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Andy Diggle and Leandro Fernández usher us into 'Gotham by Gaslight - The Kryptonian Age'

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Andy Diggle and Leandro Fernández usher us into ‘Gotham by Gaslight – The Kryptonian Age’

The creators talk legacies, setting as a character, worldbuilding, revolutions, and much, much more.

When they accepted the assignment for Batman: Gotham by Gaslight – The Kryptonian Age, both writer Andy Diggle and artist Leandro Fernández recognized the sheer magnitude of the task ahead.

“I mean, it’s the original Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola,” said Diggle in a recent Zoom call. “That was before the official Elseworlds line was even a thing. It wasn’t something that people were used to seeing…the classic heroes in these alternative universes. It was a pretty rare occurrence. And the fact that it was a one-shot made it very accessible — something people would just pick up on a whim rather than putting a huge investment into it.”

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Added Fernández in another, earlier call, “Maybe I got it a few years later. I was trying to learn a lot from a lot of sources to improve my study and to learn. And the first thing that caught my attention was because it was one of the first works I’d seen from Mike Mignola. The storytelling that Mignola uses is really interesting, and I could say it’s been a big influence to me. Mostly because I always try to have work based on heavy black and white.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the pair aren’t fully committed to doing something important that adds to the Gaslight and Elseworlds legacy — a legacy they’re effectively relaunching as issue #1 lands this week (June 11). Based on the premise, there’s solid evidence that the book could achieve said goals and then some. The Kryptonian Age follows both the 1989 original series and its 1991 follow-up, Batman: Master of the Future (from Augustyn and artist Eduardo Barreto). This time around, a “mysterious meteor falls on the wide-open plains of the Midwest,” which kicks off “a chain of events that find Batman contending with not just the twin threats of the Catwoman and a mysterious international assassin but also the emergence of superhuman beings beyond all comprehension.”

If that premise seems a bit more fantastical than other Gotham by Gaslight stories, that’s sort of the point.

“If you run with the original, there was nothing supernatural in that book,” said Diggle. “There were no high tech gadgets or superpowers; it was just a straight crime thriller that happened to be set in the late 1880s. And then in the sequel, Master of the Future, there was some vaguely Jules Verne science fiction elements. It had a zeppelin, but those existed back then. It didn’t really feel particularly like a superhero universe. And one of the reasons I wanted to do this and call it The Kryptonian Age, even though Superman does not appear in the first issue…it inherently suggests something science fiction. To let people know, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get there. You’re just not going to get it straight away.'”

Gotham by Gaslight

Variant cover by Francesco Mattina. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Added Diggle, “I wanted it to feel like a natural progression of the world. It would feel too much if suddenly we have an alien invasion in issue #1. So, again with that idea that the world is balanced on the cusp of great new scientific discovery. The idea that, to what these people felt like science fiction, is in the process of becoming actual science facts and using that as a way of bringing in some of the more superheroic elements.”

The team are quite committed to a slower, dedicated approach — so much so that Diggle said that the story will be released as two six-issue “arcs” to help with pacing. The trick, then, is to make certain rules and abide by them in the name of the story and its larger premise/focus.

“If I approached the whole thing like it was grounded and realistic with no sci-fi like the original book, how would you do the JLA like that,” said Diggle. “How do you do Superman with no superpowers? It’s just not going to work. So early on, I had to agree with myself that magic is real and there are aliens, but to present it to the characters in this world so that it’s not necessarily obvious that’s what it is or that’s what’s going on. They might think it’s something else.”

Added Diggle, “I’m using John Constantine in a really fun way, and he’s going off on his own almost side quest, which turns out to be connected to everything else. But he’s one of the few characters early on who genuinely does believe in magic, but he doesn’t actually know as much about it as he thinks he does. He’s got the wrong end of the stick about things. And his discoveries, as he’s investigating what he thinks is going on, turns out to be something that’s a lot more, shall we say, DCU.”

That slower, more deliberate approach isn’t just about easing people in; it’s also about trying to build onto and extend the Gotham by Gaslight world to both respect a new audience as well as the source material.

