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BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS - Devin Grayson

The Bat-writer discusses her unique vision of Gotham City's Dark Knight.

By Russell Lissau     October 18, 2000

Devin Grayson had one goal when she started writing comic books three years ago: to tell stories about Batman. Period. Unlike most comics creators, Grayson wasn't into funnybooks as a child, so superheroes never really held any interest for her as a writer. But after catching an early episode of Batman: The Animated Series, she became fascinated with the Dark Knight's world and put aside a budding career as a novelist to discover exactly what makes the Caped Crusader tick.

And boy, has she ever succeeded. After learning the ropes in the comics biz (and gaining a devoted fanbase) on a variety of eclectic projectsincluding stretches on Catwoman and The Titans; the Arsenal, Nightwing/Huntress and Black Widow mini-series; and a co-writing gig on the 'No Man's Land' storyline that ran through all the Bat-titles in 1999Grayson scored her dream project this year when she created Batman: Gotham Knights, a new, and stunningly original, Batman series.

The book plays to Grayson's strengths as a writer and her curiosities about the Dark Knight's mythology by focusing more on Batman's personal battles and private motives than his fights with Two-Face, the Joker or other villains. Although there is action aplenty in Gotham Knights, the series' true strength is the way it provides an almost voyeuristic view of Batman's relationships with Robin, Nightwing, the Huntress, Batgirl and his other crime-fighting allies, as well as how it delves into the sacrifices the avenging hero has made and the psychological issues that push him in his quest to rid Gotham City of evil. No other Batman series has ever delved so deeply into the Dark Knight's psyche.

'Denny O'Neil gave me a lovely compliment the other day,' Grayson says of the legendary DC Comics editor. 'He said, 'They're not going to understand what you're doing until years after it's done, when someone picks up the whole run and realizes you've written a detailed psychological profile of the Batman.' I would love for that to be true.'

Bat-Analysis

For Grayson, the most interesting thing about Batman isn't his detective skills or his ability to beat up bad guys, but the fact that he himself is an enigma, a man who chooses to live a detached, lonely existence in spite of the many people in his life who admire and adore him. That self-imposed solitude, brought on by the horrific murders of his parents years earlier but surely fortified by his uncompromising dedication to his war on crime, certainly made Batman who he isbut it also keeps him from overcoming his grief. It's the price Bruce Wayne pays to be Batman.

'That's really what's at the heart of Gotham Knights,' Grayson says. 'The book focuses on relationships because relationships are where he's paid most dearly. If I were explaining Gotham Knights to someone who didn't know anything about Batman or superheroes, I might say that it's a story about a man who, despite being surrounded by people who love and respect him more than anything else in their lives, is always, in his heart, alone. I find that powerful and terrifically poignant.'

It's through Batman's relationships with the people around him that we see him at his best and at his most fragile. 'Batman can take down 20 men without breathing hard,' Grayson says. 'He can solve any case you throw at him. He can command the trust of all the world's heroes, be they super-powered aliens or super-dedicated police commissioners. But he can't sleep through the night. He can't meet his gaze in the mirror with a smile. And he can't tell the boys he's raised and trained like sons, or the man that's been his best friend and surrogate father for years, that he loves them. Because in Bruce Wayne's world, when you love someone too much, they die.'

That lack of personal intimacy is one of the characteristics that first drew Grayson to Batman. Another factor was that, unlike many other costumed heroes, Batman truly understands the evil he has dedicated his life to defeating. He's not a Boy Scout simply trying to make the world a better place like Superman or the original Captain Marvel. He's not a wise-cracking hero who fights crime because of powers he received accidentally like Spider-Man. Batman knows evil because it took away his parents. He knows pain because it's what he has felt every day since their deaths. So he spends his time attempting to eradicate the forces of wickedness and malevolence and corruption so that no one else has to experience his lifelong suffering.

'I absolutely feel for his predicament, which strikes me as being very real,' Grayson says. 'I don't usually admit this, but Batman was the first fictional hero I ever fully believed in. I felt like he was someone who, should he choose to, could keep me safe. I noticed that he was a man, seemingly mortal, who clearly knew pain and understood the power of darkness. And that for me meant that he could truly understand real human evil and real human pain in a way that I have never been able to believe that Superman or John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger could understand it. And I believed, in a sense, that he would believe in me.'

Origin Story

The creative seed for Gotham Knights was planted last year after Grayson ended her popular run on Catwoman, when O'Neil asked the writer what she might do with a Batman title of her own. O'Neil and other folks at DC then encouraged Grayson to develop a series that targeted her specific interests in Batman and his supporting characters. 'When I first picked my idea for Gotham Knights, which was essentially Batman Family: 2000, Denny admitted that he's always thought of Batman as a loner.' Grayson says. 'I agree that he is, but then that presents this wonderful story problem. How can you be a loner and also be surrounded by adoring devotees? Who are these people, and why does Batman allow them to get so close? Or perhaps a better question is, why does he keep them all at arm's length? I think that's interesting and worth exploring. At the end of the day, these are all just fictional comic book characters and you can say, correctly, that the supporting cast is there because of marketing. But so rarely in fiction do you get handed a puzzle like this, something to really sink your teeth into.'

