Crime Bible Studies with Greg Rucka

The following interview consists of two parts — a detailed look at the first issue that was supposed to be the first in a series of five, but was not possible due to mine and Greg’s busy schedules; and a retrospective look back at the series after its completion, conducted in mid-June.

Greg was kind enough to give us a glimpse of his writing process, and an explanation of the elements that drove the series….

Art by John Van FleetEric Newsom: So we open the book, and our first taste of the book is an actual represented page of the Crime Bible. How’d you come up with this concept, and what was the thought behind it?

Greg Rucka: It was actually one of the first thoughts I had for the series. Mike Siglain called me up, uh…this would’ve been late May, I think…about the time that Black Adam and Four Horsemen had been given the go-ahead. And he said that DiDio was asking for 52 follow-up minis, pronto, and that he wanted a Crime Bible one (hence the series’ title), and that he figured it should feature the Question.

Now, understand, at this time NONE of us on 52 was in any position to really be taking on any kind of work at all. We were, to a man, fried beyond belief. Just toasted completely. And Siglain knew this. When he called, I kinda let out a groan, and he said, yeah, I know, but the thing is, Grant can’t do it — he was already at work on Final Crisis — and probably wouldn’t do it anyway. And if it’s Q, it really ought to be you. And I groaned again. And he went in for the kill.

You don’t write it, he said, they’ll have to get someone else.

So I told him that okay, yeah, I had a couple ideas, we could work something out. And before we were off the phone, we had the meta-textual idea already fleshed out.

Initially, we wanted the covers to look very much like “book” covers, as well, but from a marketing standpoint, that never got out of the blocks. But one of the first things I said to Mike was, if we’re not calling it “The Question: Fill-In-Subtitle-Here” and instead we’re calling it “The Crime Bible: Fill-In-Subtitle-Here”, then by definition, it needs to be as much about the actual Black Book as it is about the Question, etc. And he agreed. So we knew pretty early on that we were going to show the reader the actual Black Book, and that we wanted to do it in a new way.

I’m very fond of the opening pages, as far as it goes. It took us forever to settle on Lieber for the art (which was stupid of us, because he really should’ve been the first choice), but Trautmann had been working with me on Checkmate, and before that, he’d been, basically, the guy who made story bibles for Microsoft. He’s a master at these kinds of meta creations, and he was over at the house, and in literally, like, 30 minutes with Photoshop, had created the actual page for the bible. And my jaw hit the floor, I was like, okay, we HAVE to do it like that.

EN: From what I’ve seen, you seem to be pretty involved at every point in the production of Crime Bible. Are these sorts of formatting issues a normal concern for you, or is this a special case?

GR: No, I’ve never been this hands-on on a book before. Not even on something like Hikketeia did I get this involved. But the more Mike and I discussed the series, and what we wanted to do with it, the more I kinda realized that I had a vision for it, and I wanted to try to execute it to the best of my meager ability, given that I cannot draw to save my life. And I’ll tell you, right now, there’s a man in Spain who is cursing my name because I’m asking him to rework layouts on issue 5 yet again.

It’s been marginally successful thus far. The Page 1s are coming out almost exactly as I’d hoped. Some of the issues are executing better than others, but at this point, only 2 is completely locked down. 3 should be in by the end of this week, I think.

EN: We established in our second interview session that you were previously a renaissance lit. major, then a religion major — and I thought of this fact when I was reading the text for the opening page. What was the process like in writing this stilted, antiquated — I’ll say it, Biblical language?

GR: Possibly the hardest things in the whole series for me to write, actually. At least at the start. I ended up trying to find as many different versions of various religious texts as I could, just to see how the language worked.

Initially, the idea had been that the Page 1 in each issue would be from a different edition of the Black Book, ie, issue 1 would be from the Prophet’s Edition, issue 2 would be the Sana’a Codex, etc. But for reasons that have yet to become clear to anyone but myself, Siglain, and Trautmann, it became necessary to abandon that and unify the “style.” But I actually wrote versions with misspellings, with stylized 14th century syntax, like that. And I sent them to Siglain, and he came back and said, dude, this stuff is dense enough as it is, do you really want a version where you’re making it even harder to understand?

EN: Those versions will go in the Absolute Edition.

GR: An Absolute Edition might be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but it would be cool, when all’s said and done, to do a version that shows all the stuff that didn’t make the cut. There’s a lot of material existing only on my laptop right now.

EN: I know someone who has a website that would post that stuff if you were interested later. If it didn’t fit in the trade paperback, that is.

GR: Yeah, I think I know the guy you’re talking about. We’ll wait and see. Don’t want to take sales from DC!

EN: In this issue, we see the lesson, even the image, from the First Book of Blood made literal. Are there literal interpretations of everything on the page, either in this issue, or later on?

GR: The parallelism with the imagery is intentional. The rest of the “matching,” i.e., biblical text to story text, is much more allegorical/metaphorical. We don’t see anyone literally having their eye put out by Flay, for instance.

More to the point is the nature of the lesson, and Cain’s admonition to the Caitiff that, I think, is at the heart of the issue. It’s all well and good to practice deceit, but when you let yourself believe the lie, you’re no longer the master of the lesson, but its victim.

EN: Speaking of Flay, we start the story with he and the Order of the Stone. Beating people in burlap sacks. On what looks to be an abandoned cruise ship. A number of questions arise — Why start here, with the villain, for instance?

GR: Again, it goes to how Siglain and I originally conceived the series, that it was as much about the Black Book and the Dark Faith as it was about the Question striving to both understand and thwart them. And I wanted to establish that there was an entirely different element of the Dark Faith than we’d seen before. That’s one of the goals of the series, to establish the actual Religion of Crime as an organized force in the DCU, though one that isn’t always pulling in the same direction. I dug the idea that there were different “sects” in the religion, different manifestations and even interpretations of the worship.

But as for Flay and, in particular, the location, both are crucial to the story later. A lot of what’s said at the beginning of the issue has resonance throughout the series.

EN: Flay is a character of your creation?

GR: Yeah, Flay, the Order of the Stone, the Daughters of Lilith, all of that’s my fault.

