BATWOMAN Tuesday Part 1: J.H. WILLIAMS' Vision

BATWOMAN Tuesday Part 1: J.H. WILLIAMS

 

Among the success stories in the relaunch of the DC Comics universe is a new female character whose series sells in the Top 25: Batwoman.

Co-written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the series has been particularly acclaimed by critics and fans for the interior art by Williams.

Today, Newsarama will be sharing three interviews we conducted about the series, as the second story arc begins with this week's Batwoman #6.

In the first five issues of Batwoman, the creative team introduced readers to Kate Kane's supporting cast and established her new role in the relaunched DC Universe. While adding new characters to Batwoman's rogues’ gallery, Williams and Blackman gave the comic a supernatural slant while also placing it within Gotham — and the watchful eye of Batman.

This week, the comic takes a new turn as it not only puts Kate into a role of servant to the "Department of Extranormal Operations," but it also will feature a new artist as Amy Reeder draws interiors for the comic's second story arc.

To find out more about what the second arc will bring to Batwoman, while reviewing what the artist's vision has been for the comic all along, Newsarama talked with Williams.

Newsarama: As an artist who's also writing the script, what does working with a co-writer like Haden bring to the experience?

J.H. Williams III: He brings a multitude of things — creative input and a real sense of being able to take the ideas that he and I generate, and to sort of organize those in a way that makes the story fluid and cohesive.

But the way it works is this very organic process, where he and I kind of go back and forth on developing the plot and all the intricate pieces, and then we both take stabs at drafts of the script, either particular scenes or a whole issue, and we kind of trade off and put our two cents in on the other one's halves. And we do that back and forth.

So we end up having, like, four or five drafts before everything is finalized.

And then it's really good to have someone like Haden to bounce ideas off of, and to make sure the pieces fit together properly and so forth. He's had a lot of experience writing scripts, where I haven't so much.

And so what he brings to the table is pretty considerable.

What's really cool about it is the end result ends up being this 50/50 marriage between his vision and my vision, and we really want to treat it like a partnership and work that to the book's advantage.

Nrama: The first story arc had a dramatic final showdown between Weeping Willow and Kate. How important was this moment for Kate when she was forced to overcome her guilt for what happened to her sister?

Williams: I think it was very significant, in more than one way. One, it allows her to try to emotionally move past any guilt or regrets she may have had over how that whole thing with her sister went down, and how she could come to realize that this is a guilt going all the way back to childhood, really. It was beyond her sister falling off that plane in Elergy, into the harbor. It goes all the way back to her survival as a child, when she thought her sister had originally died in the first place. And that feeling of being responsible to your twin to live your live to the fullest. So you're kind of living two lives. Especially with her sister being a twin, it's like she felt like some sort of responsibility to that, you know?

And then the second part that I think is really significant is in the fact that, in order to defeat this villain, she had to go somewhere that you don't normally see a superhero go. For one, the fact that we kind of gave you this confrontation that had all the power and feeling of this battle, that there wasn't a single punch thrown, was pretty interesting and shows how different a character and person that Kate is when compared to other superheroes of similar like. I thought it was pretty powerful stuff.

Nrama: Visually, it was powerful as well, especially where you literally had Alice crawling out of Kate's body. What was behind the decision to use that imagery?

Williams: Her first encounter with the Weeping Woman showed that the Weeping Woman could tap into that part of you that carried those kinds of things. And the fact that it was a twin sister that had Kate carrying this sense of responsibility made Kate think, at least subconsciously, about what her sister must have experienced.

So in that entire scene, every shot of the two of them, they're both mirroring the same body positions and actions and stuff. And so it's like this physical manifestation of all her guilt and her regret and the badly placed responsibility she feels.

It seemed like this really cool, visceral idea to toy with, particularly with the Weeping Woman having this ability to sort of bring about people's nightmares, in a way, you know?

We wrote that scene around the time of working on issue #2. I knew what that scene needed to be. So we kind of built up to it.

Nrama: The Weeping Woman even has a water-based origin, so it really fit with Kate's guilt about losing her sister in the harbor.

Williams: Exactly. Drowning in emotions represented actual water. And what I also find really cool about the whole idea is, here's a villain who is actually drowned, and is also drowning in her own emotions over her own guilt. So there was this relatability between the two of them for two different reasons. Kate's was by accident, where the guilt of the Weeping Woman, Maria, was properly placed in the fact that she was negligent over watching her children. So yeah, it turned out to be a pretty cool scene.

