January is ripe with promise for the Gotham franchise: in addition to the igniting of the second half of the dynamite season three, the series will extend to the book format, with the prequel Gotham: Dawn of Darkness. Unlike many of the preceding forays of the silver screen into the printed page, this novel does not occupy an ambiguous place in continuity: it is guided with input from the writing team as well as the show Bible. Hence, I was alight with excitement when I had the chance to interview the author of the novel, Jason Starr, and map some of the behind-the-scenes information of the creation of the book, which hits shelves on January 31st.
The official summary reads, “A break-in at Wayne Manor. The death of a masked intruder. Amid the seething crime and corruption of Gotham City, Thomas Wayne fights to protect his family and his company from forces unknown. While detective Harvey Bullock investigates the incident as a simple burglary, Wayne discovers that the threat may come from his own dark past.”
Mr. Starr is a veteran of the noir and comic book genres, both of which form the pillars of the best written show on television. His entries in the literary noir tradition include Cold Caller, Nothing Personal, Tough Luck, among many others. Several, such as Cold Caller, Nothing Personal, and Twisted City, have also been translated into film noir language, as well. In terms of the four color magazines on which Batman was born, he has written arcs involving the Punisher and Wolverine (both from the Max line,) Batman and Doc Savage (First Wave Special # 1,) and the Sand (JSA : 80 Page Giant # 1). He is the perfect candidate for penning the official prequel, as he has ample experience in engaging with noir, as well as descendants of it, such as Batman.
What influenced you to pursue writing?
I love creating characters and stories, but writing also became a good outlet for me, in general. Writing is part work, part fun, part therapy, although not necessarily in that order.
What were some of the obstacles you faced when you started writing?
Getting published and making a living are the biggest obstacles. Completing the work and being a self starter have fortunately never been an issue for me.
You worked on two of the Marvel Max series (Wolverine and Punisher): would you be able to describe the experience of working on them, as the Max line was a bold (and depending on the franchise,) subversive experiment.
I loved the irreverence of the Max line. I felt like I could really let loose and go for those big, ‘Oh Shit!’ moments. But, even in the Max line there were limits as to how far you can go as far as darkness and sexuality. There were some things they wouldn't let me do.
Would you chronicle how you joined ...Dawn of Darkness? Expanding the series mythology in a different format is a pioneering role.
The editor of the series for Warner Brothers/Titan offered me the chance to do it. I had written some Batman before (in comics) and the whole darkness of the show is right in my wheelhouse. Since the book is a prequel, it's really the beginning of the whole world. But, since it had to lead into the events of the show I had to tease out certain plot points. It was a challenge to write a novel with these sorts of restraints, but this made the writing itself more exciting for me.
You also penned the novel Ant-Man: Natural Enemy; would you be able to contrast the experience of writing it with that of writing Gotham: Dawn of Darkness?
Hmm, interesting question. Well the Ant-Man novel does not relate directly to the movie of the comic. It's similar to both, but there are many differences. In this sense I had a lot of freedom with the story line. It's also geared toward a slightly younger audience. Gotham is grittier, probably more like my usual crime novels.
As the show [Gotham] is lensed in New York City, and several of your novels have been set in [your home] city, did you incorporate any of the city (or connected experiences) to enrich the setting? [Note: for example, I know that Scott Snyder soaked the Zero Year arc with experiences of living in Post 9/11 NYC, while Frank Miller crafted Year One as a time capsule of the city in the seventies.]
There's a lot of New York in the book, but it's sort of like the show--Gotham is an alternate reality New York. Even the time period and level of technology are murky. I actually love this about the show.
Would you be able to describe the process of aligning the narrative with the show’s continuity? Were there any restrictions or rerouting? [For instance, I know Lucasfilm has the Holocron, which all content creators consult, while Marvel Studios has a similar database.]
It fits 100 percent into the events of the show. Unlike other tie-in novels this isn't "another adventure". If you are already a fan of the show this is like getting hidden episodes. If you have never seen the show, the book is a great introduction. I had access to the original Bible of the show, by Bruno Heller, and all of the scripts. I also consulted with the writers regarding any issues that came up along the way.
You have written numerous [excellent] entries in the noir tradition; how did you apply the aesthetic and/or sensibilities when translating superhero noir to the written page?
Gotham already has a crime noir vibe, which is probably one of the reasons they asked me to write the novel. I definitely took this book in a noir direction. People make bad decisions and there are consequences.
Speaking of noir, do you have any favorite film or literary entries in the genre?
I love almost everything by Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Charles Willeford, Patricia Highsmith, and David Goodis. But, I've always felt closest to Willeford.
Excluding Flashpoint, Thomas Wayne has usually been a background character in the Batman comic continuity, such as The Long Halloween, and in the films. How did you approach the character?
Thomas is one of the main characters in the novel. He's a good guy, in the sense he has the right intentions, but like a noir hero, he is also flawed and makes some wrong decisions that haunt him.
On the other side of the coin, I saw on Twitter you mentioned that Harvey Bullock has some of the best lines in the book: would you be able to describe Harvey at this point in the Gotham timeline?
This is Harvey pre-Jim Gordon: he has a different partner. He is just such a fun character. I love his whole attitude, and coming up with acerbic one liners just seemed to happen naturally.
Were there any characters who you really enjoyed writing?
Harvey, Cobblepot, Alfred, Nygma, Fish and the Wayne's were my favorites in this book.
The book offers many large surprises, such as a younger Bullock, a prominent Thomas Wayne; are there any small [spoiler-free] details that readers should keep an eye peeled for?
I don't want to give anything away! Pre-order the book! It's out in January, right around the corner!
Outside of ...Dawn of Darkness, do you have any other upcoming (or future) projects?
I'm almost done with a new psychological thriller. I'm also co-editing a unique serial novel which will be published in 2017. Also a second Gotham novel is in the works. More on that soon, so watch my Twitter and subscribe to Starr Street, my newsletter, for the latest updates!
In the Batman comics, do you have any favorite arcs/eras/writers? If so, what makes them resound?
Scott Snyder’s stuff is very cool. I also enjoyed Gregg Hurwitz's run, and love everything Batma- related that Brian Azzerello does.
At last, but not least: do you have advice for new writers?
Develop good writing habits: treat it like going to the gym, something you do every day, and productivity will follow. I guarantee it. I teach an online crime writing class through the Center for Fiction. More info on that can be found on my website as well!
I want to extend a massive thanks to Mr. Starr for taking his time to answer my questions. His website, newsletter page, and Twitter account are linked below. Gotham: Dawn of Darkness can be preordered here . It will be released on January 31st, two weeks after the show resumes, providing an excellent companion to the season.