By Todd Matthy

Chuck Dixon is one of the most distinguished creators in the comic book industry. During his tenure on Batman he not only created Bane but was an instrumental part in the creation of “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” both which served as inspirations for “The Dark Knight Rises.” But Chuck is more than just Batman. He wrote Punisher for Marvel, adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” into a comic book, and is currently writing GI Joe for IDW. I recently had a chance to talk with Mr. Dixon about how he created Bane, the process of turning a novel into a comic book, why there won’t be any “Lord of the Rings” comics, what CrossGen was really like, and his thoughts on Bane/Bain Capital controversy.

What state of mind do you need to get into in order to write Batman?

It certainly helps that I’ve been reading Batman comics for as long as I could read. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know who Batman was. So, it’s all kind of intuitive; almost like writing about a friend or a relative.


Have you seen Dark Knight Rises yet? How did you feel about the portrayal of Bane?

I haven’t seen it and probably won’t for a bit. But form the interviews with Christopher Nolan and the clips I’ve see, it appears that the character will be pretty close to the way I wrote him in the comics.


Did you ever meet Christopher Nolan or Tom Hardy? If so what were they like? Did they ask you questions about Bane? If so what were they?

I’m too far down the food chain to travel in that company. I have had zero contact with anyone involved with the movie. I’d like to have a photo of Bane autographed by Tom Hardy though. It’d look cool on my office wall.

I’m assuming you’ve heard that Rush Limbaugh has found a connection between Bane and Bain Capital. What’s your take on that “controversy?”

To be fair to Rush, the connection was first drawn by some Democrat party operatives and at reelectobama.org. Rush picked up on it from an article in the Washington Examiner. That’s the same article I reacted to at dixonverse.net and the Washington Times picked up quotes from there. Rush is blamed for making something out of nothing but he was only responding to something he read, just as I did. It may be silly, but politics are often silly. The “controversy” falls apart once the move is released. Bane is nothing like a Mitt Romney type in the movie. If anything, he is more like an Occupy Wall Street organizer. All this kerfuffle accomplished was to make Bane a household name a few days in advance of the premiere.

In response to the Rush Limbaugh question, I recently began re-reading “The Dark Knight Returns” and saw the political atmosphere and the cartoonish combative media to be oddly similar to the one on TV in the year 2012. Do you think Frank Miller was in an odd way prophetic?

I think he was exaggerating the world of the 80s. It was the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle and a lot of prime time news shows were featuring counterpoint debates.

Can you describe the process of creating Bane?

Knightfall was in the planning for a few months and we were all working on the issues leading up to it. We all understood that we wanted to create a brand new villain to break Batman’s back but nothing had been discussed about him. Denny thought we should come out the other end of the stunt with a new bad guy. A lot of the elements of the event had been worked out around the creation of this new character but no ideas had been put forward by anyone about who this new badass would be. We were treating him as a blank that needed to be filled in.

My wife was pregnant and I couldn’t travel to New York City because she was close to her due date. Denny O’Neil kindly traveled down to Pennsylvania with Scott Peterson, his associate editor at the time for a kind of mini-summit. I think Jordan Gorfinkel was along too. Part of the agenda was suggestions for this new villain.

We knew we would basically be replacing KGBeast in the role of the brutal- but-intelligent bad guy.  KGBeast had become old news with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The KG-Beast used to be. We also knew that he would be powered by Venom, the addictive super-steroid that Denny had come up with for an arc in Legends of the Dark Knight. And Denny promoted the idea of creating new villains with each event in the hopes of lightning striking. I liked this idea because I always thought DC’s villain bench was weak unlike Marvel where there are hundreds of great bad guys to choose from. I think that’s still true today especially with DC’s penchant for knocking off characters left and right.

I never really imagined I’d be tapped to create the character. I assumed Denny had his own ideas or that we’d do it committee style with everyone submitting suggestions. But no one was really stepping up. I was the newest guy on the Bat-team so didn’t think it was my place.

