The writing duo currently chart the monthly adventures of the now Gotham-bound "Batwing" with artists Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira as well as continuing their years-long exploration of Jonah Hex in "All-Star Western" with artist Moritat, which has recently come from Gotham’s past to its present in surprising fashion. Combine those ongoing stories with a recent "Mr. Freeze" Villains Month one-shot and an incoming "Zero Year" tie-in issue in "Batwing" #25, and the pair have been building out their own corner of Batman’s world.
With that in mind, CBR News shines THE BAT SIGNAL -- our ongoing exploration of Batman’s world -- on the Palmiotti/Gray team this week for an inside look at their time in Gotham. Below, the pair explain how Mr. Freeze’s disturbing side came out while writing their one-shot, what "Batwing" fans can expect from the past and present of Luke Fox as he takes on villains like Charlie Caligula and Lady Vic and how brining Hex to the modern day won’t cut down on the Western style of "All-Star Western."
CBR News: With the "Mr. Freeze" Villains Month one-shot, you two are taking another dive into the Gotham corner of the DCU. What's the connection for each of you with the Batman franchise? What about that world plays to your strengths?
Justin Gray: Who doesn’t love Batman? Any day we get to work with him or within the Bat Family is a good day. With "Mr. Freeze" we wanted to expand on the foundation Scott [Snyder] and James [Tynion IV] built in the "Batman Annual" that reintroduced Mr. Freeze. It was our intention to build a new wrinkle into who Victor is and what his motivations are.
Jimmy Palmiotti: I have worked on a lot of Batman titles while an inker and as a writer and, well, Justin said it best… nobody doesn’t like Batman. Getting to play around in Gotham in the past and present day in "All-Star Western" has really opened the doors for us, and now with "Batwing" as a regular monthly, working on this one-shot seemed like a natural gig for us. I have read Batman comics most of my life, so it all seems pretty natural for me at this point. Batman is in my blood.
Your Mr. Freeze story follows directly on the heels of his previous New 52 appearances in the "Batman Annual" and "Birds of Prey." What about the character's recent portrayals gave you the biggest creative guideposts, and how does that play out in your final one-shot?
Gray: The voice. It was literally the cadence of his voice and the tragic inability to recognize his sickness that appealed to us. You could argue strongly that Mr. Freeze was criminally misused in the film world. The other thing is he has always been more than the "ice or cold-themed villain," but there’s also a lot of great stuff you can do within that element.
Palmiotti: It is always fun to build on what Scott has done as well. This is what comic book writers do. We take what you think you know and introduce new elements into the picture.
Looking to the future, is there any chance you'll want to continue with Mr. Freeze in the likes of "Batwing," "Harley Quinn" or even "All-Star Western?"
Gray: There has been some discussion of that. Not saying where, though.
Palmiotti: The possibilities are endless and eventually when you have such a cool character as Mr. Freeze, getting any opportunity to use him in a story is going to be a blast. How much fun would a "Hex Vs. Mr. Freeze" team-up be? I think it will be a blast!
Speaking of which, "Batwing" is ramping up in its return to Gotham story by folding in some villains familiar to longtime Batman readers. Lady Vic and Charlie Caligula seem to embody the "take a toy off the shelf" philosophy of playing in a shared universe. What was the attraction to each of them, and why do they work well for "Batwing?"
Gray: The quick answer is when we came onboard we wanted to play in the "Batman Incorporated" toybox so we looked at some elements of Grant [Morrison]’s amazing run on "Batman" and wanted to draw inspiration from some of those stories. That is where Caligula came into play. As things progressed and Batman Inc. was disbanded we altered the ebb and flow of the story. Lady Vic is one of those characters that has a great tone and stands out to me as more than a sexy assassin.
Palmiotti: Batwing has to be as interesting as his villains, and we picked these because we felt there are some good contrasts within all these characters that we could explore in the series. Anyone that felt "Batwing" was even a bit outside the bat universe now fully understands that what we have going on in the book ties directly to the main titles and the next few months will show this even more.
With Caligula in particular, that's a villain used to being part of schemes that attack a hero at their heart, and a big piece of "Batwing" continues to be the personal life of Lucas Fox and how his crime fighting affects that. Is there a time bomb aspect to the idea of Luke's father and family finding out about his double life?
Gray: That’s always going to be there, suspended over the characters' lives. What makes Luke compelling is the duality of his life, the good son and hero don't line up smoothly. We’ve all seen heroes struggling to keep their secrets so there is a great challenge in not repeating things exactly as they’ve been seen or done in other places.
Rewinding the clock, you've got a "Zero Year" tie-in coming up. Since Luke is really a brand-new character to this world, what kind of opportunities does an event like this offer you for his development?
Gray: Again it is tricky because of the lack of familiarity combined with Luke not yet being Batwing. People come to see the suit but they stay to see the person behind the mask. Hopefully the story is relatable enough for people to find it engaging.
