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Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins talk all things 'The Bat-Man: First Knight'

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Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins talk all things ‘The Bat-Man: First Knight’

An interview with the creative team behind The Bat-Man: First Knight

The Bat-Man: First Knight is an all-new, three-issue DC Black Label series that looks back on Bruce Wayne’s early days in his crusade against crime. All-star creators Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins take readers way back to 1939 for one of the Bat-Man’s first cases in a very different Gotham City. In true Black Label format, this mini-series opens with a beautiful 48-page story that shows just how grounded Bat-Man is against a world changing before his very eyes. With more foes than allies, and even fewer tools in his utility belt, the Bat-Man will have to use his wit, ingenuity, and perseverance to come out of this story alive!

The Bat-Man: First Knight #1 is out now. (Issue #2 debuts on April 2.) For a proper deep dive into the project, we caught up recently with Jurgens and Perkins to talk about the genesis of this story, portraying a very specific kind of Bat-Man, and building this old-school Gotham, among other topics. 

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

(Warning: this interview contains spoilers for The Bat-Man: First Knight #1.)

AIPT: Thanks so much for meeting with me. I’ve got some questions prepared so I’ll alternate between Dan, Mike, and then both of you.

Dan, what did you read to prepare for this story that takes place in Batman’s early days or was there a specific story you were trying to parallel?

Dan Jurgens: Not a specific story so much. In terms of preparation, one of the things I’ve always remembered is being a kid and seeing Detective Comics #27 reprinted for the first time and just being fascinated by it because Batman looked so different, the art felt so different, it was just different than anything I might have imagined. And just getting to see the first story of a character who had been around that long was in it of itself a lot of fun. So, I always found that fascinating. In terms of preparing for this and trying to identify what worked, it was really all about trying to capture a sense of both the times in which Batman first arrived, 1939, and as well as who he was at that time.

And when he first appeared, there was no Batmobile, there was no Batcave, there was no Alfred, there was no support system, much less a whole family of Bat-heroes kind of standing around in the Batcave trying to figure out who’s going to go do what. It was Batman, and Batman alone, without a lot of tech. About the only advantage he might of had is that it’s the great depression and as Bruce Wayne he had money. So he wasn’t out standing in a food line, he was someone who could conceivably do this. But, it was really about capturing the flavor of the times, and the sense of what was the world like in 1939, and what would this man have been like who was embarking on, at that time, what would have seemed like a very strange, unimaginable sort of mission.

Bat-Man

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Definitely, when reading the issue, that was a big takeaway. That differential between what he has versus the rest of the city. That was something I thought was really well distributed between where he was well positioned to begin his crusade, while determining what that even looks like to him, versus the needs of the rest of the city. And Michael, since his resources were so limited at the time, as Dan said, there is no family, there’s no fancy Batmobile yet, much less any other Bat-Anything really.

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve been able to draw so far since his gadgets are relatively limited? Was it more the flashy poses, the overall grit he was able to portray at the time, or the few gadgets that he does have?

Mike Perkins: I think that approach of him just working from a base level, even though, like Dan was saying, it’s a rich man’s base level, I love the whole lab he has. Which was kind of based on Thomas Edison’s actual lab. So, just doing the research on that era and seeing what is around. And even the glass vases that were used at the time. And I think one of my favorite bits is the hobnail boots that he has, which I love drawing that. It was just, of course, he’d have hobnail boots; especially, you know, when he’s fighting these villains, that’s the kind of boot you want. But, yeah, just that brilliant costume. It’s so much more exaggerated in a way than it’s become, with those big bat ears, the single gloves, and solid cape and everything. Oh, man, it’s a pleasure to draw it; but it’s also a pleasure to not draw it, to put it in the shadow. Because at least that silhouette works so well.

Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins talk all things 'The Bat-Man: First Knight'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Absolutely, I think it’s so fascinating when we get to go back time to his early days. And his suit is so exaggerated with the ears, purple gloves, and belt looking very starkly yellow as well. Seeing every different artist’s unique take on that is so interesting. And I think yours really captures that Detective Comics #27 really well; with at that time the art being a different style than now and bringing that almost to life in a way in the series was something I really found to being very compelling as far as making it seem so real.

