As the reviewer of Batman/Joker: The Deadly Duo I recently had the pleasure of interviewing writer/artist Marc Silvestri, a legend in the comics industry. We had a great chat which I’m excited to share, so let’s get right into it!
I’ve read some of your early Cyber Force work and the difference in art style is very stark. It’s stylistically quite the evolution. I was wondering if that change was something you’ve naturally fallen into or if you’ve made a conscious decision to change up your art.
Marc Silvestri: Kind of a combination of the two. About ten years ago or so, I started inking my own stuff. We had relaunched a version of Cyber Force and I was designing a lot of the characters and doing the covers for them. I thought, “oh, this is kind of a different feel.” I started to go towards this old school pen and ink illustration. So, it’s very line heavy. Lots of mid-tones and grey tones which were done strictly with linework mixed in with the blacks. What I was working on had more of a lush feeling. It was almost like painting in black and white. Look, I’ve told people, we aren’t athletes doing what we do. There’s no real expiration date. I’m not like a professional football player whose career will maybe last me ten years. So, If I have my mental facilities, which is borderline, questionable, I can keep going for decades doing what I do but you get to a certain point where you go why do I want to keep doing the same thing? Why do I want to draw like I did in the 90s? Why do I want to draw like I did in the 80s? I’m just going to bore myself and I’m going to disrespect the audience. It would be like, wow, this guy just doesn’t care. So, when I decided to do this Batman, it was a conscious decision to number one, write it, because I wanted to tell this story. I also wanted to draw it in a way that I hadn’t done before. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone and hopefully the fans respond to it, and they like the gritty feel that I brought to this book, again, by design, with this new way of doing things. So yeah, you have to reinvent yourself or it just gets stale. So, not only for people who have been following me for years, they can see something new, but maybe for people who are not familiar with my work, it can feel fresh to them as well.
That’s really cool! I think that kind of leads into one of my other questions. You mentioned that this is a story that you wanted to tell and this is your version of Batman artistically with your linework as well as this gritty feel you’re going for. So, are you looking towards setting up something larger, or is this it? Could you see sequels, spin-offs, that kind of thing?
Marc Silvestri: Well, the way I originally did this, and I did create a new villain for DC, I have a continuing story in my head; but I wanted to tell this particular story. Originally it was supposed to be six issues but as I was writing it, I became very conscious that I wanted to stick the landing in just the right way. I knew where I was starting it, I knew where I was going to end it, and I had to fill in the gaps in between. When I first pitched the idea, which was astonishing to me that DC had not done this a million times already over the course of 80 years of existence for Batman, to have him and the Joker actually team up together, I wanted to tell the story of this relationship between these two iconic antagonists. Let’s face it, what’s the common thing that everyone describes in this relationship between these two characters? Well, they’re two sides of the same coin. And that’s a great way to describe it. Which one of them is really crazy? So, what I wanted to do was take that coin and put them on the same side of it so they were forced to work together. To me, the story wrote itself; at least my version of it. It’s a ludicrous situation for them to find themselves in but also filled with a lot of potential. A lot of great potential for the characters to grow and hopefully, if I did my job correctly at the end of this, the ending will be unexpected, pleasantly, for the readers. Hopefully, they can put the book down and say “Woah, I didn’t see that coming!” But without being too heady about things, without overburdening the story, because I want it to go fast and I want it to be fun and exciting; but also, scary and dark. I also want people to feel they got new insight into these iconic characters, because of this situation. It was a lot of fun to write because, no real spoiler here, but Batman says maybe six or seven things to the Joker the entire seven issues and the Joker will not shut up. So, one of them is having the time of his life, and the other is living in hell. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which one is which! But as I was writing the story, that relationship, even though I knew where it was going to wind up, it was important to establish that, yes, they are two sides of the same coin but what happens when they are forced to work on the same side of that coin. How does that reflect on who they are individually and who they are as a relationship? Because it is iconic and you do have to treat that relationship with respect but you can have a fresh angle on it. Which is what I hopefully accomplished. And I believe I take these characters in directions that people will find interesting and will find entertaining and fresh without doing anything bizarre. I’m not reinventing any wheels here. As a storyteller, it’s my responsibility to entertain. When somebody lays down the cash for this book, if they aren’t undermaintained by it, then I didn’t do my job. So, I was very conscious of that.
Yeah, I think you’re well on your way to that. The first issue certainly creates that atmosphere. That gritty feel. Different writers like to take Batman in different directions. Some of the recent runs haven’t been quite as gritty. Definitely more neon, tights, and capes. Batman/Joker has a little bit of that 90s energy but it still maintains the modern feel, especially with the art, which is why I brought it up initially. You don’t see that kind of art style too much.
Marc Silvestri: And that’s what I was looking for, so I’m glad it came across. Hopefully, the art helps create that atmosphere where the reader feels the world. You’re not just reading the world, you’re not just looking at the world, but you feel it. You want to be there even if it’s scary. I wanted you to be in my Gotham. I wanted you to want to be in my Batcave.
Speaking of Gotham, I was very impressed with your cityscapes and I was wondering what your process is. How do you go about building it up from the base level?
