Interview: 'Detective Comics' Tony Daniel and The Secrets of the Dollmaker

This week’s issue of Detective Comics sees writer-artist Tony Daniel’s creation the Dollmaker enacting a plot that traces all the way up to the heights of Gotham’s power elite. Who is Dollmaker and why is this new villain such a threat for the Bat? In a recent phone interview, I asked Daniel about the character, bringing Batman into the New 52, being unencumbered by continuity in his own corner with Detective Comics, and the gory nature of his run with the Dark Knight.

MTV Geek: What can you tell us about the Dollmaker and how is this character a threat to Batman?

Tony Daniel: The threat comes with not knowing anything about him—the fact that Batman has a new villain that he’s going to have to figure out on the fly while he’s leaving a path of body parts and whatnot around Gotham City is pretty challenging. You know, he doesn’t have a history to go by, so [Batman] can’t guess his next move. Anything unknown to [Batman] is very challenging, so that’s the first, main threat.

The second is that he’s taking people like Commissioner Gordon hostage, he’s taking them away and Batman doesn’t know what’s going on with him because this madman possibly is operating on him and taking him apart, just like the other “dolls.” So, we have a ticking clock going on and Batman doesn’t know if Commissioner Gordon is alive or dead or what. We have the life of someone Batman is close to hanging in the balance and it makes the conflict more personal to him than if it was just some innocent bystander. Although, does care about them, too.

Geek: You mentioned the emotional component, but what’s the secret to getting Batman engaged mentally with a new villain?

Daniel: I think with Batman it’s a guy who challenges him on a mental level who’s not like a guy with a gun in a liquor store. A guy who Batman needs to figure out who [they are] and what [they’re] thinking. And characters like that are, I think, the biggest adversaries.

I think the Joker and the Riddler, for instance, always give Batman his biggest challenge because they’re going against his wits, his detective skills, and his intelligence. So hopefully, I’ve done a good enough job with Dollmaker that he’s a big enough threat for him to keep people interested in the story that unfolds.

Geek: The most interesting thing about Joker and Riddler is that they’re in Batman’s head in two very specific ways that mirror elements of Batman/Bruce. Is there a similar dimension to the Dollmaker?

Daniel: For Batman, I think the Dollmaker represents a very twisted and distorted reflection. I think they both share similarities of parents that were taken from them at a young adolescence. They went down two completely different paths where Batman was disturbed to the point where he turned his life to fighting crime and fixing Gotham City.

And on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Dollmaker who basically wanted to live in his father’s footsteps who was a serial killer. At the same time he’s trying to help people by giving away their organs on the black market or whatever. You have this guy who’s completely distorted and twisted in what he thinks he’s doing for Gotham City.

So it’s like looking in a funhouse mirror where you see your reflection and it’s completely distorted. I think on a subconscious level that’s what I was trying to do with the Dollmaker.

Geek: Batman was one of the characters that was touched the least by the New 52. Still, were there any particular changes or flourishes you wanted to put on the character and Gotham with the relaunch?

Daniel: Well for Batman, he was probably the easiest of all the characters because he was almost perfect where you really didn’t want to mess with him too much. He didn’t need too much of an origin tweak. He’s an icon, everyone knows who Batman is the world over.

But one of the things I thought we could address was his relationship with the police. And I wanted to have Batman and Commissioner Gordon’s relationship be a bit more discrete, where yeah, they help each other but we can’t make this too public where people are taking pictures of them together and Batman’s trouncing all over crime scenes. I wanted Batman’s help to be more in the shadows. And I got on the phone with Scott Snyder and asked him what he thought of that and we both agreed, yeah, let’s dial it back a little bit. They trust each other, they’re friends, but they need to be discrete on how they work together.

And at this moment, the mayor of Gotham has the police looking for Batman and he’s kind of an enemy, but that’s at this moment in time and that may change, we may call off the hounds a little bit later on and tell the story of why we’ll do that.

But that was a big one for me and I think it makes things a little more realistic in the world of Batman.

Geek: How does Batman Incorporated and being franchised factor into this?

Daniel: Part of what I’m doing with Detective and part of my main issue is that my approach on Detective would be kind of a standalone type of book where my stories don’t really bleed over too much into what’s going on in the other Bat-books. To be honest, I don’t have to worry about what Grant’s doing, or what Scott Snyder’s doing, or Peter Tomasi’s doing.

Detective’s kind of its own book and I think that’s part of the appeal to the readership, where I’m getting from people who talk to me they like that it’s self-contained. And it’s easier for me not to have to worry about what the other guys are doing.

Geek: Looking at your work with Batman over the years, it’s been some of the bloodiest stuff, the “red meat Batman.” Why do you think that is? What’s the appeal for you, going in that darker, gorier direction?

Daniel: Well I do like the darker direction I’m going with in Detective and a lot of that has to do with how I feel Batman should be, what kind of book I would like Batman to be in as a fan.

You know, I really couldn’t do that on Batman because Batman was Dick Grayson, who’s a much more light-hearted character and there’s a lot of different issues with that. But with Bruce Wayne as Batman, my thoughts are pushing it [towards] nasty, gritty, brutal, and being big and bold about everything.

Now the first arc is a little bit morbid where we have a guy who’s dismembering people and doing things with the bodies and all this stuff, and it ends with Joker’s face being the big reveal at the end of issue one. Yeah, it is a little bit gory, but all my stories won’t be gore fests. My next arc is with the Penguin and his new casino and it’s much more of a standard Detective-type story. Penguin’s murdering other criminals and whatnot.

I didn’t want to be labeled off of the first arc, so we will have different types of adventures going on. And the one thing that will be constant is that it will continue to be a darker book, and I think we can continue to push the envelope on where we’re going to go with that.

Geek: Is there anything you’d like to tease from the current arc or maybe even the next arc with the Penguin?

Daniel: Well, Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Charlotte Rivers, who’s an investigative reporter, becomes part of a bigger mystery in the next arc with the Penguin. And some of her past that Bruce discovers could get her into big trouble and make her a target.

Detective Comics #4 is on shelves and available digitally now.

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