Nrama: It's very obvious imagery at the end of issue #5 as Kate literally cuts her dad out of the photo, presumably intending to cut him out of her life. But knowing that this is a Bat-family book, families tend to haunt characters. And we've been told in solicitations that the book isn't through with Col. Jacob Kane. How much will he continue to play a role in her life? He obviously played a huge role in her past, but what about coming up?

Williams: One of the things we kind of want to show with him, the same way we showed with Alice, her sister, is that even if there isn't a real physical presence by this person, what they represent still has power and presence in Kate's life that way. So I find it pretty interesting, doing this thing where, like you said, she physically is symbolizing cutting him out of her life by cutting up that photograph. Yet in the very next scene, she's compelled to protect him because of family bonds, you know? She still loves him, and she can't fight that.

So his presence over the course of the series is going to be a very profound one, and he'll play a very significant role that I think will be pretty powerful stuff by the time we get to where we're going with it.

Early on, people said, "Oh, he's obviously her Alfred." And that's the first thing we wanted to get away from, particularly with the lies between the two of them. That's the sort of stuff that takes awhile to come to some sort of resolution. And whether they can actually get past that, only time will tell.

BATWOMAN Tuesday Part 1: J.H. WILLIAMS
BATWOMAN Tuesday Part 1: J.H. WILLIAMS
 

But at the same time, Kate can't deny that she has this inherent child's love for a parent involved, and she's compelled to protect him when an outside threat steps in, with the D.E.O. claiming that they can essentially put him jail. She decides to fall in line with what they want from her until she can figure out some other way to get out from under it. I think it's pretty cool.

We kind of want to show that Jacob always has his presence in her life, even they're not seeing each other, together. You know? Any parent in real life would still have this huge influence over you, no matter the status of the relationship, whether it's stable or unstable.

Another fascinating thing to me about it is, when you compare Kate to Bruce Wayne, you know, Bruce Wayne has lost contact with his parents because of tragedy, where Kate is facing something quite different, but still has this sort of innocence lost. She has this whole idea of this parental loss because of other reasons. I just think it makes for really powerful emotional character-building, and it shows how people's lives can be pretty morphic but yet be iconic at the same time, when you look at the bigger picture of the Bat-mythos, and her story in relation to Bruce's story. There are similarities, and yet there are differences. Hers is very much a choice to excise her parent, where Bruce didn't have that option, you know?

Nrama: Yeah, definitely. Let's talk a little more about the cast. We've been introduced to Maggie, and I know she represents a love interest for Kate, but what else does she represent, and will her role continue as the book goes forward?

Williams: Yeah, Maggie is a mainstay. At first, we had thought about the cast as, sort of, you know, here's the supporting cast. But as we really got into it, we started to look at all these characters, all the way from Jacob to Bette to Maggie, as more of this book being like an ensemble cast. So everyone has a very important role to play and will have a very definitive arc to their character over time, from where we start to where we want to take it.

So yeah, Maggie's definitely in for the long haul, and there's going to be some pretty interesting developments with that, not only for their relationship, but what their relationship means in terms of Kate and Maggie's future, as certain developments become more exposed. It's going to be pretty character-defining and character-changing material.

Nrama: Batwoman was nominated for another GLAAD Award. Congratulations.

Williams: Thanks, and I was so happy to see that.

Nrama: Yet I've noticed that your description of Batwoman, which you often incorporate beautifully into the art, includes that she's a "proud lesbian." I was wondering, will that part of her description ever enter the story beyond just seeing her love interest? Will she encounter that in other ways, similar to the "don't ask, don't tell" issue?

Williams: Yes. Definitely. We're building toward something very specific. I don't want to give away details of it, because we want the emotionality to be very powerful for readers, and hopefully surprising. But yeah, there definitely will be political stances made in terms of the gay community. But it's something we want to build toward in a natural progression so it's not forced into the story. It has to come about because of the story and the circumstances taking place.

But we've got some pretty surprising and interesting things developing that will come out and be pretty metaphorical in terms of what gay people experience in real life in situations.

So yeah, it's definitely going to play out.

We've been asked a lot about the "don't ask, don't tell" thing, now that it's sort of been reversed, but in some ways, it's ground that's already been covered. There's not really much more we can do about it other than acknowledging, like, when Mr. Bones says to her, in issue #5, "here's your opportunity to serve your country again." It kind of harkens back to that.