Marc Silvestri: Well, it was very important to me, the environment; Gotham itself. I grew up on, not only the 60s TV series of Batman but my other favorite show was the original Star Trek series. People kind of forget that that series had four main characters. It was Kirk, it was Spock, it was McCoy, and it was the Enterprise. That was the fourth main character and people forget that. That’s where, in my mind, Gotham comes in. Especially in how I wrote this story, Gotham is not brick and mortar. Gotham is a living, breathing thing. It is an actual organism that people happen to live in. So, I wanted to give it that organic feel. If you are paying attention (almost) you could see a building move, or you could see it take a breath. That’s the feeling I had in my mind as I was drawing it because I wanted it to be its own character. Visual, I was thinking in terms of dieselpunk meets the Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City but also this living thing. To make an example of that, speaking of the Batcave as we were, you’ll notice subliminal clues to the reader. The Batcave in issue one is enormous. There’s all this stuff in there and it’s an expansive and brightly lit place. As the story gets dark, and it does get dark, the Batcave itself gets smaller. As Batman’s world gets darker and more claustrophobic so does the Batcave. So it starts as this expansive thing, because “well, geez, I’m Batman and I’m about to solve a mystery!” As that starts to unravel and that mystery becomes more and more frightening, the Batcave becomes smaller and darker, smaller and darker, until basically, it’s just him lit by the monitors in front of him. So, those are the kind of things I was paying attention to in my mind as I was writing it for the reader. Not only in the environments like the Batcave and Gotham, because I treat Gotham the same way, but also in the characters. I’m a big believer in the characters and what they do driving the narrative.
And you’ve definitely had time to think about this stuff because this was announced… I don’t know how many years ago now.
Marc Silvestri: A few. The Process started seven years ago!
Marc Silvestri: Yeah.
So, has it been written for seven years and you’ve just been drawing it?
Marc Silvestri: Yeah, y’know with the combination of a business to run with Top Cow and the fact that the world went up in flames and things happen, I wasn’t able to completely focus on this and Batman requires that focus. I wanted to make sure I delivered the best thing that I could for the readers and put everything I had into this. I wasn’t going to cut corners and I wasn’t going to cheat. Jim Lee and DC were really great about giving me the time I needed and they understood that I had a story that I wanted to tell in a certain way. So, that combined with trying to reinvent myself a little bit artistically; plus, I had never written for myself at that scale, so that was brand new. And again, I really did not want to cheat the audience in any way because I appreciate them. I appreciate that people still love comic books. I appreciate that people care what I do. I hope I won’t let them down. So, I did take my time. There were days when I had other things to do and I didn’t want that to distract from the work on the page. And hopefully, if I did my job, that is conveyed and ultimately the reader is entertained, all the way through what I feel is a surprising and hopefully satisfying ending.
You did bring up Top Cow, and it’s a little bit outside the scope of the conversation but I wanted to quickly ask you if there’s anything coming out of there that you’d like to mention?
Marc Silvestri: Yeah! I know we’re talking Batman but my other favorite character is The Darkness and we’re bringing him back; I’m actually writing that. We’re also bringing back Witchblade. Those are both coming back next year plus a bunch of new ideas that I’ve been working on over the past few years, that we’re going to make into comics. I hope people dig it. Because look, I love making and reading comics and I hope that comes through in the stuff that I create and that Top Cow creates, and I hope it comes through in this Batman/Joker series.
Do you ever see yourself in the future doing another ongoing book or is that something firmly in the past; just sticking to miniseries?
Marc Silvestri: Probably nothing to this scale but I’m definitely concentrating on new ideas and writing. It was a great experience on the Batman book, and I’ve enjoyed writing things for Top Cow over the years. I do have just a ton of ideas that I want to get out there and I’m not the fastest artist in the world. It would take me decades to get all these ideas out there and who knows how long you’re gonna live! So, I’m going to focus more on the writing aspect, the design aspect (which I still have a great deal of fun with); I love doing concept stuff with characters and I’ll be doing covers obviously because I love to draw. No one loves to draw on a deadline, but I do love to draw! So you’ll be seeing all of that from me in the future.
That’s awesome. It looks like I have time for one more question, so bringing it all back to Batman, I think every writer has their own idea of who Batman is; what exactly their vision of him is. That might be how he acts, how he looks, the whole package. So, what would you say your mission statement for Batman as a character is?
Marc Silvestri: Ah, that’s a good question because you don’t want to mess with a beloved character, so I don’t believe I do anything that does that but I give a little more insight into who he is, why he is, and is he okay with that. I think putting him together with the Joker pulls up a whole lot of questions as far as “who am I?” I think a lot of us can relate to that anyway and I wanted that to be relatable because who can actually relate to Batman?
Right, not many of us are swinging around on Bat-ropes!
Marc Silvestri: No, we all want to be Batman, but what does that actually mean and does Batman want to be Batman? Those are the kind of questions, again, without getting too heady, that I think I approach in a fresh manner, simply because of the situation that Bruce Wayne/Batman finds himself in having to partner with his greatest enemy. There’s a moment in the series that’s one of my favorites that’s horrifying for Batman when he realizes not only is he stuck working with the Joker but he needs him. To help him solve the mystery he needs someone who is out of their mind.
I did remove a section that didn’t fit neatly into the interview but I’d like to leave you all with an excerpt from it that did seem particularly valuable.
Marc Silvestri: When people put down the book, I want them to feel that it was time and money well spent and because it’s out of continuity I can do whatever I want; that was a big deal to me. You’ll notice in the first issue, things happen to characters. So, that was very freeing and the fact that it is out of continuity, and again, if I did my job right, twenty years from now somebody could pick up a collected edition or single issues and still be entertained by it because it’s not pigeonholed into a moment in time. It’s just Batman and Joker and their eternal love/hate for each other.
That’s it! Huge thanks to Marc Silvestri for taking the time to do this and DC for arranging it. It’s much appreciated!
Be sure to check out Batman/Joker: The Deadly Duo, out today!