“I always try and approach storytelling assuming that people are coming in cold,” said Diggle. “Because, frankly, I get lost with that stuff myself. I like to keep it simple. There’s only so much stuff I can keep in my head in one go. You don’t have to have read the original or Master of the Future. I touch upon them briefly here and there, but literally just passing references. If you have some sense of who Batman is, then you’re good. Because literally every other character is going to be introduced to you from scratch.” Diggle added that he went so far as to pen “new origin stories for a dozen well-known characters,” including Catwoman.

“The story is about the discovery of these characters and it’s about bringing them together,” said Diggle. “I’m trying to do the ‘Avengers Initiative ‘over 12 issues instead of doing it over the course of six movies.”

But Diggle does hope that readers take whatever preconceived ideas and relationships they have developed as they move into The Kryptonian Age.

“Readers are going to have their own sense of who Catwoman is or who Superman or Green Lantern are or Lex Luthor from regular DC books,” said Diggle. “But, they’re not going to know what to expect from them in this. And so part of the fun for me has been introducing characters fairly gradually as we work our way through it.”

Gotham by Gaslight

Variant cover by Jock. Courtesy of DC Comics.

The story is so gradual, in fact, that Diggle himself is still very much exploring some big parts of the story and this building of the Gotham by Gaslight world.

“I’m currently writing the issue [as of Monday, June 3] where [Batman and Superman] actually meet each other for the first time…in a setting that is hopefully going to be unexpected,” he said. “It’s not where you would expect them to meet. And it’s not the kind of situation in which you would expect them to meet.”

While things in The Kryptonian Age are clearly quite new and different, there’s no denying that Batman’s very much built for this overarching story.

“There’s something about Batman that just really lends himself to that kind of dark, Gothic, brooding, 19th century world,” said Diggle. “You can imagine him riding a horse and everything being coal-powered and steam-powered.”

At the same time, though, there’s an important balance at play here. Batman can do heaps of things, but there’s always factors required for ultimate Batman-ness.

“That’s one of the reasons that Batman is such an iconic character,” said Diggle. “Because if you keep that core right, you can change everything else. You can change the window dressing and you can change the location. And you can tell all kinds of different stories with him. You could do a kind of Tom Clancy techno-thriller-type story, or you can do a Gothic horror vampire supernatural thing. Batman can go to space and he can go to hell. You can do whatever you want with him, but Batman is still Batman. If he starts acting out of character, then readers are going to notice that and they’re going to point it out.”

For the most part, Fernández says that he and Diggle “knew that Batman was already designed, so we’re basically working with the designs from the original book.” That let them focus on “working with the Justice League and several other DC characters that we’re designing from scratch in this different universe.” But it’s not just characters, as Fernández explained. The pair also tried to put as much emphasis on the surroundings as well, treating them not just like scenery but vital parts of the story.

“One of the things that I wanted to put special attention to was to work on Gotham itself,” said Fernández. “We wanted to achieve that feeling that Gotham is a character by itself. I wanted to make the city like a special place to design in some ways. Not only how a city of that style could have been at that moment of time; I wanted to do something special. I mean, we’re talking about Gotham City. It has to be something with a strong personality.”

Fernández added, “We didn’t want it to attach to the first book’s design. We wanted to go in another way. This is such a big and powerful city — let’s make it even more. And let’s make it not only a powerful city by the factories themselves and all the development that [the revolution] will bring, but also because of the pollution and the bad things happening. Gotham City is this oppressive place that’s dark and dangerous, but it’s also ridiculous how high it is. It’s a vertical place where you can’t realize how you can walk around there. There’s always something hidden.”

DC Preview: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight - The Kryptonian Age #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

For his part, Diggle said he was inspired by one specific film to create this extra oppressive Gotham.

“The other thing with Gotham is like, we tried to not always, but largely you don’t see the sky,” said Diggle. “I got the idea from David Fincher’s Se7en. He wanted L.A. to not look like L.A. And he thought the way you do that was you just never see the sky. You see ceilings and the undersides of bridges to create that claustrophobic urban hell.”

But it’s not all about Gotham, either. With so many layered plots and places to explore, that same energy and approach informs the rest of the locations in The Kryptonian Age.

“Even if the name is Gotham by Gaslight, it’s not only going to be about that,” said Fernández. “It’s going to be about that moment of time.”

