“Part of keeping a readership on their toes, part of keeping them scared, part of keeping Batman heroic is constantly reinventing them, rethinking the villains that have become maybe too familiar.”
Gregg Hurwitz is in the business is deconstruction. With his mini-series “Penguin: Pain and Prejudice” he dug deep into the psyche of Batman’s flippered foe, presenting a nuanced and non-judgmental view of the frequently vile crime boss. He carved the same path when he came on board “Batman: The Dark Knight,” with his take on the Scarecrow. In Hurwitz’s view, the villains are just as, if not more important than Bruce Wayne, as they are the prism through which we view both Gotham City and its pointy-eared hero. Artist Ethan Van Sciver joins Hurwitz on “Batman: The Dark Knight” with issue 16, taking over for David Finch, as he moves on to “Justice League of America” with Geoff Johns. I spoke with Hurwitz and Van Sciver about their new collaboration, showing the more horrific side of Batman’s world and why being gruesome and gross is not only important, but fun.
MTV Geek: This arc is going to concentrate on the Mad Hatter; can we get an overview of what we’re going to be seeing in this stroyline?
Gregg Hurwitz: Well, what we wanted to was really reinvent and present a really grounded, somewhat more menacing Hatter. This is part of the model of the New 52 and this is the overhjaul. We’re going to see the Hatter, we’re going to see him in all his present tense psychotic glory and we’re also going to reach back into his childhood and explain the events that led to his obessive complusove overbearing and violent personality.
Geek: Ethan, this is your first issue as the artist on this book, can you tell us about that?
Ethan Van Sciver: Honestly, Mad Hatter wouldn’t be my fist choice for villain to explore but Gregg has written an absolutely masterful treatment of this character that I think is going to suprisise and alarm everybody. I’m having a great time and I’ve given almost no thought to Mad Hatter before. With this first issue I think I really just found a Mad Hatter that makes me happy and I think a lot of other people are going to like him too. He’s creepy and cooky and silly and fun and mean all at once.
Geek: Gregg, so far in your run – and with your Penguin miniseries, especially – you’ve been deconstructing all of these villains, is that what you’re doing with the Mad Hatter as well?
GH: Yeah, it’s based on my terrible childhood [laughs]. For some reason I love forcusing more on the villains, and using them as sort of a portal into seeing Batman. One of the things that’s so amazing about…I think Batman has the best rogues gallery of any character in history, I think the rogues gallery is incredible. And each one represents a different part of Batman and holds a mirror to Batman, in a different way. Whether they’re the opposite, whether they’re similar in certain ways, or whether they just bring another aspect of Batman to life. So the Penguin of course, was a mini-series dedicated to Penguin, so Batman’s the bad guy. Because if you’re the Penguin, that’s who your antagonist is. But with Scarecrow/Mad Hatter, it’s much more about, what these characters illuminate inside Batman, because these arcs are about Batman. It’s called “Batman: The Dark Knight,” it ain’t called “The Mad Hatter.” And so it’s very much about how The Hatter; how they’re part and counterpart, how they’re yin and yang.
Geek: “The Dark Knight’s” been, I feel like it’s the more horror-centric Bat-book that’s out there right now, with Ethan coming aboard now, is it going to continue that dark, monstrous, style that we’ve seen so far.
