Batman: Kings of Fear #3 preview

Halloween is rapidly on its way so what better time for a horrific Batman tale featuring the Scarecrow?


I was thrilled when the pencils to these pages came in from Kelley, as they feature the kind of pure action, almost Frank Milleresque storytelling at which Kelley is so good and which he doesn't seem to get called upon to do as often as would be ideal. Those tall thin panels—so so so good!

Batman: Kings of Fear #2 preview

The preview for the second issue of Batman: Kings of Fear just hit, which is fine way to start one's day. (Unless you're the Batman.)

I was pretty pleased with that transition from Scarecrow's fear gas-induced hallucination to reality when I wrote it, but I didn't expect it to come out quite as great as did—you'd think by now I'd know better than to ever doubt the great Kelley Jones. And Michelle Madsen's colors are beyond gorgeous—the painterly backgrounds are just superb.

Batman: Kings of Fear #2 will be in stores on September 26, 2018.

Batman: Kings of Fear #5 cover

I will never get tired of watching a piece of art as it progresses. How it goes from this:


to this:


to this:

to this:


still blows my mind, even after all these years.

It's always amazing. But, of course, it's even better when it's by artists as spectacular as Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen.

Cataclysm: "A Bird with a Hand"

This article reminded me of one of my favorite Batman stories I ever worked on. It was from the Cataclysm storyline—an earthquake has hit Gotham and the city is in utter chaos.

The original idea for the story was Chris Renauld's—at the time a newish penciller, now the award-winning director of Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets. He mentioned to Darren Vincenzo an article from (I think) The Atlantic Monthly which discussed what would happen if even a relatively small earthquake hit New York City, the place most of us lived and we all worked at the time...and the outlook for such a scenario was not pretty, to put it mildly.

Darren mentioned Chris's idea to me, Jordan Gorfinkel and, of course, Dennis O'Neil and we all agreed it was worth kicking around. We loved the potential in a story of the Dark Knight finding out (and showing the readers) just how different and frustrating it is to fight the after-affects of a natural disaster as opposed to inmates from Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

Our writers and artists did spectacular jobs—this was the exact kind of story that Alan Grant, for instance, really teed off on. And in those early CGI days, comic book artists were able to demonstrate visually the hellscape far more effectively than films.

But the other thing I loved about a story like this was that it gave us the opportunity to look at so many different characters and see how they were affected and how they would react. Supporting characters, villains, even regular citizens: each and every person in and around Gotham would have a tale.

So we did several specials and oneshots, in addition to devoting several issues of the regular monthlies. This enable not only our core creative teams to do their thing, but gave a shot to new creators and writers of other books, like Devin Grayson and Kelley Puckett, to play around. Chris himself wrote several stories and pencilled one (a fantastic story, inked by the great Bob McLeod, showing Ra's al Ghul observing the devastation from half a world away). And Kelley Puckett and Rick Burchett delivered an absolutely gut-wrenching portrait of a small child who's lost absolutely everything and the amazing woman who tries to help him by finding at least one small thing from the past he can hold onto.



But my favorite was "A Bird with a Hand," the vignette (always one of my favorite forms) wherein we discover how the Penguin is cold-bloodedly turning this horrific situation to his long-term financial advantage.

 
 
The amazing team of Rick Burchett and Bill Sienkiewicz (with gorgeous colors by Grant Goleash) perfectly illustrated the very dark side of this sometimes goofily-portrayed villain.

My favorite Batman stories still tend towards the one-and-done. But these character portraits are really only possible in the kind of huge storylines that Cataclysm was.

And of course I later moved into the San Andreas Fault's neighborhood. Fortunately, we moved away from that about a year ago...and into the Cascadia subduction zone.

