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BATMAN: DARK VICTORY - Jeph Loeb
The writer discusses the year's best mysteryand some of the secrets behind it.
By Russell Lissau
November 29, 2000
It took 13 long months for Batman to catch the Hang Man, the mysterious serial killer who's been whacking Gotham City cops in the pages of Batman: Dark Victory
. The maxi-series, which wrapped up earlier this month with a spectacular double issue, finally revealed the identity of the Hang Man.
Now that the story is complete, writer Jeph Loeb was kind enough to come down to the station house to answer some nagging questions about the series, its many mysteries and the Hang Man. That's not to say Loeb answered every question as thoroughly as some fans might like. We leaned on him pretty hard, but the guy just wouldn't squeal. So in the spirit of the Dark Knight Detective, we'll try to fill in some of the blanks ourselves based on the clues Loeb and artist Tim Sale left for us within the pages of Dark Victory
Here are some of the burning questions fans are asking about Dark Victory
.Was the Hang Man really Sofia Gigante?
Yup. In several scenes in the final issue, Loeb and Sale made it perfectly clear that Sofiadaughter of crime boss Carmine 'The Roman' Falconewas the Hang Man...er, Hang Woman. That's a far cry from the conclusion of Dark Victory
's predecessor, Batman: The Long Halloween
, which left readers guessing as to the true identity of the serial killer known as Holiday. Sure, Alberto Falcone, Sofia's brother, admitted being Holiday and was convicted of the Holiday murders. But a surprising basement confession by Gilda Dentone that implicated her and husband Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face, left much unanswered. Three years after the series wrapped up, it's something readers still debate.
As for the Hang Man, Loeb says he knew the secret identity of the killer as soon as work began on Dark Victory
. 'The story was carefully paced out, in three acts: the introduction of all the characters (with the exception of Dick Grayson), the coming of Dick Grayson and what that meant to the story and the resolution of everyone's story,' he says. 'We knew from the first page who the Hang Man was. The trick was staying ahead of the readers. The funand it is meant to be funof being an armchair detective is figuring things out before the seriesor movie or bookends. This time around, the detectives (the readers) were extra sharp, having been honed on The Long Halloween
, so they were looking wherever they could for the answers. And, as I've always maintained, the answers are there. I know they're there because Tim and I put them there and too many people have found them.'Why did it take the 'World's Greatest Detective' more than a year to catch the killer?
The smart-ass response is that the mystery lasted 13 months because it was a 13-issue series. But if you look deeper, there is a better answer: Nobody's perfect.
'The joy of working with Batman is that he is a man,' Loeb says. He is capable of making mistakes, and no one is harder on himself than he is. He spent a year trying to catch Holiday and had spent all this time thinking it was Harvey, only to be wrongat least in his mind. Now, time passes, and another serial killer is at it again with lots of the same suspects, only this time he is convinced it is not Harveybut all the clues point in that direction. Add to that the Scarecrow's fear gas and you have a detective who is second-guessing himself, which Batman cannot do. It, however, created a need. Archie [Goodwin, the late DC editor who handled The Long Halloween
] used to tell us that it was always helpful to have 'another pair of eyes' look over our workwhether to proof it or to think about itand in some ways, Batman needed to learn that lesson. Those 'eyes' became Dick.'The last anyone saw of Sofia in The Long Halloween, she was falling off the roof of Carmine Falcone's penthouse. In Dark Victory, most peoplereaders and characters alikeassumed she had plunged to the ground and was left a paraplegic. But in Dark Victory #13 it was revealed she actually had crashed through a window and could walk. What gives?
Repeat after us, please: There was no body. There was no body. There was no body.
'I actually prefer that death is death,' Loeb says. 'But, it is part of what we doand unless there is a body, all bets are off. And even then, it sometimes doesn't matter! As long as there was no body, she could have survived. Archie always wanted her to have survived and been found by Solomon Grundy. They would have this nightmarish love affair of two near dead creatures. There was a time when I tried to make that work, but our plans for Sofia got...bigger.'What exactly were the clues left on each of the Hang Man's victims? Was it the phrases, the discarded letters or the documents they were printed on? Or was it all of the above?
Here's where Loeb gets evasive. And who can blame him, really? No magician ever wants to reveal his secretsand that rule applies to mystery writers, too.
'I don't like to peel the onion back too much or all you get left with is stink,' Loeb says. 'Dick Grayson was correct. The notes were messages. When you read them in that manner, you have an understanding as to what The Hang Man was saying all along.'
Loeb is serious about not wanting to ruin the Dark Victory
experience for readers. To explain all the secrets and all the clues before fans get a chance to find them on their own would take away a lot of the fun of the experience, he says.
'I'm a big believer in spoiler warnings,' Loeb says. 'Billy Crystal once said (in the film When Harry Met Sally...
) that he always reads the last page of a book first. That way if he never finishes the book, he knows how it ends. Personally, I can't stand watching the 'Next time on Buffy
' part of the show. I have something of a photographic memory, so I remember all the little details, and that sticks in my head and changes the experience.'
