INTERVIEW: Gregg Hurwitz

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Gregg Hurwitz, bestselling novelist and writer of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, has taken over the writing on The Dark Knight starting with issue #10 (reviewed by Major Spoilers here). Major Spoilers’ very own Jimmy had a chance to speak with Mr. Hurwitz this past week, and got some solid information about his creative process with artist David Finch, and a pretty firm hint as to plans for the next villain after Scarecrow to get “The Hurwitz Treatment”

MAJOR SPOILERS:  First off, I really enjoyed reading The Dark Knight #10

GREGG HURWITZ:  I’m really glad you enjoyed Dark Knight—yesterday was a big day, because we really relaunched and turned a fresh chapter in the life of that book, and so the reviews have been very very important and David and I are thrilled at the reception that it’s gotten so far

Definitely—I had a chance to speak with David [Finch] at C2E2, and it was funny because I had been pretty upset at how The Dark Knight title had been going; I really didn’t like his writing on it—I loved his art, I’ve always been a fan of David Finch’s art—but the writing didn’t really pop like the title should have, and so I didn’t expect to like him when I met him, but he was such a humble, nice guy, and he said that he was really excited that you were coming on to write the book, because he felt that he just wasn’t ready yet to write Batman.

GREGG HURWITZ: Well, I’m biased because David is probably my favorite artist, so I enjoy everything that he does, but it’s been a fantastic working relationship—the way that he draws, it’s like it’s what I’m seeing in my head but even better. We collaborate more closely than I have with anyone else. The way that he draws is ideally suited to the story that I’m writing; the way that I’m writing is really suited to his art, it all has just worked really nicely, and we’ve gotten on the phone and we’ve really talked through, closely, how we see it unfolding, with the understanding that his job as the director is to go off and make the choices and make it even better than what it is that I’m seeing. But every time he’s just surprised me by how much he’s stepped up in the game—I always think he can’t get better but he does.

You mentioned him as the director—is he still in charge of the creative process of the book now?

GREGG HURWITZ: When he brought me in, he’s a big fan of my writing—he’s read my novels, he’s read Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, and he really wanted me to be point and we agreed it would work best, on the story and on the writing. So what I mean by [him being the director] is that I take him through, make sure the story’s one that he’s happy with, and one that he wants to draw, as we began—but the writing, the story, the main direction are all coming out of my head and out of the direction that I thought would be great for Scarecrow and for where Bruce Wayne would go—with of course the understanding that it’s collaborative; I made sure he was on board, but he gave me a lot of leeway. So what I mean by saying that he’s the director is that I write out the panels with my suggestions, and the thing I think David does really masterfully is take the story that I’ve written and he really knows where to put the camera—he really knows what angles to choose. His story-telling ability, in addition to his raw talent as an artist, is one of the things that makes him unique as an artist.

When I was speaking with David, he mentioned this story was one you had originally planned as a mini-series follow-up to Penguin, just focusing on a different villain. Has the story changed as you turned it into an ongoing series?

GREGG HURWITZ:  Yes—it changed in a couple ways. It never was sort of a firm mini-series, it was always a ways out. I had so much fun doing Penguin, and you might know that I also write novels, screenplays, TV and other things, so I’m on a schedule that’s pretty intense—my new book called “The Survivor” comes out in August, so the windows of my availability can sometimes be a little bit spotty. When I initially went in to do the Penguin, that was the extent of what DC and I agreed I would work on at the time, and I had so much fun doing it—DC was really terrific and really supportive; I really like Mike Marts, the Bat-editor, enormously. He’s a fantastic editor. We had a really great time so I started thinking, I had such a good time doing Oswald Cobblepot, who would I want to tackle and deal with next? I fixated on the Scarecrow because I was just so interested in how one person would grow obsessed in a way that’s academic, which makes it all the more creepy, with the notion of fear and how that would dovetail into Batman. The biggest thing that changed from when I was first thinking about it and talked to David, and he really wanted me on-board on the book, was to make it really a heavy emphasis on Bruce and on Batman. In the Penguin, you’ll recall, from the Penguin’s perspective Batman’s the villain. That’s 70% Oswald’s book, and Batman appears as the bad guy essentially. In The Dark Knight, this is Batman’s book, and as much as I really wanted to reinvent Scarecrow and really do a New 52 makeover for him and give him a new origin story, and give him a new background, I had to be very cognizant that it remained a book that was about Batman, and a book that was about Bruce Wayne, and was about the psychology and the interplay between those two personae as well, and how those things dovetail with the Scarecrow.

