The World’s Finest caught up with illustrator and artist James McLean to discuss the special 10th anniversary issue of the fan-comic Batman: Dark Knight Adventures. Batman: Dark Knight Adventures was a regular fan-based comic series available right here at The World’s Finest, which ran in the Early 2000s. The special 10th Anniversary issue “Enlightenment” brings the new Batman: Dark Knight Adventures content back to The World’s Finest after a lengthy absence. Click here to check out more Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures content.
McLean is a freelance illustrator and video game artist residing in the UK, well-known for his illustrations in assorted books, magazines and video games, including video game titles based on both Doctor Who and Star Wars. Continue below for more from McLean, as he discusses both his past work and the new Batman: Dark Knight Adventures – 10th Anniversary Special.
The World’s Finest: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Batman: Dark Knight Adventures and why you were inspired to do the comic in the first place?
James McLean: Ian Moore – one of The World’s Finest young, aspiring, speedy editors asked me back in 2003. I was starting university, and he said he wanted to do a Batman online comic as part of the website. Given I was off to study illustration – and I rather liked the Batman cartoons – it sounded a challenge. I like challenges. This was a big challenge as most fan-based ideas tip over and fail before they reach the starting line. I came on as penciller and inker, we had a gent called Romain Ronzeau, a very talented French artist as cover artist, and a girl going under the moniker “Maggie Rose” as writer. I think Ian colored/lettered initially. About three or four issues in, Maggie’s storyline had managed to wrap rings around her head and was squeezing her brain to mushy mush, so I stepped in to finish off what she started. It was all to do with a Monster who looked a bit like Bruce Wayne. I’m not quite sure what her plan was to resolve it, so I made some decisions and resolved it my own way. That story became part of what Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures was all about and we referenced back to it several times. I guess the ‘Monster-Wayne’ was our own little oddity. After that the line-up changed. I ended up writing permanently – bar one special which was written and illustrated by Romain. Kris Trigwell joined us at the back end of the ‘Monster’ arc to color and letter, and became my right hand guy – he was my Bob to my Joker. He was great at spotting ways to tweak dialogue or add in even more continuity references!
WF: What type of freedom did Batman: Dark Knight Adventures give you when exploring the mythos of your favorite DC cartoon titles?
JM:Teen Titans was running as its own stand alone continuity, we were able to have fun with that notion inside the DCAU continuity of B:TAS/S:TAS/JLU. We were able to stick Batman Beyond and JLU/TNBA together where continuity canon was fan-disputed. The further freedom came in being able to tell stories that you probably couldn’t do in a kid’s show. We could have characters cross the line in serious ways – we could have Nightwing virtually beat someone to death, which sounds extreme, but TNBA had the character in a very confused, lonely mindset it never really had time to explore. That was what really made it fun – taking ideas offered in the cartoon and seeing how far we could explore them. Perhaps our biggest deviation from cartoon limits was killing Terry McGinnis, something the show could never do. We brought him back when people demanded it, and just in time for his return and continuity establishment in JLU’s “Epilogue!”
WF: It’s ten years later – why return to Batman: Dark Knight Adventures? How much have you evolved as a writer and artist from the last DKA installment to this new 10th anniversary special?
JM: The comic touched a lot of people. Not just myself, Ian and Kris, but many who read it – and it’s still being read. It seemed we owed the project a birthday anniversary. I’d talked to Ian earlier in the year about doing something, but to our shame, we had flaked – and I don’t think I was happy about that.
I came back to Toon Zone a couple of months ago and I think somehow that reminded me how important Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures and my time around the Toon Zone/The World Finest websites had been to me. I owed Batman: Dark Knight Adventures some sort of celebration. I’d had a hard year with a lot negative vibes and coming back to old haunts, I could feel the positive energy. I had a lot of good times in the toon/comics fan-community and on some level I always feel I owe it. It gave me friends, it gave me opportunities, it spurred on a fascinating art career – even bore a relationship. When you’ve had a bit of a negative year, sometimes you need to find some of those places in your life that harbor good energies. Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures had good energies, so perhaps in a way, giving Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures a good celebration was as much for me as it was to celebrate the comic.
