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Registered: Oct 2002
Posts: 2051


There are a few things you don’t do in the DC Universe. Of course, as Jim Croche noted, you don’t step on Superman’s cape, and as Devin Grayson and John Bolton show in October’s Batman: Switch, you don’t mutilate the Joker, and dump him in London. That just gets him all riled up.

The quick setup – well, the quick setup is really quick – the Joker wakes up in London, his face horribly mutilated, with little memory of how he got there or what happened to his visage. Old habits are hard to break, and the Joker starts killing people. Enter Batman.

”Batman comes in to it when Joker starts killing people,” Grayson said. “He feels a great personal responsibility where Joker is concerned and is willing to travel to retrieve him. He just doesn't feel like London law enforcement knows what they're getting into.”

The “Switch” to which the title refers to has more than one meaning, as Grayson explains it. “It alludes to the ‘switch’ of Joker's deformity, and also to a little role reversal thing that happens with Joker and Batman in the story, which, come to think of it, is the result of the ‘switch’ of Joker being manipulated by someone else's insanity and being put in the position of having to figure out what's going on. Joker's idea of a good detective is, of course, Batman, so he tries on those shoes for a while, but it doesn't quite work out for him. He keeps accidentally killing people he's supposed to be interrogating and misinterpreting clues and such.” 

While the story idea may sound like it has riffs from The Prisoner or Hitchcock films, Grayson said that a lot of the inspiration for Switch came from Bolton, or actually, something Bolton saw which began speaking to his subconscious. 

”For John, part of the inspiration was this great old abandoned hotel in London - the Midland Grand - that was built over St. Pancras Station,” Grayson said. “It's a great set and I think the actual place started suggesting images to him. For me it was a matter of being handed these puzzle pieces – ‘…abandoned hotel, this particular deformity, can we start in a train station? Go!’ - and trying to find a through line. I did a lot of research on schizophrenic voices but the story really came together when I hit on the idea of Joker trying to do his own detective work. It was also tremendously helpful to have such a strong sense of John's work and what the pages might come out looking like after he'd worked his magic on them. There's nothing better as a comics writer than scripting for an artist whose pages you can't wait to see realized.”

As to why the Joker, while each Bat-writer over the years has had his or her particular connection, Grayson’s is perhaps the most…interesting. “What I love most about the Joker is that, essentially, he's right,” Grayson said. “The world is an insane, unpredictable place, and developing an ability to ride and enjoy that chaos is probably the best you can do in this life in terms of personal defense mechanisms. What Batman has done, on the other hand, is maybe the most difficult undertaking of all - to force order and discipline on a disorderly, undisciplined living circumstance - and it's incredibly admirable and inspiring. 

“So, on the one hand you have this guy who has succumbed, albeit in a fairly cerebral way, to the Id, and this other man who has ascended through pure self-determination to a state of Super Ego. They're terrific foils for each other, and both represent something the other has more or less forsaken - the best mental health choice in terms of being a complete human being obviously lying somewhere in the middle. Because of this dichotomy, too, Joker on some level wants to be captured and overwhelmed by Batman, much as Batman knows it is his responsibility - allegorically and actually - to subdue the Joker. The degree of cognizance they both have about their relationship makes it an especially thrilling association to work with and to have two such powerful archetypes also sharing such a complex and detailed history with one another kicks it up into irresistible.” 

On the more sane side of the coin, as to why John Bolton for this particular project, Grayson said that she’s stayed in touch with the artist since their work on User, and had frequently batted ideas back and forth for something new. 

Switch is actually John's baby - it was his idea and he called me and asked me to flesh it out for him,” Grayson said. “Well, actually, he called Bob Schreck, and I got a call from Schreck to the tune of ‘and hey, that Joker thing you're doing with Bolton sounds great!’ To which I of course replied, ‘Yeah, it's gonna be killer…’ while simultaneously typing an email to John: ‘JOKER PROJECT? Wha -- ?’ Then I hear Bob chuckle, ‘yeah, that deformity thing, how're you gonna pull that off?’ – ‘Oh, uh…you'll see!’ Later I get John on the phone, ‘so wait, you want his what where!? How the hell does that happen?’ – ‘Oh, well,’ John chuckles, perfectly chipper, ‘you're the writer, that's your problem!’”