Batman: Kings of Fear — That 25 Panel Page

When Kelley Jones and I first starting talking about Batman: Kings of Fear, one of the many things we discussed was our mutual love for pages with a lot of panels on them. The earliest comics had 8 panels on the average page. By the 1970s, the average seems to have been more like 7 panels per page. By the 1990s, for a variety of reasons, the average comic page probably had 5 panels. (Except for the Kelley Puckett/Mike Parobeck/Rick Burchett/Rick Taylor run on The Batman Adventures, which I insisted never have more than four panels per page at the very most...but that's another story.)

But, of course, in the 1980s, the 9-panel-grid became quite popular, thanks to its prominent use in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, one of the two most influential comics of that (and maybe any) decade.


(For example.)


Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (the other most influential comic of the 1980s) used the 16-panel-grid to devastating effect.


Not to be outdone, Matt Wagner decided to up the ante in Grendel, going for a 25-panel-grid.


Kelley and I talked about all this. Feeling perhaps just the tiniest bit vexatious, I wrote this into the script:
Page Six 
Panels One to Whatever 
Kelley! This is one of those pages we talked about, going for something crazy, like a 12- or 16-panel grid or something insane like that, the kind of thing that, let’s be honest, no one would willingly attempt these days. No one sane that is. In other words, go nuts! Have fun! Remember to keep well hydrated!
So. I think what we’ve got on this page are ECUs on the Batman taking out every badguy in the place. His elbow connecting with a nose, his boot with a knee, his hand grabbing a weapon, a palm strike to a chin, teeth flying, blood spatter, cape whirling, a terrified eye peering around a razor-sharp bat-ear, that kind of thing. As many as you want. They could be all the same size or they could get smaller as the page goes along and he goes faster and faster? They could start out tight and keep getting tighter until the final ones are almost just shadows? Your call—you’re the master.
Kelley read that panel description, said "hold my beer," and delivered...this.

My jaw hit the ground when I saw it and neither my jaw nor the ground have fully recovered yet.

(And Kelley sent me the pencils to that page over three years ago and I couldn't tell anyone. Job looks at me and is, like, "damn, sam, you're patient.")

Impossibly, brilliant colorist Michelle Madsen did the impossible and actually made the black and white art look even better, which is just...impossible.

I think Kelley thought the way he took my idea and ran with it to Proxima Centauri and back would shut me up. Little did he know it simply encouraged me to throw more and more unreasonable demands his way...which brings us to the fifth issue, which he happens to be drawing today...

Batman: Kings of Fear #1 reviews!

A very wise man once told me, when I first entered the business, never to read your own reviews. He was right, of course. Fortunately, I have a review pixie who reads them for me and swears she doesn't cherrypick at all...

***
The debut issue of Batman: Kings Of Fear is absolutely brilliant! Edgy and smart, it's far from afraid to peel back the layers and take a look inside the inner workings of The Batman and those whom he calls his foes! It's gripping and beautifully intelligent, with page upon page of slick art that call to mind some of the Caped Crusader's greatest tales from the 80's and 90's. 
One issue in, and both Peterson and Jones have proven to be a well oiled machine capable of kicking off a white knuckle thriller set to send its readers deep into the darkest corners of fear and uncertainty like never before! 
Batman: Kings Of Fear #1 has hooked us in, and we can't recommend this debut issue enough!
You won't want to miss this one!

