DC’s Done Something Smart Recently: Mark Doyle and the Rise of the Bat-Line

By | August 13th, 2014
Posted in Longform | 12 Comments

Amidst the endlessly swirling controversy and fan outrage tied to DC Comics, the pending move to Burbank has brought a fair amount of upheaval to the Distinguished Competition’s editorial staff, specifically to the Bat-Line. Mike Marts, the group editor, and Katie Kubert left the line for jobs at Marvel, leaving a bit of a vacuum in their wake.

When DC turned to Vertigo editor Mark Doyle to replace Marts, it was a well-received decision by readers and creators both, with his brother-in-arms Scott Snyder (who worked with Doyle on both “The Wake” and “American Vampire”) really going to the mats for him after the promotion was revealed. Here’s what Snyder had to say about Doyle:

“Thrilled” doesn’t do justice to how thrilled I really am in welcoming Mark Doyle to Gotham as Batman group editor. Mark is not only responsible for bringing me to DC via American Vampire (of which he’s the editor), but he’s edited the Wake, and some of my favorite books of past few years, from Sweet Tooth and Trillium on. I show him everything I write, from Batman and Superman, and there’s no one I trust more when it comes to story. He is easily one of the best editors I’ve worked with in my life, in comics and print. He’s also a trusted friend, and someone who cares deeply about Gotham and its heroes (and yes, its villains, too).

Bottom line: I loved working under Mike Marts – he brought Gotham to new heights. We have terrific editorial talent in Gotham – Katie Kubert, Darren Shan, Rachel Gluckstern. And now with Mark at the helm, I believe – or rather, I KNOW, having heard some of Mark’s plans (and they are daring plans)- that this coming year will be as exciting and fresh as possible for bat-fans. Gotham couldn’t be in better hands for Batman’s 75th!

That’s incredible sentiment and confidence from Snyder, someone who clearly believed in Doyle – as many did before and after the promotion – only with a bit more knowledge of his capabilities going into it. Even with the backing of the line’s most prominent writer, though, Doyle had his work cut out for him. Changing the fate of an entire line of comics, especially one so bogged down in corporate structure of DC, was something that could and should take a lot of time and effort (worth noting: as a line, it was already in a better place than most of DC). No one would have blamed him if it we didn’t see the true impact of his work until 2015.

Fast forward just over six months, and the Batman line – and through it, DC – is faced with something that we haven’t seen from fans in a while: hope.

Amongst the many complaints that fans have had about DC over the past few years, there have been several big ones that stand out: the handling of women characters and creators; the over-reliance on veteran but ultimately safe writers; and the much maligned house style to the art at DC (which some say doesn’t exist, but for this exercise let’s pretend it does).

What changes have been announced since Doyle’s arrival as the Group Editor, and how did they relate to those complaints? Let’s take a look:

Batgirl #35
– “Batgirl” getting a tremendously well-received new direction and design from the Eisner winning Cameron Stewart, co-writer Brenden Fletcher, artist Babs Tarr and Eisner winning colorist Jordie Bellaire (handling of women characters, exciting and different writer choices, decidedly un-house art – check, check, check)

– Relative newcomer Genevieve Valentine and artist Garry Brown taking over “Catwoman” (new and exciting writer, un-house art – check, check)

– “Arkham Manor”, a new title exploring the now crazy house Wayne Manor from Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal (atypical and exciting writer, definitely not house art – check, check)

– Eisner winner Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Eisner winner Karl Kerschl teaming up for the super fun looking “Gotham Academy” (handling of women characters/creators, awesome and atypical writers, very un-house art – check, check, check)

– “Gotham by Midnight”, a new supernatural detective book from Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith (newer and more exciting writer and as far from house art as you can find – check and check)

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Besides the revitalized “Batgirl” team, which started with Cameron Stewart getting hired by Katie Kubert before she departed, much of this you can pin to Doyle’s influence at least in an overall sense, and it fits what we know about him.

