Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I knew writing this issue would be a departure from what most of the Unhinged stories were. As well as a great risk to keeping the audience's attention.

We'd had plenty of villain centered stories as well as Batman in action. But this one would be mostly the opposite. Very little Batman, and relying heavily on some minor characters and flashbacks to before the game. Still I felt it necessary as the series continued, to try to find ways to bring in some of the lesser used side characters and try to breathe some life into them.
This one also took a little more legwork than normal. I remember when Azrael debuted in comics decades back, but I never kept track or followed the character since that time, as it became a different user under the mask. And it would be that different iteration of the character in the game itself. He had such a small role as just a side mission in the game, and sort of vaguely cryptic in his appearances, that I wasn't sure if there would be a chance to use him in any Unhinged story. But I remember early on that it was a character that readers and fans of the game were interested in seeing more of, so it was something in the back of my mind as I was trying to develop a story for him. It just conveniently worked out that his origin could tie in with another minor character in the game, when they both were cops in Gotham.

I liked the idea of the church being this fortified safe haven in the game. That various people that Batman saved or those seeking shelter, would hole up inside the church. And even on these hallowed grounds, it would turn into a last stand against the outside forces trying to assault the compound. In the game, you'd see all these characters that you might talk to briefly (Vicky Vale, Mayor Sharp, the cops) and here we'd get to see what might play out in the game with all of them there and Batman not around to help.

Part of the fun of writing these stories is some of the confrontations and battles that never showed up in the game. Almost like you're building your own fight card of heroes verses villains. It's how we had Bane fight Grundy in an earlier issue, and once again we'd have Bane now fight Azrael here. Sadly, Bane became very one-note in the game itself, which I ended up carrying over to these stories as well. I wanted to remain as true to the game version as I could, even if I didn't really like that version displayed. He was less of a smart and powerful strategist, and more of a drug obsessed roided out thug. But you sometimes just have to work with what you're given.

In the end, this story might've been my least favorite of my run. Usually I think writers rarely voice that opinion or if they do, they might feel that way if they're forced to write a certain story by their editors. But that wasn't the case here, since I brought this one to them. Now that time has passed since its completion and I can look back in hindsight, I'm not entirely sure if I was able to accurately convey what my original intent was. The newer Azrael has a convoluted back history that I was unsure I could properly cover in what little space I had or if I should. But like most of the Unhinged stories, they would be 30-page, 1-and-done issues. So even if the results weren't as expected, there would always be another story for the next issue.

Our artist, Jheremy Raapack, did a fantastic job in this issue. He found a way to humanize the backstory, while also individualizing the cops and medical workers, as well as an army of inmate gang members as they tried to break into the church. His gritty detailed style really worked well for this type of story, and fans are now getting to see him continue with that style over in the digital Injustice: Gods Among Us stories.

Funny side note…for some reason, during the early stages of drawing pencil layouts for the story, Jheremy ended up mistaking Killer Croc for Bane. While Croc had the briefest of flashback cameos in our story, I think he must've just continued with him in mind for whatever reason. But then it was quickly pointed out by the editor that it was Bane in the script. He then drew the correct villain for the story. These are the crazy inner-workings the audience doesn't see happen as these stories are created. But thought it would be fun to show what some of those original Croc rough layouts looked like. Would've made for a fun story in itself, but Bane had more purpose for why he was in the story than Croc.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


With the success of Batman Li'l Gotham, it didn't take long for a decision to be made to double production. We were already doing one 10 page story a month, and now  essentially we'd be putting out a 20 page monthly painted comic (still broken down into 10 page stories every other week). And that's also why duplicate covers are starting to appear, with slight coloring changes.

I think the fans thought of it as a mistake or lazy. But anyone familiar with the digital releases that DC has been putting out might notice that one cover is used for multiple stories in a given month. Usually it works out good for stories broken down into 2 or 3 chapters (examples being Arkham Unhinged, Batman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond to name a few). It gets a little more awkward with Li'l Gotham which has a different story each chapter, so two separate stories have to share the same cover in any given month now. Since the increased production sprung up on us quickly, it didn't really allow a chance to alter covers other than different color schemes. But I know in the future, we'll be trying (who am I kidding….Dustin will be trying) to incorporate both story elements into the one cover used for the month.