As excited as she was to have her own Bat-book, the early days working on the title were rough. 'I was a wreckI literally threw up a few times writing the first script,' Grayson recalls. 'I so wanted to be worthy of the task, and of the trust the Bat-office was putting in me. What kept me sane was reminding myself that even if I wiped out completely, even if I failed at every conceivable level, chances are that I still wouldn't even begin to impact Batman The Icon. He'd shake me off like a bad case of fleas. I could ruin Gotham Knights, but there's no way I could single-handedly ruin Batman.'

She didn't have to worry. O'Neil, who has seen Bat-writers come and go through the years (and was one himself, of course), is absolutely thrilled with what Grayson has done with the series. 'I don't think anybody has recognized how radical this first year has been,' O'Neil says. 'This is fairly experimental stuff. It doesn't look like we're breaking format, but it is an approach to character that I don't know has ever been done in comics before. Devin is one of the most interesting young writers in comics. She combines a fan's appreciation and involvement with the characters with an utter sense of professionalism and a zest for storytelling.'

Beyond Batman

Grayson may have come to comics just to write Batman stories, but her credits stretch far beyond Gotham City. She has worked on more than 20 titles in her short career, everything from a 10-page story in The Batman Chronicles #7 (her first published work) to last year's JLA/Titans mini-series. Earlier this year she delivered her first creator-owned title, the six-issue Relative Heroes mini-series for DC. Another creator-owned limited series, called USER, should hit comics shops in January 2001 under DC's adult-oriented Vertigo imprint.

Before then, however, is the much-anticipated sequel to the Black Widow mini-series for Marvel Comics. Whereas Grayson wrote the original series by herself, the sequel will partner her with fellow Bat-writer Greg Rucka, who she first teamed with on the 'No Man's Land' storyline. Titled Black Widow: Breakdown, the three-issue series (which will be illustrated by Scott Hampton), picks up where its predecessor left off, with veteran crime-fighter and ex-spy Natasha Romanoff fighting over the Widow mantle with newcomer Yelena Belova. 'It's a very dark, twisted, unsettling tale that really gets to the gritty truth of what being a spy means,' Grayson says. 'Greg turned me onto the BBC series The Sandbaggers and also the brilliant series The Prisoner, and we both agreed that the way those shows dealt with the emotional realities of the espionage trade was something we wanted to explore and emulate. So this story is less James Bond and more The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.'

The Black Widow comics, both of which have been under the Marvel Knights umbrella, are the only books Grayson has ever done for Marvel. New Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, the former Marvel Knights head honcho, is delighted Grayson was able to make room in her busy schedule for a second visit to the Marvel Universe. 'It's just great to have Devin back, especially working with Greg Rucka and working on a character she created for us, the second Black Widow,' Quesada says.

The idea to bring Rucka aboard the project was entirely Grayson's. 'At the time the offer came up to do a Black Widow follow-up, my plate was really full and I needed an assist,' Grayson explains. 'I knew that the Black Widow character was very appealing to Greg, and that he had a lot of brilliant things to say about espionage and the life of the people involved in it. It's a passion of his, and I thought it would be really exciting and stimulating to include that passion in this series. In some ways it was a selfish decision on my part, because I enjoy working with Greg so much and knew it would make the whole process fly. And in another way, it was a way of giving a gift to Black Widow fans, because I really think Greg brings so much to the table.'

Grayson also is jazzed about the upcoming USER, which focuses on one of her other passions: online role-playing games. Fans of Grayson's work with caped crusaders and boy wonders should know that USER is no superhero tale. It focuses on a woman named Meg Chancellor who, bored and disappointed with her own life, escapes into a virtual fantasy world of knights and damsels in distress. (The title refers to the computer users who play online games.) The three-issue series will have two artists: legendary painter John Bolton (Batman: Manbat, Aliens: Earth War), who is illustrating the goings-on in Meg's fantasy world, and Sean Phillips (Wildcats, Hellblazer), who draws the action back in the 'real' world.

'I am so delighted by this art team, I don't even know where to begin,' Grayson says. 'I first became familiar with Sean Phillips' work on Wildcats, and I really feel that his wonderful storytelling sensibilities and his dynamic, expressive style are a tremendous asset here. And John Bolton's amazing artwork is familiar to almost anyone who reads comics. This was one of those experiences where the pages started coming in and I just saw the story being elevated to a whole new level. I can't draw a stick figure to save my life, and there simply are not words to express the excitement of seeing someone else giving you the gift of a fully rendered, spectacularly vivid depiction of your vision. In fact, Mr. Bolton and I enjoyed working together so much that we're at it again, currently in the process of proposing another creator-owned limited series to Vertigo.'

USER is Grayson's first Vertigo title. She enjoyed breaking out of the superhero mold and trying something new in the medium. 'I felt very comfortable and supported at Vertigo,' Grayson says of the series, which you can preview at Grayson's Website, www.2kcomics.com. 'In many ways, being able to abandon the superhero allegory was a tremendous relief to me, and it freed up a lot of what I consider to be my more powerful writing skills.'

But don't worry, Bat-fans: Grayson isn't planning to drop the Dark Knight's cape and cowl anytime soon. Although there are other types of writing she'd like to try, including a return to her long-abandoned novel, Gotham City is still her kind of town. 'I love Batman as much as it's possibly to love a fictional being,' Grayson says. 'I hope that shows.'

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