If Scott Snyder’s Batman is the Special Victims Unit of the Batman comic universe, then John Layman’s Detective Comics is the Law & Order. This isn’t to say that Layman is afraid to go dark; rather, since the Chew writer took over the title last year, he has made a conscious effort to return the series to its mystery-laden roots. Last month saw the 900th issue in Detective Comics‘ storied history alongside the introduction of Dr. Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. Man-Bat, into the New 52. Consistently one of the best books on store shelves, Layman’s stories come to life thanks to dynamite design and eye-popping artwork from Jason Fabok. Together, the duo have created one of the most exciting new villains in Batman’s rogues gallery, Ignatius Ogilvy, the Emperor Penguin. With his storyline coming to a head in issue #20, not only do we have exclusive preview pages for you, but we also caught up with series scribe John Layman to talk about crafting Cobblepot’s usurper, celebrating 900 issues, and what’s coming down the Bat-road for Gotham’s caped crusader.
Nerdist: Ignatius Ogilvy has been one of the most exciting additions to Batman’s rogues gallery in recent memory. What goes into creating a compelling villain inside Gotham’s sometimes crowded ecosystem?
John Layman: Boy, I don’t know. I’m typically not that introspective. I just sometimes take issue with that fact that in comics, henchmen are seen as disposable punching bags, and I wanted to explore the idea that once in a while a henchman comes along with a brain and some ambition, and rises above the others. It’s bound to happen, right?
N: What was the impetus behind taking Oswald Cobblepot out of his element?
JL: He’s been pretty comfortable in Gotham for a while now. I mean, sure, Oswald Cobblepot is a miserable dude in general, but he’s got a sweet operation, and he sits pretty at the top of a lot of Gotham criminal enterprises. It was time to knock him down from his perch, so to speak. Knock him down, take him out of his element, and that’s when you see what really drives him, and how and what he’ll do to get back to where he thinks he should be.
N: Last issue marked the 900th in Detective Comics’ storied history. Did you feel any sense of additional pressure with that milestone?
JL: I felt pressure in that I am a slower-than-molasses writer, but when I found out how big the issue was, I didn’t want it loaded with a bunch of filler junk, so I pushed myself to do as much as possible for the book, making it an awesome, interconnected package as far as the stories were concerned, so you really felt like you got your money’s worth. And credit goes to the editorial team with filling the rest of the book with stuff that really felt like it mattered. It was a great book overall. Very proud of it.
N: Last issue also saw the introduction of Kirk Langstrom into the New 52. What is it about Man-Bat that intrigues you? Why is now the right time for his return?
JL: I think the classic monster Man vs. Beast element is Man-Bat’s big appeal. He’ll be returning very soon to Detective. The story in #19 was just the beginning. We’ll see the role of his wife, who also took the serum, expanding as well. I don’t know if it’s the right time for his return, but the editors offered me a shot of New 52-ing Man-Bat and I jumped at it. He’s always been a favorite, and the art Andy Clarke is doing for the upcoming back-ups is nothing short of astonishing.
N: One of the hallmarks of your run so far has been the injection of humor into Batman’s world. Was that a conscious decision or is that just a natural by-product of your writing style?
JL: It’s not something I actively sought out to do. I tend to bring that wherever I go. I did want a Batman book that had a bit of a lower body count, or that wasn’t quite as horror influenced. I wanted to make it just action-y, and focused on the job, so maybe removing some of the grittiness you find in other Batman books also lightened it a bit.
N: We’ve also seen teases of a new threat, The Wrath. Some folks are speculating that it could be Thomas Wayne Jr. What, if anything, can you tell us about the Dark Knight’s upcoming competition and what’s coming down the pipeline?
JL: Who’s Thomas Wayne? No, the Wrath is another new 52 reinvention, of an almost mirror-image Batman, a playboy industrialist with an ax to grind against the cops, so he puts his money and energy into building all these vehicles and weapons with the sole intention of killing police, Batman takes him on. They are both opposites, and yet, they each have a lot of the same qualities, and see a lot of the same things in one another. It’s an interesting dynamic to play off of.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
JL: Locke & Key, Saga, Sixth Gun, Batman, Fatale, Batman & Robin, Walking Dead, Manhattan Projects. Probably the most amazing book I’ve picked up all year is Cursed Pirate Girl from Archaia, by Jeremy Bastian. I’m recommending that to everybody. As far as prose, I’m super excited for Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 book coming any day now.