quite honest. It affects us, but it doesn't affect us in a way we feel uncomfortable with in the sense it doesn't really compromise the stories that we wanted to do. I think the reason for that is when I got together with Dave and we first started talking about it, I said, "I have a particular way I've been doing this for quite some time, I have a particular way of laying out a story, and that's to think of a theme. What's our first book going to be about, what themes does it explore? How does it play out, how does it fit into the structure of a story?" You can look down the road and there will be some times when we're going to get together -- in fact, I already have a plan to do it -- with a couple of the other Batman writers to work on something that will become a theme that is explored across all books. So yes, that kind of compromises what we are doing: "Oh well, we have to do a new event or crossover or this happens, Commissioner Gordon becomes a cross-dresser in 2012, everybody better react then!" Well, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- by the way, he's not going to be a cross-dresser, no problem. I was trying to think of the one thing that would never happen! [Laughs] We do want that creative process and there is a plan; that's something that we want to do down the line, and I'm talking to the other writers in order to make the books work along the same level.

This again is the behind-the-scenes stuff people don't see so much. DC has this great thing going on right now. I called up Mike Marts, our editor, and then Rickey Purdin, our other editor on "Batman: The Dark Knight," and I said I have to give you guys a compliment because this new 52 is very hard to do, the logistics are very difficult, and all of the editors seem to be creating a little pool of ideas and saying, "Hey, this is happening in my book!" And then it comes to us writers, so we get to see some of the things that may be happening in "Birds of Prey" or whatever is going on, and we get to see some of the little notable events. When we see that we can research a little, we know it's happening, and in this day of communications technology we can actually get information about all of the books across the line. So if something crazy happens in Gotham City and a building blows up, it's possible that we can refer to that building and have a database of information for our monthly readers. It's pretty cool! So yeah, we have work with the other creators, but it's a positive thing, in my opinion.

Jenkins also handles writing chores on the anthology series "DC Universe Presents"

Sounds like you guys are writing a universe bible as you go.

Yeah, I think the readers are really going to get a kick out of it because they'll get to see a reference here or a reference there. It happened to me years ago when I was working on Spider-Man, and I was doing one book and Joe Straczynski was doing the other. I happened to catch a script of Joe's that had Peter Parker's answering machine in it, and I thought, "Wow, why would I change it?" So I put it in mine. Well, we had all these really funky letters from fans going, "That's really cool, you have the same one in both books!" [Laughs] So it's kind of cool for the fans; they notice it if they read a lot of books across the line, and for anyone else it doesn't really affect the story.

Backtracking a bit, you said that there are big themes you are trying to hit in "Batman: The Dark Knight." What are some of those themes?

The first arc we're doing is really about fear. It's about what happens when fear enters your life. Here's this guy who had his fair share of it over the years, he sees it manifesting all around him, and it leads him to question, "Wow, what does it mean to me that I've been afraid?" Everyone undergoes it, and is there a portion of Batman that feels these things that have to be fear? So we get this big theme that kind of runs through, and it's around our sixth or seventh issue he really begins to understand what is happening, and how do you approach fear and how do you beat fear?

At the same time we have a lot of subplots. We have this really cool new character we're bringing into the book, that's big for our story. At the same time we have another subplot where Gordon's getting undermined by this guy from the previous "Dark Knight" story, so we're bringing in all these themes and continuing them through. We've got a couple of stories laid out, and then this time next year probably we'll be working on a really big thing that comes back into the Batman universe. We've got long-term plans; I think people would be happy to hear that.

When we talked about your Deadman story for "DC Universe Presents," you said that a big thing you are tackling with him is existentialism. Is there also an overarching philosophy you are tackling with "The Dark Knight?"

That's a great question, and I'd love to have this conversation, but I think when we get into this conversation the answer is longer than fans have the attention spans for sometimes! [Laughs] I think that the existentialism approach is in much of what I write about because you write about the human condition. I wrote "Peter Parker: Spider-Man" for years, and really what I wrote about was the guy. It wasn't about the guy's costume. He happened to be in costume from time to time, but it was about the character. And in the brief interlude when I did come back and do a job at DC, I wrote this "Batman: Jekyll and Hyde" book that I was very proud of, and it dealt with the concept of Two-Face, who I think is one of the best Batman villains, and with the concept of, "Why [does he have] two faces? What makes a person go nuts?" Because I guarantee it's not getting sprayed in the face with acid. That doesn't make you go crazy. You were already crazy, and then this was the catalyst. So I write about that kind of stuff constantly. I love it, I think it's interesting; it's what has done well for me throughout my career. Existentialism and existentialist questions leak into everything I write. I just did four issues of "Thor," this "Heaven & Earth" thing for Marvel, and the one I'm most proud of is about a priest who witnesses the arrival of Thor in the city. He's a Catholic, and he's supposed to reconcile his faith with the fact that he's literally looking at a pagan god. What does that mean to him in his universe? So the question presented there is what is the nature of his relationship with god? Why did I choose to believe in Jesus Christ as my savoir only to walk around and find some crazy viking with a hammer? We face those kinds of questions all the time; we just don't pinpoint them in our daily lives. We're watching England burning right now, my home country; we're watching the stock market go up and down and people flipping out and politicians scream and carry on. In a sense this puts us in perspective and says, "Wow, where do I fit in to all of this?" So we're constantly dealing with existentialist crises, and that's what I like to write about. I just don't like to say to comics fans, "This is about existentialism!" Because their response is, "OK, go away." [Laughs] But if I say it's about Batman and his approach to fear, it's a lot more engaging.

At the start of this interview, you told me you had bats invading your life. Am I going to get an email later that you've got a great ghost story and ghosts are coming into your house for "Deadman?"

Wow, you opened up a can of worms, I can only tell you that! [Laughs] I think it'd be more likely to pick up the newspaper and find out I'm dead! We had a couple of odd experiences in the house last year, so that was kind of weird, but no dead people as far as I know. But don't hold your breath, because in my life anything is likely to happen.

DC Comics' "Batman: The Dark Knight" #1 hits stores September 28.

TAGS:  dc comics, new 52, the bat signal, dc relaunch, paul jenkins, batman, the dark knight, david finch

 
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