The Shadow falls on ... Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle

To the awfully titled, but awfully fun, Something Bloody Awesome convention at Edinburgh University Students' Union. There were some great old comics on sale, lots of cosplayers on view and, of course, panel talks to attend. 

The highlight was seeing classic Batman creative team Alan Grant, above left, and Norm Breyfogle, right, talking about their runs on Detective Comics, Batman and Shadow of the Bat, during which time the writer and artist co-created such now classic characters as The Ventriloquist, Anarky and Mr Zsasz. The teaming was so popular that Shadow of the Bat - the first new Batman ongoing for decades - was created to showcase their take on the Gotham Guardian. 

It was intriguing to hear that Grant so disliked the ever-growing Batman Family that he proposed a story in which a fair few were wiped out. Unsurprisingly, the story was rejected, so Grant simply kept supporting characters out of the book so far as he could, using the likes of Lucius Fox once a year or so. 

Their love of Batman was obvious; Grant wasn't a fan of Robin, though, and would put Tim Drake in stories occasionally only to please Editorial and the fans - among them, Breyfogle. Apparently today was the first time each learned they could have been reunited soon after their Batman partnership ended, each being asked separately to work on the new Robin ongoing. Both refused - Grant because of the aforementioned preference for solo Batman, and Breyfogle because he had a creator-owned deal elsewhere. 

Grant's departure from the Batman books was less pleasant - sacked via fax at 1am on a Saturday morning along with fellow Bat-writers Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench. After ill-health saw longtime editor Denny O'Neil hand over a measure of control to his assistants, Grant, Dixon and Moench found themselves on the outs so far as contributing to the direction of the books was concerned. They turned up to one of the regular creative summits to find their ideas unwanted, the next big crossover, Cataclysm, mapped out. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, the writers went along with the storyline and did their best. When Cataclysm proved a sales success, the assistants took that as proof their steamroller tactics were valid. The attitude was that so long as they chose the direction of the books, it didn't matter who was writing - Grant, Moench and Dixon were out.  

Grant and Breyfogle did reunite on a shortlived Anarky book, which was hobbled by editorial insistence on the inclusion of such super-powered types as the Justice League and Anarky, taking Anarky out of his natural milieu. And the series was cancelled before Grant could reveal that nope, the Joker wasn't his father. 

Years later in 2011, Grant was asked back again, along with Breyfogle, for DC's Retroactive promotion. They produced a deliberately throwback 'Nineties' issue which showed the old synergy survived. The issue was well received, the pair submitted proposals for more new material to DC - and are still awaiting a response. Not even a polite 'no thanks' - a shameful way to treat creators who've made a lot of money for you over the years. A dozen or so Batman titles and no room for a couple of hugely talented veterans who've proved time and again that they can produce timeless superhero stories that actually build the Batman mythos? DC are missing a trick, and shortchanging fans. 

It's not as if the sanguine Grant and charming Breyfogle are down on their luck veterans desperate for work, with the former still creating fresh scripts for 2000AD and working on such other projects as Scott vs Zombies, and Breyfogle one of the top artists at Archie Comics. The pair could bring a blast of fresh air to the Batman books, as they did 20 years ago - let's hope someone at DC eventually realises that. 


  1. Back in the day when I was doing self-published comics*, Alan was kind enough not to laugh in my stupid face and to give a quote for the cover of my very first drawing effort, and later wrote the forward to the first big-boy graphic novel I illustrated for an actual publishing company. I've heard nothing but good things from those who have met him - particularly aspiring writers - as well as those who have worked alongside him, and on top of the contributions to 2000ad and the Eagle, as well as to the Batman mythos that have jumped to other media (Scarface/Ventroliquist, Anarky, Zsasz, Jeremiah Arkham), it's hard to not actually take a lot of the dismissal, revisionism and dismantling of his contributions to modern DC almost personally, or at the very least as an indicator of decisions in the company being made based on ego rather than economics - a good parallel would be Joe "not exactly averse to retrofitting comics to how they were when he was a kid" Quesada's reputed ambivalence towards Warren Ellis' efforts on the millennial-era X-books that didn't stop JQ continuing to hire and push Ellis based on the response to his work, and pretty much letting him do whatever he wanted with the stories.
    To see someone of Grant's decades of experience continually blacklisted at a company with a known problem for creative consistency and an inability to retain creative talent to the extent that it recently performed the HR equivalent of an insurance fire on its entire NYC offices is both baffling and saddening, the similar blacklisting of Norm "deadlines? no problem" Breyfogle equally so.
    Having said all that, the story Alan tells of how the sub-editors on the Bat-books started edging him and other creators out is actually quite amazing: while discussing how to do the "No Man's Land" crossover, Grant asked why Batman doesn't put his ego aside and ask Superman to help the people of Gotham, and rather than take two minutes to come up with a valid storytelling reason for this, the subs turned on him and everyone he was friends with, even Denny O'Neil, and embarked on a years-long campaign to get each and every one of them fired and marginalised in the industry.
    If it wasn't so sad, this story would be really, really funny.

    As you say, Martin - the fan is being short-changed with Grant's absence. The shorter formats of digital comics could especially benefit from Grant's experience with writing UK-style 3-6 page weekly installments.

    * Note to 2014: if they didn't work for Marvel/DC, "self-published" was what your ancestors did in the window between cave paintings and digital comics.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Brigonos. I remember when I was working on the UK DC reprints at London Editions/Egmont, it was always a treat to use Breyfogle/Grant work. It seems you know more about their situation than me, shocking stuff.

    But what should I see when it turned to this week's digital comics on the iPad but Norm Breyfogle, contributing a few pages to the latest issue of Phantom Stranger? And very nice they were too, I hope it's the beginning of as much work as the artists wants.

    As for Alan Grant, I do hope he pitches something to the new company Karen Berger is apparently heading up - it could be the perfect spotlight for him. And great idea on the digital front!

  3. Martin,

    Norm Breyfogle is or was the regular artist on DC's current Batman Beyond monthly--digital first, subsequently put in print as Batman Beyond Unlimited* among the New 52 titles. He was certainly still drawing it when I last looked last year anyway. Just sayin'.

    (* yes, "Beyond Unlimited"... is that even possible?)

    1. Good point, Ta, I must pay more attention.

  4. Hello Martin:- Thanks for a lovely, respectful piece. I know, a post that details the - sadly typical - despicable treatment of creators by DC is inevitably a somewhat disheartening one. (I hadn't known about the rise of the assistant editors during 1998 at DC, but such a power grab by functionaires is ALWAYS a mistake.) Your obvious respect for both men's work was in itself welcome and heartening. The Grant/Beyfogle Batman was for my money the best version of the character to be seen in the Bat-books during the 90s and I'm glad to see their achievements applauded.

  5. Hiya Colin, thanks for the kind words. It was a pleasure to meet these chaps; I also had a nice chinwag with Declan Shalvie and Jordie Bellair, lovely people.

    I'd buy a few Breyfogle/Grant collections in an instant!


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