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CBR Interview with Kyle Higgins

CBR
Dark Multiverse: Knightfall’s Kyle Higgins Talks Batman and a New Crisis
October 15th, 2019

An Interview with Kyle Higgins
Interview by L.D. Nolan

Running from 1993 until 1994, “Knightfall” remains one of the the most iconic tales in Batman’s long history. After sustaining a backbreaking injury at the hands of Bane, Bruce Wayne gives up the mantle of Batman to Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael for a time. However, Valley proves too brutal. Wayne eventually has to return and defeat his former protege in order to protect others and once again become the Dark Knight. However, Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Javier Fernandez’s Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman — Knightfall #1 imagines a world in which Valley beat Wayne and remained Batman.

Announced earlier this year, Tales from the Dark Multiverse is a set of one-shots set in the worst-case-scenario universe first introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event. The book picks up 30 years after Wayne fails to take his mantle back from Azrael and explores the dystopian world resulting from such a cataclysmic change, as well as the new Batman’s extreme methods.

CBR caught up with co-writer, Kyle Higgins to talk about the new “Crisis” teased in the book, why Azrael fails as Batman, writing fascism, and world-building for the newest world in the Dark Multiverse.

CBR: My first question for you is about something right towards the start of this issue in the preview that CBR ran. Tempus Fuginaut, who’s heavily involved with Flash Forward teases a new Crisis. What can you tell me about that and how it fits into these one-shots?

Kyle Higgins: I really kind of started my career at DC. I started at Marvel, but my big breaks came at DC, and those were in conjunction with Scott Snyder, working on Gates of Gotham. And then I transitioned for the New 52 to Nightwing and Scott transitioned to Batman. Anyone who remembers that era probably would remember that we often interlinked arcs. So there’s a natural fit here as to why he and I decided to do this initial one-shot to kick off all the Dark Multiverse one-shots that are forthcoming.

And that particular point that you just keyed on about the tease of a new Crisis, perhaps the biggest yet, is absolutely a component of that… I can’t say anything specific about it, but what I can say is that it’s there for a reason, and it’s not a coincidence that Scott and I did this issue together.

Azrael really struggled with being a hero when he first took over for Batman during the original “Knightfall.” Why do you feel that he fails at being Batman?

There’s kind of two components to that. The first is that he was really kind of designed and set up to fail. From a narrative standpoint, if you look at the era that that story was built during, and you look at old interviews that Denny O’Neil gave, he talks about this kind of proliferation of antiheroes. Whether it be Lobo, Punisher, Wolverine, the popularity of these antiheroes of that era is what really sparked this idea for the Bat office, which was “okay well let’s explore this and let’s show people what a Batman that kills looks like, ultimately as a cautionary tale as to why it’s so significant that the Batman as we know him, Bruce Wayne, Batman does not.” So that was kind of the initial set up for what became the “Knightfall” event in the comics.

As far as in-story reasons, I just don’t think Jean-Paul was really equipped for the task at hand. And if you look at a lot of his conditioning under the Order of St. Dumas and his background, he did the best he could with the wiring that he had. But I think that as the pressure mounted and what it means to try to be Batman in a city like Gotham, some people are kind of cut out for that and others aren’t.

I mean, you look at quarterbacks in the NFL, and the ones that come in with immense talent and are playing off of that talent purely for a period of time. They might have success early on, but eventually, there’s enough tape on them, that opposing defensive coordinators figure out how to scheme away a lot of that natural ability, and they’re forced to actually figure out how to play at a higher level within a scheme and that’s where you see careers go off the rails, or you see them rise above… I just don’t think Jean-Paul Valley had the fundamentals. He didn’t have a strong enough foundation that would have made him the type of Batman that could have risen to the challenge.

So, going off of that: your Knightfall picks up a long time after Azrael defeats Batman. Were there any stories from that time that were kind of floating around in your head that you didn’t get to tell. Maybe of successes, maybe of failures? Because as you said, he wasn’t quite equipped for that role.

To me, because of the answer I just gave, I was only interested in exploring this era that was. I think it’s in the solicit. It’s about 30 years after he became Batman. When someone’s not equipped for it, but is either enabled, or, well, I don’t want to get into how and why he was able to, in our version here within the Dark Multiverse, stay as Batman, but to me looking at what that kind of darkest timeline with a Jean-Paul Valley who does not have the right foundation and perhaps moral compass to rise to the mantle that he’s taking on… showing the extreme of that after a significant amount of time [had] passed was the best way to explore it. I wasn’t as interested in jumping in and looking at a few months after the point of divergence and what that would look like.

To me, looking at how the city would have changed, how his support structure would have changed how the very idea of Batman would have changed some 30 years later, that started getting exciting for me.

A lot of that change is that Azrael is kind of running an almost pseudo-theocracy. And in your previous work — I’m thinking specifically of Nightwing: The New Order, which dealt a lot with fascism — what draws you to these stories about authoritarians misusing their power?

Without getting political or anything, I think they’re very timely right now. I think they often make for really compelling cautionary tales. In something like Nightwing: The New Order, or even my Power Rangers work with Lord Drakkon, the idea of someone, for the greater good, doing what is necessary, but ultimately what is necessary undercuts why they got into the work in the first place, that to me is always, like I said, a fascinating kind of cautionary tale.

And in the case of Jean-Paul Valley and the setup of this story, it was pretty ripe for that exploration. Like I said, this is someone who has not equipped morally or mentally for the task at hand, and when left to his own devices, this is a story of how things can go incredibly wrong.

I guess I hadn’t really thought of that before, that I have explored some of those kind of authoritarian tendencies in past work. But, again, I do think that there’s something very — we write about what we’re afraid of. At least I do. And there are definitely things in the world that we live in right now that, again, without getting political, echo some of those fears.

How do you view Azrael’s relationship in Knightfall with the rest of the DC Universe? What’s his relationship to all the other characters who are kind of floating around. Superman? Nightwing?

I don’t want to spoil too much here, but that was something that Scott and I talked quite a bit about. What does the outside world look like? And the idea of cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world as a result of what has happened in the rest of the world… Azrael definitely believes that the ends justify the means, and that he has kept Gotham standing, and he has turned this city into a paragon of virtue that the rest of the world could only ever dream of becoming through strong moral conviction and willpower. But so much of what the rest of the world has become, you could argue, is actually a direct result of Azrael cutting Gotham off from it. So, there’s a little bit of a chicken and egg kind of question at the core of this story.

There are little hints throughout the issue as to what things look like. Whether outside of Gotham, whether it be other heroes or other threats, different types of plagues. Even just kind of the status of Lazarus Pits in the larger DC Universe. To me, that wasn’t the core of the story. And this a story with a pretty limited amount of space. I mean, larger than most one-shots, but still, to build out an entirely new status quo, you have to really kind of pick your battles as far as where you decide to focus your page real estate for world-building. So again, we kept things pretty tight on what Gotham looks like in this world. But I think eagle-eyed readers will see hints about the fate of different characters throughout.

