Marc Silvestri’s accomplished a lot in his 40-ish-year career in comics. That includes co-creating The Darkness, helping found Image Comics, and launching and running Top Cow Productions. Now, he’s added another feather to his cap with an accomplishment of any truly great comics creator: his very own Batman series.
Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo is one of the first full projects that Silvestri has done for DC. (His bibliography includes contributions to House of Mystery in the ’80s and a Batman Black and White sculpture in the mid-90s.) Acting as both writer and artist — with colors from Arif Prianto — Silvestri has crafted a tale in which Batman and Joker, facing an unseen new threat, must join forces to save Gotham City (and their cohorts). With the story tackling big questions that supposedly will “shake Gotham City and the Bat-Family to their core,” this latest Black Label series is a simple but hugely effective deep-dive into the complex relationship between these comics archetypes.
With issue #1 out today (November 1), we caught up with Silvestri recently via Zoom. There, we talked about the value of this story in comparison to his other works , why the Batman-Joker pairing is so significant, and what he ultimately wants to get out of this book, among other topics.
AIPT: Is this the thing you and DC hinted at a few years ago? Has anything changed from it?
Marc Silvestri: Yeah, this is it. My “magnum opus” that was years in the making. You know, things happened. I have a business to run, and the world caught fire. So it took a little bit longer than I had anticipated:
AIPT: Does it feel weird to say “magnum opus”? Is it a little tongue-in-cheek for you?
MS: When I read it, I went, ‘Oh, that’s kind of a cool little tagline there. I’ll take it.’
I think I’ve done a few things for DC over the years, but Batman is one of my favorite characters. I grew up on the ’60s series — yeah, I’m that old — and this was a story that was always kind of buzzing around the back of my mind.
Now, Jim Lee has been bugging me for years. We’ve been friends for over 30 years. ‘Hey, can you do a Batman thing? You would do a great Batman.’ And I’d say, ‘Come on, Jim, I’ve got a life — sort of — outside comics.’ And then I finally said, ‘OK, I’ll end it here. I’ll pitch my idea to Bob Harris.’ This was literally seven years ago. And I figured you guys have done this a million times in Batman’s 80 years. Like, here’s my one sentence pitch: It’s Batman and Joker and they have to team up and fight together against a new common enemy. Boom. Okay, I’m out. They said it was a great idea, and I said, ‘You haven’t done that to death?’ And it’s sort of out of continuity; they gave me carte blanche to do whatever I want.
AIPT: Did it have to be out of continuity? Because you don’t keep up with the books?
MS: You could say that.
AIPT: What was the genesis of having them team up, though? They’ve always teased this rich, huge dynamic between them. But what is so interesting about this specific pairing?
MS: You just answered your own question. Literally — because of your reaction is why I thought this would be a great story. And that’s why I was shocked when they said, ‘Yeah, this is cool. Do it.’
You know, Batman and Joker are the iconic antagonists. No matter where you look, there’s nothing like that relationship. Everyone always says, which is true, that they are two sides of the same coin. That’s what makes it so dynamic. And my feeling was like, ‘What if you just made them one side of the same coin, and see what happens?’ And then really explore their relationship, and in an extremely stressful way. When you think about how ludicrous it is that they literally have to fight together side-by-side, these bitter enemies, I just kind of give you an idea of what they go through.
And they do go through changes, these guys. One of them is having the greatest time of his life, and the other one is living in hell. I will leave it to you to figure out which is which. But it’s just like I said, this story kind of writes itself. It’s a no-brainer for me why this should be the story that’s told, and hopefully people will like my version of that story.
AIPT: I really like your version, your take on both of these characters. They bring out the best and the worst in each other, and it’s just super entertaining.
MS: Cool. I’m glad you you’ll find it entertaining because the story does get dark.
I’ve described this as a buddy cop horror story, which is what it is. But one thing I wanted to make sure was that it was a fun ride. And that the dynamic was such where, of course, Batman would say maybe five or six lines, but Joker will not shut up.
I absolutely set out to define this relationship through this story by each individual character’s actions. And not only how they react and act with each other in this really unusual circumstance, but how they react to the actual looming threat. Ben Meares, the editor, he kind of described the story as being in similar in mindset to Apocalypse Now. And I said, ‘That’s exactly the look or feel that I was going for. Was this journey into the heart of darkness? Yeah, one that they both go through. And they come out the end in a way that I hope is both unexpected and satisfying for each of them.
AIPT: I described it my wife as being 48 Hours and SE7EN — but with superheroes.
MS: I like that. I’m stealing it.
AIPT: It’s all yours.