After all, Doyle’s a Vertigo vet, and he’s probably not the type of guy who’s just going to hire a company man and be happy with it. He’s going to hire the people he believes in, and believes in from experience. You can see the foundation for these new titles in previous Vertigo projects, specifically the “American Vampire” anthology that featured work from Snyder, Cloonan, Fawkes and Bellaire. Vertigo in the past has been the type of place where fresher talents are cultivated and armed with the ability to tell the stories they want, and at least to this outsider, it’s clear that’s the mindset that has been brought with Doyle to the Batman line. You can see it reflected in the sentiment coming from the creatives working on the line.

Gotham by Midnight #1
Snyder talked with Newsarama recently about the upcoming “Endgame” arc in his “Batman” book with Greg Capullo, and in the process he took the time to praise Doyle’s management of the line since he took over.

“That line, coming out in October, to me, is one of the most exciting I’ve seen in comics,” Snyder said about the Doyle edited Batman line.

“I mean, every book is meant to be new and fresh, and I’m so proud to be a part of that line. And I’m so proud of Mark for what he’s been able to do. He really believes that there should be a Bat-book for every fan, for every genre,” he continued. “I just feel like I’m part of something that’s a real renaissance going on in the Bat-line, after the renaissance that Mike brought years ago.”

That widespread creator love for an editor at DC has been surprising and exciting, especially considering the creative differences writers like JH Williams III and Josh Fialkov left because of. It seems, at least on this one line, DC’s found a formula that works, and works well. With creators and fans responding to the moves in an extremely positive fashion, there’s just one elephant left in this room, though.

Will these comics be good?

As far as potential issues go, the goodwill that has been built towards the Bat-Line being reliant on a bevy of award winning creators and other enormous talents managing to make quality comics is not something of deep concern to me. I feel like I know what to expect from people like Cloonan, Stewart, Kerschl, Templesmith and the rest, and that’s some damn fine comic booking.

But it’s still what this house of cards is built on, and while this card is a sturdy one, it’s the biggest unknown we have remaining as to whether or not Doyle’s bold plans for the Batman line will be deemed a success ultimately (well, that and sales, but that’s for another article). Much of my excitement for this line is built on faith in the creators and in Doyle himself, a man who clearly has an eye for talent, but also has edited some of my recent favorites (most notably books like “American Vampire”, “Sweet Tooth” and “The Wake”). He’s a guy who seemingly brings good tidings wherever he goes, and through that, we get good comics. And what I’ve seen, that’s exactly what we’re going to get here.

I’ve went on ad nauseum about the attractiveness of the new “Batgirl” direction, but as time has went along, we’ve started to gather details and looks into the other books, and I’ve come away impressed. Take this panel below from “Gotham Academy” from Karl Kerschl and colorist Romain Gaschet, for example:

Panel from Gotham Academy

That’s beautiful and fun as all hell. Seriously. I could live in that world. I kind of want to live in that world. I love Kerschl’s work – notably on “The Abominable Charles Christopher” – but this feels like a different style that is friendly to a younger demographic but still attractive in a way that would appeal to your more rigid DC fans.

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Beyond that. in interviews about the books, the teams behind “Academy”, “Batgirl” and “Arkham Manor” have managed to convince me that these books are worthwhile and potentially exciting reads. Yesterday’s “Gotham by Midnight” reveal did the same for me, as the prospect of a sort of supernatural “Gotham Central” type book with art by Ben freakin’ Templesmith is an incredibly alluring one. From the time of their announcements to today, each of these books have made all the right moves to not just continue the initial excitement, but build on it.

That said, even with the incredibly appealing snippets into these worlds we’ve gotten, I can’t say for sure whether these books will be good. We’ll find that out in October.

But they’ve still succeeded in one thing, in that I – and many others – continue to feel that hope I mentioned earlier. For me, that comes from Doyle. He’s doing something many have lamented DC in the New 52 era for not doing, and that’s trusting in creators who have proven to be brilliant storytellers outside of the old DC standards. That inspires confidence. That instills hope. That brings excitement. In bringing sensibilities he cultivated over at Vertigo to the Bat-Line, Mark Doyle isn’t just the hero we deserve; he’s the one DC needs.

//TAGS | Multiversity 101

David Harper

David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).


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