For nearly twenty years, writer/animator Paul Dini has been one of the driving forces behind the Batman Universe. Overseeing Batman’s adventures in a host of different media, including television, comic books and video games, Paul Dini has provided the ultimate voice for the heroes and villains of Gotham City via his near encyclopedic mind for Batman lore which allows him to truly understand the psyche of the characters that make up one of the comic book industry’s most successful franchises. Possibly his most important addition to Batman lore was the creation of endearing bad girl Harley Quinn who has become one of the most popular DC characters of the last decade. Paul Dini and the Batman Universe just seem to fit hand in hand.
In 2009, after the epic Batman: RIP storyline, the Batman titles were shaken up and Paul Dini found himself at the helm of a brand new book Batman: Streets of Gotham. Taking a look at some of the more alternative characters in Batman’s world, Streets of Gothamwas not so much about Batman, but how the heroes and villains of Gotham interact with the caped crusader’s mythos. Throughout the book Paul Dini focused on a host of different characters including Abuse, Hush, The Carpenter, Zsazsa, Damien and most recently Thomas and Martha Wayne themselves.
However, with the return of Bruce Wayne in late 2010, without any warning Streets of Gotham would shockingly be the first of the Batman books from the 2009 shake up to face cancellation. Surprising both fans, as well as the creative team, Streets of Gotham #21 will be the final issue, and is due on stands on March 23rd.
Despite the cancellation, Paul Dini is far from finished with Batman. Just this week it was announced that Paul will be the mastermind behind this summer’s new six part mini-series tied into the successful Arkham Asylum video game, acting as the brdige to the game’s sequel, Arkham City which is due out in the fall of 2011. While Arkham City promises to be one of the hottest mini-series of the summer, let’s take one last look at Streets of Gotham as we prepare to say goodbye to this unique title in the Batman legacy. Paul Dini took a moment to talk about some of the characters and concepts that made Streets of Gotham different from the other books.
Sam Tweedle: Streets of Gotham was the first Batman book that you wrote that didn’t feature Bruce Wayne as Batman. How did the death of Bruce Wayne affect your job as a Batman writer?
Paul Dini: I kind of dealt with it by sidestepping the whole Batman issue altogether. I found the relationship with Dick and Damien a lot of fun to write. I didn’t want to ignore it. There were also a lot of rewards and challenges in playing along with it. Dick is saddled with a kid who is a lot more of a hothead then he ever was back in the day. Also, Dick has to make his own peace with Batman. [He has to figure out] “How do I exist in this role after being Dick Grayson and then Robin and then Nightwing and now I have to be Batman full time.” I think Alfred said it really well in one of Grant Morrison’s books when he said “Batman is a role and your job is to go out there and play the role of Batman. You’re more playing the role then becoming somebody else. ‘ I forgot how he said it exactly but it was a very good spin on it and I tried to put that in the back of my head when I was writing Dick as Batman. But Streets of Gotham was really about other people’s view of who Batman is and they are encountering Batman as simply a guy in costume. He’s big and he’s threatening and he acts the same way and people have no idea that’s it’s a shared identity. They just respond to the guy in the costume and try to get out of his way accordingly. Certainly that was the case with the two part Carpenter story.
Sam: That was a fun story. I really enjoyed the Carpenter a lot.
Paul: It came out of saying to myself that I would never write another story with the Carpenter because there is no where to take her, and then thinking, if I was going to write another story with her [what would it be] and suddenly I had another story with her. I roughed the story up pretty completely and then I gave it to Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs and they did the script for it. Derek in particular wrote a lot of that script. That was a fun way of working.
Sam: Personally I hope we see the Carpenter again.
Paul: Yeah, I think in little doses she works fine. I think as a presence in the Gotham City infrastructure she works pretty well because, for whatever reason, Streets of Gotham told stories about villains and heroes and who services them. There is that mysterious woman named Jonesy that makes things for Abuse. We get an idea that she makes things for anybody who can just meet her price. Someone has to have a business that makes grappling hooks and trick umbrellas.
Sam: You also have The Broker who sells real estate to villains looking for secret lairs and hide outs.
Paul: Yeah. Gotham is home for its heroes and villains so there has to be services that provide for them. It can’t be just a never ending supply of henchmen who get killed off depending on who the lead villain is. Gotham is a hard city to make a living in, and that goes for the people who service the heroes and villains. At any time the Broker knows his number may be up. That’s why he never tells his real name to anybody. That’s why it unnerves him so badly that Batman knows who he is, and when he has that face to face with Batman, it is Dick in the costume. I didn’t say that it was Dick in the costume, but the Broker says “Usually you just beat me up and think what you want. Why are you negotiating?”
Sam: Are you happy to be writing Bruce Wayne stories again?
