When the news came that lawfully wedded writers Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis (WEIRDEFILIPPIS.COM
) were going to use issues 26-28 of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL
to bring King Tut from the old 60s BATMAN
TV show into comics continuity, my initial reaction was a sigh of confusion. "Huh? What? Is this really what the fans are demanding?" Previous storylines by other writers had frustrated me, and this just didn't sound to me like the best way to get the book back on track.
I've never had a more enjoyable time being proven wrong.
My review of issue #26 was admittedly cautious, but I had a lot of fun reading it (and I've read it several times since). Issue #27 was even better, and the third and final chapter was a dazzling mix of action, mystery, and danger that doesn't just beg for a sequel but demands one.
Though the idea for the villain is based on the concept of the bad guy introduced on the cleverly silly old TV show, the only "camp" found in the "A New Dawn" storyline is of the Crystal Lake variety. The mysterious King Tut begins killing off museum executives, leaving riddles in his bloody wake. Batman and Jim Gordon reluctantly recruit The Riddler for his ability not only to solve brain-teasers but to anticipate them. But when opportunity quite literally strikes, will the tricky villain fulfill his promise or succumb to his lesser tendencies? Fans of Batman being Batman will enjoy the story and its ending that promises a terrifying new beginning.
Weir and DeFilippis -- the best wife-and-husband writing team in comics since Lane and Kent -- sweetly agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to talk to me about their experiences writing "A New Dawn" ... and what might be next for this dynamic duo.
John Bierly: First of all, I can't thank both of you enough for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. So let's start from the top. How did you two begin writing together?
Christina: We've both been interested in writing for a long time. For me, I had decided I was going to be the next great American novelist when I was six years old. Somewhere in high school, I switched my focus to film and television. Nunzio and I met in college, and he had similar aspirations. We both moved out to L.A. (him for grad school, me just after grad school) and pursued jobs in the industry. It was after I got a job on HBO's ARLISS as their script coordinator that I got to know the writers well enough to be able to pitch stories to them. Let's just say that I was a little under-confident and thought teaming up with Nunzio would infinitely increase my chances of selling them on a story. It worked so well that we kept the partnership going.
Nunzio: I was also a writer from childhood (though I confess that in high school I toyed with the idea of acting until a few trips onstage in college dissuaded me from that master plan). I had read comics my entire childhood, but I never really thought about writing them. I studied screenwriting in college, and got a master's degree in screenwriting when I moved to L.A. So when my college roommate -- Greg Rucka -- started his comic writing career, it was the first time I thought about writing comics. Christina and I started writing for TV together, and decided to stay a team in film. But I was going to pursue comics by myself. Christina was just starting to read comics, and it wasn't on her radar to actually write them. So Greg got me in the door, and I wrote an issue of DETECTIVE COMICS (#754) while Christina and I were still on staff at ARLISS. And I was going to pursue comics as a side gig -- writing on a TV show doesn't leave a lot of time for the intensive door-knocking and fruitless pitching that's part of breaking in at places like DC and Marvel. But Christina and I decided to write a screenplay about a serial killer who has corrupted the Navajo 'magic' of skinwalking. We started to map it out as a film, and -- as we do with a lot of our story ideas -- we bounced the idea off of Greg. And Greg, who'd found success and a sort of home at Oni Press when he did WHITEOUT, suggested that Oni would be a good home for SKINWALKER, and that a comic miniseries was a better form for the story. He was right on both counts. We'd been to a couple of comic-cons while I was trying the meet and greet thing, so we knew the Oni guys well enough to pitch it to them, and they liked it. Suddenly, Christina was writing comics! So we decided we were a team in all things.
JB: Where do you do most of your writing, and how do you collaborate?
