Artist Lee Bermejo is something of a master in capturing Batman. Across a suite of covers for Detective Comics, and his excellent work on titles like Batman: Noël and Batman: Damned (the latter with writer Brian Azzarello), Bermejo has crafted a definitive, highly stylized take on the Dark Knight.
But there’s more at play here than just sweet art.
As it turns out, the entire time that Bermejo has been working on these covers, he’s also been telling a story. It’s a tale about a day-in-the-life (or is that night?) as Batman grapples with a mystery foe from his past. Bermejo only told a handful of folks about the project, but now we all get to read it with the forthcoming Batman: Dear Detective #1. The book, described as “one part prestige art book, one part compelling noir tale,” is set to “…strike right at the heart of the Dark Knight’s never-ending crusade.” It’s a dialogue-free, non-sequential story (with prose letters from the aforementioned ne’er-do-well injected between) that’s perfect for newbies and Batman devotees alike.
The book is set to hit shelves September 6 (and the FOC is this Sunday, August 7). In the meantime, though, we caught up with Bermejo earlier this week via Zoom. There we talked about the creative process, his connection with Batman, and his hopes for the project, among other topics and tidbits.
AIPT: I love your work with Batman, and every time I see a cover, I get a sense that this is someone who really gets him. Do you have a special connection or affinity for the Dark Knight.
Lee Bermejo: Yeah, I do that terrible thing that you should never do with the corporate character, and I feel an unusual sense of ownership when I draw him. I think that just comes down to the fact that he was the first superhero that that that I was into as a kid. I was a Star Wars and Indiana Jones kid, and Batman was really the only comic book that I liked when I was younger. I loved the ’60s TV show.
And so he was the first character that I really remember getting getting into, and getting into so much that, even as a young young kid, I wanted to know what’s in the utility belt. Like, how does the costume work? As a kid, it would drive me crazy, because I wanted to know. They would always draw him taking his mask off and it’s hanging off the back of his neck. And I would always wonder, ‘How’s that possible? Is it fabric? Is it made of something else?’
So I had all these questions that needed to be answered. And through the work, I try to answer those questions a little bit. It’s like therapy with Batman, I guess.
AIPT: I saw an interview with Donny Cates a few years ago, and he talks about writing Venom as another obsessive fan. And he did the same kind of thing to answer his own fanboy questions and make things canon.
I get the sense when I’m looking at your covers that this is someone who has really thought a lot about this character.
LB: I think it’s also some kind of way to make sense of all the absurdity. I don’t have that that head that a lot of my colleagues have where they can embrace and accept a lot of this stuff and just go with it. I just have that ridiculous urge to know — it’s got to be functional. What does he to to survive the night — stuff like that. Ultimately, a lot of readers probably don’t care about. But hopefully, when they see the work, they, through my prism, are kind of transported into my version of that character, and it gives them a different experience.
AIPT: It definitely does. I think your covers help me think a real person could be doing this, as weird as that sounds. Or, they balance that realism with the fantastical element, and it’s rare to really hit that sweet spot.
LB: I hope the work doesn’t come off too realistic, if that if that makes any sense. There has to be a level of exaggeration, you know? If I draw Batman with his shirt off, I don’t want to draw a normal guy — I want him unrealistically ripped. There’s a certain element of exaggeration that I think personally, that’s just part of the aesthetic that I like, and I’m very aware that the stuff that I do falls on the realism kind of side and and that’s fine. I like that. But at the same time, I don’t want it to be so much so that it looks silly. But there’s got to be a happy medium between.
In some other interviews, you’ve talked about your thought process in writing Dear Detective. Can you, however briefly, go over that. This is very much a project that isn’t like anything else out there right now.
LB: I’ve done traditional sequential Batman comics and I’ve done covers. For me, when I got the job, it was Detective Comics, and that to me has a responsibility to it; DC is Detective Comics. So it should be a detective story, in my opinion, and I’d never seen anybody do this before — to tell a story with covers. I didn’t even really know if it could work. Because the actual creative teams have requirements for their covers. Like, sometimes you have to throw in Huntress, even if it isn’t part of the grander plan. But then all of a sudden, you realize, “Oh, you know what, this also has to be about the fact that Batman has enlisted these other people in his war on crime, essentially. And so you realize that there’s a way to organically work a lot of these these ideas in.
