Thursday, June 27, 2013


I thought I'd change things up and interview my good friend and co-writer Ken Jones. We worked together on a three-part Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight story that comes out today (digital issue #56). It's Ken's first big pro work, having done some published and unpublished small press work beforehand. So I thought I'd take this chance to ask him questions. To get to know the man behind the writing, while sprinkling in some fantastic art from Jason Shawn Alexander who is drawing our story and painted the cover. Let's get started...

Tell us a little about yourself. The history of Ken Jones. Where did you grow up?

Ha! The History of Ken Jones-a mundane tragedy.  But seriously, I grew up all over the place, mainly New York, Omaha, Nebraska, and Fresno California.  We bounced around quite a bit, for a variety of reasons.

I guess I would call Fresno my hometown as I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else, even though I haven’t lived here the majority of my life.  I’m not sure there’s a narrative there, except to say that I’ve learned that people everywhere are mostly the same.  The differences that we think are so profound are mostly just dressing.  I think that perspective has helped me considerably as a writer.

What were some of your earliest memories reading comics that captured your mind?

Conan and Spider-man.  That’s where it all began.  My uncle used to collect comics and at some point he just gave me a bunch of them.  The stuff he was into was pretty much horror—which helps explain a lot for anyone who knows me—and classic Conan, that great Ernie Chan stuff.  Understand I was about 8 or 9 at the time.  And these books were not necessarily kids’ fare, but they set my imagination alight.  Reading stories about unnamable horrors lurking in swamps and a barbarian wandering an ancient fantasy world made things possible in my mind that I never conceived of before. It was so lush and detailed compared to the cheesy movies and TV shows at the time.  I was unaware of the pulps at the time. So my little mind was blown.  The Conan stuff is actually what got me into drawing comics.  I started writing to have something to draw.  And that was my introduction to comic books.

Prior to that and for a long time afterwards, I didn’t really collect comics.  From time to time, I’d buy a book off the grocery store rack, but that was about it.  It wasn’t until my teens that I started collecting regularly.  So early on, comics were a treat.

When I did I get into collecting comics, it was pretty much just Spider-man at first.  I’m not sure how.  I liked Superman a lot, too, but for whatever reason, Spider-man just did it for me.  He was the bee’s knees.  From there, I started getting into the Hulk, X-men, Silver Surfer, and Superman. I don’t know what started it.  But thinking about it now, I probably got into comics from cartoons. Super-friends, Mighty Mouse, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Thundar the Barbarian-my favorite, He-man, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Bugs Bunny, Scooby-doo, the gamut;  I was a cartoon junkie.  I’m talking Kung-Fu Louie and Grape Ape.  And I read a lot of print books.

I miss the grocery store and magazine racks. Those are some of my earliest memories of picking up comics as well. A sign of the times we lived in back then.

You've worked a lot of odd jobs in-between writing. What were some of them and how did any of your experiences help inform your writing?

Since most of my jobs were menial jobs, the main thing I learned is that getting to work in comics—or whatever your dream job might be—is a blessing.   I think I read about a survey recently that said 70% of people hate their jobs.  Hate them.  Think about that.  So if you get to do something you love, you’re definitely one of the lucky ones.  The politics, the pressure, the editorial interference that you might come across that’s nothing compared to, say, coal mining.  There are people out there for whom coal mining is the only option.  So overall my storied work history has given me perspective.

Otherwise, two jobs stand out specifically.  I had a job at Blockbuster Video that taught me how important the audience is.  Not just that they’re our bread and butter, but that we really need to be mindful of what they’re picking up our product for.  As creators, we can sometimes get caught up in the idea that a story or project is ours and chafe at any compromise of our vision.  But having a story is pointless.  We’re in the business of telling stories.  That takes two (though hopefully a whole hell of a lot more than two) to tango.  Having something to say is only as important as how it is received.  Outside input can give a creator a clue to that.  Comic book fans are different that television fans.  Comics serve a slightly different function for them.  It’s important to be aware of that.

The other job was as a manufacturing supervisor.  I did reports and presentations for executives, marketing people, even customers and it gave me good perspective on the business side of things.  The product is largely irrelevant.  You can be selling warships, health services, or entertainment; the principles of business, particularly good business remain the same; challenging but attainable expectations, good communication, effective organization, and acknowledgement of achievement.  You know you’re with a good employer if all those things are in place.  If not, you tend to have people who are disgruntled, or at least uneasy, and it’ll show in your turnover.  If you work people to death, or they don’t know who’s responsible for what, or if they’re even doing a good job, it will make people miserable and probably affect your product.  I think knowing that will help me be a better team player, regardless of the setting.

