Ain't That A Thrill...
A midnight conversation with Thrillkiller '62 and The Nocturnals' Dan Brereton
by Christopher Irving
I was lucky enough to catch up with Dan Brereton, the painter behind the highly acclaimed Batman Elseworlds mini-series, Thrillkiller and it's sequel, Thrillkiller '62. I found it rather fitting and ironic that the creator of The Nocturnals could only fit the interview in at 9 p.m. for him — midnight for me. I would like to thank him for his time.
CHRISTOPHER IRVING: What should readers expect from Thrillkiller '62?
DAN BRERETON: A lot of surprises, and familiar faces. I think, generally, just more of the same kind of cool stuff that we got in the first one. We like the idea of taking characters from the DCU and kind of retro-fitting them for the Thrillkiller universe. We tried to pick characters that we thought people might want to see.
When we were first throwing around the ideas for Thrillkiller, Howard [Chaykin, Thrillkiller's writer] and I ... were both watching [American Movie Classics], and we were talking about how Ann Margaret and Elvis Presley were the models on which Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson were going to be based, the Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret you saw in Viva Las Vegas. That was our jumping off point for the characters and their relationship, looking at Robin as being this rockabilly rebel and Barbara Gordon as an heiress thrillseeker, who is a little older. We had a lot more hard-boiled feel to what we wanted to do in the beginning but we had to kind of water it down slightly for DC.
We first decided that we wanted for them to carry guns. That was our main hook right at the beginning, and our editor , Archie Goodwin was fine with it. The other thing was that we thought "Well, they don't fight crime because they're interested in righting wrongs, as much as they are just getting drunk and going to fight crime for the fun of it". [They could be] foiling a jewelry heist, busting the thieves, but not be , themselves, above possibly snagging a piece of jewelry in the process. We had a more cynical attitude towards these characters. Somehow, though, when you start writing, you find that you're writing the chracters the way they're supposed to be written, no matter what kind of setting you're putting them in. You can't really ignore the archetypes that Batman, Robin and Batgirl have become. So we became less cynical, but the basic premise stays the same; they're thrillseekers who get hit over the head with reality halfway through the story which darkens their world.
Bruce Wayne was always supposed to be this grounded, kind of hard-boiled cop who was very interested in justice and fighting crime and cleaning up the streets. Whereas Batgirl and Robin were kind of playing at the idea of being crimefighters. We had a lot of fun, and we would still like to do a third.
CI: With Thrillkiller '62, you said you'll be introducing some more DCU characters —
DB: We have a Thrillkiller version of Black Canary. There's a guy called the Ice Doctor, which should be self-explanatory, he's the main heavy of the story next to Bianca Steeplechase [Thrillkiller's female version of The Joker] who comes back married to the current mayor of Gotham, so she's connected politically. She's also still got her hands quite dirty in the underworld of Gotham. When the story begins, Bruce Wayne is Batman, and has a chance to clear his name, which has probably been cleared. He could get back on the force, but he's having a really good time being Batman, he's really enjoying himself.
Batgirl, they're calling her Batwoman in this one, she's not really enjoying herself as much as she could be. She's wracked with guilt over the death of her former lover, who she also cheated on, with Bruce Wayne! So, she's got a lot of guilt to deal with. Lots of guilt, so she's seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Nigma.
CI: Oh, no! (laughter)
DB: He's the bestselling author of "Riddle Me This," a guide to psychiatry. Killer Croc's in there too. He's a henchman-type character, the footman to the Ice Doctor. The Ice Doctor is this German philanthropist who turns out to be an ex-Nazi eugenics nut. He's reinvented himself as this grinning humanitarian philanthropist linked to charities and causes; everyone loves him, they think he's the salt of the earth and meanwhile, he's actually responsible for one of the biggest crimewaves happening in Gotham, which is due to the appearance of these highly addictive narcotic cigarettes. They're called "Nics". The pack has a snowflake on the front and all the kids are using them and going crazy.
When you're working for DC and with their characters,because of varous liscensing considerations, etc., you can't really do stories about drugs. We had to come up with something that was a sort of parallel to street drugs but wasn't like crack or cocaine or heroin. I think it was Howard's idea to make them highly addictive cigarettes. I don't want to give too much away. There are other characters that show up, one in particular, I'm really excited about. A certain happy-go-lucky, demented clown-girl with a gun.
CI: Are there characters outside the typical Bat-stream?
DB: Well, actually there's one character in particular who's outside the typical DCUBat-verse, but not outside the typical Batman: Animated Series. Probably one of my favorite Batman villains in the cartoon show.
CI: You seem to be really appreciating the freedom the Elseworlds format has given you.
DB: I'm not a real continuity fan. Elseworlds, to me, is being able to break free and do your own thing. They [DC] leave you alone more. As long as you respect the source material, and have a clearly defined idea of what you want to do, it's not crazy or weird and so esoteric that people can't make the connection between the Elseworlds characters and their DCU counterparts, then the possiblities are huge.I know that they're getting flooded with Elseworlds proposals and [have] even done a few that don't make sense. I have proposed other Elswworlds projects , some of them are in the development stges, some were flatly rejected.
