When writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly were asked to write a new story that made DC superheroines into rebellious bikers, it was challenging to find a way that kept them true to their heroic identities.
But Gotham City Garage does just that, weaving the bike-riding rebels into a plot that has them fighting tyranny and fascism, meaning their revolutionary actions are actually still heroic.
With this week's release of the Gotham City Garage collection, readers have a chance to visit an alternate universe where the women of the DCU are kicking butt in an almost post-apocalyptic Gotham City ruled by Lex Luthor.
Featuring bike-riding versions of characters like Supergirl, Big Barda, Hawkgirl, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn, Gotham City Garage features artwork and covers by a mix of artists, from Brian Ching, who kicks off the book's interiors, to Guillem March, Lynne Yoshi, Rafael Grampá and Carmen Carnero.
Newsarama talked to Lanzing and Kelly to find out more about the alternate world they created, how the challenge led them to a group that's fighting fascism, and whether readers will see the co-writers on another DC book.
Newsarama: Collin, Jackson... in Gotham City Garage, you found a way to turn these heroic women into rebels. But somehow, you did it in a way that seems to keep them on the side of good. How'd that come about?
Jackson Lanzing: Right. The challenge of Gotham City Garage, when we first came on the book, was that consumer products had already put together these statues, these great takes on certain DC super heroines as members of a biker gang.
There wasn't a narrative defined, so we had to try to make sense of how you take the tropes of biker gang stories, or rebel or outlaw stories, and apply those to these characters who are normally tasked with holding up the status quo, not tearing it down.
That was really exciting to us, because in our creator-owned fiction like Hacktivist and Joyride) - those are all about taking power structures and challenging them and tearing them down and building something else in their place.
So we're always interested in talking about revolution as a complicated thing that doesn't necessarily have straight-forward heroes and villains.
We thought this was a great opportunity to take all our favorite DC characters, characters we grew up loving, and change their perspective a little bit. It was an exciting opportunity.
Nrama: The "garage" part is linked to the way the statues looked, but you found a way to incorporate an actual rebel garage into the story. This is all about these women uniting to take down a tyrannical overlord, right?
Collin Kelly: Yes, our story takes place in an alternate reality of the DCU, a different timeline. Something happened, a cataclysm, affected our heroes a number of years ago in a way that wiped out the traditional DCU as we know it.
From there, things have been fundamentally changed, as the seas dried up and the sky changed color, that the remaining heroes (often the sidekicks or partners of the heroes who were destroyed) had to rise up.
And since they were shoved out of the cities and forced to become outlaws, it necessitated their growth and creation of becoming more mobile, and... well, frankly, outlaws, as they had to turn against the power structures, which was all that remained of that conquering, evil force, which we learn pretty early on has a focal point in Lex Luthor, who's turned the last remaining city, Gotham, into his own utopia called the Garden.
The Garden is this absolutely fascist, totalitarian state that is also basically the last bastion of humanity on Earth.
Lanzing: Every DC hero has a city to protect, right? Every DC hero's got a status quo to maintain.
But for once, we flip that on its head and say, OK, the city is controlled by the villain. The people have been run down and controlled through technology and social media. All these things have kept people locked into their way of thinking. And only by getting outside of that, only by becoming free of that, can our heroes rise up and make some kind of positive change.
So it flips the script on a normal superhero relationship with both the city and the people they protect, which obviously presents all kinds of wrinkles as our characters have to balance what it means to be a hero versus what it means to be a rebel or a revolutionary, or even in some cases, a terrorist.
Nrama: Now that you've finished the series and the collection is being released, even though I'm sure you mapped it out in the beginning, were there some surprises along the way for you two as writers?
Lanzing: Oh, a thousand percent. Yeah. We initially plotted out a great deal of this book. We initially plotted out a great deal of this book just based on what all of the incredible ideas that we could engage with once we found the premise.
Ideally, every issue of Gotham City Garage, every 20 pages or so, is its own lens on one of these characters.
While our story is about Kara, or as people in the DC Universe know her, Kara Zor-El, although she's Kara Gordon in our world, she's only our perspective character for the first issue, for the fifth and sixth issue, and one issue in the back end as well.
Ultimately, what we wanted to do was pivot our relationship around each character and let each character take over the book for 20 pages or so so that we could see their unique relationship.
I think digging into those issues, I don't think there was a single issue where we didn't find ourselves a little bit surprised by these characters.
Kelly: I think the cool thing also was in the format. This was the first time that we've written for a digital-first series, so the layout changes a little bit and the pacing changes a little bit.
We like to write stories that move fast, and Joyride is a perfect example. But we were both shocked by the sheer amount of story we could tell through this format and the breakneck speed we could move, which really serviced the mentality and themes of the book.
It's a book about moving fast and staying mobile, and about never staying in one place very long. And that was expressed through the writing in a way that was really satisfying and beautiful to put together.
Nrama: Brian Ching kicks off the book and establishes the world, and although there's an obvious concentration on female characters for this world, I don't think people would normally think of them specifically for his work on female characters. Yet he really establishes this post-apocalyptic feel that is carried into the rest of the book. What did you think he brought to the book, and what were the contributions of other artists?
Lanzing: Yeah, Brian's got that sketchy, dystopic feel down, but he can also land moments of emotion, of pathos. I think in issue #1, when Kara first sees the truth of the Garden and realizes that she needs to get out of there and find something better, that whole sequence is really scary and dangerous, but it's also the first time that Kara engages with her superpowers. It's the first time we see Supergirl establish herself in this version of the world. So it ends up feeling joyous.
There's a page there in, I guess, page 9 or 10 in the book where Kara flies for the first time, and the joy and beauty of that moment was really beautifully captured by Brian.
But Brian is one of many artists on Gotham City Garage. The story was designed specifically so that every issue could pivot to a new artist who could bring a new feel.
As you pointed out, there are a lot of female characters, as the book is rooted around feminism and traditional male patriarchy and those kinds of systems and a more rebellious, free-form way of thinking. We wanted to make sure we were stacking the book with as many excellent female artists as we could possibly work with. We can't do anything about the fact that we are two white dudes, but we can definitely try to engage with other perspectives as we move through the book.
From our incredible covers artists like Tula Lotay to incredible interior artists like Carmen Carnero, we really tried to make sure the book had different kinds of people working on it and that respect was being brought to it.
Kelly: Yeah, every one of these artists that we worked with brought a new flavor and a new energy to the book and showcased different aspects of the characters involved in ways that were completely unexpected and beautiful to watch.
But I will say that one of the things that Brain brought to the page was kineticism. It think the great thing about what he does is everything seems like it's about the take off running, which was so important to how the book starts.
Nrama: After the release of this collection, do you guys have any other work coming up at DC? Or more Gotham City Garage?
Lanzing: This is the last Garage publication, for now…
Kelly: It exists within the DC Multiverse, as one of its many alternate worlds. So who knows what some intrepid creator may decide to pull from.
Lanzing: That said, we would love to return to that world and see what waits on the other side of the revolution.
But we are also spinning up some new stuff at DC that we cannot talk about yet. Big secret secrets. But trust that whatever it is, it's going to be very much in the same kind of vein as the work we've done before, looking at telling as close to rebel fiction as we can mange with characters that are defined by upholding the status quo.