Fear not, Gotham City. While Batman enjoys a vacation and leaves his hometown to suffer beneath the boot of his greatest enemy, there are corners of Gotham neither Bane nor Bat would dream of entering. Corners where only Frankenstein himself might walk... so it's a good thing he's brought a team along with him. Say hello to DC's Gotham City Monsters.
The Gotham City quarantine zone--now referred to by locals as Monstertown--is where Frankenstein's new mission has taken him, and where the unholy rituals being practiced in plain sight will demand a new kind of team. An alliance of monsters (with as much baggage as their green-skinned leader). The events that bring the likes of the former King of Vampires Andrew Bennett, the reformed Suicide Squaddie Killer Croc, the amphibious Orca, and the tragic Lady Clay together is one the series itself will reveal. Screen Rant had the chance to talk with Steve Orlando and Amancay Nahuelpan about their monster squad, just in case anybody needs to be sold on this horrifyingly beautiful team-up.
How did this beautiful book come into existence, and maybe you can both tell me what it was about the project that sold you on it, and got you on board?
Steve Orlando: I have loved that Frankenstein character since he came to DC. So much like Martian Manhunter, I was trying to find a way to work with him since I cam to DC. It happened that, similar to what brings the characters together in the book, we finally found this moment where we can thread the needle of all these big happenings in the DC Universe. Whether it's City of Bane, whether it's Event Leviathan, whether it's what's going on in Justice League, use that as a giant on-ramp to bring these characters together, and bring Frankenstein back into the DC Universe. He's been lingering with SHADE for a while but now that SHADE is gone as part of Event Leviathan, he's back to being the undead ronin that we have seen him as. For me it was all about Frankenstein. And with him in the core it's about finding characters that bounce off him in a bunch of different ways. That's how we brought Croc in, that's how we brought Bennett in, and the team just grew from there.
Amancay Nahuelpan: Yeah for me it was pretty similar. I got on board when Steve already had the script done and all that, so I just got offered to draw Frankenstein. And I was like, 'Yes, that's all I need to hear, but go on.'
SO: The funny thing is, there are a lot of characters that you find out some creators would give anything to work on. And they're not always the most traditionally well known characters. I think Frankenstein is one of them. It owes to what Grant [Grant Morrison] and Doug [Mahnke] did in the original miniseries, that there's not a creator I have met that hasn't been excited for Frankenstein to be back. And honestly there's not a lot of artists I've met that haven't said, 'Oh I gotta do a cover for that! Just let me know!' There are things that are just fun to draw and inspire creative energy. He's one of those characters, and I think it comes through on the page every time someone gets to work with him.
AN: That Doug Mahnke Frankenstein is just so good.
We're diving into an area of Gotham City that a lot of people, myself included, had sort of hoped for more of when it was introduced: Monstertown. A quarantine zone where gigantic experimental kaiju died during the "Night of the Monster Men," which Steve you wrote. I'd love to hear how you both see this part of Gotham, which is something a little different, or a little new, even in a city that Batman fans will think they know.
SO: Monstertown is where people in Gotham who are perceived to be without value or outcasts, even in a city of outcasts, go to live. I think that's what's fascinating about it. A lot of people think they know Gotham, but where do the people that think they don't even fit in there go? The people who can't afford to live elsewhere, the people who don't feel as though they're welcome on the streets of Gotham... In the hyper-reality of the DC Universe that also means people who are these creature type characters. Where do they go? That's where Monstertown is.
The book gives us an opportunity to say, this is going on in "City of Bane" but this is somewhere even he doesn't give a shit about. Because who would? Why would anyone go there? That's also an explosive motivation for our characters to show that they matter, both to themselves and to the greater DC Universe. To me it's an incubator for heroism in many ways. The people who this society often views as the lowest to refocus themselves and go back up and do something that matters. Even if that's just proving themselves to themselves. That's what was appealing about Monstertown to me.
AN: Yeah. All I can add is: the fact that no one in Gotham cares about this city gives us the freedom of playing around with the looks of it. Giving it its own mood, and grittiness. Which from the art point of view obviously makes it interesting to work with.
Frankenstein is the star of the show, but I am jealous of any casual comic fan who thinks this is the normal Frankenstein, and not the secret agent action hero they're going to be meeting here. How much fun he is to draw in these undeniably badass moments?