But when I started the book, I definitely wanted to do a narrative. I wanted to lay these covers out into to a narrative that was broad enough that it could satisfy the needs of the book, but also feel iconic and kind of evergreen as a Batman story, where I don’t feel like I need to do the story anymore. I’ve done the nuts and bolts before, and now I wanted to look at the forest through the trees, and I want to do a project that whether you like Batman, whether you don’t like them, and whether you follow continuity or not, a non-comic book person could feel like this is the perfect Batman story. It could introduce people to the fact that comic books are a narrative visual art form. And that doesn’t necessarily mean just panels; we’re telling stories with pictures, and so I wanted to do that in a very broad sense here.
That was that was definitely the goal setting out at the beginning, and I like to try different things; it’s fun for me. It’s cool to play with the medium and with expectations, you know.
AIPT: One of the things I was most impressed with was that you wanted to invite people in to sort of figure out the story on their own.
LB: I hope readers are filling in the blanks and making the story live in their head. There’s hopefully enough connective tissue in the various sequences for people to go, ‘OK, this is the sequence as he’s doing his typical night for Batman: he gets a clue, he follows up on that clue, and he finds somebody doing something nefarious and hopefully solves a crime. There’s enough connective tissue, with the letters also helping obviously, but it still gives readers room to tell their own stories to themselves, and that’s something I personally really love.
When you draw like I do, the illustrations themselves don’t leave a lot to the imagination; they’re very complete. So the more I do this job, I feel like the more I can get that reader to have some fun imagining in their head, or storytelling in their head, and the better it serves my work. Otherwise, it’s almost an exercise of just looking at this image. So this project was a cool way for me to examine what I’d, and try to see if I could find a way to make that work.
AIPT: You mentioned the letters, and I want to touch on those. Was it a challenge for you to write those? And are those the way you gave readers the breadcrumbs to built the story themselves?
LB: The prose was — and also the symbols and stuff like that — was what the project needed to involve people. Not in a gimmicky way, but to serve the narrative. Writing doesn’t come easy for, and I had multiple drafts. There were maybe seven or eight drafts. I just write a lot, and I pick away at it. I try to sit with it, and then I come back and pick away at it again.
And I think that when you’re doing something like like this project, and I knew it was going to be more prose — specifically letters like a Zodiac sort of letter — finding a voice and figuring out what that voice would be for the readers would enable them to have that counterpoint to what they’re seeing on covers themselves. And so that was was was part of the fun of the whole thing too, just figuring out is this person. Am I going to make people think that this person is the Riddler? Am I going to make people think that this person is the Joker? Or some like some other character?
AIPT: Did anyone else — creators, editors, artists, etc. — help you from this story? Did they offer some kind of guidance?
LB: I never really sent this to anybody or talked to anybody else about the specifics of it. The biggest influence was the Zodiac — reading those Zodiac and even Jack the Ripper letters, just going over those and trying to figure out, again, the shape and the voice of the person. So I can’t say that it was really influenced by any other by any other creative teams, but I’m also not that solipsistic to think that this all just comes from me. Working with somebody like Brian [Azzarello] for as long as I’ve worked with, I’m sure that must seep through. And in some way or another any other writers and artists. It’s being part of that zeitgeist, I guess.
AIPT: For sure. Batman is like a patchwork, and he’s become this web of ideas and influences over the years.
LB: Absolutely. Sometimes stuff becomes so ingrained in the mythos that you don’t even realize it, and someone else almost has to say, ‘Oh, this reminds me of this.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, really?’ Batman and these characters have been around 80-plus years, and you’ve read 1,000 stories, and you’ve seen 1,000 movies and cartoons or whatever. It’s just not that cut and dry. Stuff filters through sometimes. It’s the nature of working on a big corporate property.
AIPT: We’re running a little short on time, so just one last thing: what should people know going into this project? How are you going to mess with their brain?
LB: Mostly, I just want people to have to go in not expecting a sequential comic. And also knowing they’re single images, and that’s a big part of it.
But the main thing, I just got to give up the credit where credit credit is due to Jared Fletcher for the letters in his book because I think he did a fantastic job taking those that letter elements of this and giving it life. I think he did an amazing job with it. So hopefully, people look at that side of it, too. And they see it as a pretty unique project that maybe has never really been done before.
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