Veteran comic book creator Ann Nocenti has a long history writing and editing for Marvel, but with her recent work at DC Comics, she has delivered memorable storylines for two of the publisher’s premier female characters.
Nocenti writes the monthly adventures of “Catwoman” and “Katana” — both members of Geoff Johns’ current “Justice League of America” roster — and the leading ladies also have ties to the one-shots she wrote for DC’s line-wide Villains Month event.
The Creeper, the Steve Ditko creation showcased in her “Justice League Dark” Villains Month one-shot, is currently creeping out Katana in her solo series, while the Joker’s Daughter, starring in next week’s “Batman: The Dark Knight” #23.4, faces off — figuratively, if not literally — against Selina Kyle in October’s “Catwoman” #24.
CBR News connected with Nocenti to discuss what it takes to channel evil when writing a villain’s journey and why characters like the Joker’s Daughter and The Creeper — even at their worst — have a human side, making them relatable for readers.
CBR News: I’m not sure this has been confirmed just yet — or if you able to do so now — but is Duela Dent the featured character in “Batman: Dark Knight” #23.4: “the Joker’s Daughter?”
Ann Nocenti: I can’t say too much about her yet, but [artist] Georges Jeanty created a stunning world for her. I had a lot of fun figuring out the mechanics of the Nethers, a town flooded to build Gotham Reservoir. Who lives down there? What kind of people would such an underwater world attract? And I can barely look at Jason Fabok’s cover, it is so gorgeously terrifying.
Reports indicate that reorders on her Villains Month issue, in particular, are through the roof. What is it about a female Joker that you think has readers — and retailers — so cranked up?
Well, first off, much of the credit goes to Scott Snyder. He created an amazing storyline, along with all the other Batman writers and artists, that left one shred hanging, so to speak. So I feel honored to be handed “The Face,” as I tend to refer to it. The power of The Face is profound. It’s a visceral power. It’s got a cackling, twisted power. It’s a dark trickster. But what is it? That’s what we explore. The fact that we live in an age that celebrates youth and beauty, what if someone twisted that notion? What if Ugly were the new Beautiful? That is the essence, at least in this first story, of the Joker’s Daughter.
You had me at “this first story!” She’s appearing in “Batman: Dark Knight,” a book you don’t write — at least currently. Do you have plans for Joker’s Daughter in “Katana” or Catwoman?”
Yes! The Joker’s Daughter is in “Catwoman” #24. These two women are pitted against each other in a battle for Gotham Underground — and over something else. It’s a triangle, but the third player in this triangle is not who you would expect.
I don’t know you personally, but from what I’ve read and heard, you seem quite lovely. How do you channel a madwoman like Joker’s Daughter and find her voice?
Ha! Why, thank you. For the Joker’s Daughter, I channeled my teenage years. Many teenagers sit in confines of their parental homes and dream of another world. They feel trapped, I know I did. So I hid in books, was basically a nerdy, happy kid, but yearned for the larger world. That kind of ache, combined with the power fantasies of getting out and finding yourself, were much of what I thought of with Joker’s Daughter. So, not a madwoman so much as that other kind of madness: being a normal teenager. With an edge.
It’s a one-shot, so no doubt you want to keep your Joker card close to your chest, but what can you tell us about her Villains Month issue?
I think it’s about getting to something elemental. For Joker’s Daughter, it was starting with the confusion — and sometimes horror — of being a teenager in the face of the cult of beauty, and working past that into empowerment.
For The Creeper, it was about finding a fundamental chaos, an arbitrary force of anarchy, both in ancient Japanese myth, and in nature, with the idea of a tornado. Twisters spring up, destroy randomly, and vanish. That’s the totem I kept in my mind for The Creeper.
I love what you’ve been doing with “Catwoman” and “Katana,” and was especially thrilled when The Creeper crept into Katana’s story. Was it your idea to feature him in your story, or was he recommended by DC editorial?
When we decided to have Killer Croc shatter Katana’s Soultaker, we started to talk about just who exactly is in her sword. We knew she talked to her dead husband. We always wondered, are there really souls in the sword, or is Katana crazy? So we busted open the sword to find out.
The Creeper is a fabulous villain, and fits the dark, gothic nature of Katana’s world, so when DC editorial asked if I wanted to put him in the Soultaker sword, I loved the idea. I worked with Dan, who had just killed Jack Ryder in Phantom Stranger, to develop The Creeper storyline that climaxed in “The Creeper” one-shot. We had to act fast, and quickly to dig up Jack Ryder’s grave! Dan came up with the idea that the blustery egomaniac Jack Ryder wouldn’t skip a beat, finding himself dead. He launched a reality show called “Life After Death.” The Creeper also has an intense hate for Katana for trapping him in her sword, but he has an even bigger, centuries-long hatred for the Mad Samurai, who killed him long ago, back when that Samurai wielded the Soultaker.
Were you aware of him in advance of this project? For all his oddity and awesomeness over the past 45 years, the Steve Ditko creation isn’t exactly an A-list character, or even a B-lister.
I had heard of The Creeper, but mostly from thinking Steve Ditko designed a cool look for him. Ditko is always on to something essential, even if it isn’t obvious. I guessed that Ditko was going for a pure elemental insanity, so I went out right away and bought Steve Niles’ “Creeper” series. I loved it. That helped me see the peculiar link that Creeper and Ryder had. Then, Dan and I started talking about the Creeper as an Agent of Chaos, so I looked to nature and found a metaphor I loved — the indiscriminate, arbitrary chaos of a tornado.
His personality and very makeup are so gnarled by captivity that he must be a difficult character to write and dialogue. Like Joker’s Daughter, how did you get inside Creeper’s head?
I struggled with how to do that, and ended up deciding that the way to view The Creeper is not try to understand his twisty mind, but to view him through the carnage he creates. And to him, carnage is an active creation, a great artwork. So I got into Jack Ryder’s mind instead. Ryder is a drunk, a braggart, and a coward, who keeps trudging on despite the fact that he often doesn’t know where he’s been, what he’s done, and doesn’t seem to realize he’s dead. Ryder is a great backboard to bounce the Creeper’s power off of.
“The Creeper” is a “Justice League Dark” one-shot rather than one for your “Katana” series. What can you tell us about where we’ll see him next? Will he return to “Katana?” Or will he be featured moving forward in “Justice League Dark?” What about “Forever Evil?”
What we’re setting up is an enormous, centuries-old hatred between the Mad Samurai, a character in Katana, and the Creeper. The Mad Samurai had the same mission Katana has, but centuries ago. He wielded the Soultaker long ago, and he too tried to rid the Outsiders of rotten swordsmen, and he went insane from the years of killing and bloodshed. The question becomes, now that Katana has the Soultaker, is that her fate, too?
In the beginning of the “Katana” series, Coil says to her, “That’s the thing about violence. It either makes you sick, or you get to like it.” I always return to that tension for Katana. So the Mad Samurai killed The Creeper long ago, and after spending a century trapped in the Soultaker together, they are both now free to get revenge against the other. Where this battle takes place, and when, is still a mystery.
Batman: Dark Knight” #23.4: “the Joker’s Daughter,” written by Ann Nocenti and featuring art by Georges Jeanty and a cover by Jason Fabok, will freak out comics readers Sept. 25.