Developing BATWOMAN's Journey W/ Greg Rucka
There's a new face behind the bat-symbol… and no, we're not talking about Dick Grayson as Batman.A red-haired Batwoman has emerged from Gotham City, and quickly stepped out from the shadow of the bat to define herself on her own terms. This new incarnation of Batwoman first appeared in 2006's 52 #7, and since then the drumbeat amongst fans was when they could expect to see her in her own solo tales. After several appearances in other books, the new Batwoman, Kate Kane, took over Detective Comics as its lead character. With the conclusion of her first storyarc, Elegy, coming out late last month, there has been a lot of talk about what writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III are doing with the character. And in the upcoming storyarc entitled Go, they will delve into the origin story of Batwoman – as well as her foe from Elegy, Alice.
Earlier this month we talked with artist J.H. Williams III about this book, and now we turn to writer Greg Rucka. Rucka, a busy writer both in comics, film and now movies with the release of Whiteout, talked to us from his West Coast home.
Newsarama:: This isn’t your first go-around on Detective Comics, but it couldn’t be any more different than last time, Greg. Does it feel like the same book, at all?
Greg Rucka: It's a different animal entirely – there's no question. Batman has been the main character in Detective Comics for awhile now, but the fact that the title originally did feature other lead characters was a large factor in our decision to bring Batomwn here. The precedent was there.
Nrama: Talking history here, Detective Comics is the longest continuously running comic book in the U.S. Was there any kind of anticipation or reluctance to bring in two new characters to be the leads in a book that for so long has been associated with Batman?
Rucka: Not really. [laughs]
Both Jim and I have been waiting so long to show people what we're working on, so we're excited to get it out there. Launching this as a "Batwoman #1" versus doing it in Detective Comics took off pressure – it mitigated the idea of jumping into a new #1. I'm very proud of this.
And it's not as if there's a lack of Batman out there in comics, so it's not like we're taking the thunder away from Batman at all. Nobody in the world thinks this is a permanent situation, but I think it's good. Comics fans want new stuff that looks exactly like the old stuff. It is hard for the publishers, and even the audience, to change something.
Nrama: The fourth and final part of the inaugural Batwoman storyarc landed late last month, how do you think fans have taken to the character of Batwoman now that she’s had her first feature-length adventure on her own?
Rucka: The people that I talk to have been really positive. And there's still a lot of questions people are asking about her and her corner of the world. I do admit there was a little impatience in the fact that her origin wasn't revealed in the first issue – or first storyarc – but that wasn't the intention.
If I really wanted to dig into the fans' response, I could go read the online postings (which are a small percentange of the actual fanbase), or spend the time writing actual comics.But speaking of these first issue, Jim and I have been able to spend a lot of time to tell the stories we want to tell with Kate. We're slowly unraveling who Kate is, what she's doing and why. That's a luxury you don't often get in the world of comics. The schedule for producing comics is very, very pressing – but we were fortunate to get a relatively long lead-time to work on this, which served us both well. Nrama: This book was famously in the works for months – a year or so even, before it was formally announced. Usually comics pushed to the limits of deadline where the schedule goes off the rails later on. With that lead-time, how are you and Jim doing so far as working ahead?
Rucka: We're about four issues ahead. It's a slow process book, taking a lot of time to write and, as you can see, Jim puts a lot of time into the pages. And I think it shows on his end. We want to make sure we keep delivering the comic at this high rate of quality each month, and DC were behind us 100%.
I do understand the monthly cycle of publishing comics, and the benefits of that, but there are times where you can't ask an artist – particular Jim – to turn around a full issue on a 30 day clock every month, in and out. You have to make a decision -- - have it done in 30 days and it be sub-standard, or orchestrate a work schedule with enough lead time to give you the best you can deliver. We're good for the first seven issues, and our intention is to do it as one block – with no fill-in artists – so Jim can put his stamp on Kate's first adventures and origin. We might take a 3 or 4 issue long breather with another artist before Jim comes back for the last part.
Nrama We talked to Williams III about how working on a new character gives you a chance to establish the look and feel of how they’ll be portrayed in the future. More than just the costume, but the poses and how she acts. On the writing side, do you see yourself setting up those ground rules for future appearances of the character?
Rucka: That's the goal – to build something that can be used in the broader framework of the DCU. We're aiming to create a distinctive run on the character of Batwoman that will allow others to know hwo to handle her when the time comes. When Kate appears in the Justice League, there shouldn't be any question it's the same distinctive character.
Nrama: This first storyarc for Batwoman isn’t with some familiar rogue from the DC playground, but a new face in Alice. Was this a big thing for you, to co outside the history of DC to bring in someone new to compliment the relatively new Batwoman?
Rucka: I think bringing in an established villain would have been a horrible step. If you have a classic character from the DCU going up against a relative newcomer like Batwoman, I think it would have made it more about the classic villain instead of being about Kate herself.
Heroes are defined by their villains – Batman is nothing if he doesn't have Two-Face. Yeah, Batman looks really cool but until you put him opposite of the Joker he's just some guy with a cape and a bat symbol on his chest. Every character needs an adversary – one who is both challenging and a contrast for the hero. The best adversaries reveal something about the character they're contrasting.
