When Paul Dini was trying to come up with a story for next month’s Detective Comics #1000, he landed on an idea that would showcase a slew of Batman’s most notorious villains, but in a really different (and funny) way.
Uniting with his former Detective and Batman: Streets of Gotham collaborator Dustin Nguyen, Dini landed on a story called “The Legend of Knute Brody.” The eight-page story reads like a television exposé, with villains like Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and the Riddler sharing their memories of Knute Brody, a henchman who worked for all of them.
But there’s a twist: Brody isn’t legendary because of his skills; he’s legendary because of his screw-ups.
Dini, who’s a legend himself for his successful work in animation and comic books, said he approached DC for the opportunity to work with Nguyen on Detective Comics #1000, which is an anthology featuring a who’s who of DC creators.
The issue has a lead story by Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke that kicks off the new creative team’s run, but also features original stories by Kevin Smith and Jim Lee, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Warren Ellis and Becky Cloonan, Denny O’Neil and Steve Epting, Christopher Priest and Neal Adams, Geoff Johns and Kelley Jones, Tom King with Tony Daniel and Joelle Jones, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez.
Newsarama talked to Dini and Nguyen about the origin of their story, what readers can expect from the appearance of so many villains, and why they both wanted to reunite for this story (and hope to work together on more).
Newsarama: Paul and Dustin, let’s start by talking about the fact that Detective Comics is actually hitting 1000 issues.
Paul Dini: Why can count that high? It’s amazing. It’s certainly a testament to the character and to the love of the fans that it’s made it to this milestone.
I’m happy to see that it’s still there, that comics are still alive and, in many cases, flourishing and that people are reading them and that there are new Batman adventures and stories to look forward to every month. That’s cool.
Dustin Nguyen: Hitting #1000 is something for DC to be proud of.
Nrama: Yeah, it’s quite a milestone. So how did the two of you end up reuniting for this story in Detective Comics #1000?
Dini: Last year, they did Action Comics #1000, and it stood to reason that they would follow it up with a Detective #1000. I got to do a short story in Actionwith Superman, and that was a lot of fun. I worked with Jose Garcia Lopez on that. And I had a good time doin that story.
And because I wrote a lot more for Batman over the years than for Superman, I thought there might be a chance to get in on Detective #1000, and I thought it would be great to do it with Dustin, because we did so many fun stories together. And I thought maybe we could get Derek [Fridolfs] in also, and just recreate the fun we had doing Detectiveand Streets of Gotham.
So I brought the idea to DC, and they were very receptive to it, as was Dustin when they asked him.
Nguyen: Yeah, I remember seeing the email. I think I just saw the part that said Paul Dini and said, “Yes.”
I’ve been waiting to get back with Paul on something Batman-oriented, and this was perfect.
Dini: I think it’s safe to say that you and I, Dustin, have a lot of affection for the work we’ve done on Batman, and there was a lot of fun, and we created a lot of fun characters together.
In fact, I remember about two years ago, I was watching out of one eye on the computer screen some footage from The Lego Batman Movie, which was still about five months away from being released. And this weird character kind of hopped across the screen, and I was going, like, oh my God, that can’t be.
But it turned out to be March Harriet, this weird one-shot character we created as a partner in crime for the Mad Hatter in, I think it was in Detective #841.
Nguyen: It was our first issue together.
Dini: And I fired off an email to Dustin and said, did you see this? And you said yeah, that you’d heard from somebody in publishing that just sort of leaked the news out that day that there were all sorts of oddball bad guys in it and March Harriet just happened to be one of them.
And we had fun creating that character and a bunch of other ones too.
So yeah, we always thought it would be fun to go back and do some more.
Nguyen: We both love the property so much. Paul and I both feel like we could jump back onto Batman anytime.
Dini: And we did plenty of dark, straight-forward stories on Detective and Streets of Gotham, but also, because we know the characters so well and all their little idiosyncrasies, it’s fun to do the story that starts off dark, goes light, and then comes back dark again. It all seems to be a natural extension of their personalities, that they would have these weird little light and human moments.
Nguyen: That’s your brand.
Dini: Well you too, you and Derek, when you do Lil Gotham. It’s a little softer, but it’s still that affection for the characters and knowing exactly what they’re going to do and how to capture that in a way that’s both very true to the Lil Gothambrand but also, it just speaks volumes to fans who know the characters.