Why does this suddenly feel like a job interview?

You're hired! Congratulations.

It's weird to think I've known you now almost half my life. Close to 20 years. When did we first meet and what were we involved in that first brought us together creatively?

Well you ran that guy over with your car and were looking for a place to stash the body.  No.  I kid. That…that would be wrong…

We were working for an independent comic book publisher (read: we drew some guy’s unpublished comics for free).  You were somewhat of a late comer to the thing.  I think your first tracing inking job with us was a piece that I penciled.

Yes, you were my first. Makes me all gooey just thinking about it. Also, it lets me know who to be angry at and to blame for my tracing career. Kevin Smith is now off the hook.

I believe you inked it with a sharpie, so now it’s probably brown and curled up like a scroll.  Thinking back, it’s probably best that it never sees the light of day anyway.  But I thought it was great at the time.  Even though we were on different projects we all became one big group of friends.  Lifelong friends at this point.

Eventually, we broke away from the Hive—literally; that was the name of the publisher—and started working on our own creator-owned stuff.  You started inking me on a project of mine.  We got 3 issues in and…yeah.  Still, those years were the fondest of my life.  Everything didn’t just seem possible, it seemed inevitable.  Of course, life’s what happens between your plans.


I know you both as a writer and as an artist. What has been your experience going to conventions, the submission process, and trying to break-in?

Impenetrable, really.  Of course, this is back when access to publishers was limited.  You could go to portfolio reviews at conventions, but unless you were the next Jim Lee, it was an exercise in futility.  You could mail in submissions, but that was a roll of the dice.  Editors don’t have time to pour over submissions.  And getting work is really about being at the right place at the right time, meaning you have to be in editors’ faces a lot (without pissing them off too much) so that you can be there when they have something they need done.  And as hard as it is for an artist, it’s even harder for a writer. Writing is more time consuming to review and requires more projection.  I don’t say this because it’s sad; I say it because it’s important to note: the best way to get into comics is to know someone.  At least, that’s the most reliable way.

That said, with the complex series of tubes known as the interwebs, there is more access to editor’s eyes nowadays.  In fact, editors and art directors will often peruse sights like Deviant Art as a way of scouting.  So ostensibly, it’s better.

Nevertheless, I think it’s a system flaw for the entertainment industry to be so inaccessible for new talent.  Whether you do comic books, video games, television, or movies, you’re basically in the idea business.  Why then don’t any of these industries invest more time and energy into finding—and developing—new ideas?  They’re notorious for diving back into the same small pool of talent over and over again.  It’s gotten worse now with cross-contamination; comic artists doing storyboards and designing video game characters and vices versa, script writers writing comics, J.J. Abrams directing every movie made, and so on.  Many of these companies would rather troll the established talent for a crack in their schedule than give a new creator a shot.

Persistence and networking seem key in the entertainment business. And of course, talent is an ingredient in there somewhere. And if you have all three, then you might just get your shot.

Do you remember your first experience working on Batman? This is going back to those sample sequential art pages you drew when you were going to conventions to show your work. It's funny to think back at those compared to you working on a Batman story now. What do you remember from that time?

Stairs.  And stairs.  And more stairs.  Then we get to the stairs.

For some reason, I had written a story with Batman being the detective, and searching through a house. I got hung up on a lot of visual scenes of Batman in a dark staircase. Panel after panel of him walking up or down stairs.  I wish I can say, my writing has improved since that time.

I actually liked it though.  It was a cool little story.  Batman going after Mr. Freeze in this snowed-in cabin/castle.  At least I got to draw Batman walking up and down those stairs.  More importantly, I think that was the first collaborative project we did.  It probably started laying the groundwork for how we work together now, even if at a rudimentary level.  It was definitely consistent with our character-centric themes. And we learned a little something about the benefit of 2nd drafts.

Funny to think we’ve kinda come full circle now.

Give us a little summary about the story in Legends Of The Dark Knight. What is it about and what interested you in writing it?

It’s a story about Two-Face revisiting his past and the collateral damage that brings.  If you want to know more you’re going to have to check out The Beautiful Ugly at Comixology.  But I do think we use some interesting perspectives to tell the story.  And it’s definitely a different kind of ending.


Couldn't have said it better myself. The first part of our story in Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight "The Beautiful Ugly"debuts digitally at Comixology TODAY! 

