We understand there may still be some that haven't checked it out the first issue if they're waiting for the trade. This is where you can hear from Brian to see what went into the first issue as well as why you might want to dash off and pick up the first four before next month's issue #5.
A classic pulp from the 30's returns in this modern take on a seminal character that inspired several well-known comic icons. Tony Quinn is a brash Defense Attorney to the mob who compromises his ethics for financial gain. When he refuses to cross the line and commit murder, he is tortured and blinded by his gangster employers. But when a fortuitous meeting with a covert agency gives him a chance to make amends, Tony transforms into the Black Bat and embarks on a redemptive quest to right the wrongs of his past.
Right off the bat (no pun intended) I wanted to set the tone of the book. So I began with Tony’s inner monologue set against a moody image of THE CITY in all its pulpy-noir glory. Ronan nailed the gritty, Naked City vibe, in what was actually his first try-out page for the book. And Mat Lopes completed the look and feel with his desaturated, almost monochromatic colors. So right away we know… this is a city with problems.
As the monologue continues, we cut right to the action and get our first look at THE BLACK BAT. He’s kicking ass and taking names, immediately letting us know that he is someone to be reckoned with. And since this is very early on in his vigilante quest for justice, he doesn’t even have his costume yet – just a cobbled together outfit. I could’ve had him in his permanent outfit from the beginning, but I wanted to evoke the original Black Bat look as a nod to his roots. It was my way of paying respect to a character that I had the honor and pleasure of updating for a twenty-first century audience.
As Black Bat takes out the last of the bad guys, we get the first hint of his agenda. He’s looking for someone. I also included some flashback inset panels to offer our first hints about his past, and ultimately WHY he has chosen the vigilante path. Right from the start, Black Bat tells us that he is clinging to the notion of redemption. In the text he is referring to the city, but the subtext is clear – he is also talking about himself. This is a MAJOR departure from the original Black Bat, who was a prosecuting attorney turned masked hero AFTER getting acid thrown in his face in court. His was a more straight line to heroism that fit his time. I didn’t want to tell that simple a story, so I chose redemption as the impetus for his vigilantism.
I had Tony threaten to gouge out some eyeballs, not because I thought Tony was capable of doing it, but because I wanted to foreshadow what happened to him. It’s a bluff, but it works and Tony gets the information he needs to rescue his sidekick, SILK KIRBY. Unfortunately for Tony, he didn’t count on The Brute being so damned stealthy!
Here we do a little time jumping and FLASHBACK to learn a little about Silk – he’s an informant for the police AND is a heroin addict. In Silk’s inner monologue, he reminisces about Tony Quinn’s father, which gives us a glimpse into where Tony came from. We then jump to Tony Quinn in a FLASHBACK showing him returning to THE CITY to set up shop and begin his vigilante campaign. In hindsight, I probably could have used location captions or made the flashing back more obvious to readers, since some were confused by the nonlinear narrative. And while I think that Mat’s coloring makes it pretty clear, I do recognize the criticism that issue #1 took a more attentive read to follow the story.
Also, as an aside, I wanted to mention that I never actually refer to the name of the city in this story. That’s intentional. I didn’t want to call out any particular place, because this is a hyperreal representation of a crime-ridden city. It’s all big cities.
We are now almost half way into the book and we get our first major blank filled in. In FLASHBACK we learn that Tony was a mob lawyer… and that his father did not approve. This scene contrasts father and son, and really lets us know that our hero has failed to live up to his father’s legacy. That’s an important thing to know, because as the series continues, we see an awful lot of trial and error with Tony’s choices. For those that haven’t read the book before now, I want to mention that this book is NOT Batman or Daredevil… and it’s certainly not The Punisher. Tony is an altogether different type of vigilante, and he struggles with the morality of his actions. He knows that vigilantism is wrong and he is not necessarily comfortable about what he must do in order to be redeemed. He’s not resolved in the way that Bruce and Matt are, and he is not a killer like Frank Castle.
By the end of page ten, Tony has committed to becoming a vigilante, so he can set right the wrongs he did as mob lawyer. He’s a man that wants redemption… and his father’s approval.
In this scene, I wanted to accomplish two things – to introduce the police element to the story, and to show how they view Tony Quinn. Brody and the police play a large part in the story, so it was important for me to introduce them as soon as possible.
