Ram V Reveals “The Nature of Fear” in Batman Secret Files #1

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Ram V Reveals &#8220;The Nature of Fear&#8221; in <i>Batman Secret Files</i> #1

It’s been a productive few years for writer Ram V. Originally from Mumbai, India, and now living in London, Ram debuted Black Mamba on Kickstarter in 2016 and pivoted from that success to creator-owned books like Brigands, Paradiso and now These Savage Shores, one of our favorite debuts of 2018. He also pitched in on Titan’s Quake license before landing an impressive DC Comics debut: a short story in next week’s Batman Secret Files #1. Featuring a framing tale from ongoing Batman creative team Tom King and Mikel Janin as well as contributions from Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Elena Casagrande, Tom Taylor, Brad Walker, Jordie Bellaire and Jill Thompson, Batman Secret Files is an oversized one-shot examining Bat-cases outside of King’s current 100-issue mega-arc. Ram’s eight-page short with Hot Lunch Special artist Jorge Fornes, “The Nature of Fear,” portrays the Dark Knight through the eyes of a GCPD officer caught in the middle of a dust-up between Batman and a certain scare-based rogue. In advance of Batman Secret Files #1 hitting shelves October 31st, Paste exchanged emails with Ram to discuss his DC Comics debut and what it was like writing the Bat.


Batman Secret Files #1 Cover Art by Mikel Janin

Paste: So, a Batman story—not at all an intimidating way to debut at DC Comics. How did this short come about, and was it at all daunting to step into the cape and cowl?

Ram V: Ha! If a writer isn’t at least a little frightened every time they start with that first blank page, they’re probably not taking enough risks. I revel in that kind of intimidation, so bring on the Batman!

It’s been an exciting, nerve-wracking and joyous romance with comics from Black Mumba in 2016 to Batman in 2018. It was my work in Black Mumba that prompted Jamie (Rich), my editor, to get in touch. He was still with Vertigo at the time and we’d started talking about doing something there. But shortly after that, Jamie moved over to the Bat-office and I wondered if I was seeing a potential project turning to sand in my hands.

But, a couple of weeks later, Jamie and I were talking about working on Bat books. And that’s how the short came about. Like all good things, a mixture of work, time, belief and luck!

Was it intimidating? A little, of course. I paused for a while after I first wrote the word “Batman” into my script. But then, the professionalism takes over. Deadlines are looming, and I hate blank pages. That intimidation turned to excitement pretty quickly.

Paste: “The Nature of Fear” is framed through the perspective of a Gotham City Police Department officer, which gave me some wonderful flashbacks to Gotham Central. Was that series at all influential on your take? What do you think is so enduring about seeing Batman through the eyes of those around him?

Ram V: Gotham Central is probably one of my favorite Bat-books. I mention it in my opening note at the beginning of the script. So, yes absolutely, it was influential.

I think the dichotomy of presentation is probably part of why we care so much about all heroes. There is Batman as he sees himself—which is what we get with a lot of the stories. We get to look behind the cowl and see the face of the human within. But, that is only made more poignant when juxtaposed with these views that present Batman through the eyes of people who only see the cape and the cowl—the unbreakable, the relentless and unstoppable nature of him.

To me, that knowledge of both sides is what makes a hero endearing. Perhaps our love for these characters, especially Batman, is in knowing that the ability to do superhuman things comes from an entirely human place.

Batman Secret Files #1 Interior Art by Jorge Fornes & Matt Wilson

Paste: Beyond the critically acclaimed elephant in the room that is Mister Miracle, it’s pretty rare to see the nine-panel grid employed in major superhero comics these days. Not only do you use it for most of the story, you break from it in a pretty meaningful way. Can you talk a little about that format decision?

Ram V: I like my stories to feel meaty. I like that you can’t skim them. I also like the almost metronomic pacing that the nine-panel grid allows you to have. I find it particularly effective in creating the kind of tone and atmosphere you have in the story. I’m not married to the grid and I like to be flexible with it, but I like the structure it provides. Especially when you only have eight pages of real estate.

The break from it is more credit to Jorge for taking my script and finding that extra layer, that spark that adds to the story in a meaningful way. So, without spoiling the story, when the story becomes less definite, less real—so does the grid.

Paste: Of course, the grid only works because your collaborator Jorge Fornes was up to the task of executing it. What was your collaboration like, and what does Jorge bring to “The Nature of Fear”?

Ram V: Jorge is one of those guys whose work you look at and you know, this guy was made to draw Batman. And in context of this story, you can also tell from his previous work that he enjoys that old-school noir narrative. His work is steeped in it. I sent in my script and Jamie mentioned Jorge. I immediately knew he’d be perfect for it.

As I previously said, breaking the grid is an inspired choice from Jorge. You can also see both of us wearing our influences on our sleeves in this story. If my script was a nod to Gotham Central, Jorge’s work invokes Year One and [David] Mazzuchelli, which only goes on to add more depth and weight to the story.

Beyond that, his storytelling sparkles with clarity. He knows how to simultaneously convey both information and tone/atmosphere. Which is not an easy task and certainly a challenge when it comes to a dense script. But one look at the pages and you know he’s pulled it off.

Batman Secret Files #1 Interior Art by Jorge Fornes & Matt Wilson

Paste: This might qualify as a mild spoiler, but despite centering around his fear toxin, we don’t actually see The Scarecrow on the page in this story. Do you have a soft spot for Jonathan Crane among Batman’s rogues, or was he just a convenient catalyst for the story you wanted to tell?

Ram V: I have a soft spot for most Bat-rogues. He does really have some great nemeses, doesn’t he?

In this case, I think it’s telling that I didn’t show The Scarecrow on page. The story isn’t as much about him as it is about how the average person deals with fear versus how Batman deals with fear. A reminder again that Batman, for me, is always treading that line between heroism and a tenacity that borders on self-destruction (or self-consumption?). Again, that conflict between Batman’s inner visage and our perception of him.

Paste: Do you have anyhing else you’d like to add about your first Dark Knight outing? Or any teases about where we can look to see your name next?

Ram V: As far as superhero debuts go, it really doesn’t get much better than writing a Batman story, does it? I had a lot of fun with this and it’s good to work with an iconic character to still tell the kind of story that I enjoy telling. I think that’s an important thing—the ability to be yourself despite working with characters that have decades of history with readers and publishers. So, I must thank Jamie and DC for having the faith in me to do that.

It’s looking like 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty full year for me. I’ve got a few projects lined up that I’m really excited to get into. And, there’s the promise of more things on the horizon. I might be delving into a bit of screen-writing as well. There will be announcements!

Batman Secret Files #1 Interior Art by Jorge Fornes & Matt Wilson