EN: I see Flay as a sort of antithesis of Montoya’s other teacher, Richard Dragon — with opposing goals, but a number of similarities as well.

GR: Yeah, I can see that, though it wasn’t a conscious choice on my part. But, like Richard, he is another “master,” though what he’s mastered is entirely antithetical to what Richard would teach.

EN: But in a way, their teaching styles are similar. They both know, dealing with their student, that simply pointing out the lesson and saying, “Here it is,” won’t work. They use non-direct, somewhat obtuse ways to get their point across — Richard’s used a wheelchair. Flay uses, in this issue, a family turning murderous on itself.

GR: Well, pull the sheet back all the way, then. What was the Deceit being taught?

EN: Well, in the end, Flay rebukes Renee’s statement that she should and could have been more in control of what had happened.

GR: He does call her “liar” at the end. And if she actually believes she should have seen it, then she’s failed to master the lesson, if one draws from what Cain tells the Caitiff in the opening text.

But if she’s lying to herself, that’s not really using the lesson as the Dark Faith would teach it, is it?

EN: No, because that would be falling prey to deceit….

GR: Right. So if we’re asking has she mastered the lesson, the question (!?) is where was the deceit she practiced. This one, I hasten to add, is not a clear-case at all. The lessons in issue 2 and 4 are much clearer. The lessons in 1 and 3 are far more oblique.

And one can argue — or I hope one could argue, because it’s very much my hope that people can and will — that in almost every case, Renee hasn’t actually committed the sin in question. Stress on “almost every case.”

EN: That’s what I was thinking, especially…well, I don’t want to give too much away, but I’d agree on that point.

GR: Yeah, well, like I said, it’s all very calculated on my part. As I’ve said before in our previous conversations — or at least, as I think I’ve said before — I’m not a real fan of writing infallible heroes. I think that makes them boring. What I think makes a character heroic is their fallibility and their efforts to overcome it whilst doing whatever noble endeavor they may be pursuing.

This take, incidentally, has gotten me into trouble lately. The latest Kodiak book put a lot of noses out of joint for a similar reason, I think; a lot of folks believe what he does in that novel is ultimately indefensible.

But I kinda like that — I don’t want easy answers for the most part. More to the point, I like my stories messy, and like my gray areas to be vast, with the black and white zones narrow and treacherously easy to step outside of.

EN: Skipping back to the beginning…one of the things that I didn’t notice the first time…the name Stanton T. Carlyle. First, I’m curious as to how you go about naming your characters, and second, what’s the story behind this name?

GR: Uh…this is going to be kinda embarrassing, actually, especially since Doug Wolk had that nice write-up on the issue. I tend to name characters, primarily, for “sound.” Carlyle is based on an academic that I knew second-hand about 10 years ago, when my wife was at the U of O. Carlyle was envisioned very much to be the young, “hip” professor who still “gets” all of his students, and who is devoted to keeping up with pop-culture events, etc.

I wanted a name that sounded preppy, that sounded a little stilted, and that sounded self-important enough to justify writing a book debunking the Dark Faith. So I flapped around and started putting pieces together until I hit something that worked. The fact that there’s a Ditko-ref at all in the name is entirely accidental, but, I suppose, it goes to the whole lit. crit. school of it not mattering what the hell the author’s intent is, it’s the text that matters.

I pick names quite deliberately, attempting to reference something, perhaps, or otherwise to conjure a sense of character. And I like names that aren’t mundane — I’m not a fan of naming characters “Tom” unless I want a name that sounds, for lack of a better phrase, well-used and well-loved.

EN: So the Eric Stanton / Nightmare Alley / Thomas Carlyle all-in-one reference is a complete happy accident? If you were Nathaniel Hawthorne, academics would be fighting about this name in 20-page conference papers for years to come.

GR: Would it make you happier if I said it was entirely intentional?

EN: Nope. Not me. I hate arguing about Nathaniel Hawthorne.

GR: [laughs] Though I have to admit, I wish I’d actually seen Nightmare Alley.

EN: You should! It taught me the importance of knowing the difference between drinking alcohol and wood grain alcohol.

GR: That’s an important lesson to learn early.

EN: But speaking of academics — our chats always have such nice segues — the two villainous characters with the most face time in this issue are a bad-ass martial artist evil monk and a nerdy-looking professor. What’s the impetus behind showing two such disparate members of the Crime Religion?

GR: That disparity was precisely the point. I wanted to establish early on that not every member of the Dark Faith was going to smash someone’s head into a stone book and then serve them to the various under-bosses who came to dinner.

Carlyle is, very much, who he appears to be. Just like Flay is, pretty much, who he appears to be. Both follow the Dark Faith. Both follow it differently, but towards a unified end.

Hopefully, one of the things that’ll come out of the mini-series is the sense that just about anyone in the DCU could be a devotee of the Religion of Crime to some extent or another. That the mugger on the street corner and the accountant in the 38th floor office, they’re both praying to Cain at one point or another.

EN: That answered my next question: Are there only members with useful occupations or talents? We get an idea through these two how very different members could be, but could my mailman be a follower of Crime? My next door neighbor?

GR: Absolutely. I’d toyed with the idea of actually doing a story where the coven-leader was a suburban soccer mom.

The Dark Faith provides different things for different people, but ultimately, its appeal is in allowing a “justified” abandoning of morals. Some people do it all the time, they live it — that’s Flay, that’s the Order, their whole existence is in pursuit of the perfection that is Cain. It’s why they are, for the most part, aesthetics — Cain needed little to commit his sins.

Others turn to it for their own gain, which is entirely appropriate within the construct of the Dark Faith. I want a new car, a new house, a new wife, I’m going to use hook and crook to get it, and the Dark Faith provides the means and opportunity for it. Once I’ve got it, I’m done…until the next time I want something.

EN: Which, I think, still serves to mirror other religions. When do people generally pray? When they want/need something. The difference might be that the Crime Religion pays off with tangible results.

GR: Yes. Again, it’s an attempt to create something that’s very loosely — and I stress that it’s loosely — viable within the DCU. The fundamental problem with a nihilistic religion is that you’d have to be totally off your nut to pursue it.

