Fan-favorite Batman artist Jock has taken on a new challenge: writing and illustrating his own story, start to finish, with Batman: One Dark Knight. The three-part limited series follows the Caped Crusader as he attempts to transport a highly dangerous criminal known as E.M.P. from Arkham Asylum to a more secure facility on the other side of Gotham.
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Unfortunately, the night takes a turn when several gangs go after E.M.P. and he gets free, only to feast on Gotham’s electrical system until there’s a citywide blackout. Batman is still determined to complete his task, so he vows to carry E.M.P. himself, come hell or high water.
Ahead of the release of Batman: One Dark Knight #3, which completes the series, we spoke with Jock about the creation process for the series, including what he learned and how a classic Batman villain made his way into the third issue.
Check out the interview and an exclusive preview below.
Samantha Puc for Newsarama: Jock, how has the story in One Dark Knight changed since you conceptualized it?
Jock: Not too much, actually, to be honest. I had a pretty clear idea about what I wanted to do because I’ve not written a great deal and I wanted to make sure I had a pretty concrete A to B plan of where I was going. Little nuances change, obviously. As you can imagine, as stories go on and the characters develop, they might take you in a slightly different direction, but actually the bare bones remained pretty much the same.
Nrama: What was it like to write and illustrate the entire story, versus just being responsible for the art?
Jock: More pressure. [Laughs] It’s been great. I don’t write traditionally; I write by drawing the layouts of the pages, as I would if I was following someone else’s script. That’s my storytelling method, I guess. So it made sense that I wrote the story visually, then tweaked this, changed that, changed the pace of scenes, things like that. Then I pretty much go straight to art and dialogue after the fact. That’s how I approached it. It’s a very different situation than just working off someone else’s script, and it’s been challenging in the best ways. At the end of the day, the book is all mine, so if it’s good or if it’s bad, then I’m to blame.
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Nrama: As far as pacing, was that something you found challenging in a three-part limited series?
Jock: It’s actually been okay because the three-part structure fits very well with the classic story structure. Issue #1 was very much about setting up what the situation is, issue #2 was about delving into Gotham and its dark corners, and issue #3 is resolving it all. I wish I had a more interesting answer for you, but it’s gone reasonably smoothly, I have to say. I’m literally in the last few days of finishing issue #3 as I speak to you, so I’m fried from this. I’ve been working on this for over a year now. The end is in sight and I’m just excited to get the final book out there and see what people think.
Nrama: What appealed to you about telling a) a Batman story, and b) a Batman story that takes place over the course of a single night?
Jock: The very first spark was that I wanted to tell a night-in-the-life story. That, to me, seemed like a route into what I was doing. With a character like Batman, you can tell any story. He can support so much. I had to pick a lane, really. Similarly with Batman himself, he doesn’t really have a character arc in [One Dark Knight]. He’s the constant. What makes him Batman for me is constantly getting chipped away at in the story, as he has more and more challenges thrown at him and he’s boiled down to his core essence.
That was the momentum of it for me. I wanted to strip everything away – all his toys, Alfred, communication, all his support structure – and really, what is it when we see him stripped away to the bare bones and he realizes that he quite likes that? He’s maybe forgotten that over the years, with all his gadgets and everything else.
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To me, there was something about the monotony of it that I liked. This is a Monday night for Batman, but it’s a very different Monday from what you would have. Then it was like, ‘Well how wrong can it go?’ And then, ‘What if Gotham went into the depths of a blackout?’ And it just grew from there. It just felt like – for want of a better word – a convenient idea to hang the story on. Really, the story is more about the kid Brody, his dad who turned out to be the villain – or, we think he’s the villain in the beginning – E.M.P., and finishing the last issue now, I’m just trying to bring those threads together to make it have a satisfying, emotional ending as well as the momentum of the ticking clock that we’ve had through the story so far.
Nrama: As far as writing the ending goes, how is that process going? Do you feel like things are coming together organically, or are there hang-ups you feel like you won’t be able to resolve?
Jock: I hope I’m resolving them well. I’ve shown it to friends and luckily I have good friends who are good writers, and they’ve helped me out over the issues. Sticking the landing is the thing I want to try and get right. I have a very strong idea of what I’m trying to do with the ending in relation to Brody and his dad, you know, and I just hope I hit those beats. That’s certainly what I’m going for. Batman’s awesome and it’s a lot of fun seeing him struggle his way through the night, but at the end of the day, I want it to hopefully have some kind of satisfactory impact. That’s what I’m going for with Brody and his dad.
Nrama: How did you go about choosing which villains you were going to include in this story, in particular the classic Batman villain who shows up in issue #3?
Jock: To be honest, I hemmed and hawed about using any of the rogues’ gallery. I was thinking that I wouldn’t, but once Batman went down into the sewers, I was like, ‘Hold on. It would be kind of cool if we saw Killer Croc.’ When you asked earlier whether things had changed, the truth is I didn’t know whether I would use him until I started working on issue #3. I thought, ‘You know what, this is a nice little grace note to the whole situation.’
And Croc himself is a little bit changed. Luckily, with Black Label, you can take a few liberties with characters, so in this he’s been underground a bit too long and he’s gotten way too full of himself. He’s much grander than you’ve maybe seen him before, and it was quite a lot of fun to write the dialogue between him and Batman in that scene.
Nrama: What have you learned from the creation process for this series?
Jock: An awful lot. [Laughs] An awful lot. As a creator, you’re always trying your best and you’re always feeling a bit exposed, just because you’re doing what you do. Because I’m writing this as well, the truth is I haven’t written a great deal, so there was a pressure there, whether I was going to get that right. One of the nice things was, the artwork’s been just a joy. Any stress I had went on the writing, the plotting, the characters, the dialogue. I’ve been doing this a long time now but I still sort of feel like a beginner in lots of ways, and this has definitely reminded me that you’re always learning and you’ve always got a lot to learn, but it’s been an amazing opportunity. I’m super grateful to be able to do this.
I think a lot of my favorite creators are writer-artists. There’s arguably a purer vision that can happen there. Of course, when you work with a team, the sum can be bigger than its parts and all that, but there’s something nice about doing the whole thing yourself. I’ve always loved that idea, so it’s something I’m looking forward to doing more of.
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Nrama: Do you have any plans to revisit this story in particular?
Jock: Let’s see how it goes. I do have a story in mind for where the characters might go, but we’ll see.
Nrama: Is there anything you really wanted to highlight about Batman for either longtime fans or for new readers who are just picking up One Dark Knight?
Jock: As I said earlier, I did sort of have to pick a lane with him. To be brutally honest, in this, he’s sort of like Batman the brawler. When everything’s stripped away, what is he? He’s actually quite a tough dude. That’s the kind of stuff I can hang the action on. I can make the fight scenes tough and I can hopefully make the action hard-hitting and strong.
But really, for me, Batman should be a moral compass. He’s always believing the world can be a better place and people can be better. They can show their dark side but they can always improve, etc, etc, and there’s something that happens in One Dark Knight #3 that hopefully shows that. He has a moral obligation to try and make Gotham a better place. The brawler idea is what it is, but the moral side of him is what I was looking forward to trying to bring out.
Batman: One Dark Knight #3 goes on sale July 26.
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