Since the Katana series launched in February, the title's writer Ann Nocenti has been building a new mythology for the character in the New 52.
But Katana hasn't had it easy during that time, with perhaps her most pressing problem being the fact that her Soultaker sword was broken. She's also got a strange love triangle brewing, between herself, her deceased-but-still-ghosting-around husband, and the man against whom she's sworn revenge.
For Nocenti, the series has given her the opportunity to work with artist Alex Sanchez to build a Japanese-flavored comic with a combination of personal drama and butt-kicking action.
This fall, the series will see Katana coming up against some new challenges, as she gets a rematch with the villainous Coil, takes on the Mad Samurai, and has to kill the ghost girl, Mona Shard.
Newsarama talked to Nocenti about the title and what's coming up for Tatsu.
Newsarama: Ann, over the last seven months, Katana has been facing several struggles, not the least of which was her blade being broken. What were you hoping to do as a writer by choosing to have her face these challenges in particular?
Ann Nocenti: It all comes from a line in Katana #1 that Coil challenges Katana with. He says: “Violence makes you sick. Either that, or you get to like it. Either way, it takes you down.” That’s both an old trope of martial arts films and a true, modern dynamic. Reading the heartbreaking stories of returning war veterans brought this into sharp focus for me, and Katana is engaged in a personal war.
Katana has a trifecta of missions: she wants vengeance for the murder of her husband. She wants to take on the Outsiders Weapons Clans and cut out the rotten players in the Clans. My original idea for the Outsiders was that they formed during pre-judicial times, with an ancient mission of intervening at moments in history when corruption threatened to undermine the balance of power between good and evil. Katana’s main mission is to continue that legacy. But she also has to track down the Ghost Warriors that escaped from her Soultaker, and draw them back into her sword. To do these three things, she becomes focused and violent. But Coil’s challenge, that she may lose her mind along the way, is always there. She is a woman who talks to the voices in her sword. From the very beginning, we thought, is she crazy? The violence is making her sick, but will it take her down?
Nrama: You've built a love triangle between Katana, the soul of her dead husband, and Sickle, her husband's killer. How would you describe the characters, with what we know about them (after #7's revelations), and how does that continue to be part of the series going forward?
Nocenti: I liked Katana’s pre-52 origin, that two brothers loved her, and one killed the other. It’s a classic origin, as strong as the story of Cain and Abel. But what really happened? Why did young Tatsu Toro choose the safe, solid Maseo over the wilder Sickle, the brother she might have loved more? And what really happened that night between the three of them? The implication is that she took the “safe” route back when she was young, and now she’s choosing Sickle because he is not a ghost like her dead husband (how can you love a ghost?), and she can infiltrate the Sword Clan by getting close to Sickle. Are Tatsu’s choices in men self-serving?
Nrama: I was surprised to hear Sickle say that Katana doesn't remember what "really" happened that night. What is blocking her memory?
Nocenti: One of my favorite movies is Rashomon. It tells a story from several different points-of-view, and shows how memory and emotion color the reality of events. You hear this from policemen, too — that after a crime, witnesses tell wildly different versions of the same event. So for Katana, there is what actually happened, and there is how her memory as been altered by the trauma of what happened, and how she sees the event differently in hindsight, so that she can deal with the trauma of it. In a sense, we live our lives, but we also re-write our own histories as we go along.
Nrama: How has it been working with Alex Sanchez on this book, and now that you're familiar with his style on your scripts, are you playing to it in the story?
Nocenti: Alex Sanchez is masterful on the series. He’s brought a wide-ranging sensibility to the book, a way of drawing that both evokes ancient Japan and a fiercely modern world at the same time. With Alex, I know that he will intuit the pathos of a moment and give it huge power. And we share a love of martial arts films, so I can reference a great moment in a classic film and he’ll get it completely. When I first started the series, Jim Lee asked that the battle scenes always take place someplace very visual. So Alex and I were talking about what he wanted to draw for the next battle, for issue #7, and he sent me an image from when The Statue of Liberty was covered in scaffolding. So we made that a “Dragon House” and set it in Japantown, and the battle has Katana having to enter the jaws of the Dragon, which is a classic “Enter the Dragon” reference of going into the darkness and making it out again.
Nrama: I noticed that he's not drawing issue #9. Is Fabrizio Florentino the new artist going forward, or is that just a fill-in?
Nocenti: Katana #9 is being drawn by ChrisCross, who I just did The Creeper Villains Month issue with. Fabrizio Florentino did wonderful work on issue #7, helping out when we were late on deadlines. Fabry has an inventive way of working: he gives you two versions of each page, two possible ways to tell the story in his thumbnails. It was a pleasure working with him. And ChrisCross’ pages so far on Katana #9 are stunning. He’s very atmospheric and cinematic, and he’s perfect for Katana #9, which is a very dark tale.
Nrama: Just out of curiosity, how did you come up with the recent villain's name "Swagger?"
