Mark Russell’s One-Star Squadron has been a breath of fresh air for comics. Now, the always funny Russell is trying something new out with a forthcoming Batman story. (I spoke with Russell at the same time as our recent chat about One-Star Squadron.)
Working alongside artist Karl Mostert, Russell tells a story entitled “The Trap” in Batman: Urban Legends #11, due out January 11. Focusing on the motif of trust, the tale sees Russell stretching his legs a bit by utilizing a character who can’t speak (Ace the Bat-Hound!) while also tying things to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. And if that weren’t enough, the story also involves other hero animals like Eggbert, a super-intelligent chicken.
As part of our extended Q&A, Russell discussed writing the mute but lovable Ace, working Tolstoy vibes into the story proper, his favorite moment, and much more.
AIPT: With Batman: Urban Legends, you have a Bat-Hound story coming up with issue #11 through #16. Tell me about Eggbert.
Mark Russell: Eggbert is a chicken who has been subjected to experiments to answer intelligence. The reason why you would do intelligence-enhancing medical experiments on a chicken is that they start at such a low bar. They’re so dumb as animals, that any incremental improvement is immediately noticeable. And so this is a chicken who sort of maximized her potential for genius and is sort of comes upon the limits, and it needs them all in order to survive.
AIPT: Is this a story that you’ve been kind of holding your back pocket for a while? Because I know many writers have a Super-Pet story in them?
MR: No, actually, weirdly, it’s not. It’s something that when they offered the chance for me to write Batman: Urban Legends, I came up with this idea, and what I really wanted to write about was how heroes operate on trust on a level that villains can never understand. And it’s sort of their advantage. Heroes can trust each other in a nontransactional way just because they honestly care about each other.
In a way, villains can never sort of coordinate their, their alliances, and I thought the strongest possible relationship I could use to tell that story would be Batman and Ace.
AIPT: Is there a particular moment in this story arc that you hold to be like one of your favorites of this of the arc?
MR: Yeah, I think once we meet the main villain, Mr. Tarkoff, who’s like a former Russian Army officer who lost half his face in the war in Afghanistan. I think the story takes on a lot more gravity. I really think it’s the sadness of sort of wasted potential in this man, that the story really sorts of begins working in the way I want it to. I think also he has these moments where he just sort of tells people his little interpretations of Tolstoy stories.
As a writer, it’s just really gratifying for me to be able to write about writing and about like, literature, in the context of a comic book. And also in a way that allows them to sort of expounding on human nature in a dark and not always optimistic light that throws what I’m trying to say, with Batman and Ace in stark relief. And so for me, that’s those are really the moments that I really enjoy as a writer, where I can almost write about the opposite of what I’m trying to say, through the eyes of a villain.
AIPT: You found a backdoor to educate readers in a way or bring literature to their eyes in a new way, which is really fascinating.
MR: Part of it is I just want to talk about the things that really matter to me. The things I’m excited to talk about. My feeling as an artist as a writer is that if you’re really excited about something, that’s what you should be writing about because that excitement is infectious. And this is how I think most of the things I got into in life I got into by reading something written by somebody who was also excited about the thing that I discovered
AIPT: The domino effect eventually always reaches Batman. What era of Batman is this, is it a specific era or does that not factor in?
MR: It doesn’t really factor in. I was kind of thinking current day Batman, but obviously given the timeline with the villain being a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, it probably would more likely be set in the mid to late ’90s.
AIPT: Yeah, the suit looks really cool. It’s different. It doesn’t look that familiar to me. I really like what you guys did with that.
MR: Thanks. That was all Karl. Karl designed that suit himself. But yeah, we wanted something for him and for Ace that’s really functional, kind of stripped-down, but something that would work as tactical gear in a battlefield setting.
AIPT: Writing Ace must be tricky because it’s not like there’s an Ace the Bat-Hound trade paperback to catch up on all their stories. Did you have to do any research?
MR: Not really, I didn’t try to do much research. The challenge for writing Ace for me is that I’m a somewhat verbose writer, I like to delve into characters’ inner thoughts and write a lot through dialogue. Ace obviously doesn’t give me any of that.
So I relied much more heavily upon Karl, and his ability to convey what I wanted with a facial expression from Ace, it might be the quietest comic book I’ve ever written in that their whole pages with no dialogue, no captions or anything, you’re just sort of like getting into Ace’s internal world by watching his external one.
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