Anyway, I was concerned about trying to manufacture a character based on the need for him to be popular. I told Denny that popular characters were often created as afterthoughts or accidents. Wolverine and Silver Surfer come to mind. A lot of people have failed in trying to cobble together a character based solely on their desire that the comic readers love him. Since I was so skeptical about our success, and no one else was coming up with anything, Denny assigned me to figure out the origin of this character (who we were calling Doc Toxic at the time) and write an extra-length special for me. I think Denny was relying on my obsessive approach to this stuff. He knew I’d sweat it.

The name “Bane” popped out at me while looking through a thesaurus to compile a list of possible names.  That’s the name I kept coming back to when I thought of him and I eventually brought everyone else around to calling him that. The worry was that the name was too simple. I think that’s its charm; snappy and elegant and on-message. This guy is the bane of everyone he touches.

I recently re-read the “Vengeance of Bane” one-shot and found Bane’s connection the Batman mythology a little forced. (The bat being his greatest fear) Looking back, do you think you could have tied him more closely to the Batman mythology? Also whose idea was it to include the Three Stooges as thugs?

That was Graham with the Stooges!

Well, Bruce Wayne conquered his fear of bats so it’s part of the mythos. Bane’s fear was more focused on an imaginary bat-monster. He was also obsessed with being at the top of whatever environment he was in. Upon escaping from Santa Prisca, he was determined to reach Gotham for two reasons; it was (in the DCU) the largest city in the world and was inhabited by a legendary bat monster. Bane would fight his way to the summit of power over the greatest population center he could find and take that place from the creature he had feared since he was a child. It was a win/win and an irresistible draw.


Did you think Knightfall killed Bane as a character? How do you top having your villain break Batman’s back? He’s had his crowning moment. Did you see a future for the character post Knightfall? Do you think the character should have been retired post-Knightfall?

Absolutely not. Knightfall was the making of Bane. It’s as much his origin as the story of Bruce Wayne’s temporary downfall. Solid villains that the public reacts to are hard to come by. With his back story, Bane has something every villain needs: resonance. When Bane shows up you know its trouble with a capital “T.” It would be like putting Darth Vader on the shelf after he killed Obi Wan or saying that Dracula’s story ends with his death. The mystery of Bane’s parentage was designed to give him a continuing story. And Legacy was about Bane’s realization that he is an innocent.


How did you break up the writing duties during Knightfall? How was decided which title and which writer would get the important beats of the story?

A VERY complex chart on white boards at the first summit. Seriously, it looked like an episode of Numb3rs. And technology being what it was, we worked off of photographs of those white boards! Denny assembled a triumvirate of writers who would play nice and we free-associated inside of Denny’s framework for Knightfall and mapped out assignments for each step of the process.


I can’t resist this one. Seeing as how Graham Nolan based Bane visually on lucha libre wrestlers, would you be happy if Vince McMahon decided to bring a character named Bane into the WWE and have him break the Undertaker’s back?

Damn. From your lips to God’s ears. How cool would that be? I remember back when I was like fifteen and went through a short wrestling phase, there was a wrestler who dressed as Batman without the chest symbol. He didn’t last long as the other wrestlers would grab him by his cape in the first round and toss him out of the ring.


What do you think is the biggest misconception about Bane?

I’m not sure. And the movie may erase all of those misconceptions. Obviously, Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman thought he was just a brute. But I think the comic book cognoscenti know better than that. It might be one of those things like not calling Frankenstein’s monster “Frankenstein.” You have a segment of the population to whom it’s important that no one make that mistake and a larger percentage that don’t give a crap. I don’t think Mary Shelley’s turning in her grave over it either way. Misconceive all you want. The world knows who Bane is now.


What makes a good and enduring Batman villain? Explain why Bane or Harley Quinn are so fondly thought of as opposed to Simon the Pieman?

