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David Dastmalchian Opens The (Comic) Book On Count Crowley, James Gunn, And The Batman - Exclusive Interview

Nearly 15 years after his stunning debut as The Joker's henchman, Thomas Schiff, opposite Heath Ledger in director Christopher Nolan's DC superhero classic "The Dark Knight," David Dastmalchian's star continues to rise in many different ways. Dastmalchian has written and starred in his own independent films, "Animals" and "All Creatures Here Below," and teamed with esteemed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve on three features: "Prisoners," "Blade Runner: 2049," and "Dune." In between those projects, he's become a mainstay in the superhero movie genre with roles in "Ant-Man" and its first sequel for Marvel, and appeared in guest roles in the DC series "The Flash" and "Gotham."

Dastmalchian's biggest turn in the comic book movie world, though, came in 2021 as the tragic antihero Polka-Dot Man in writer-director James Gunn's DC supervillain opus "The Suicide Squad."  The series won raves from critics and fans for his deeply memorable portrayal of Abner Krill, a character he grounded in his real-life personal pain.

It's only appropriate, then, for Dastmalchian to contribute to the medium that gave birth to countless DC and Marvel characters by writing a comic book of his own. Collaborating with artist Lucas Ketner, Dastmalchian wrote the comic book series "Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter" for Dark Horse Comics in 2019, a four-issue tale rooted in his love of midnight horror film hosts he would watch on late-night TV growing up in Kansas. The horror tales are based in reality in Dastmalchian's comic book world, as Jerri Bartman — a disgraced journalist struggling with alcoholism — secures a gig in the early 1980s as a late-night TV horror host,  adopting the moniker "Count Crowley." Once she assumes her new duties, Jerri discovers that monsters are real, and she's among the very few people who can vanquish them.

Following the success of the "Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter" series, Dastmalchian's "Count Crowley" is back with volume 2, titled "Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter." Distributed once again by Dark Horse Comics, the first issue debuts Wednesday, March 23. Following his interviews last summer and fall for "The Suicide Squad" and "Dune," Dastmalchian chatted with Looper again in an exclusive interview about the new volume of comic books, and more.

Jerri's midnight monster hunter has grown from reluctant to amateur

I have a feeling that this is going to be a monthly deal coming up soon. You got so much going on!

Thanks, man. I would love that. Yeah, I am. I'm blessed. It's been snowballing these last couple of years, and we're in a really exciting moment right now. I'm trying to be present and take time to smell the roses and exhibit my gratitude. It's really exciting. I can't believe we're getting ready to publish a whole new sling of "Count Crowley." There is a moment two years ago, where I thought, "This comic was never going to live again," and here we are.

I'm wondering, there's a slight title change here with this second set of comics. The Count is moving from "Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter" to "Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter." So, is this to say in a way that maybe Jerri is finally embracing her destiny?

Absolutely. She has recognized that this responsibility that she has inadvertently inherited, or so she thinks, from Rich Barnes, the previous Count Crowley, is necessary to keep her brother and his family safe, to protect innocent people. She is going to figure out how to stop, destroy, or hopefully cure this werewolf. She doesn't even realize the can of worms that she's opened by killing that zombie at the end of the first storyline.

The continuation of a story rooted in reality

"Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter" was rooted in your real life trials with depression, anxiety, and addiction, where you said creatures like werewolves are bitten by the addiction disease. Werewolves are a part of the new comics, too, but how does "Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter" differ, thematically?

That was a great comparison, by the way, and thank you for drawing attention to that metaphor, because it's really important to me when I'm writing Jerri's story to incorporate as much of my own personal journey into the story as possible. It's so similar to Jerri, when I realized that I was going to have to fight the monsters that were destroying me and hurting people that I loved, including my battle with addiction, depression, and anxiety, I was so resentful and reluctant. I didn't believe that it was possible to defeat these things. Then I had my first victory, if you will, which was my first day clean and sober, my first visit with a therapist, my first appointment with a psychiatrist, my first working step one of the 12 steps. That was the first real miracle, overcoming that fear and doing those things that I was so reluctant to do.