Christina: We write at home in our office (when we're not traveling -- which we've done way too much of in 2009), though we both have laptops and I've discovered this new love of writing in the bedroom, in bed. I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. But we have a home office which is off the dining room and living room but is not its own separate room. I mention this because when we write together (which is our preferred method), it is usually me at the computer and Nunzio pacing around the apartment, talking as he walks. The open air set-up of our apartment allows him some good pacing room. In our old apartment, we'd be working on a scene and I would type something. Then I would turn around to get his opinion and find that he was gone. He'd paced his way out of the office and down the long hallway out of sight. Our current set-up is much more convenient! Anyway, in an ideal setting, we do all our writing together. We plot together, we do outlines together, we write the script together. But unfortunately, we don't always have time to do it this way. When we have multiple projects to juggle, we often have to trade off and multi-task. In which case, we still do all our plotting together and put together an outline or page breakdown that serves as our roadmap for the project. Then one of us will work on a scene or chapter while the other is working on something else. After that, we trade off and the other gets to look over the work and make whatever changes they feel appropriate. But because we've mapped out the story together ahead of time, it is still ultimately a work that represents us both.
JB: How would each of you describe the other's strengths as a writer, and how do you think you complement each other?
Christina: Nunzio is a puzzle guy. Both literally and in the more abstract sense. He does, in fact, love jigsaw puzzles. And he has this amazing ability to take seemingly disparate threads and weave them together into a story. He's the master plotter and I've learned a lot from him on that front over the years. He's always the one to see the bigger picture and know what steps need to be reached along the way. I tend to get lost in the moment, in an individual scene and he keeps me from meandering. Nunzio's been teaching a comic writing class for the past two years and I'm constantly impressed by his ability to take a student's pitch or full proposal and be able to see where they might run into problems down the line or help them break down their plotting thoughts so it's easier for them. It's a real gift, in my opinion. It does mean that he often gets stuck with a lot of the heavy lifting at the beginning. I think he's a master at distilling the core idea of a story down to a one page pitch for an editor. So when we have a new story idea, we bounce ideas of each other and talk it out, but I usually make him sit down and write the pitch. But then I get the opportunity to come in and help flesh out the feel and the detail of how those various moments play out.
Nunzio: If I'm the plotter, Christina is the one who brings the heart. Not so much because my writing is cold or sterile -- we're both character-driven writers -- but because I will often think of the twists and turns we can put a character and their personality through, and Christina will then be the one to make sure that what I'm pushing for the character to do or say is in keeping with that character. She's the one who makes sure that our characters sound right, and that their voices ring true, and that the story serves them, and not the other way around. Like I said, I try to be character-driven, too, but there are countless times I will get a line or an action in my head that I think is so damn cool, only to have her point out that this character wouldn't say or do that. I bitch, I moan, I try to fight it out ... but she's almost always right. There are writers whose dialogue is probably way "cooler" than ours, and they do really well. But sometimes that dialogue is more about sounding cool, or the character's action is more about looking cool, than it is about who the character is. Our dialogue and action is always 100% tested to be in character. And that testing always comes from Christina. It works well in combination with my strengths because I push the characters, try to stretch what it is they do, which helps them grow, and she keeps them in check, makes sure that growth always comes from the right place -- which is the character's core.
JB: Can you tell me about how you got the BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL gig?
Nunzio: Well, the job came to us through our editor, Mike Carlin, by way of Gail Simone. Gail has always been very supportive of us and our work, and she liked working with Mike, so she put us in touch with him. Now, we're at what could best be called a mid-level of success in the industry. We're not well known enough that every editor knows our stuff or has read it and wants to work with us. But we have enough credits that when we get a contact with an editor, they're happy to read our stuff. We figured Mike had seen or heard of our NEW MUTANTS work, so we sent him SKINWALKER. But, the thing about Mike is he's an old-fashioned four-color superhero guy, and a B&W book like SKINWALKER, with its heavy tones, was like a different medium to him. So, a ways after we sent it, he eventually confessed that the book wasn't for him -- he hadn't read it. Out of guilt, he figured the least he could do was hear out some of our pitches. He said he'd read our pitches for BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL. Some he didn't respond to, but one -- a Riddler/Batman team up tale -- he latched onto.
JB: How did the notion to write a story about King Tut come about? Whose idea was it, and how did the other react?
Christina: King Tut actually came from Mike. We approached him with a Riddler idea and the notion that a new villain, The Sphinx, was committing crimes and stealing his M.O. Mike liked the story and the whole Batman/Riddler team-up, but said "Hey, what if we use King Tut instead?" Nunzio is a fan of the old TV show and was on board right away. I've never seen any of the King Tut episodes, but as an historical figure, we realized we could do some cool stuff with it. We both like Egyptian mythology as anyone who's read our book THE TOMB. would know. So it all just came together very naturally.
