“Because it’s not snakes and spiders”, then a long pause and the voice that then continues is slight, almost imperceptibly more hoarse, “…and it’s not even the Scarecrow or the Penguin”.
When we began this part of the interview, I’d asked Gregg Hurwitz, incoming regular writer for the New 52 series, Batman: The Dark Knight, how he saw the larger themes of writing Batman. Like Hamlet, Batman is a kind of hoop through which every popular writer must launch themselves. Gregg began his response with a single word: fear. His story, his Batman would be a story about the cycle of fear. The fear that fuels the Batman on his quest, but also the truer, more hidden fears. The fears about intimacy and meaningful connections.
Batman: The Dark Knight #10 is truly one of the hardest reviews to write. There’s so much Gregg and his collaborator (series regular artist, and filmmaker) David Finch have managed to jam into this single issue. There’s the car chase sequence that opens the book for example. Once again we see Batman and Commissioner Gordon in pursuit of a criminal on the streets of Gotham. There’s a riveting, vibrant kineticism to these panels. David’s artwork crackles with life, Gregg finds exactly the right moments, the right images to capture in each panel. For just the briefest slice of time, you’re lost in a Spielberg or a Buster Keaton or an Eisenstein.
But the real treat is how Gregg and David’s collaboration here manages to craft out a genuine piece of history of the Dark Knight. When was the last time you saw Batman and Gordon chase down the same criminal by different paths? If you know Batman-lore well enough, your mind will be cast back to the immortal scene from Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. And if you’re ever better-versed in Batlore, your mind would reach back to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ groundbreaking run on Batman in the 1970s. David’s stylizing of big gas-guzzlers as the vehicles of choice for both Gordon and the criminal, visually cement in that idea of the ‘70s. So we’re locked into seeing, in our minds’ eyes, Steve McQueen’s Bullit or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.
Gregg starts exactly with the hidden message from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy of movies—that Batman, is a means of navigating not only popular culture, but lived historical experience as well.
By the same token, the scene of Gordon’s undermining and eventual capture powerfully evokes the darkest moments of Batman: A Killing Joke, the Alan Moore-scripted, Brian Bolland-drawn book that saw Barbara Gordon crippled by the Joker. As does the very nature of the crime under investigation, children kidnapped but released after being rendered effectively autistic, mirror themes from Archie Goodwin’s bone-chilling Batman: Night Cries.
But the real, real treat isn’t how Gregg resurrects a Batman that can easily segue into our live-reality. Nor is it his facility with the history of the character. Nor is it even the beautiful newness he introduces—he writes Bruce Wayne’s newest girlfriend, a Ukrainian pianist, as the equal not of Bruce Wayne, but of Batman; his interrogation scene of the young kidnap victim surpasses even Nolan’s magnificent interrogation scene with the Joker. No, the real, real treat with Gregg is how he finds the inner childhood of the Dark Knight.
Inner childhood, for me and for you and for almost everyone we know, is almost always signed by Disney. We grew up believing in these cartoons as ideas. Some of us integrated them and gave them to our own children. Some of us sought to escape from them, from what began to feel like a rope around us all. But there at the beginning, it’s almost always Disney. Almost for all of us.
Disney at its best, at its most sincere and most meaningful, looks a lot like (for me at least), Meet the Robinsons. In it, Lewis struggles against two conceptual opponents. The first is anonymity. How will he make something of his life? How will he move on from the nowhere of the orphanage, to giving his obvious genius the global scope it deserves? Everyone’s rooting for Lewis, and all it takes to overcome this first, smaller monster, is a trip into the future.
But the second monster is far worse. The second is one the older Lewis still struggles with. How does he prevent his genius and his singular focus from eclipsing the genius and the individuality of others. In other words, at what price does the positive live Lewis will one day lead actually come? It’s that scene at the dinner table where young Lewis learns that it’s better to learn from your mistakes than to learn from your successes, that is the arena in which that hidden monster is confronted. It’s in that scene where Lewis learns how to build a community of peers.
But of course, in its typical presentation, the Bat Family relies on Batman much more than he on them. And reading The Dark Knight #10, you already feel the first shivers that Gregg will be unpacking exactly this idea. The idea of being singular, the idea of reliance, and the fear that separates the two.
“Because it’s not snakes and spiders… and it’s not even the Scarecrow or the Penguin.” When Gregg answers, there’s a fragile exhaustion in his voice. Not that he’s exhausted. Gregg’s energy is building, like a freight-train or a poem or a sneeze in the distance. He’s excited to talk about Batman, because he’s excited to write the character. But the exhaustion is of the Batman himself. That the character has already been exhausted, and has already endured perhaps longer than he should. Gregg has come up against that exhaustion, and simply broken through. And like all the greats, like Morrison or Miller or even Bob Kane himself, Gregg has found a unique vision of the character, that will easily last generations.
The full exclusive with Gregg Hurwitz will appear next week in the Iconographies.