shawn martinbrough red hood the spectre jason todd dc power

DC Power 2024 and Red Hood: The Hill – Shawn Martinbrough’s Our Tour Guide Through Gotham Neighborhood

“The Hill is a major character… I think that that makes for a good story anyway, where you have the environment be as much of a character as the characters that you are sticking in that environment.”

Shawn Martinbrough takes us through a growing Gotham city neighborhood, The Hill in his story ‘The Session’ for DC Power 2024 and his mini-series, Red Hood: The Hill. The Hill was first created back in 2000 with Batman: The Hill, illustrated by Martinbrough, written by Christopher Priest. 

It’s a predominantly Black neighborhood that is now being slowly gentrified and changed in the Joker War aftermath. We get a glimpse of what’s been going on in the neighborhood in this year’s DC Power anthology featuring Crispus Allen’s Spectre and Renee Montoya’s Question.

Martinbrough originally helped create Crispus Allen and was excited to pen a new story for him. He gave a shout-out to editor, Marquis Draper, for reaching out to him about this character he “created 20 something years ago with Greg Rucka,” for Detective Comics.

“He sent me a bunch of issues of what Crispus had been up to and I didn’t realize he had become The Spectre. I read a bunch of these issues that Greg Rucka had written. They were really trippy, really way out there. You figure out a way to play with this and what we could have Crispus do and he’d lost his son, he was really in a dark place,” he added.

One of Crispus’ more important relationships is on display in this short story, his friendship with former partner Renee Montoya, The Question. 

“Crispus Allen had always been cool with Renee Montoya. I thought it’d be really great to do a little buddy cop thing with those two, and have her reach out to him and feel for him and his really depressed state. They can work on a case together and that’s pretty much where the story evolved from,” Martinbrough explained, wanting to explore their partnership as otherworldly vigilantes. 

“What kind of a villain or what kind of entity could pose a threat to The Question, but also pose a threat to The Spectre, who was all powerful? I thought it’d be really cool to give a little bit of a tease of a character that’s going to be appearing in Red Hood: The Hill, in this ten-page story. I reached out to Tony Akins, who was fortunately available. He reached out to his friend, Moritat, who kind of helped out towards the end of it. It’s a really great, fun story, with those two. It’d be really fun to see more adventures of The Spectre and The Question,” Martinbrough shared. 

The Hill is explored further in his new mini-series Red Hood: The Hill, featuring Gotham’s prodigal son, Jason Todd, Dana Harlowe as Strike, her twin sister, Denise, new villains and various members of their community. 

“There’s a character and element that pops up here that we tease [in DC Power 2024], that’s going to be fleshed out a bit more. I am someone who loves seeing things linked, as a fan. I love when everyone’s in the same universe with their little nods to other stories. For me to be able to tie this to The Hill just makes the story that much more interesting and that all of this interesting stuff is happening in this neighborhood of Gotham. It’s something to pull the readers in and make them [want to] find out more about this section of Gotham that we really haven’t seen much of, since it was first created back in 1999,” Martinbrough said. 

“Duality is a main theme of Gotham.”

Interestingly enough, the six-part miniseries isn’t happening in “real time,” it takes place between the events of Joker War and Future State, but before Dark Crisis, Gotham War and Beast World (whew, that’s a lot of events). Martinbrough explained that this is a fill-in story, so he wasn’t able to drastically change Jason or his story too much.

“I figured, let me take him out of his element and put them into a new element. I always say that I approached that two-part story like a Western, where you have a cowboy who rides into the town, then it gets caught up in the beef of the town. That’s pretty much what happens here where he goes back to The Hill, where he hasn’t been in years. He reconnects with Dana and Denise, and he’s like, wow, this place has really changed. He actually gets a taste of normal life. I felt like that was a great way of sort of showing a different side of Jason, without doing a radical change,” he said. 

