David Hine is the current writer of District X and is halfway into his Daredevil: Redemption limited series with artist Michael Gaydos. Here he talks about the series and gives his thoughts on the real case that inspired the story.
Many thanks to Mr. Hine for the interview!
| Kuljit Mithra: I've heard
that Daredevil: Redemption was actually your first pitch to Marvel before your work on District X? Readers of the site can check out
more details about the West Memphis Three on the web, but can you briefly describe why this particular case interests you?
David Hine: Like most people, I first heard of the West Memphis Three through the first HBO documentary "Paradise Lost" which was screened here in the UK in the late nineties. I immediately identified with the accused, especially Damien Echols. I grew up in the West Country here in England and I used to get beaten up on a regular basis because I dyed my hair and wore make-up. If I'd been living in West Memphis that could have been me. I think a lot of people identify with those guys for the same reason. For anyone reading this who doesn't know about the case, check out www.WM3.org to see just how little evidence it takes to get you put on death row in Arkansas.
I made a lot of notes at the time and wrote some fiction using elements of the case. When I was asked by Joe Quesada to pitch to Marvel this seemed like the perfect Matt Murdock story.
Mithra: Have you always been a DD fan? Any particular arcs and creators that stand out for you, and did they influence you at all with this story?
Hine: Yeah, he was always one of my favorite Marvel characters. He's more down-to-earth, and more of a loner than most Marvel characters. I'm more interested in individuals than writing about twenty characters interacting. My favorites were the whole Stan Lee/Gene Colan period (remember Matt's hepcat twin brother Mike Murdock?), the Frank Miller period (of course), Ann Nocenti also did some good stuff, and then Bendis came along and blew everyone away. When I started writing this series I hadn't read Marvel comics for years. I bought all the trades of the Bendis books and read them in a couple of sittings, which was a revelation.
Mithra: I interviewed Black Widow writer Richard Morgan recently and he sang the praises of editor Jennifer Lee in helping shape that series. I get the feeling she was an important part of getting this project going. What did she bring to the project?
Hine: Jenny is a very hands-on editor. She totally immerses herself in all her projects and gives a huge amount of feedback. As a writer you just can't get lazy because Jenny will always want to know why you've written a scene or character a particular way. That makes me very aware of every word I'm writing. If I can't justify something I re-write it. Way back at the start of the project Jenny helped to clarify the themes of the book and what aspects of the story we should focus on. She also has a very clear idea of who Daredevil is and how he would react to given situations, which helped shape a lot of scenes.
Mithra: Do you remember any part of the story from issues #1-3 that she asked for a rewrite?
Hine: There were a couple of scenes where we went back and forth a lot. In issue 1 the first scene with Daredevil and the kid and then the scene in the office where Matt decides to take the case needed a lot of work. Jenny was keen to establish the motivation for Matt taking on the case and the conflict between his work as an attorney and his nightlife as a superhero. We needed to show that Matt has a need to prove himself as a lawyer. His father had always pushed him to use his brain rather than his fists and in a sense he fails his father each time he puts on his costume. It took a few re-writes to put those things across without too much clumsy exposition.
Mithra: Was the pitch submitted with artist Michael Gaydos in mind? How has the collaboration worked on this different type of DD story?
Hine: No. I'm ashamed to say I wasn't aware of Mike's work when I first pitched the story. Jenny suggested him when we started looking at possible artists and I went out and bought one of the "Alias" trades and then the "Powerless" collection. That convinced me that Michael was the right choice for this kind of moody southern gothic story. And he has truly surpassed himself. I'm getting a real kick out of his interpretation of my script. I just got a fresh batch of pages, which I think are the best work he has ever done.
Mithra: How are you writing the story? Full script or loose plot with dialogue later?
Hine: I always write very tight scripts. I usually write dialogue, then do pencil layouts to get the visuals right. After that I write descriptions of panels and throw the layouts away. I never show the layouts to the artist on a book. But always, always full script. I don't care what anyone says, I don't believe the old-style Marvel method makes for great comics. The only time it may work is for pure action scenes. Having said that, if an artist comes up with an alternative layout or way of telling a scene which works better I don't complain. Michael often switches panels around, adds or removes a panel. I have no problem with that.
Mithra: Was this story idea written before any of the events in recent DD's? Was it a decision to make this a case from the past? Where in continuity would you place it?
Hine: I pitched it and did detailed plot breakdowns before I got around to reading anything from the past few years, The current storyline, with Matt's identity getting exposed is touched on towards the end but the story is very much outside of normal continuity. I have actually said these events take place seven years ago, but I'm reliably informed that time is relative in the Marvel Universe.
