The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Ferrari test drive. Hate groups’ message boards. Bryan Edward Hill goes to extremes to find his comic characters.

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One of the most memorable stops for Bryan Edward Hill on the road to becoming a rising-star writer at DC Comics was a trip to a Ferrari dealership this year.

It was just announced that Hill would write a five-issue run (beginning with issue No. 983) for DC’s “Detective Comics,” the almost-80-year-old series that gave birth to Batman. Hill was in Los Angeles, where he resides, looking to get behind the wheel of something that was as expensive as it was fast.

Hill asked for the keys to an F430 for a test drive. He received a few funny looks. Then he said he was a new Batman writer, showing the announcement of his new assignment on his cellphone, and was quickly tossed a set of keys.

It wasn’t Batmobile practice so much as it was Bruce Wayne practice.

Hill wanted to do the kind of things he thought Batman’s alter ego would do. Zooming along the highway in Italian-built automotive muscle (Hill rode in the passenger seat on the test drive) was exactly the way he envisioned Bruce Wayne clearing his mind to get to the bottom of something perplexing.

“They say write what you know, and my response to that is if you want to write something you don’t know, just go out there and know it,” Hill told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “What I wanted to do with ‘Detective’ is sort of illustrate a bit of what Bruce’s life is like outside of just being Batman.”

Now, Hill is finishing up his “Detective Comics” run with issue No. 987, available Wednesday in print and digitally.

In addition to having fun with Wayne, Hill also helped flesh out a supporting cast consisting of superhero Black Lightning, occasional Batman sidekicks Batgirl and Orphan (who was also once Batgirl), recent Batcave addition the Signal, and Katana of Suicide Squad fame.

For Hill, who is African American, the chance to write not only Batman but also Black Lightning, a black superhero going through a pop-culture moment thanks to a hit CW show, and diverse additions to the Batman universe such as Orphan and the Signal was meaningful.

“When you talk about representation, I think too many times the discussion heads towards the political. I don’t think it’s a political issue, I think it’s a mythological issue. Myth exists to give us heroic ideals. If you grow up, and you never see yourself as one of those heroes, you start to limit what you think you might be able to do in life,” Hill said. “To be able to write these characters and hopefully allow other people to see themselves in those roles and kind of think about what they could do in the world and how they could be heroes . . . that’s one of the most important functions of mythology and society. And comic books are one of the last places where mythology lives.”

The Signal looks to shine in the daytime in the Batman universe

Hill also will be a part of the talent behind the resurgence of Vertigo Comics later this fall when the DC imprint celebrates its 25th anniversary with seven new series.

One of those new titles will be Hill’s “American Carnage” (illustrated by Leandro Fernández), a crime comic that will focus on a half-black, half-white FBI agent who can pass for white, looking for redemption from a controversial past by working undercover in the world of white supremacy.

Part of what led to the creation of “American Carnage” was Hill creating an online persona on white-supremacist message boards, saying that it was the deadly church shooting in South Carolina by Dylann Roof that made him want to understand a type of hate he couldn’t comprehend.

“I’d seen what was going on, kind of percolating with these different extremist movements. And it started with, I need to know why these people want to kill me,” Hill said. “In 2018, with all the evidence around you that we can build a nation of multicultural strength and gather that into an inherent American culture, to stick to that old, antiquated near-Reconstruction way of thinking, I just needed to know where that came from.”

What Hill wants to make clear about “American Carnage” is that he’s not trying to get political.

“It’s not diatribe. It’s not me preaching against one thing or another thing,” Hill said. “It’s really me telling a story about a character who is struggling with his own sense of self, and he’s kind of an outcast, because of the choices he’s made.”

Those wondering about Hill’s next DC project need only look at the hint that was left in the title of his “Detective Comics” story “On the Outside.” Hill has been asked frequently on social media by fans whether his work on “Detective”would coincide with a new “Batman and the Outsiders” series. He and DC Comics now tell Comic Riffs that it is happening.

Written by Hill and illustrated by Dexter Soy, “Batman and the Outsiders” will star the same heroes Hill worked with in “Detective Comics.” DC will confirm a release date in the coming months.

“All I’ll say is, it is a team book with Batman in it, but the safety is off,” Hill said. “Hopefully it will be surprising and thrilling in ways that I don’t think people will quite expect. I’m becoming known a bit for a certain kind of intensity in my work, and I think this ‘Outsiders’ project will also continue on in that pathway.”

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