“What we’re getting an insight into is, this is what having a normal life could be and not just killing people and being a crazed, over-the-top vigilante. I thought that was a really nice way to play with that character. When I was given the opportunity to write a six-part sequel, it’s building on that, really having him now working alongside Dana and her crew, The Watch, a group of local residents that are now vigilantes. They basically patrol The Hill and they protect it. I thought that was really interesting to have Jason pulled more into this,” Martinbrough explained. 

“The Hill is a major character, just like Jason. I think that makes for a good story anyway, where you have the environment be as much of a character as the characters that you are sticking in that environment.”

Getting to play in a very specific moment in the past gives Martinbrough more range to write the kind of story he wants.

“Now, the fun thing about this is that these stories are there. They’re part of continuity, but they take place in the past, this takes place in that little period of time in between Joker War and Future State. There’s this running joke at the end of the zero issue, where Jason’s like, I’m done, I’m about to ride off and leave. Dana’s like, yeah, whatever,” Martinbrough said, with a smile. “Then we see when [issue one] starts up, he’s still there. He’s still gonna be like, listen, I’m not staying here, I’m leaving, but he gets pulled back in. It’s a great bit of creative freedom as a writer to be able to write whatever you want, because it’s in this pocket of time in the past.”

Between Jason and Dana, there’s not only little inside jokes, fun teasing, and nostalgia, there’s also a bit of flirtatious banter. Every Jason fangirl wants to know if there’s something more serious happening romantically in their future. 

“Everybody asks that and honestly they are really good friends. But it is fun to have that kind of playful banter between friends. Guys and gals, we flirt even when we’re friends. There’s that funny banter, but I don’t see them in that way,” Martinbrough explained. “In fact, I kind of have plans for where they would go, with potential romantic storylines, but they are just friends. I think that’s really great and healthy to see a man and a woman be friends, be supportive of each other and be able to bust chops, have fun, and kind of flirt a little bit. That’s as far as it goes.”

More fascinating than Dana’s chemistry with Jason is her contentious relationship with her twin sister and news anchor, Denise. Expect tension when the two cross paths mostly due to their differing ideas of vigilantism and how to help their neighborhood.

“As a writer, I try to give you something that you haven’t seen before. Duality is a main theme of Gotham. That’s why I came up with twin sisters. They have opposing viewpoints on vigilantism based on what happened to their dad. One person is like, based on the fact that our father was the victim of violence, that makes me really want to go outside of the law to protect people. You have another sister saying no, because the reason why this happened to our father is because people did not follow the law. I thought that was two very interesting perspectives that you can see both sides of,” Martinbrough shared.

“I felt that it was also interesting to put Jason in the middle of that and say, I get why you guys are beefing, but there is love here, you guys have a great family. Seeing the father was just really great.There’s another little touchstone of what Jason doesn’t have. Seeing this community of people that are supporting themselves and supporting each other and acting like a family, even though they’re not related. They’re just community residents. That’s why it was a really fun way to end the story where his experience in The Hill gives him a little bit of insight, in terms of what Bruce and Batman had been trying to get him to see all this time. That end scene where Bruce slash Batman drops off a gift for him as a little bit of a nod. You see hopefully a little crack in the ice between those two characters. Then we build on that in the series.”

Without spoiling too much of issue one, Martinbrough teases the villains he has Red Hood and Strike contend with in this series. 

“I want to say that the really fun aspect is creating new villains in the Gotham universe. Tommy Misell, he’s kind of goofy; Tommy represents the fan in all of us that sits back and says, if I was writing Batman, I would do it like this. If I were running the streets, I would do it like this. So Demitrius Korlee, Jr. slyly gives him that chance to go out, try to do it, fail miserably, and now he’s out of his hair,” he shared. “That whole two-part story is a setup for how Demitrius Korlee, Jr. thinks and how he moves. I can’t wait to see the fans’ reaction to what he does.”

Red Hood: The Hill #1 is available February 13, 2024 online and in-stores, along with issue 0 and DC Power 2024.

Interview edited for clarity.