Saturday, October 30, 2010
New writer David Hine (ARKHAM REBORN, DETECTIVE COMICS) makes his AZRAEL debut in part 1 of the 4-part "The Killer of Saints!" Members of religious cults are being murdered in grotesque reenactments of the martyrdom of Christian saints. Each victim holds part of a centuries-old secret that, once revealed, will alter the course of human history.
Newsarama: David, we talked recently about how the themes in your Arkham and Detective stories over the last year fit with your style of writing. What appeals to you as a writer about the story of Azrael?
David Hine: He’s another crazy character. I keep writing books centered on certifiable lunatics. Honestly I don’t actively go searching for these gigs. When I started to read up on the character and I saw that the Suit of Sorrows has the unavoidable side effect of driving the wearer crazy I thought “uh oh, another crazy lead character.” I don’t want to get pigeonholed, but I admit to a fascination with characters who have trouble holding onto their sanity.
Michael Lane is very different to Jeremiah Arkham of course. You get the feeling that Arkham was born crazy and has been trying to keep a grip on his sanity all his life, while Michael Lane starts out as a very stable, strong-willed person, who has gone through a series of traumatic events, including the deaths of many of his closest family. Becoming the new Azrael looked like a way to find a new purpose and redeem himself, but his role has turned out to be much more complex and ambiguous than he expected. What’s also appealing is that, even though he’s ostensibly part of a group, The Order of Purity, he’s still an outsider and I do like those marginal characters.
Nrama: You obviously had a lot of knowledge about Jeremy Arkham as you wrote his story over the last year. Have you done a lot of research on Azrael, or were you pretty familiar with the character? What kind of research have you done and will we see any elements of it in the story you're writing?
Hine: When Mike Marts offered me this series I didn’t know a hell of a lot about the character. I think the last time I read the book some minor league artist called Joe Quesada was drawing it I’ve read and re-read all the material featuring the Michael Lane character – the Battle for the Cowl mini-series, a couple of Batman and Detective Annuals and of course all the issues of Batman that featured Michael Lane as one of Dr Hurt’s replacement Batmen. I also had all of Fabian Nicieza’s scripts up to issue 9. I’ve been working on the story for a while now and Fabian was months ahead with his scripts, so I knew where the story was heading. I’ve also contacted Fabian about some of his intentions for the character.
There’s a fascinating flash-forward in the first issue of the current series, where Azrael apparently dies at his own hand. Fabian threw that in right from the start and that future event is hanging over the entire series. I will be getting to that scene eventually. I want to respect what Fabian was doing with the story and the character. He set up some fascinating possibilities and I don’t want to abandon any of those sub-plots. So for the readers who may have been worried that the death scene would never be explained – have no fear, all will be revealed.
I’ve restricted myself to the Michael Lane version of the character for now. I’m aware of the previous incarnation of Jean-Paul Valley of course, but I don’t want to overcomplicate things – at least, not yet. For the moment I’m exploring the way Michael Lane’s sanity becomes increasingly fragile, the longer he wears The Suit of Sorrows.
Nrama: Who is Azrael, in your mind? What are his most promising and most troubling attributes?
Hine: Azrael’s lunacy is of the Biblical kind of course. He believes he’s God’s chosen agent of retribution. I’m playing with that a lot in my first story arc. I like using Biblical imagery and language and I’ve also been exploring a lot of the alternative interpretations of Christian history, delving into the Gnostic religion and all the religious mythology and conspiracy theories of the Holy Blood, Holy Grail ilk. In recent years this has become know as “Dan Brown territory” but there are still a lot of scholarly and plausible theories to be mined and explored. Not that I want to become too bogged down in the facts and pseudo-facts. I’m using the research as a jumping-off point for a taut thriller series. The religious and supernatural elements add an extra piquancy. I have actually done a lot of reading on Freemasons, the Templars, religious cults, The Turin Shroud, all kinds of conspiracy theories, some of them quite barmy, others very plausible, but most of it will be filed away and I’ll only refer to the stuff that actually serves the story.
