Friday, July 18, 1 p.m. ET

DC Comic's Paul Levitz Talks 'Dark Knight'

A look at the many faces of Batman's nemesis, on film, on television and in the comics.
Paul Levitz
President and Publisher, DC Comics
Friday, July 18, 2008; 1:00 PM

Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics, was online Friday, July 18 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," the cultural role and impact of the hero and his archenemy, the Joker, and the current boom in movies based around superheroes.

A transcript follows.

Levitz began working for DC while still in high school, and has worked for there for more than 30 years, most notably as a writer on "The Legion of Super-Heroes" and as an editor of the Batman line of books. He's been president since 2002.

Related: The Comics Riff Blog counts down the top Joker moments.


Paul Levitz: Glad to be talking to everyone and trying a new mode of communication.


Arlington VA: Why do you think Batman is so popular? What does he bring that Superman cannot?

Paul Levitz: They are very different characters. The Batman myth starts with "if something terrible happened to me, I could transform myself and achieve vengeance or justice." The Superman myth is about "If only she could see me as I really am." And whether you are undernourished or a superstar, you always want to be appreciated for your true inner self. They are both fundamental connections with human passions.


Los Angeles: Congratulations on the movie. I thought that Heath Ledger was very well done. How do you compare him to Jack Nickleson's role as the Joker.

Paul Levitz: I think Nicholson played the role as a being whose ego had no boundaries. Heath's portrayal is driven by a deep inner madness and love of destruction. You would be totally scared to meet the person he is portraying without the makeup and costume if they started talking that way to you on a city street.


Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Levitz -- first of all, thanks for all the enjoyment you gave me over the years as a comics writer and editor. (One idiosyncratic thing I appreciated was the maturity and intelligence with which you conducted your letter columns. But I digress.)

I'm looking for your advice on whether I should see "Dark Knight." The issue is that I have a weak stomach (metaphorically) for intense violence on the big screen. For example, I enjoyed Spider-Man 2 more than the original because the fighting in the latter was more "comic book-y" (e.g., guys throwing each other into walls) and not as much brutal pounding on each other.

I never saw "Batman Begins" because of what I read about the long, brutal fight scene(s?). "Dark Knight" sounds more interesting, and I'm tempted to see it. I understand that Ledger's Joker is psychotic, and closer to Alan Moore's "Killing Joke" than Steve Englehart's "Laughing Fish." But can you give me a sense for how intense and "in your face" the violence is?

Thanks for joining us here.

PS -- The world NEEDS a tpb of Alan Brennert's DC stories! (End of geeky fanboy moment.)

Paul Levitz: The violence in "Dark Knight" is very chilling. It's not always very visual, but, in particular, the Joker does terrifying things. You don't always see the result, there's very little blood, but you might want to wait for the DVD. Fast forward is a wonderful function.

And thanks for the kind words about the comics.


Seattle: What were the circumstances behind casting Maggie Gyllenhaal?

Paul Levitz: I don't really get involved in the casting part of it, so I can't really comment on that. Looked like she did a good job though.


Falls Church, Va.: A lot of people will cite "The Dark Knight Returns" as the big turning point in comics, but I just wanted to say that "The Great Darkness Saga" was the first time I ever said to myself, "This is it. This is everything that comics can be." You've never gotten enough credit for it, but you raised the bar and changed the industry right there.

Paul Levitz: Thank you very much. I don't think it remotely compares to what Frank did in "The Dark Knight Returns," but it's certainly one of the things I've written in my career that I'm proudest of.


Fairfax, Va.: Dear Mr. Levitz:

Big DC and Batman fan; I've got two questions for you.

Will DC ever re-release the "Crusade" and "Search" parts of the Batman Knightfall series in trade paperback? While story line is brilliant, the trilogy doesn't make that much sense when the 2nd volume ends with Batman in a wheel chair in Latin America, and the 3rd volume begins with Batman walking again in Gotham.

Also, why won't DC allow for the main actors in their recently released movies like Dark Knight, and Superman Returns to come back for the upcoming Justice League movie? Marvel is making sure all their main actors are coming for the Avengers film. Virtually all the fan websites want Christian Bale, and the like to come back for continuity reasons, yet DC keeps saying no. What gives?

Thank you.

Paul Levitz: There's no final casting decisions on a Justice League movie at this point. It's still very much in development.


Albany New York: I'd be interested in your take on why Batman seems to be more appealing to such a broad range of directors/producers/audiences over a long period of time than other superheroes. Superman's the only one that comes close and there hasn't been a Superman movie since Christopher Reeves. What's the appeal?

Paul Levitz: Batman seems to be the most protean of the great characters. You can interpret him in a wider range and still have something that rings through and is powerful. Its why the Adam West show was wonderful when I was younger, and probably had as much a grip on the nation's attention as the Chris Nolan version does now. I don't really know why that's part of the character, but that's the reality of who he is.


