Last week saw the arrival of a new batch of Annuals from DC Comics, and it also saw the debut of a few new writers, as well. Among the new faces gracing the pages of the extra-sized stories was Marguerite Bennett, who co-plotted and scripted the story for “Batman Annual” #2 with series architect Scott Snyder and artist Wes Craig.
A former student of the “Batman” and “American Vampire” scribe, Bennett turned in an Arkham Asylum-focused story of haunted pasts that included some connective tissue to the current “Zero Year” event while standing on its own feet. The gig led the newly minted writer to other DC-based jobs, including September’s Villains Month tie-in “Justice League #23.2: Lobo” with artist Ben Oliver.
With her name and work in front of fans for the first time, CBR News spoke to Bennett, and the writer explained her personal comic book secret origin, how she and Snyder split the task of writing “Batman Annual” #2 between hero and villain, what her plan is for making Lobo one tough bastich and more.
CBR News: I feel like I should give this group a name, but aren’t you another of Scott Snyder’s teaching discoveries like James Tynion IV?
Marguerite Bennett: Yes, I am of House Snyder. [Laughs] I met him through Sarah Lawrence College getting my MFA in the two-year program. It was my second semester, and Scott offered this graphic novel writing class. At that point, I’d been working in prose and with horror stories and children’s literature. I’d loved comic books, but it was that thing where, on and off during my academic career, I couldn’t afford comics. This was a lovely reason to get back involved, and I was really excited that he was teaching the class. I was able to learn a lot and bring a story I really cared about to the table, and Scott seemed to respond really well to it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
So what’s your background as a comics reader? As a horror and kidlit person, did you have a lot of superhero experience, or did you need to take a crash course in DC history when you started writing for them?
Actually, my first exposure to superheroes was the “Batman: The Animated Series” show, which I would watch after school. I completely fell in love with Batman through that, but then a lot of the comics in the early to mid ’90s were not the kind of thing you’d want a seven-year-old reading. [Laughs] So for a long time, I just got this stuff through the cartoons and video games. But I also started reading comics that were castoffs from older cousins and my brother’s friends, and eventually I got old enough to walk down to the comic shop myself and I got really into it.
Over the years, I was forced to abandon it due to time constraints and other factors, so there were a few gaps in my continuity knowledge, which is embarrassing. It’s like not knowing U.S. history at this point. But it’s been a lot of fun catching up, and while I’d gotten a lot of the iconic stories over the years, I got to read up on the more recent ones. So I feel fairly confident at this point with about 75 years of continuity.
So what led to this Annual that just hit? Last year, we got a Mr. Freeze origin in the Annual by Scott and James, but it seems like you approached this story as more of an evergreen, even though it had some connection to “Zero Year.”
Yeah. I think you should be able to read the Annual and get a complete, finite story without knowing what’s going on in “Zero Year.” I also does call back to that time, but the present action is very accessible.
How did your and Scott’s collaboration work?
Oh, I was just walking along on the Sarah Lawrence campus, and Scott zoomed up on his Batmobile and said, “Marguerite! Come with me if you want to write!” [Laughter] He really gave me a lot of freedom and was so supportive in letting me tell this weird, dark story. Horror stories have always been a thing that fascinated and moved me. I love a story that really unnerves me when I reach the end. And Scott allowed me the freedom to develop a large part of the Annual.
Really, he was the hero and I was the villain in this. When it comes to Bruce Wayne and Batman, Scott knows so much. So I supplied the voice of our villain as he provided the voice of Batman. I came in with a concept that I wanted to tell a story rather heavily from the villain’s perspective, and he was totally on board with that.
There are so many parts to the Batman mythos. Did you focus in on any one element of the character as you were prepping this, or was it more about bringing your sensibilities to his world in general?
I love the argument of whether Batman made Gotham better or worse. That was really the crucial argument that I latched onto. Some of the dynamic I wanted to explore was the idea of Batman fighting the corruption of Gotham but also contributing to it. It’s definitely a dark story in a lot of ways because of my experience in horror writing and the villain focus. So I hope that’s unique enough to differentiate it while also meeting the expectation people have for what a Batman story should be.
You’ve also got more DC work coming up, including a “Lobo” one-shot as part of DC’s Villains Month. That seems like a completely different kind of thing than a dark Batman story. What did you say when Editorial brought this assignment your way?
I was actually delighted. Again, with my horror background, I’ve always sympathized with the villains. I’ve not sympathized in a way that excuses their behavior but in a way where I can really understand their motivation better. So this is giving me my own playground, and Editorial told me to have fun and scare them. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do with this character who’s so vicious and so wild. I really hope that people enjoy it.
We’ve seen some of Lobo in the New 52, and when he first showed up, he was more in line with his earliest appearances as a rugged space alien. But it appears you’re pushing him further into that classic biker mode most people associate him with. Where did you draw your inspiration from, and what was your goal with where you could take Lobo?
My goal for him was to make him less comically hyper-masculine and more focused. He’s still vicious, still savage and still entirely immoral, but I wanted a gravity out of the character. When he showed up, I didn’t want him walking away form explosions and smoking a cigar. When he shows up, I want people to feel like, “This is it. This is the end.” I’ve really been enjoying the task of writing a character where you can abandon any sort of moral spectrum or any appreciation for the consequences and feelings of others.
A lot of people — and maybe those who were focusing a little bit on my gender — were worried that I was going to soften the character somehow. At least that’s what people were saying to me on Twitter. But I want a fierce, vicious, bloody Lobo, and I want him scary. That’s what it all comes down to. I would like him to be truly dark and frightening. The kind of guy you take very, very seriously.
Though he’s appeared all over the DCU, I don’t associate Lobo with any one hero or foil. If you’re doing a “Killer Croc” one-shot, Batman has to play into it somehow. Maybe that’s not so true here. Are you pulling in any other elements of the DCU in your story?
I’m not sure what I should say! [Laughs] The character will have more freedom, I can say that. This won’t be one of those that is strictly tied to something else. They gave me a lot of freedom with what I wanted to do with the character. It’s a different take.
How has it been getting used to the collaboration element of comics writing. You’ve got Wes Craig on the Annual, who comes from the kind of Cully Hamner vein, and Ben Oliver on “Lobo,” who has a very distinctive, stylized quality to his line. What’s the experience like crafting something for them to draw?
I love both of my artists, and I’m really excited to be working with both of them. I really feel like the form follows the function of the story. With Wes, the story we’re telling is so tight and claustrophobic. It came down over and over again to the concept of the cage and what cages will do to you — is it the sanctuary that keeps you safe or the prison that drives you mad? Wes has this lovely, tight, detailed style that’s been so effective.
With “Lobo” and the level of darkness and gravity I’m looking to bring to the character, Ben’s art and how photorealistic his drawings are helps on that level where it’s not exactly gruesome, but it just sells the impact to the reader. I want them to believe that a person like this exists. So both the artists were very well matched for the story. And I tried to tailor the scripts to them without giving so much detail that I was being directorial. I want them to have a good time and enjoy drawing it, so I tried to go into this all with a major aim being collaboration.
“Batman Annual” #2 is on sale now from DC Comics. “Justice League #23.2: Lobo” ships September 11.