Until then, our "Lunar New Year" just happens to have nothing in common with the reused cover of poor Joker still trying to run away from the ladies on Valentine's Day. So the joke was on all of us.
As for the story itself, I think it was Dustin's idea for us to do a Lunar New Year story. It would be a nice visual change of pace having a Gotham Chinatown story and all the cool visuals that could go with it. Having the villains be from Kobra (characters we were already familiar with during our opening arc run on Justice League Beyond) kept with the theme of the "Year Of The Snake" for the holiday this year. It was also a chance to have the story center around Damian and Katana. Ends up there's a little history between those two characters.

It comes as no surprise that Dustin and I enjoyed our runs working with Paul Dini on Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham. A lot of the characters and stories and situations all sort of draw from our time there, as well as other influences like the animated shows and our own interests. It would be during those early Streets Of Gotham issues where Damian showed some interest in Katana. So in Li'l Gotham, it's more of a sibling rivalry, and they play off each other well.

Another flashback was introduced towards the end of Streets, when we saw Alfred in his younger days. He had a cool visual look as the driver for the Wayne family, and a bit of a kick-ass bodyguard. I always loved that appearance of him and thought it would be fun to revisit a version of that in this story by having a flashback sequence to Bruce's early days as Batman.

Without a Robin in his life, it would be Alfred that would be his partner-in-stopping-crime. And of course, a bit of a Kato homage as well. That Dustin decided to paint it in a more sepia tone for the flashback was the perfect choice. We wanted to fit in a little nod foreshadowing where Batman would get his first Robin, by having the circus come through town. Originally I wrote it to have the car stop at the tracks as the train passed in front of them. But Dustin suggested an even better visual of having them drive over a bridge, never realizing how closely their two paths would cross. One of the more beautiful panels he's drawn in our entire run so far.
Animals, animals…everywhere…

It's been a bit of a running gag that was never originally intended but has turned into a happy accident, of having animals and pets in most of our stories. It really started with Dustin's promotional piece that announced Li'l Gotham, with all the baby birds scattered around. Seeing those silly cute things ended up sparking us into having other creatures show up in each of the stories. There's been a history of Damian being a bit of an animal lover in the New52. And that's carried over into our stories. Except for snakes.

Lastly, part of the enjoyment of these stories is coming up with the silly phrases some of the characters say. I think a lot of the puns and humor is just an extension of some of the late night online conversations that Dustin and I have as we go over the scripts and the art. Things have a way of jumping out as we rattle off puns back and forth.

The one I'll end with below, is definitely all Dustin.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


With the success of the "Injustice: Gods Among Us" digital comic and the impending release of the game, it got me thinking back to a story I pitched over a year ago. I had been working on Arkham Unhinged for a number of months. And I thought of an interesting side story to do. I wanted to expand upon the alternate ending to Arkham City. Gamers know the one. There's a point in the game where you're playing as Catwoman and you go to get an item out of the vault where all the inmate confiscated goods are kept. She picks up a couple briefcases, begins to leave the facility, but then is forced to make a choice which path to take. Does she leave the items and go rescue Batman, who is pinned under some concrete debris before he gets killed by Tyger guards during Protocol 10? Or does she take the money and run; leaving out a side door to exit Arkham City? The former choice continues the game while the latter choice actually ends the game (briefly).

I kinda liked the ballsy concept of that, as you actually see the credits roll and then hear radio reports of what happened. That Joker was triumphant in taking over the city and various heroes died or fell in the battle. We hear all this through a despondent Barbara Gordon on the radio, reaching out to anyone listening that's still alive.

I thought it would prove to be an interesting "Elseworlds" version of Arkham City, that could be run as it's own separate comic mini-series. That we could really go for broke since we weren't hindered or afraid of coming back from this ending (unlike the game which rewound so that you'd make the correct choice and save Batman). It would be it's own separate alternate take, and the regular Arkham City/Unhinged story would continue on its own without fear of being screwed up by this separate take. We might even explain it all away as some fear toxin induced vision by Catwoman if we needed to.

In the end, the pitch was shot down because they felt it was too dark and depressing. Mind you, I was only riffing off of what was already presented in the game itself.

