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If illustrator Shawn Martinbrough feels even a little apprehensive when he sits down to draw these days, he’s allowed. Martinbrough, who lives in Falls Church, is the new penciler on Detective Comics, Batman’s home since 1939, starting with issue No. 742, which is due out this week. In 61 years of continuous publication, Batman has seen a lot of changes. The first Robin grew up and became Nightwing. Later, the Joker killed Robin’s replacement. Later still, for one terrible year, while Bruce Wayne was paralyzed, someone else was Batman. Most recently—during a yearlong saga called No Man’s Land—Gotham City was leveled by an earthquake.
To mark the occasion, DC Comics hired new writers and artists—among them, Martinbrough—to revamp its monthly “Bat” books: Batman, Detective, and the new Gotham Knights. “Each penciler got a specific task,” says Martinbrough. “One of us is doing Wayne manor, one of us is doing the Batcave and the devices, and I got to redesign Gotham City.”
Teamed with crime novelist Greg Rucka, the artist plans to take Detective back to its roots, when Batman was a hard-boiled vigilante fighting thugs and crime families—not kooky supervillains. “Mr. Freeze won’t be showing up anytime soon,” Martinbrough promises. “We’re gonna focus on the police department and Batman’s skills as a detective.” Martinbrough’s art and Rucka’s writing are a good fit: moody, noir stories, driven by character as much as action; most of the team’s first issue, for instance, is about Commissioner Gordon coping with his wife’s recent death.
Each day, the 28-year-old artist cranks out at least a page of art. And when Martinbrough’s not drawing, he’s working on getting his film production company, VERGE Productions, up and running. He wants to do it all—write scripts, design characters, sketch storyboards. “Comics were my first love, and I gotta be doing that right now,” he says, “But for me, the ultimate goal is film.”
In the meantime, there’s the Detective gig, plus a Batman special due out in March: The Hill, which will take the caped crusader into Gotham City’s version of Harlem. “There’s this great scene—Batman’s walking in the hallway of a tenement building, and he passes these two black kids playing dice,” Martinbrough says, “and Batman’s looming over them, looking all Batmanish, and one kid’s like, ‘Who’s that?’ and the other one says, ‘Just some white guy in a cape.’”