MP: And I would read through the script anyways, the full script, so the good thing is I would know when Dan wanted him to swing off into the distance or do things like that. Because there are certain parts where it’s like “okay, he’s going to have to carry a rope with him for a fair few pages because he’s going to use that later on down the road”. It wasn’t something he could just whip out of his utility belt. He had to have that rope wrapped around him because there were no gadgets. There were no guns shooting tent style wires or anything like that. So, you have to put those things in. I think the only thing I might’ve added that is there and it’s not really talked about, it’s not really shown, but it’s there in the background, that is I’ve made the big yellow belt slightly magnetic in a way. Because at one point it picks up a knife from the bad guy, and it’s like “Where is he going to put that knife?” So, I’ve kind of made the belt a little bit magnetic. And then he uses all of his Thomas Edison equipment later to figure out what’s going on with that knife.

AIPT: And for both of you, to that point of him being very early on, it’s very Thomas Edison-y in some ways and almost like Sherlock Holmes-esque in some other ways where he’s really a detective at the forefront. He’s a very different Batman from the one that we know today. How did the two of you as a team try to distinguish him from who we know him to be versus who he is at this time.

DJ: I think it’s just in our earliest conversations, even when I first sort of ran some of these thoughts past Mike, I think I used the phrase “Batman Unplugged” a couple of times, in that there is nothing else. There is just the man. And he’s out there just really doing what he can by himself and alone. And when you start to kind of go at it from that direction and realize he has these capabilities, but not a support staff around him. So, for example, even if he knew how to take fingerprints, it’s not like he’s got a Batcomputer with a database where he has access to that stuff. He still needs the cooperation of the police or someone in law enforcement at that time. So, it’s still a Batman who has to figure it out by guile, and instinct, and get by on his wits, and figure out the right way to do it, all the while kind of putting on this air as Bruce Wayne the guy who’s sitting around smoking a pipe. And I just find that fascinating because that’s how he was originally portrayed, and I think there’s a lot of fun to be found there.

MP: And we really beat the crap out of him.

DJ: Yes.

MP: That’s another main thing, we really wanted this Batman to get hurt. It basically takes place over a couple of days, three days maybe, this whole thing. And you see him just get so tired and beaten down. And it’s quite amazing that. well, he’s almost standing up by the end of it.

DJ: And almost ready to pack it in. And what is it that keeps anyone going in a case like that. It hurts to get hit, it hurts to get burned, it hurts to get electrocuted, it’s all of those things we have mixed in. And a lot of it is what drives him and what keeps it going, keeps him going, and that takes us through conversations that he will have later. Both as Bruce Wayne, with Julie Madison, and as Batman with another character we’ve brought in the story.

Bat-Man

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: That’s a really interesting point, too. These human things are, as we see, pushing him down further and further. It’s very interesting to see how he’s distinguished. Dan, where do you picture his mental state at this point? He’s very early in his career and this crusade that we all know to be never-ending. How do you feel that his mind is processing this?

DJ: It comes from a couple of different places at that time. And one is just what’s happening at Gotham City at that time. There is a scene in issue two, and not to give too much away, where Batman finds himself almost like in a little shanty town along the river where he sees people living there. That’s part of what drives Bruce Wayne to the idea that he has to have a mission, and you combine that with his own personal past. But then the other part is he has to come to the realization he can do it, he can accomplish it, that he can make a change. And when you juxtapose that against what’s happening in the rest of the world in Europe at that point, where someone to stand up and make that sort of change is desperately needed, it’s easier for Batman to, I think, see that necessity.

MP: And I think in that age as well, in the late ’30s, people who were in their mid-twenties, like Bruce Wayne is, they were a lot older. And I think Bruce is a lot older because his parents were killed when he was 9. He has to do a lot of growing up, especially without a butler around to look after him.

AIPT: You both mentioned the times and how that’s reflected, and I think that’s really well reflected in the people of the city in the first issue. Mike, when I read the issue, there was this overarching theme that I think you beautifully portrayed of this bleakness that’s over Gotham City, that’s almost grit that the people at the time, too, at the time, too, had to have to get by. And what was it though that you wanted to emphasize and have the readers resonate with?