The Dark Faith isn’t nihilistic, which, I think, was a misconception when it first was introduced. It’s a very materialistic religion — take what you can, be strong enough to keep it, and cheating isn’t just acceptable, it’s expected.

If the Dark Faith has an ulterior motive, it’s in eroding morality.

EN: This first issue is set in London…what was appealing about that locale for this story? Because it seems to me to set a perfect mood for the mini-series, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why.

GR: Well, the most pragmatic reason was to establish that the Religion of Crime was global — we’re in Chittagong on pages 2 and 3, then we jump to London, so we’ve just covered half the world. But it’s also London, city of mystery and intrigue. Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. And it allowed me to show that Question wasn’t based in any one place; she was moving where the questions took her, where she could find the answers.

As far as that goes, and I noticed this on the message board at the site, Question is not a Gotham hero, and she does not, in my opinion, fall under the Bat Group. She stands outside, as Charlie did. As stated, she goes where her questions lead her, and if that’s to Gotham, fine; if that’s to Hub City, fine. If that’s to London, then she’s going to London.

There was one other reason to pick London, as well. It’s a real city, and a city that could be represented realistically, which was another, sub-textual way of trying to reinforce that the Dark Faith was pervasive and global. Starting in Metropolis, for instance, would have pretty much said, “it’s all hokum” from the start.

And yes, it’s a comic book about a woman who puts on a mask that hides her features, I know that. But trying to balance the “realism” with the “fantastic” is a game I play with myself all the time, and here, I thought it was important to try and provide as much verisimilitude as possible.

EN: I think that part of it too has to deal with — you talked about Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd — the element of timelessness that London has as a city that’s both modern and centuries old. And that mirrors that element of timelessness with the Crime Bible.

GR: That certainly helped. There were so many questions about the Religion of Crime going into this, not the least of which being, well, if it’s been around for so long, why hasn’t anyone in the DCU ever mentioned it before?

EN: Especially if my mailman is a member….

GR: You should get a P.O. Box. Might be safer.

There’s a certain nod-and-wink going on here, obviously, because we all know it’s a new concept, it’s something that Grant introduced. So there’s an inherent ret-con involved in the story, trying to establish that, yes, it’s new, but it’s also old, in the way that you can buy a copy of The Necronomicon that’s been published a week ago…but the book’s been around forever.

Which is part of the reason for Carlyle’s speech at the start of the book. How old is it? How can we discern what’s true and what isn’t? The biggest difference with the Black Book and, honestly, just about every other religion extant in our world, is that the Black Book is a living document; it’s being added to constantly. Nobody’s writing new books of the New Testament, or, if they are, the Pope sure isn’t approving them for distribution.

EN: I anticipate the answer to this will hearken back to what you’ve already said, regarding splitting the time between the Crime Bible and the Question, but many have noted what they feel is a minimal presence of Renee in this issue….What I think they’re actually feeling is the change in P.O.V. since the last time we saw her in 52.

GR: Yeah, I cut the narrative for this, for a variety of reasons. First, I don’t think the reader should get to be inside the Question’s head.

I think that was one of the wonderful things about what Denny did, and it served to force the reader to ask their own questions. And, frankly, the first-person narrative in 52 served two purposes: first, it was to establish Renee as a PI, using a traditional PI trope, i.e., “I was sitting in my office one day, when he walked in….”

But second, and more crucially, that first-person narrative of Renee’s was self-indulgent beyond belief. It was representative of her internal struggles, her despair, the frankly miserable (and often-times unlikable) state she was in. Well, guess what? It’s been 18 months or so since then. She’s got her shit together in a way she didn’t back in 52.

As for her presence in the issue, or lack thereof, as said, it’s issue 1. This issue establishes the structure for future issues, and it’ll become clearer what that is as those issues come out. But now that we’ve been introduced to the world and the Dark Faith, we can focus more on the Question, and her place and struggle in that context, as well as Flay’s.

EN: Was Peter Kürten a figure that you were familiar with and had filed away for future use, or did you research him for the series?

GR: I was familiar with Kürten before writing Crime Bible, yeah, from my days post-college when I was obsessively reading everything and anything about serial murders, profiling, and forensics.

And there’d been a twitch in my head or something that reminded me about him and his fascination with scissors. So it all came together. If I’d used the Book of Moriarty, I’d have had to come up with a way to push a character off the Reichenbach Falls, and that’d have meant moving the story to Switzerland, i think. So that wasn’t really a choice, y’know?

EN: So, since you brought it up — is the implication there that these two figures, one real (Kürten) and one fictional (Moriarty), are linked to the Crime Religion too? Or are they like Cain, figureheads for the cause?

GR: I think it’s safe to say that both have had an impact on the Religion of Crime. If the extrapolation is that Kürten’s crimes were Dark Faith inspired or otherwise tied to the religion, then that works in the context of the story.

As for Moriarty, well, he’s a character-by-association, at least, in the DCU, as Holmes has actually appeared in DC comics before. So the mind-bending comes when Carlyle cites Kürten as a “real” person, but consigns Moriarty to fiction in the same breath.

My take on that is that Holmes and his stories in the DCU have become legends; the factual information is too spotty for any one academic to be sure. They treat Holmes like Shakespeare.

EN: Christopher Marlowe was Sherlock Holmes!

GR: And Francis Drake was Zorro!

Uh…maybe not….

EN: So we see Flay following the Carlyle family around, lurking in shadows, and eventually giving Giselle orders at the book’s climax. Are Flay and the Order of the Stone a well-known faction of the Crime Religion?

GR: To some. In the same way that the Daughters of Lilith are known to some. Again, that mugger we were talking about, he probably has no idea of the depth and breadth of the Religion of Crime. Giselle is clearly in-the-know, so that when Flay meets her in the park, she knows who he is and what he represents. Whether Carlyle actually had met a member of the Order prior to issue 1, that’s unknown in the confines of the story.

Like all secret societies, there are “levels” of knowledge, of initiation and acceptance.

EN: That’s similar to how other…nameless secret societies…are run. The normal guy at the bottom of the pyra — nevermind.

GR: Shhh…they’re always watching.