As such, Grayson wrote specifically for Bolton, both in regards to playing to his style, and working to capture the vision that he had for the project. “User was my brainchild and I felt so honored and grateful watching John and Sean Phillips bring it to life, so I was thrilled and touched that John came to me for help with something that had sprung up in his head,” Grayson said. “I worked as hard as I could to honor and actualize in writing what he was striving for visually. I'm guessing he liked the script because he's already pushing for Switch II!”

Looking at the larger, and perhaps slightly cynical questions that may be raised by a premise such as Switch (that is, along the lines of: “The powers that be will never allows a mutilated Joker to remain – he’ll be back to his old self as soon as this is over, meaning that the evidence of the story will be gone, so why should I care?”), Grayson feels that it’s indicative of larger issues that the industry is struggling with. 

“Though I have certainly felt the jaw-clenching frustration that comes of watching someone undo something I've carefully set up [a very minor example, the Joker was shot in the knee in “No Man’s Land,” an injury which nine times out of ten cripples the target, but the Joker is getting around fine now] I've made peace with it by remembering two important things, one of which is a fact and the other of which is a belief,” Grayson said. “The fact is that these are corporate-owned characters. Even characters that I've invented and that no one else has ever written belong to DC if I used them in a book with Batman in the title. I may feel like I've put more into, say, Roy Harper and have better ideas about what he should be doing than any other writer but…guess what? Tough luck, I'm a work for hire contractor and he's a character who has been around since 1941 -- at the end of the day I'm just passing through. If that sounds jaded, then read on.

”My belief - and I'm quite passionate about this - is that all stories happen once upon a time, and they're all inviolable within their own context. In comics, we spend a lot of time worrying about "character continuity" - take Nightwing, for example; he's doing one thing in his own series, something else in Batman or Gotham Knights, and something altogether different in Outsiders or Titans in any given month. Hell, maybe he's even in Birds of Prey or stopping by Flash for a visit and that's not even touching on the movies or cartoons. And say you really like Nightwing and you have all the stories he's ever been in - even as Robin, even as the target - and you're still collecting. You decide to revisit some great Dick Grayson memories so you pull out some old comics. Now let me ask you this: do you pull out your June 1999 DC comics and read them through with July 1999 on standby? No! You pull out a series, a run, a story. You grab a fistful of Chuck's Nightwings or a nice, fat archive of really old Batman comics. I am still totally knocked out every time I read Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans issues and they have almost nothing to do with the direction in which my editor and I are currently taking the Nightwing series and that's absolutely cool. 

”These characters are legends, we're telling stories about their adventures…it's all timeless. People don't read about sixty-year-old characters perpetually in their twenties or thirties in chronological real time. You can't. That's not what stories are. Unless there's a sociological or political need to ground a comic book story in a specific timeframe, they're all written with the hopes that the action is immediate and accessible and now and able to completely grab you every time you pick up the book. Because of the episodic nature of serialized drama, obviously within certain series and certain runs there are story arcs and building plot points and it's highly beneficial, sometimes even necessary, to read prior issues, but those are still within the context of a singular story. Writers are at their best when they're telling their own stories. Let them. Don't hold them accountable for somebody else's work. That's a stupid way to read; it diminishes both the creators and the characters. Fiction is not about reality, it's about truth. One of the differences between the two is that reality is bound by time. Truth is not. When you pick up a fictional story you are agreeing to enter into a wholly fabricated and self-contained universe for the duration of that tale. If it's well done, that universe will resonate with your own, maybe even resonate with other stories. But it is the reader's responsibility to honor the transport between his or her world and the world of the characters. If you can't do that, then you can't really read and you're missing out on some wondrous adventures.”


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