Fernández added, “At the same time when we go to another place like Kansas, which has the wilderness and the wide open spaces and the big skies, there will be a lot of contrast. Plus, with the landscape, we’ll be hitting on the history of it. Even the storytelling approach we have when we are in Gotham City, it’s different than when we are in another place.”

Ultimately, it wasn’t just about delving into individual characters and settings, but trying to respect the timeframe in a way that helped the story without hindering it too much.

“It’s very funny to try to adapt characters that are so popular and that have such a big history behind them,” said Fernández. “Like, how would they be if they were in this particular moment of history? We wanted to give that feeling to readers. With every one of them we asked, ‘How would they be in 1893?’ So I tried to search a lot of references to be coherent with the historical things. At the same time, I wanted to have a certain mood of how a city like that, during an industrial revolution, how that big moment will look. So there will be a lot of new things.”

That even means the way the story itself works or unfolds feels perfectly suited for the moment in history.

“Anything important that happens in the world, we are used to seeing the reaction in the other point of the world automatically,” said Fernández. “But this was a different time. The world was bigger. There was too much to explore yet. If you wanted to go from one side to another, you maybe needed two months just to take a ship. So that’s part of the story.”

As such, that begins to really get at what The Kryptonian Age is really all about: a massive period of upheaval and change. One that plays into the globe-trotting aspect of the world for a rather targeted reason.

“But how the whole project originated was me just riffing on ideas of what else is going on in other parts of the world. What might the other heroes look like,” said Diggle. “What might the other villains be up to in 1893? So when us Brits think of that age, we think of cliches of Queen Victoria and Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper and cobbled alleyways in London. What I imagine for Americans is that equivalent myth of the tail-end of the Old West. Wide open spaces and wagon trains and big cities on the coasts.”

DC Preview: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight - The Kryptonian Age #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

The mid- to late 1890s, then, were a massive moment in history, and a time where the world reconciled with its various differences and similarities and made these massive leaps forward.

“It’s an age of change, especially with mass industrialization…really leading to a growing difference between the rich and the poor,” said Diggle. “But at the same time, America very much is the land of opportunity; the American dream is still a thing where…you can go and get your own little plot of land and work. And if you work hard enough, you can make it. So that combination of this age of hope, but also standing on the cusp, as you say, of the 20th century.”

Diggle believes that this era is actually perfectly suited for the adventure and thematic ideas you’d find in almost any Batman/superhero story.

“But I guess there’s a degree to which that also lends itself weirdly to superheroes, the age of these optimistic characters and science itself revealing these new wonders,” he said. “I mean, they were figuring out quantum theory at the turn of the century; it boggles my mind to think about it.”

That core idea remains pivotal to this book. It’s about progress and innovation, yes, but also the kind that changes the tone and expectations of society. The very notion that informed these Elseworlds tales in the first place.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research into things like quantum theory. I don’t pretend to understand it, honestly,” said Diggle. “But it occurred to me that, well, when you’ve got a science villain like Lex Luthor, he’s meant to be one of the smartest men in the world. Well, what if he figured out the stuff that [Albert] Einstein and [Niels] Bohr and [Werner] Heisenberg figured out whilst having access to the technology that you’ll find in a superhero comic. I just thought, ‘OK, well, that would literally change the course of history, wouldn’t it?’ So maybe the 20th century is going to go a slightly different way in this version of Elseworlds.”

Diggle added, “The characters don’t know that World War I is only 20 years away or whatever it is, or all the horrors of the industrialization of warfare.”

That idea, then, brings up something especially important about The Kryptonian Age. For all the sci-fi madness and brooding landscapes, it’s ultimately a story about the people and how they’re responding to this extra weird moment in history. That certainly informs the introduction of a new version of Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

“I had a lot of fun with [her] in the first issue, who is in some ways very similar to the traditional version and in some ways is very different,” said Diggle. “However, you can tell it’s still the same character underneath the trappings in the setting and the same personality and the same motivations and the same methodology, but just given a different place in society. It’s like music mixing, I guess. You just turn this up and turn that down and just tweak it a little bit here and there. You can end up with these very surprising and fun contrasts.”