EN: So the bigger question here is perhaps whether or not you have the whole organization mapped out for yourself….

GR: Yeah, I’ve got a big-ass document that’s constantly in revision detailing the Dark Faith, its structure, compiling all the scriptural quotes, etc. There’s even a schism in the church, but we don’t see that in this series.

EN: But only Grant Morrison has an actual copy of the actual Crime Bible….

GR: I think he has two, actually. The one he wrote, and the one that was…given to him.

EN: There was a point when I was reading the script where I was worried — I have a thing about violence against children, and I was glad to see that you had Renee stop Giselle in the nick of time.

GR: You and me both. And it was important that Renee-as-Question not fail “entirely.” The sinner, Carlyle, could die in a dramatic construct, but the innocent, the child, that would’ve been a loss, and I didn’t want her starting out in issue 1 with a tick mark in the loss column, y’know?

Though Siglain and I toyed with it at the start, we rejected it, obviously, and I think for all the right reasons, not the least of them being the one you cite — I’m not a fan of showing violence against children. There’s a place and a kind of story where it’s appropriate, but gratuitous cruelty has been rather liberally applied in comics of late, I think, and I wanted this depravity to be fairly specific in its application.

EN: You get the same result either way, I think — showing the depths of sin to which followers of the Dark Faith will sink — without actually going through with it.

GR: Yeah, and since that was the point, it wasn’t necessary to actually go through with it.

EN: And violence against children is a terrible thing, but having the attacker be the mother takes it a whole step further. Like I said, my guts were twisted when reading.

GR: Yeah, that’s the depravity to the nth degree. And that she’s gleeful at the thought of this “offering.” Ick.

EN: Can we address at all at this point the cause behind Flay’s intense interest in Renee?

GR: I think it’s there in the text, though it becomes clearer in issue 5. I’m not sure I want to give it away. Shard tells us all we need to know for now.

EN: We’ll leave it at that then.

GR: Probably a good place to stop. But I will add…no, actually, I won’t. Let’s see what this next week brings us, shall we? I think we might start seeing some further reactions to the issue. We can talk about it when we hit issue 2.

Alas, our discussion of issue 2 was not to be, as the holidays hit and schedules were packed to the brim with unavoidable conflicts. Thankfully, Greg was willing to sit down with us in early June to discuss the remainder of the series!

Art by John Van FleetEN: The cover of issue #2 probably best illustrates the lesson contained inside — Lust. How do you address this subject as a writer? It seems as though, especially in comics, you would have to walk a fine line with both editorial and the readership.

GR: All of the covers were something Michael and I put a lot of thought into, before passing on the concept to John Van Fleet. We really wanted a pulp feel to each of the covers. I sent Michael something like a good 200 vintage pulp covers, novels, Strange Tales, like that.

For “Lust” there was an obvious sub-genre, the lesbian pulps. The covers to 2, 4, and 5 are actually directly inspired by actual vintage covers of one sort or another (for more on this please see this piece on Crime Bible cover inspiration). For #2, there were certain tropes to be found in the covers to the lesbian pulps — they invariably had one woman, normally “butch”, reaching for a scantily clad “innocent” woman, tempting her. So that’s what we were after, quite clearly.

But the concept of lust was one that I found murderously difficult to convey in 22 pages, especially given what else had to happen in the course of the story. And — and I am well-aware the field-day that people will have with me saying this — I’ve always felt that Renee’s fatal flaw was lust. Or, to explain it more fully…a lot of homosexuals, when they first come out, work to “make up for lost time.”

So…the whole issue, literally and figuratively, was one that we tried to approach with a light touch. In point of fact, Siglain and I held Jesus [Saiz] back so much that when the issue went before DiDio for approval, he actually came back and said it wasn’t racy enough. There was a whole series of color corrections done before the book went to press where a lot of Elicia’s clothes were “edited down.”

Art by Jesus Saiz

I mean, seriously, we’d sent Jesus all this reference, so he wouldn’t end up drawing “trashy lingerie,” and in the end, Elicia shows a lot more skin that we’d planned for at the start. The conflict was in trying convey sexiness and desire without resorting to trashiness and that sort-of standard comic Great Big Female Secondary Sexual Characteristics. But — and I realize I’m all over the map here — I really struggled on the issue, because I really wanted to try and convey that sense of pressure that lust commands, the sense of almost irrepressible need.

The only way I can think to describe it is the teenage first-time feeling, that sense of now dammit now! Even as I talk about it, I’m not sure that’s a clear concept, y’know?

And the length of the issue was a problem, too, because there was really only room enough for three major scenes with Elicia, and that’s not a lot of time to really convey that growing sense of desire. Am I making any sense at all, here?

EN: I think so. But like you said, it’s hard to talk about lust in concrete terms.

GR: Yeah. The key moment was Elicia telling Renee that “you never wanted me.” I’m still not sure the issue works, frankly. I really wanted the reader to understand the sense of desire, the need to surrender to it. If I could’ve added the sound effect of tearing clothes, I’d have done it.

And, of course, after Renee does have sex with Elicia, she’s immediately hit with the follow-up of lust, i.e., regret. She’s practically self-loathing. It was also important to me that all of this be conveyed as a universal thing, not a homosexual one, if that makes sense. I didn’t want anyone reading it and thinking, oh, well, Renee’s queer, of course she has no self-control, of course she regrets it after the fact. I’m talking in circles, I apologize.

EN: Well, I don’t want to get too personal here, but I could definitely identify with what Renee was going through. Not specifically in the brothel setting, I should add, but…yeah, it’s hard to put these things in concrete terms. I think most people will feel the sense of what you’re getting at though.

GR: See, that’s the thing. It’s universal, or practically so — we’ve all felt that primal drive, that moment when your hips start shifting without you meaning them too. That sweaty, fumbly, backseat of car, trembling hands need.

GR: Maybe we should move on to another question.

EN: Right!

GR: Either that or we should offer the reader a cigarette.

EN: I liked seeing the mention of the Barcelona House in this issue. We read about Montoya’s investigations there in the trans-dimensional journal.