Fast forward to DC's upcoming game, "Injustice: Gods Among Us". The digital prequel comics are helping set up the game where Jimmy Olsen is killed by the Joker and Harley, Superman is fear gassed into believing he's fighting Doomsday when in reality it's Lois (whom he mistakenly takes into space, killing her and her unborn child), the result triggers a bomb the Joker surgically linked to Lois' heart which explodes in Metropolis, destroying the city and everyone living there. And out of revenge, Superman goes after the Joker, and punches a fist through his heart, killing him. This pits heroes against each other on two separate sides as Superman sets up his own dominant my-way-or-the-highway One World Order rule over the planet. With more death and shocking developments to come.

And they thought my story was dark.

That's not a scathing indictment but rather the reality of the ever changing creation of entertainment. You learn to take it with a grain of salt and not take it personally. Not all pitched ideas will take hold or be agreed upon. And just because one story is turned down for one reason, doesn't mean they won't do a complete 180 degree reversal and go forward with a similar one. It's a wild roller coaster of unpredictability. You're trying to serve many masters and ideals, and a "no" to one doesn't prevent a "yes" to another.

Of course, I could tell you how I pitched the backstory to Superman for the Beyond comic universe, that set up how he lost Lois (and his unborn child) and decided to wear black ever since, back when Justice League Beyond was first being worked on almost two years ago. Similarities there as well. But that's a story best left untold, which is becoming a habit.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


This issue was a bit of a free-for-all.

Up until this point, most of the stories for Unhinged had centered around a villain or two. But the idea came from on high to try to come up with a story that would have as many of the villains as we could fit into it. A lot of that had to do with the artist they had lined up. Mico had already drawn a couple covers for Unhinged, when it was decided to let him draw the interiors of a story. And they thought it would be fun to have him draw as many of the characters as possible.

In the game, the villains are all over the place, and not necessarily willing to work together. So what would get them to come together for this story? It really hinged on the idea of how they all ended up in Arkham City to begin with.

With that in mind, I immediately thought of the animated series, since the games and the animated shows shared the same writer in Paul Dini. And the game borrowed elements from how characters were portrayed as well as voice actors. So I thought of the "Trial" episode of Batman: The Animated Series. How the villains in Arkham captured Batman and put him on trial. But not wanting an exact retread, I figured we'd do a different variation. Since Joker's scheme in the first Arkham Asylum game lead to the destruction of the island facility, and the incarceration of all the villains into a walled Arkham City; the next logical step would be to have a trial against the Joker. That all these incarcerated villains would put their rivalries and annoyances aside to find Joker guilty and be punished accordingly.

Picking the villains to make up the jury was fun. You already had a lot of favorites that had been seen in previous issues. But it would also allow us to throw in characters that were only mentioned or even never seen much, if at all, in the game. Ventriloquist would get some face time. Black Mask would alude to an upcoming issue with his history against the Joker. Rat Catcher gets an extended scene compared to the briefest of cameos in issue #8. And I got to continue my love for ex-Wonderland Gang member, The Carpenter. It was fun writing her in "Streets Of Gotham", so I was always looking for an excuse to have her pop up in Unhinged whenever I could. Croc would never make it to the jury just because I didn't think he'd ever surface from the sewer to care. And same goes for Mr.Freeze, too involved with his plans for Nora to even bother.

Judge Harvey Dent would be a nod to the animated episode "Judgement Day". In that show, Harvey assumed the vigilante role of a masked court judge, going after various villains. I thought we could do a little adaptation of that visual in our story as well, with Dent's dual roles…Harvey as Prosecutor and Two-Face as the Judge. His half wig/half robed appearance was originally questioned if it could work, but they relented and let me do it, and I think it's an impressive visual for the character.

We even had an alternate juror in Calendar Man. Since he was already imprisoned beneath the Courthouse, it would be more convenient for him to be in this story than any other Unhinged issue due to his limitations in the game. And I always had plans to do more with him. I had pitched a short story that involved him after his escape from his Courthouse jail. Gamers will recall that after you visit him on each of the marked holidays, that he eventually escapes his cell, back into the city. My idea had him team-up with Jervis Tetch. That Tetch might've been one of the few to visit him in his cell, and they formulated a plan to work together, using Mad Hatter's mind-control technology, to go after Two-Face's gang that imprisoned him (and had also caused Mad Hatter trouble). By ambush capturing some of the gang members and applying the technology to their masks, Calendar Man would tell his victims to climb to the highest building and jump to their deaths (very aptly timed to come out during "Leap Year" in 2012). I thought it would make for a nice catchy way to market the story. But the timing and approval process never worked its way out.
I can't get away without explaining the absurdity of Batman and Joker teaming up in this story. It should never work. But if there's one thing I always ascribed to was the ending to the game, and how after everything Joker did; that Batman was still willing to help cure him if given the chance.

