Thursday, July 11, 2013

TWO-FACE / TWO WRITERS

Concluding the last part of my interview with co-writer Ken Jones on Legends Of The Dark Knight "The Beautiful Ugly". Digital issue #58 goes on sale today at Comixology. So be sure to read that before coming here, as we'll discuss a few story related topics...



Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a character rarely used in Batman. I've always appreciated that she has a history with Bruce. She along with Alfred, were two adult figures in Bruce’s life after he lost his parents. And one of the few in his inner circle that knows his exploits as Batman.

It's funny because originally, our early draft of the script opened the story with her scene and then we find out what happened to Aiden and Marissa flashing back. But as we did more drafts, it was a better fit coming much later, to tell Aiden and Marissa's story in real time. And to actually start our story with Batman in action, making a better bookend to our story.

Talk a little about the inclusion of Dr. Thompkins in our story.


It’s funny because it’s a small scene, but the whole story kinda pivots on it.  Dr. Thompkins is fascinating to me because she’s a gatekeeper to the world of Batman.  She’s one of the few people with open access to him and whom he trusts at their word.

Most of the other characters with that interact with Batman are more directly involved with what Batman does; other masked vigilantes, cops, like that.   But with Thompkins you have this regular, ordinary person in Gotham who just happens to be able to contact Batman whenever she wants.  She’s a very world-building type of character, a bridge between the reality the audience knows and the unique reality of Gotham

Of course, I was completely unaware of Thompkins before The Beautiful Ugly.   But you talked about wanting to include her pretty early in the process. I think that’s a knack of yours; telling stories within worlds—whatever ‘those worlds’ might be—that have a sort of object permanence.  I think it stems, at least in part, from your ability to sort of pull characters out of the ether that make the story realer to that universe.

Sometimes you come up with characters on the spot during our brainstorming sessions that fit perfectly.  It’s a pretty impressive gift.

It's an interesting point about Thompkins as a sort of bridge for the audience and Gotham. In some ways, the few people that Batman keeps close to him (Alfred, Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Thompkins) provide a sort of tether for him as well. A sort of working class humanity aspect to provide insight and rein him in from just becoming immersed in Batman fully. To either remind him to stay the course, or recognize when he's starting to stretch and go too far.


The fate of our lead characters is unknown by the end of our story. Why the choice for this ambiguity?

Actually, I’m more interested in your thoughts on that since the concept and main storyline were your ideas.  In fact, you even had the major beats of the story worked out by the time we sat down to brainstorm, including this sort of ambiguous ending we have.  So Mr. Fridolfs, what inspired you to come up with the story I the first place and what prompted to you take it in the direction that you did?

While not every story calls for it, I do tend to like the idea of not knowing the finality of a character's fate. To leave a little mystery and some areas open for the audience to surmise on their own what might happen. And the way the audience comes to their own conclusion, might stem to their own outlook or perception on things. In this case, it comes down to the jury results. Guilty or Not Guilty. And in either case, I don't know if there really can be considered a happy ending for either party in this.



I know when coming up with the title and the last page of dialogue for this story, who it belonged to felt very interchangeable. That it could just as easily refer to Two-Face as much as it does to Batman. What does "The Beautiful Ugly" mean to you?

I think it’s all-encompassing.  Not just for Batman and Two-face, but for Marissa and Aiden as well. Gotham City too, for that matter. It even extends to the larger concepts of justice and revenge and redemption.  We kind of unpack it all and leave it in the audience’s lap.  But we don’t do it to avoid answering the question.  I think the duality is the answer.  The city, the people in it, and the ideals they’re striving for or running from all contain and compose both beautiful and ugly things.

See, I never even thought to associate Marissa, Aiden, Gotham, or the larger concepts for it, and yet that's a great point! The things one learns after the fact.


Switching topics, there are very few black writers working in comics. And quite possibly none at the Big Two companies currently, which seems pretty unfathomable. For an industry that has so many diverse voices and styles, and as a black writer, how do you feel about this? What do you think you can bring to comics?

Damn the Man, I says!

Actually I think it’s a systemic issue.  Working in comics is about who you know.  Fact of life. And I don’t know why there’s so much diversity on the art side but so little on the writing side except to say that there may be less diversity in the private lives of many comics writers.

On the flip side, comics might not be a readily pursued career path for black writers.  I do know firsthand that there is cultural pressure for black writers—black creators of any stripe—to identify as “black” writers, artists, or whatever.  It’s patently absurd.  It’s a description of a person’s ethnicity and occupation.  But I think it’s a core tenet of the human condition to heap as much cultural baggage as humanly possible on anything and everything we can.  And maybe that results in fewer black writers considering comics.

I'm all about diversity of characters and creators. That each of us brings a whole different set of life experiences, backgrounds, and heritage to the table. That it's fascinating to have as many diverse points of view.


