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The two big comic book companies (DC Comics and Marvel) have a rich and deep catalog of characters they can utilize. Sometimes these catalogs run so deep they may not even realize a character’s worth until they place it in the hands of a writer who knows what to do with them. This January, Marvel brings back one of their classic duos, the “Daughters of the Dragon,” and places them in the hands of another classic duo, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. CBR News contacted the two scribes to find out what they have in store for the Daughters’ latest outing.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details given by Gray and Palmiotti though, a Daughters’ primer may be in order for some of our readers. The Daughters of the Dragon originally were a detective team consisting of partners Colleen Wing and Misty Knight. Both characters appeared on their own in books from the 1970s, but their first appearance as a team occurred in 1977, in “Marvel Team-Up” #64. Colleen is a trained samurai warrior, while Misty served on the NYPD, dated Iron Fist, and has a bionic arm (seriously! ). So how did the writing team of Gray and Palmiotti receive the honor of revamping these intriguing characters? Palmiotti was kind enough to walk us through the pitch process.
“When pitching for the big two companies, you have to get really creative these days. Remember, the first jobs go to the exclusive contract guys, and because they have to pay them, at times, five times what we make per page, they are forced to put them on all the best-selling books. The chances Justin and I will ever get an X-Men or Superman book has everything to do with that and the economics of the business…it’s not impossible, it’s just not economical unless we wind up on that Top Ten Wizard list. It’s very much like the movie business on a really small scale.
“Next, when pitching, you have to really do your research and see what the company doesn’t have coming out. When we looked at Marvel, for obvious reasons to us, there seemed to be a lack of female characters, especially a team of them. We were asked to pitch some stuff here and there by Joe Quesada and Mark Paniccia, and I really have a short list of what I am interested in.
“We had, before that, pitched three different books that the editors had us work and rework and rework again, and then they got dumped for bad timing, or a better pitch, or a number of reasons that I can’t get into. These pitches are a lot of work and take time away from other things, but it’s the process and anyone that thinks it’s easy has to understand that. At any time, there are four or five other people pitching the same exact characters you are.
“I was a big fan of the appearances of the Daughters of the Dragon in the ‘Iron Fist and Power Man’ comics and the appearances in the Marvel line of black & white comics. I talked this over with Justin, we came up with what we thought was a different approach to these characters, and we worked them up into a proposal. This time they bit; they liked the idea and thought it would be fun to finally give them their own book.”
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Gray added, “I’ve always liked the Daughters of the Dragon conceptually, so the pitch evolved naturally from there. We both wanted to work with Mark Paniccia and felt the idea would appeal to him. Fortunately, it did.”
As mentioned, the Daughters have a history in the Marvel universe, but the two scribes told CBR News not to expect a re-telling of their origin. “We talk about it and at one point reference it, but it is not what this series is about,” Gray explained. “This is a ‘day in the life’ type of book that was created to grab new readers and have them fall in love with the characters and their situation. By the end of the series, you will know all you need to know about both women and just about have seen every single inch of them as well (ha!).
“I find it is much more interesting when you come into someone’s story while it is already in progress, as opposed to showing everything about the character as a lead-in. We discover these women organically as the series moves along.”
Palmiotti clarified and said, “All you need to know is they’re bail bonds women – dangerous, sexy, funny and good at their jobs. The concept isn’t too far off from their origins as a detective agency, but the detective thing has been done to death, so this hopefully offers a fresh and entertaining take on the street-level Marvel heroes and villains.”
This still doesn’t answer the question many readers are anxious to know: are Iron Fist and Misty currently an “item?” And what about that bionic arm of hers?
“The dating thing is done with and yes, for sure, Misty has her bionic arm – in the series that arm becomes the focus in the later issues,” Palmiotti responded. “What readers should know about the characters is that they are both regular humans who have been knee-deep in the superhero antics of the Marvel universe and they have finally figured out a way to make a good living: by bounty-hunting the low-end villains of the Marvel universe. Events that happen in this series will forever change the very fabric of the Marvel universe – and with that said, it’s a lot of fun.”
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Although Misty’s relationship with Iron Fist may be over, Gray did mention that the former Hero for Hire will be making an appearance in the series. “Iron Fist is another favorite character of mine from the same time period as Daughters of the Dragon. Naturally, we found a way to work him into the story. You’ll see a whole bunch of Marvel universe villains – really obscure ones as well as some of the bigger names. The idea was to show what happens after villains are arrested by the major Marvel universe heroes, how they operate in their own lives, and shine some light on the criminal mind of someone willing to walk around with an 8-Ball for a head.”
For those readers not “in-the-know,” the criminal Gray is referring to is 8-Ball. In the first issue, this character appears with three other less-than-supervillains: Whirlwind, Humbug, and Freezer Burn. All four of them have skipped bail in order to team up and rob the penthouse apartment of a wealthy publisher. Obviously, these are not Marvel’s A-list villains; however, they are essential to the story the writers are trying to tell. Palmiotti explained this further, including how they arrived at this particular grouping of criminals.