What makes the character so fascinating is that he has this extraordinary religious faith and he’s constantly wrestling with that, attempting to justify his judgmental acts of vengeance in the name of God. But his interpretation of what God represents is going to come under some intense scrutiny when he delves into the origins of the Order of Purity and his own background. Fabian actually had Azrael become the personification of the Eighth Deadly Sin and interestingly he reveals that sin to be Faith. That’s a reversal of the accepted evaluation of faith. It’s normally seen as a virtue, but when Faith becomes fanaticism it does indeed become a negative trait.
Nrama: How do you kick off things in Issue #10? What's the idea behind this story?
Hine: We’re going to delve into the history of the order and pursue that notion of Faith as Sin to the limit. The first arc is a four-issue story called The Killer of Saints, in which Azrael comes face to face with a distorted mirror image of himself in The Crusader. The Crusader is an agent of Rome who sets our to make martyrs of the members of The Order of Purity who have become heretics in the eyes of the established Church. He is also trying to discover the secret that is known only to an inner circle within the Order of Purity. This secret, once revealed, could bring down the established churches and establish a new world order. It will also present an irreconcilable challenge to Michael Lane, whose own beliefs are rooted in his upbringing as a staunch Catholic.
Nrama: It sounds like you're very aware of where Fabian was going with the series. Are you going to pick up the story threads that have been set up by him?
Hine: I’m kicking off with a brand new story but at the end it will actually converge with what Fabian was doing and the following arc will lead up to that moment I mentioned from the first issue of the series, where Azrael is found crucified and the death is pronounced to be a suicide. That was a daring start to the series and I’m determined to do it justice. The denouement to that storyline is going to be, quite literally, a real killer.
Nrama: You've talked about the religious themes that permeate this series. What has it been like to explore that part of Azrael's story?
Hine: I’m intensely interested in religion and particularly in the many versions of Christianity that have developed over the past two thousand years. I’m an atheist myself, but I was brought up in a very religious household. Since I was a teenager and started actually thinking for myself instead of blindly following what I was taught in school and church, I’ve been struggling to understand how a religion can embrace such contradictory ideas – the concept of love and forgiveness, personified by Jesus in the Gospels and then the selfish, violent, jealous, brutal, utterly unforgiving God of most of the Old Testament and the latter parts of the New Testament. How do you reconcile the fact that all those happy smiling Christians give absolute devotion to a God whose values, if he were a human being, would be condemned as utterly evil? It’s a dichotomy I find fascinating. That’s a moral conflict that I’ll be exploring through Azrael, who personifies that duality.
Nrama: What does Guillem March bring to this story? What does his style lend to the story you're telling?
Hine: I’m so glad to be working with Guillem. I’ve watched him developing over the past couple of years and it’s been interesting to see the European elements of his style meshing with the mainstream American influences. I recently became aware that he has in fact published a number of graphic novels in France and Spain. Guillem kindly sent me a package of his early work and it’s very impressive. He started out a few years back with a totally different style, much more in line with European comics, which are often more detached and formalized than American comics.What makes Guillem unique is that he has retained the formal storytelling elements, the realistic figure drawing, the skillfully composed backgrounds, and then infused the art with the highly charged emotional drama of mainstream American comics. He has also brought on Tomeu Morey on colors. Tomeu is a fellow Spaniard who lives near Guillem and is a personal friend so they make a great team with a lot of communication between them. I think people are going to be knocked out by this art. It’s Guillem’s best work to date and he’s clearly enthused by the character of Azrael and the themes that we’re touching on. He is working incredibly hard on this book. I have the pleasure of getting a page of art in my inbox every day like clockwork, penciled and inked, and every page is stunning.
And speaking of collaborators, you and Jeremy Haun are moving from your Arkham run of stories into "Azrael" with July's #10. In general, what clicks in that partnership, and in what ways are your strengths suited to a book like "Azrael"?