But we have to go forward with the circumstances the character's in now. If the military came back to her and said, "look, we'll reinstate you and bring you back in" and all that stuff, would she actually do that now that she's experienced this other form of life for herself? There are some interesting questions to explore over time.

Nrama: I've really come to like Flamebird — and I call Bette by that name because I'm never sure whether to say "bet" or "bet-ee."

Williams: Some people say "bet," some people say "bet-ee." [Laughs.]

Nrama: I kind of like "bet-ee." "Bet" sounds like she's going to wager on something.

Williams: [Laughs.] Right.

Nrama: But obviously, at the end of issue #5, she's not in a good place.

Williams: No.

Nrama: Is she out of the book for awhile, or is she still part of this ensemble cast you're assembled?

Williams: She's still going to be part of it, but in probably very frustrating ways, until we get to a certain point. There's going to be lots of scenes involving her in arc two, but like I said, they're going to be frustrating and they'll say a lot about Jacob Kane in the process.

 

We definitely have a very significant direction we're going to take with this character. And I think people will be happy with the end result. At least I hope so.

Nrama: For awhile there, she kind of provided some lightness to the title, so I didn't want to see her go. But it seems like, if you're saying it's frustrating, it might not be that "light" anymore.

Williams: Yeah, um, she's going down a particular path that's going to bring some seriousness to the character. But we don't want to lose the spirit of who she is, either. But she does need to.... be transformed, I guess is the best way to put it.

One of the things we were trying to say with what has happened to the character and how it happened, was here's this character that, in a lot of ways, has never been really treated very well by the superhero community and, quite frankly, other creators. And so we wanted to show how, as a metaphor, how bad she's been treated. But in that process, you kind of have to tear the character down and expose the roots and what makes the character tick. And the only way to do that is to reorganize who she is, in a way. But in turn, by doing so, make her actually have much stronger relevance in the scheme of things over a period of time.

Basically, our goal is to try to turn her into a character that other creators and other stories won't be able to malign her so much anymore.

Nrama: Good. Well, Mr. Bones also provides some lightness, although you know that he's bad news when he shows up. But I love his ties.

Williams: [Laughs.] Yeah! He's the black humor of the book.

Nrama: But I get the feeling we should take him pretty seriously, particularly with Batman pointing out that he could be trouble. Is he going to provide some challenges for Kate in the next few issues?

Williams: Yes and no. In the next arc, his influence is there, but it's more indirect because of certain things that are taking place in the plot involving the D.E.O., which people can take a good guess and ascertain where things are going by the end of the fifth issue. But his role in arc three will be stepped up, and actually become, toward the end of that arc, an even more physical one.

But we have some long-term plans for all that stuff too, that will take time to see to fruition. All this stuff that we're introducing in right now is all stuff that can't be summed up and put forth into the story in simplistic, easily digestible terms. So they have to kind of have their own time to breathe and come out in natural ways, which I think will pay off much more strongly as the book is considered an actual series and not one self-contained story after another.

Nrama: As readers have gotten to know Chase a little bit, it's probably sold quite a few collections of your Chase series, which is a good thing.

Williams: You know, I hope so! I think what they're find pretty fascinating is how much she's changed since then. I kind of always imagined her, you know, she's always been around, even though we haven't seen all of her adventures, and that she's evolved over time since those stories. And has become very "all business" with the D.E.O., which is one of the things I tried to show in her change of attire, versus those older stories. In the older stories, she was way more casual and a little bit frumpy and stuff, and now she's all business and a little bit ruthless. And that's all purposeful in my notions of where the character should be going from where she started.

Nrama: Will we see more of a spotlight on her, and some more exploration of her obvious hatred of meta-humans?

Williams: Yeah, definitely. Again, that will be over time. But we definitely need to go toward a certain point where there's going to be a direct confrontation in terms of Kate and Cameron and their two different ideologies, and what makes Cameron tick.

And that's one thing that people who read the collection will be able to get some insight about, because there's quite a bit in there that shows Cameron's past and what she experienced in her upbringing that made her the way she is.

And I really love this about the character, that here's this character who, for all intents and purposes, thinks and feels like she's doing the good work for the better of all, but there's this underlying driving force in her that is a huge character flaw, that has legitimacy from her point of view, with why she dislikes meta-humans so much.