Bane is badassery personified. He’s big and scary with a mind like a chess master. He’s three steps ahead of whomever he’s opposing at any time. Before the fight’s begun he’s set the rules and conditions that will lead to his victory. Your fate is decided long before you even know his name. Throw in the unpredictable effects of Venom and you have a serious bad guy. In addition, he’s got a deeply effed-up backstory. It really isn’t his fault he turned out like this. If he didn’t become Bane he would have died.

Harley is that irresistible combination of sexy and crazy. She’s wild about Mister J and totally devoted to him without him needed to reciprocate with any affection at all. She’s a comic geek’s dream date. I don’t think anyone really thought about a recurring love object for the Joker until Paul and Bruce but, man, they knocked it out of the park.

What makes a terrible Batman villain?

Any villain with a single gimmick where the creators didn’t provide some kind of interesting hook or compelling origin. But a lot of those have been retrofitted. Paul Dini turned Mister Freeze into an awesome villain by providing him with a motive for his crimes and an inciting tragedy. But we can’t blame the original creators. Often they were following the dictates of an editor who would simply hand them a crazy cover concept and they had to work out a story to go with it. “Batman’s being nipped to death by otters! Come up with a villain who would do that!”

A problem with some of the new Batman villains (like Hush) in recent years had been that the villains arrive at the same time a new character enters Bruce Wayne’s life. Do you agree with this statement? Do you think this is lazy writing or is there potential with this idea by introducing multiple new characters at the same time to throw readers off?

It’s Scooby Doo writing. The only character we’ve never seen before is the mystery villain. Those meddling kids! I set up Bruce Wayne’s obnoxious neighbor, J. Devlin Davenport, a year in advance of when I wanted to reveal him as Cap’n Fear. But then my editors HATED that villain so I was never able to write a follow-up unmasking him.

What is your favorite Batman story and why?

I always go back to The 1001 Strange Costumes Of Batman. It’s a Golden Age story in which Batman is wounded and Robin has to take over for him in a kind of Batman exo-skeleton outfit. I read and re-read that one when I was a kid and it appeared as a reprint in an early Batman annual. I used elements of it in my second Robin mini when Tim Drake must convince the Joker that Batman is still in Gotham. And I used it as a Bartman story for a Simpsons special.

El Cazador. Chuck Dixon’s pirate comic for CrossGen that was drawn by Steve Epting.

In the early 2000’s you worked with a company called CrossGen. What made you decide to work with them?

Nothing was happening for me at DC. I had four monthly titles and they were all reliable sellers. But I couldn’t get anything else going there. My ideas for events and crossovers were being glad-handed then ignored. My requests to use certain characters were routinely denied. My two editors were boxing me in and they were telling other editors not to use me. I had a sense that they wouldn’t fire me but would be happy if I left. They were offering me an exclusive contract but I knew from experience that this would be used to further limit my output. I didn’t want to exchange creative freedom for security.

CrossGen was offering me the run of a whole company and wanted new properties created. And a few of my pals were already there along with lots of other guys I wanted to work with. I took a huge cut in pay and moved down to Florida to see how long it would run. The day I signed the contract I told my wife it would probably only last two years but I still wanted to do it. Call it my mid-life crisis.


CrossGen founder Mark Alessi is a bit of a controversial figure. Mark Waid has had very harsh words for him while I’ve talked to a couple of artists that said he wasn’t a bad guy. What was your take on him? Where do you think he went wrong?

Mark Alessi was opinionated, arrogant and had a short temper. Frankly, he was such a contrast to the prevaricating weasels I was used to having as editors (post Denny O’Neil) that I was drawn to the guy. Instead of the passive aggressive nonsense I was used to, never knowing where you stood with your editors, Mark would fight with you. We’d get into shouting matches. I dug it. It was raw. The dude could piss me off so much but I never disliked him. He also never lied to me. He may have been deluding himself about the business but he never told me anything that wasn’t true. And he never used our enthusiasm for our own work to abuse us like the Big Two do routinely.

