Few in the comic book industry know villains better than veteran writer Ann Nocenti. Besides being the creator of some Marvel’s wildest villains including Typhoid Mary and Mojo, she is also the writer behind DC Comics’ solo female anti-heroes “Catwoman” and “Katana.”
But now Nocenti and the other writers and artists enmeshed in the New 52 are getting to sink their teeth into a wider array of bad guys thanks to DC Villains Month, an event spiraling out of the end of “Trinity War” where the villains, not the heroes, dominate the publisher’s September offerings in a series of one-shots.
Nocenti’s first Villains Month title with artist ChrisCross takes on the Creeper in “Justice League Dark: The Creeper,” a villain Nocenti reinvented for the New 52 in the pages of “Katana.” Then, along with “Buffy” artist Georges Jeanty, Nocenti tackles a woman whose appearance has been teased by DC for months, the Joker’s Daughter, in “Batman: The Dark Knight: Joker’s Daughter.”
Comic Book Resources caught up with the busy writer to talk about DC Villains month as well as her plans for the Creeper, her high-fashion inspiration for the Joker’s Daughter and how her time in the Taliban-controlled regions of Pakistan helped define her concept of evil.
CBR News: The first of your two one-shots involves a villain who readers know only as the Joker’s Daughter. We touched on her a little bit the last time we spoke about “Catwoman,” but as the writer of her one-shot how do you define Joker’s Daughter? Is she actually related to Joker, or the pre-New 52 character of the same name?
Ann Nocenti: Those are questions I can’t answer because it’s all wrapped up in lots of surprises. I’ve been enjoying how DC is rolling out the mystery and I’ve always felt from the fan perspective I don’t want spoilers!
Then let’s talk about the concept in general. Last time we spoke you called Joker’s Daughter the “inverted funhouse idea of beauty.” How did you come to the idea of anorexia and twisted beauty as fundamental to this character?
They sent me a picture of her! [Laughs] I didn’t create this character, so that was the first thing I thought — “Wow, this [image] really reminds me of it.” To me there’s something that’s beautiful about ugly and ugly about beautiful. She’s got this incredible sass to her stance and the way she’s holding her body. She’s very proud of her ugliness, so you start to think about stuff like anorexia and girls who think they can never get thin enough, and you also think of the images in “Vogue” magazine. I don’t know if you remember this but there was this thing in fashion called “heroin-chic.”
Yes, with Kate Moss back in the 1990s.
It was models who looked like they had been junkies for years. They had black eyes and looked sickly and were photographed leaned back in opium den-looking things. There was something very gorgeous about this decrepit Goth interpretation of beauty. It’s profound because beauty is fleeting; there is this aspect that people want to freeze beauty at its peak, but it’s never going to happen. I like that she has her sexiness to her and power to her through not being anyone’s beauty ideal, which was the first thing I started thinking about.
And when we’re talking about comics most superheroes are drawn as very attractive and conventional looking people while villains are either ugly or have brought that attractive ideal so far around they’ve twisted it around back to horror.
Exactly! Even the real world, you look at Napoleon or the history of real villains, they had this charisma or magnetism they developed despite what they looked like. I just could feel from the way she was drawn that she had these inner resources that went beyond a normal young girl.
It’s interesting because in the Joker “family” we have Harley Quinn who one can argue is similarly inverting beauty and definitely sanity. Did Harley spring to mind while working on Joker’s Daughter?
I always talk about the DNA of characters; I think the whole genetic pool of the families in the DC Universe are there when you’re thinking about these characters. I just responded to [the Joker’s Daughter] image.
Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about the issue? Are we being dropped into the middle of her story? Will we see her origin and back story in the New 52?
Oh, you’re definitely going to learn all about her! [Laughs] I don’t know what the other writers are doing because I’m one of those people who doesn’t want to know, I want to read it in the comics like everyone else and be surprised. But with “Creeper” and “Joker’s Daughter” you’re very intimately in the mind of both of them. I think true evil is kind of rare. Usually it turns out it’s someone who had something happen to them, and this is the environment they grew up in, and it all led to this. I like the idea of anti-heroes and I like anti-villains. I don’t see Creeper or Joker’s Daughter as driven by evil. Neither one wants to get money and conquer the world and enslave or torture people.
But, this is something I really strongly believe, all first-person point of views are essentially unreliable narrators. I don’t know you can tell your own story; when you’re saying, “This is the story of my childhood,” or “This is what I went through,” you’re unreliable because everything’s been colored by memory and all this other stuff. If I were to say to you, “I had a happy childhood,” did I actually have a happy childhood? [Laughs] With the Creeper and Joker’s Daughter story I’m having a lot of fun with that, figuring out what pieces of information to give and how much of that is even true.
