Grotesk Detective

Lowdown - Article

Share this lowdown

  • Button Delicious
  • Bttn Digg
  • Bttn Facebook
  • Bttn Ff
  • Bttn Myspace
  • Bttn Stumble
  • Bttn Twitter
  • Bttn Reddit

John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake are giving the regular Batman creative team of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert a little breathing room on the four-issue story arc “Grotesk”, running bi-weekly in Batman #659-662.

With the second part out today, BF turned to John Ostrander for the lowdown on the story.

BROKEN FRONTIER: When DC began looking for a creative team to step in on Batman and allow Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert a break, how did they end up on your and Tom Mandrake’s doorstep?         

JOHN OSTRANDER: Actually, the editor, Pete Tomasi, gave Tom and me a call. Pete has worked with us on The Spectre, The Kents and Martian Manhunter and we play well with each other. It started as a mini-series and then became a fill-in for a non-specified date; as Tom was finishing, the date became specific.

Pete’s smart; deadlines being what they are, it’s good to have an arc in the drawer that you can use when you need it.

BF: You’ve worked with Tom Mandrake before on countless occasions—next to Martian Manhunter and The Spectre, you’ve also worked on Firestorm: The Nuclear Man and, most notably, GrimJack. What makes working with Tom so special?        

JO: I was also working on Firestorm and when a shift in artist was proposed, I asked for Tom. Working with Tom is smooth, especially at this point. We know each other so well. It also remains surprising; I write FOR Tom, giving him something I figure he’ll really go to town on and then he gives me even more than what I “saw”. It’s also real easy to dialogue from Tom’s pencils (we tend to work plot first). I’ve done more work with Tom, I think, than any other collaborator I’ve worked with. And it’s still a rush.

BF: The title of your four-part story arc is “Grotesk”, referring to the mysterious villain bearing the same name that you’re introducing to Batman’s rich rogues gallery. What features make this new foe live up to his name?   

JO: Well, he has a mask that he has made from pieces of the faces that he has snipped from his victims. I think THAT qualifies. [Laughs]

BF: About Batman’s rogues gallery, with so many to pick from, which classic villain is your favorite?    

JO: That’s kid in the candy store time, isn’t it? There’s so many interesting and warped personalities to work with. I’ve played with the Penguin a few times and found his mind interesting. Joker is probably the primal Batman villain; he’s actually bigger than any writer who writes him, just as Hamlet as a part is really bigger than any actor who can play him.

If you’re writing a Batman story, one of the real questions is “Can you write a good Joker?” I think that’s why so many writers want to use him in Batman.

BF: It might be a bit of a non-question since you created the character, but now that we dropped the term ‘classic’, do you think Grotesk has the potential to one day make the ‘classics’ list?  

JO: That depends on the response of readers and other writers—do the readers want to see him again, do other writers want to work with him? Could he stand up to repeated viewings? Only time will tell. After all, “classic” is something that stands the test of time. Despite what the hucksters say, there is no such bid as an “instant classic”.

BF: What qualities make someone a good Batman villain from your point of view? 

JO: Tom and I discussed what goes into making a “classic” Batman villain when we started the story. Batman has been noted for his rogue’s gallery of physically grotesque villains and that certainly influenced our thinking. A clear modus operandi—way of operating. Something to make them distinctive. They have to be right in scale for both Gotham and the Batman—Batman really works best in Gotham. The villain has to fit that mold as well. There are exceptions such as Ra’s al Ghul but, in the main, I think that holds true.

BF: You’re also using a slew of other characters in the story. There’s Johnny Kareoke, who’s a member of the Yakuza and has his own ‘Deadly Viper Assassination Squad’ at his disposal with the Geisha Grrls; then there’s a Russian gangster called Perun, and Amina Franklin. Can you delve into how each of them fits into your arc?

JO: Two of them want something and the third knows something that’s essential to the story. Johnny is a real over-the-top character, our sort of “Kill Bill” type of character. The tendency is to not take him seriously which is exactly what he wants you to do.

Perun, on the other hand, is just plain brutal. He’s emblematic of the new breed of gangster that America is seeing, especially from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—utterly ruthless, incredibly violent, and impossible to scare.

Amina Franklin is a doctor working both the emergency room at a hospital as well as donating time at a free clinic. She and Bruce share history. She’s a very dedicated doctor but she is also haunted by a secret she carries.

BF: Seeing that one of the meanings of the word ‘grotesque’ is ‘eccentric’, does the title of the story also refer to any particular take on Batman, or to the nature of the mysterious murder mystery that draws him out of his cave?  

JO: More the mystery than to Batman himself. Not only is the mystery itself eccentric, but so are some of the people involved in it.

BF: Regardless, considering you take great pride in writing dark, brooding, contemplative characters—as your GrimJack and Spectre stories indicated—is playing up that darker aspect about Batman going to be your trump card?  

JO: Actually, we’re playing up more of the detective side of Batman. There is more than one mystery operating in our story but they all tie together. We wanted to remind everyone WHY Batman is also DC’s greatest detective. It also builds to a lot of really fine action scenes integrated into the plot. Tom was having a LOT of fun with all that.

BF: Beyond Grotesk, do you have any other plans within the DCU, or with Tom?  

JO: Tom and I hope to do some more Batman for Pete. We’re already talking about the possibility but there’s nothing to announce yet. Tom and I both have projects we’re working on launching, either together or separately—again, nothing I can talk about at the moment. I’m also talking with DC about another project that I’m hoping will be approved and announced very soon.

There’s more GrimJack in the works as well as the return of the Munden’s Bar stories. And I continue to do Star Wars: Legacy for Dark Horse. The first two issues of that are now in their THIRD printings and the third issue is in a second printing. My artist, Jan Duursema—who is also co-plotting the book, is doing incredible work. It’s beautiful, dramatic and action filled.

Related content

Related Headlines

Related Lowdowns

Related Reviews

Related Columns


There are no comments yet.

In order to post a comment you have to be logged in. Don't have a profile yet? Register now!

Latest headlines


Latest comments
Comics Discussion
Broken Frontier on Facebook