With news breaking earlier this week from DC Comics that "Batman: Earth One" is the first of the publisher's graphic novels to be available from Apple's iBooks store, CBR News connected with superstar artist Gary Frank, who is charged with bringing DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns' reimagining of the Dark Knight's origin to life.
The acclaimed British penciller started his career in the 1990s illustrating stories for "Doctor Who Magazine" and "Toxic!" After a brief stint with Marvel UK, Frank was recruited by Marvel Comics to serve as the cover artist for Peter David's sensational run on "The Incredible Hulk," beginning with issue #400. Three issues later, he started drawing the title's interiors as well, and his career skyrocketed. Over the next 15 years, Frank worked on a number of top-selling and critically acclaimed titles for Marvel, Wildstorm and Top Cow including "Gen¹³," "Midnight Nation" and a two-issue run on "The Avengers," written by Johns.
Frank joined forces with Johns once again in 2007 when his exclusive contract at Marvel ended, and the dynamic duo haven't looked back. After signing a new contract with DC Comics, the artist immediately took over art duties on "Action Comics." His next project with Johns was the six-issue miniseries "Superman: Secret Origin," the "definitive" retelling of the Man of Steel's origin, pre-New 52. As he prepares for "Batman: Earth One," Vol. 2, Frank is illustrating the Johns-written Shazam co-features in "Justice League."
"Batman: Earth One," Vol. 1, on sale now, is the second title in DC's "Earth One" series following "Superman: Earth One" by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, which was released in 2010. This out-of-continuity reintroduction focuses on Bruce Wayne's path toward becoming Gotham's Caped Crusader. Frank told CBR News that in this version, Batman's secret identity is an amalgam of the people closest to Bruce Wayne, which includes his father's former bodyguard, ex-Royal Marine Alfred Pennyworth.
CBR News: While your storied career exploded more than 20 years ago when you worked on "Incredible Hulk" with Peter David, for the better part of the last five years you've been telling predominantly big, bright Superman stories with Geoff Johns. How did you channel your inner angst as you changed gears to illustrate this down and dirty retelling of Batman's origin?
Gary Frank: We talked about it a huge amount before we started, even while we were working on "Superman: Secret Origin." We always knew that the Batman project was coming up. A lot of the details were ironed out already. We knew where we were going and what kind of mood we wanted -- we were well prepared. There wasn't a sudden change of pace when we finished the Superman thing. There was a slight kind of blending of the two projects.
I didn't do much in terms of changing my style, but inevitably, the mood changes and it becomes a little darker when you are working on it. I tend to listen to audio books when I am working, but I choose them randomly. I don't necessarily choose something that is going to be appropriate for the project. I find with Batman, even though everything happens at night and there is a lot of darkness in the story, there is enough color in there, if that makes any sense. It still felt quite like a pleasant place to be, a pleasant place to spend time.
For instance, comparing it to something like "Midnight Nation," which was very bleak, I did find that quite an emotional knock-on effect. But with the Batman stuff, I didn't really feel that so much. There was a lot of fun stuff, and it didn't affect me in the same way.
Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and Neal Adams are among those industry icons who have drawn the Dark Knight. Curt Swan, an artist to which Geoff Johns has oft-compared you to, was mainly a superman artist, but he drew Batman, as well. Which artist's interpretation do you consider as the definitive take and did you look to him or any other artists for inspiration?
Obviously, there are artists like Neal Adams, which I associate very heavily with Batman, but I didn't really go to that well, I guess because I have drawn Batman before I actually ended up doing this project. Also, Batman is one of the perennial requests when you are doing convention sketches, so I think most artists have a rough idea of how they want to draw Batman because they would have drawn him a number of times before they end up on a major Batman project.
I had ideas that were going to be specific to this story. I didn't want him to be particularly armored or be particularly intimidating or imposing. He isn't really that Batman, yet. We're not at the point with the character so there was always the desire to make him look human -- like a guy that has just made a costume himself. It couldn't look too slick. It couldn't look too designed, really. It was more the demands of the story which affected the way the designs came out.
Your artwork is always highly emotional, and you tell so much story through a character's facial expressions. Did the cowl present any specific challenges to you when interpreting Batman?
By leaving the eyes exposed, that was kind of a big head start in that respect. Once you get the eyes, you have a lot of what you need. You can do things like wrinkling the brow, even through the mask in a way that it wouldn't necessarily wrinkle naturally. You have a certain amount of license when you are drawing it to tweak this stuff. The cowl complicates things a little bit, but not too much, not to the extent that it would have done had we gone for the traditional white eyes.
You take Bruce Wayne from his days as a child to adulthood in "Batman: Earth One." How did you arrive at his ever-evolving look and feel?
It's funny -- I spoke with Geoff after the book was finished, about Bruce, and he's probably the character that has evolved more -- not just in terms of the story but in terms of the look -- than any other one in the book. By the end of it, I felt I was really starting to get a handle of how he looked. I like to really know the character a little bit before I try to come up with a way to portray him visually, but with this book, it was hard to really know because throughout the book, Bruce himself is quite confused to who he really is.
It was probably quite appropriate that two things went along in parallel. We start out with quite a young guy, but by the end of the book I think we probably have a face and set of features that mirrors what Bruce actually resolves within his own mind of who he is going to be. And what Batman is going to be.
In terms of features, there were certain things when I was doing Superman that I knew I needed to include, and obviously the one that most people comment on is the Christopher Reeve influence, but there is also a lot of Curt Swan Superman in there, too, which really makes Superman "Superman" to me. I already had quite a clear idea of how I wanted him to be. There was already quite a formed character when we were dealing with him. Our Batman is not really like that. He's, like you said, kind of evolving.
Another character that has changed greatly in "Batman: Earth One," at least from past interpretations, is Alfred. Might I say, he is now rather bad ass?
We talked a lot about Alfred, as well. Going into the project, there was a lot of back and forth in terms of building the character. We knew that he was going to be a bodyguard rather than a butler for Thomas Wayne.
From the beginning, Geoff had the idea that Batman would be an amalgam of the people around him. From that point, it was a question of mold and for those people to fit the roles that we needed from them.
We also have [Detective James] Gordon, who not only helps in terms of Batman becoming the detective that he becomes, but there are going to be all sorts of emotional elements too, which Bruce takes from the people all around him.
In the first book, his biggest influence is Alfred. He already knows in his own mind the person he wants to be, but Alfred needs to provide something aside from just being the support figure. What he's going to be providing Batman is the knowledge that he is going to be needing, in terms of Alfred being an ex-Royal Marine. He's also had an extensive life in the security industry, so he knows about all the stuff that Batman is going to need to know about -- the more military side of his skill set.
You mentioned the "first book." Have you and Geoff already started work on the next volume?
We have already started talking about it. We've not put pen to paper -- well, Geoff probably has, but I'm still on "Shazam," so that is taking up all of my time at the moment. But I am thinking about things and how we're going to move the character on a little bit visually and, also, some of the things like the Batmobile. Where are we going to get the Batmobile? Do we even need the Batmobile? How can we make the Batmobile?
We don't want to have the story in which we're putting things in there because they need to be there just because they are within the Batman universe. Instead of saying, "Batman needs the Batmobile, so what does it look like?" We can ask: "Why would Batman need a Batmobile?" From that point, we can have a clearer idea of what the Batmobile should actually be. Those are the types of things we're discussing at the moment, as well as the broader strokes of the story arc.
Finally, the fans want to know -- have you been practicing drawing Robin?
There will be no Robin in the next book, but I don't want to say any more than that. I can't really say any more than that!
"Batman: Earth One," by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, is on sale now.