And come back here next week for the second part of our conversation, where we begin breaking down the process of working together and some of the characters and ideas in the story.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


This issue was another rare chance to spend some time with the supporting cast of Batman. The trouble with Batman being locked inside Arkham City for one long night in the game, is that it didn't allow for much interaction with the rest of his family outside of its walls. Robin showed up briefly and was gone just as quick. Alfred would be on the radio sporadically. And Nightwing, not at all. So there was always the lingering questions and comments from fans about what the rest of these characters were up to in Gotham while Batman was away. And trying to find space for a story with them that could still fit into the timeline of the game. I found my answer in how the Protocols would come into play.

As Hugo Strange activates "Protocol 10" to wipe out the criminals and the entire population of Arkham City, he also activated "Protocol 11" to self-destruct Wonder Tower. It got me thinking…what might the other nine Protocols be? And as self serving and grandiose as Hugo considered himself, with his knowledge of Batman's identity, he even talked about his plans to enter Wayne Manor. So there was our story. "Protocol 9" would be the assault on the Manor. It would be a last stand for Alfred and the boys to protect the homefront with Batman currently preoccupied trying to stop Hugo Strange inside Arkham City. And it would be a chance to show off the mansion as well as the Batcave from the DLC challenge levels in the game.

This story became a full circle moment. I hadn't known it at the time, but it would be the last story planned for me on Arkham City. And poetically fitting in the story itself, that we'd find out what happened to Captain Vincent Garrett. This was the same Captain that I scripted on my very first Arkham related story that Paul Dini and I crafted for the first digital exclusive Arkham City issue. In that one, Vincent was being interviewed and hired by Hugo Strange. And in this Unhinged issue, we see what happened to him after he served his usefulness to Hugo.
I also wanted to take the time to show Hugo's grand plan to open up other versions of Arkham City in other areas across the DC Universe. He explained it briefly in the game, but I could hint at it even more here. We see Keystone City (I only wish we could've shown more of a red blur zipping across the screen for the Flash, but we ended up with just a fast gush of wind), Coast City (we'd show the airplane hanger and airbase that Hal Jordan once worked at), and of course Metropolis. I always felt the comics could be allowed to show some of these scenes and characters that the game couldn't, but even still we were limited in what they felt we could imply.
Fabbri's art...a work in progress showing the pencils, shading, and inkwash
I thought it would be a fun twist to the reader familiar with the game, that the Tygers we'd first see in the Batcave would be a training simulation program for Robin to practice on (just like the DLC). But then the real Tygers would show up and the real assault on Wayne Manor would begin.
David Fabbri did such a beautiful job on the art for this story. I had seen his work before at Wildstorm. You could tell he spent a lot of time referencing the locations of the game in his fully realized background drawings and characters. He had this style that seemed like a mixture of pencil shading along with inkwash, that brought a real nice attention to detail. Below are just a few of his sample pages they tried him out on that got him the job to draw this story.

My final thoughts of my time on Arkham Unhinged and Arkham City, I have so many people to thank...
Paul Dini was instrumental in not only writing the first two Arkham games, but also in getting me onboard the comics. When his schedule was starting to get busy and DC wanted to bring on a scripter/co-writer for the first digital exclusive stories, Paul was the one that helped recommend me for the job. Up until that point, I was mainly just inking his stories on Detective Comics and Streets Of Gotham, but had a fun time scripting a few issues off of his plots. To my editor through the trenches, Jim Chadwick. Again, I was pretty much a writing unknown at the time (still am to some degree) when I came onboard to help co-write. And when they decided to launch Unhinged as an ongoing, much less a weekly regular title, Jim and DC showed a lot of faith in allowing me to write the project fully. To have to put out as much content as we did in such a short window of time, always under the gun, we really had to hit the ground running. Jim was patient and guiding. Giving me a lot of room to maneuver as well as keeping me in line if I strayed too far outside of the boundaries they needed. He made an extremely stressful  title very easy to proceed with. And sad once my time on it came to an end when they wanted to go in a different direction. To Shawn Kittleson and Tori Setian, who were my envoys from the gaming side of Warner Brothers. My fondest memories working on Unhinged will be my visits to the Burbank office to spend those days playing the game before it came out as they guided me through it, answering all my questions, and passing along screenshot references to the artists on my stories. To Hank Kanalz, overseeing the entire digital line of titles (which has only grown in abundance since Arkham kicked things off). To all the artists that came on and drew these stories that turned into so many of my favorites. I was introduced to so many new people and styles, got to work with artists I was already fans of (even before working in comics), and have been blessed to continue to work with a few since our time on the title.

Lastly to all the readers and game players. Thanks for your support. I immersed myself in these games leading up to the job of writing them. Playing it before it was released to the public. Reading gaming sites to find out what the fans were interested in and talking about. Getting the chance to meet some of you at convention and store signings. Getting feedback good and bad. It's been one heckuva ride!

