Before embarking on his Hellboy epic, Mike Mignola graced numerous superhero comics with his iconic Gothic style such as Gotham By Gaslight, the one-shot that launched the Elseworlds imprint of alternate universe stories from DC Comics. After establishing his own storytelling sensibilities as unique as his art, Mignola returned to DC for another Elseworlds project, Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham which he co-wrote with Richard Pace with Troy Nixey on art. The three-issue miniseries reimagines Batman as a 1920s pulp fiction adventurer returning home in order to combat Lovecraftian inspired horrors. It’s an underappreciated gem and a must-read for both Batman and Mignola fans. More than twenty years since its publication, The Doom That Came to Gotham is receiving its own animated movie adaptation available this week.
Ahead of the film’s release, we had the fortune to chat with some of the filmmakers of The Doom That Came to Gotham including screenwriter Jase Ricci as well as producer and co-director Sam Liu. Our discussion included their approach to translating the comic miniseries to a different medium, tapping into existential horror and much more.
Taimur Dar: Some people might see you going from working on DC Super Hero Girls to this Lovecraftian Batman story as a complete 180 flip. I personally loved DCSHG and how much depth and characterization you managed to get into a kids show. How did the opportunity to adapt this Doom That Came to Gotham Elseworlds comic miniseries come your way?
Jase Ricci: It was really Jim Krieg. He’s a producer at Warner Bros. [and] an amazing writer. We had offices across from each other. At one point an exec said, “You should meet with Jim.” I’ve been a fan of the DC animated movies before I was even writing professionally. I saw Death of Superman at Comic-Con and thought it was great. That exec knew that and introduced us. When this project came up, it actually came up during the pandemic. Jim called me because he knew I was a big horror fan. We both are. This just seemed like the perfect match being both horror and comic book fan. I loved DC Super Hero Girls. Before that I had worked on some Disney projects. It was nice to do something a little more horror oriented and dig into some really gross Lovecraft.
Dar: Like a lot of people, my introduction to comic creator Mike Mignola and Hellboy was through the Guillermo del Toro films. After the second film, I finally decided to read the actual comics and I’ve been a dedicated Hellboy fan ever since. Doom That Came To Gotham is filled with so many iconic Mignola story tropes and themes that he first showcased in his Hellboy books. Were you a fan of Mike Mignola or Hellboy before this project?
Ricci: I’m like you. I was a reverse engineered fan. I was familiar with the character and went backwards. I really liked the animated movies that came out. Mignola is clearly a fan of Lovecraft because that borrows a lot of Lovecraftian lore in its own mythology. I mean, everybody borrows Lovecraft in some form or another. That DC Super Hero Girls film did a little with the dimensional portal. [Laughs].
Dar: There have been numerous adaptations from these DC animated films over the years. For me the gold standard, or at least my personal favorite, is All-Star Superman, because it not only distills the essence of the comic but also enhances and in some ways improves upon it. Were there any additions or changes you made to The Doom That Came to Gotham that you’re particularly proud of?
Ricci: I’m a horror fan and I love werewolves. If you remember from the book at the very end of the third act, when Batman is going to attack Ra’s for the final showdown there are these two guardians. You’ve never seen them in the book before but they’re acolytes of Ra’s that morph into werewolves and Batman has to fight werewolves with a bow and arrow. I thought it was cool but I wanted to make it a more emotional enemy and a penultimate final boss. I came up with the idea of bringing back Oliver and the Robins as zombies because you gotta have zombies. I thought that had a little more of an emotional impact to push Batman from the world of science to fighting the fantastic. I especially liked what Sam did flashing images of them being alive and happy before Batman had to kill them.
Dar: Speaking of the Robins, it was interesting to see Tim Drake be changed to Kai Li Cain, an analogue for Cassandra Cain, and Jason Todd is now Sanjay Tawde. Obviously, it brings in some diversity to the cast but it also subverts Lovecraft’s infamous xenophobia prevalent throughout his work. That aspect sort of comes into play with the addition of Lucius Fox. Could you discuss the diversity choices in the adaptation?
Ricci: I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t in the back of our minds. But you want to make those kinds of adjustments organically. Especially like you said, you have to be careful saying how much you love Lovecraft because there’s obviously the whole racial baggage and hopefully people know you’re not including that. They came from a story point necessity. Jim Krieg was the driving force for Lucius Fox. Batman has been traveling since he was eight years old and he comes back to a Batcave. How is that Batcave there? Lucius Fox. It was that but also helped us a get a little exposition. There just a little bit of commentary with the bit, “For some reason, people won’t listen to me.”