Rating: 5/5 - "Peterson and Jones have kicked off a white knuckle thriller set to send its readers deep into the darkest corners of fear and uncertainty like never before!"
***
As Batman drives Joker back to Arkham in the Batmobile, writer Scott Peterson gives such a layered discussion (well, almost one sided thanks to chatty Joker) between the Clown Prince of Crime and a more sullen than usual Caped Crusader that already attempts to understand the inner workings of Batman’s purpose as a vigilante. Joker and Batman have done this good vs evil dance enough times to know there are dark corners in Bruce’s mind that even a demented soul like Joker has difficulties comprehending.
Batman’s hardships with the villains he faces comes to a head when some of his greatest rogues faces him. While the action sequences are phenomenal courtesy of Jones and Madsen, the dialogue between Batman and the Asylum doctor is significant; the talk amplifies whether or not Batman’s role as hero of Gotham really is for the greater good or if his crusade leads to actual rehabilitation.
One of the first comic book covers I ever saw was a Kelley Jones cover to the early 1990s ‘Batman: Knightfall’ series. As a horror genre fanatic, seeing Jones’ elongated cowls, exaggerated capes and distorted movements surrounded by gothic architecture and morbid shadows made me love not just Kelley Jones’ art, but the comic book medium in general.
Jones brings this same intensity to “Kings of Fear” in every panel. You can feel the crushing blows of each punch and kick, whether it’s on a low level crooks in a warehouse or a nice uppercut to Two-Face in the Asylum. What is most enjoyable about Jones and Madsen’s work is how extra every facet of the story is presented. Joker’s ghoulish grin is a little bit more wide sinister when speaking to Bats. The soft glow of a lit match illuminates a huddled rogues gallery against the shadow of the Bat defines their fearful faces more than usual. The sickening green hue enveloping the Batman as he is sucked into the nightmarish world of the Scarecrow is a bit more terrifying.
I have been excited about this Peterson and Jones series since it was announced and so far the story has exceeded expectations. Very much a fan of Scarecrow / Batman tales that focus on Bruce’s psyche, so I cannot wait for Part Two to see how far we go into the depths of the Dark Knight.

***
Scott Peterson moved this story along quickly, fluently, and effortlessly. Readers may find themselves reading the issue in under 10 minutes flat. To anyone interested in checking this out, it honestly will take no time at all. That said, the issue ironically excels through its dialogue. Peterson knows exactly what to say, how to say it, and doesn’t saturate a page with words. Every word is used well and appears to have a purpose. Additionally, Rob Leigh did an excellent job strategically placing the lettering throughout the pages to make the transitions appear polished.
Furthermore, Peterson slyly implies that the Joker may know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. He says things throughout the issue like ”between the cushions of Bruce Wayne’s couch” or ”mansion of a psyche.” Later, Joker also conjectures that he knows what it’s like to wake up and not know ”who you’ll be that day.” These words very well may just be Peterson showing irony, or maybe it’s something more.
Peterson also gets readers to think about their thoughts on Batman, what he stands for, the Dark Knights purpose, and his effects on the criminals he brings in. The Doctor at Arkham references the fact that Batman can just walk right into the Asylum, but she needed background checks to get in. This was an excellent point.
Furthermore, the Doctor follows it up with a statement many fans have had for years;” maybe you aren’t responsible for the Jokers action… but you have to know you bear more than a little culpability.” These statements are profound arguments that fans, artists, and writers have probably gotten into vicious disagreements over throughout the years and bring up thought-provoking questions that I hope Peterson weighs in on during his run.
I have personally seen individuals get heated over their opinions of the Dark Knight and if he is doing more harm than good for these villains. Heck, after Joker releases almost all of the Batman Rogues and the Caped Crusader beats them all up again, the Arkham Doctor spits out another valid point. She states how Batman continues to prove to these insane villains that violence is legitimate. Peterson is stirring the pot of Batman opinions and beliefs to kick off his story. He’s hitting on touchy topics that will genrate a wide spectrum of opinions. Where do you land on the spectrum? 
***
Writer and former Batman editor Scott Peterson knows exactly what he’s doing here, writing a taut and dynamic scripture that plays directly to his artist’s strengths giving us a hellish take on The Joker, Arkham Asylum and the rest of its inmates.Similarly, when Joker immediately escapes within minutes of being returned into the care of the Asylum, this Batman almost goes through the motions of putting him back down. The fact that he’s backed up by Bane, Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin and Killer Croc makes no difference. They’re going down. It’s a stunning scene, really emphasising who the real terror in Gotham is, with Batman killing the lights before knocking seven shades of hell out of his enemies, culminating with Ivy sparking a match just in time to see the Dark Knight b bearing down on them: “Oh. Oh no.” It’s brilliantly atmospheric stuff and exactly what you want to see from a Kelley Jones Batman comic.They’re some luridly-styled takes on the rogue’s gallery, as you’d expect, their most demonic aspects brought beautifully to the fore as usual by an artist who makes that his speciality, but he brings an even more kinetic approach to action than we’ve seen before from him that’s refreshing to see. One page alone has 24 close up panels of Batman’s fists, feet and fingers connecting in the most painful ways with the faces, bodies and eyeballs of Joker’s hired thugs, giving an almost Shaw Brothers feel to the violence, while despatching a lengthy mass brawl in the shortest (and most amusing) of ways. It’s smart too, as right from the off it’s emphasising just how mundane and repetitive this kind of thing is for Batman.It’s only at the end where The Scarecrow aka the real villain appears, (Jones’ finest and most disturbing rendition yet, by the way) and judging from the solicitations, what this mini is really about properly kicks in, but the foundations have already been set in this first issue. Batman has being doing his dance with these maniacs for years, but has he made any difference at all? Deep down, what’s his greatest fears? It looks like we’re about to find out and you’d be insane yourself if you aren’t along for the ride. Essential.Rating: 5/5.