Alessi also had faith in me and that’s all a freelancer can ask from a publisher or editor. He gave me the opportunity to create comics that no one else would have and I practically lived in my office writing compulsively for two years. I’d go back and do it again tomorrow. His downfall was that he listened to people around him who knew nothing about the comics business or who were out for their own gain. The rest of us, the creators, were working our asses off to create a future for CrossGen while others were scamming for bennies and cash.

Waid and Alessi were like gasoline and water. Waid has a short temper himself and wanted something else from the company than I did. It was destined to end in tears. But I think Mark Waid has mis-represented or exaggerated conditions at CrossGen. He was only there a few months, after all.

At CrossGen, you wrote Sigil, Crux, Way of the Rat, and Brath. Which one was your favorite to write? Also, what happened to the western title that you wanted to write?

Way of the Rat was most fun overall. Working with Jeff Johnson on Way of the Rat was the closest I had to a total collaboration. Jeff is a martial artist himself and handled that end of the book as well as creating that detailed unique look for the book’s costumes and settings.

El Cazador was probably the most creatively rewarding. Steve Epting and I did a massive amount of research on that book. The CrossGen environment allowed us the time to assemble references and other tools needed to do a fully authentic period adventure book. Most assignments are just handed to you and you’re immersed in them with little time to think about it. Steve and I were allowed the time to really develop the property into something fully realized.

Brath was great fun, as I love anything dealing with the Roman Empire. Sigil and Crux were more problematic. Sigil was a lifeless, directionless space opera with a superhero lead. And it was tied into the deadly dull CrossGen uber story. I did what I could with it and tried to create little retro SF adventures that got into waving distance of real science. Having guys like Scot Eaton and Dale Eaglesham on the book was a godsend. They brought he eye candy needed for a book like that to work.

Crux was a mess. Hastily thrown together then dumped on me. The only good part was working with Steve Epting and later Sergio Cariello. Steve and I would spend much our time talking about the pirate book we wanted to do. Mostly I used Crux as an entrée into various SF and fantasy tropes like big monsters, Lovecraft, time travel and sword and sorcery. It was all sound and fury.

The western title never got much past me thinking about it. When Alessi learned that I had taken Steve off Crux to start El Caz without telling anyone he came to my office and was yelling at me. He said, “I create CrossGen so you could do whatever you wanted to do!” I answered, “I know that, otherwise we’d be doing a western!”

I thought the time was right for a pirate book and broke the rules to do what was best for the company. El Caz was our biggest seller and premiered with the highest orders of any book CG published.

In the spring of 2004, CrossGen went bankrupt. Leaving many plot lines dangling and unresolved? Can you at least tell us how Negation War would’ve ended?

That was ALL Tony Bedard. Where I was going to crossover with it would have been under his direction. It was a big story. Too bad we didn’t see the end of it.

Disney purchased CrossGen’s library and several titles were rebooted by Marvel. If Marvel called you, what Crossgen book would you want to work on and why?

They’ll never call me. I did briefly discuss with Disney Press a sequel to El Cazador.

 


You did an adaptation of “The Hobbit” for Eclipse Comics. You also have adapted the first book of “The Wheel of Time” for Dynamite Entertainment? Can you describe the process of adapting a novel to comic book format? Do you re-read the book first? How do you determine what can stay and what can go? What makes a good adaptation?

Prose to comics adaptation is laborious and thankless. Working on “The Hobbit” was painful. I had to trim so much to fit in the pages allotted. I had to cut out Beorn, my favorite character in Tolkien. Even worse was adapting “Call of the Wild.” I was trimming so much of Jack London’s story while trying not to ruin the whole thing. But at what point in surgery do you lose the patient?

“The Wheel of Time” stuff is easier because I have more room. It’s as close to a page-for page adaptation as I can make it. But Robert Jordan is harder to adapt. So often, his action is internalized. It takes some finagling to re-arrange the scenes to space out action in the story.