When you really break it down, it's less to do with people with powers and more the fact they feel that they have to hide themselves behind masks. So for her, it's a lot about the lies.

Nrama: I really like your portrayal of Kate's body type as realistic looking. Even her body language feels real, where even though she's very feminine, she looks like she has a military build to her. Did you take those kind of things into consideration when you were developing her look, or am I reading too much into the way she looks?

Williams: Oh, no, no, all that stuff definitely comes into consideration. You know, so often you see female heroes or villains put into these cheesecake, unrealistic poses that — particularly when they're fighting — they're doing things that just look ridiculous. And to me, it weakens the character.

So I treat Batwoman the same as I would treat Batman or any other action hero, that they're going to move and behave as someone who needs to move or behave appropriately for the circumstances that they're in, you know?

I've always thought that way, in general, for a long time. And it's really great to be able to really utilize that on a character like this. So it's definitely purposeful.

Nrama: This arc had a lot of fluidity to it, because of the villain you were dealing with. What visual approach are we going to see in the next story arc? Can you describe it, even though you're not drawing it?

Williams: I'm not sure. Amy is doing her own thing. There's still a little bit of a water theme in some of the story, and there will be some water theme in the third arc as well. But Amy's approach is definitely unique to her.

But so far, she's been turning in some really interesting stuff. And she's kind of, like, taking the ideas we had presented in Elegy and in this first arc of Batwoman, in terms of how pages can move or be designed, and kind of doing her own spin on some of it.

And it's coming out pretty cool.

It's hard to necessarily pinpoint a particular exact design motif that she's following, because she kind of has her own thing that she's doing herself.

Nrama: Well, I had done an interview with her about a year ago, and she had mentioned then that she feels like she's grown so much as an artist since she used to do even manga stuff. And I remember her saying she likes to push herself and grow as an artist. Are you guys pushing her with this arc?

Williams: In terms of the script? I definitely think we are. We're definitely trying to write scenes and sequences that are challenging, much in the same way I write scenes for myself in the same regard. Just to see where it shakes out. I just think that's important from the writing side, to kind of push the envelope and see what can come out of it.

 

So yeah, I think there's definitely some push there and challenging, instead of just trying to write a scene... well, it's written for her, but not in the way that you would expect. It's not written as if, like, "oh, we'll write the scene this way because she draws this way." You know what I mean? We write it knowing that she's the one to handle it, if that makes any sense.

I think that's the best way to approach any comic. The story needs to be what the story's going to be, but at the same time, be aware of the people working on it too.

Nrama: You mentioned that it's got a water motif, and maybe I should have known that by the title, "To Drown the World." What can you tell us about the next arc? It's a spy-theme story? Right?

Williams: Yeah. This is going to be the story arc that may challenge people's patience. The story title is not a description of an actual event that they can expect. There's more of an attitude of the players involved, particularly the villains.

And we wanted something that had kind of a James Bond sort of title. So, you know, just like a lot of those films, the titles aren't literal, but are more of an attitude? That's kind of where we got "To Drown the World."

But I've read several comics over the years that had a James Bond-style plot, and it kind of moves dryly, because it doesn't work the same as it would, say, watching a James Bond film or a spy movie, because it's a comic, and it's broken up into segments that come out serialized monthly. So it doesn't move quite the same.

So one of the things that we did to make it kind of spicy, instead of saving all the big bang stuff for the last couple chapters, is we reorganized time. So the story, even though it's a James Bond plot, is all sort of through, I don't know, the same sort of storytelling techniques you might Quentin Tarrantino do for one of his films, where he breaks up time and things kind of circle back around.

Each issue starts and ends in the present day, but then there's all this material in between those end caps that starts and stops in different places in time. And each one, each segment, follows a different character from a different point in time. And as the arc moves forward, their story progresses forward in time. And by the last chapter, everyone will be caught up to the present day.

Nrama: That had to be challenging for you as a writer!

Williams: Yeah, it was extremely challenging. Haden and I are kind of nervous about people's reactions to it, because again, it's one of those things that, you know, it might drive some people nuts, because they're not going to get everything that they want out of every chapter. It's something that requires patience.

But by the time they get to the end, everything syncs up.

What's fun about it is that we're able to show some things, since they're shown out of order, you know, you might see something where you're like, "oh, what is that?" And then it plays out either later in the issue or in a different issue. And you'll say, "oh, that's what that was!" Because you've moved in and out of time in a different way.