In another split scene (that might confuse some), we briefly advance Silk’s story and Tony’s, slowly getting us closer to the opening scene. Not to belabor the point, but I wrote issue one as a “pilot” story that establishes the status quo and sets up the stakes for the story. In doing so, I took a more cinematic approach to how I paced the story. Ultimately, I think it works and I’m really happy with the final product.
Most of the book so far has been set up and backstory. Here I advance the plot by showing one of the police kidnappings. And it’s not just any cop, it’s a cop with connections to Silk and to Tony. This story is complex and has A LOT of threads that are all connected. This scene is an example of some of those threads getting woven together. Not only is there a new cop kidnapping, but it’s Brody… and the kidnapper is the guy who cold-cocked Black Bat in the beginning.
At the bottom of 14, I introduce Carol Baldwin into the mix. You might notice that in this issue, I do my fair share of scene/location changing mid-page. This is something I usually do NOT do – it’s cleaner and easier to follow the art if scenes change on new pages. But in this issue, since I was going to be doing A LOT of jumping around and I had so much plot to set up, I allowed myself to break my own rule.
Having Carol show up gave me the opportunity to offer exposition in an organic way. Through their conversation, we learn that Carol and the people she works for are responsible for his new eyes and his military training… and that they are going to have a say in the choices he makes throughout the series. It may be an obvious thing to say, but the first issue of any new series requires A LOT of set up – especially if the character is not familiar to today’s comic buyers. This issue was challenging to pace because it had a boat load of characters and plot points to establish.
This scene with Silk advances the story and gets us closer to catching up to the opening. It’s also THE moment when Tony thinks of his vigilante moniker. It’s never easy to come up with an explanation for the character’s name, so I tried to find an organic way of getting to that place. The expression that Ronan drew on Silk’s face in the last panel is priceless – and it sums up the scene. I totally think Silk is looking at this guy like he is a nutjob. And let’s be honest, in a real world setting, it IS nutty to put on a mask, come up with a name, and start crime fighting.
Poor Silk gets used as bait to draw out The Brute. It’s not the nicest thing to do to your friend... but that just shows that Tony is far from perfect. He’s a work in progress and he’s just starting to figure out where those lines are. As we saw in the opening, he regrets using Silk as bait. But his plan worked and got him face to face with Brute.
Now we are finally caught up with the opening sequence, and get to see the fight between the Black Bat and the Brute. It’s a good thing for Tony that he can see in the dark with those eyes, otherwise I have no doubt that the Brute would’ve broken him in two.
Okay, this is probably my favorite moment in issue #1. It’s a moment I thought of VERY EARLY on in the process. It’s an homage to Black Bat’s WAY more famous DC counterpart, and also my way of drawing a clear line in the sand separating the two. With Black Bat breaking The Brute’s back I am stating unequivocally that he is NOT Batman. HE’S the one that’s gonna break backs, not the Brute, whose imposing size is supposed to parallel the man who broke Batman’s back once upon a time. At the end of the day, I knew that this book would be discounted by many as a rip-off of Batman. So, rather than side-step the issue… I decided to hit it head on.
And while I’m on the subject, I wanted to say that I didn’t write The Black Bat to capitalize on the fame of Batman. It was never a ploy to rob Batman fans of their hard earned money. In fact, I knew that writing this story would present real obstacles – both creatively and with sales. Here I had a character that was at the very least a contemporary of Batman, whose origin inspired Daredevil and Two Face. So my challenge was to come up with a take on the character that was respectful and honored the source material without seeming like a rip-off of those characters he influenced. It’s a challenge I accepted and am very proud of the results. And I am thankful to those that have given my book a shot.
The issue ends with a look into what will be the ongoing challenge for Black Bat. He expresses his desire to KILL the man he holds responsible for what happened to him. But as future issues will show, killing is not something that will come easy.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue… and my longwinded commentary. I hope I offered some insight into my process, and some of the reasons behind my choices. A lot of planning and hard work went into the creation of this comic. And although I spent 95 percent of this commentary talking about myself, I want express that I was only half of the equation. This book wouldn’t exist without the incredible talent and hard work of Ronan Cliquet, and the colors of Mat Lopes. Both guys indulged my overall vision and breathed life into my script. Thanks, fellas. As my son would say, your work is SO BEAST.
Issues 1-4 are now on sale. THE BLACK BAT #5 is on sale September 4, 2013.