Editor’s Note: This interview contains spoilers for the Batman comic books.
Gerry Duggan, along with artists Shawn Crystal and Dave McCaig, is part of an elite team of comic book talent wrangled by new Batman Group Editor Mark Doyle in an attempt to introduce a new era of Batman books. Does that mean that the entire Batman line is getting a refresh? No. But the Batman team is seriously playing with the tone of their upcoming books and taking risks that align with what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been doing on Batman since 2011 — a run I dare describe as “gothic” and “punk.”
Duggan and Crystal’s Arkham Manor is part of the new line of books that also includes Gotham Academy and Gotham By Gaslight. You could also include the new runs on Catwoman and Batgirl (whose creative team I also interviewed) on this list. There’s a want to get these new books moving forward with the times. Now that, you know, a zillion years of continuity has been condensed under the New 52 banner, it’s time to have some fun.
Arkham Manor‘s premise is not easy to explain (and I’ll let Gerry do it himself below), but the gist of it is that Arkham Asylum has been closed down after the events of the Batman Eternal weekly and Bruce Wayne has decided to house the criminally insane under the most secure roof in Gotham: Wayne Manor. Honestly, its a question I’ve been asking myself for ages…Why the hell do they keep putting bad guys in Arkham Asylum? That place has literally THE WORST security on Earth. You’d have to be, well, insane to keep making the same mistake over and over and over…
But finally, something’s happened at the asylum and they’ve closed it down. Now Bruce has the chance to keep an eye on the bad guys himself. Of course, when you look into the eye of insanity, it looks back at you.
I was able to chat with Gerry Duggan about all things Arkham Manor, the history of the Arkham family, and a serial killer that stalks the hallways of the new asylum:
It doesn’t seem like Wayne Manor has been heavily explored in New 52 Batman. How have you had fun with the layout?
You’ll definitely be seeing some places in Wayne Manor that you’ve never been to. I think the expectation is that maybe there will be some visitors down at the cave that Batman wouldn’t want.
So the cave is still intact down there…
The cave is still intact, but it’s been protected. I don’t want to spoil how…Obviously, the events that precipitate Arkham Manor, it’s all one catastrophe after another, which is very Gotham, but Bruce Wayne does acquiesce to the Manor being repurposed. When you look at the history of the DCU, the original Asylum did begin in a mansion. Amadeus Arkham converted his mansion into a lunatic asylum and it didn’t have a wonderful outcome for him. So hopefully Bruce, Alfred, and the rest of the Bat-cast can avoid his fate.
These books that focus on specific locations such as Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor tend to dig up a lot of history. How do the histories of the Wayne and Arkham families play into the new book?
There will be some [history], but I’m looking more forward than back. One of the fun things about this book is not just that we’re getting to play with some of the old, great toys in the box during this 75th anniversary, but we’re also getting to leave some new toys behind. So you’ll see some familiar inmates, you’ll see some new inmates. New characters…and possibly older characters in a new light.
It’s not a secret that we’ve said Batman will adopt a new mask. We had Matches Malone, which was his way of viewing the criminal underworld. In Arkham Manor, we’re going to have a new mask for him where he’ll be able to perceive the inmates of Arkham while not changing their behavior. That’s been a lot of fun.
Is this Bruce trying to strategize against his enemies or does he sincerely think he can save the inmates of Arkham?
It opens with an act of violence on Batman’s behalf, and later we’ll sort of see that sometimes the “velveted gauntlet” might be the better approach. There is an element of immediately saving these folks. Dr. Jeremiah Arkham poses this question to the inmates in the first issue. The inmates are the ones being hunted now. There’s a killer inside the house. Is it a member of the staff? Is it one of the inmates? We don’t know, but it seemingly has a supernatural element to it. It’s a whodunit.
It’s what propels Batman into this new identity. From his perspective, it’s his house. If he one day gets the house back, washing out the blood of a murder victim will be a lot more difficult for him. He does have a very specific mission. Some other things immediately complicate that mission. By issue 2 or 3, I hope to have surprised people with what the book is. It’s really a masquerade.
Does this book focus more on Batman or his rogues gallery?
We are entrenched in the rogues, but we are seeing Batman in the background. We know he’s there, but they don’t. It’s a way for him to observe them and for us to observe them in their natural habitat. And they need him to be there, frankly, because they’re in a very uncomfortable position of being trapped in what is an unsafe environment. That’s the great thing about Arkham. It’s always had a star-crossed, very unlucky outlook and path. It’s not any different here. But look, this is the house where young Bruce Wayne was healed to the extent that enabled him to one day become Batman. Perhaps there is some transformation there for some of our historic inmates.
One of the revelations for me was that I didn’t know it would be fun to write Mr. Freeze. He’s become for me a little bit of a pressure valve. In moments when things are a bit tense, he’s been there for me to sort of blow off some steam. He has a very important role to play by the end of the first arc. Shawn Crystal and Dave McCaig have done this wonderful transformation of the Manor and the characters inside of it. I could not be more thrilled with their work.
Interesting that you mention Mr. Feeze. It always feels like he and Harvey Dent could be the ones rehabilitated.
Yeah, they have a depth and an intelligence. Even though they’re scarred, they don’t seem irredeemable. I’m getting to play nice with the toys, I’m not breaking them, but some of them might get bent in a fun way. It was a real bit of a business to coordinate some of that. Mark Doyle and Matt Humphreys at the Bat office, and Scott Snyder have been so kind and gracious to me in moving those pieces around. They were available to me at the right moments. It’s just been a real joy to work on this book.
We’re also working with the Gotham Academy crew in a couple of fun ways I hope people won’t expect. They’re very much their own books. I think that if you’re reading one and not the other, you don’t need to. But if you’re reading both, I think you’ll see that back and forth that we’re really proud of. I’m proud of those books. I love Gotham Academy and the new take on Batgirl.
Shawn, Dave, and I have felt really under pressure to go “Oh, man, we really want these books to not stumble” because we are so in love with those other Bat-books now.
How is Bruce coping with the change to his home?
As always, he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and nobody does it better. But there are those moments where even he can be brought to his knees. The way that he copes with it is to put his head down until the danger has passed. In Arkham Manor, he’s in the rooms where he was trying to recover from the trauma of his parents’ murder and now dealing with these new murders in the same house. It is not a pleasant experience for him. He might be able to vent, but not as Bruce Wayne. I’m very excited for people to meet the new mask in the first issue and to see how Bruce might be able to fill out that role. There are group therapy scenes where he might be able to express certain things that he might not be able to express in his waking life. It’s been fun and neat.
Even sometimes the odd collaboration between Batman and one of the rogues…At that moment, he’s not Batman. That’s exciting. We’ve seen Batman do a lot of different things through the decades. I think you’re seeing line-wide that no one is really content to play the hits. Endgame is really going to knock people on their butts. All of these new books have a new wrinkle to bring. I hope that Arkham Manor adds a lot to the universe.
Is there a connection between Endgame and Arkham Manor?
There is, but I don’t want to spoil that. I’ve honestly been living in true fear of somehow revealing a piece of the story that Greg [Capullo], Scott, Mark, everyone at DC has been weaving for Endgame. I’m proud to see I haven’t broken any vases yet. I’m close to the finish line. Everyone is in to some really wonderful surprises. This has been such a joy for me to write. If you’re a Batman fan and added us to your pull list, I thank you. If you’re on the fence, it’s worth it for the art alone and the new ways that you’ll see some of these characters. I hope you’ll give us a try.