Then, as I decided I was going to continue down that path, I was no longer reluctant because then, I was willing to learn what I needed to learn. I was such an amateur that, man, did I botch the job a million times from Wednesday. I couldn't have screwed up more with my sobriety, my mental health, but the thing was, I was moving in the right direction. Mistakes are part of growth, as we all learn in life.

That is where Jerri's at right now. She's going to move forward. She's going to learn not only how to stop a werewolf, but she's also going to have to learn how to fight a vampire, she's going to have to learn how to go a day without a drink. She's ready to do those things, but she has no clue how to do them. Who she turns to for help, who she leans on, where she derives her information and inspiration is going to be very important in the next chapter of Jerri's journey.

A fantastical yet relatable story

I can hear it in your voice, David, I always hear that enthusiasm, no matter what you do. With this in particular, you have to be so proud that A, you're creating entertainment, yet B, in an informative sort of way that finds the reader sitting back and saying, "Huh. These situations are fantastical in a way, but they're can completely relatable." To me, that is a really, really tough balancing act to pull off, but you are completely nailing it.

Thank you. I am so ecstatic. This is the culmination, as you know, of a lifetime of work and dreams and luck and passion, and struggle. The way that it's all come together, where I am given the freedom by my editor and publisher to explore issues that are touchy and difficult while at the same time, having the greatest artist and team around the production of the book, and then now this growing fanbase — which is so mind-blowing for me, that I'm getting messages from people in all corners of the country and now the world, who are falling in love with Jerri Bartman, falling in love with Count Crowley, wanting to know what happens next. I can't get over it. It's so awesome.

Count Crowley is coming to a screen near you

When we talked for volume 1, for "Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter," you said you'd be happy if he only got the first volume published — the four comic books — but now there's talk about television and film adaptations? I know things are probably early on but is there anything you can tell me about that?

The moonlit haunted sky is the limit, man. Honestly, I have such supportive people behind me at Dark Horse Publishing, but also Dark Horse Studios. Don't forget Dark Horse produces some incredible content for film and television. Dark Horse is where Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" sprung and landed in the hands of Guillermo del Toro back when the "Hellboy" film franchise started and is a tradition that is so amazing. When you think about TV series like the .... Oh my gosh, they've got "The Umbrella Academy," which is amazing. They've got so many great things, [like] "Resident Alien" right now for Syfy. They're doing so much great stuff. My crystal ball is still foggy, but it is a very exciting future, and there are very exciting and cool people who are magnetizing and gravitating towards this story and responding to the story. We're shooting for the full werewolf moon.

The influence of James Gunn on Count Crowley

You have some comic book friends in the business. Among them, you and James Gunn are kindred spirits when it comes to comic books. Did you by chance bounce off any ideas off of James or anybody in the business that loves comics books when you were writing "Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter"?

I, very early on in the process, when I was choosing my monsters, I was sitting at James's old house in Malibu for a barbecue one day. We were talking about our favorite monsters. I was picking his brain about werewolves, and we had this long conversation about what has been problematic with werewolves in literature and films, etc., and why there was still so much room for development and growth when you consider the mythology of werewolves. What he encouraged me to do was to really push the boundaries and to stretch my imagination, and to try and go far beyond the tropes and traditions that have been established. He really inspired me to want to reinvent and reinvest in the mythology of not only werewolves, but vampires, zombies, witches, gorgons, all the creatures that you're going to see in the world of Count Crowley.

As you know, if you've read the book, one of the first things we did was turn all of the rules about monsters upside down. We know now that silver bullets no longer kill a werewolf, and a wooden stake won't stop a vampire. That's just the beginning. The other thing that James encouraged me to do, and that was inadvertently, because he didn't have to say anything to me directly. Being in his presence and seeing the way that James fearlessly takes the biggest risks necessary to bring his imagination into the story that he's trying to tell really inspired me to not hold back at all and to throw as much of myself as I possibly could into "Count Crowley."

I was nervous when I first sent him the first issue of "Count Crowley," because his opinion means a lot to me, and I think he's a genius. When he told me that he really liked the comic, it was really important. I was so grateful. I've been so moved by so many amazing people who have responded to the comic. If you look at the graphic novel, there's some incredible quotes that we were able to get from people who I really respect, who responded to the book. James is a tough critic, and he is not going to hold back because he is your friend. He's not going to bulls**t you. He's not going to blow smoke up your butt. I was thoroughly touched and moved when he told me that he thought it was really cool.