MP: I think, it’s not a cliche, but it’s one of those things that people always come up with Gotham being a character in it of itself. And it’s not a cliche if it’s actually true, you know? Gotham is this character. Gotham reflects itself in the people who are there. Even to the extent of Gordon. This is a guy who was a young cop, and he’s still got those sensibilities. And he’s grown up in that eras of having small things to make the bigger things work. There’s a sequence where he meets Bruce, and Bruce has got his nice Alpha Romeo there, and the juxtaposition of that is you see Gordon, he’s got a cigar, he sees Bruce put his cigar out on his shoe, and then he puts the cigar in his pocket to keep for later. You’ve got this guy riding this Alfa Romeo. And then you’ve got the Commissioner saving a little cigar for later. So, there’s that massive juxtaposition there. Which was, all that Gotham stuff is there in the script. So, Dan kind of knew what he was doing. But I was putting those little character bits in there as well.

Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins talk all things 'The Bat-Man: First Knight'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

DJ: And just throw something in, too. when you are talking about seeing a city as a character, one of those things I know Mike sees this all the time as well if you’re sitting at a convention and young aspiring artists are showing us their stuff, often, you get: “Here’s the big shot of the hero” and the so-called background doesn’t have much in it. And one of the things I always try and explain is: I never use the word background. I call it an environment. And the environment is a character every bit as much as the characters in a story itself. And so, that environment should always take on that sense of personality and flavor that is just as much as the story as are any of our characters who are moving throughout the story itself. And that’s something that Mike and I spent a lot of time talking about and trading emails about as we started working on this. That “what should Gotham feel like, what should it look like, how are people dressed, what is this sense, what is on the marquees at that time? What movies were coming out in 1939?” That kind of thing.

AIPT: I think that’s a really great differential, too, between the consideration of foreground and background versus environment. Because. if it’s a story, that’s what it is. Just as much so as much as all of us are behind a desk, it’s not our background, it’s an environment, I think that the way that the two of you both narratively tried to blend the two, it felt like it wasn’t: “Here’s the big character and then the blurred background” versus “Here’s this scene from a cartoon episode or a movie” where it’s all one illustration. I think that was something that was really well blended.

MP: I think Dan and I come from that same position, like Dan was saying, that has to be part of the overall environment. I always knew I was on the right path with Dan when we first worked together on Green Lanterns. And there was this one scene where John Stewart is flying into a spacecraft. And I just made John Stewart really tiny, and then the rest of the spacecraft was surrounding him. And Dan was just like “That’s it! That’s exactly what’s needed for that scene. And I don’t see it often enough”. And from that moment on I was like “OK, we can work together. That’s great.”

DJ: “Jurgens isn’t a Looney Tune”, that’s what he said, yeah. (Laughs.)

AIPT: What are the two of you most looking forward to for readers to experience from immersing themselves in this environment and this world?

DJ: Ideally, I guess to a certain extent, beyond everybody just liking the story and just having a good time reading it, I would like them to walk away with a couple of things. And one is a little bit of a different sense of who Batman is in a way. Because of late we have seen a hyper capable Batman who really is doing so many different ways, has basically almost supplanted Superman’s role in the DCU as leader, that kind of thing, and walk away with the sense that perhaps this guy is a little more human than we might have thought after all. And then the other one is if they walk away sort of intrigued just by what was the world like in 1939, I think that would be a positive as well. Because there are a lot of things that were happening then that I think applies to what we are seeing in the world today. And that this story fits well with where we’re at. And if people want to look at that and it makes them think a little more, I think that’s a great thing.

MP: I’m going to just take it straight to the baseline here and say I want people to look at it, love it, read it, and I want them to walk away and think: “I wanna see more of that.”

DJ: Yeah, that too.

MP: Yeah, “I want to see more of the world. I want to see more of that approach. I want to see more of that atmosphere.” It’s great to be involved in it, but we would love to do more. This world just gives you just so many things to work with. The baseline for me is I want people to walk away going, “Where’s the next one?”

