From its inception, the comic book industry has thrived on legendary creative teams. They’ve introduced and reimagined iconic characters, shaped worlds and entire universes and told stories that have never been equaled. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Dennis O’Neal and Neil Adams. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. And for the past eight years, Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

Debuting as a team with the universally lauded The Sheriff of Babylon before moving onto the Eisner-winning Mister Miracle, King and Gerads have collaborated frequently since, with each new project pushing their work into ambitious new creative directions that often reap acclaim. Their latest project, a nearly 100-page story reimagining Batman’s very first confrontation with the Joker, may be their most frightening collaboration so far. Borrowing heavily from both true crime and horror (Gerads’ take on the villain is utterly terrifying), it’s a taut thriller that suggests the two nemeses may have far more in common than they care to admit.

The story originally ran as a part of the monthly anthology series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but has now been collected into a softcover graphic novel, allowing readers to experience it uninterrupted for the first time. Recently, we had a chance to chat with King and Gerads about their newest collaboration, including how the idea came together, along with their work together in general. The result was an insightful, affable conversation that offered a picture of a creative comic book partnership that shows no sign of slowing down.

The first project I remember you two doing together was The Sheriff of Babylon. Is that how you met each other? How did this partnership start?

Mitch Gerads: It was our editor at the time, Jamie Rich. He just cold called me and introduced himself, “Hey, I’m the new guy at Vertigo. We’re launching all these new projects. Can I pitch you some stuff?”

I was being very picky. Marvel had pigeonholed me at the time as “the military guy,” and were telling me they didn’t have anything along those lines.

Tom King: So, to get out of that military pigeonhole, you did Sheriff? (laughs)

MG: Exactly! So, Jamie’s pitching me all these things and the last one he pitched me was Tom’s and he framed it as Justified meets Zero Dark Thirty, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s my wheelhouse.”

I knew of Tom through a mutual friend, so I knew his background. We got into it and I think we just clicked and off we went.

TK: I’m still super proud of that book.

MG: Yeah, me too.

TK: That was the first comic book I ever wrote, Sheriff of Babylon #1.

But Grayson came out first. You were doing that with Tim Seeley, right?

TK: So, the way Sheriff came about was I had pitched it as a comic book and a novel at the same time. I had started as a novelist—or a failed novelist, I should say. I wrote the first issue and gave it to Vertigo and it took them two years to get back to me on it. In those two years, I wrote the novel, and then Grayson hit and they said, “Oh, you’re having a success, do you have anything else?”

And I was like, “You have my pilot issue! You’ve had it for two years.”

After that, I converted the novel into the rest of the comic, but issue #1 was the first comic book I wrote.

After The Sheriff of Babylon came Mister Miracle and from that point on, your work together has all been for DC proper. Did you want to do something more superhero-related after that?

MG: I think instantly we were asking each other about our next thing. I think I did two issues of Batman after Sheriff.

TK: When we were doing Sheriff, I was working with two other artists, one on Omega Men and one on Vision, and they both left me because they thought I sucked, so you were like my last chance. (laughs)

MG: Oh cool. (laughs)

TK: Actually, Ed Brubaker texted me and said, “You and Mitch, you two could be like me and Sean (Phillips).” And I was like, well, Ed Brubaker’s pretty smart. I should do what he says.

At this point, you’ve done a few projects together, but Tom, you also have worked with other artists—

TK: Shh! We don’t talk about that in front of Mitch! As far as he knows, that’s another guy whose name just happens to be Tom King.

MG: It’s that guy who writes Sponge Bob.

TK: Yeah, it’s the Spongebob guy.

I am curious, though, how you decide which projects are going to be with Mitch. Is it just a matter of when he’s available?

TK: To be perfectly honest, it’s a lot shorter process to write than to draw. It takes me a week to do a comic, but it takes Mitch months. He’s that dedicated and that’s how long it takes to make the work. So, I’m not going to go to Mitch and say what I think we should do because this is going to be his life for a long time. So, I let him tell me what he wants to draw and do, and I’ll fit into that as my schedule allows it.

MG: I’m genuinely proud of every book I’ve done with Tom.

That’s interesting because I always think that these things are writer driven. Did you two come up with Mister Miracle and Strange Adventures together?

MG: They were different. Strange Adventures was us together. Mister Miracle was sort of us together.

TK: Yeah, you wanted to do Batman, but our Batman thing fell through, so I had to pitch you on Mister Miracle. But he turned out to love that character, so it was kismet.

I also asked him to help with Heroes in Crisis because we needed some help on that book, so that was Mitch really doing me a favor.

MG: It was fun.

You did get to work on Batman again, though, and pretty recently. Was your Brave and the Bold story the Batman project that you wanted to do back then? How did this idea of retelling the first Batman and Joker story come about?

TK: We had done Riddler, which I loved. I was very nervous while I was writing it, but I loved how it came out. I loved the feeling of dread that you’re kind of left with at the end of that story—it’s that feeling in your spine when you leave a great horror movie and the world doesn’t look real anymore. I was just thinking, can we build on that? Can we come up with something bigger? Mitch at the time was really into horror podcasts, so I asked if we could do something like that as a comic book and that’s how it started. Again, I was just trying to find something he’d love.

Was that pitch what did it, Mitch, or were you just excited to finally get a chance to do a full Batman story with Tom?

MG: It was a little of both. The whole idea of retelling the original 1940 story—that was Tom.

TK: For the life of me, I can’t remember how that happened.

MG: We were at a convention and you were wondering if the story about first time they’d met had been told, and it had, but we blanked on it.

TK: It’s obviously been done in the movies a lot. But we didn’t know if it had been done in a comic book, and then we realized that it’s been done quite a few times in the comics, so we started thinking about music today and how there are so many samples. They sample something and spin it, turn it upside down, they twist it and create a totally new effect, so we were wondering if we could take inspiration from how music is made today and to make a comic—to sample Batman #1 and twist it, turn it upside down, decrease the beat and create something new and wonderful. And frightening.

Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke did a similar kind of thing, so I feel like they’re books that are talking to each other. We’re both songs that sample the same material.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Winning Card by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel. You can also read “The Winning Card” in full on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.