You have worked on a lot of alternate worlds and continuities or things that give you more room for play. When you’re writing something like Tales from the Dark Multiverse, what storytelling possibilities does that open up for you?

Well, I definitely pride myself on finding the most interesting through lines within a kind of higher concept. And a lot of alternate timeline stuff really allows for that, because at their core there tends to be a point of divergence or a higher concept that, for lack of a better term, a quote unquote “elevator pitch,” right? This is a story of where it’s this but in this era, where this happened and then that naturally leads to questions. Well, how did that come about? What is this person? As you just said, what happened to Superman? What happened to these people, and then it allows for really interesting world-building opportunities.

I kind of really spend a lot of time figuring out the world- building and in the most efficient and, hopefully, emotionally resonant way. It’s kind of like a tumbler lock, where each pin is a different possibility within a concept, and you have to get them all to kind of lineup right for the lock to open. I just really enjoy that challenge. And the “what if?” of it all, to me, is always a lot of fun to play around with. You can take it to an extreme that you couldn’t in standard continuity and use that extreme and the exploration of that extreme status quo to ultimately make whatever kind of emotional or thematic point interested you in the story in the first place.

Is there anything else you’d like to add just as we finish up?

It’s always fun to come back to Gotham, and I’m really proud of the issue and really happy to be working with Scott again and hopefully people will pick it up, give it a chance. The other Tales from the Dark Multiverse stories are all very exciting. And I think this is a really cool line that’s coming up and hopefully people won’t sleep on it.

The New 52 – Convergence

The Convergence story line stars heroes from the ‘Zero Hour’ arc under the banner of the
‘Batman: Shadow of the Bat’ title, each with a variant cover.

 

Batman: Shadow of the Bat
Issue No. 1 – June 2015
The Dark Side of the Street
With the people of Metropolis trapped under a dome, Bruce Wayne decides to go under cover in hopes to work for the crime boss Tobias Whale. Little does he know that Jean Paul had the same idea and is currently working as Whale’s hired muscle under the assumed name, ‘Johnny Valli.’ As a sort of initiation, ‘Valli’ must give Bruce a brutal beating before joining up.
Bruce and Valli then pay Councilman Hall a visit with Bruce under the orders to murder Hall. Days later the duo are in their batsuits working to hijack Whale’s plans. After knocking Whale unconscious the two batman come to odds in their differing ways of achieving their goals. Bruce then feels a shift in time and reality.

 

Batman: Shadow of the Bat
Issue No 2 – July 2015
Home is the Sailor
The Wetworks team is on a mission as the city’s champions and are on the hunt for Batman and Azrael. If the duo beat Wetworks however, the inhabitants of the aircrat carrier will be killed.
In the end Azrael strikes up a deal for Batman and Wetworks to team-up in an effort to break down the dome and unite with the heroes on the outside.
Azrael has other plans though and decides to stay with the people of the aircraft city to be their defender.

 

Knightquest – The Crusade

detective667coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 667 – October 1993
Wild, Wild East
It’s official, Jean Paul is now the Batman and taking to the mean streets of Gotham. However, getting bored with common criminals, he starts to tweak his suit and uncovers one of Harold’s creations, the subway rocket! This new vehicle uses long abandoned Gotham City sudway roads that date back to a literal underground railroad connected throughout the city.  Meanwhile the Trigger Twins come to town and join a local mob ring.

 

 

 

 

 

detective668coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 668 – November 1993
Runaway
Still new to the subway rocket, JPV almost gets into a head-on collision with an actual train while trying to stop the Trigger Twins from robbing a money train! Due to his father’s condition, Tim is able to receive his license early and heads down to the batcave to pick up a car that was promised to him by Bruce. Showing up in his Robin uniform he has an altercation with Jean Paul who informs him that this Batman does not need a partner. Almost strangled to death, Robin escapes Jean Paul and is locked out of the cave.

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat19coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 19 – October 1993
The Tally Man: Part One
After handling some routing street crime, Batman sees a building with isolation chambers and decides to try one out, wondering if it may help him discover more about himself. Across town the Tally Man is collecting life debts. One of his trails leads him to the warehouse district Batman is at and decides he may as well take out the new dark Knight as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat20coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 20 – November 1993
The Tally Man: Part Two
With both Batman and the Tally Man dealing with the effects of the isolation chamber, they  attle their minds and each other. Thanks to a falling water tower and the system kicking in, Batman is able to take down the Tally Man, beating him inches away from death before leaving him for the police to take over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman501coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 501 – November 1993
Codename: Mekros
Batman gets a vision from St Dumas, telling him he must continue his crusade as Gotham’s dark angel. After breaking up a mob meeting, the bosses get together and hire a former government agent to down Batman. After a meeting Commissioner Gordon notices that something is very different about Batman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman502coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 502 – December 1993
Phoenix In Chaos
Batman survives his first formidable encounter and defeats both Mekros, as well as anothet hisman who was hired to take out Mekros. Batman goes on to form an unlikely alliance with Mayor Krol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective669coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 669 – December 1993
Town Tamer
The Trigger Twins are back again, this time they have hijacked the Public Transit Authority System’s train that collects all money from public transportation. Batman chases down the stolen train and brings them in to justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective670coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade (Mislabeled as part of ‘The Search’
Issue No 670 – January 1994
Cold Cases
The body of Mr. Freeze washes up on shore from his last encounter with the Joker. He is brought into the Gotham City morgue by Bullock and Montoya when it is thawed out, temporarily bringing Freeze back to life. Batman and Montoya take down Freeze, but she is left shaken after witnessing the brutality of Batman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

catwoman6coverCatwoman
Knightquest – The Crusade (Mislabeled as part of ‘The Search’
Issue No 6 – January 1994
Animal Rites
Catwoman and a group of animal rights activists set out to stop a group of corporate developers who have developed a neurotoxin to be rid of protected species. The notes for this toxin are stolen and must be acquired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman503coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 503 – January 1994
Night Becomes Woman
Believing that Catwoman is the thief of the Xylon-C neurotoxin, he tracks down and encounters her, only to find that she can very easily tell via pheromone that he is not the Batman she has faced all these years. While in the Batcave, Jean Paul researches her through the files Bruce kept in the batcomputer, trying to figure out why she has gone free all these years. He also wrestles with ‘thoughts’ of her.