Andy Diggle and Leandro Fernández usher us into 'Gotham by Gaslight - The Kryptonian Age'

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Like Batman, though, there are things fundamental to Catwoman that cannot change. And it’s this story, especially, that seems to be tailored to exploring those “rules” with gusto.

“For me, the core of the character is she doesn’t care about other people’s rules, but she still has a code of her own,” said Diggle. “She’s not a psychopath and she’s not a murderer. She doesn’t care about breaking the law, but she does care about consequences and collateral and all the rest of it. So she’s like an anti-hero in that respect in that she follows her own code rather than society’s rules.”

Diggle added, “And I think the idea has always been embedded in the character…that she came from a rough background and she had a hard time growing up. She has taken to crime to create a better life for herself, but also for the other people around her. She’s not somebody who pulls the ladder up behind herself; she tries to help out other people who have been in similar situations. So it’s that combination of the selfishness of crime but also charity.”

Diggle mentioned that it’s this dichotomy that has made Catwoman a non-traditional member of Batman’s rogues gallery.

“I guess a lot of the classic characters are quite binary, especially when they’ve got the real name and superhero name and the mask and there’s just these two sides of them,” he said. “But, of course, real people are much more complex than that. And so what you want to do is show there’s actually a spectrum. It’s not just that there’s two masks.”

Through that understanding, the team were able to delve more deeply into both Batman and Catwoman individually and also as an iconic pairing.

“A cliche with Batman is people often say, ‘Well, he’s so rich, why doesn’t he spend money to help the poor?’ And of course he does, but like that’s a very exciting story to read,” said Diggle. “If you’ve read the first issue, then you can see that I’m trying to do something similar with Selina here as well. She just goes about it in a very different way…she and Batman are not actually that different. They might be doing things for slightly different motivations, but their methodologies are actually pretty similar. I mean, they’re both breaking the law and they’re both sneaking around on rooftops and beating people up for not wildly different reasons.”

This deeply human approach extends not just to cities and the pace and whatnot, but even this book’s sense of relevance. While Diggle said that this story “isn’t a metaphor for anything specific in the present day,” he added that he’s felt “certain resonances with stuff going on” while writing this book, and this “feeling of standing at the cliff edge”on a societal level.

“It feels like we’re on the cusp of huge change over the next decade or two, and change is always scary,” said Diggle. “I tried to address that in issue #1, just with the speech that Julie [Madison, Bruce Wayne’s betrothed] was giving at the Gotham Museum. So in that general sense, yes, one of the things in this book is about this feeling that the world is about to change.”

Andy Diggle and Leandro Fernández usher us into 'Gotham by Gaslight - The Kryptonian Age'

Main cover to issue #2 by Leandro Fernández. Courtesy of DC Comics.

However, Diggle said that he’s not sure how much of these feelings are “hype…and how much of it is doom-mongering.” Change, it seems, is simply the way of the world.

“The world always changes and always is changing, and it tends to happen in fits and starts,” said Diggle. “Generally change is good, but even when it’s bad, we adapt and we survive. It’s what human beings have always done. The world’s been through cataclysms and world wars and pandemics and all the rest of it.”

Change is so essential, in fact, that we’ve gotten continually better about handling it in the first place.

“I guess as a parent, it makes me think a lot about how best to prepare my kids for a future that nobody can predict,” said Diggle. “But I guess one thing about kids these days is they grow up knowing that everything’s changing all the time. That’s kind of the sea in which they swim. So maybe it’s less destabilizing for them than it is for us old farts.”

It’s that very sense of optimism that Diggle and Fernández have held onto across the journey to get The Kryptonian Age into the hands of readers. Because despite all the big changes, methodical pacing, and massive ideas at play here, at the end of the day, this is a book by two creators who care deeply for the story and the medium. And that’s all you need no matter the gargantuan story that unfolds.

“I’ve got to tell you, imposter syndrome sometimes attacks me,” said Fernández. “And I feel like, ‘What am I doing here?’ My approach to this is just trying to do honest work and trying to do my best. I’ve got a feeling that when the artist enjoys what he’s doing, you can realize that just by looking at it. And it’s my hope that [readers] do because I’m having a lot of fun doing this.”

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