The future (or past) of Polka-Dot Man

Speaking of James, I had a blast talking with your dear friend, Steve Agee for "Peacemaker — and he wants to work with you again in a Polka-Dot Man prequel series. Since James has promised another spinoff from The Suicide Squad, you've got to be hoping for something. Now, I know last time we talked you said you'd love to see a Polka-Dot Cat series. That'd be awesome, but you would have to be hoping that Polka-Dot Man comes back in some sort of form in a prequel, wouldn't you?

Well, let me first say the first thing is, holy crap, how amazing is "Peacemaker," and first and foremost, how amazing is Steve Agee in "Peacemaker"? That guy, I've always known, had the chops to deliver that kind of emotional dramatic work that we saw in the season finale of "Peacemaker" Season 1. When we all watched it together, because we had a little season finale party at my house—

With your friend, Dana DeLorenzo, too, who I also know— 

Yes. Because you know Steve and Dana, they're family to us. They're like Uncle Steve and Auntie Dana to my kids. God, who else was here? I think Brian Fuller was here. We had a great group of people to watch the show. But Steve, I sat there and watched that episode, and I said ...  James has known this about Steve for a long time, but I said, "It's so exciting to see an artist to get to shine in their full glory with their talent," because I've always known that Steve had that in him, and it was such an amazing thing to get to see. The way that James wrote the end of Polka-Dot Man is actually ... It's so tragic, but it's also really beautiful. If that was the end of Polka-Dot Man, as sad as that is, I'm satisfied because I do think it was such a tragically beautiful moment that he created that was so shocking to the audience.

James, I do believe, has used the same actor as different roles in different movies. My pitch to him would be ... who's more ridiculous than Polka-Dot Man? Maybe I could get a special cameo appearance and pop into a scene as Condiment King. That would be really cool. How about Crazy Quilt, actually? I always thought Crazy Quilt was one of the most ridiculous Batman villains ever. If I happened to show up, and you couldn't recognize me, and I was in some kind of crazy makeup, and I got to be Crazy Quilt, that would be crazy.

The Batman from The Dark Knight actor's perspective

I also have to say congratulations on everything you got coming up. I'm so thrilled that Chris Nolan cast you in "Oppenheimer." Your tie with Chris goes back to "The Dark Knight." Since so many people are mentioning "The Batman" in the same breath as "The Dark Knight" now — which is obviously a hell of an honor for "The Batman" — I'm wondering if you have you seen "The Batman" and if so, what are your thoughts on the film?

I thought it was amazing. I loved it. I thought it was so beautiful and powerful. I thought all of the casting exceeded my already high expectations. I think that Colin Farrell was the sleeper surprise of that film. I thought his portrayal of the Penguin really brought a life and energy into a movie that was so incredible. Finally, I have to give a major shout out to our "Dune" cinematographer, Greig Fraser, the way that he and Matt Reeves created the visual look of the film, along with their incredible production design and costume people, and all of that — but the cinematography to me was amazing, really amazing.

Reteaming with Christopher Nolan

I know you can't talk about "Oppenheimer" at all, but I am curious to know, did Chris Nolan mention he cast you because of your work in "The Dark Knight"? To me, that's an unforgettable role. Was it because of that, do you think, that you got the call from him? Was it your bevy of films and TV projects that he caught? Was there anything in particular? 

I wish I knew. I don't know. It was this incredible gift when I received that call — I believe that the casting director was the same casting director for "The Dark Knight," John Papsidera, who has always been a massive supporter and champion for me in Hollywood. I'm so grateful to him because he changed my life by bringing me in for Chris back in 2007 for "The Dark Knight." John has stayed in touch over the years, and we worked together on other projects. He actually is who cast "The Suicide Squad" for James, and he's cast other projects that I've gotten to be a part of. Maybe he brought me up. I don't know. I wish I knew. I'm so grateful.

Issue #1 of "Count Crowley: Amateur Midnight Monster Hunter" is now available at comic book retailers everywhere. You can purchase the digital version through the Dark Horse website here.

This interview was edited for clarity.