Any final thoughts to having your first big mainstream story published?

It’s very, very cool.  And hopefully, it’s just the beginning. So back to work.


                                                                                                             ____________
 
So there ya have it. It was a real pleasure getting the chance to introduce everyone to Ken, and to especially work on this story together with him. Many a day and weekend are spent hanging out, talking about life, politics, social problems, entertainment, and brainstorming stories. Much of the published work I've done has been through a great filter as I've shown Ken my work, gotten feedback, and opened my mind to the greater process of writing. He's always been a great sounding board if I'm struggling with something or just want to float an idea out there to get his opinion. That we finally got to work on something published together isn't the end of this great journey but only the beginning. And I'll keep you posted what we'll be working on next.

A final bit of thanks goes to editor Hank Kanalz and artist Jason Shawn Alexander. Hank I've been working with on all the digital work I've done through DC in Burbank. I sort of caught him by surprise by sending this story pitch to him out of the blue, not knowing if there were any openings or even if he'd like it. And he was extremely generous and patient getting it all set up. And what can I say about Jason, that I haven't gushed about before? I wasn't quite aware of his work before Arkham City End Game (and a nod to editor Jim Chadwick for bringing him to my attention). But I've gotten to be a huge fan since that time. It can be rare to find the chance to rework with people in the industry. To strike lightning in a bottle twice. We all have separate goals and schedules. Lots of projects being juggled in work and in life. But that Jason found the time to work on this story, I felt very lucky. And he brought his "A" game once again, drawing and inking the characters emotions all over their faces and body language, the weariness of Batman and the city of Gotham, and the fractured soul that is Harvey Dent.

And thanks to all of you that have bought our story, read this blog, and have commented. Every little bit is like fuel to keep the fires burning. And very much appreciated!

8 comments:

  1. A pretty great ending. I think it's a testament to the quality of the writing when you can have a story that features little to no page time for the main character still end up as an excellent read.

    A great job to you and to Ken, as he said I hope it's just the beginning for his career in the main stream as well.

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    1. It's funny because our very first draft had so little Batman at all. It would've gotten more into how Aiden and Marissa first met back in high school and how their relationship developed, and would account for the time that they both moved to different cities to start their lives. But years later, they would pass through each others lives again and continue forward from where the beginning of our story started. Less Batman, more Aiden and Marissa. But it just wasn't clicking well, and we were limited to the space involved (30 pages instead of hoping to pitch this as a longer mini-series). So we chopped out the backstory and used Batman as a bookend, to jumpstart the story and to have the final word.

      Thanks for enjoying it. And Ken and I will continue moving forward and see what transpires.

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  2. I just finished reading "The Beautiful Ugly," and while it'll take me a while to formulate detailed thoughts, I just want to say right away that it was astounding. The story could easily have veered into so many cliched tropes and pitfalls, and instead, you both managed to steer it into something great. The ending, in particular, was perfect.

    My only question: who is doing the narration at the end, Batman or Harvey? I thought it was Harvey, but it had the little bat insignia in the corner. What's great is that I can see that narration applying to both characters, so maybe it's purposely ambiguous?

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    1. I think Ken and I were both very aware going into this story that we didn't want to fall into the usual cliches with Two-Face. I think his coin so many times is an overused trope and a crutch for most writers. And I thought it would be great if we could tell a whole story where he doesn't need it at all (although it makes it's cameo late in the story but in a much different way).

      I'm glad you're asking the question about the ending narration, because that's exactly how we felt when applying it to the ending (and we also talk about it in the last installment of our interview above). I think it's something that started as being associated with Batman, but then I felt it just as easily applied to Two-Face. And originally, that inner monologue was going to open our story, back when our first draft started with Batman and Thompkins at the clinic. But after further rewrites and a different opening, I decided to push it to end the story. And it really just fit the closing scene better, as well as the idea that it could easily refer to Batman AND Two-Face.

      Anyways, thanks for enjoying and chatting it up on your site!

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  3. Really really enjoyed this take on Two-Face. It seems like he's a very troublesome character to write. While a lot of writers over the years have used the split personality / tormented soul aspect, occasionally with Harvey "winning" over Two-Face (but mostly not), and even then with the help of Gilda/Grace. The Dark Knight at least got this aspect of an actual Two-Face. The side of Harvey that was willing to do whatever it took to get justice (even his own twisted version of it).