Not all Elseworlds stories add up; personally, I think they should all add up. Thanksfully, Thrillkiller works in a nice, simple way and the blocks seem to all fall into place and fit together right. If you just take Batman out of the equation, and then supplanted Batman with Batgirl, everything just fell into line.
CI: On to other things, would you like toreturn to The Black Terror anytime soon?
DB: No one has asked me about that. I know that Todd [McFarlane] owns The Black Terror now. He bought the rights to all the Eclipse stuff. Beau Smith is Todd's right-hand guy, and Beau co-authored The Black Terror and was one of the guys responsible for getting it going at Eclipse. If they do anything with The Black Terror, I doubt that they're going to ask me to be involved. Those guys are very much businessmen and, from their point of view, the kind of stuff I do, and my work in particular, probably isn't as big a selling point as the kind of image house-style that they would be going for. That's just my hunch.If they asked me if I was interested in doing another Black Terror thing; I wouldn't really jump at it.
I actually wrote a plot outline for a second Black Terror series back in 1990 and Eclipse seemed really happy with it and really wanted to do it. It never really came together I think Beau would have objected heavily to my writing the next one instead of him. After all, it was his baby, so they couldn't say "Hey, Dan's going to write the next one and illustrate it and you're not going to do anything." It just sat there, and by the time anything was going on, I had some stuff with DC, so it just never happened. I'm okay with it, because I got to do other stuff, but I think the character has potential if they do it right. It's something I don't really think about that much. I've gotten the opportunity to do more of the stuff I want to do that I"m involved with personally.
The Black Terror was what broke me into comics, but it was not my baby. I feel responsible for the look...and the feel of the character but, beyond that, I don't really have a real affinity for it as a world to explore. However, I would like to see them collect the first one in paperback, I would really like to see that happen. But Ive been told recently that the film is lost...I have a hunch its still in germant with the publishers who put out a german edition of the BT over there.
CI: The Nocturnals seemed pretty deeply rooted in monster movies and folklore, do you draw any other influences into producing the comic?
DB: Oni Press is going to collect [the first mini-series] in October of this year. I'm pretty happy about that. Then, Dark Horse is going to collect the stuff that appeared in Dark Horse Presents in the fall. The Nocturnals thing I did for that. I'm doing eight extra pages of story, plus we're going to have a nice pin-up gallery with some different people.
CI: That was done in black and white, wasnt it -
DB: It was painted in color, and some limited color, but it wasn't done strictly in black and white, so when it's reprinted, it'll be refinished in color. The story starts out in real muted, sort of monochromatic shades of color. As it gets farther into the story, there's much more color. There's no way to tell that by looking at the material that's in Dark Horse Presents but, when you get to the end, the story is almost in full color. It's definitely a color project; that's always the way I painted it and eventually knew it would be seen. I went ahead and did it in color, rather than see somebody else try and color it.
To get back to your question on the influences on The Nocturnals, I had always wanted to do something that was about monsters, I think one of the main things I like doing in comics is monsters. It was a way to take different aspects of certain things I liked: horror, a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of Lovecraft, a bit of The Shadow. Basically, the kind of things that came out of old pulp fiction. All these different genres, and trying to mesh them into something that will have that feeling of the old pulps. People who really aren't familiar with pulp fiction think of the movie 'Pulp Fiction'; that's nothing like what I'm talking about. I'm talking about crime fiction, horror, and some of the pulps that were so strange they combined both in odd and imaginative ways. I think that was some of the best stuff done and, I think to a certain extent, it still is.
When you cross the genres and streams, people say you shouldn't do that, I think that you get some of your best work that way. I've noticed that a lot of other companies are making a go at doing that kind of stuff. When I first noticed The Darkness, that Silvestri [and] Top Cow put out; I looked at that and said "This is kind of cool, it's crime, hobgoblins, and horror, and magic. That's kind of neat." I think those kind of books are fun. I like Hellboy a lot, Monkey Man and O'Brien, although reading Monkey Man is a little like reading a pastiche of the classic Fantastic Four comics, which is, to some extent probably Arthur's intention. I like stuff that combines things together, but doesn't short-change on the story or the characters. The Nocturnals became very much like a family for me, and not a team book. I think the other influences there were personal that worked their way into the story when I was writing the characters, and they've actually worked to keep me more interested than anything else.
CI: Do you have any other Nocturnals projects in the works?
DB: There's a trade coming from Oni Press, there's the special coming from Dark Horse of the DHP material, called "The Witching Hour." The original Nocturnals series, being collected by Oni in a trade, was titled "The Black Planet." As far as other stuff coming out; Chris Golden, who wrote the Hellboy novel... He's a friend of mine. He and I want to develop a young adult Nocturnals series, aspin-off that would have to deal with Halloween Girl's character going to a special school for monster kids. It's called "The Halloween Party," we want to do that as a young adult, Goosebumps sort of thing.