The goal here with Detective Comics and these first Batwoman stories is to creative a character that will be around in another fifty years. It's very important for her to find her own corner of the carpet to work.
On a message board I read, someone questioned why Batman is "letting her" wear the costume. To me, that's a fundamental mistake. Batman doesn't get to choose. Kate's not looking for approval, and that's something we're going to explore later. The thing of it is that she isn't affiliated with Batman.Nrama: But the iconography of Batman?
Rucka: Not even that. Batman is less important. It's how Gotham and the DCU citizens view the Bat symbol alone.
Let me put it like this – it's like the difference between following an individual into battle or following a flag – a symbol. In the latter, you're taking up that flag yourself as your own. For a better real world example, think about the events after the Iranian elections; the green revolution wasn't people who were living in Iran, but they were taking up the color green in their daily life. So people in Los Angeles who put green ribbons on their website didn't necessarily have any direct contact with the people of Iran. They were, instead, associating themselves with a cause.
But bringing it full circle, she does exist in Gotham – along with everything introduced in Batman stories – but right now she moves in her own little pocket. In another few issues she'll get out in the larger mix, but right now we're establishing her world: who she is, why she is, and what she's doing. So far we've got some of the who, a lot of the what, but the why has yet to be answered.
Nrama: Yet. Let's get into that – with "Elegy" wrapped, the next story-arc is that much-anticipated origin of Kate Kane entitled "Go". As you were one of the principals involved with the new Batwoman’s creation back in 52, has this origin been with the character since it’s creation . i.e. as something you always had set in mind to tell as it is in the upcoming storyarc?
Rucka: Go will tie directly into the first story-arc. This is how and why she put on the costume, and what she did to make sure she didn't go out and get killed in her first outing.
When Jim and I first conceived this, we intended it to be read as one big cohesive chunk. The fact that there will be a pause midway through the 12 issues comes at a very appropriate place – a passage of time helps the story.
Nrama: Did any of these ideas about her origin bubble up during her introduction back in 52?
Rucka: No, it didn't. Point of fact, when 52 was going on, Devin Grayson was working on developing the Batwoman character. That fell through, and editor Mike Siglain got up with Jim and I with the idea of how to approach a Batwoman series; then-editor Peter Thomasi was also involved. We had a very informative conversation on her reasoning to get into what she's doing; why someone would dress like a bat, kick people in the teeth at night and more. We answered a lot of those questions in that conversations, and that propelled us here.
Nrama: Speaking of collaboration, you famously said in an interview that with this story JH is “reinventing the language of comics." Was this all as planned – did you expect this when you and him were signed up to do this, or was there some sort of amazement as pages started coming in?
Rucka: I wish to God I knew what I was dealing with when we started. I knew Jim's art, particularly from Promethea, but I didn't know Jim personally and how he thought. It wasn't until I sat down to write the first script and talked over the visuals with Jim that I began to realize what this was. But even then, it's was like explaining to someone what a Seurat painting looks like – you don't really know until you see the actual artwork, or in this case, the pages. Once I saw the work Jim was producing, I began adapting. I was already writing very much to him, but his work prompted me to take it to the next level. He and I started spending an awfully long time talking, and it changed the whole ball game.
Nrama: Is there a particular page in the beginning that turned the corner for you?
Rucka: Yes, in fact, there is. In issue #854 there's a double-page spread, 18 and 19 I think, that is in all blacks and red: it's Batwoman kicking the snot out of the Coven. I saw that and I was like… "Okay". I understood then what he had been telling me over the phone about a design motif. It really changed the ballgame for me.
In sincerity, this is the most collaborative comic experience I've had. And the most rewarding.Nrama: Let's not leave out Cully Hamner, with whom you're doing the back-up feature on the Question.
Rucka: Yes! Cully is doing an outstanding job. I'll write something, and he'll come back with something completely outside of my expectations. Cully and I have some things coming up with the Question that when we were working on it, I didn't know how it would turn out. So I described my idea, and he broke it down into panels which I then scripted over. It was in a more "Marvel style" of writing for that sequence, which I don't normally do… but I finally learned enough to get the hell away and let the man work. [laughs]
Nrama: This working with Jim on Batwoman and then Cully on the Question, all in one book, are the processes similar to you?
Rucka: Not at all. It's like a concert – you're getting metal for the opening act, and then the jazz-fusion for the follow-up. Both bands are excellent, and getting two artists who could hold their own with each other was really importantly. We didn't want two artists who were stylistically trying to ape what the other was doing. Cully provides a pleasant contrast with the density of some of Jim's pages, with that very clean line that Cully is s good at.
Nrama: Finally, when the format of co-features was announced for select DC books, there was talk amongst fans that some features might rotate to take over the lead. Could the Question story rotate at some point to be the lead feature for a time with Detective Comics?
Rucka: We're toying with the idea of doing it for one issue, with a Question story taking up the front 20 pages and then 10 pages of Batwoman in the back – but that's not going to happen for awhile.
But that's part of the fun, and brings in the anthology aspect of Detective Comics and the ability to mix it up a bit as we want.