If The Joker Isn’t Weird Enough, Check Out ‘Gotham By Midnight': An Interview With Writer Ray Fawkes
This week DC Comics releases the first issue of Gotham By Midnight, a new series by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith that blends black magic and police procedurals, and exposes the supernatural shenanigans that go on below the surface of Batman's hometown. Along with recent successes Gotham Academy, Arkham Manor, and the newly-revamped Batgirl, the book is part of a substantial overhaul and expansion of DC's Bat-family of titles under editor Mark Doyle.
ComicsAlliance sat down with writer Ray Fawkes to get some insight on what he and Templesmith have planned for Detective Jim Corrigan -- who longtime DC fans know is the original host of the vengeance of God, the Spectre -- and his shadowy squad of GCPD operatives.
ComicsAlliance: I have to tell you, before we really get started; I hear the title of this book, and get Patsy Cline's 'Walking After Midnight' stuck in my head. "I walk through Gotham, after midnight, out in the moonlight…"
Ray Fawkes: I can deal with that! But I’m gonna to take you on a trip through several horrible dimensions. So you’ll no longer be singing that song by the time you’re done.
CA: Will there be rotating art teams for this book?
RF: No, it’s Ben Templesmith drawing the book the whole time. He’s already drawing the stuff that turns my mind inside out, so I can’t wait till everyone else sees it.
CA: Are you coordinating closely with the rest of the Bat books, or are you given more freedom, since you're sort of off exploring your own dimensional corners of Gotham?
RF: Well, I mean, this book is in continuity. It shares the same setting and the same universe as the rest of the thing. But think of this book as the one where Jim Corrigan and his crew sort of lift up the corners of Gotham that no one else can see behind. So, everything that’s happening is in continuity, but we’re not necessarily beholden to that continuity, because we are looking at things that no other characters can see. They're things that, if Batman sees them, he can’t wrap his head around them, so he sort of, in a very manly way, begs Jim Corrigan for help. And Corrigan and his crew are the ones who are used to this extra-dimensional sort of hellishness, so they can deal with it.
CA: Which division of the DC universe would you place this in? There's the Justice League Dark magical sector, there's the Bat books, and this seems to be neatly positioned between the two.
RF: OK. So, almost everything that the Justice League Dark deals with is magical in this universe, with corridors leading to heaven and hell and all that. Jim Corrigan and his Midnight Shift are going to be dealing with the monsters that come from the places between the universes, from the places that human minds can’t normally comprehend. So if you think about it, the Justice League Dark takes on magic that makes sense. The Midnight Shift deal with the stuff that is so alien that the Justice League Dark wouldn't know how to speak to it.
CA: How did the concept for the series arise?
RF: This was actually part of a wave of Mark Doyle’s and Dan DiDio’s initiative to bring certain aspects of the Gotham setting to life in different ways. So they wanted us to sort of hit on different genres. So, you have these great books, like Gotham Academy's sort of young adult take on things, Batgirl, Arkham Manor... and, I came to them and I said, let’s do this street-level yet also "extra-universal threats" kind of thing. I guess the way some people have been boiling it down is GCPD by way of Lovecraft. And it was something unusual, it was something different, and they said, “Yeah sure, let’s take a shot. Let’s see what happens.”
CA: When I saw the first publicity for this, for whatever reason, I thought, "Wow, this has the potential to be the next Starman", as it's set in the supernatural and inexplicable, on the edges of a superhero world, but it looks like it's all proceeding from a ground level ethic.
RF: Yeah, it definitely is! And one of the things I've been saying to people is that, with Ben’s unbelievable artwork, and his strange approach, and my own strange approach to the stories, this is kind of the book where we’re calling on the freaks of the DC universe. These are the people that you would pass on the street and maybe not even want to talk to, but these are the ones who are saving you from the things that you never even want to think about.
And it’s really enjoyable to take a completely new route through Gotham City, and I hope to take readers to a place where they are like, “I've never seen this before, and I love it.”
CA: How literal is the "Midnight" of the title? Does Batman finish his shift at midnight, and these guys come on?
RF: It’s actually funny; the “Midnight” from the title has more than one meaning. I mean obviously, one part of it is that it’s Gotham at its darkest, it’s Gotham at its furthest from noon. But also, the crew that Jim Corrigan has assembled, this crew of this kind of weirdos and experts is nicknamed by rest of the GCPD – they’ve been nicknamed The Midnight Shift. They are the ones who work all night, and they go out and they deal with weird stuff, and they come back with reports that don’t make any sense. So they've been nicknamed this because they’re kind of the guys who go out into the dark, the skeleton crew, and a lot of people are like, “What are they even doing?”
CA: The stuff that's weird even by Gotham City standards. That's a pretty high bar.
RF: I've been telling people, if the Joker isn't weird enough for you, you've got to check out Gotham By Midnight.
CA: Working with Ben on this, is it pushing you even farther, as you see what he's getting at?
RF: We push each other. I think Ben and I are very simpatico. I give him these characters and he comes back to me with these amazingly expressive drawings, and I give him these monsters and he comes back to me with stuff that's even beyond what I was hoping for. So then next time I go back to him, I'm like, "Well, why don't you try this?" and he fires back something at me. I think we're kind of upping each other all the time.
And it's really, really fun, because what's hitting the paper and what people are going to see is what reads to me as really fearless. We're taking this and we're not going to the 60 yard line or the 70 yard line, we're going out past the bleachers and into the next stadium. We don't want to go halfway on anything, and it's really fun working with someone who wants to play that game with me.
CA: Do you have a grand game plan for this? Or are you guys taking each mad idea and building on it as you go along?
RF: Both! There is a grand plan for this: we know where we're going, we know why these things are happening in Gotham City. But this grand plan is an umbrella over all the madness – it is the mother and father of the madness, and when we get to it that will be the grand story. ... We have the plan and we know the plan the whole time we're working. The plan is always there, always behind everything.
CA: Without giving away too much, will this plan at any point dovetail with some of the other Gotham books, or will it stay relatively self-contained?
RF: It is its own beast, but this book does kiss the other books in surprising ways, and they do the same to us. You and other readers may be surprised to find some members of The Midnight Shift showing up in other Gotham books. And likewise, you may find some members of the peripheral cast of say, Gotham Academy, making an appearance in this book. It will surprise readers.
CA: When you're dealing with Corrigan and then Gotham City, you obviously have two incredibly rich histories to draw from – and since it's the New 52, you have the chance to reinterpret that history. How much of this is made from scratch and how much of it is taking bits that you've loved and rebuilding them in terrifying ways?
RF: Everything is new, but the legend of what has come before is always on our minds. So we are not beholden to anything, we are free to rebuild and reinterpret anything we want. But we obviously love a lot of what's come before, and I think it shows.