Let’s talk about something you just mentioned, the idea that true evil rarely exists. Beyond writing superheroes, in your journalism and film career you’ve traveled to places like Balochistan and Pakistan and interacted with people who, to many here in America, might fit the definition of evil. How do you define evil?
Balochistan is a very interesting area because it’s like going back in time. You go out into the desert and you find everyone living exactly as they had 3000 years ago. That also means you’re traveling to a tribal culture. To me, the evil there is endemic to the fact that tribal culture is feudal — the head of the tribe gets the riches, it’s a top-down society. There’s a certain evil to watching your entire people live these quiet lives of desperation. Of course, where I was making the movie [is] in the region where the Taliban were and you see some things that are truly evil. But I don’t like judging other societies; Winston Churchill was a reporter in the Pashtun area where all of the Taliban came out of, and he said, “Western eyes will never understand tribal culture.” And it’s all a very complicated issue, because I saw all these American dollars going to Taliban.
I think there’s also personal evil. There was a fairy tale I read, the Ice Queen. The boy gets this little [ice] splinter in his eye and his nature, good and bad, was entirely driven by this splinter. I think that’s kind of a genius idea. What’s the splinter inside someone that they wrapped and wrapped and wrapped inside layers of scar tissue and ends up appearing as evil? Certainly you can see it in the Penguin in “Catwoman.” He’s the runt of the litter, he’s a bullying story — he was a bullied kid. Rather than trying to understand what “true evil” is, the most I can do is look at human nature.
The Creeper in the one-shot is the same character you introduced in “Katana.” What made you interested in using the Creeper in the first place?
The DC editorial [team] is very involved in my stories, they’re always talking ideas with me, and in order to fit the Creeper into the Katana mythos they wanted him to have been in her sword and have been killed some years ago, and I wanted it to have an aspect of Japanese culture. I started looking at Japanese ghost stories and somebody said, “look at this thing called an Oni.” I was reading old Creeper stories, Steve Niles wrote one called “Welcome To Creeperville;” it was a terrific miniseries, and while I was reading it I was thinking that really all [the Creeper] cares about is chaos. The Oni is a creature from mythology that is like the Japanese boogeyman; he’s something you use to scare your kids into behaving! [Laughs] I don’t see the Creeper as what we were just talking about before, pure evil. I see him as a creature at odds with the whole world.
Where are we coming into his story in the one-shot? Are we dropping into his life post-“Katana” or do we see him before he was even in her sword?
With the “Joker’s Daughter” and “Creeper” it’s both present day and the past. We’re going to learn about his life before the sword, during the sword and after the sword. Joker’s Daughter is going to be similar; we’re going to see who she is now and we’re going to see how she got there.
Do you see Creeper as a good reccurring villain for Katana? And are he and Joker’s Daughters characters you’d like to write more of, either on their own or into “Catwoman” or your other book?
Oh yeah, absolutely! For one thing, I don’t want to stop writing the Joker’s Daughter with just one issue. It’s the kind of thing where we throw her out there and other writers play with her or go, “I have an idea for a story,” and you see where they take her. Same with the Creeper; I’m very curious to see where other writers take him. With the Creeper, because he rides Jack Ryder, to me there’s a metaphor there for someone who has blackouts. I see him as like a Jekyll and Hyde character where his life is split in half. He’s a creature of the night, he only gets the body he’s riding for a certain amount of time. I always try to look for something human and the human thing in the vampire/creature of the night mythology is that you have to sleep for eight hours a night and then you’re a pawn of your dream world. Your unconscious is grabbing you and tossing you all over the place, which is why people are obsessed with this idea that at a certain point day or night you are not in possession of yourself. You can look at compulsive behavior that way — gambling, alcoholism, bad marriages! [Laughs] So there’s a rich current there, not of dual identity of which there’s a ton of, but in this case it’s literally physically being ripped away from who you are.
You’re a writer who has been very interested in and linked to writing villains, dating back all the way to your first comic book stories. Why do you think we readers are so fascinated by super villains and stories from their perspective?
For me it’s because I can’t always relate to the hero. I don’t feel particularly heroic! [Laughs] I may have gone around the world doing humanitarian aid work in Haiti and all these places but I didn’t do it to be heroic, I did it because I was fascinated by other worlds. People in their everyday lives try to be heroic in small ways, but how many are really devoting themselves? I also think villains are allowed to be wilder. That’s why I like Catwoman and Katana because they’re both anti-heroes. When you’re talking about real heroes, how far can Superman step out of the box? How can we relate to someone who is holier-than-thou and better than us? I think you can do wilder things with villains and they have these crazy personalities that are fun, whereas the craziness in heroes is the deep conflict they have and it’s still within a sane range. I love reading a great Poison Ivy story or a great Joker or Riddler story, a great villain story.
“Justice League Dark: Creeper” is on sale September 4; “Batman: The Dark Knight: The Joker’s Daughter” goes on sale September 25.