Batman: Kings of Fear #1 countdown

Hard to believe that in a mere two days the Batman miniseries I wrote over three years ago will finally be in stores. And yet it's true!


Batman Adventures #3

I saw part of this page posted on tumblr earlier today

and after I once again managed to (sorta) get over the utter brilliance of the great Ty Templeton, it reminded me of how that second panel came about, and how it's a small example of just how fantastic and different a writer Kelley Puckett is.

After the page was drawn, I sent it to Kelley and said I thought he should add dialogue to the hitherto silent second panel; he could just continue the song from the first panel. Easy-peasy!

Instead, Kelley has the Joker continue to sing the song for a bit, and then start to mumble words to fit the melody. Because he can't remember the words.

I remember the two of us laughing because who on earth is over the age of 5 and doesn't know the words to "I've Been Working on the Railroad"? Especially since it's just a repetition of the title!

On one level, it's simply really funny. On another, it illustrates just how very different from anyone else the Joker. And the fact that the nonsense syllable the Joker uses to fill time is the same as the Batman theme song is just an added bonus.

the sound of comics creation

I'm always interested in what comics creators listen to as they work. I know a lot of artists listen to a game or podcast or even a film as they draw, although most seem to require silence while laying out a page. At least one writer I know has a different playlist for each series she works on, tailoring it to fit the mood the book requires.

I've never been able to listen to music with words while I'm writing, so I listen to a lot of jazz or classical or post-rock or ambient when I'm working on a script. Different things work at different times, so Collin Walcott's Cloud Dance might work for a solid week and then suddenly, despite the eternal brilliance of Jack DeJohnette and John Abercrombie, it's not doing it for me anymore. Maybe Explosions in the Sky or Tortoise will be the thing that gets the words flowing, or Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues or Joe Henderson's Page One.

This week I've been going over the dialogue to the third issue of Batman: Kings of Fear, tweaking it, now that Kelley Jones is done inking the issue. And this is what I've been listening to:


Something about the propulsive yet slightly disorienting nature of the tune, with its shifting moods by section and 11/8 time signature, drives me forward.

Meanwhile, Kelley posted this clip of himself pencilling the fourth issue, with Henri Dutilleux's Métaboles providing an appropriately creepy, dissonant backing to his rendering of the Dark Knight.

Batman: Kings of Fear


So now that it's been officially announced, I can mention that Kelley Jones and I have a Batman miniseries coming out.

Written by me, illustrated by Kelley, colored magnificently by Michelle Madsen and lettered by the great Rob Leigh, the first issue ships in August.  Kelley and I have been talking about this story for years and keeping it quiet has been ridiculously difficult. So I'm more than a little pleased I don't have to anymore. Hooray for press releases!