[Then] doing The Nocturnals as a novel series. Chris wrote a short story for a Crow anthology edited by Jim O'Barr. This Crow anthology is full of short stories that have to deal with redemption from beyond the grave, with the crow bringing a soul back to planet Earth for redemption [but] without the Crow character being in it. We were given free reign to do whatever we wanted, and we chose to do a Nocturnals story. We delved into the background of The Gunwitch being a legendary, infamous gun-fighting figure from the Old West who had a curse put on him, or something like that. I did three illustrations, and Chris wrote the story. I think the anthology comes out sometime this year, but I'm not sure( webmaster's note: the anthology is out now and available in hardcover in most major bookstores).
CI: Is this a novel, or comic book anthology?
DB: It's prose,...it's not like a comic book project. As far as comic book projects go, I want to do a sequel to The Nocturnals, but I'm involved with this other creator-owned project that I'm about to start for DC that comes out next year, in Spring of '99, called Giantkiller, which is a big monster comic. It's very different from The Nocturnals, but it takes place in the same world. What I'd like to do...after I do this first Giantkiller series, I'd like to take The Nocturnals characters, and the characters from Giantkiller, and put them in a story together. That's something I've been thinking about doing, but I don't know how open DC is going to be to doing it.
CI: I understand you'll be writing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic for Dark Horse?
DB: I'm writing one three issue mini-series for them ( webmaster's note: the mini-series ended up as the DUST WALTZ graphic novel instead) . I wrote a plot outline for a back-to-school special, which Andy Watson is writing as a story arc in the monthly series. I don't know how closely he's following my story, I wrote a pretty detailed plot for that.
At this point, we haven't gotten any approvals yet from Warner Brothers. We're still waiting for the people from the show to get back to us and say "Okay, go ahead," but we're working on it anyway, under the assumption that everything is going to be fine. I get to do some covers for that, too. That's pretty exciting, because I'm a big fan of that show...My kids and I watch it every week, we tape it. We get real excited, it makes Mondays worth living through.
CI: I take it you'll be following the tone of the TV show rather closely.
DB: Absolutely. I think I'm following the basic tenets of the show and keeping the characters the way they should be; not going too crazy with it but, at the same time injecting characters into situation that I'd like to see. I'm having fun with this one, even though I don't get to draw it, which I think is okay, I'm not crazy about the idea of doing a licensed book...All those likenesses and having to meet all those approvals would be tough. Not that I couldn't do it, I just don't think it'd be very fun. When it comes to going through the approval processes, you never know what people are going to say or think. You can never second- guess people. They may hate my stuff, you never know.
From the point-of-view of writing the stories, I love how clearly defined the Buffy characters are. And they're fun; they say things we wish we could've said in high school. They get to be more clever and quicker on the draw than most people are in real life. I think that's one thing people really get a kick out of in those shows.
CI: You're also in the middle of working on a Superman Special featuring the Silver Banshee character.
CI: She's a very under-rated villainess.
DB: That's the idea, it's a very thinly disguised Silver Banshee story [that] happens to have a Superman logo on the front. Superman's in the story...which is prominently about trying to get the Silver Banshee out of the second rate Superman villain role and into the spotlight a little bit. This is a story that could possibly be a jumping-off point for a series.
It's penciled by Joyce Chin, who worked recently on Xena. She's doing a really cool job, she draws great chicks. Her Superman's pretty good, too. It's more of the same monsters and witches and that kind of stuff that I love doing. The whole idea of writing stuff that I'm not drawing is really fun.
CI: Sounds like you've got quite a workload...
DB: The whole idea of writing a plot, and [having] your artist draw the pages is a fun way to work. It's not like it's a breeze to do, but it's a hell of a lot less time consuming than sitting down night after night and painting every page of a comic book, which is what I have to look forward to again with Giantkiller, which I don't mind.
Giantkiller is another of my babies, so its a labour of love. The Banshee project is enjoyable simply because I get to write something for another artist to intepret. Giantkiller is going to be a blast because it's just monsters. The story comes out of my love of Godzilla movies and the Kirby monsters. It's about a genetic construct who's like a monster-guy, built to go out and combat an invasion of giant monsters in Northern California in the year 2000. He's half man, half monster,...a one-man army. I've designed all these monsters, too many , probably. In terms of story, the plot is really pared down, compared to things projects like The Nocturnals.
In the first Nocturnals series there were seven characters and your various and sundry villains. Giantkiller is Jack the Giantkiller, his sidekick Jill, who is kind of an outlaw monster-parts smuggler. There's a scientist character, an army general and a dozen or so giant beasts.And that's about it. It's a very simple, very action-oriented comic. We're actually doing a sort of field guide to monsters, a beastiary that we're going to publish separately as a companion piece to the series, which will give readers more of a look at the world presented in the series. There are roughly twenty-six different monsters, named like you'd name tornadoes or hurricanes, alphabetically. More fun than any human should be allowed to have by law.