Interview: Geoff Johns and Gary Frank talk Batman: Earth One Vol. 2

After a few years away, writer Geoff Johns (Superman: Secret Origin, Justice League, Green Lantern) and artist Gary Frank (Superman: Secret Origin, Midnight Nation) make their return to Earth One Gotham. A more down to Earth look at Gotham and the citizens that call the dark city home, their first volume built a fresh foundation on an already established universe.

With the release of their brand-spanking new graphic novel, Batman News got a chance to catch up with the creators of the Earth One Batman to discuss the book, and working with one another for all these years.

Batman News: Batman: Earth One is now available in stores, and I know you guys are excited about that. There’s a lot more freedom, space, and time in an original graphic novel compared to a monthly book, but was there any added pressure for the second go around?

Geoff Johns: I think the only added pressure is what we put on ourselves. There’s so much great Batman stuff out there, both in the comics and the animation and films. The pressure for Gary and I is how do we do something that’s unique and different, yet still true to Batman. There’s a lot of expectations that come with a Batman story, and we want to both embrace those expectations and subvert them at the same time. We always knew we were going to do the second volume. We ended the first one with Riddler, and then we went off and did Shazam, so it’s been a while. We’ve been working on volume two for well over a year, and we’re working on volume three right now because we had such a blast on volume two and we really felt the momentum building as we got to the end of it. We want to continue telling stories of this Bruce Wayne and Batman as he grows into this role and goes through a journey that takes him through this Earth One series. The pressures are on clearly because it’s Batman, probably the most high profile superhero out there. And then, the expectations for the characters, because we’re going to make choices that you’ve haven’t seen before and that we think are right for our version of the story we’re trying to tell. If you read Vol. 2, you know some of the characters that we introduce like the Dents or Croc, they play out very differently and then other characters have a journey similar to what you’d expect, but maybe with a different shading on it. Thankfully, with [an original graphic novel] we don’t have a time pressure. We really get the time and space to tell the best story we can. We put pressure on ourselves to take on Batman and these characters and have a Batman story that will be emotionally really complex and deep, and at the same time surprising, and still feel like a Batman story.

Batman News: When it comes to creating a graphic novel, how does the creation process work? Do you have a full script that you deliver to Gary or do you create sequences together?

Johns: We talk about the treasures in the story for a long, long time before I even start the script. And I do outlines myself, and then I write a full script that Gary draws from, but everything we do is a collaboration so we know exactly what the purpose of the story is, what the characters are going through, what their journeys are. Unlike a monthly book, it all happens in one big sitting so we want to see the art develop and pay off in these books, and we do it in a different way that we would tackle it in a monthly book.

Batman News: You guys have worked on several projects together. Being friends with one another, does that help? You know each other’s work so does that play into a trust thing?

Gary Frank: Yeah, definitely. We’ve been working with each other for years. We didn’t really speak early on [while working on the Avengers], but we found out pretty early on in our working relationship that we had a pretty similar approach to, not necessarily just comics, but we like to do the same things. We like the same kind of comics. I don’t know, I think we just sort of clicked. We consider each other friends, our wives are friends. It’s just one of those happy things that brings everyone together. It’s been good.

Johns: Yeah, we’ve worked together for a long time now. I think it did start back on the Avengers books. They were very character driven back then. It was all about character beats, and it was fun. I’ve been a fan of Gary’s long before I got to work with him. And ultimately, when we got to work on Superman, it just clicked. It was literally the first issue of Action Comics. I think we really talked a lot about that story. It’s funny, I’m looking at that graphic novel right now, [Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes]. It’s sitting on my shelf, and it’s still one of my favorite stories that we’ve ever done because it was very emotional. I remember when that issue first came out…it didn’t take long for us to sync up in what we wanted to do, and what we were interested in doing with comic books. It came from an emotional place, a character place. We managed to take the Legion of Super-Heroes, which I think is a pretty complex universe, and distill it into an emotional journey for Clark Kent and what the Legion meant to him and vice versa. The plot is fun and the action is fun, but [Gary and I] are both very interested examining the same types of things that come from a character’s emotional point of view. That universal feeling of just being trying to fit in and figure out who you’re going to be. We’re using the comic book universe to have fun with it, but have it be about something more than just comic book superheroes.

Frank: It’s funny to take on a character such as Superman or Batman. They’re such iconic characters. and characters that you imagine working on someday. And one day when that project comes along, you better make sure it’s the right one that you really want to do, and make it’s a good one. When working on the stories, all of the conversations were along the themes of, “wouldn’t it be cool if it had this thing…” that we liked from certain films or another book. The pair of us wanted exactly the same thing. Going on from that, the Legion of Super-Heroes I really knew nothing about, but already having established that rapport on Superman, I’m sure Geoff found me a very easy sale on his take of the Legion. He was so enthusiastic about it all, and it was very contagious.

Batman News: That’s pretty interesting! I enjoyed that same aspect and focus on characters’ journey in [Batman: Earth One Vol. 2]. There’s some cool dynamics between the characters. How do you go about determining the paths the characters take as the city of Gotham changes around them?

Johns: We’re trying to do it very organically. The way Gotham changes is going to challenge all the characters, and the characters are the ones influencing the changes in the city. As Batman grows, so does Gotham. As Gotham has its own challenges so does Bruce and the other characters. It’s kind of a living, breathing place like any other city. It sort of takes on the personality of the people living in it. Gotham. Take care of it or don’t take care of it. Gotham is sort of a character itself in the book.

Batman News: Continuing to speak on the characters, how did you go about designing the looks for them?

Frank: I guess that should come organically as well. The story is more about the people instead of a bunch of cartoon characters. Our Batman is a man who wears this suit. The Riddler is a man who wears his suit. Croc is a man. Everybody is a human, so the book is about people. As long as you know who those characters are going in, and what purpose they need to serve, all of that informs the design process. The main thing is having a clear overall idea of what kind of story you’re trying to tell, and hopefully from that the design process is sort of a mental extension.

Batman News: Recent photos from the Suicide Squad set show Joker and Harley both we facial tattoos. Vol. 2’s Riddler has a face tat as well. Do you think that’s the new rage in Gotham? Who’s next?

Johns: <chuckles> I don’t know. We designed our Riddler over a year ago. The tattoo over his eye the way we designed it just felt really cool.

Frank: I don’t even know if it’s a tattoo to be honest. That could be something that this crazy guy gets up in the morning and paints on his face everyday. I know we talked at some stage about his body being completely covered in tattoos, and as time wore on that faded away. I guess in our book, we’re not dealing with someone who is a designed person. We don’t really want our characters walking around looking like they were designed by an artist. These are people. He’s Riddler, and he’s recognizably the Riddler even though the question mark motif is subtle. He’s the Riddler because he asks riddles during his crimes.

Batman: Earth One is currently available digitally and in print