Washington, D.C.: What other movie projects does DC have on the way?

Paul Levitz: The next film after this is "Watchmen" on March 6. It's an adaptation by Zack Snyder, of "300" of what is probably the most acclaimed graphic novel ever published. The trailer is coming out before Dark Knight in most theaters and you can probably find it online. We haven't announced any other projects, but there are about 6 at the starting gate right now.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Thank you for "The Legion of Superheroes". Are you planning on writing anything else in the future and, if so, what?

Paul Levitz: I have a Legion plot out to Jim Lee for a special book of his work that's being produced next year, and I hope I'll be able to do something more extended. Dan DiDio keeps talking to me about a Legion miniseries with Keith Giffen, and I would love to find the time.


Olney, Md.: Why no Harley Quinn in this version? I love her!

Paul Levitz: Harley comes along awhile into the Joker story, so I'm not sure it was time for her yet. If you love Harley, you should check out Mad Love in the new digital comics format, which should be available in another week or so through XBox Live and Verizon V-Cast.


Minneapolis, Minn.: How involved is DC in the shaping of the Nolan series of movies? Obviously, in many respects, Nolan has been very faithful to the comic book canon, but has added his own twists. And can we expect the Nolan take on Batman to influence future comics?

Paul Levitz: The vision for any film has to come from the director. Chris has spent a lot of time with us, as have his colaborrators, going back and forth on story ideas and visual possiblities, really learning the mythology, but the final brew is what he comes up with.

I think you always have a virtuous cycle where good treatments of the character in any medium have some influence back on all the media, so just as Chris's movies were influenced by the comics, I'm sure the tone of what he's brought to it will influence the comics in some way.


Washington, DC: In retrospect, do you think it would have been a better idea to reboot the Superman film franchise, instead of continuing the Donner films?

Paul Levitz: I think Bryan approached "Superman Returns" with a great deal of passion for the character and put what he loved up on the screen, which is the best we can ask of any director.


Los Angeles, CA: Are sidekicks an element of comic book lore that is past now? Seems to me, their origin was often viewed as a way to create characters young comic book readers could live through vicariously vs. the 'older' Superheroes. Today and considering how films tend to center on the main character, would it be easy and/or desirable to bring in sidekicks? If Nolan re-defines the Superhero film genre to reflect more of a 'Bourne Identity', is there even a place for sidekicks any more?

Paul Levitz: Good question. I think there are certain kinds of stories where the sidekick makes sense. I think their pervasive use in the 50s and 60s represents a style of storytelling that no longer popular, but it's still interesting to read young people's experiences with larger-than-life scenarios that superheroes encounter.


Wow: Best movie of the summer. Maybe of the year, pending "Quantum of Solace" which looked pretty good in the preview last night.

And they weren't kidding with the punny title: The Dark (K)Night, indeed.

Paul Levitz: Thanks.


Watchmen...: Did they keep the original ending in Alan Moore's magnum opus?

Paul Levitz: I haven't seen the finished film yet. They're still working on it.


Minneapolis, Minn.: From a villain perspective, who do you think would be interesting for Nolan to tackle in the movies?

Paul Levitz: I think Chris works best with villains with very human characteristics. I'm not sure they'll do Catwoman, but I think it would be wonderful to see what he could do playing with her.


Arlington, VA: With comics now costing $3 each (and rising), won't there come a point where the industry prices itself out of business? Eventually, do you think DC and Marvel will have to come up with some sort of digital distribution system in order to survive?

Paul Levitz: I think comics are still a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to keep exploring formats that people love in print at the same time we find interesting new ways to do things digitally.


Watchman: I just read the information about that on Entertainment Weekly and Alan Moore seemed particularly scathing about the film adaptation. Regarding his lack of interest in the film, how can you be sure that you're being true to its intent?

Can I just say I'm looking forward to it? (especially in light of its connection to the tv show LOST--the Post had us read it for the Lost book club and I loved it!)

Paul Levitz: Alan has, on many occasions, made clear that he doesn't believe his work, and perhaps any work, should be adapted to film from the original comics format. I respect that creative point of view, but, from my perspective and from that of other people who have seen the work that Zack Snyder is doing, it seems like he's doing a remarkably powerful job of capturing the original graphic novel.


Fairfax, VA: Did WB learn its lesson with "Batman and Robin" and "Steel" or are there still some people there who believe that goofy is the right approach to take for superhero films?

Paul Levitz: I don't think that's a WB question, I think that's a question in the culture. You're always going to have the possibility that someone is going to come up with a different stylistic take on a work, and as long as that exists, you're going to have different takes.


Paul Levitz: Thanks to everyone for their questions, and particularly for those of you who have fond remembrances of my own writing days. It's always fun to meet my readers, even if through this unusual technological bridge.


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