GR: Yeah, see, continuity! I was also trying to further establish two things, there: First, that Renee had been chasing these leads for a while, that she knew of at least one other “convent.” And second, that the Dark Faith was global, that there were elements and strongholds to be found everywhere.

EN: Did the process of working on the journal help you flesh out the concepts of the Crime Religion for yourself, as well as the reader?

GR: Not so much, frankly. I’d been steadily building the thing in my head ever since running with the ball Grant had passed to me in 52. I’ve got, literally, hundreds of pages of notes about the religion. I’ve even written a “writer’s bible” that I keep revising.

EN: You should write them out in book/verse form.

GR: Trust me, if I had the time, I probably would. You can read, in the afterward of the hardcover, some notes on the journal, etc. And I talk a bit there about what I was thinking, etc.

EN: So we’re not over the Crime Religion after this series by a longshot it seems?

GR: No, the Dark Faith plays into Final Crisis — Grant uses it, of course — and it factors strongly into Revelation, as well.

EN: That’s great, because I think it’s a concept that could fuel hundreds of quality stories.

GR: Ideally it’ll continue to play in the DCU. I think Grant handed us all a wonderful toy to play with, and it’d be a shame not to use it, y’know? By the same token, though, I’d like it to maintain a sense of internal logic, if that makes sense. That each “book” of the crime bible be consistent, things like that. That the Daughters of Lilith continue being what they are, rather than, say, turning into a bunch of child-murdering cannibals, etc.

Hence the desire to present a writer’s bible.

EN: Though if there are disparate representations later, you could always call those “Reform Dark Faithers.”

GR: Wait until you encounter the Kane Heresy.

EN: Or “Southern Independent Dark Faithers.”

GR: “Give me that ol’ time Crime Religion, it’s good enough for me!”

EN: Ha!

GR: There actually is a schism in the “church,” but that won’t be seen for a while, yet.

EN: We’ll let that tantalizing teaser hang there then.

GR: Thank you.

EN: One of the subtle touches I liked in issue #2 is the fact that Abigail seems to be leading Renee to the men on display first, before Renee’s attention is drawn elsewhere.

GR: Yeah, that’s exactly what she’s doing. The assumption, logically enough, is that Renee’s straight. And Renee goes in willing to pretend that she is, until she sees Elicia.

The idea — and again, it’s hard to convey in a comic without defaulting, I think, to pure iconography/manga style, ie, stars and hearts in her eyes — is that she sees Elicia and is immediately struck by her.

EN: In the script you sent me, Elicia’s name was originally Elena. Would you like to explain the name change / give a shout out to the real Elicia?

GR: Yeah, the name was changed in honor of a woman, named Elicia, who used to work at Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, WA.

EN: Which is, if I might interject, a fantastic store…though I only saw it at its old location.

GR: Yeah, the new location — you have to see it the next time you’re out here. It was explained to me that she was a BIG Renee Montoya fan. But Elicia For Real is queer, and, I believe, has gone so far as to get a Renee as Question tattoo on an arm. So it was a simple change, made to make a fan smile.

GR: Hell, I used your name on the telegrams in the Montoya Journals. I’ll steal from everywhere, I’m not particular.

EN: It’s not every day that a fictional version of yourself gets to sleep with your favorite comic character.

GR: No, though it’s not really something you can put on a resumé, you know?

EN: So what is it about Elicia (the fictional Elicia) that Renee finds so hearts-shooting-from-the-eyes appealing? Is it just lust, or is there a sort of Robert DeNiro-Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver thing going on here too?

GR: Oh, I think it’s a couple of things. The first was that, initially, Renee was hit hard by her beauty. The idea was that Elicia, to Renee, was heart-breakingly pretty, just achingly so. Then they get along. They like each other. Not that they’re in love, but again, that primal connection, that lust element — they’re near each other, and the more time they spend together, the more they want each other.

That’s the other thing, is that it’s mutual, to a great extent. And then the third catalyst, so to speak, is Renee’s resistance. There’s sex all around, there’s indulgence all around, it’s perfectly permissible in the environment, but Renee keeps refusing. Anyone who’s ever been in that situation, faced with that kind of mutual desire, they know that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it infinitely worse.

EN: Another touch I liked in this issue was the use of the regurgitant pill (and the fact that Saiz actually draws in the vomit stain on the next page). In this series we see Renee using investigation methods that she wouldn’t have been able to do as a member of the Gotham P.D. Is it a matter of developing new techniques, or do you see the skills of the vigilante crimefighter to be the next step up from police work?

GR: Oh, I think a lot of what Renee does is based on “WWCD”, y’know? What would Charlie do to get to the truth? So she enters the situation trying to maintain her cover, but also trying to give herself an out. She went to the brothel planning on getting into a room with one of the hosts/hostesses, and from there taking a look around. And she knew she’d need a good excuse to be left alone.

But she’s certainly evolved from her days on the GCPD. After all, she’s got the freedom the mask gives her, so all bets are kinda off.

EN: There’s an interesting parallel between the woman facing being sacrificed at the end of this book and the brothel being burned at the end. It seems as though Flay is willing to sacrifice everything to bring the Faceless to leadership.

GR: He is. There’re a couple of things to that, of course, though they may not have been clear in the text as much as in the sub-text. The first is that the Order of the Stone and the Daughters of Lilith do not like each other. Flay has the line about daughters “moaning on their backs” or something like that, and Abigail positively acts like she’ll need to fumigate her office after Flay visits. So Flay’s not really concerned with collateral damage to the Daughters.

But there’s also the fact that Flay is a zealot, he’s a true believer, and he’s going to bring Lilith’s prophesy regarding the Faceless to pass. He’s going to make it happen. That, he feels, is his place in the world, why he’s there.

EN: I thought there was a strong sense of Abigail not really being in on the plan.

GR: No, she’s not in on it at all. All she knows is that the head of the Order of the Stone showed up at her convent and said there was this person coming in, and she needed to be handled in this certain way. He didn’t say why. If he had, Abigail probably would’ve monkeyed with Renee more, just to undermine the Order.

There’s another sub-textual element at work, here, too, which didn’t come across in the series at all…which is that the Religion of Crime is without a head at the moment. There’s no High Madame. Mannheim vanished, and when he returned, he was no longer the Prophet. And Whisper A’Daire, the last High Madame, is missing presumed dead.