 

 

 

 

 

batman504coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 504 – February 1994
Dark Dance
Jean Paul has another vision of St. Dumas while he chases Catwoman. The Gotham PD find Catwoman with the canister of the Xylon-C neurotoxin, believing her to be involved in terrorism as the docks catch fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

catwoman7coverCatwoman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 7 – February 1994
Body Chemistry
Catwoman escapes the police and displays that what she has is in fact a decor. With Batman’s help, they rescue the scientist who initially concocted the toxin and save the attendees of an international conference from being poisoned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective671coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 671 – February 1994
The Cutting Room Floor
The Joker forces Hollywood big wigs to fund his movie, ‘The Death of Batman,’ and begins to stage crimes to get footage of Batman in action. While checking on a mugging victim, Batman witnesses her falling to her demise from a window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective672coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 672 – March 1994
Smash Cut
Batman moves into  save Robin who turns out to be the mugging victim he saved the previous night dressed up as Robin as part of one of his staged acts for his film. Captured by the Joker, the Gotham PD decide to step in after receiving a poster for Joker’s film in progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective673coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 673 – April 1994
Losing The Light
Chained into a situation he can’t quite get his way out of, Batman wrestles with himself and the demons of the system. Watching batman’s actions, the Joker is infuriated when he comes to the realization that this is not the Batman he has faced all of these years. Once Batman breaks free it takes the Gotham PD to stop him from permanently taking the Joker out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman505coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 505 – March 1994
Blood Kin
Jean Paul begins to embrace the detective side of Batman as he investigates a murder scene and begins to have a vision of St. Dumas and his father battling over the direction of his life. The murderer Abattoir kills five members of his family and is now going after his cousin and a bus full of children. This encounter sees Jean Paul redesigning his cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat26coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 26 – April 1994
Creatures of Clay – Diary of a Lover
While checking in on the survivors of Abattoir’s school bus attack, Batman is attacked by Lady Clayface who begrudgingly wants to kill him. Meanwhile, Clayface III kidnaps Abattoirs cousin, Graham Etchison, who is being counseled by Leslie Thompkins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sotb27coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 27 – May 1994
Creatures of Clay – Child’s Play
After being defeated by Batman, Lady Clayface reveals that she is only going to these measures because Abbatoir has kidnapped her and her lover’s child. Batman instead meets at the rendezvous point to save the baby and brings Clayface III to justice. Abbatoir however escapes and straps Graham Etchison to the death machine while Batman wonders if this baby will turn out as its parents did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman506Batman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 506 – April 1994
Malevolent Maniax
Batman joins Ballistic who comes into town under contract to kill Abbatoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman507coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 507  – May 1994
Ballistic
Also in town on contract to take down Abbatoir, Batman and Ballistic take down the Maniaxe in a Gotham city nightclub. After taking out the lawyer who set the contract in motion, Ballistic collects his fee and leaves town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knightfall – Who Rules The Night

detective664coverDetective Comics
Knightfall Part 12
Issue No 664 – July 1993
Who Rules The Night
To prove supremacy, Bane takes Batman’s unconscious body into the heart of Gotham and throws him from a roof into the town square for all to see. Disguised as medics, Alfred, Tim and Jean Paul arrive at the scene in an ambulance to take Batman back to the cave to stabilize him. Robin calls in a favor from Commissioner Gordon for medication to aid in Bruce’s condition. Meanwhile upon hearing the news about Batman Joker sees no need to work with Scarecrow anymore and turns on him.

 

 

 

 

showcase937coverShowcase ’93
Knightfall Part 13
Issue No 7 – July 1993
Face 2 Face Part 1 – Double Cross
As Alfred and Robin look after Bruce, Robin recounts an event a few weeks prior where he felt just as helpless when Two-Face returned to Gotham. While investigating, Batman is set up and a bridge is blown, sending the Batmobile into the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

showcase938coverShowcase ’93
Knightfall Part 14
Issue No 8 – August 1993
Face 2 Face Part 2 – Bad Judgement
An exhausted Batman is captured by Two-Face as his body is fished out of the river. Batman is brought to the original Gotham City Municipal Courthouse where the trial that scarred him, turning him into Two-Face occurred. Robin is able to figure out where Batman is taken and crashes the party, enabling Batman to gain the upperhand and initialy saves Two-Face from falling from the building after a bad decision made by Robin. Meanwhile Batman begins to become conscious.

 

 

 

 

 

batman498coverBatman
Knightfall Part 15
Issue 498 – August 1993
Knights In Darkness
With Batman out of commission, Bane begins to attack and absorb gangs in Gotham as well as capture Catwoman and want her to pay tribute to him.  and Tim create a mock car wreck and ask Dr. Shondra Kinsolving to be Bruce’s personal Doctor in aiding in his recovery. Bruce asks Tim to go to Jean Paul and ask him to become Batman with the explicit instructions not to go after Bane. The duo meet Comissioner Gordon letting him know that the Batman may be injured but is not out of the game just yet and will make Bane pay.

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat16coverShadow Of The Bat
Knightfall (Interlude)
Issue No 16 – September 1993
The God of Fear – Part 1
Note: Though not a numbered issue of the Knightsaga, this issue is considered a part of it due to being a mission with Jean Paul as Batman prior to batsuit modifications. Scarecrow uses his fear toxin to get a group of Gotham University students and staff. Meanwhile Anarky escapes believing that Batman is the cause of the city’s problems and must be stopped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat17coverShadow Of The Bat
Knightfall (Interlude)
Issue No 17 – September 1993
The God of Fear – Part 2
Discovering that one of the students is the son of the first man that he ever killed, Scarecrow uses him as a special part of his plan. At 10 at night, the Scarecrow has the students release his fear toxin throughout the city and claims himself the ‘God of Fear.’ In discovering Scarecrow’s plans, Anarky devises a plan to ry and take down both Scarecrow and Batman at once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat18coverShadow Of The Bat
Knightfall (Interlude)
Issue No 17 – September 1993
The God of Fear – Part 3
With both Batman and Anarky after him, Scarecrow gives the people of Gotham City 2 hours to declare him the ‘God of Fear.’ Being caught on a rooftop, Scarecrow throws the student over the building as bait; Anarky saves him while Batman goes after Scarecrow who is able to overcome his fear toxin. He ten lets Anarky know that next time they meet he will kill him for standing in his way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective665coverDetective Comics
Knightfall Part 16
Issue No 498 – August 1993
Lightning Changes
With the city in chaos, Robin and Jean Paul as Batman go into the city to start breaking up street crimes and make the presence of Batman known. Jean Paul begins to go a bit too far with his brand of justice and is reminded that Batman does not go the way of brutality. Robin sticks by Jean Paul to keep an eye on him deciding against telling Bruce. Batman shakes down ‘Tough Tony’ Bressi to get a lead on Bane. Meanwhile Bruce pays Dr. Kinsolving a visit next door at Jack Drake’s home where he witnesses her being kidnapped. In trying to stop it, Bruce is further injured.

 

 

 

 

batman499coverBatman
Knightfall – Part 17
Issue 499 – September 1993
The Venom Connection
Bruce and Alfred ready for a trip to Santa Prisca to rescue the kidnapped Dr. Kinsolving and Jack Drake. Bruce tells Jean Paul to keep up the good work while he is gone. While in flight, Bruce and Alfred discover that Selina Kyle has stowed away on the Wayne jet. After taking down some of Bane’s men, Jean Paul returns to the cave and designs new gauntlets as an addition to the costume to become tougher.