I don't know what the future holds for the Arkham property. The new game will spawn new Arkham Origins comics, but I have no involvement in them. Yet I hope to get the chance to return to the Arkham-verse at some later date. It is such a fully realized world with a vast assortment of characters that continues to grow with each game. And there's so many more stories to tell…

Sunday, June 23, 2013


One of the perks of working on Arkham Unhinged was being able to tell stories with the versions of the characters that I was a fan of. They had to merge with how they were portrayed in the Arkham City game of course. But DC and Rocksteady still allowed a lot of leeway in the stories I was able to tell and the versions of the characters I wanted to write. The most perfect example being Talia Al Ghul.

In the New52, and more specifically in Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated, Talia is portrayed as extremely vile to the point of insanity. Someone willing to threaten Batman with choosing to either save Gotham or save their son, and putting a price out on Damian's head that ultimately leads to his death. For better or for worse, that's one of many interpretations of the character over the course of her creation. Just not the one I cared for.

The version I always liked was how she was presented in the animated series, and closer associated with her comic origin. A woman stuck in the middle between two men in her life; the loyalty she shares with her father and her romantic feelings towards her "beloved" Batman. I like that grey area for the character. Not outright evil, but with each confrontation between the two men in her life, the choice of which side to take always hangs in the balance for her. The type of stories good soap operas (or comics) can take full advantage of.

When Talia first appears in the game, it's to help save Batman's life. And during their conversation, she mentions the night they spent together in Metropolis. Immediately it was like a bell going off in my head…there's a story there to tell. It also allowed me to flashback to earlier in their history together. To tell their first meeting in the Arkhamverse timeline. And a nice excuse to revert back to the way her hair was in the animated series…longer, darker, and hanging over one eye. Femme fatale!

Getting a chance to also tell a story outside of Arkham City and outside of Gotham, would be another interesting venture. Since the game mentioned Metropolis, that brings to mind some very familiar characters from that city. Yet aside from showing the Daily Planet building and S.T.A.R. Labs, I couldn't show or mention any of those familiar people. Such is the way these video games can be set up. You don't always have the particulars of the decisions behind this, but have to work around what you're allowed to do. Or to put it another way: It's a bird, it's a plane…and that's all it was.

The story I ended up writing followed some familiar beats to their relationship. They meet, they're saved, Batman is brought back to the family to meet her father, Ra's wants Bruce to join his family, but once the darker threat is revealed about who Ra's is, then Batman will forever oppose him. And while Talia has feelings towards Bruce, she'll never be able to convince him to join or kill her father. So her loyalty will stay with her own family, for now.

I always found the idea of Ra's being in Gotham during the time of Wonder City to be a missed opportunity. A chance to portray an earlier Gotham and a younger Ra's. And I believe even when writing the game, that Paul Dini had some ideas in mind for wanting to write more about that time period even outside the game. But it wasn't meant to be, for either of us.

Also I had a slightly different ending to this story in mind when I turned in my first draft. I thought it would be a cool nod at the end of the story, after Talia fails and returns to her father, if Ra's would mention that Talia's son is waiting to see her. He could've said Damian or left the child nameless. But the implication would be that Talia got pregnant during Bruce's stay at Ra's home all those years ago, and secretly had the child without Bruce knowing. But understandably I think it left too many questions or concerns, that they didn't want to broach. Fan-service denied! Yet... if you look at the very last panel, I sort of came up with the alternative. Talia is touching her belly (slightly covered up with the caption box in print, but more visible here). A possible hint that she got pregnant during their meeting in Metropolis. At least…that's what I wrote in the script and choose to believe.

Someone's expecting...
Federico Dallocchio turned in a great performance drawing this story, as well as Alejandro Sanchez on a subdued coloring palette. They'd have to juggle the action scenes along with the quieter, tender moments between these characters. Federico drew a wickedly staged delusion that Bruce is in as he's fading in and out of a poison induced fever dream. There was this gory scene of crows picking away at Batman's eyes, and tearing an eyeball from its socket. It was more graphically presented in the original art, but was edited down for digital. And then reverted back to the original version again for print.

When tasked with drawing Metropolis, Federico I believe referred to a map design of how the city looked off an old roleplaying game supplement that he had or found online. Only after he drew it, was it decided that Metropolis shouldn't look like that older version on the edge of a cliff and waterfall. So he changed it to reflect the more natural New York style look to the city. You can see the earlier version below to compare the two.
Metropolis: Before & After
I was really happy with how this issue turned out. I'm a sucker for a good tragic character or failed romance, and it was nice to visit these characters in happier times as well as sad ones. It remains one of my top favorites of my entire run.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


It's been a long time since my last update. This ends up happening when I've got a lot on my plate. A lot of script writing, pitch writing, drawing, and inking. So I apologize for the long wait for some of this. But it's time for me to play catch-up and start to say my final thoughts on a lot of past comics I've had a part in.