I would have loved to work with Jeremy again, but that solicit was a little premature. Jeremy is committed to his creator-owned work for the immediate future so he wasn't able to commit to an ongoing series. The artist will be Guillem March. Guillem is a terrific artist. I'm just starting to discover the massive body of work he has done in Europe before he began working for the US publishers. I think "Azrael" is a book where he'll be able to show off a side to his work that American audiences haven't seen yet.
Azrael as a character has always trafficked in religious iconography and themes, and it seems like you're taking those associations to a new level with your "The Killer of Saints" arc. How do you ratchet up the kind of cult conspiracy mystery story while also keeping this a superhero comic?
I tend to forget I'm writing superhero comics, and after a while most of my readers seem to forget about that too. Azrael wears a costume and he gets into fights, but so did Robin Hood, so does Doctor Strange. What I'm interested in is the mystery, the cult and the occult. There are strong elements of horror in this story too. Fabian Nicieza set up some really strong plot lines and I'll be drawing on some of that – particularly that "suicide" scene set up in issue #1. But it will be a while before we get to that.
I'm leading off issue #10 with a whole new mystery that ties in to the history of The Order of Purity. I've done masses of research on the history of Christianity and the various offshoots of the early Church. What starts out as a murder mystery ends up tracking back to the a conspiracy by the established churches to suppress the heretical religions of medieval times. That conspiracy continues to this day, and in "Azrael" we will finally reveal the truth that has only been touched on in books like "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail." All the so-called revelations you've heard about are just more lies and disinformation. For the real lowdown, you'll need to read "Azrael" in the coming months.
The hook is that someone is tracking down members of the Order of Purity and killing them in grotesque imitations of the martyrdoms of various saints. And believe me, a lot of saints experienced some horrendous deaths. This killer also displays paranormal abilities that appear to be miraculous in the Biblical sense.
Overall, there have been a lot of changes to the Azrael name since Nicieza brought the character into play last year. What are the pieces of Michael Lane's personality and background that you're looking to build on most over the course of this arc?
Poor Michael is, dare I say, even more screwed up than Jeremiah Arkham. He had Dr. Hurt messing with his head, preparing him to take over from Batman in the Grant Morrison "Batman R.I.P." stories, then he gets stuck with a costume that drives the wearer insane and ultimately kills them. Michael has to fight to maintain a balance between good and evil, sanity and insanity, and in the end to confront his own crisis of belief and faith.
[This bio is credited from www.comicvine.com]
In a Pre- Crisis Golden Age story, Batman participates in an isolation chamber experiment which involved him being trapped inside a chamber for a long periods of time. The experiment was conducted by the insane Dr. Simon Hurt. During that time Gordon was replaced by Commissioner Vane. After Batman left the project, Vane began to fear that Batman may not be around for a long time and began thinking of a way to replace him. He collaborates with Dr. Hurt to create 'replacement' Batmen if the original Batman should perish. According to Dr. Hurt that Batman's most likely motivation for fighting crime was a great tragedy in his life. So they chose police recruits then psychologically scarred them in order to make them into Batmen.
The Black Casebook
Years ago, Batman had a vision where he encountered three Batmen who were 'figures' of what Batman believes will happen if he ever cheated on his war on crime. The first Batman was a marksman who (obviously) uses gun, the second was the Bane Batman who uses Bane's - Venom and Hugo Strange's Monster serum and the third Batman was the man who sold his soul to the Satan.
Years later, Batman fights the Bane-Batman and almost gets killed when the Bane Batman stomps on his back. Luckily, one of the hooker's takes him to the address he tells her to. She takes her to the Penthouse and later Batman has a vision where Damian Wayne tells him that the Third Batman/ Sleeper is the most dangerous of them all.