Have you ever been approached about adapting “The Lord of the Rings”? Is that a project you’d like to tackle? Why do you think it hasn’t happened yet?

The Tolkien estate HATES comics. They only agreed to “The Hobbit” adaptation under duress.

 


You’re currently writing GI Joe for IDW. The book has a darker tone then the Marvel book by Larry Hama, yet a lot of your plots are reminiscent of the cartoon. What made you decide this was the direction to take? Did you watch the cartoon at all? We’re you a fan of Larry Hama’s original run?

Never watched the cartoons. Neither did Larry. I took my dark tone form Larry’s initial story for this version. In the story, Duke is recruited to the Joes and basically given the choice to join or die. That’s dark stuff and I ran with it. But I try to retain Larry’s quirky sense of humor though only Larry fully understands that. More than the cartoons, I looked at the toys for inspiration.


Who are your favorite characters to write? Are there any characters you’re looking forward to writing?

The Punisher will always be my favorite. But, without sounding corny, I tend to invest myself in every character I write. I’m really digging Scarlett of the Joes now. And I’m writing a Lone Ranger mini, a longtime dream of mine that’s proven to be as much fun as I thought it would be. I always say I’d love a run on The Fantastic Four. But I’ve been reading a lot of old Weisinger era Superman’s and I think I’d like to write some Supes someday.


Who’s decision was it to slowly reveal Cobra and Cobra Commander?

It was my idea and IDW and Hasbro agreed. In the original Joe books, Larry was tied to the release dates of action figures and toys. So he needed to roll out the Joes and Cobra simultaneously. Now that (thanks to Larry) the world of the Joes is universally known, I had the luxury of revealing Cobra over time and giving them a really dramatic and mysterious series of reveals.


Are there plans to delve into stories about previous Cobra Commanders? How about the origin of the Cobra organization?

I would love to write that. Hasbro seems reticent to tie Cobra to history. I can see their point. I mean, Cobra is bad but do we want to see them tied to the Nazis or Stalin?


How did the Mainframe/Scarlet romance come about?

It’s an office romance. They work together all the time and something had to click. And though Mainframe is a geek he’s also a fully qualified fighting man or he wouldn’t be a Joe. And since I portray Duke as a bit of a cad and her love for Snake Eyes is hopeless, I though Scarlett needed something to live for besides fighting.  

What can you tell us about upcoming stories? Are there any you’re looking forward to in particular?

I have a crossover coming in my two books that draws together the Joes, Serpentor, Stormshadow, Snake Eyes and the whole Arashikage clan in a continuity shake-up story. It’s called Target: Snake Eyes and starts in Snake Eyes #17.

In addition to GI Joe, you scripted an Elseworlds-ish tale starring the Transformers. Have you considered tackling that property?

Oh no! Transformers fans are a breed unto themselves. They make Star Trek fans seem understanding and patient. I was fine writing my funny little story (which is canon) set apart from the general continuity. I had a LOT of fun writing them and their universe allows for some wild, wild stories. But I’d rather leave their saga to Simon Furman and others who are masters of the franchise.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

Graham Nolan and I are working on a creator owned project called Joe Frankenstein. It’s a modern take on the Frankenstein legacy with an action/adventure slant. You can look for it on Facebook or at joefrankenstein.com.  I also currently write a series of eBook novels about the Navy SEALs. Pulpy, blood-soaked military action in the vein of a 1970s’ men’s action paperback. The third one has just been released on Kindle from Dynamite and I’m deep into #4 right now. I’ll have an SF time travel prose eBook of my own out later this year called Bad Times. And I have a movie/comic book deal cooking right now that should be announced soon. And I’ve been contributing scripts to Archie Comics’ new version of the Mighty Crusaders. Plus other creator owned projects in various stages of completion.

Thank you very much to Chuck Dixon for taking the time to speak with me. You can visit him at www.dixonverse.net and http://www.comicspace.com/chuckdixon/.