GR: There’s another project I’ve been working on, and actually, the timing was supposed to be that, in this other thing, you’d know about the High Madame “problem”, and witness the arrival of the new head of the Dark Faith.

But that got pushed WAAAAAAAAAAAAY back, so Crime Bible was kinda left in a vacuum.

Art by John Van FleetEN: Onto issue #3?

GR: Sure!

EN: Cobblepot calls the Crime Religion “Gotham-come-lately.” This adds again to that paradoxical mystique we’ve talked about before — the question of: is it centuries old, or something new? It seems like it would be a hard balancing act to pull off and still have the concept be believable, but I think you do it well in this series.

GR: Yeah, it’s always fun trying to retrofit a new idea into established continuity. Still, I think the idea of this cult lurking below the surface for all these years works, in the DCU certainly.

Cobblepot is uniquely positioned to talk about the religion — the whole “really, what sort of name is that?” riff, for instance.

EN: He’s really grown to be one of my favorites in recent years.

GR: I’ve always loved Cobblepot as a character, frankly; he’s terribly hard to write, I think, and most folks write him off as a joke, but I like him. He is always his own worst enemy, I think.

EN: Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the script to this issue alongside the original pencils and inks by Matthew Clark. I found it interesting to see how many of the specific details were from your scripts — like when Cobblepot pulls a Broomhandle Mauser, for instance. Clark also brought a lot to these pages too, though. I guess my question here is, how do you approach establishing the visuals of a page, and does that approach differ depending on the artist you’re working with?

GR: Working with Matthew is its own thing, for the record, because he’s one of my best friends, and he lives ten minutes from my house. So when I’m scripting for him, I know he and I will be working pretty closely on the final result.

But when I’m scripting anything, I tend to lay heavy on the details I think are important to character. I can’t draw, so I try, always, to write a script that explains, clearly as possible, what’s happening and why it’s important and what is important about it. Ideally, the result is that the artist can take the script and say, okay, I know what we need to accomplish here, and this idea works, but I’ve got a better way to do this thing, etc.

It’s such a collaborative process that I find myself constantly trying to balance conveying what I feel is vital to the story, while at the same time trying to allow the artist as much freedom as possible to accomplish our goals. So I tend to overscript, as far as that goes; I think that’s partially a fault of being trained, primarily, in prose. But I cut my teeth on the short story, and God is in the Details in the short, so I try to mark specific details when I think they’re needed.

The Mauser, for instance, is entirely character — but could you imagine Cobblepot with a .44 magnum? It wouldn’t work. Of course he’s got an antique, and one in perfect condition.

EN: I could not imagine that. I think the Mauser’s pretty perfect. Also, that he downplays it to Flay when, as you said, we know he has it for a reason.

GR: I like Cobblepot as a gentleman, or as someone trying desperately to be one. Always terribly polite, right until he has you killed, cut up, and melted in acid.

EN: What inspired the names of each edition of the Crime Bible? Sana’a is a city in Yemen? Fitzgerald is…F. Scott (or Zelda?)? In this issue, we’re dealing with the Bastard’s Folio.

GR: The whole idea of naming editions was taken from the Lovecraft mythos, the idea of differing “books of forbidden knowledge.” The Necronomicon (sp?) is always presented as having differing iterations, differing translations. Even real Bible historians denote differing authors, etc. So the naming convention was based on the concept that these different editions were marked in certain ways, each with a story of some sort behind them.

The Sana’a Edition, for instance, is the one that Charlie grabs in 52. The Fitzgerald is named for the translator. I went with Fitzgerald not so much because of F. Scott, much as I admire his work, but because the name had an authority to it, at least to my ear. The Bastard’s Folio is named after the person who printed it. The other named edition, I think, is the High Madame’s Binding, which is the complete pure text, kept in hiding for use by the High Madame alone. It has all the spells, all the prophesies, all the codes.

I don’t know what to add. I mean, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this stuff. I toyed with the idea of having one of the editions printed in an ink that was a narcotic of some sort, things like that. And, of course, we wanted to set up the idea of the codes, so that readers who wanted to try their hand at it could fiddle with the text pieces at the start of each issue, trying to decode them.

Re: the Sana’a Edition. Where did Charlie grab it? In Yemen.

EN: Aha. I missed that one.

GR: Yeah, that one was pretty literal. There are other named editions out there, but only a handful. The thing that marks them as special, that earns them their “name”, is that they’re “true” texts, as opposed to edited or altered.

EN: This issue is the first of two homecomings we see during the series, with Renee visiting her old Gotham Central stomping grounds, the grave of one former partner, and having an intense stairwell conversation with another. Did you have any feelings of figuratively coming home yourself while writing these scenes?

GR: Huh. Interesting question. Yeah, I think I was very aware — as was Michael — that having Renee back in Gotham was something we needed to address.

Getting to write Central again, even in the most broad terms, was a delight, y’know. And the meeting with Gordon was fun for me, because I’ve always loved the character, and I liked the idea that he was, even after all that had happened, both fond of and paternal towards Renee. Writing Bullock was interesting. I like the character, but I’m not really fond of how he was brought back, ie, with no explanation. So putting him and Renee opposite each other, especially after all that’s happened to them respectively, was a moment that needed to be seen. I’d have let it run longer, but, again, there were space constraints.

I suspect they’ll run into each other again at some point. They’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

EN: Gordon leaves Montoya with an open invitation to re-join the ranks of the GCPD. Do you think she’d ever be able to go back to being a cop, after her experiences over this series and 52 (and the end of Gotham Central (oh, and the forthcoming Final Crisis: Revelation))?

GR: Hell no. Being a cop almost killed her. Despite the toll that chasing the Dark Faith has taken on her (and continues to take), what she tells Kate later in the issue is true — she’s the best she’s been in a long, long time. She’s clean, sober, healthy (relatively — not talking mental health). And on some level she’s content, because she has a purpose and a direction, and that was something that she’d most definitely lost at the end of Central.