    I remember as a kid wondering what kind of crook would ever follow an ex-District Attorney (the bronze age origin story even had other criminal gang leaders ask how did this guy every get regarded as a mastermind when he had to flip his coin all the time to make up his mind?) Then a story happened in Jonah Hex (some one else who bears some similarities to Two-Face and not just in the scarring department... a bounty hunter vs a rogue agent of justice...two sides of the same coin??? Anyway the Jonah Hex story involved a character called the "Star Man". A man who went around killing sherifs, but only corrupt ones (after a vicious and crooked sheriff killed his handicapped father). After that story, I figured maybe Harvey could gather crooks who were locked up on trumped charges by corrupt Gotham PD (and he would have access to that). Well anyway it was the kind of anti-villain one could see Two-Face morphing into (kind of an inverse-Punisher?)

    In any case, great way to capture his world view. Also gave Batman pause to consider it (for real this time). And thanks for reading that closing narration, because it may be the first time I can every remember anyone giving Harvey a internal voice that wasn't constantly at odds with Two-Face.

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    1. I think it's too easy to just box Two-Face into one of two corners. Either as some common mob thug with a penchant for the number "two" and flipping his coin, or as someone that will be the sole judge, jury, and executioner in a trial of his making.

      What Ken and I wanted to accomplish is make the justice he's going after, a little more personal. A case he lost as District Attorney. Someone who managed to escape the law (sadly ironic considering the recent times we are living in), and Harvey trying to right that wrong in his own twisted way. And it makes it even more chilling that this justice will be meted out by victims of the crime rather than Harvey himself. He becomes a sort of matchmaker, bringing all the parties together, letting them hash it out and arrive at their own decision.

      It's a shame the trademark coin is almost too overused for the character. That we always saw it as a last resort only when both of his sides are hung on a decision. That for the most part, he wouldn't need to use the coin because both sides can be in agreement very strongly towards what he wants to happen. And even talking it out, more times than not, he'd be able to arrive at a decision without the need for the coin as arbiter. Too often, he's portrayed having every decision made with the coin, when it really should be so very few to make it that much more important when it is used.

      The closing narration can go either way. While it is Batman saying it, it also can be applied to Two-Face, which is why it was positioned that way at the end through the artwork. We probably could've had the narration box have both the bat insignia and a coin to show it applies to both, but it might've been just as confusing. Easier to have the narration remain consistent with the beginning and ending of the story being spoken by Batman. But it is interchangeable with Two-Face as well. It's nice to have deeper layers.

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  4. And my thanks for positioning the ending narration as you did. Actually giving Harvey a measure of dignity and him showing respect for his office. It was a nice touch with the photograph of him and Bruce Wayne, making the two of them friends was something I believe the 90's Animated series has only brought up, but always to great effect. I was wondering if he was putting the broken photo away in the drawer at the end.

    Harvey's core original story was one of redemption. However, as the years went on Two-Face was way too popular to ever truly be "redeemed" (at least not permanently, but long enough for Batman to train him in martial arts and leave him as his replacement in Gotham for a year). In any case, somewhere along the line many people just gave up on the tragic aspect of Two-Face and pretty much made him Joker with a coin. Even then not using the coin fairly, as John points out in his blog you have situations like Two-Face about to hang someone for being "guilty". Coin comes up good heads, they take the noose off, but still drop the platform out from under him and down he goes into a shark infested tank.

    The problem with having a full time crazy evil Two-Face was the chance for redemption was quite honestly what made him (to me anyway) an interesting and captivating adversary. And he should also be pretty darn capable of going toe to toe with Batman and giving him a run for his money. Not having powers or a league of assassins at his command, I always appreciated when the character was really portrayed as really being more reasonable than the other villains. Such as being self aware of his own limits and willing to use resources, i.e. get trained by Deathstroke in how to handle a rifle, buy Crane's fear gas, etc...

    Having him be a class A level opponent to Batman, without losing that half and half quality of good / bad obviously makes him a very tricky and difficult character to write. Kudos to you both sirs for giving us a Two-Face that actually accomplished all of that, and I hope have set a blueprint for how the well the character can be handled.

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    1. We liked the idea of his hideout being a run down legal office. That technically he probably isn't really hiding out, but that he still uses places like these as a base of operations. That it would look just as fractured as he is…half burned down, rotting, falling apart, all of his old legal certifications in broken frames (and tilted when hanging), and boarded up windows.

      Even though it might not be as apparent in the art, he actual picks up the photo of he and Bruce (in happier times) and places it back on the wall where it was knocked off. That in that brief moment, he looks at it and maybe remembers what his life was like before. But sees it nothing more than returning it back to its place on the wall, whether there's greater implications there that Harvey can be redeemed and return to that life or not, one day.

      In earlier drafts we had more room and little more description that he's going through the old case file of Aiden King on his desk when Batman arrives, and that file is what he puts back in the filing cabinet now that the case has been resolved in his mind (in one way or the other). And the statue of lady justice on his desk, which hangs askew at the beginning of the office scene, is now balanced in the last shot. All according to Two-Face.

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