Dan Jurgens and Mike Perkins talk all things 'The Bat-Man: First Knight'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Definitely. One of the last questions I have is, in the vein of wanting more as a reader and already exciting for the next issue and wanting more, it’s very evident and when you look at the time of the issue releases when Batman started, that Robin came out within the first Batman issue, and maybe I think it was 5 or 7 Detective Comics actual issues before he was implemented there as well. Are there any hopes or aspirations for the two of you to continue this in a sequel where we expand Batman’s world a little bit?

DJ: It would be nice. And a lot of it is because we have introduced some characters that I think we would like to pick upon and work with even more, as well, explore other aspects of the world at that time. I mean, yes, we know World War II is in the winds. That it’s right around the corner and going to happen within just a month or two of this story. We know where Bruce is at the time. We kind of all have this vague idea of the trajectory of the DC Universe. And I think there are a lot of really interesting ripples that could add to that and flesh that out in a lot of different ways. But a lot of it is, it’s just, I make this version of Batman who’s finding his way, and kind of making it up as he goes along because there were no rules at that time, is one I’d like to explore a lot more as well. As Mike said, he’s a guy who’s just in his mid-twenties living in what is perceived at that time to be a futuristic world where things are changing fast. And it’s interesting to see I think how he would react to just what he has done and how the public starts to perceive him and what he has done.

MP: Yeah, I think it would also be, we haven’t really spoken of this, I’ve just been thinking about this while you were saying about Robin, it would actually be very interesting to see at some point what the thought process is behind that. Because you’ve got in the real world at that time all these young guys being sent off to fight. So what is the process of Batman thinking “OK, let me put an even younger boy in that fight.” There’s got to be something there that you can kind of latch onto.

AIPT: That’s a really good parallel that I don’t think was touched when Robin was introduced and that does really parallel Batman’s entire history afterwards is the implementation of teammates and partners. The last question I had was given this is a Black Label format and it’s a bigger page count Mike that you get to draw on and Dan you get to script for, and the pages are just genuinely bigger typically, how has that helped benefit the two of you in crafting this really well done narrative that seems to be perfectly fit for this style.

DJ: I’ll let Mike take most of that, but just in terms of starting it, a longer page count is nicer for a writer because it allows you to flesh things out in a way you might not in a 20-page story. Because you can think of a 20-page story with a second one to come, with 48 pages you have everyone’s attention right there on the spot, that’s a positive. So, then, even beyond that, to get us into a way we can flesh things out visually with bigger pages, I think Mike can really touch on that better.

MP: Yeah, it’s that space. It’s the sense of space and the sense of being able to add something to the story. You can put the 10-panel pages on, but still have that air around it rather than everything being cramped in. I mean, you can do it with the smaller pages as well, you can really add atmosphere. But, I think with these pages it really opens that atmosphere up. You can really utilize those gray tones, those shadows, and things like that. You wouldn’t think it would make that much of a difference on a bigger size, but it really does. And I think probably because it doesn’t pull together as much. You’ve still got that air to breathe [on Black Label format].

AIPT: Absolutely. When you mention the shadows, I couldn’t help but picture, there were certain pages, without going into it obviously, you feel them crawl across the page, those shadows. It’s like there are these watchful eyes over the characters and the reader to an extent. And I think that perfectly suits the emotions that the characters are experiencing at the time and the story that was crafted between the two of you as well.

MP: And I think a lot of people don’t use shadow to that extent, but I think shadows can be very useful tin portraying an emotional state as such.

DJ: yep.

AIPT: Absolutely. I think there’s a nice blending that the illustrations combine with the coloring, the way they kind of merge together. Those shadows don’t look like opaque ink falling across the page, it’s alive. It’s what if what makes the series so engaging in the first issue is the you feel the emotions of them in the narrative and the conversations that go on. But then you see it, and it’s almost like you’re there with them. And, I think that’s so well done

MP: Well, thank you. I appreciate that you noticed that. That’s great — thanks.

AIPT: Thank you again for the both of you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet and talk about this issue.

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