There’s another element, too, actually. She can’t be the Question and be a cop; they’re incompatible. To be the Question, she has to follow her curiosity wherever it leads. As a cop, she simply cannot do that.

EN: Speaking of Kate, we see her here carrying a guitar case. We don’t really know too much about her yet, aside from what we’ve seen in a few issues of 52. Someone e-mailed me to see if I’d ask you: is the implication here that she’s a socialite-turned-musician?

GR: She is, in fact, a socialite-turned-musician. She plays a mean guitar.

EN: And this one’s from me: When Kate takes the Crime Bible edition from Cobblepot, there’s a tone of familiarity in the way she speaks to him. Is Kate well-known around Gotham at this point? Or is this just a part of the fact that Cobblepot seems to deal with everyone in Gotham at some time or another?

GR: It was more intended as Batwoman’s manner, rather than a hint at a prior encounter (though I did try to at least acknowledge the Iceberg lounge beat from Countdown, there).

EN: When Renee and Kate fight over the book, I’m reminded that there’s a history of violence between them that we also saw in 52. Is this just a comic book trope — that throwing punches is the way superheroes deal with things — or is this a recurring element of their relationship?

GR: A little of both, I think, though I hesitate to say anything that would imply either was physically abusive to the other. When they were together, after all, neither of them was wearing a mask. But so much of their relationship is defined by passion. But unlike in issue #2, where it’s lust, pure and simple, what’s going on between Kate and Renee is much more complicated.

They bring out each others’ passion, both towards each other, and towards the things around them. The thing I was reaching for — and you can almost see it in the issue, I think — is that they can be very good together. Their chemistry when their in the guy’s apartment, for instance, the banter and the ease, is another element of that.

But Kate’s fighting Renee for a very specific reason, here — she’s honestly trying to convince Renee to alter course, where the course is something that is scaring Kate a lot; she’s afraid for Renee. And I’d add, by the way, that the punches in 52 are thrown for very specific reasons — the first one, when they meet for the first time in so many years, was played both as a P.I. trope, and as a response to a pretty nasty dig by Renee. The Batwoman punch is very purpose-driven — Renee’s about to shoot somebody, and Batwoman don’t cotton to no killing.

EN: In the original script, the pages of the Crime Bible that Renee looks through on the train were blank. What was the impetus behind adding a message from Flay here?

GR: Looking at the final art, both Michael and I were afraid we were being too subtle. I’m still not sure it was the right decision to actually add the message, but it was important to me that the reader understand that Renee had been duped, that Flay was playing her all along. So all the conflict, the fight with Kate, the additional damage done to their relationship there…it was all for nothing.

EN: I think it works, because this is the only issue, if I’m remembering correctly, where Flay doesn’t show up at the end to reinforce the lesson learned. And so there’s still evidence of his hand at play.

GR: Yeah, that’s correct. And the series needed to keep “on point” so to speak.

Art by John Van FleetEN: In the opening pages of issue #4, we see a personification of the “Red Right Hand” that Darkseid’s Bitch once sang about (according to the set list from the journal). Does Flay have any supernatural power over the officer in this scene, or is the madness purely psychological?

GR: Heh. Good catch. It’s entirely psychological. Flay’s power is simply his skill as a killer, and he’s an incredibly proficient one. The idea was, bluntly, that Flay had this man’s life in his hand. Quite literally could and would kill him. And just a capriciously as he slaughtered everyone else in the bar, he lets this man live. And, let’s face it, Hub City is full of people on the brink of madness.

EN: If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Hub City!

GR: You got it!

EN: I like the presence of Tot in the scene at the lighthouse (an interesting symbol), especially that he and Renee aren’t buddy-buddy. Their relationship seems tenuous, but they’re here together to honor Charlie’s memory in a way.

GR: Very much so. Eventually, I’d like to have the opportunity to follow-up with Tot some more, and allow him his grief in a way that we haven’t been privy to thus far. And he really doesn’t know what to make of Renee, and Renee’s relationship with Charlie. As I’ve said before, there’s the question of whether or not Charlie was actually his son or not. So Tot’s got issues where Renee’s concerned.

EN: Where is this lighthouse that Charlie has left them? Will this be a base of operation for Renee in the future?

GR: That’s the idea. As to where it is, I’m still somewhat undecided, frankly. I was thinking somewhere in the Southern U.S., maybe the Carolinas or Louisiana.

EN: We certainly have a bunch of lighthouses in North Carolina. I can vouch.

GR: Yeah, that’s why I was considering it, frankly. And it puts it reasonably close to established DCU “hubs.” As for the symbolism of a lighthouse…entirely intentional. Of course Charlie would leave them a lighthouse.

EN: Speaking of the DCU, I think you once told me that trying to make the DCU timeline literal was an impossible task, but here you’ve sort of defined the distance between this and the original Question series by saying that Myra was recently elected for her third consecutive term. What were your thoughts behind this little mention?

GR: I wanted her to still be mayor, and time had to have passed. It was pretty much as simple as that. I also liked the idea that, not only had Myra stuck it out, but that she was still fighting the good fight in Hub City, despite everything that had happened in the DCU in the interim.

EN: It was good to see that she’s still there and possibly making progress, especially in light of what it seemed like she was sacrificing at the end of Denny’s series.

GR: That was important to me, to show that all of her sacrifices (and there have been so many), hadn’t been in vain. She’s always been truly heroic to me, especially the way Denny portrayed her, the way he detailed the obstacles she struggled again and again to overcome.

Issue 4 was very much pure homage to Denny and Denys, from the madness aspect to the appearances of Tot, Izzy, and Myra. We even tried to get some of Denys’ style in the art — the beat where Myra learns that Charlie has died was very much lifted from the way he and Denny would script key beats.

EN: That was my next question, actually: while the last issue was a homecoming for both you and Montoya, this issue is something different — you and Renee going to someone else’s home. How did it feel to go to Hub City for the first time?

GR: It’s funny, because I didn’t really think of it that way; I guess I’d been to Hub City a lot in my mind, if that makes sense. I’ve read and reread the Denny/Denys series so many times at this point that I feel I know the city as well as I know Gotham.

