Death, Honor, & Soultaking Swords: History of JLA's KATANA

Even writer Geoff Johns admits that one of the goals in his new Justice League of America comic is to develop little-known characters.

"Something I've always loved doing — and I've really believed in doing — is taking characters and unlocking their potential," Johns told Newsarama of his plans for for the title.


But for readers who might be interested in a comic about a little-known character like Katana, it might help to have a primer. Who are these characters? And where did they come from?

In the first of a series of stories we're doing about characters in the JLA, Newsarama first focuses on Katana. And DC Comics has provided us with art by Alex Sanchez from Katana #1, the new ongoing comic by writer Ann Nocenti that launches on Feb. 13th, just a week after JLA #1.

We talked to Nocenti in detail about the character, as well as Johns and Finch, to get the story behind this character and her role in the DCU of the New 52.

The Basics

Katana's real name is Tatsu Yamashiro, and she's a skilled swordswoman and martial artist from Japan. She carries a powerful sword called the Soultaker, and beginning in Katana #1, she resides in Japantown in San Francisco.

Katana's husband was murdered by his brother and the Yakuza only a little over a year ago in the character's time, and she's been tearing apart those who were responsible ever since. She is driven by vengeance, but as Katana #1 and JLA begin, she will have other aspects of her mission and personality developed. Plus, writer Ann Nocenti said she'll start to lighten up thanks to a new supporting cast in her solo comic.

"What I'm going to do is surround her with people who have a sense of humor, that are going to start to pull something a little lighter out of her," Nocenti told Newsarama earlier this month. "Katana is a samurai comic, a swordsman comic, with a rich history to explore, along with all the action. So that makes it a special comic. But also, she's so grim and serious that my approach is going to be, can I find a point in her that is more fun? And that will bring another element to the book.

"When somebody wants vengeance, the grimness and the fury of her wanting vengeance — that's when you make mistakes," Nocenti said. "So I want her to evolve a little bit as a person before she loses control. "

While she hasn't historically been associated with the JLA, she has plenty of team experience. Before the New 52 began, she was a member of the Outsiders team, then joined the Birds of Prey post relaunch.

Character Quirks


Katana's first New 52 appearance in Birds of Prey #2 began by highlighting one of the character's most distinct habits: When she is finished with a fight, blood and bodies are all that is left.

But that fighting trait is part of the reason Katana is on the JLA team, Johns said. "Catwoman can get anywhere and get out before anyone knows it," the writer said. "That's not something Katana does often. She leaves a string of bodies wherever she goes. But sometimes you want to leave a string of bodies where you go to prove a point. At least, according to Amanda Waller."

Another distinct quirk of Katana? She talks to her dead husband, whose soul allegedly lives in the sword she carries. In fact, she said that it was him who advised her to join the Birds team.

As a result, the Birds of Prey team believed she might be a bit unbalanced.

"The girls would giggle behind her back about, 'Oh, Katana's talking to her dead husband in her sword again.' You know?" Nocenti said. "And you don't know, is this just an effect of grieving? Or is her husband in the sword? And does the sword have real powers?"

The Soultaker


For a lot of comic book fans, the word "katana" may be better known as the type of sword carried by Michonne in The Walking Dead. But that zombie-killing sword has nothing on the sword readers will see in Justice League of America and Katana.

"That soul sword of hers is extremely powerful," Johns said. "It can cut through anything. And it’s said to imprison any soul it takes within it."

In Katana, readers will also find out there's a rich history behind the sword, and it's no accident that Tatsu is able to wield it. "It's got powers, but very, very few people can pick it up and use it," Nocenti said. "Even really experienced swordsmen can't control the Soultaker. So it's a special sword. And we'll learn more about that."

Nocenti said the first arc in Katana is going to be "kind of a triple arc. It's new villains that she's going to be fighting from the various clans, the special guest star villains that are going to be very surprising and a lot of fun, and her learning how to control the sword."

The Visual


Artist David Finch, who is drawing the character in Justice League of America, told Newsarama he loves drawing Katana.

"She's a physical character, which for me is a lot of fun," he said. "I love characters who use a sword. And she's the type of character who — it's a chance for me to research traditional poses for her swordplay. That kind of stuff is fun.

"She also is a character who has a really good costume," he said. "It flows really well with her body. So she's been a lot of fun for me to play around with visually."

In her solo Katana title, the character's Japanese heritage will also be highlighted visually through the landscapes of the setting in Japantown.

"It's a Japantown that doesn't really exist. There was a Japantown in San Francisco, but after the internment camps that locked up all the Japanese, Japantown shrunk down to just a couple tourist blocks," Nocenti said. "So what we're doing is we're imagining a Japantown that has a couple alleyways that seem to go way back in time.

"Alex [Sanchez, artist on Katana,] is doing this fabulous job of making you feel like you're in ancient times and you're in modern times," the writer said. "Since what she's doing is ancient — we don't see people walking around with katanas strapped on their backs anymore — what we wanted to do artistically is embrace, like, a thousand years of time in each page.

"What I'm hoping to create is this modern book that also feels like it's in this ancient clan culture, like Japanese samurai movies. And I hope to make it unique and fun while also having a depth to the story and history."

Check back with Newsarama during the next few weeks until the launch of Justice League of America on Feb. 6th for more character profiles from the JLA team.

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