JB: What was DC's initial reaction?
Nunzio: I think BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL is a low-profile enough book that the one person who needed to sign off on it was Mike. And he liked our new take on King Tut. We've since heard that the new version of Tut has made some fans at DC. Hopefully, it'll translate to him getting some use and a bigger role in Batman's adventures.
JB: What inspirations or approaches did you take to writing The Riddler, and what do you think sets him apart from Batman's other enemies?
Christina: I could answer this question, but Nunzio has such a love for The Riddler that I'm going to throw it over to him.
Nunzio: All good Batman villains have the ability to make you root for them a little bit (other than the Joker, who works nonetheless). Riddler is so desperate to prove himself, he'll go to any lengths to do it. For him, it's all about being acknowledged as the smartest man in Gotham. As a writer struggling to get people to see that we're talented, I can totally relate to the desperation of, "Don't you get how smart I am?" I wouldn't go as far as Edward, but hey, that's what keeps me out of prison. The thing, to me, that sets him apart is that I genuinely think he's RIGHT. He really is the smartest man in Gotham, and one of the smartest in the world. But his own pathology trips him up. If he didn't leave riddles at his crime scenes, if he didn't "play fair," he could easily commit crimes that no-one would ever solve, not even Batman. But he's so locked into showing the world his intellect, he trips up the very plans he makes to prove that intellect.
JB: One of the reasons I like the Nolan/Bale Batman so much is that he's a loner only to the extent that it's right for the mission, but he's also smart enough to know when to go to Alfred, Gordon, or Lucius Fox for help. It's one of the things I loved the most about the Batman in your story. I found your solution to be both fun and believable, but did you have any difficulties rationalizing why Batman would work with The Riddler?
Christina: Not really. Batman's certainly not happy about his temporary partnership. He and Riddler are never going to be buddies. But Batman is very practical and he does what he has to in order to get the job done. It would be far worse to let pride or arrogance get in the way of saving lives. And of course, how much trouble can the Riddler cause if he's right there under Batman's watchful eye?
JB: What was the most difficult aspect of writing The Riddler's interactions with Batman? What was the easiest or most fun?
Christina: I had the most fun with their banter. Riddler loves to poke at and needle Batman. Plus, he's clearly trying to prove himself without looking too much like he's trying to prove himself. They kind of fit into a big brother/little brother dynamic. I suppose the hardest part was getting Batman's responses right. You want to give him fun dialogue, but Batman's going to be a man of few words with the Riddler. He's not there for idle chit-chat. Fortunately, we had a great artist who we could trust to convey a lot of Batman's feelings with a look.
Nunzio: For me, the hardest part was making sure the riddles worked. They didn't need to be particularly tricky or complex ones -- they come from Tut, not the Riddler. But they had to play into Tut's psychology, and the history of Egypt, and Victor Goodman's failed theories about King Tut. Getting that right was important to us, and then taking that research and making riddles from it that both could be readily solved and yet weren't completely obvious was a big challenge.
JB: There's a lot of massive action in this story. What were some of your inspirations for that?
Christina: Inspirations ...? Well, I don't think you can help drawing from Indiana Jones any time you've got tombs and figures like King Tut. So there was a definite Indy vibe to some of our traps. We wanted to play with light a lot since King Tut's whole M.O. involved time of day and the Sun God. So it was important to use light and shadows to up the tension of any given scene. But for the traps in King Tut's lair, we were definitely going for a pulpy feel.
JB: When you sat down to create your version of King Tut, what aspects of his original character did you want to keep and how did you go about making him unique?
Nunzio: Well, legally, he couldn't be the same character, and we knew that up front. Beyond that, we couldn't let him have the same silly, campy tone of the series. I love that show, but its flavor doesn't match with current Bat-mythology. As a result, we had permission (and really, had instructions) to come up with a whole new character. However ... we wanted everyone to feel the connection, spiritually, to the Victor Buono version. So we kept what made sense -- the bump on the head of an Egyptologist -- and built everything else from scratch. We then wanted to name him in a way that was a loving tip of the hat to Victor Buono. The humor in Buono's portrayal we had to lose -- but we were able to keep a lot of humor by using The Riddler, one of the few Bat-villains who still allow a writer to write for laughs.