Nocenti: In Katana, characters are named after their weapons. With the Weapons Clans, beginning with Katana being named after her sword and being the best at it, each character masters a particular weapon and takes the name of the weapon. Coil mastered the coil sword, as is fitting with his manipulative, sneaky mind. He’s like Iago, whispering lies in the ear of Sickle. And Sickle’s weapon is a cross between a sickle, the death’s sword, and a scythe, a farmer’s tool to cut down hay. He likes the hook in the blade, and how (sorry to be gross) he’s learned to yank out a heart with it. He’s a heartbreaker, which comes to play soon in the series. Mona Shard has a shard from the shattered Soultaker. So when I gave Swagger two rapiers, I knew it would be a problem that “Rapier” didn’t quite work as an easily said name. I wanted her to be serpentine, with a snake’s style of fighting, and gave her two rapiers, one coils her neck, one coils her waist. I described her to Alex as walking like a snake, with a certain swagger to her walk, and then the name Swagger just came out naturally. Alex draws her body like a snake’s, and Cliff Richards drew Swagger also, giving her a jut to her hip where you can see her swagger.
Nrama: It's a little more creative than "The Falconer. And his Falcon." But I'm thinking this latest villain and his simple name (and his claim that swords can't kill falcons) are all in good fun?
Nocenti: The Falconer and the Falcon are named in the same way the other Weapons clans are, they take their weapon as their own name. And the Falconer is there to offer a different path than violence, and he’s hinting to Katana that she should consider the will of her weapon. He’s hinting that she may wield her weapon, but can she control it? Does the Soultaker have a mind of its own? I’ve worked with falcons, learning how to train them and use them as weapons, and they are fierce predators that you can’t really ever know. The Falconer trains intensely with his falcon, it is his living weapon, but a falcon cannot really be controlled. So yes, he doesn’t literally mean you can’t kill a falcon with a sword, he’s playing with Katana, teasing her into doubting her mastery over her own weapon. As with Grandma Jin in Japan telling Katana that “she can’t clean dirt,” and Junko the “Drunken Master,” and how he constantly teases Katana, these figures are there to slip ideas into Katana’s mind. Katana's mind is hard and disciplined, and somewhat humorless, so she needs to be teased a bit.
Nrama: You've currently got a few adversaries for Katana in the book, but it looks like Katana will have her final showdown with Coil in October. What can you tell us about their battle?
Nocenti: It goes back to Katana #1, and Coil’s misogyny. He likes to taunt Katana about being female, being a lesser fighter than a man, and torture her about how she failed in marriage. He beat her last time because she let her emotions overwhelm her. She lets his devilish mockery get to her. So the question this time is, can she control her own emotions? And the challenge to her is to beat Coil using his weapon of choice. We’ve seen her training with the coil sword for several issues, but is she good enough yet? And can she keep her emotions in check? Cliff Richards drew Katana #8, and I think it is his best work yet. It is fabulously dynamic, and he is a terrific storyteller.
Nrama: Will we ever find out what happened with Killer Croc and the dragon ghost that escaped from Katana's sword? Or is that merely something another writer can pick up sometime?
Nocenti: That storyline came out of something that was going on in Batwoman, how there were hints that Killer Croc thought he had dragon powers. So we played with that notion a bit, and yes, you are right, it is a story that can be picked up on in the future if anyone wants to.
Nrama: October's issue #8's solicitation teases an appearance by the Mad Samurai. What can you tell us about him?
Nocenti: We saw the Mad Samurai escape from the Soultaker in Katana #4. And in Katana #1, we saw him tattooed on Shun’s back. He wielded the Soultaker centuries ago, and went insane with blood-madness from all the killing. He represents what could happen to Katana if she isn’t careful. We see him in the Justice League Dark Villains Month Creeper story, and learn more about him there. He was the head of the Sword Clan centuries ago, and comes back as a challenger for that position. He, like Mona Shard, is a Ghost Warrior.
Nrama: We've recently gotten to know Shun the Untouchable a little better. What role does she play in the comic going forward, and when will we learn more about her?
Nocenti: Shun the Untouchable is, in many ways, my favorite character in the series. She has the history of the Outsiders written on her body, but the question is, was the tattoo artist a liar? How much of it is true? They say history is written many times, first by the victorious. So is this just the first version of the Outsiders’ history? Is it biased from their point-of-view? And Shun’s tattoos are also prophetic. Will Katana and her Soultaker bring ruin onto the world, as is written on Shun’s belly? Shun has bound herself in red bandages. She’s a walking wound. She’s furious, on a slow boil in the series, and that comes to a climax in Katana #10, being drawn by Alex Sanchez.
Nrama: In issue #9, Katana will be faced with the challenge of killing Mona Shard. What makes this so difficult for Katana to do?
Nocenti: Mona Shard is a child. She may be a deeply evil killer, a centuries old murderess, but she is still a child. Can Katana battle a child? And what will that do to her? Will the blowback on her mind be more than she can bear, and shove her another inch towards madness? The first pages of that issue are in, by ChrisCross, and they are stunningly dark. It’s the darkest Katana tale yet.
Nrama: How would you describe what's coming for Katana over the next few months?
Nocenti: In the coming months, everything escalates. Katana must battle her way to the top of the Sword Clan. Mona Shard is battling her way to the top of the Dagger Clan. In some ways, it will be a class war. The Swords are rich and elite. Even their style of fighting, with long swords, is about keeping their distance. They are moving all their assets into legitimate businesses, and distancing themselves from the yakuza mafia they once were. The Daggers are poor. They are made up of poor street fighters who have nothing. They are brawlers that use nasty little daggers to fight, they get in close and personal and stab. So Katana will become pitted in-between a class war between two clans.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell readers about Katana?
Nocenti: Only that I am hugely appreciative of readers that have stayed with us and are enjoying the book. The letters and messages I’ve been getting from fans have been wonderful, and I treasure each one.