DC’s Black Label is “a brand-new publishing imprint dedicated to giving premier writers and artists the chance to expand on DC’s unrivaled characters with unique, standalone stories set outside DC continuity. The imprint will be DC’s home for classy, collectible superhero stories aimed at mature readers looking to be challenged and surprised as they’re entertained, with an eye for the unique and remarkable.” Their first book, the three issue mini-series Batman: Damned, debuts September 18, 2018. In it, the Joker is dead and Batman is trying to figure out who killed him, but the more he digs, the more tangled things become. Enter one John Constantine, supernatural guide and jerk extraordinaré. What could possibly go wrong?
Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo took a few minutes to talk about their project at SDCC:
BR: You’ve both worked on Batman and John Constantine books before. What’s it like to come back to these characters and do something new with them?
BA: It’s good.
LB: It’s really good to come back to John again. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while.
BA: It’s great that he gets to be in charge because Batman doesn’t know what’s going on. The book is supernatural. It’s John being a total dick.
BR: You guys have worked together before. What’s the alchemy in the team?
LB: Shared sensibilities. The desire to do something that hasn’t been done before. We always try to do something a little bit our own with each character.
BR: As you said, Brian, this one goes into the supernatural. Constantine is in charge, which is always an adventure…What are people going to find in this book they haven’t found in other supernatural Batman arcs?
BA: I think most of the other Batman, supernatural stuff, he takes it sort of matter-of-factly. We’re playing it a bit more realistically; he doesn’t know what the hell is going on.
BR: Which is an unusual situation for Batman to be in.
BA: It’s a great situation for Batman to be in. It’s a new situation for Batman to be in. It’s putting him through the ringer. In the other books, it’s (the Batman who deals with the supernatural) the same Batman who goes into space. That’s not our Batman.
LB: It seems like the more modern interpretations of Batman tend to be of the guy who is always ready for every situation. He always has the ace up his sleeve, he can always deal with everything. It makes him…the human element of him is almost not there. It’s almost like The Terminator. He’s a force of will. Ours is much more human.
BR: The Joker is supposedly dead in the story but he’s still a character. How do you go about establishing the presence of someone who isn’t there?
BA: It’s flipping what we did with Joker. Batman’s not in that until the very end, just a few pages, but he’s all over that book…those two characters are obsessed with each other. Joker’s not there, Batman’s still thinking about him…Damned is a quasi-sequel to Joker in that you don’t necessarily have to read Joker to read and enjoy this book but if you’ve read Joker, I think people will find they’re brother and sister books.
BR: Batman: Damned is a limited series. What’s the attraction of a limited run versus and ongoing?
BA: Even when I do ongoing series, I have an ending. I don’t like the open ended stuff. I did Wonder Woman for three years but I knew the ending before the first issue.
BR: Any particular writing routine either of you have?
BA: After I rearrange the spice rack for the ninth time, I sit down and work.
BR: You work better with a deadline is what I hear you saying.
BA: I don’t think editors would say that.
BR: Lee, is there any particular art you use to get inspired to work on Damned?
LB: I’m looking at a lot of photography. There’s an artist named Marc Asnin who did a book called Uncle Charlie of his uncle over a thirty year time span. For some reason, I got really attracted to it…right now.
BR: Is the style of the book photorealistic or is it the subject matter that’s inspiring you to look at that stuff?
LB: I draw more realistically but it’s still stylized. What attracts me to photography is…because when you’re drawing comics, it’s a very premeditated image…photography captures a moment that is never going to exist again and it’s the point of view of the person taking the photograph. In this book, I’m doing a lot of stuff from Batman’s point of view. Stuff is going to get blurry, it’s going to stumble…I’m trying to think of the imagery more in terms of what would happen in that second.
BA: Lee told me about that book before we started and I got it too so we’re on the same page.
BR: Since Book Riot is about books and comics, our readers are always curious about what the people we talk to read for fun.
BA: What am I reading now? Hmmm. What did I just order? I ordered a photography book called Dark Vacations [about] a woman who travelled the world taking pictures of places that are had either supernatural or where people were killed (ed note: I was unable to find an ISBN for it). And I’ve been reading Japanese erotica too.
LB: I went to Tokyo for the first time last year and that was eye-opening for me. You hear a lot about Japanese culture but being there was amazing. Mind-blowing. The last thing I read was…I saw a documentary on JD Salinger. When you’re a kid, they give you Catcher in the Rye and it’s supposed to be this big, important book, but it wasn’t. But I watched this documentary and got fascinated by the guy. They were talking about The Glass Family stuff he wrote late on in life and it’s really…there’s no plot. It’s all about tone and I wanted to crack the short stories so I could get into that stuff.
Additional Black Label titles will be written by the likes of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Greg Rucka and illustrated by Greg Capullo and Phil Jimenez.