The Third Batman invades Gotham P.D. He begins spraying the headquarters with sleep gas. Gordon bursts in to stop him but the Third Batman shows him a Police badge. James Gordon tries to negotiate with but he captures Gordon and takes him to the roof where he lights up the Bat-Signal. Meanwhile Bruce is skydiving with Jezebel Jet when he sees the Bat-signal. Bruce tells Alfred that he is going to see what is going on and to tell Jezebel that his parachute veered off course. Batman arrives at the rooftop and fights with the Third Batman. The Third Batman shoots the real Batman in the chest and he begins to suffer a heart attack. Batman lies on the roof top and experiences a flash back from deeply buried memories (you know stuff he doesn't want to remember). He relives the night when he was partly responsible for the death of Joe Chill. Sleeper then revives Batman and puts him in a chair and binds him with shackles. Batman then faces Sleeper carrying a drill in a vaguely familiar chamber.
The Isolation Chamber
Sleeper tortures Batman and Batman slowly begins to piece things together. The room he is in is way below in Gotham P.D and is the chamber where Batman once participated in the Isolation Experiment. Batman deduces Sleeper's identity to be Lane. A man whose Family is said to have been killed by Satanists and he is a former police recruit trained and emotionally scarred in order to become a replacement Batman. Lane himself has participated in the isolation experiment. Batman himself begins to relive the nightmare of that experiment but manages to escape from his shackles by dislocating his shoulder.
Batman proceeds to punch out Lane but meets with the Bane-Batman instead. Gordon meanwhile forces one of the cops Officer Farelli to talk and reveal to him about what is going on. As Bane Batman was about to crush Batman's head, Gordon and the Farelli comes in and shoots Bane Batman in the head. Lane however escapes. Batman gets up and begins thinking about his life and the direction it's taking. He fears that his training and years of training might not be enough to save him from the ultimate evil, if such a thing is really out there in the shadows. Batman meets Lane who is watching on the other side of a fence. Batman proclaims that Batman is finished!
Lane was next seen piloting the Batcopter for Doctor Hurt as they tried to escape Arkham Asylum after the Black Glove's plan to kill Bruce Wayne failed. Before they can escape Bruce Wayne jumps onto the helicopter and the helicopter crashes into the water, apparently killing Lane, however there was no body found so he is presumed alive.
Azrael: Death's Dark Knight
Michael Lane is now the new Azrael. He was given the Suit of Sorrows by the Order. After a run-in with Dick Grayson, Lane has been given "permission" to continue operating as Azrael. Dick has said he'd keep an eye on Lane.
666:Hour of the Devil
In the post apocalyptic future, Batman is dead and Damian Wayne ( Robin) has sold his soul to the devil in order to keep Gotham safe. Damian, as Batman, takes down a dolloid created by Professor Pyg and saves a little girl. Commissioner Barbara Gordon arrives and accuses Batman of killing Candy Man. Batman quotes the poet of Yeats. He then flashes a powerful light: "Welcome to Bethlehem where the forces of light meets the forces of darkness!" He then escapes in the Batmobile to his penthouse. He tells his cat, called Alfred, about other murdered super villains and looks at the news, the world is in chaos with dirty bombs being thrown, war, famine, heat waves. The the world is falling apart and Armageddon is coming. Batman points out the location of the death of 5 crime bosses Barbara mentioned earlier and learns that it forms a pentagram. In the middle lies Hotel Bethlehem. The Anti Christ Batman (Sleeper) arrives there to ensue chaos over Gotham on the eve of Armageddon. Damian/Batman arrives and slaughters Sleeper's henchmen . Damian then faces off Sleeper and blasts him in to a pool. Sleeper rises out of the water and walks on it's surface.
Damian then claims that the devil did not tell the Anti-Christ Batman that Damian himself has sold his soul to the devil when he was fourteen to keep Gotham safe. Damian/Batman proceeds to viscously kill Sleeper. He rips Sleeper's flesh across the mid section. Damian then kills Sleeper by twisting his neck as an explosion occurs nearby. Barbara Gordon arrives and orders the GCPD to shoot and kill Damian Batman. Damian is shot several times in the chest but gets up unharmed. Barbara asks "What are you?" and Damian responds that he is the best friend she's got. Batman then claims that Apocalypse is over until he says so.