Nguyen: Yeah, we’ve said that before, that it’s the all ages version of Streets of Gotham.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the story you’re doing for Detective #1000, which concentrates on a henchman character named Knute Brody. You cover a lot of ground in this one story, with several villains appearing and talking directly to the camera about him.
Dini: Yeah, when I was coming up with the story, I thought for Detective #1000, it should be a story that features heavily on Bruce Wayne and maybe his analytical process, and maybe make it a detective story. But then the more I started wrestling with that, I realized I was wrestling with it, trying to construct a mystery in only eight pages. To do that, it was a lot of stream-of-consciousness in Bruce’s head, and I felt I was down the wrong path with it.
So then I thought of something like, what if we concentrate on the villains instead? So we came up with a way to show a lot of villains at once, which is in the form of a TV report, like one of the crime shows you see all over cable TV now where, you know, they profile certain types of criminals, bank robbers, everything.
So then I thought, what about henchmen?
That’s when I got the idea of a henchman who is just really, really bad. I think the upper crust is somebody like Harley Quinn. In her henchperson days, she could take orders and is a good threat on her own. But then you’ve got some of the guys who work for Two-Face who are very cold and good order-takers. And guys who work for the Penguin. But then we have the low-rent stumble-bums, the bottom of the barrel.
Then I thought, what if the guy is so bad that he’s actually terrified of Batman? And every time Batman shows up, he just runs in terror of him. It would be a domino effect. Not only would it end badly for this guy, but it would end badly for whoever employed him.
So I made him this sort of local legend. He’s like this bad joke among other henchpeople and super-criminals and crime fighters. Everybody knows this guy. Everybody knows he’s the absolute worst.
Then suddenly it was funny.
Nguyen: The fact that you can fit so much story in eight pages, that’s what I love. There’s so much story.
Dini: Thank you. But the thing that made it work for me was thinking it was like a “Gotham Insider” TV profile. Then you can cut from one character just saying like one line of dialogue to another to another to another to, like, a film clip or a recount of somebody else.
I was reading through it the other day and thinking it’s a pretty good Mad Hatter/Riddler/Poison Ivy/Harley story, and it seems much bigger and much more involved and richer than it is.
It’s just that when we go into those segments, it really becomes like a little vignette, giving us a window into completely different adventures that are all held together by this one idiot moron.
He’s more like an urban myth than anything, and all the villains think he’s dead now, so that’s part of the myth too.
Nguyen: It’s a part of Gotham you don’t normally see.
Nrama: I love what happens to Kite Man because of Knute’s mistake. I don’t know if we want to spoil that…
Dini: Yeah, we can. That’s our homage to Charles Schultz. Kite Man’s real name is Charles Brown, so we put him upside down hanging from the tree like Charlie Brown, tangled up in his own kite.
Nrama: Very clever.
Dini: Yeah, it’s definitely a nod to Peanutsthere, a tiny little throw away panel. Dustin you got that perfectly.
Nrama: You both also made the scenes from the past feel like they really were flashbacks. For example, Harley Quinn is talking to the camera and she’s got her modern look, but during the flashback, it’s classic Harley.
Dini: Yeah, she refers to that as her “poor choices” period. [Laughs.] She was shooting up places with the Joker; I don’t think you make a poorer choice than that, but that’s how she refers to it.
But yeah, it was fun to meld the animated-series/early Harley with the more modern, Jimmy-and-Amanda-type Harley.
And I love Dustin’s version of Poison Ivy, where she’s real studious and she’s got glasses on and a lab coat. She’s a dedicated scientist, and underneath she’s wearing a little flowery outfit and everything. It’s just a really great depiction of her.
Nguyen: Her lab outfit. I love how she gets so mad.
Dini: Yeah, seething with rage.
Nrama: So will we see more from the two of you?
Nguyen: Hopefully! That’s up to DC.
Dini: Hopefully, yeah. I think that’s to the fates and scheduling and things like that. Over the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of short stories and one-shot stories, which is fun. And I’m very thankful that the fans and the readers enjoy those.
But I don’t really know what’s going on long-term with the ongoing books. If our schedules free up and it’s something we want to do, I could definitely see us doing another one or maybe a one-shot or a graphic novel or something.