The new “Enlightenment” story we’re publishing is a story I wrote and drew a few years ago. I think it’s very much an evolution on Batman: Dark Knight Adventures, certainly I spent more time on refining it than Batman: Dark Knight Adventures ever got. I have a brand new story for Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures that we’ll release this year – I think given its done on the same sort of rushed, on-the-fly, approach, the style and structure is more advanced than Batman: Dark Knight Adventures was. So yeah, I think I can see some evolution from back in 2003! Thankfully!
WF: Batman: Dark Knight Adventures amassed a very dedicated following during its original run – do you think that gives credence to fan comics?
JM: It did have a big following. Majority, as with all followings, are quite silent. Ian was recording millions of hits in its day, literally millions of hits. I don’t know if it gives credibility to fan comics, I think we were one of the few fan comics that proved to be the exception to the rule in terms of how much material we amassed.
I recall in terms of web-comics, we weren’t popular with other authors [laughs]. There was a feeling we were lazily piggy backing another artist’s work and gaining attention artificially. I can see where they were coming from, a lot of web-comics work hard to promote their original ideas and we were automatically going to have a fanbase from Batman fans, but I don’t think that made what we were doing either lazy or easy. In fact working around an established idea can swing back and knock you on your proverbial arse. You do a comic based on an established, quality and professional concept, and you raise the benchmark for expectation that you don’t get when you run your own unique idea. So while we did naturally get more attention than we would if we’d done our own comic idea, we were automatically being judged against very professional material.
By and large, I think we did okay with very positive feedback, which given it was always done on the fly, in a rush and between student projects, I’m quite pleased about. We were just trying to give fellow Bat fans something to enjoy, something that would test our skills and most of all, show those who made those wonderful DCAU shows how much their work had touched us – and they were aware of it (we spotted a few key names silently browsing the comic threads!). We weren’t looking to challenge or prove we were special, we certainly didn’t mean to tread on any fellow web-comic’s toes!
WF: You took great pains to make sure Batman: Dark Knight Adventures fit in the continuity of the source DC Cartoons material. How do you see them in the overall grand scheme of the animated DC universe? A neat side project? An exercise of love? Something more?
JM: All of them. It helped me hone some skills as a university side-project, and yeah, it was a big exercise of love. I remember walking the beaches of England planning ideas stories and drawing them in the oddest places (on the floor, sleeping rough at an airport being the oddest) – and it did become something more, it enveloped me. The plans, the ideas… it was fascinating. In a way it was more fascinating than doing your own work, because there were limitations of an established product to work around, so the art of writing was more in the design than the originality – how could you write stories around stories? That made it more fun because you were thereby able to toy and play with people’s conceptions and expectations of the established characters. Greatest thrill for me in writing on Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures was the Batman Beyond news-strip, and I knew at the get-go that 50 strips down the line the reveal was going to be The Spectre as a key character – and it was vital that people didn’t guess that… but if you don’t give clues to pre-empt such a reveal it becomes left-field almost quite literally, deux ex machina. So that’s over a year writing, hoping, you can structure the story than will carry you twelve months to a reveal no one will have guessed publicly and ruined the twist. No one did guess and the reveal went down well as I recall. That story was a wonder to write.
As for continuity, I saw a thread recently on the The World’s Finest forum that actually placed them into continuity, that’s a huge compliment. No – they aren’t canon, they’re canon if you personally want them to be. I remember one guy who sent me a photo of his Bat-Joker he’d created as a 3d model based on the design I did for one story, that was a thrill and an honor. If people accept them as canon, I think that’s cool – and if you’re open minded enough I do think they add to the DCAU continuity. The Batman Beyond news-strip is possibly my favorite of all. It’s got a classic writing structure, some good twists and loads of fan references. I think it also manages to bring Terry back from the dead after we killed him without feeling it cheapening the original story. There’s always a price to pay for revival stories, if you bring someone back, there has to be a price, I think our price fed into Epilogue rather neatly!