AN: It was great! It was really fun reading the scripts, and I really like that this Frankenstein is a very street-level Frankenstein. In Issue #1 he burns this guy in the bar, and then he cuts Andrew in half, and smashes this ape in the subway station. a lot of grounded stuff that I really love and enjoy drawing. And the fact that it's this big, bulky monster doing it is really fun to work on. His design is so interesting. The stitches, the coat, and his steampunk-pirate-gun, all that. It wasn't hard at all to jump on with this character, then it was just a fun ride to draw every action. There's more stuff in the following issues, but every time I get to draw him it's really enjoyable.
SO: I think his tone is very unique with the character, too. It's really hard to thread the needle with him. But he's someone who is very willing to say when a situation is a lost cause. His debut issue he delivers a summary execution to a teenager who can mind-control people. Without a second thought, he just drops a sword on his spinal column. It's not that he's without a moral code or doesn't believe in justice, he certainly does. He actually believes in that abstract concept so strongly... without mercy in a romantic, Miltonian way. He wishes things were better but he's totally fine accepting that they aren't. He says in Issue #1 to this minotaur character, 'this really shouldn't have happened to you. It's really not fair. But it did happen to you. And life's not fair. So now you have to die. He wishes it were different but he is... he's a heroic pessimist, I guess I should put on his business card.
You mentioned Andrew Bennett. I bet for modern audiences this will be their first time meeting Andrew Bennett a.k.a I, Vampire. What role is he going to play here, and how much of his past will readers need to know about?
SO: I don't actually think you need to know a lot about his past. What's great is you know instantly that Bennett is old, he's experienced, and he's a person who is not really willing to just go with what Frankenstein says just because. They're both characters who think they have every situation under control. And as you see, that leads to some conflict between them in Issue #1. And with Frankenstein conflict is always abrupt. But Bennett himself, he does have an extensive past, but all you need to know in this book is what he says in Issue #1. He used to be the king of the vampires, now he just likes to make sure that everything is happening in the way that the circle of life and death happens in any ecosystem. So he does accept that vampires will feed on humans but it can't be too much, just like any predator.
He is also someone who after 500+ years puts all of that responsibility on himself. That puts him in direct conflict with Frankenstein because he's the same way. They're almost too similar even though they have the same goal. His journey will be one of understanding what he does and doesn't know. At the same time, I think it's a treasure if you read this book and want to go back and investigate I, Vampire. Fialkov and Sorrentino did incredible work there. It's not a book you have to read, but I hope you come to love the complex motivations and responsibilities that drive Bennett, and want to go back and read his other adventures. But everything you need to know about him is right in his opening scene in the book.
AN: That's one of the great things of this miniseries, you don't really need to know much about all of these characters. That gets established in the first issue. If people don't have a clue who Lady Clay or Orca are they're going to be fine. They can enjoy this series without needing to dig into all the other DC Universe stories or backgrounds.
Since you won't brag about your own work, I'll ask you to compliment your partner on this comic book. So what does the writer think of the art, and what does the artist think of the writing?
SO: Amancay was made to draw these creatures. His designs for the new character Red Phantom are awesome. With this book we wanted to do something additive to the DC Universe. You might think there are no unique takes on Gotham characters after 80 years, but I think his story is one that hasn't been told in Gotham. I'm super excited that he's there and I think Amancay's design is killer for Red Phantom. And he's just someone who is made to draw Frankenstein. What I mentioned earlier about Frankenstein really goes to all these characters. That having a book with all these different visually interesting characters--it doesn't necessarily affect the narrative, but what it does do is give artists an opportunity to really experiment and have fun on every single page. And that energy really comes through. He's bringing life to these characters like you've never seen before, many of whom you haven't seen in a long time, and it wouldn't be the same without him. his interest and innovation with these looks is apparent on every page.
AN: Thank you! I've been a fan of Steve's work for a while too. I remember when we spoke a year ago I was telling him how much I was enjoying Martian Manhunter. The crazy ideas that pop up in these scripts are probably one of the things I enjoy the most. I'm actually just doing the pencils on a scene with Lady Clay in Issue #3, and it's crazy how Steve thought up this idea of her using her powers this way. It's fascinating to work on all these ideas, and the things he has described that are coming up in following issues. I can't wait to get them and read them. The workflow with Steve has been great, the way we works with scripts and art is just the best situation you can ask for.
Gotham City Monsters #1 is available now from your local comic book shop, or direct from DC Comics.