Each issue of Arkham Unhinged was a chance to shed light on some of the lesser used characters in the game. And that definitely was the case with Black Mask. Aside from his brief appearance at the beginning of Arkham City, as well as his challenge map train level, his time was short. Of course, it looks like that's going to change in Arkham Origins.
Telling Black Mask's story was about going through the history of the character, and adapting an origin for him in the Arkhamverse. To help set up the reason he hates Bruce Wayne as well as Batman. And I also wanted to incorporate the train  sequence into the story before the start of the game itself.

The fun came in how to depict Black Mask. Sionis always had a chip on his shoulder, from his upbringing with bad parents, to losing the family company and fortune, to being disfigured. He was a top mob heavy that got dropped a few pegs once he was caught and couldn't get back into his factory inside Arkham City. But I admired his tenacity and brutal stubbornness. For a villain, he sort of exudes a strong work ethic. And never content with what he's been dealt. Always looking for a way to gain ground and get back on top. And we put him through his paces here…captured, escaped, recaptured.

Harley's hyenas showed up strictly because I've always enjoyed then in the animated series. And I felt they could be worked into this story fairly naturally. I didn't like the idea of them being stuffed in Penguin's museum. If that did end up happening in the Arkhamverse (and wasn't just Penguin bragging), then it happened after this story. Poor Bud and Lou. I choose to believe it never happened.

I also found a way to stick Firefly into the Arkhamverse. Roman and Garfield Lynns had some past history together, so I thought it would be fun to have him show up in our story (even if it is a glorified cameo). I always hoped I'd have more time to explore the two of them, but my run ended before I got that chance.
Sadly, the thing I'll remember most from this story was the timing of it. The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado was fresh on everyone's minds. Out of that horrible tragedy, DC decided to delay putting out an issue of Batman Incorporated due to some of its content. But then my story was brought to some attention for the part with Black Mask's shootout in a theatre. It had come out around the same time as the real incident and wasn't pulled or delayed. I just hated the idea that this got mentioned at all. You never write these stories wishing for any of this fantasy to happen. Or to get wound up in any controversy over it. Not when the real life tragedy was horrible enough.

Artist Eric Nguyen did a fantastic job drawing this issue. We had worked one time before on an origin story in Justice League Beyond. For that, he adapted a more animated style approach. But for this story, he changed his style a little more hard edged and it really fit. He draws one creepy looking Black Mask.

Also below are just a few panels that changed during the production of the issue. Sometimes the art didn't fit exactly the first time around, and would get corrected and redrawn. Baby Roman was in an awkward position in the first panel and looks better in the second. Same with the idea of Roman burning down his parents' home. We decided not to show him actually doing the deed, and focusing more on the actual results. All a part of the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into the making of a comic.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


It's been a busy last few days as preparations have been underway for DC's announcement of their "Villains Month" for all its September released comics.  While there are those that hate the interruption between their regular titles they pick up and these new stories, I'm always a strong advocate for done-in-one stories. Probably because I came from that generation that grew up in the 70's and 80's where comics were mostly told in one issue. There were continuing stories throughout the comics. But generally you could go into a comic shop or drug store spinner rack, and pick up any issue, and be told a full story. Not a part of a 6 or 12 issue series, but one fully realized story. And that this "Villains Month" gets to focus on all the villainous rogues at DC, is a great way to do a lot of interesting character based stories. To get at the heart (the dark heart) of what makes these villains evil. To let them run with wild abandon. And maybe in the process, shed some new light on who they are and what motivates them.

I was invited to work on the Poison Ivy story, and am more than happy for the opportunity. While it might not look it, I haven't done much writing for DC's publishing arm in New York. The majority of my writing comes from the Digital arm of the company out in Burbank (Arkham City, Arkham Unhinged, Justice League Beyond, Batman: Li'l Gotham). To be asked to join the event over in NY, was out of the blue, and very exciting. And that I get to write one of my favorite femme fatales in Batman's rogues gallery was the added treat.

I won't get into what the story is about just yet, other than my focus on character, character, character. Where Ivy comes from and where she's going. What motivates her and what's her desire. If I do this right, she can be seen as more than just an eco-terrorist. That there's something driving her to do what she does.