Since you’re working in The New 52 now, how much attention are you paying to the other Bat-titles? For example, so far in The New 52 Bruce Wayne has been shown in relationships with half a dozen women, but with Night of the Owls all the Bat-titles were shown to be taking place in and around the same time. So is your Bruce Wayne dating multiple women? Or how does your continuity fit with the other Bat books?

GREGG HURWITZ:  I read all the Bat books; I think right now is a really great moment in time in that they’re all working really well. I think it’s a really good renaissance for the Bat-titles. And there’s a lot of coordination that takes place. We’re discussing which characters are off the books, we’re discussing if someone’s doing something in one arc, I’ve got to hop on the phone and figured that out. So The Dark Knight takes place within continuity, so I’ll get on the phone with Tomasi, or get on the phone with Scott Snyder, and we’ll find out ways to make sure we’re not stepping on each others’ plots. And we’ll find little things that we can do to enhance each others’ plots. And that’s especially true in the Zero issues as you’ll see. That said, The Dark Knight is its own thing. It’s its own entity—a self-contained story and psychological thriller, and suspense narrative. So you don’t have to read all the other Bat books to read it, and it’s important to David and I that you can pick it up, but it does exist very much in DC continuity as well.

Speaking of the zero issue, in addition to The Dark Knight, you’re writing Detective Comics #0. Do you have any other titles planned that you’re going to do for DC?

GREGG HURWITZ:  Nope; I’m just writing The Dark Knight and those zero issues.

Do you have any titles on your wish-list that you’d like to write someday?

GREGG HURWITZ:  Right now I feel like writing Batman with David Finch can’t be improved upon, it’s really funny, but I think one of the benefits of having the other types of projects that I’m working on, is that when I work on comics I can work on things that I’m really passionate about. It was really funny—I’ll tell you something I haven’t really talked about. When I first met with Dan Didio and I moved over from Marvel where I wrote some Punisher, and I wrote some Wolverine, and I wrote some Moon Knight, to DC, we were having an open discussion and the one thing I wanted to write more than anything else was the Penguin mini-series. In my head I knew the story, and I don’t know why or how, and in hind-sight it was very odd—you wouldn’t believe the reception when we first announced that there was going to be a Penguin mini-series. The fans response was “Oswald is so boring, it’s so silly, what a bizarre choice” it was an incredibly negative reaction… until the first issue came out, and the reviews came out, and then it really turned around. It was funny because in a way I feel like I don’t always choose what I want to write, sometimes the things that I have to write choose me, and it was really the case with the Penguin. And looking back on it, I understand why there was so much skepticism, because it was an odd first choice, but it was really funny that here I am sitting down with the guy at the top of a company that has Batman and Superman and all these enormous characters, and the one thing that I wanted to focus on was [the Penguin]. What’s good about my work in comics is that they’re all real passion projects; they’re all things that I’m dying to write. As long as that’s the case, I think I do good work and I think readers appreciate that, and that’s what I hold to be my highest responsibility to my readership—that I’m only doing something that I want to do, which is certainly the case right now with The Dark Knight.

Do you have a set number of issues that you’re going to be on The Dark Knight?

GREGG HURWITZ: A minimum of seven, I guess. I’m doing this arc which is going to be six, and I’m doing the zero issue, and that’s as far as we’ve planned editorially. I’m certainly going to be there for that, and we’re discussing what we’re going to do after there.

Is there another villain that you’d like to spotlight after the Scarecrow?

GREGG HURWITZ: Yeah. I love the villains, so I’m thinking about some stuff, but nothing that I want to give away.

Well, one of my favorite Bat-villains that I think has always gotten the short stick is the Mad Hatter.

GREGG HURWITZ:  I completely agree with you…

The only times I’ve felt the Mad Hatter was really well done were in Arkham Asylum 2, there was an issue that Keith Giffen drew that I really liked, and in Gail Simone’s Secret Six, that was really enjoyable.

GREGG HURWITZ:  Well, let’s just say, without saying much, that you and I think very much alike…

With Penguin, as we’ve already said it was a Penguin story with Batman taking on the role of the villain. With The Dark Knight, we’ve got primarily a Batman and a Jim Gordon story, with exploring Scarecrow as a villain involved. So changing focus to Batman, was that your and David Finch’s decision, or was it a DC Comics editorial mandate?