I done got interviewed

Here.

1st: If you woke up one morning and found out you were Batman what would you do? 
Scott: Miss my wife and kids terribly.
And then go for a spin in the Batmobile at insane speeds.

Detective Comics #695

Of the hundreds of covers I worked on as an editor, this remains one of my very favorites. Rodolfo Damaggio's brilliantly imagined and executed layout is so damn creepy, and only enhanced by the typically masterful inks of Bill Sienkiewicz, with Gregory Wright's skillfully, tastefully monochromatic colors utterly perfect at somehow ramping the tension up even higher.


It looks great as a collected trade paperback too


but this is one instance where the necessarily intrusive framing element of the unifying crossover theme isn't just good marketing but may actually augment the menacing nature of the illustration.

Detective Comics #726

I've been a fan of Gotham Calling for some time. And this particular installment was a lot of fun because, despite the fact that I worked, in some manner, on almost every book listed, I have very little memory of most of them. And yet just the sight of the covers brought back a rush of pleasure. It was a heady time to be working in comics, and especially on the Batman.

But this one bit especially tickled me:
[I’ll skip Detective Comics #726, which is clearly an inventory story used as a fill-in – it’s a neat standalone tale, but it doesn’t seem to take place in this era of Gotham.]
because, although of course there's absolutely no way he could have known, he also could not have been much more wrong. This was no inventory story—far from it. This was an issue planned long, long in advance. 


Detective Comics #726 was the 700th issue of Detective Comics since the Batman's first ever appearance, way back in Detective Comics #27, cover date May 1939. 


I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion, but I also wanted it to be understated, given the huge crossovers we'd been doing for a few years at that point — Knightfall, Contagion, Legacy, Cataclysm — and the ginormous crossover — No Man's Land — we were about to undertake. So I wanted something worthy of the occasion but something that, at the same time, was in some ways, not all that big a deal. 

So I decided to just do A Very Special Batman™ sort of issue. First, I decided it would feature the Joker, because of course it would. Chuck Dixon would write it, as he was the book's regular writer and one of the greatest Joker writers in the character's history. And I decided to get the impossibly brilliant Brian Stelfreeze to illustrate it, because he's impossibly brilliant and because it would be the first full-length comic book he'd illustrated in nearly a decade and that alone was special. 

I also decided to play to both those gentlemen's considerable strengths. So the story would go back and forth between two (and ultimately three) different timelines. So on one page, we'd have six-panel-grids of the Batman simply talking to the Joker in his cell in Arkham Asylum, each trying to outwit the other. On the subsequent page, we'd have a full page splash of the Batman in action, facing impossible odds and, of course, ultimately succeeding. No one does clearer, more exciting action than Chuck Dixon or Brian Stelfreeze. And, although it's not what they get called upon to do nearly as much, no one does better incisive, emotionally compelling quiet scenes than Chuck Dixon or Brian Stelfreeze.





We wouldn't worry about continuity—we made sure that if there were no direct allusions to ongoing storylines, there also wouldn't be anything which might contradict current continuity either. Basically, it should be able to fit in just about anywhere in the Batman's history.

I also wanted a story which, if you were unfortunate enough to never read it, well, that sad fact would do absolutely nothing to ever detract from your understanding or enjoyment of any other Batman story. But if you had read it, every subsequent Batman story would be just the teeniest, tiniest bit different for you. Easy-peasy, right?

And since that wasn't quite enough, I decided to force my brilliant and oh so accommodating creative team to jump through one more hoop: the kidnapping victim would be played by my own daughter, Kate, then all of three years old.

the original photo reference

original artwork gifted by Brian Stelfreeze to his young cover model
And because those guys are those guys they did everything I could ever have hoped for and more. I guess it's not surprising that 20+ years later, it remains one of my favorite things to have ever worked on.

model and artist, reunited many years later at SDCC