 

 

 

 

 

detective666coverDetective Comics
Knightfall – Part 18
Issue No 666 – September 1993
The Devil You Know
With Bane’s men in custody, Batman devises a plan to find where Bane is hiding out. Batman breaks out Bane’s main henchman – Zombie, Trogg and Bird, leading them to believe that Bane helped them escape. He follows them to the hideout to encounter Bane, not realizing Bane is ready for him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman500nscoverBatman
Knightfall – Part 19
Issue No 500 – October 1993
Dark Angel
Note: This issue was released with two covers, the newstand version (Shown to the left), and a foil die-cut variant, seen in black and white below.
Showing supremacy over ‘the imposter,’ Bane dangles the new Batman over a building in the same square where he threw Bruce. Batman is able to overcome serious injury from the fall but blames the suit for his failed encounter. Allowing ‘The System’ to take over, Jean Paul designs a new batsuit that he feels will be better suited for him over the classic batsuit. Meanwhile Nightwing meets with Robin to discover Bruce gone and Jean Paul as the new Batman, wondering why he was not asked to stand in.
In the second part of the story, Jean Paul is now clad in his new batsuit and ready to take down Bane, publicly. As the police watch, Mayor Krol intervenes and asks the police to stand down and let Batman take care of Bane. The battle ensues throughout Gotham until Jean Paul discovers Bane’s weakness is his dependency on Venom. Once he shuts that off, he unleashes his new suits full arsenal on him, leaving Bane begging Batman to take his life as he declares him the real Batman. Robin also congratulates Jean Paul, letting him know he has earned the right to be Batman now before heading off into the night.
batman500fullcover

Previews Interview with Dennis O’Neil

Previews Magazine
October 1994
Volume IV, No 10

DC’s Killer Angel

Dennis O’Neil is doing monthly comics again after doing them for over 25 years. As usual, he’s handing the editorial chores over to long-time friend and co-worker Archie Goodwin, and teaming with artist Barry Kitson on Azrael – a new ongoing monthly that will shed plenty of light on yet another dark and fascinating corner of the Batman mythos.

Interview by Michael R. Smith

“If man’s an angel,” ruminates a character in The Killer Angel, Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning account of the battle of Gettysburg, “Then sure, he’s a murderin’ angel.” What Shaara applied metaphorically to the whole human race is literally true for Azrael, the avenging angel of the Order of St. Dumas, first introduced two years ago in DC’s Sword of Azrael miniseries. Then, he was a brutal and remorseless assassin conditioned from birth to serve as the Order’s defender and all-around hitman. At the time, DC couldn’t reveal just how important Azrael would be to the future of everyone’s favorite Dark Knight detective, but the book was a sensation, anyway, due in large part to the strength and execution of the story and the exceptional artwork of Joe Quesada and Kevin Nowlan.

As with that project, reader’s will once again find Dennis O’Neil’s name on the splash page of Azrael, an all-new, ongoing monthly that DC will add to its Batman family of titles this December. O’Neil – THE MAN when it comes to any and all things Batman, is bringing plenty of things to the project: an understanding of the mythological underpinnings of superhero comics; an abiding love for rough-and-tumble action scenes; and the enduring command of narrative craft that can only emerge from three decades in the comic book business. He’s been described as ‘Heavy’ by his co-workers-which is ironic for a slight, introspective man with a deep commitment to pacifism and vegetarianism. But like most comic book writers, he strikes an agreeable balance between intellect and instinct; between the desire to bring depth to a work, and the action-intensive requirements of the form. Azrael clearly demands both.

Last June, we spoke about Denny about “Knightfall,” the landmark storyline that re-introduced readers to Jean Paul Valley: the bland, slightly befuddled young man who would later become the heir to Batman’s mantle as protector of Gotham City. Since then, Bruce and Jean Paul have endured the worst-and Denny has been there every step of the way. In a recent telephone conversation, he shared with us his plans for Azrael – what he’s calling the “grandest paranoid dream” ever attempted in comics. Coming from the man who created Ras Al Ghul, we tend to believe it.

Looking back, was Knightfall a success, in whatever way you define that word?
Definitely. In fact, I think it was more of a success than it’s being given credit for. It was, without a question, a commercial success. But we also tried to do some fairly difficult things with the story, and I am not aware of any failures. I mean, nobody has written me a letter shooting the whole thing full of holes. There is one criticism that really irks me though, which I’ve seen twice in print. Basically, it says that Azrael was a ‘trial balloon,’ to see whether or not the audience would accept a tougher, meaner Batman. Of course, if you simply read the stories and have some working knowledge of how things are put together – that is of how far ahead we have to plan…well, I think it’s pretty clear that Azrael could never have been created for that purpose. The whole thing had been plotted out well in advance. In the end, it was precisely what we wanted it to be: a 70+ grand, graphic novel that explored the theme of what a hero is in the ‘90’s.
So, no regrets but neither do I want to do something like it again any time in the near future. Professionally, it was the toughest two years of my life. I’m delighted that we tried it. I also feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted because the other editors and I have been living in fear that we’d somehow missed something – some crucial flaw that would deconstruct the whole damn thing. So far, that hasn’t happened.

How would you characterize the fundamental differences between Batman and Azrael, or between Bruce and Jean Paul if that makes a difference? Bruce is very aware of what he is and how that contributes to what he does. He is not moved by internal or external forces that he doesn’t already understand. Jean Paul on the other hand, has virtually no idea who he really is. He is, in the worst possible way, ignorant. Think about it: he had a rotten childhood he can barely remember; conversely, Bruce remembers his childhood, which was, up until that one critical moment, a very happy and privileged one – all too well. So they are at extremely opposite ends of the psychological spectrum.
Some critics and writers have accused Batman of being insane. But I’ve never seen it that way, precisely because of that element of self-awareness. He’s a guy who’s made a choice to let the results of a severe childhood trauma govern his life. But in our reading of the mythos, he could, and probably will, stop at some time. The difference of course, is that someone who is compulsive has no control over his actions. Batman is not deranged. Jean Paul may very well be, on some level. We also saw him manifest some classic symptoms of mental imbalance: hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. If anything, he’s delusional.

You’ve said that your working model for this new series is Arthurian lore, particularly the quests. Is that what Azrael is looking for: himself?
Precisely.  That is his grail. In our first Azrael story arc, Jean Paul will discover the truth about himself. Then, with his identity firmly established in his own mind, we’ll see about getting him some control over his powers. He’ll finally be able to use those powers; right now, they’re using him. I expect that the initial arc will run six or seven issues.