GH: Yes. Well, I think that’s a good analysis. One of the things about the main books, is they all have a different flavor. I think Scott is doing a brilliant job on Batman, Scott is wonderful with character, he’s great with big crossover events, he’s great with the history of Gotham and making Gotham really live and breathe. Tomasi is [doing] a spectualr job with “Batman and Robin,” you know, they’re releationship and how the family functions and making that really thrilling and exciting. And I think one of the things that “Batman: The Dark Knight” is defined by is it’s got a foot in horror, certainly, I think we get darker a little bit and there’s an unerside of Gotham that we explore a little bit more. We can have a little bit more focus on the villains at times. Of course these aren’t things that are exclusive, I don’t mean to imply that the other books don’t do this, but we also have a pretty heavy focus on psychological history of the characters. And one of the things with Ethan…Ethan was my top and only choice after [David] Finch. And one of the reasons is I think his art is so well-suited. It’s not just about getting great artists, it’s about getting a great artist who’s perfectly suited to the book that you’re doing as writer and Ethan can really hit the notes that are really more horrific. He can do it sometimes with an off-kilter sense of humor, because he’s a twisted individual. So sometimes we get these great horror scenes that have a theme of dark humor running through them. But the other thing he can do is really bring character to life with facial expressions, through nuance. There are scenes that are just talking, that are very straight-forward and a lot of nuance is in the expressions, the body posture and the language. He can do that too. it’s not just about the horror splashes, it’s about the subtleties of the human interactions in the parts of the book that we delve into the psychology also. And so in that way he’s sort of the full package when it comes to plugging an artist into the book. Because Finch was spectacular with his book before it was my book, and you need to make sure when you’re bringing somebody else in new as a partner and co-creator that they can run that whole same gamut about all the things that that book is about.
EVS: Well, thanks.
Geek: Ethan, David Finch started this book as writer and artist and he’s been the artist up until now and now you’re on board, what are you bringing to put your own stamp on this?
EVS: I haven’t put that kind of thought into it. This was Finch’s book and now it’s my book. I draw Batman differently than he does. I think we have similar sensibilities in a lot of what we do and in other ways we’re very very different as artists. I can never do anything other than what it is that I do and what I’ve always done. I do think that I benefit as an artist from being on a book that’s more horror-oriented. And at the same time there has to be something that’s amusing about it. I think violence for the sake of violence is boring, frankly. I’m a big fan of the “Evil Dead” movies, I love Peter Jackson before he became Peter Jackson. And a movie like “Dead Alive,” which I think is called “Brain Dead” elsewhere, is right up my alley. It’s digusting, it’s sick, it’s vile, but it’s hillarious, and if I can do extreme violence and gore and still get chuckle from somebody who’s looking at what we’re doing, I think that’s right over my plate. And Gregg does that. I think Gregg shares that same…when he does violence, he makes it funny, most of the time. Other times it’s really off-putting…
EVS: But usually it’s kind of amusing, and I think that’s what’s fun about this book.
Geek: Speaking of grotesque and disgusting; the Bat-villains have progressively gotten grosser–I think in a good way in all honesty because I’m a big horror guy too–but with The Joker’s face in the “Death of the Family” storyline right now and Scarecrow’s sewn mouth, there seems to be a drift towards the nasty with the Bat-villains, do you think that’s true? And why do you think that is?
GH: I think it’s absolutely true, if you just look at the way the art drifts through the decade with Batman, there used to not be room for incredible detail in closeups, and I think everything has moved in every medium. If you look at the progression from the Batman TV show to what Chris Nolan does, there’s a tendency of using more of the tools in our arsenal when it comes to depicting realism, when it comes to depicting something real and I think we are also dealing with a very sophisticated audience and readership of people who are very pop culturally aware. And you can’t throw out the same references and the same plots and the same schemes and the same thought bubbles, I think you have to push it into new terrains. And I don’t mean to imply that the new terrains is only in terms of the gore, I think there’s also…one of the things that I strive for is a greater emotional realism, also…I shouldn’t say greater, I should say different, there’s just phenomenal classic Batman books in the past that handle and encapsulate those issues, but I think we’re trying to redefine Batman in any age and every medium through the prism of that era.
EVS: And I think it’s important that Batman fans and readers not be desensitized to how sick Gotham City is and if we keep repeating the same images and keep hitting the same notes, that’s exactly what happens. We get bored, we get desensitized. Joker is no longer scary, he bomes your friend, a familiar face. Part of keeping a readership on their toes, part of keeping them scared, part of keeping Batman heroic is constantly reinventing them, rethinking the villains that have become maybe too familiar.
Geek: Thank you very much for you time I appreciate you doing this.
GH: Thank you.
“Batman: The Dark Knight” #16 is on shelves January 30, 2013.