Say, as an example, Maggie's story in the first chapter might, just as an example, say, "Maggie's story six weeks ago," or something like that. But then the next segment might be Jacob's story, and it'll say, "four weeks ago." So each character's starting at a different point in the past that have all these connecting threads to what's going on, to the bigger picture.

And then it's all balanced out with the Batwoman scenes taking place in the "now," at the beginning and end of each issue. And that's kind of like each issue getting one piece of the big finale.

It's pretty daunting!

Nrama: You've got quite a few villains involved in the next few issues.

Williams: Yeah. These are all players. There are a lot of details, as we open the second arc, that start to make the different parts of the first arc have some cohesion and make some more literal sense, in terms of some of the details that we've introduced in the first arc, such as who is responsible for the Weeping Woman? Who is responsible for the Tong warriors that are war with the werebeast cult? You know, that kind of stuff.

So we slowly move from the first arc being slightly more personal and about being haunted by emotions and events of the past to the second arc being more complicated and interweaving stories that go beyond what was personal. It goes bigger than that.

And then the third arc is the culmination of all of it. So that's the most accessible superhero story out of the first three stories, where everything comes to a head and it builds to this big, giant, epic thing.

Nrama: With these new villains, are you also trying to round out her rogues’ gallery?

Williams: Yeah, yeah. One of the things we're having fun with, like in issue #4, what happened to Bette with her attacker, that's actually the first introduction to the Hook, but we don't know a damned thing about him until arc two. That's when we start to learn who he is, where he came from and why.

 

And the connecting piece to some of the things we're seeing is this new Maro character. And his connections to someone named Falchion.

Nrama: Then you're drawing the third arc. Are you working on that now?

Williams: Yeah, yeah. I'm about halfway through issue #12.

Nrama: You're so far ahead!

Williams: Yeah, but there was really no other way that we could have done it.

Nrama: Last time we talked, you said the first arc was horror themed and the second arc was more of a spy theme. Then you have a fantasy epic for the third arc, and a family drama for the fourth?

Williams: Yeah. The family drama thing for arc four was kind of a loose idea. It's got a couple different things we could say about arc four. It depends on how we want certain pieces to play out. We've been discussing stuff beyond arc three quite significantly, and there are a lot of different things we want to tackle. But there are some questions we have for editorial about another idea to be part of arc four, that has to do with direct event connections to what is happening. We'll be unfolding over the next couple arcs whether we want to go in this direction or not.

But Haden and I, we've been talking about ideas about the personal relationships between Kate and all of the cast and everyone else, and where everyone else's stories are headed. On that part alone, we have story content that could take us well into the third year or more. What the villains would be is hard to say, but we're almost thinking that the villains beyond arc three might be more simplified as the personal inter-relational stuff becomes way more complex. But we'll see how it all shakes out as we talk about it. It's pretty loose right now. We're pretty far away from that.

The way arc three is going to end, there's just going to be some pretty heavy-duty stuff that happens at the end of arc three that will carry over into the following arcs. And all the family stuff starts to come to a head. And some pretty intense stuff happens.

We'll have to figure out how all that stuff is going to fit and move properly.

So even though the first three arcs are very much a trilogy in terms of the plot progression with all the villains and typically superhero schemes of stories, all the subplot stuff becomes way more integral after this, and there will definitely be some unresolved issues that will carry through well beyond arc three.

Nrama: To finish up, I was just going to ask what people can expect in 2012 from Batwoman, but I think you just answered that.

Williams: Yeah, it's pretty exciting stuff. I mean, every time I start talking about story with Haden, we just get excited. There are so many possibilities for where we can take things. And I think that's what so exciting about working on Batwoman is that even though we now have two complete arcs, essentially, when you count Elegy and the Weeping Woman storyline we just did, there's still so much more to explore and so many things that can happen with this character. Everything about her still has a lot of exploration left to be done. It's way different from working on something like Batman, because those are so long established, you know?

The most fun about it for me and Haden is because Kate Kane and Batwoman are really unexplored in a lot of ways, there's really no status quo that we have to uphold for the series. We can take these characters in any direction we want. And hopefully, by the time we're done with everything we've set out to do, you can go back and look at the beginning and see, wow, these characters have really come a long way and changed a lot over time, giving you a worthwhile reading experience.

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