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Marc Silvestri shares the unexpected origin (and classic inspirations behind) Batman/Joker: The Deadly Duo

The Image Comics founder spilled the beans behind next month's launch at New York Comic Con 2022

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

There were four years between DC’s first tease of a Batman project from Marc Silvestri and the eventual announcement of his upcoming DC Black Label series Batman/Joker: The Deadly Duo — but if you think that was a long time, just wait; turns out, he’d been working on the series for even longer than that.

Ahead of the seven issue miniseries’ launch next month — the first issue drops November 1 — Silvestri was at New York Comic Con 2022 to promote the series, with attendees to Friday’s Jim Lee & Friends panel receiving a limited edition ashcan of the first issue, with black and white preview artwork. Popverse took the opportunity to talk to the creator about the origins and inspirations behind the series, including the unexpected revelation that Silvestri hadn’t even expected the series to happen in the first place. (No, really.)

I read something where you said you've been working on Batman/Joker: The Deadly Duo for seven years.

Seven years since I pitched it, yeah.

That's a long time.

I've got a business to run, you know? I've known Jim [Lee, DC publisher and chief creative officer] for more than 30 years.

You came up at Marvel together way back when.

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

Yeah, and founding Image together, obviously. We've been friends for a long time. Once he went over to DC, every few years, "Hey, you should come over and do a Batman. You would do a great Batman." It's like “I’ve got a business to run, I've got a life I want to try and live…! But after a while, I realize, there is a Batman story I want to tell, and I’m not getting any younger, so when am I going to tell it? I go, "All right, look …!” This is my way out, in my head: I'm going to pitch them an idea they've done a million times, then I'm out. Then he won't have to ask me anymore because I'll say, "This is the story I want to do,” and then I'm done.

So, I think it was [former DC editor-in-chief] Bob Harras. It was either Bob or Dan Didio. We had a meeting and I said, "Okay, this is what I want to do." I pitched him, just willfully, one sentence: "Batman, Joker, team up to fight a new common villain. Boom." He's like, "Cool. Let's do that. That's a great idea." I literally said, "What are you talking about? Batman's 80 years old. You haven't done this a million times already?" I didn't know what the hell's going on. He's like, "No, this is great, let's do it." I was like, "Oh, really? All right." [Laughs]

Yeah, but you've never done it. [Laughs] That's the thing.

I guess they haven't done it a million times. So, all right, I guess I'll do this story, because Batman's Batman. I want to tell this story. So yeah, all right, so I'm in. And then, I had to write it up. The cool thing is, my original story had some elements of continuity, and Bob said, "Don't worry about that. Just write what you want to write and we'll do it out of continuity. It'll be standalone, it'll be evergreen, you don't have to worry about it." So I was like, "Oh, cool." This was before DC Black Label [even existed], so I was like, "So I can do what the hell I want?" "Yeah, don't worry about it." I said, "Oh, awesome."

“I’m going to hurt people!”

And I do. [Laughs] So like, it's great, I didn't have to worry about any continuity and I could get a little bit darker. I call this as a buddy cop horror story, which is the best way I could describe the vibe for it.

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

Batman is now forced to work with The Joker. One of them is having the greatest time of his life, the other one is living in Hell. Guess which is which, right? [Laughs] I think throughout the whole seven issues, Batman says maybe five lines to The Joker, but Joker will not shut up. I get to have a lot of fun with that, and I get to explore the classic relationship they have.

They are two sides of the same coin; that's part of what makes them great, and, I think, the most interesting of all the iconic characters, because of that dynamic. When you think about it, nobody else has that. Which one is the crazier one? So, I get to play with that by putting them in these situations where, to Batman's utter horror, he finds out he kind of needs The Joker, which is awful when you think about it.

That is the worst case scenario for him.

Not only because it’s screwing with Batman's ego, but also, what could be so bad that he would actually need Joker's help? Those were the fun things I got to play with from point A to point Z. I knew where I wanted to start the story, and I had my ending. I was like, "Okay, how do I make it fun and how do I make it interesting through seven issues?" Actually, seven and a half, because what happened was, it was originally going to be six. I started writing it and I was like, "Oh, this is fun. This is cool. I want to do this, this, and this." I got through issue five and I'm like, "Wait a minute, I [only] have one more issue to go."

I mean look, all stories, whether it's comics, movies, novels, you've got to nail the ending. You've got to land it. That's it. You screw that up, you screw up the whole series. So I was like, okay, if I'm going to land this properly, in order for me to pull it off, it's like, "Okay, I'm going to need another issue. Jim ..." — maybe it was Dan at the time — like, "Oh, hey, can you guys give me another issue." It was like, "Of course we can give you another issue."

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

Why would they say no? Come on.

I'm the chump here! [Laughs] So, I'm writing away and it's like, I'm in the seventh issue now and I'm writing, it's like, 'Aw, shit. Okay. I only have 22 pages and I need 10 for this landing. And they still have to get to this point. Hey, can we make the last issue a double sized issue? I need to get 10 more pages.' So, seven and a half issues. I think it's a fun story. It's dark.

Ben Meares who edits the book, he's a great editor. Just fun to work with, as an editor who kind of gets this stuff. He understands Batman and lets me do things that stretches some boundaries with him. He describes the story as Apocalypse Now, in a sense that it's a trip through the heart of darkness. Right? It just gets darker and darker, and darker. Batman's world becomes smaller and smaller, and more horrible. But, in all of that, it's also a lot of fun. Because, just inherently, when you think about the situation, it’s going to be just ridiculous.

