Photo credit: Greg Preston.
Welcome to the second half of this two-part interview with Matt Wagner, award-winning comic book writer and illustrator, and creator of Mage and Grendel. If you haven't already read the first part of this interview, be sure to check it out to hear Wagner talk about the birth of Mage, and why comic book creations often look like their creators. You can find it here.
Matt Wagner on the Web: mattwagnercomics.com
CV: I recently read your Batman run -- the "Dark Moon Rising" books. Could you describe where the idea for those books came from?
MW: They’re actually based on two of my favorite Golden Age Batman stories from the late ’30s and early ’40s. They’re both pre-Robin stories -- before Robin shows up. “The Mad Monk” is in Detective Comics #31 and #32. #31 you’ll recognize -- it has a very famous cover; it’s a huge image of Batman looming up over a small castle in the foreground. There’s a moon behind him, and he has absolutely ginormous bat ears. In fact, when you look it up, you’ll go, “Oh, of course -- that cover.” The other one, “Hugo Strange and the Monster Men,” was in Batman #1.
Part of the fun of playing with somebody else’s toys is the challenge of trying to tell a story where some of the playing pieces are already in place on the board. In the world of Grendel, in the world of Mage, I’m the absolute god. Whatever I say happens, happens, and there’s never any question. With Batman there are many other aspects to consider. [Also,] any work I’ve done for DC, I always like to work early in a character’s career because I hate the giant, extended, huge continuity crap you have to deal with in their world. And I’ve just always liked primary-motivation stories.
So I decided there was a missing link in the early Batman tales, where we needed to see his transition from Batman Year One -- the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli classic storyline where he’s fighting just thugs and mobsters -- to his more established litany of costumed crazies that eventually becomes his absolute normalcy, you want to call it that [laughter]. And so I decided to take these two early stories and revamp them into a modern setting. I wanted to dig deep into the actual origins of this character.
Those early primal Batman tales are neat because the conventions that have since become established as being comic-booky were fresh and new and were based more on a pulp tradition than what we think of as comic cooks. And they were just so unfettered and raw. So I took those and tried to squeeze them into DC’s continuity and make them work.
CV: What's your creative process when you're tackling a project like this -- what sort of thought bubble might we see over your head while you’re at your desk?