Palmiotti: We were given the opportunity to push the clock back and see where Luke started in life and how his actions molded him into the man he is today. As children we make mistakes, and as adults, these mistakes can stay with us our whole lives. This book we focus on the good and bad ones he made and eventually we will bring forward in the series some of this past that we explore. The book is key for Batwing fans on many levels.
I'm sure moving forward a lot of folks will be taking notice of Darwyn Cooke's sharp covers to the book, which may also drum up more comparisons with Luke's outfit and the world of "Batman Beyond," but you've always had that kind of swift action pacing to the series with Eduardo's interiors. Since there are so many books in the Batman line, what overall do you want to do to help define the monthly "Batwing" title visually?
Gray: We should stop a moment and give praise to the artists we’ve been fortunate enough to be paired with on Batwing. Eduardo and Julio are tearing up the interiors with such enthusiasm. It is difficult to invent praise for someone like Darwyn because he’s done it all. Batwing is very much designed to be a sports car: it looks good, moves fast and has the heart of a muscle car.
Palmiotti: Eduardo and Julio and Paul are all doing the best work of their careers and we are so lucky to have them on the series. I think this is one of the best looking Bat titles on the stands and having someone like Darwyn come and give us a nice run of covers is a real gift. The book is taking steps to get new readers and honestly, all you have to do is give it an issue and I know we can hook you. Visually and story wise.
On the farewell to Gotham front, Hex will be leaving the town soon and heading out into the rest of the 21st Century in "All-Star Western." While there have been "modern" and even futuristic takes on the character before now, it took a long time for you guys to play with the idea of having Jonah do his thing in the here and now. What was the spark that lit the fuse to place him in the current DCU?
Gray: We’ve said it going on eight years. Jonah Hex and any Western is a hard sell to mainstream comic readers. The good thing is Jonah Hex is a hard bastard to kill. The other thing is he’s Hex no matter what you do to him. Hex is always gonna be Hex, I don't care if you plop him down in the 21st century or on Apokolips. That’s part of the joy in writing Hex. He’s so resigned to the world being completely messed up that it is hard to surprise him.
The recent Gotham arc has left Hex with an unpredictable partner in Dr. Arkham. Though oddly, both figuring out the modern day and rolling with the doctor have come pretty naturally to Hex. How does the end of this story throw him more off-kilter in this time?
Gray: I think it is interesting that in our last issue we dealt with a very sensitive social issue. And we spent more than six months chewing over how to handle it in the best way possible. My thinking now is we must have done it because the Internet didn't throw up all over itself with blind fury. Anyway, Hex doesn’t like the present. At all. He wants to go home, but that’s not an easy thing to do.
Palmiotti: Hex adapts. He may not like where he is at this moment, but he makes the best of every situation and a lot of the fun of the current storyline has been seeing his reaction. WWJD is short for "What Would Jonah Do?" and we use it all the time when writing.
Coming up, Hex leaves Gotham and heads out West to interact with the rest of the modern DCU. The book has been centered in Gotham -- in one time period or another -- for a while. What was top of your list for expanding out in terms of geography and characters and why?
Gray: Jonah Hex is on a quest and it will take him to some strange and wonderful places. You’ll see him do things that will make you smile. You might see some things that make you angry just because at the end of the day we’re trying to do something exciting and different without sacrificing who Jonah Hex is. We’ve been with him for nearly eight years. We spent six of those telling somewhat traditional Western stories and the last two telling unconventional western stories.
Overall, is there a challenge to keeping the book the Western it's always been while still playing up to the modern DCU aspects? How do you plan on meeting that going forward?
Gray: A lot of people said they couldn’t imagine how Jonah being in the modern world would work. A ton more thought Gotham was a bad idea, but suddenly "All-Star" was selling more than "Jonah Hex." What a wonderful opportunity to surprise and possibly delight people that, God forbid, went into a book with the same expectations they’ve had for decades. This has never truly been that kind of a book. We never set out to reinvent Jonah Hex. Like I said, Hex is always Hex. He adapts better than anyone in the DCU. The fun part is watching him interact with people like Booster Gold, Amadeus Arkham, Bruce Wayne, John Constantine and who knows, maybe we can even see what he thinks of a man who can fly. I can’t say all this without pointing how grateful we are for having the same artist hitting home runs for two years. No one knows how hard Moritat has worked on this book and how he wouldn’t even let life get in his way of producing "All-Star Western."
Palmiotti: All that and at the end of the day we are delivering a book that monthly, you have no idea, as a reader, where the hell the story is going and in a lot of ways, after reading comics my whole life, I am so happy we are let loose to go a bit wild with the title. We have a couple of interesting meetings coming up in the future issues that are going to make the non-western fans pick up the book for the first time and each time we do this, we hope to hook some new readers and blow their expectations out of the water. What we are doing with this series right now has never been done in comics and I can easily say that and back it up.