Really, it was an organic addition. Same thing with the Robins. Like I said Batman has gone out since he was 8-10 years old to travel the world and accumulated these young wards. But they didn’t look like they came from around the world. They all seemed British. I fell in love with the Kai Li character. She serves the same function as Tim in the book but here she is a little bit more our way into the world. She’s the relative newcomer to the group. She asks questions that explains things for us. I really liked the relationship that she had with Bruce and Oliver. It was a happy confluence of a couple of things. It was organic but also added variety to your cast of characters.
Dar: Finally, this isn’t your last time working on the Dark Knight so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you’re involved in the highly anticipated Batman: Caped Crusader animated series.
Ricci: I am! What an honor!
Dar: Obviously, you can’t divulge too much of anything and things will be revealed and announced in due time. Like pretty much everyone, I was incredibly overjoyed and relieved that Amazon picked up the series after HBO Max ended up dropping it.
Ricci: It seems hard to believe that show would not be picked up somewhere but I was relieved too. Not that I had anything to do with selling it. I’m not bragging or anything. But it was like, “Come on, somebody’s gonna want to watch Batman!” [Laughs]
Taimur Dar: You’ve co-directed a number of DC animation projects during your career. I’m sure the experience is always different. I didn’t realize you and co-director Christopher Berkeley go back almost 25 to your days at Columbia TriStar Television. How was the working relationship with him on this project?
Sam Liu: I love Chris. We knew each other before we became professional. Even on my Death short I leaned on him a lot [as well as] Red Son. Chris is such a good storyteller. I feel bad for Chris. I’ve been picking these weird projects and pulling Chris into them. I think he’s like, “What the hell is this?” [Laughs]. Even with Death which is a really conceptual kind of piece, I think it took him a little while to get used to it. I remember when we were talking about it and I felt like I could only do it if J.M. [DeMatteis] is involved because I think it had to be written in a very specific kind of way. Chris is somebody who understands a subtextual emotion and philosophy.
Dar: Even though Mike Mignola didn’t draw the Doom that Came to Gotham comic himself, there’s still a certain Mignola spirit and feel to Troy Nixey’s art and the designs. Killer Croc definitely resembles the Frog Monsters from Hellboy. You have a great design team like Thomas Perkins who definitely specializes in weird creatures. Some characters are easily recognizable from the comics, while others are major departures like Etrigan. How did you go about adapting and translating the comic for animation?
Sam Liu: A lot of credit has to go to Chris Samnee. He did a lot of our pre-production art. I tried to get him on the team but he’s a big comic book guy. He was obviously too busy working on his own creator-owned thing at Image. But he was able to do concept work for us. I talked to him quite a bit. We obviously looked at the Troy Nixey stuff to start the conversation. Except for Etrigan. This is a personal thing for me. I’m going to get slaughtered for this, but I never liked the “jester outfit.” [Laughs]. I never understood that. So I was like, “Can we do it without the jester costume?” This isn’t as prominent but there are bolts in Etrigan’s arms which I thought was awesome. They weren’t big enough when they animated it. I just didn’t want Etrigan in his jester outfit because I think it kind of looks silly to be honest. [Laughs]. And I just kind of assumed if I feel like that then [for] people who don’t know who Etrigan is, it may be a little distracting.
Eric Canete, a fabulous comic artist and illustrator, was gracious enough to do some freelance for me even though he doesn’t like to do that anymore. But I begged him. When he was storyboarding the fight with the penguins he said, “I don’t know how to make this scary. They’re just these big birds.” [Laughs]. We knew we had to treat this differently. That paired with Thomas Perkins who loves this stuff. He was like, “Gothic horror? I get to design the creatures? I’m doing it!” It was partially a function of things. Those penguins I think look awesome. Those are some of my favorite things in the designs that he did. I think Chris Samnee had taken a stab at things like the Iog-Sotha creature. But it wasn’t quite there so I tweaked some things. Tom also took passes on things. It was a refinement kind of thing like anything else.
Dar: I’m curious before this project had you read or were a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. And if so, any particular favorite stories or adaptations of his work?
Sam Liu: It’s funny because I know of Lovecraft. I’m familiar with the writing style. Like the Penguin diary, that’s very Lovecraftian [i.e.] hearing somebody’s thoughts as they’re going crazy. But I haven’t actually read stories from Lovecraft. I played Call of Cthulhu when I was younger. [Laughs]. There was somebody on the team who was a huge, huge Lovecraft fan so we leaned on him a lot. It sounds like a lot of the stories, there are no good endings. It’s basically an exercise in going insane and dying. But I did watch things like Color Out of Space starring Nicholas Cage [and] obviously The Thing.
Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham will be available Digitally and on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Blu-ray on March 28, 2023