But if nearly all of the living members of the Order of St. Dumas were killed by Biis in Sword of Azrael, how is Jean Paull going to learn anything about it or his relationship to it?
Well, for one thing, don’t be sure that Biis wiped out the Order. As we’ll learn in the new series, the Order of St. Dumas is a VERY secret organization. There’s much more to it than what was revealed in Sword of Azrael, and learning those secrets is part of Jean Paul’s mission. In Sword of Azrael, the Order was more of a plot device than anything else. But in the new series, I’m exploring it more thoroughly. It turns out that the Order is more powerful than anyone imagined because it has been able to manipulate history. Take science for example: In Azrael we’ll learn that alchemy actually works, but that the Order suppressed that information some time during the 16th century so that only they could use it.

Did you base the Order on any historical antecedent?
Very loosely. The Knights Templar – a 14th century group of celibate warriors who became very rich during the Crusades is about as close as you’ll get. The Knights Templar provided Dashiell Hammett with the Maltese Falcon: it was supposed to have been a bird that the Templars created to send to the Pope. In our reading of the story we’ll also use the Knights as a point of departure. The Order of St. Dumas is, for us, a splinter group of the Knights Templar, which is led by a raving lunatic called Dumas. At one point he declares himself a Saint. The Pope gently reminds Dumas, by way of emissaries, that he can’t be a Saint, if for no other reason than that Saints are customarily dead. So Dumas kills the messengers. At that point he really goes off the deep end and splits violently with any existing religious order or church. He sets up his own church, and it’s one fundamental tenant is absolute secrecy. That’s why Azrael exists: it’s a hereditary position dedicated to killing anybody who may betray the existence of the Order. Still, in the course of six centuries information has escaped. Certain people know or suspect something about it.

Sounds more like the Illuminati than a group of monks.
Good analogy. The Illuminati is in the back of my mind, in fact in one of the early issues of Azrael, a character refers to the fact that the Illuminati was yet another blind alley created by the Order to divert attention away from themselves. In a sense, the Order is the ultimate secret society.

How do Bruce, Alfred, and Tim factor into all of this?
Bruce functions as the herald. In the first story, he realizes that his treatment of Jean Paul after the whole Knightfall affair was a monumental blunder. At the end of Legends of the Dark Knight issue 63, Bruce just sends this hapless, mixed up kid on his own merry way. I wrote it that way for maximum drama. But logically, it was pretty rotten of Bruce to treat him so cavalierly. So in Azrael, Bruce tries to make good with Jean Paul by equipping him for the quest. What he says is, “Look, Jean Paul, I’m Bruce Wayne, one of the richest men in the world, and the world’s greatest detective. I’ve learned some things about the Order of St. Dumas. Here’s where I think they’re headquartered, and here’s a couple of million bucks to get you started.”
In other words, Azrael is a Batman continuity book in the same way that Robin and Catwoman are. Our first story begins in Gotham, where we find that Jean Paul is a lost, wondering soul without hope or direction. Occasionally, he’ll black out, and when he comes out of it he discovers that he’s beaten up three muggers. He can do spectacular things, but he can barely remember that he was Batman.

In the Sword of Azrael miniseries, you seemed to be playing with the relationship between fate and providence; between rationalism (everything has a natural, scientific explanation) and the life of faith (it is the will of God). In what ways will the new Azrael series explore these same kinds of theological questions?
The semantics of this are tricky, because I am not a lampooning, satirizing, or in any way criticizing religion. After all, my wife teaches religion in Catholic school; one of my assistants is a devout Jew, and the other two are devout Catholics. So yes, there is a religious dimension to Azrael, if by religion you mean things like rituals, traditions, and those kinds of things. I see no reason not incorporate some of that into the comic book. But I’m not in the business of insulting people, and if I were to mount a screed against some faith or aspect of what religion has become, I probably wouldn’t do it in a comic book. Instead, what I do is use some elements of traditional religion as story components. Hopefully, I’ll succeed in sending signals to my readers that this book is not about Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Mohammedanism, or any specific faith. What will emerge in the stories are things that are common to most religions. Grail mythology, which is closely tied to religion is my starting point, but I would also like to work something in about angels into the mix because Azrael is, in two near eastern religions, an avenging angel.

So there is a historical analog for Azrael’s name?
Sure. Look it up in any dictionary of mythology. He’s an avenging angel in Mohammedanism and Judaism. After all, he was created to be the ‘anti-Batman.’ With that in mind, I set out to find a natural adversary for the bat in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, there aren’t many. Bats are actually very benevolent creatures. All I could come up with two: Owls (but there had already been an Owl-Man, and Owls had the wrong vibe anyways) and man (but ‘Man-Man’ just doesn’t sing as a superhero). Finally, I came across Azrael-maybe in Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia of mythology. It was, in the end, precisely what we were looking for.

There seems to be a tendency in popular fiction-comics or non- to fall into the same old traps when treating theological/supernatural material: corrupt priests, impure nuns, greedy televangelists, etc…
Lately, that does seem to be true. Back in the early seventies, it was true that by putting a clerical character into a story you were taking a great chance. I guess that comics back then were still very much under the influence of fifties era editorial policies. Any authority figure of any stripe was automatically a cross between Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha, and Jesus Christ. Now; and this may be my age speaking, the pendulum does seem to have swung too far into the other direction. I’ve been as guilty of it as anybody. Protestant ministers have approached me at conventions and said, “Well, if you find a Protestant Minister in your comics these days you know who the bad guys are going to be.” Some stuff that I’ve read recently seems to be taking gratuitous shots at the Catholic clergy. The negatives of organized religion; the evil that it has done, as well as the good, is a topic that I will willingly discuss at any time, and at length, with anyone who is interested. My wife and I have had hundreds of discussions about it over the years, but that’s an entirely different thing than taking cheap shots in comic books. That’s not my style.

Still, John Ostrander seems to avoid it in the Spectre, and you in Sword of Azrael. What’s the secret?
Maybe it’s because John and I co-teach the same comics writing class.  John and I vibrate in synch and agree on all sorts of things, which is why we’re teaching the course at SVA (the School of Visual Arts on 23rd Street in Manhattan: Will Eisner, Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino, and Claus Janson, among others, all teach courses there).

Speaking of your colleagues: how would you describe your working relationship with Archie Goodwin who is editing the new series? Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you both ‘come up’ together?
Archie’s been in this racket a year or two longer than I have. I’m very grateful for his presence at this company, because without him, I’d be the oldest editor at DC Comics. Our working relationship is about as good as it gets. I trust him unequivocally-but that doesn’t mean that he gets away with murder. On at least one recent project, he demanded more re-writing then I am used to doing, and thank God for it. He’s an incredible backstop for the creative people, and that’s what great editors do: curb our excesses, catch our mistakes, and provide a sounding board.
I’d been in the business about five years before I met Archie. We were both at Marvel during the mid-sixties. Years later I was a superhero editor at Marvel while Archie was in charge of their Epic line. Still, we weren’t quite colleagues. But since we’ve both come back to DC we’ve had this reciprocal arrangement. Sometimes I’ll edit Archie’s work, and vice-versa. I have unqualified respect for Archie and his skills. He’s one of the best, and I’m glad that he’s here to moderate some of my more radical ideas in Azrael.