The other day I spoke to another DC writer about his project, and how he was influenced by ’70s stories from Mike Barr and Denny O’Neil. I get those same kinds of vibes here. Do you feel like those stories were in your wheelhouse for this project:
MS: I believe some of those Batman stories portrayed an imperfect Batman. And that was important to me. You’ll notice fairly quickly in the series that Batman makes some mistakes. For me personally, it gets a little boring when heroes just keep getting their way. Batman is
the world’s greatest detective. So what’s the best way to injure this guy psychologically? Well, you take away what’s important to him. One of the things that’s so important to him is that he is the world’s greatest detective. And there’s a moment in the series, which I hope resonates, because it’s one of my favorites. It’s where, to his horror, and hopefully the horror of the reader, not only does Batman have to work with the Joker, but he needs to work with the Joker.
There’s a moment where, there’s not much said, but you can kind of feel his frustration, because he has made a mistake. And now, through the rest of the series, he kind of has to atone for it while uncovering this greater mystery that has roiled both of these characters.
AIPT: What can you tell us about the mystery and who’s behind it? I’m getting a very cult-y, supernatural big bad through this series.
MS: Yes, I cannot tell you. But it’s important because I’m a big fan of unfolding mysteries.
I hold the reveal of who the villain is for as long as possible. Because I want Batman and, to a weird extent, the Joker to do some detective work.
What I want to really explore, aside from the emotional baggage of this relationship, was the fundamental strengths that they have. What’s their skillset? There’s obviously Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective who is strong as hell, has all the great toys, and has unlimited wealth. And no one can say no to this guy. What are the Joker’s skills? Well, He’s crazy. He’s brilliant.
And it was interesting to me when I was crafting the story to ask, ‘How do you explore that?’ How do you have Batman realize that this is actually a skill set that he needs in this story?
AIPT: That being straight bonkers is a tool.
MS: Yeah, it’s a tool that actually helps.
So then he’s like, ‘Now what do I do?’ And this is a control thing we’re talking about. Batman is a control freak; he has to control everything around him, including the city that he has sworn to protect.
So you’ve got the ultimate harbinger of chaos as his partner. I want people to get a little bit uncomfortable, and to feel like the world is kind of closing in on them like it is closing in on Batman/Bruce Wayne. But I also want them to have fun, because there’s a lot of fun aspects to this ludicrous relationship, and the discovery of how ludicrous it is. That, and this creeping awareness that there’s something really bad happening there.
I’m going to give you a little spoiler. You’ll notice in the first issue, I have a bat cavern. It’s not really a Batcave, But as the story moves forward — and this is the mindset to help the reader think ‘ Oh, OK, there’s stuff going on here’ — you’ll notice that as the issues progress, that Batcave gets smaller around Batman. As it gets darker in his world, so too does his sanctuary. And the sprawling back cave becomes this enveloping dark cocoon around him. And I thought, ‘I want to put as many visual metaphors that I can in here, just kind of pepper it, to help get the story move along.
AIPT: How did you balance being both the writer and the artist?
MS: Well, it was it was something I really wanted to try it. I’ve never done it on this scale before, and I’ve been in this business for 40 years. I’ve had the privilege and the honor to work with some of the best writers in this business. But sometimes they will get carried away and I think, ‘Oh, god, do I really have to draw this when I’m reading an awesome script from Chris Claremont?’ He’s got all the X-Men fighting all of the Marauders and that’s panel one. So I promised myself that I’m going to tell the story, but I’m going to be kind to the artist.
But it starts to take on a life of its own when you’re the writer and you forget about the artist — me. So every once in a while I would remember, ‘Hey, yeah, you’re going to have to draw this.’
AIPT: ::laughs:: Damn this Silvestri, I’ll never work with him again.
MS: I’m putting some ’90s bombast with Batman across the double-page spread. You have to have some fun, and don’t forget to go big because comics need to jump off the page or the tablet. And I made sure to do that. But I had to tell a story that resonated both impactfully but also like on a small emotional scale. At the end of the day, it was very rewarding to have control over the entire destiny of the book. And, hopefully if I did my job, people will like it ultimately as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
AIPT: We talked already about this being your “magnum opus.” Do you hope it resonates like that, or is this just another story for you to tell?
MS: That’s a lot to unpack.
For me, as a creator, it is my job is to entertain. I’m one of those guys — I like moves and I love reading because I love to be entertained. But one of the things I love about entertainment is I that like to walk out of the theater or walk away from the page feeling something deeper than when I walked in.
So if I did accomplish that with this series, then again, without getting too heavy, that just burdens the the the fun aspect, right? So a lot of the messaging is more subliminal, but also it’s it’s driven by, going back to before, by the character’s actions. So they’re not just pontificating. It’s like, because you made this decision, you now have to deal with this consequence. I think at the end of it, when all is said and done, I hope that people put down that last issue and go, ‘Ah, wow, I wasn’t expecting that.’ And if that stands the test of time, I’d be thrilled.
Bob Harris said to me, and he used this term, make it “evergreen.” He said, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on in DC proper. Make it so that literally 20 years from now, somebody could pick up this — the collector’s edition or just the issues — and it would still be completely fine on its own.’ And I just went from there.
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