For obvious reasons, though, it was crucial that we take Renee into Charlie’s world, both as his epitaph, and as a service to continuity of character and story. She’s carrying his legacy; part of that legacy is Hub City, and all it entails. Of all the issues in the mini, this one has Charlie’s ghost most heavily upon it. I mean, how many times did the Question end up chasing someone on a rooftop?

EN: I just want to say that I liked the little chalkboard easter egg with the names of creators associated with the Question/Renee. Gives a nice bit of history in a book that, as you said, is already dealing with that subject.

GR: Yeah, we had fun with that.

EN: Here again in this issue, the lesson learned is debatable. Flay seems to be the real murderer here. What is it he’s trying to lead Renee to — an understanding of evil, or just inner confusion?

GR: Yeah, this is the weakest of his lessons, I think, and certainly the one she can defend most easily. But one of the things that, I think, a lot of people overlooked was Flay’s threat — and perhaps that was the lesson of murder; Flay creates a killer via murder; Flay forces Renee’s reckoning with the threat of murder.

In the end, though, his goal is straightforward enough — he wants her to face each lesson in turn. Whether she actually submits to it in the moment may be irrelevant; that she understand them and experience them is more to the point.

EN: I hadn’t thought of it that way — that unless she agrees, she’ll be partially responsible for his actions?

GR: That’s the implicit threat. He’ll go on killing and killing unless she agrees to his terms. Though, in 5, he as much admits it was an empty threat. That’s not to say that I think it was empty; if she hadn’t turned up, Flay certainly would’ve gone after every target he could’ve. Probably starting with her parents.

Art by John Van FleetEN: Issue five — we return in this issue to the ship graveyards we first saw in the first issue. Where did you hear about this place? It seems a perfect place to set these final scenes.

GR: This was another Trautmann-ism, actually. When I was working on the second Perfect Dark novel, he’d suggested setting one of the action set-pieces in a similar locale, though it was in India, not Bangladesh.

I did some research, and it’s frankly fucking horrible. The work environ is awful. Children and old men slaving away on these beaches for pennies, doing work that literally kills people every day. Seemed like the perfect place for the Order of the Stone to have their temple.

EN: Is this supposed to be THE Red Rock we’re seeing here on the ship? Or is this a symbolic rock used as part of the ritual?

GR: No, it’s a symbolic rock. Actually, the knife that Flay pulls is supposed to be flint-napped (sp?) from the Red Rock. The rock in the hold is red only due to the blood spilled upon it. In the same way that the rock in the Bethesda “convent” is red for the same reason, rather than because it’s the original red rock.

EN: I was a little sad to see Flay die in the end, not because of the ramifications for Renee, but because I found him interesting as a character. Did you work up any sort of back story for him to explain how he came to be the zealot that he was?

GR: Some, yes, but only as much as I needed to make him work for the purposes of the story. It’s funny you mention it, though, because Michael had much the same comment, and we actually discussed — briefly — whether there was a way to accomplish our ending without killing him. But in the end I couldn’t see a way to do it.

I liked Flay as a pure zealot, as a true believer. Very doctrinal, very directed — a man who saw his purpose and his duty, and whose faith was unwavering. That look of incredulity on his face when Question turns away from him, refuses to kill him…that to me spoke volumes about the character, because that was his only moment of doubt, ever, in the series.

EN: Was the cliffhanger with which Crime Bible ends always the plan?

GR: Yeah, though I have to say, I never saw it as a cliffhanger, per se.

GR: I mean, I knew and recognized that we were ending in a place that practically demanded another story, more answers (ha!)…but in its way, I thought that we had provided a resolution to the initial question of the series. It was a terminus, but as such, it was also a launching point. Yet another example of being too damn subtle for my own good, I’m sure.

And, to be brutally frank, when Siglain and I were working on the series, we didn’t know where or when we’d get to use Question next, so we wanted to load the deck as much as we could, and leave in a place that kind of required another story.

EN: I think the point at which it became a cliffhanger for folks was when you didn’t re-up with DC, and for some reason, everyone assumed that you’d never write another DC comic ever again.

GR: Ah, see…I never thought of that, because my not re-upping had no bearing on whether I was going to do more stories for DC. It was simply an issue of needing to take a break to get some other projects up and running, and to get some fresh air after four years in harness.

When we meet up with Question in FCR, it’s clearly after the end of CB, and things have changed. And there’s a reference in, I think, issue 2, where she mentions obliquely that things haven’t been good. So there’s a story to be told there, as well. It was not, shall we say, Good Times for Renee.

EN: And that story will be Final Crisis: Revelation?

GR: Some of it, yes. The full story will come after, I suspect. We’re discussing what happens after FCR to Question.

GR: Grant has some interesting ideas, actually, so I suspect he and I will have a conversation in San Diego about it this year. And by conversation, I mean that Grant will open his brain and let a half dozen ideas tumble out, and then expect me to understand each of them. If I’m lucky, I’ll get, maybe, one of them.

EN: Any final thoughts on Crime Bible before we get to FC:R? Do you consider the project (the series, the journal, the code, the whole nine yards….) a success?

GR: Well, not from a commercial stand point, no. I think we were hobbled by a horrible title, and a complete and utter lack of promotion, frankly. From an artistic standpoint, and a storytelling one, yes, absolutely. I think it’s one of the most ambitious and complex stories I’ve done for DC, and I think we managed to pull it off.

And I am, still, very proud of it. And I think that, once it’s out in trade, more people will find it, and hopefully, they’ll like what we did.

EN: Well, we’ll be doing our best at the site to encourage folks to buy it!

GR: It’d be nice. The worst thing, frankly, was feeling that we’d busted our humps on this thing, and nobody was reading it. That’s frustrating, plain and simple. Not to sound too petulant, or anything.

EN: I think it will hold up really well — might even work better — in the hardcover, so hopefully you’ll find some new readers for there.

GR: I think reading it as a whole will help, yeah. I don’t know about the hardcover, but the softcover will certainly get a few people to pick it up who didn’t before.

The hardcover edition of Crime Bible came out to the direct market on June 12, and to the general market on June 24. Buy a copy for yourself today!

One Response to “Crime Bible Studies with Greg Rucka”

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