Paul: Sure. I like the character an awful lot and I had fun with Hush masquerading as him. I have a way to wrap that story up in a big way to bring a face to face story between Bruce Wayne and Hush. That’s where The House of Hush leads too.
Sam: I was not a fan of Hush when he first appeared, but you have managed to really flesh out the character by revealing aspects of his close ties to Bruce Wayne’s past, and has really made him into a complex and interesting character. Your cliffhanger in The Heart of Hush when he stole Catwoman’s heart was one of the best cliffhangers of the decade.
Paul: I like Hush an awful lot because he is the anti-Bruce Wayne. Something that has floated through every Batman writer’s head at some point or another is if Joe Chill had not stepped out of the alley and shot Bruce Wayne’s parents when he was eight or nine, would he would have paid somebody else to [shoot his parents] by age ten? I don’t believe that it’s exactly true, especially now that I am doing The House of Hush which really gets into Martha Kane as a person and Thomas Wayne when he was a younger man. What I want to do is to build the foundation of a really strong background for Bruce so that when you look back at these people when they were younger and they first met and they were both starting off very idealistic, it really is a tragedy that they die. I know that in the Black Glove story they got into it a little bit by saying that they were tedious and they were socialites and they were party people and stuff like that, I think that was the guise that Dr. Hurt was painting them as. In The House of HushI want to show that they were terrific people and that their death had meaning for Bruce. I think that writer’s fanaticize that if Bruce had grown up to be a spoiled brat then would he would pay someone to kill his parents so he could get the money early. Well, you can’t really do that with Bruce, but you can do that with Tommy Elliot. Just as I want to show that Martha and Thomas Wayne were really wonderful and honorable people, I want to show that Roger and Marla Elliott were really awful. They were pretty terrible people and atrocious people, and that they were out for themselves and greedy and grasping and made alliances with people who were no good and that Tommy couldn’t have turned out any other way.
Sam: This next question is going to be a bit of a departure from what we’ve been talking about, but I want to pick your brain on this subject. Very recently Smallville character Chloe Sullivan was added to official DC continuity. This is a trend that has happened over the decades at DC when a character from television is brought successfully into the DC Universe. One of the most successful examples is Harley Quinn, who you created. Also in 2010 King Tut, from the 1960’s Batman TV series was brilliantly brought into DC continuity in an arch in Batman Confidential. If you were going to take a character from the 1960’s Batman series that was created solely for the show and was to bring him to regular continuity, which character would you bring over?
Paul: Probably the Bookworm.
Sam: Is that something we might see one day?
Sam: So why the Bookworm?
Paul: Who else do I have? There is The Archer. He’s just evil Green Arrow. There’s Shame. He’s a cowboy. Batman fighting a cowboy? What did he do? Steal trucks or something? Pass. Egghead? A guy who’s obsessed with eggs? I mean, Vincent Price as a villain was good. Vincent Price fighting Batman is interesting but as a character Egghead wasn’t good.
Sam: But it did give them an excuse to hit Burt Ward with eggs.
Paul: I mean where can you go with these guys? False Face? I kind of did that with Façade. Then you have Zelda the Great. Basically that’s an evil version of Zatanna.
Sam: My favorite was always Lesley Gore as Pussycat.
Paul: Yeah. Then there is that. Catwoman has had many apprentices over the years. But then there is Colonel Gumm. No no no. The more they got away from the regular rouges the less I liked it.
Sam: So what would you do with the Bookworm?
Paul: Well the Bookworm is interesting to me because I like Roddy McDowell’s portrayal of him. You look at him and you ask what can he bring. Is his gimmick interesting? With somebody like Egghead or Shame its pretty one note. But with the Bookworm here is a guy with all of literature at his control. While the Mad Hatter is pretty much based on Lewis Carol, the Bookworm can be inspired by different writers. the Bookworm might be able to set a trap out of Edgar Allen Poe, or a Raymond Chandler type of mystery. He has a library full of inspiration. Anything that has traps or riddles or characters from different literature that you could make an interesting Bookworm story. He crosses into territory that the Piper and The Mad Hatter, but at least you have somewhere to go. Character wise he didn’t have a lot going for him, but you could make him a writer who never sold anything on his own but was always referencing other writer’s work or that he was bullied as a kid and then became a librarian and became evil. I’m not saying that you couldn’t have a cowboy or a western villain like shame and make him interesting, but you’d have to give him more then just the look. Then you’d be doing Terra Man and Superman in the 70’s and nobody wants to go there.
Sam: No. I think when Black Adam ripped Terra Man in two he did us all a favor.
Batman: Streets of Gotham #21 hits stands on March 23rd but you can still catch up with Paul each month in the pages of Zatanna, and keep a look out for more information on Batman: Arkham City due out this summer.