The idea that Batman would sit idly by and watch as this rabid jury would tear apart and kill the Joker, I just couldn't see happening. He would want to get down there and stop the proceedings, and end up saving Joker at the same time.

It would be the unlikeliest of team-ups, but there was a basis for it...
Before the game came out, a video surfaced known as the "Arkham City Batman Joker co-op" (do a search for it online and you can watch it). It showed game footage of Batman and Joker facing each other in a dark alley in Arkham City, only to be surrounded by gang members, and the two of them having to team-up to fight them off to survive. It was a lot of fun to see these rivals not only fighting back-to-back, but assisting each other during the fight. Eventually that video of game footage was revealed to be a fake (but a well created fake). So having Batman and Joker fight off the jury in our story was my way to give a little nod to that bit of inspiration.


Lastly I've got nothing but praise for the artist. Those of you that are enjoying Mico Suayan's covers on a range of DC and Valiant titles, got to see what he could do drawing a story. I remember when I first started to see his super tight pencils show up, that I thought they were so detailed, clean, and finished, that they wouldn't even need an inker and could go straight to color (and that's blasphemy coming from someone who inks, right?)  Mico did a knockout job having to draw a range of characters, as well as Arkham City itself. And on top of that, was easy and enthusiastic to work with. You couldn't ask for a better collaborator. Check out his thumbnail layouts to the first chapter, along with the first tightly rendered pencil page to the story.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Having just gotten home from a week away attending Seattle's Emerald City Comic Con, I've just had all sorts of thoughts in my head. Basically boiling down to what these types of conventions mean to those of us that work in the industry.

At one time, comic conventions were special because they were few and far between. I grew up in the era of mall shows and tiny hotel room rummage sales. You've have a few big shows the whole year in other cities or states, and that was it. Now it's exploded to the point where there are a few shows each month throughout the year. So how special each show is, depends on the location, the people that attend, and the focus of the show. And Seattle has a great one, since it's so very focused on comics and their creators instead of the media hype that surrounds other larger shows.

For the working professional, going to a convention can be a schizophrenic operation, with all sorts of purpose to accomplish. I imagine first and foremost on their minds is to make money. At the least, to cover travel, hotel, and food costs; but also to make money when they might be better spent at home working or with family. And there are quite a few artists that do nothing but hit multiple shows on the circuit a year. To the point where they're not even working in the comic industry regularly or even at all, and are making a living at conventions. It's enough to blow your mind.

Also of importance is the networking involved. To actually see your fellow creators, some of which you've worked with and can see in person for the first time. Some you don't see except once or twice a year at these shows. And also get a chance to introduce and meet others from companies you aren't working for (or whom you'd like to work for). I got a chance to reconnect with two artists I worked with on past stories (one that sat next to me in Artists Alley and the other came up out of the blue and had the nicest of things to say). The business that goes on after-hours in the bars and restaurants and hotels, is much different than the business on the con floor itself. And can lead to future collaborations.

But I think for me, these shows always come down to meeting the audience. And that's not some trite assessment. Meeting the fans is the greatest creative battery recharge that a professional can get. It's easy to forget that most of us work at home, locked in some room (cave, dungeon, etc), alone with our work. That it's nice to step away from that quiet comfort and to actually hear from those that follow the work. Excited fans of all types, whether they want a book signed, get a sketch, or just tell you their favorite issue of yours; is a great gift to us. It might be the only auditory praise we'll hear all year. I truly get a kick out of it.

I had a mom with her two young kids, come up to the table on the last day of the show. She was carrying a backpack with all their comics, and they dug them out, and each one handing me comics from their stack, saying thank you after each signature I returned back. Their enthusiasm was infectious as they couldn't contain themselves with their enjoyment of the stories and telling me about it. Stuff like that is priceless and reminds us (reminds me) who is reading the work we put out.

Lil Gotham made its current print debut on the convention cover