Loeb applies the 'no spoilers' rule to comics, too. 'It makes the experience richer,' he says. 'When I talk to the readers of The Long Halloween
and Dark Victory
, they have different theories and different interpretations of what happened. Unless it is mired in confusion that's a good thing, that it isn't so clear that there isn't anything to talk about. If I come out and say, 'Look, the blood on the floor is proof that Mr. Mustard was here with Miss Scarlet'well, that pretty much says it. I'm delighted when someone points out something that wasn't intended but works for the story and I'll be happy to think to myself, 'Damn, Tim and I are good!''Dark Victory's first mystery was revealed way back in the fifth issue: District Attorney Janice Porter's lover turned out to be Two-Face. There were other little mysteries, too. Why?
Because you asked for them.
'The readers told us in many ways that they wanted a more complex story,' Loeb says. 'Folks who read The Long Halloween
were looking in cabinets and cupboards for things that weren't there. So, Tim and I decided to put some things there and see who found what. Porter's life was the first chance for the reader to get ahead of the tale. But nearly every character had a motivation and a mystery about them. My favorite was that the Maroni brothers were twins. We had one reader who got that in the first issue. It was just weird, since there wasn't anything that even remotely hinted thatbut he was right.'Dark Victory
readers really seemed to enjoy the extra mysteries, Loeb said. 'They told us in e-mails, in letters and in (message board) postings that they were digging what we were doing and that it was okay to keep throwing in more curves,' he explains. 'Otherwise, since we weren't writing or drawing that far ahead, there were things that could've been streamlined. For example, the entire thread of (Hang Man suspect) Mario Falcone talking to the person in the shadows could've been droppedit would have been replaced with something else to keep Mario alive in the story. But as it was, it added another layer to his character and to whoever he was talking to.'Where did the idea of the Hang Man come from? This was not an established Batman villain, unlike most of the other characters in the series.
The inspiration for Dark Victory
's vengeful killer came from an unusual source. 'I found a playing card that had the game on it,' Loeb says. 'It was very simple, black and white, with the words 'Hang Man' on it. It started there. For a very simple game, we sure made it complicated to play, though. I called the puzzle master for The New York Times
to talk about the game and the way it could be played. He had helped with the riddles on Batman Forever
, the one with Jim Carrey as the Riddler, so I took the chance that he would return my call. He was really very helpful. I wanted to thank him in the letters pages but we ran out of letters pages!'In the final issue, Loeb and Sale knocked off the last remnants of Gotham City's gangster era, courtesy of the brutal Columbus Day massacre. Why didn't they keep some of these nasty characters around for other creators to use?
'The transition from Gangsters to Freaks has always been part of the bigger story,' Loeb says. 'Batman says, right up front in issue #1, that Gotham City would no longer tolerate the gangster. I don't think he intended to have something worse replace it, though!'At the end of Dark Victory, readers finally learned why Catwoman was so interested in the Roman: She believes he is her biological father. Since Catwoman's parentage has been established in DC continuity, how is that possible?
Catwoman has been a thorn in Carmine Falcone's side since writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli's original Batman: Year One
story. But no one has ever explained whyuntil now. In one of the last sequences of Dark Victory
#13, Selina Kyle, standing alone at Falcone's gravesite, reveals that she tormented him and repeatedly robbed him because she believes she is his daughter. With his money, she was able to make her way from the streets of Gotham to the city's elite and swanky circles.
'This was something that we had wanted to do at the end of The Long Halloween
,' Loeb says. It was all there, and we just needed the Bat Office to give it the OK. At the time, for one reason or another, they didn't and it didn't really affect the storyand given what they had let us get away with, we didn't have any bones about it. But, it was still out there. Enter Mark Chiarello, our new editor and cheerleader. Things change. People change. Ideas change. Mark spoke with the Bat Office as we were finishing out the year, and again, it was a story that could have been left unanswered, but it fleshed out the big question, at least for us, as to how Selina made the jump to society from the streets.
'But as many folks have pointed out, it is only what she thinks,' Loeb continues. 'I could think that I'm Clint Eastwood's grandson and that doesn't make it so. But in terms of continuitywhich I try not to get mired inshe believes he is her real father, her birth father. She didn't get raised by him, she didn't know him. She actually says that they never spoke while he was alive and that there was no reason for them to start now. We don't know, yet, how she knows thisbut she does. So, all the stories about her abusive father and that world still hold. She can, however, believe that she was owed a better lifea life that was typified by the Roman. And we did it with the Bat Office, so if it is part of 'continuity,' so be it!'Loeb and Sale are moving from Gotham City to New York for their next project, Marvel's Daredevil: Yellow. Are they tired of Bat-signals and murder mysteries?
Not quite. But if they come back to Gotham, the story would have to be right.
'I never say never,' Loeb says. 'I didn't think we were coming back to the Bat after Batman: Ghosts
[the final Halloween one-shot]. Sometimes we don't get to pick the stories we tell, the stories pick us. Batman is a great character. Great characters lend themselves to great stories. Tim and I try and tell the best stories we can and hopefully, folks like them. If a new tale of the Dark Knight comes to mind, I'm sure we'll be discussing it.'