JB: How did legendary artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez become involved?
Christina: That was all Mike Carlin. He told us that he thought Jose would be great for the book. And really, who can argue with that? Plus, he later brought Kevin Nowlan to the table as well. Mike's very good at his job.
John: How did you react when you found out he'd be drawing your story, and what can you tell us about that collaboration?
Nunzio: I was pretty excited. He's a legend, and the only reason he wasn't on my "short-dream-list-of-collaborators" was because I didn't think it was in the realm of possibility. As for collaboration, it was all through Mike. We never communicated directly with Jose (which is a shame, because we want to buy one of the pages from him and are trying to do that through Mike). But we worked a little differently this time than the way we usually do. We'd do first drafts, and fix any big problems Mike would point out, but otherwise, saved the second draft until after Jose's pencils were in. He's got such a great sense of layout and visual flow, we'd be rewriting to fit with his superior layouts. Plus, he's so good at making characters act, we even tweaked some character stuff after seeing his art. Not because he got it "wrong" or drew it differently ... but because once you see his art, you KNOW your dialogue has to be taken to some higher level just to keep up.
JB: Everyone has their own idea of who and what Batman “Is.” Who is Batman to each of you? Do you have your own favorite interpretations of Batman?
Nunzio: My favorite Batman is the one from [BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. He had the darkness of recent interpretations, but there was also a lightening a bit. He wasn't absolutely crazy, which is the real danger when you make Batman so dark. We have to remember he is a hero. He may be driven, and he may have some flaws, but he's heroic, and he's not insane. The animated series allowed us to have fun, and it allowed Bruce Wayne to be complex, three dimensional. He could have fun, he could smile (once in a while), even if at the end of the day, he was too driven to have any other life than life as Batman.
Christina: I agree with Nunzio on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and on the need to not make Batman too crazy. One of the things I love about the recent films, and about Christian Bale's portrayal (he's my favorite Batman, by a lot), is that he may be a broken man, but he is not broken beyond repair. In fact, it is that hope for repair that drives both Bale Batman performances and movies. What has happened to Bruce has shattered his life, and being Batman is not necessarily the sanest response, but in Gotham it is the only response. And we want him to be able to move past it, to be happy, to heal ... even as we know that Gotham, as a place, as a state of being, will never allow that.
JB: Based on THIS VERY FUN POST on your official site, it's obvious that at least Christina enjoys Christian Bale as Batman. What are your thoughts on how Team Nolan is representing Batman on the big screen?
Christina: Oh boy. You had to dig up that post? I think I've gone on quite a bit about what I love about the Bale/Nolan Batman. Which is to say, everything!
Nunzio: I'm with her. I like George Clooney just fine, and I was once a Val Kilmer fan (REAL GENIUS is a brilliant and criminally underrated film), but their Batman movies kind of sucked, you know? And I remember thinking, in 1989, that Tim Burton had de-camped Batman. Yet, when you watch the Nolan films [BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK LNIGHT, they make Burton's Batman look like Adam West's! Now, I hold a very special place in my heart for the Adam West Batman, but I think there's a lot to be said for this more serious take. And, as Christina mentioned, they do a great job depicting Batman as troubled, but ultimately extremely heroic and not crazy or broken beyond repair.
JB: If you two ever got the chance to write a Batman movie, who would the villain be and why, and whom would you cast?
Christina: We'd write the King Tut movie, of course! Played expertly by Vin Diesel. Though actually now that I think about it Vin Diesel would make an excellent Mr. Freeze. But my favorite Batman villain is probably Two-Face or maybe Scarecrow. Cillian Murphy did an amazing job as Scarecrow so I wouldn't want to recast him. I also really like Aaron Eckhart as Two Face, so no need to recast there either.
Nunzio: The Riddler. I sometimes think Mark Hamill would be a good Riddler, or Steve Martin -- though both might be too old these days. I hear rumors about Johnny Depp from time to time, and while he doesn't look the part, never underestimate that man's ability to transform himself and become the character. He could do it.
JB: "A New Dawn" looks and feels like a classic issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. If you could write one Batman title, which would you choose and what might the story be?
