Geoff Johns and Gary Frank need no introduction to comic book fans. For years, they’ve collaborated on some of the most engrossing books you’ll find on comic racks. Their work on Superman (Secret Origins, Brainiac, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes) is the the stuff of legend.
It was only a matter of time before this real-life Dynamic Duo tackled the Caped Crusader — their very unique version of the hero, that is. Since 2012, with the publication of Batman: Earth One Vol. 1, Johns and Frank have been telling the story of a Batman bent on avenging his parents’ murder and the fallout of his bloody war. We meet an Alfred completely unlike any we’ve seen, a veteran who is as likey to break your arm as he is to stitch it up. We meet Gotham’s Finest in unfamiliar roles (especially for the Harvey Bullock we know and “love”). And of course, the famous rogues gallery that has help keep Batman such a vital part of pop culture. But it’s Johns and Frank take on the villains, so there’s always a little twist.
In the second volume of Batman: Earth One, this amazing creative team continues the story where the first book left off: Batman has accidentally slipped into being a hero and must stop a new villain’s dastardly plot. Only this time, he’ll have to learn how to do some detective work to save the day.
I was able to sit down on the phone with Johns and Frank for a few minutes last week to talk all about Batman: Earth One Vol. 2, the Riddler, their collaboration on Superman, and whether Geoff (who writes for The CW’s Flash and Arrow shows) is secretly working on a Green Arrow run.
We need to talk about the Riddler. He was the big bad in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Zero Year” arc in Batman and now he’s the Big Bad in Batman: Earth One. What is it about the Riddler that has made him such a prevalent character in today’s Batman comics?
Geoff Johns: We had planned the Riddler back when we did the first volume in 2012 and one of the things Gary and I had really talked about with the Riddler was that he’s kind of been very underutilized. For us, he’s a great character because he’s in direct competition to the detective part of Batman and this whole second round of Batman is really about that journey of him becoming more than just a vigilante, but a detective. In that journey, the Riddler becomes the perfect nemesis and antagonist to challenge Bruce in a way where he’s forced to become that.
What was the inspiration behind the grungy-looking Riddler?
Gary Frank: The city, the environment is very not traditional. So it was trying to find a version of the Riddler which our version of the city would produce. Geoff and I talked about a way in which we could do it which wasn’t too kitsch. There were certain things we wanted to avoid.
GJ: We didn’t want to do the bowler hat. We wanted to try something different in this reality. Not that there is anything wrong with the classic elements. And we kept come classic things, like the green question mark, but we talked about about it and there were a lot of sketches of it. But beyond that, we just wanted to make something that was a little less flashy.
GF: Things like the question mark, I think, Geoff, you specifically said you didn’t want the question mark from the suit. At some point we talked about maybe doing tattoos or another way of approaching that. In the end, we restricted it to the immaculate.
What are the challenges of writing and drawing such a different, militaristic-looking Alfred?
GF: We didn’t want to do a small butler with a pencil mustache. There are certain things we already knew, like Batman always gets into certain situations and Alfred has to help him. It never really felt natural to me seeing him as this butler. We wanted our Alfred to be robut and we wanted the visuals accommodate that. We wanted to do something that woudl stray away from what people would expect visually.
GJ: We talked about Alfred and I just envisioned a proper more military background, security-type Alfred who would be more physical and would be more a part of [Bruce’s] actual physical training. And when Gary drew him, I immediately connected with it. Writing this different Alfred, he’s become an important character to me in a lot of ways. I have to say there weren’t too many chalenges on Alfred once we hit on who he was. I did have to rely on Gary for some of the dialogue, though.
What was the inspiration behind Birthday Boy [from Batman: Earth One Vol. 1]?
GJ: That was Gary and I, in Italy, having lunch in this great courtyard in Lusa and we were just talking about a strange, odd force of nature that could physically challenge Batman and frightening because of what Bullock experienced. So we came up with a creepy guy who worked for Penguin called the Birthday Boy.
GF: There has to be a particular flavor to Batman villains, and you can’t stray too far from that. It was important that there was something genuine, that he wasn’t a costumed villain, that there was nothing humorous or funny about him. We wanted shocking and disturbing. He fit right into the story, with a few quirks that allowed him to fit into what defines the rest of the Batman villains.
We start to see the evolution of Batman from a brawler to detective work in Vol. 2. Do you see a where your Batman will become the ultimate crime-fighting force that we know and love? Is that an end goal?
GJ: We definitely have a journey for our Batman, but I think our Batman is always going to be a more grounded and emotionally complex guy. He’s just a different type of Bruce Wayne. Ultimately, he might grow in skill, but the path we put him on is pretty different. He will grow as Batman and as Bruce Wayne, and that’s a big part of his journey. But it’s not our end goal to end our graphic novel with, “Hey, look, this is Batman you know from all of these comic books.” I don’t want to spoil where we end the series, but I don’t think our ultimate end goal is to have our Batman match up with the current comic books.
So we’re definitely going to get Vol. 3 at some point? Is there any chance we are finally going to see Batgirl?
GJ: We are already deep into Vol. 3 right now. It will be out next year. There are a lot of open threads we are going to be following up on, but I don’t want to get too specific. I don’t want to get too far ahead of where we are going right now, but we set up everything for very specific reasons…
I want to talk a little about your collaborations on Superman. Do you guys feel that you’ve said everything you had to say on that character or are there ideas for another story?
GF: Personally, I’d love to do Superman again. I love the character. Before we did our Superman stories, I think a lot of people had a preconception as to what Superman was and that Batman was the more fun character. But I’ve always loved the character. If Geoff has another Superman story, I’d love to work on it if he decided to tag me in.
GJ: I always felt like we had more Superman in us. Honestly, if we were to do Superman again, I think Gary and I would do something like a series set in its own world or our own take, because I’m really proud of what we did on Superman, and at the time for us, we arrived at exactly what we wanted. That said, if we got the right scenario and the right story, I would love to do it.
There’s one story I would really like to tell. I have to say that we’ve talked about doing something with Lois Lane because we’ve had a lot of fun with her. She’s become one of my favorite characters.
Geoff, since you write for Arrow, would you ever consider doing a Green Arrow run?
GJ: It would have to depend on if I had the right story for it and if I was working with the right artist. I like the character, but I just don’t see anything with Green Arrow right now.
Can you give us any updates on Supergirl?
GJ: Sorry, that’s all under lock and key, my friend!
Any last words about the new book?
GJ: Gary and I really tried to create a series of graphic novels that are very accessible for people to read that have a whole story in them. In one sitting you get beginning, middle, and end. I hope that people dig it. Even if you aren’t an avid Batman fan, and only know Batman from the movies, I hope you check it out and get a kick out of it.
GF: As long as people come in with an open mind, and as long as people aren’t saying to themselves, “Is this going to be the Batman that I know?”…Then I think people should get something out of it. So I hope that people will give it a try.
Thank you, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank!