John Romita Jr. is hoping the depiction of Honor Guest — the lead character in next week's debut of DC's new title, The Silencer — is markedly "un-PC."
Working with writer Dan Abnett, Romita helped develop the character and wanted to make sure she didn't just fulfill some "diversity and PC gaps." He wanted to make her real, turn expectations on their head and do "nothing that was clichéd."
As a result, the character is a bad-ass, but she has decided to be a stay-at-home mom and wife. And although she's of Polynesian descent, she lives with her Hispanic husband in an American household that Romita modeled on his own house as a child.
The series is part of the "New Age of DC Heroes" titles being released by DC over the next few months, uniting some of the top talents at DC to introduce new teams, concepts and heroes into the "Rebirth" line-up.
After developing the character with Abnett, Romita drew the interiors for the first three issues of The Silencer. Newsarama talked to him about the character, how he drew her for the series, and what else readers can expect from The Silencer.
Newsarama: John, were you involved in the original development these "New Age of DC Heroes" series? DC has emphasized that artists were part of the planning process.
John Romita Jr.: I was asked to join a group last Valentine's Day — a couple of days wrapped around it, a two-day total — where we would be kicking around new ideas.
They asked us in advance to bring some new ideas to the table.
So we got together, we tried everything — people were throwing stuff across the room and it was bouncing off walls and in and out of ears. They were great ideas, but they were mishmosh.
And then Dan Abnett, brilliantly, said let me try it from the back end. Let me throw names at you that I have accumulated over the course of time.
He threw out a whole bunch of interesting names and one of them was Silencer.
I heard the name and I immediately piped up — in my modest and quiet fashion that I always talk — and I said, "I love that name! That's a fantastic name!"
He said, "I can see this as a female Punisher." And the two of us began to speak across the room. And then we got together at dinner and we talked about it some more.
So Dan's idea was "The Silencer," the name. And then we bounced it back and forth with editors and the process worked so well. It developed unbelievably.
I don't know if it was a unique process compared to the other new titles, but this process worked so nicely and I really enjoyed it.
Nrama: Did you have a goal as you developed the character of Honor Guest?
Romita: We didn't want to do anything that was clichéd, which is a great attempt normally, but it's almost impossible to do because, my god, one hundred years of comics, there's probably going to be some derivative stuff.
But we tried something new.
Nrama: And she's someone who doesn't want to be this assassin anymore, right? She's left that life behind when we meet her in Silencer #1.
Romita: The good thing is, she didn't say, "I'm burnt out! I'm done! I'm running away!" That's been done a million times before with assassins.
This was, "OK, I finished my job. I'm going to go be a housewife and a mother."
That's the difference.
I liked it better that way than the standard fare of, "I'm done because I'm burnt out and running away," and then they're dragged back in.
This time it was more like, "timed out; I just went my own way and everything was fine."
But then one day, she gets attacked in a Wal-Mart parking lot by some gigantic cyborg.
Once you buy this premise, which is different than the norm, then we start picking up on small subtleties that are different from the norm again.
There are little personality quirks about the character, which I love. When she gets attacked out of nowhere when she's shopping — normal, everyday shopping with the kid and she gets attacked — her hair gets pulled in the course of killing this cyborg. And — I love this — she gets pissed off and buzzes her hair. It really bothers here that her hair got pulled. Can't have that happen anymore. If that happens again, she doesn't want her hair to get pulled, so she buzzes her hair.
I love that. That is such a great trait of this character.
She's not a super heroine. She's not super-powered. But she is special.
And as much as I could, I tried to invoke a few things that are slightly different.
She's not a white person. She's not an African-American. She's a person of color from the South Pacific, of Polynesian descent. I adore Tahiti — I went there on many vacations — so I threw in the tattoos and I threw in the look. Anything to be different. And I was scrambling to do different stuff, and the editors and Dan liked the idea.
We didn't do the standard fare and fill all the diversity and PC gaps. We just tried to do something slightly different.
And I think that's the attempt throughout my issues — my books — is to try something different, even minor things.
Nrama: I have to admit here, I love that she's a mom and chose to back away from her career to raise a child, and to put value on her marriage. That's something you don't see a lot in comic books.
Nrama: We've had mothers in superhero comics before, although it's rare, but this one just wants to be a stay-at-home mom and do that job well.
Romita: Yeah! I likened it to somebody from, maybe, a Navy Seal who comes back from being a Navy Seal and says, OK, I'm done. I'm going to be a mother. Or I'm going to be a father. Or I'm going to be a school teacher. I've had enough. I've done my duty. No matter how deadly it was; no matter how difficult it was — black ops, doing the right thing and protecting the country — I'm just going to retire and become a normal person again.
We don't talk about what she did before, although there are some hints when she's talking to Talia Al Ghul.
Nrama: Which places this comic right into the DCU.
Romita: Right, right. It's a great link to the DC Universe, even though this is a brand new character.
But the thought is that this woman is strong after what she's been through, and she becomes a mother and a wife. She's a bad-ass, but now she wants to concentrate on her family.
I admire that for the idea, because that's how you empower people — that's how you empower a female character — is doing the thing that people think is not strong. Well, wait a minute! What's wrong with being a mother and a wife? What's wrong with being a father and a husband?
So doing things converse to PC, I find fascinating.
As a matter of fact, I want to be the most un-PC person in all of comics. Let's piss everybody off.
Nrama: And you're introducing the character, doing the first three issues, right?
Romita: Yes, my first three issues are finished. And I'm just thrilled with the character.
I'm not going to be doing issues beyond #3 at the present time. I would love to have stayed on it and explored more, but I have a couple more things to do first before I come back. I'll get back to it at some point in the future.
And Dan Abnett is brilliant to work with. His mind works in mysterious ways — let's just put it that way.
Nrama: We haven't talked about the art on this series. Is there anything in particular that you're doing for this series?
Romita: Not in a concerted effort to change my style. I tried to stick to as realistic imagery as possible.
I actually used the inside of my parents' home — my childhood home — I used as the Silencer's home-life interiors, even down to putting the child on the countertop that I sat on a million times as a kid. Everything!
The husband is Hispanic. The child is dark-haired, mixed-race.
I used everything from my memory. The neighborhood I was in, the house that I grew up in.
But the effort to be different style-wise? I tried so many different ways, working on different titles, and I didn't want to do that as much as I wanted this to look realistic with a certain amount of fantasy added to it.
Nrama: You've certainly drawn female characters before who are involved in action scenes. But is there anything in particular about this character that you added visually?
Romita: Yeah, and I get a kick out of this. I vacationed in the South Pacific a few times. I think it's the most beautiful spot on the planet. And I've found the Polynesian people to be the sweetest human beings in existence.
My wife and I have been there many, many times, including our honeymoon and our 20th anniversary of our wedding. We just loved it there. I love the people. The women are beautiful. The men are just impressive, powerful. Their culture.
So I looked at some of the tattoos because everybody seems to have a tattoo. And I looked at a warrior tattoo after I came home, because a couple of the guys down there wanted me to get an honorary tattoo — I'm sure they went through that with all the tourists that they meet. "Be part of the culture! Get a tattoo!" My wife said, no, you won't.
But I looked at designs and found a warrior tattoo, and I used that on her back, and I used it on her shoulder, although it's just a hint. At some point, when you see her back and her shoulders free of clothes and so on, you'll see the full tattoos.
It's the beautiful graphic image of a turtle — the warrior image from the Polynesians. And I just thought it was perfect for her.
And being that she's of Polynesian descent, I just thought it was a natural.
Those kinds of things are important to me. I don't know how many character of South Pacific descent are in comics, but I'd like to think she's the first one.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything we haven't talked about, or anything you want to tell readers about checking out this book?
Romita: I want them to check it out because we've made a concerted effort to come up with a down-to-earth sort of superhero, as opposed to something cosmic.
I tend to gravitate toward those type of characters. I like it because you can add your own reality to it. And there's enough fantasy in the character that hasn't been explored in the first three issues. It will be, though.
And leave it to Dan Abnett to make this an absolutely superb character. I'm proud of it. I'm really proud of it. She's a great comics character. And there's no limit to the character.