Christina: If you're talking about the extended Bat family then I would bring back BIRDS OF PREY in a heartbeat. The story would be one that could bring the book back to my favorite roster -- Oracle, Black Canary and Huntress.
Nunzio: I'd like to see a teen superhero who actually attends high school. We got a lot of that in Robin for a while. I'd love to write a Robin book that focused on the struggle to balance teen life and Bat-life. Not sure if Tim can ever go back to that, or if Damian would ever be someone for whom normal teen life was an issue. Maybe a new Batgirl could have that struggle, but right now, no-one in the Bat family is built for it. I think, of the main books, I'd be interested in whatever Dick Grayson winds up doing after "Battle for the Cowl," whether he's Nightwing, Batman, or someone else entirely. I like him enough that I think I'd like a crack at him. Though, Christina's answer is probably my favorite completely hypothetical destination for us, as we both love Black Canary, and I am a huge fan of Barbara as Oracle.
JB: You've respectfully expressed an interest in writing a Green Arrow and Black Canary story if the gig ever becomes available. What other DC heroes would you love to have a crack at?
Christina: As mentioned above Oracle and Huntress are both favorites of mine. Definitely Nightwing. I like most of the Bat family, so any opportunity to play in Gotham is a good thing. Nunzio has impressed his love of '80s characters on me -- Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Blue Devil -- so I would have fun with characters like that. There are actually very few (if any) characters I can think of that I wouldn't want to write.
Nunzio: I've been lucky -- we've already had a crack (albeit briefly) with some of my favorites, like Superman, Zatanna, Batman, Nightwing, Bronze Tiger, Plastique, and Mirror Master. I could always write more with them. Still, there are plenty of others. Beyond Dinah and Ollie (a dream for us), I'd say Booster Gold, Blue Devil, Martian Manhunter, Blue Beetle (both Ted and Jaime), Steel, and Connor Hawke.
JB: You should both be really proud of this story, and as far as I'm concerned you can write Batman any time. I'd love to read another story from you two about King Tut, and the ending certainly demands one. Is there a chance we might be seeing a sequel sometime soon?
Nunzio: We have a pitch in at DC that we're very excited about -- it's not a King Tut follow-up, per se, but he (and Ankh) might make a minor appearance. We don't want to be "the King Tut writers," but we want to integrate him into DCU continuity, so if this pitch goes forward (big if), then we'll see if we can't manage to put him in there.
John: Do you have any other upcoming comics projects -- Batman or otherwise -- that you're allowed to discuss?
Christina: There's a long list of projects on queue from Oni Press. We've finished writing the sequel to PAST LIES (an Amy Devlin Mystery) called ALL SAINTS DAY. The artist, Dove McHargue, teaches and has triplets, so his plate's usually very full. But he's hard at work right now. There's been talk of a third Amy Devlin graphic novel as well, but that's very preliminary. We also have an ongoing book coming up called BAD MEDICINE. It's a medical horror story about a doctor who leads a CDC team to investigate the supernatural from a medical point of view. He's been gone for five years, ever since he accidentally killed one of his patients. She comes back to haunt him and ultimately take him on that five year journey in which he learns about all kinds of alternative medicine and science. His CDC team is filled with traditional scientists, and they deal with werewolves, the invisible man, spontaneous human combustion, things like that. Beyond those, we have two other projects with Oni -- one that has just found an artist (we think, knock on wood) and one that may be close to finding an artist. Once those artists are on board, Oni may start publicizing those books, and we'll be happy to talk them up. Our third and final volume of DESTINY'S HAND is also due out later this year from Seven Seas. We're very excited about that. It was fun to get to tell a pirate tale and our artist, Mel Calingo, did a great job. The third volume will be released in Omnibus form with the first two volumes, which will look really cool.
Nunzio: In terms of DC, everything we have coming up is more about the possibility than the reality right now, save for one project that looks pretty likely. Still, that one's too far off (and still not at 100% likelihood), so we can't talk about it. Suffice it to say, it's a chance to write one of my favorites that I haven't had a chance to write yet, and work with an editor we're very eager to work with and, if lucky, another artist off of that dream list. But more on that when it hits 100% and we can talk about it. Beyond that, there are some very exciting possibilities, but they're so far from definite and very likely to not come together. So while we're excited, we're not ready to assume anything.