Mithra: You've introduced Constance MacDermid as an intern for Nelson and Murdock, and she's playing a major role. Will Foggy have a role in the series, or did you purposely want to go this way?
Hine: Foggy's role is very peripheral. It just didn't feel right to have him working with Matt on this case, and logically the New York office needed someone to keep up with the paperwork on other cases. I preferred Matt to be interacting with someone like Constance who is studying law and still has an idealized image of the justice system. I wanted to play her youthful enthusiasm off against the stark realities of the judicial system.
Mithra: In the real case, what do you think has been the main problem with the legal defense that each of the Three has received? Are there just too many outside interests with their hands in this, much like Sherriff Stonehouse and Howard Gideon and the rest of the town in your story?
Hine: I've read in detail about the West Memphis Three and it's clear that no one had enough information at the time of the trial. The jury were never given a lot of the information they should have had, but they were being fed a lot of hearsay and rumor from outside the courtroom. In the end they made judgements based on emotion rather than facts. Somebody killed those kids and it was easier for them to believe that it was crazy satanists than to accept that there might be other motivations and other suspects. The defense lawyers did their best, but they didn't have all the facts to hand and they didn't have the nerve to present the jury with a single alternative explanation for the crime, choosing instead a scattergun defense, throwing up half-a-dozen different alternative scenarios. They came across as confused while the prosecution was presenting a focussed case: "These kids did it because they are evil and have no soul." It's interesting to see that in recent months, several of the jurors have admitted that they came to their verdict based on things they heard outside the courtroom.
The police and investigators clearly pre-judged Damien Echols based on what they knew of his unconventional appearance and behavior. Once they had decided who to prosecute, they stopped looking anywhere else.
Mithra: We're now halfway through the series. You've begin to hint at the background of Emily and Amos Flood... I sense that Amos is going to be playing a large part of what's coming up. Is Joel's alibi going to be tested? Will our own belief in Joel's innocence be tested?
Hine: All I'll say here is that you will learn more about the background of Emily and Amos, and incidentally this aspect of the story is very different from anything in the family background of those involved in the real-life case. I'm dealing with other issues in the sub-plots which is why this story is very clearly "inspired by" rather than "based on" the West Memphis Three. No one should confuse the two. However the motivation for writing the story was the anger I felt at the injustice of that case which I why I do try to direct people to check out the facts and if they feel inclined, to give their support to the West Memphis Three.
Mithra: What role do you think the media coverage has had on the guilt or innocence of the Three, and will you touch on the media in your story? Or does the media have no impact on a town like Redemption Valley?
Hine: I'm concentrating more on the specific prejudices of the people and institutions of Redemption Valley. I did think about having scenes where Matt Murdock was interviewed by the media but I felt that was pulling the focus away from the personal stories I'm telling.
In the case of the West Memphis Three the media have cut both ways. The initial press coverage served to spread scare-stories and rumors about Damien, Jessie and Jason and local people, including the pool that the jury was selected from, had a mind-set from that point on. Later on when the national media became involved and particularly Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky who made the HBO documentaries, the media helped to keep the story in the news and to highlight the anomalies and flaws in the trial.
Mithra: And finally, more projects with DD or with Michael Gaydos? How about the regular DD series? :)
Hine:Who will be handed the poison chalice? I have no inside knowledge on who will take over the Daredevil series but my money would be on Brubaker and Lark. They made a great team on Gotham Central. Of course that may be too obvious. Whoever gets it will have an incredibly difficult task to follow on from Bendis and Maleev. Daredvil is the single most creatively successful mainstream comic of recent years and a helluva tough act to follow.
I would love to do another mini-series featuring Matt Murdock. I say Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil, because I've found the legal aspects of the story fascinating. I've done tons of background reading on the American Judicial System and I'd love to put some more of that research to use. One of the problems that came up early was how to get Matt practising law outside of New York State. Attorneys normally have to pass a separate bar exam for each state they practise in. There is something called pro hac vice (Latin" "for this occasion") to allow for lawyers to take a one-off case, but the rules vary for each state. I was horrified when I found Matt would be unlikely to be allowed to practise in Arkansas. Luckily Alabama has more relaxed rules so Redemption Valley was shunted a couple of states east. It's a challenge to get all the factual stuff right, but I enjoy that aspect of the job and internet makes the research a lot faster.
Would I like to work with Michael again? Absolutely! I'm in awe of the work he's doing on this book. As long as the feeling is mutual I can guarantee you'll be seeing us work together again.
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