Comments
  1. […] In the early ’90s, DC Comics decided it wanted to do something drastic to Batman without killing him (since that had just been done to Superman), so they decided to create a villain to break his back. Enter Bane. Knightfall co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan got together and, using Shadow Comics’ character Doc Savage from 1933 and Alexandre Dumas’ 19th century tale The Count of Monte Cristo as a template, created one of Batman’s deadliest and darkest foes ever. It was Nolan’s idea to based Bane’s design on a Mexican luchador (wrestler). Todd Matthy has a great interview with Chuck Dixon about the creation of Bane, which you can read HERE. […]

  2. […] In the early ’90s, DC Comics decided it wanted to do something drastic to Batman without killing him (since that had just been done to Superman), so they decided to create a villain to break his back. Enter Bane. Knightfall co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan got together and, using Shadow Comics’ character Doc Savage from 1933 and Alexandre Dumas’ 19th century tale The Count of Monte Cristo as a template, created one of Batman’s deadliest and darkest foes ever. It was Nolan’s idea to based Bane’s design on a Mexican luchador (wrestler). Todd Matthy has a great interview with Chuck Dixon about the creation of Bane, which you can read HERE. […]

  3. […] Bane first appeared in January 1993 and inspired from Doc Savage/Count of Monte Cristo. In the early ’90s, DC Comics decided it wanted to do something drastic to Batman without killing him (since that had just been done to Superman), so they decided to create a villain to break his back. Enter Bane. Knightfall co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan got together and, using Shadow Comics’ characterDoc Savage from 1933 and Alexandre Dumas’ 19th century tale The Count of Monte Cristo as a template, created one of Batman’s deadliest and darkest foes ever. It was Nolan’s idea to based Bane’s design on a Mexican luchador (wrestler). Todd Matthy has a great interview with Chuck Dixon about the creation of Bane, which you can read HERE. […]

  4. […] In the early ’90s, DC Comics decided it wanted to do something drastic to Batman without killing him (since that had just been done to Superman), so they decided to create a villain to break his back. Enter Bane. Knightfall co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan got together and, using Shadow Comics’ characterDoc Savage from 1933 and Alexandre Dumas’ 19th century tale The Count of Monte Cristo as a template, created one of Batman’s deadliest and darkest foes ever. It was Nolan’s idea to based Bane’s design on a Mexican luchador (wrestler). Todd Matthy has a great interview with Chuck Dixon about the creation of Bane, which you can read HERE. […]

  5. […] No início dos anos 90, a DC Comics decidiu que queria fazer algo drástico para Batman sem matá-lo (já que tinha acabado de ser feito para Superman), então eles decidiram criar um vilão para quebrar suas costas. Surge Bane. Co-criadores de Knightfall, Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench e Graham Nolan se reuniram e, usando personagens sombra de quadrinhos de Doc Savage de 1933 e o conto do século 19 O Conde de Monte Cristo de Alexandre Dumas como modelo, criou um dos inimigos mais mortais e mais obscuros de todos os tempos de Batman. Foi idéia de Nolan basear o design de Bane em um luchador mexicano (wrestler). Todd Matthy fez uma grande entrevista com Chuck Dixon sobre a criação de Bane, que você pode ler aqui. […]

  6. […] Bane is meant to be an evil version of pulp superhuman hero Doc Savage, and he’s also looselybased on the title character of Alexander Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte […]

  7. What I don’t understood is in fact how you’re now not really a lot
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  8. […] In some respects, the decision to create a new character specifically for Knightfall seems like an odd choice. After all, there are various characters who could arguably fit the niche as required. Ra’s Al Ghul could simply have tired of his games with Batman. Hush is very much a version of Knightfall with the Riddler and without the back-breaking. Chuck Dixon credited editor Denny O’Neil with pushing the idea of a new baddie: […]

  9. […] Coordinating an event like Knightfall is a massive undertaking. As  Chuck Dixon recalls, there was a lot of effort put into keeping everything straight while leaving room to improvise: […]

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