What powers, beyond those we’ve already seen in Knightfall, will Azrael manifest in the new series?
Think of the ultimate Hong Kong martial arts hero-you know, the guys in the Jackie Chan action movies or in movies like Once Upon A Time In China, who do stuff that even Batman can’t do. That’s what we’re shooting for with Azrael’s powers: the extreme, upper-most level of what is possible for a human being. He’s not super-human, but in a way, he’s close.

So all of this talk about theology and medieval history aside, Azrael is still a kick ass action book.
That’s why people read superhero comics! After all these years I can still respond to that stuff. As I said in the afterword to the Knightfall Graphic Novel, I don’t feel at all demeaned by writing action-oriented superhero comic books. It’s good, solid entertainment, and not the easiest thing in the world to do well. There’s a phrase of James Agee’s that I keep coming back to: the very difficult job of being ‘merely entertaining.” I do need to emphasize, because we sometimes sound very intellectual when we have these discussions, that that’s all that I’m interested in doing. Insofar as I use mythology and theology, I use it to better tell the most entertaining stories that I can.

Of all that you’ve written, which is your favorite Batman story?
That’s a tough one. As a job of story construction, I think that, ‘A Vow from the Grave,’ drawn by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, from Detective Comics, was one of my best. It’s the only time that I’ve ever been satisfied with a detective story written by me for a Batman comic book. It plays absolutely fair with the reader. All he clues are there, and if you pay attention you can solve the mystery. I think on that one I solved the technical problems of a 15-page detective tale, and delivered a pretty good story at the same time. As a longer work, I think ‘Venom,’ from Legends of the Dark Knight worked very well. ‘Birth of the Demon,’ the Graphic novel I did with Norm Breyfogle, is also one of my favorites, but it never sold particularly well.

Does it ever bother you that a creative success may not necessarily translate into a financial one?
Sometimes. You can never predict it ahead of time. The perceived quality of a work in the end may have no bearing on its commercial success. Bu that’s just the nature of most popular art forms. Good novels go unread; good movies unseen. It’s frustrating, because I know that the kinds of things that have made me the most money are a long, long way from my best work. So in that sense, you sort of feel like a fraud. Of course, the whole collector-speculator explosion really skewed the whole economics of the entire comic book business. Fortunately, at least the speculator factor in that equation appears to be dead. I heard that the last three QVC shows actually lost money.

Did you appear in any of those?
No, that was very much against company policy for DC editors. They offered me a great deal of money to do it, but Paul Levitz feels that it’s not a great idea for a DC editor, and I don’t disagree. If nothing else, you could be put into the awkward position of appearing to endorse a competitors product, or coming across a churl.
Right now, the business is in a re-trenching mode. But when the dust finally settles, were going to be left with readers who enjoy comics as entertainment, and not as commodities. Ultimately, that is going to be very good for the long-term health of the comic book business.

Interviews

From the Mouths and Hands of the Creators!

Please note, all of these interviews have been personally transcribed by myself (Matthew, the webmaster of this site) so please don’t copy and paste elsewhere.

Previews Magazine Interview with Dennis O’Neil – Read

Previews Magazine Interview with Joe Quesada – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Denny O’Neil – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Doug Moench –  Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Graham Nolan – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Mike Manley – Read

Previews Magazine Interview with Dennis O’Neil – Read

DC Comics Forwarding with Dennis O’Neil – Read

AOL Fan Interview with Joe Quesada & Archie Goodwin – Read

An Interview with Dennis O’Neill – Read

An Interview with Joe Quesada – Read

CVM Feature on Knightfall – Read

A Interview with Sergio Cariello –  Read

Overstreet’s Fan Magazine Interview with Joe Quesada- Read

DC Nation Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

The Hollywood Reporter Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

JoBlo Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

CBR Interview with Kyle Higgins – Read

Screen Rant Interview with Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins – Read

An Interview with Sergio Cariello

An Interview with Sergio Cariello
By: Jek Tezak

Sergio Cariello has drawn our hero for some time now. We have some questions for you Sergio, related to the the art of Azrael. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule at DC Comics to do this interview.

How did you land the job of doing the art for Azrael: Agent of the Bat?
Denny requested me as the regular Artist on Azrael after working with me on Legends of the Dark Knight #127 to #131.( Bats /Green Arrow mini-series).

Did you read Azrael previous to getting the job of doing the art?
I had read a few issues prior to getting the job.

We know that the Azrael line will eventually come to an end at issue #100. Will there be any hype for the last issue, like chromium, cardstock covers?
I really don’t know if the last last issue will get any special treatment.

What line will you do after the Azrael line is finished?
Only God knows for sure what I’m gonna be doing after Azrael.

As in our interview with Joe Quesada, he said that many artists had trouble drawing the Azbats armor. You seem to draw it quite well in fact, was it hard to keep drawing a complex piece like that, frame after frame?
I had fun doing the Azbat suit. I didn’t have a problem with it.

Can you give us an idea of what it takes to complete an issue of Azrael?
It takes a month of hard work.

1)I start by doing small, 4×6 mini version/layout version of the whole book, from Denny’s scripts,in about 2 days…

2)I then transfer 11 of those layouts to the boards in about one day

3) and fax them, reduced, to Mike Carlin, so he can place the balloons while

4) I mail the actual boards to the letterer. While Jack Morelli letters the first batch of pgs

5) I work on the last 11 pgs. In a few days I get the first 11 boards back from Jack, lettered and with the panel borders inked.

6)So now I’m ready to ink the pages, adding enough details to the rough layout pencils before inking them. I’ll get the last pgs from Jack before I’m even done with the first 11 pgs. By the end of the month I get to work on the next book layout. After all is done

7) I’ll erase all the pencils. Add or white out whatever is necessary before sending the pages to DC Comics. That’s about it.

It takes a lot of of prayers, references, erasing, reworking, long hours on the board, juggling between teaching at the Kubert School and other projects, lots of coffee, lots of ink, paper, pencil leads, more erasers and a great amount of fun!!!! I love it!!!!!

In your very honest opinion, what do you think of the character?
I really enjoy drawing Az, JP and the rest of the characters. I think JP is a bit confused and insecure, but he has some good qualities as a person. He just needs to be pointed in the right direction.

How long have you been in the comic industry?
About 11 years in America. But my first published work was in Brazil, in the local Newspapers. I was 11, back in 1975. I wrote, drew and lettered my own comic strip, Frederico, the Detective! And later, at 14 , I did caricatures for political spot illustrations, before coming to America in 1985.