WF: Can you tell us a bit more about this special 10th anniversary comic? And…will this be the last Batman: Dark Knight Adventures?
JM: The story is actually a brief I was hired to do for a French comics trade magazine that wanted to run a fictional one-off fictional tale with each issue. They wanted Batman for the first issue and asked me. I was very enthusiastic and naive – I rushed in where fools dare to tread, pulling along with me Kris Trigwell. We finished the comic to find the editor had been dismissed and he’d failed to get the license from DC so the comic was no go for a commercial publication. I felt an idiot. No paperwork, no editor. So this story Enlightenment has sat unused and unseen for years. It seemed the 10th Anniversary of Batman: Dark Knight Adventures was a good reason to give it an airing. It’s not technically Batman: Dark Knight Adventures continuity, though I did intentionally use some Batman: Dark Knight Adventures stylizing in the Batman character within the tale as homage to the cartoon show. I’ve read it back for the first time since writing it and I’m actually quite pleased with it. It’s a good Joker tale and Joker is always fun to write.
Is it the last? No. It’s one of the last. After “Enlightenment” we have two stories for this anniversary. One is akin to the Batman Beyond news-strip format that focuses – oddly – on Kara (Supergirl). It was written just after the Batman Beyond news-strip finished and was never completed. I think Kris was feeling tired and burnt out, and it didn’t perhaps feel a suitable or relevant epilogue to the Batman Beyond news-strip and Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures comic. They had good endings. But now, as a Birthday celebration of the project, I think it’s worth finishing. Ian’s coloring that one. It’ll be a 14 page story.
The other story is one I decided to do after offering “Enlightenment” to World’s Finest. Reason being both “Enlightenment” and the Kara story are old material. I wanted us to do one new, original tale for this year. I’ve been jamming in a page of art a week and so far have 7 pages complete of a 14 part tale. Kris has offered to color and letter it. He likes the story. I like it too – it’s different to what we’ve done before but follows all the guild-lines of a good DCAU fan-comic – it has continuity references and a couple of ideas that perhaps bridge gaps in the official DCAU timeline! So a couple more stories after this and that’s your lot, till maybe the twentieth birthday!
WF: And, to wrap it up, care to tell us what you have coming down the pipeline?
JM: Well I tend to work in video-games these days supplying art for pre-production as well as in-game material. I’m working on three games currently for tablets and phones, which really is the future of video games I think.
Well I guess if we’re talking web-comics, I did a comic idea called Foxhell last year. Just like Batman: Dark Knight Adventures, a project wedged in between projects. An idea to have fun with that I might develop further. You can read at http://foxhellcomic.wordpress.com/ . On top of that, seems my meddling in fan-realms took a new level of madness and I began a campaign to bring back a TV show back called Millennium called “Back to Frank Black.” Ended up good friends with actor Lance Henriksen through that and we did a book last year which I wrote a chapter for an illustrated throughout. That’s on sale and all profits will be going to Lance’s chosen charity ChildrenoftheNight.org – read more of that project at backtofrankblack.com. And if you’re not totally sick of me, I do some work at the Doctor Who web fanzine Kasterborous.com – I do a weekly podcast there and we released the first issue of the site’s magazine. I’m working on the designs/layouts/content for issue two right now – that’s an odd experience that is stretching me in different ways. There’s a big different between illustration and layouts, learning very much on the fly, but like with Batman: Dark Knight Adventures – sometimes that’s the most exciting way to work!
Click here to read the Batman: Dark Knight Adventures 10th Anniversary Special “Enlightenment.” The World’s Finest would like to thank James McLean for his time, effort, and participation.
Stay tuned for further updates here soon at The World’s Finest.
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