There's lots of opportunities for humor, especially coming from The Joker. I’m a big believer in the dramatic stuff and the funny stuff should all be because of who's involved and what they're doing. It's not because you're telling a story about it. It's, what are these characters doing that's funny? What are they doing that's dramatic? They drive the whole thing, all the way through the end. And hopefully, there's twists and turns that people don't see coming.

Was there stuff that you didn't see coming? Because you said you know where it begins, you know where it ends. Did you know the middle, or are you writing it in the middle and going, "Oh wait, I've got to do this, and that never occurred to me"?

Because of the situation that they're in, I put them in a unique situation as to why they're together and why that matters to both of them. And, I keep that a mystery as long as possible. Like, I get the immediate threat, but there's a looming, higher threat, and that's where the mystery is, and that's where the fun comes in. So, everything that they have to do together, as a team, that's what I had to plot out in my head, that makes sense, that again, moves the story forward and gets you to the end. It's like, 'Oh, that's why they did that. That's why this was happening. That's why Batman had to make this decision. That's why Joker was doing this, yada, yada, yada.' And look, without spoiling anything, Batman makes some mistakes.

Which is rare for him.

Which is rare for him, but that was important to me, because again, it helps drive the narrative towards the end. He makes mistakes early on, and it haunts him for the series and that's really cool. When I was writing it, I had to come up with these scenarios that, because they're working together, they have to solve things together. What was unique about The Joker, and what's unique about The Batman, and what's unique about this thing they have to solve each time? They each have their own skillset, but what were those skillsets?

You've got the world's greatest detective, and you've got the world's most insane villain — so, how do they solve crimes? And that was the fun part of the middle. They're solving these crimes and that's when Batman, to his horror, realizes, 'I need this guy, because he's crazy.' And, when you are brilliant, which Joker is, and crazy —

— Your brain goes places.

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

Exactly. And, I think part of the fun is that you realize, at least in this story, it becomes an asset, right? It's like that's where I kind of have some fun. Like, 'Wait a minute. The crazy, insane, brilliant guy is an asset,' and hopefully the reader gets taken on that same ride, has that fun. That was the fun part for me, as the writer, was to do that.

I was going to ask, was this fun for you? I mean, you were even joking, 'I pitched the idea they were going to say no to.'

That was the hope.

Now that you're working on it, is it something where you're like, 'This is much more fun than I expected it to be?'

Well, up to a certain point. I've been in this business for 40 years and I've worked with some of the greatest writers in the business. I've been lucky that way. I was telling myself when I'm starting this like, 'I'm not going to be that asshole writer that has these giant crowd scenes and these multiple heroes fighting multiple villains on this one page. I'm not going to be that guy.' And sure as hell, I was that guy. [Laughs]

As I'm writing it, I wasn't thinking about the artist. Screw that guy, I want this to happen in the story! So, once I got to the point where I had to start drawing it, I'm like, 'Who the hell wrote this shit? I hate that guy, I'm never going to work with him again.' [Laughs] The whole process is this push and pull thing, but, I made sure to write in stuff that not only I thought that the readers would just love and have fun with — because I have the big moments in there. I have the character stuff, but I also like the big, bombastic '90s stuff too. I got those big, double pages of Batman doing Batman shit.

That's what they want to see, right? [Double page spreads are] probably why it's seven and a half issues long! [Laughs] So, I had a lot of fun as the writer, just coming up with it, and as the artist, once I got done swearing at the writer, there are those moments where I just really wanted to draw, because Batman is just cool and I had my own version of Batman. It was important to me because I realized that there is no one version of Batman.

He's been reimagined so many times.

Whoever's doing Batman, that's their Batman. You can always tell it's Batman. Once I got past that, I was fine. So, I gave him some new toys, gave him a new Batmobile, gave him a new Bat Cave, which I call a Bat Cavern, because it's the biggest Bat Cave I think has ever been done. I want to do that, again, big.

I made sure to treat Gotham City as the third lead character. Because I’m a big fan of the old Star Trek series, the original. There was a four character lead. You had Kirk, you had Spock, you had McCoy, and you had the Enterprise, right? People forget the Enterprise is a character. I looked at Gotham the same way. Gotham is very organic. It could be expansive and open, and also claustrophobic and scary. I made sure that what was ever going on, Gotham reflected that. The same thing with the Bat Cave.

That sounds fun as an artist. That sounds like something you can really sink your teeth into.

Batman Joker The Deadly Duo
Image credit: DC

I gave Gotham this kind of Dieselpunk meets The Wizard of Oz, Emerald City, look. And the Bat Cave, for people, when they read it, it's subtle. I'm going to give this little trick away, but this is a fun part for me: As we go further into the heart of darkness and it does get darker, and Batman's world gets a little darker, the Bat Cave itself starts to close in. It's like it gets smaller around him and darker around him. The first time you see it, it's this huge, well-lit cavern. That's different than what you see in the last issue.

That's the feeling I wanted through the whole series. It's kind of hitting people a little on the subconscious level, underneath all the big bombast. I want them to feel a certain way so that, by the end of it, when Batman and Joker have gone through their bit and people have seen it, and they've read it, they go, "Aw, wow. I wasn't expecting that." Right? So, that's the hope. I hope people dig it.

That it’s worth those seven years of work. [Laughs]

I hope. Otherwise, jeez. What am I going to tell my wife? [Laughs]

Throughout all of New York Comic Con 2022, Popverse is going to be keeping up with everything that happens, from panels and breaking news to interviews and the best cosplay on the show floor. We’ll be sharing everything as it happens — including exclusive livestreams from the biggest panels at the show — so let us keep you in the loop all weekend.

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