Where did you go to school, or is your talent natural?
I believe it’s a God given talent!. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil.I was mainly “self taught” but I did go to the Kubert school for a year and a half, before getting hired by Marvel as a letterer. One job led to another…so I never really went after the work… I’ve been Blessed, for sure, by the Best Artist of all, Our Creator!!!

An Interview with Joe Quesada

An Interview with Joe Quesada

By: Jek Tezak

Joe Quesada has designed our hero and the Azrael version of Batman as well. We have some questions for you Joe, related to the creation of Azrael and the Knightfall storylines. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule at Marvel Comics to do this interview.

In creating the Azrael character in the visual sense, what things helped you design the character?
When I received the assignment I went that very same day to a military bookstore here in NYC called Sky Books, heck I don’t even know if they’re still around? Anyway, I picked up as many books as I could find on mediaeval warfare and knights and such and started my visual work there. All I was told by Denny and Archie with respect to art direction was that we needed an old Azrael and a new Azrael so when the son takes over the mantle. Oh, and Denny wanted a this guy to have a flaming sword!

What costume did you design first: Azrael/Batman Knightsend, Azrael/Batman Knightquest, Azrael updated, or Azrael ancient version?
Ancient Azrael came first because I wanted to work in sequence and I wanted to design the modern version in a logical fashion. Once the Ancient design was complete, I would then look at ways of streamlining and modernizing it for the young Knight of the Order of Saint Dumas on the go. After that was done, Denny’s art direction with respect to AzBat was to design the most outrageously over the top, near impossible Batman war machine costume that I could think of. He wanted me to go nuts but the costume had to be modular so that there was a bare bones version that could have gear added onto it as Jean Paul started to lose a grip on being Batman. I don’t know how many people know that the costume was designed to echo his mental state or rather the breaking down of his mental state. So, my approach on AzBats was opposite of Azrael. I design the final version and then broke it down to the bare bones version which was going to be the first version seen by the fans.

I noticed that the final Azrael/Batman costume changed during Knightquest. It was a different look than what we seen in the Wizard magazines. Did you redesign the helmet and suit of Knightsend Batman?
See above, it was designed to grow with Jean Paul. What was funny about the costume is that it was design to suit my art style and a lot of other artist had trouble with it. It was too complex in many ways to draw economically panel after panel. I swear I could hear Batman artists across America cursing my name for those designs.

How many different designs did you have of the new Batman?
Here’s a little history. At that time in my life, all the top artist were going to Image or were living at Marvel, all I wanted to do was draw Batman. I wanted to be one of the regular guys on one of the regular Batman titles at the time. I told Denny and everyone there that I would make Batman a top 10 book if they gave me the gig. Well, they didn’t but what they offered me was Azrael which wasn’t going to have too much Batman in it. What it did have to offer was three things, Denny was writing it, Archie was editing it and if I took the job, I would get to design the new Batman! Then we got Kevin Nowlan and I couldn’t say no. So, all the while that I was drawing the Az series, I knew that I was going to be designing the AzBats war machine and all the while I was working it out in my head. I do most of my work like that. By the time it came time to design AzBat I was pretty much set on the design. There might have been some sketchy throw-away stuff but most of the work was done in a few passes.

Did you know what you wanted Azrael and the new Batman to look like before you started?
Azrael took research and AzBats, as I said, was in the works mentally.

I heard stories about how involved you were with the creation of Azrael. I’ve heard that you suggested inkers, colorists, and letterers. Tell us a little bit on how your bosses reacted to your enthusiasm.
Well, if you folks know me now, I wasn’t any less enthusiastic then. I love what I do and it’s always been fun for me. I remember suggesting Kevin Nowlan, which at the time was like suggesting the King of England. At that time in Kevin’s career, he was amazingly respected as an artist and designer but Kevin wasn’t doing much in comics that we were aware of. He was one of those geniuses that graced our industry for a tiny bit and was too slow to produce regular work. Therefore, I believe that most people were skittish about using him. They also figured why would a master like Kevin lower himself to ink some punk like me? Truth be told, I thought the same. Still, the major concern was would Kevin deliver on his deadlines especially over a newcomer who wasn’t great with them either. I had Kevin ink a couple of pin-ups I did at Marvel a few months earlier and my attitude was that it couldn’t hurt to call the guy! So when Kevin accepted we were off and rolling. I believe that Archie recommended the rest of the team but I was reasonably involved in all aspects of process. Since Denny was working full script, I also marked balloon placements since I was designing the artwork to work around them.

Do you have any little known facts or secrets that fans don’t know about the Bat-summit meetings or the creation of Azrael/Knightfall?
You mean aside from all the stuff I just revealed? Okay, I’ll tell you three stories I don’t think I’ve ever told publicly.

When Denny suggested the flaming sword of Azrael he was expecting both versions to have long flaming broad swords. When he and Archie saw Ancient Azrael first they loved him and said, “Looks great, let’s see the dad’s costume!” I was like, “Uh, guys, this is the dad.” When I whipped out the design for young Azrael, I think Denny more than anyone was a bit disappointed, not because I think he didn’t like the way it looked but because it looked different than what he expected or perhaps had in his minds eye. Still, I think it grew on him over time. I thought it was the most inspirational part of the design and really worked around the idea. The idea of course sprung from the concept behind Wolverine’s claws which always gave the character a great iconic profile but never made sense to me in execution. How can he bend his arms at the elbow when those things are retracted? So I thought about how cool something like Wolvie’s claws would be on fire and in a contraption that made sense. I’m still very proud of the Azrael costume, I think even to this day it looks like nothing else out there.

Then there was the Wizard AzBat cover! I received a call from Wizard asking me to do a cover with the new AzBat costume on it. I was thrilled and the person I was dealing with said that it was all cleared. I killed myself on that cover and I was pretty happy with it at the time. But something was nagging me and I called Patty Jeres, who is one of my favorite people up there. I said, “Patty, you gave Wizard approval to show AzBat right? I was told you guys approved the assignment?” As it turned out both parties had their signals crossed and stuff was approved but not quite what I was assigned to draw.. So I got Wizard to send me the cover back and I had to do it all in silhouette which still looked pretty good.

The other never before told AzBat story happens right around the time I hand in the final pencil designs for the new AzBat war machine. I hand delivered them by hand and I’m not sure if I gave them to Denny or Archie, probably Denny. Regardless, I was given a crappy faded Xerox copy of my pencils and they kept the originals. Well, some time goes by, and please keep in mind that Batman and Daredevil are my absolute favorite characters, and for some reason even though I called editors I can’t seem to get any Batman work. Also, a weird thing happens around this time, let me preface this by saying that this was right around the time of multiple distributors. There was Diamond, Capital and many smaller ones. So, one day I hear that some distributor, I believe in Hawaii has leaked the AzBat design in their catalog, this floored me because we were guarding this stuff like it was plans for a safe, clean nuclear reactor. I was pretty surprised by this but just figured some intern must have gotten a hold of the stuff off of someone’s desk and faxed it around. Okay, now here I am trying to get Batman work and it doesn’t come for at least a year.