GREGG HURWITZ: The one thing that’s been great is that I’m given a really nice amount of freedom to do the stories that I want to tell, and DC has been wonderful to work with creatively. I mentioned Mike Marts—he’s really worth mentioning because he’s a fantastic editor, and I bounce stuff off him and he steps in and lets me know where things have a possibility of going off the tracks, and he also really knows (and it’s the toughest thing about being a good editor) what the types of stories are that make the most sense for you and for the company, and what will give your artists and writers freedom. He works that balance perfectly. So when I came to him with this story, I just sort of presented it that way because for me, it has to involve Batman—and Mike made that clear. Mike and I discussed that, but there wasn’t any sort of firm directive. We talked through the story really comfortably and he wanted to make sure that I got that and got the fact that it’s Batman’s name on the top of the book, not the Scarecrow mini-series, and we found a balance really naturally. One of the things that really happens, and you can see a bit in [The Dark Knight] #10, and you’re going to see it much much more as we get into 11, 12 and 13, is the Scarecrow really fits with Batman. We’re really going to see Batman put on the rack here, and we’re going to see him taken through a lot of the psychology that built him, because that’s what the fear is about; that’s what the fear gas is intended to do, is to drag him through all those dark corridors. So the story very naturally and organically deals with that, in equal to more fashion than it does with Crane.

I’ve always found it interesting the dichotomy between Batman and the Scarecrow because really they’re very similar in that they both use fear to accomplish their goals, but obviously Batman’s goals are much nobler in the eyes of the reader.

GREGG HURWITZ:  Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, and that’s exactly what our first cover is—it’s sort of a yin-yang, with the caveat that instead of yin-yang it’s yin-yin. It’s both shadows—it’s a mirror that reflects darkness both directions rather than one reflected darkness one reflecting light, and their relationship to fear is one of the primary things that defines them. Both of them. And that’s exactly what I wanted to play with.

We saw Damian in this issue. Was the scene between Bruce and Damian in the Batcave a way to acknowledge that there is a Robin and then write him out of the story, or is that friction going to play into the story in a big way?

GREGG HURWITZ: It plays into the story. Natalya has a line to Bruce that, for me, is an essential line that is defining in the arc. She says to him when he shows up and he’s ready to go out to the charity event, she’s at home and she’s having a hard time, and she’s a pianist—she’s a strong woman with a career. She needs support and he’s not able to give it and she says to him, “You care about everyone you don’t know—you ever wonder why that is?” For me that’s a key insight; I wanted to write a strong woman who’s not the arm candy for him, who’s not just a little girlfriend on the side who’s waiting whenever he swings in and is devastated when he’s late—a tough, bright woman. That’s a telling insight, and you’ll notice the thing with Damian comes right after—for me—my favorite panel that David drew. I have two favorite panels in this issue—one is the double-page spread which I think David just killed, with Batman swinging through and smashing the guy out through the car. And the other is the exact opposite kind of scene, with Batman sitting with Clair in her hospital room and she reaches over and takes his hand. And that scene, where he is there and he understands—he’s asking Clair questions and he realizes that he’s helpless to do anything and the only way he can help her is to sit with her and comfort her when he sits side by side with her. The next scene is the scene with Damian, where it’s his own son who’s trying to talk to him and he’s ill-focused. And that, to me, is the epitome of what it is that Natalya was talking about when she calls him to task. He’s there and enormously available to people when it isn’t intimate, when it doesn’t involve closeness, and why that is has a lot to do with the issues that the Scarecrow wants to pry into.

That was one of my favorite moments as well, and that’s something that I think you do particularly well—having a lot of literary significance to what you write in comics, due to your experience as a novelist. I noticed a lot of those little subtleties in Penguin: Pain and Prejudice that I just ate up.

GREGG HURWITZ: Thanks! I think a lot of credit has to go to Szymon [on Penguin] and David, because it’s really hard to capture emotion in panels where nothing happens, where there’s no dialogue, there’s no action. I think the artists deserve a great deal of credit, because I write with a lot of pauses and spaces in scenes that are more emotional. I’ll have two panels where Scarecrow doesn’t say anything, he just looks at a girl who he’s captured and in one we see the vulnerability, that he might maybe still be human under there, and the next one the mask of menace is clamped back over him. And when all you can work with is visible eyes and a closed mouth is incredibly difficult but David manages to do it. With Batman sitting there and Clair taking his hand, it’s really hard to get emotion conveyed that way.