A year later I get a Batman gig, I forget what the assignment was, perhaps a cover or a pin-up piece, I’ve forgotten. Anyway, when I handed in the piece an officer of the company asked me if I was glad the ban was finally over. I said, “Ban? Over? What are you talking about?” This person then proceeded to show me a document signed by someone in the Sales and Marketing department, who shall remain nameless, saying that I was to be prohibited from working on any Bat related things for a certain amount of time. It stated that I had leaked the designs to a distributor and they had placed it in their catalog. Now, what really kills me is not the ban, because if I had actually done what they said I had done then I would have understood and accepted my punishment. What killed me aside from the fact that I didn’t do it was that no one called me to ask if I did. No one even called me to tell me I was being punished, I just was.

You would think that someone like me who understood the importance of secrets and who had proven it by not revealing that Azrael was going to become Batman, that Batman was going to have his back broken and held on to that secret for a year and a half, could certainly keep themselves from faxing off drawings of the top secret redesigned Batman. The truth of the matter is that those drawings were probably sent off or ordered to be sent off by the same idiot in Sales and Marketing that had me banned in the first place. Realizing their mistake they needed a fall guy and I was fairly convenient. And, yes, this person is still there and they’ve probably been wondering for the last couple of years why I hate them so. Maybe now they’ll understand why.

Who created the symbol for the new Batman?
That would be me! I was so thrilled when I saw that on a T-shirt!

Did you suggest ideas where Azrael could go in terms of story direction?
Only slightly. I was too new to the game and too respectful of Denny and Archie to get into their business. My job was to tell the story in the clearest manner possible. Working with Denny and Archie was one of the highlights of my career, I can’t tell you how much I learned about story and story telling from those guys. To this day, my experience with Archie has help me create the template and the basis for my editorial vision at Marvel Knights and Marvel.

An Interview with Dennis O’Neill

An Interview with Dennis O’Neill
Conducted by Jek Tezak

Dennis O’ Neil is responsible for using his creative writing talents to give us our hero and the awesome storyarc of Knightfall. We have some questions for you Dennis, related to the creation of Azrael and the Knightfall storylines. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.

How did the idea for Knightfall begin? What was the original concept for Knightfall? Was Azrael a character that was in the original outline?
The genesis of the story was a two-part piece for Detective, by Peter Milligan. Then I thought I saw some big-time possibilities in the idea and assembled the troops to put together an outline. Azreal came along much later. We needed a character to be the antagonist and it fell to me to come up with one. So Az was created to serve a plot need, I never expected him to have an afterlife.

In a visual sense, what did you want Azrael to look like? What was your original concept for the character?
I didn’t have a concept. I trusted the artist and the editor, my late and much-missed friend, Archie Goodwin.

I’ve heard the term Bat summit meeting. Is this refering to creative brainstorming meetings on where to take the Batman storylines? Can you give us a rough idea as to how the first meeting about Knightfall went?
It usually worked like this: I assembled as many people as the budget would accommodate somewhere outside Manhattan and explained the problems to them. Then, for about three days, everyone drank coffee, took walks, played poker, and talked talked talked. Jordan took notes and at the end of our time together, we’d solved enough of the problems to begin the project.

There was a rumor going around roughly when Sword Of Azrael was at the news stands that the Death of Superman team copied the Knightfall teams ideas, that originally Bruce Wayne was supposed to die. Is there any truth to this rumor?
Mike Carlin did not copy me, nor I him. I didn’t know about the Superman storyline until we were some months into Knightfall, and Mike was equally ignorant of my stuff.

Besides what we’ve already read, Were there any changes to the storyline or characters made when Knightfall was hitting the newstands? By changes I mean, last minute ideas or concepts that were not originally going to be used?
I’m sure there were. I always tried to keep the outline loose enough to accommodate good, late-blooming ideas.

One change I’m curious to know about is why the Azrael Batman suits final design was changed. I noticed in an old Wizard magazine that the AZbats suit looks much different than it did in the comics. Why did you guys change the final suit?
Ask the editor. I’m not sure, but lame sales might be a good guess and if so, the editor was doing his job.

When reading Knightsend I really felt like Azrael was going to become a full time Batman villian and added to Batman’s already infamous Rogues Gallery. Was this ever thought of in the process of creating Knightfall?
We were mostly thinking about filling a plot hole and undertaking a year-long juggling act. Not much consideration of anything beyond that.

In your very honest opinion, what do you think of the Azrael character?
Tough one to answer. I wish I’d done one or two things differently, and I think the series kind of lost its way for a while in the middle of the run. But all that aside…I don’t think there’s ever been a character exactly like Az before or since and I generally enjoyed working on him. I wish the 100th issue could have been stronger, but it was wonderful of Mike to let me write it; I was only weeks past major surgery at the time and maybe a ways from my best.

In the Knightfall saga, Azrael was Batman for about a year. I know some fans were very upset sending death threats to DC comics stating that if Bruce Wayne wasn’t put back in the Batsuit, that you would lose loyal readers. How long was Azrael supposed to be Batman? Did those letters from the fans influence your decision on how long Azrael was going to be Batman?
No, We had most of the series, and particularly its length, planned from the git-go. Actually, I would have been more bothered if the readers liked Az–that would mean they favored a nastier Batman and I would have had problems with that.

Do you have any little known facts or secrets that fans don’t know about the Bat-summit meetings or the creation of Azrael/Knightfall?
If I ever had such secrets, they are lost to a memory riddled with hard living, defibrillation, age, and maybe genetics.

There was a rumor going around that DC wanted you to outright kill off Jean Paul Valley/Azrael and you didn’t want to. I heard that you wanted to make the ending of Jean Paul’s character vague because you liked him too much to kill him off outright. Is any of this true?
No. He was, at first, a plot device and often plot devices bite the dust. In fact, before my heart attack, I was doing a continuity that would have culminated in Az’s shuffle off this mortal coil. It was Mike’s idea, but I was completely comfortable with it.

What really happened to Jean Paul Valley at the end of issue#100?
He left? Gotham? Earth? Life? I wanted the readers to decide for themselves. As noted above, the original idea was to kill him off, but I was myself briefly dead (and revived by defibrillation and a stalwart fireman) and while I was recovering, Mike called Marifran and told her that maybe having a character I created die might be letting fiction get a little too close to fact, and maybe we shouldn’t do it. So we didn’t.

With this Battle For the Cowl and a new Azrael comic, will we ever see the return of the original Azrael, Jean Paul Valley?
I have no idea.

In terms of collecting Knightfall memorabilia, were you excited to see Azrael finally as an action figure?
It was nice, and it gives me credibility when I talk to Marifran’s grade-schoolers

Video

Batman The Animated Series Style Fan-Made Knightfall Video
Created by Allan Agustin