How detailed are your scripts that you send to the artist? As an author, you’re able to paint pictures with your words—but as a comic writer, you have to rely on the artist to do that. Do you give them a lot of directions?

GREGG HURWITZ: I write with a pretty heavy hand in terms of direction, because I want the artist to know how I’m seeing it. That said, the reason why they’re artists and I can barely draw a stick figure for hang-man is because they have a very strong visual sense for how to draw a story. So I’m very very clear, whether I’m working with Finch, or Tony Daniel on Detective #0, I want you to see how I see this story, but you also need to understand that you’re the expert at this and how I see it, if there’s things that you take from that that make sense and you can see it clearly that’s great, and if there’s ways that you can improve this since you’ve been drawing for decades, please upgrade this and make me look smarter than I am.

Do you feel like you’ve had to unlearn some of your skills that you developed as a novelist when you broke into comics?

GREGG HURWITZ: You know what’s funny? It’s actually different. I’ve had to unlearn skills that I learned as a screenwriter and TV producer. Because in novels you’re the director, you’re everything—you’re the actor, set design, research assistant, clothing, everything. In scripts though, one of the biggest signs of an amateur screenwriter or TV writer is when you direct all these scenes. If you say close-up on the character’s hand reaching for this—pan across to this—if you see lots and lots of camera direction, as a screen writer you know somebody’s new or just out of film school because you just don’t do that—because Francis Ford Coppola will come along and pat your head and say “Thanks, son, but this is my job.” So what you learn when you do screenplays is to convey things with the minimum of reference to the camera and to try to convey the story and the way that looks and feels in language that gets that across—but that’s a whole longer conversation that you and I could have at some point. So what was unusual for me in the comics, is that you can be very very detailed with where the camera goes in a way that you would not be if you were writing a screenplay. So that has to be unlearned because when I give David a script, I want him to see exactly how I see the story unfolding over different panels so he can improve that, since he’s the master at that.

So obviously with screenwriting and with novels etc., you’re well established with the idea of creating your own property. Have you ever considered doing a creator-owned comic book, or something outside of an established franchise?

GREGG HURWITZ:  Yeah, that’s something I’m interested in. Right now on the comics front, I’m all about Batman all the time—I’m doing Comic-Con San Diego, I’m doing Comic-Con in New York, I’m doing a book tour for The Survivor—so my focus is getting The Dark Knight up and relaunched, and in as good shape as possible, and that’s my only goal right now. But I’m very interested in creator-owned.

As a screenwriter, with Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise coming to an end, have you thought about putting your hat in the ring for the next reboot of the Batman franchise?

GREGG HURWITZ:  You know, that would be great, but the DC comics and the film fronts are a little bit different… As long as Nolan is around and doing what he’s doing, I’m involved in that franchise only as a fan. I love the movies, but until that opens up, that’s a discussion for a year from now. For right now I’m happy to be a Christopher Nolan fan… It’s really unbelievable what he’s done.

Who would you pick to don the cape and cowl after Christian Bale, once he’s done?

GREGG HURWITZ: I have to give you a bad answer, that I promise you is not political—right now I’m adapting one of my book series for TNT, the Tim Rackley series, and when people ask me when I’m writing a character “who do you see for casting Tim?” it’s always a conversation, and when I’m writing the character I see them so definitively in my head—Tim Rackley for instance is a character who I lived with for five years; I wrote four books about him. And I adapted the first book once already as a feature for Paramount. I can’t answer, because I only see how it works in my head, so it’s almost like with casting I’m really useless until it’s actually relevant and I’ve written something and I’m with a director and it’s a casting meeting. Because until then I just see Bruce Wayne in my head as I see Bruce Wayne—I see Batman as Batman. And that’s the way I can best write and service the character.

One final question: Not only are you a writer of internationally bestselling crime novels, you’re an accomplished athlete. Have you ever considered donning a cape and cowl and fighting crime yourself?

GREGG HURWITZ: *laughs* Yes! That’s your casting answer right there. I was only shy, not saying it because I want to play Batman in the next movie! Put those pole-vaulting skills to real use!

WHAT’S NEXT


In addition to writing Batman: The Dark Knight, Hurwitz is a crime novelist. His upcoming novel, “The Survivor,” will go on sale August 21st, and you can pre-order it right now by going through the handy dandy Major Spoilers Amazon Link! Another of his series, the “Tim Rackley” books, are being adapted into a drama by TNT.