“Low-end, low-rent villains are important to the series and to tell the truth, Justin came up with that hit list. They really are an insane group when put together. I think their dialogue was some of the most fun in the series. I mean, one guy has an 8-ball for a head and another has a connection with bugs. What’s not to like?”
“I find villains are extremely entertaining to write, particularly when you have a lesser-known character because you have the leeway to mess with them,” Gray said. “The things you can’t and wouldn’t want to do with Doctor Doom or Magneto, you can do with a guy like Humbug. We had so much fun revitalizing a number of Hawkman villains recently. Plus, there’s a cathartic experience in portraying evil and exploring the psychology of crazy people. To be honest, I’ve always wanted to do a book that featured villains and told stories from their perspective. We get to do a little of that here in ‘Daughters of the Dragon.’ I went through my Marvel mental database and plucked a bunch of villains that weren’t taken very seriously or hadn’t been seen in some time. Not every character can be a homerun hit with fans, but I think you can take anyone and make them interesting and worth reading about. I remember what Frank Miller did with Stilt Man; I think that’s a good example.”
Palmiotti went on to say, “With this series, we are also trying to introduce some new major players into the Marvel universe and into Misty and Colleen’s world as well – Ricadonna (a character introduced in the book) being someone you haven’t seen before, but you will never forget.”
In the book’s solicitation, it indicates the Daughters of the Dragon have to recover an item that the aforementioned low-rent villains have stolen. When asked what this item is, Palmiotti replied, “All I can say is that it’s something really important that a lot of people are willing to give up their lives for. That said, the best part of the book is not exactly the item stolen, but the insanity that is caused because of it. You are going to see Misty and Colleen in a different light, and you are going to fall in love with these characters. Trust me – if this book gets into enough hands, you are going to see an ongoing in no time.”
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Gray was kind enough to expand on this. “The plot is fairly basic – it’s a caper gone wrong – but what happens within the context of that idea is an amalgamation of several genres: comedy, action, noir, kung fu and a buddy movie, which hopefully makes ‘Daughters of the Dragon’ extremely fun to read. I know it’s going to be beautiful to look at because Khari [Evans – the book’s artist] is doing a brilliant job. We’re not trying to create the next ‘Watchmen’ or reinvent the wheel with this book, but we are trying to give people a fun, sometimes guilty pleasure comic book experience. After writing so many stories with dark themes that carry a heavy tone, or working around and in earthshaking developments with lasting ramifications and breaking characters down to build them up again, ‘Daughters of the Dragon’ has been a high-octane blast to write.”
With regards to the previously-mentioned Khari Evans, the two writers couldn’t be more enthusiastic regarding his art on the book. As a matter of fact, Palmiotti indicated that the artist is partially responsible for making this four-issue miniseries a reality.
“Khari is one of the main reasons this series got greenlit in the first place. I had inked a pin-up of Khari’s many moons ago for Verotic. And when I was in Wizard World L.A., Khari came up to me at a booth and introduced himself and showed me what he was working on, which were a bunch of samples for a science fiction comic. To say I was blown away was an understatement. I gave him my contact number and told him to call me the week after the con. Long story short, we had him do some samples for our proposal and Joe Quesada and Mark Paniccia were blown away. Those guys presented it to Dan Buckley, and Dan gave it the greenlight.
“The work Khari has been doing on the book is nothing short of spectacular. He has been working really hard, this being his first series, and with each and every page he is trying to top the page before. In the end, this series, I think, was custom-made for his skills.”
Gray shared his co-writer’s sentiments. “Jimmy sent me samples of Khari’s work. My eyes fell out of my head. I put them back in knowing damn well this book was going to look amazing and it does. Thanks, Khari!”
Palmiotti and Gray have been a team for quite awhile and have written several books together. As a matter of fact, they have joined together to form a multimedia entertainment studio called PaperFilms along with Palmiotti’s wife, Amanda Conner (“The Pro,” “JSA Classified”). Currently, they write “Jonah Hex” and “Hawkman,” in addition to the myriad of other stories they freelance on. CBR News asked the two scribes how they tackle the task of writing so many different projects – do they have a designated “Hawkman” day followed by a “Daughters of the Dragon” day? Surprisingly, they do.
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Palmiotti responded, “On ‘Hawkman’ day, we get dressed in bird feathers and tease animals at the zoo. On ‘Daughters of the Dragon’ day, we get arrested and skip bail and hope two totally hot bounty hunters come after us.”
“You don’t even want to know what we do on ‘Punisher’ day,” Gray added.
Jokes aside, Palmiotti said, “In reality, Justin and I speak every single day and the power of the computer totally helps us out. Deadlines dictate the work load and the order the work goes in. We brainstorm together and then split the work down the middle, and the bigger chunk of the middle most always goes Justin’s way. I can’t express how prolific Justin is. Eventually, the work gets done and we both edit each other as the final process. Our method is one that is based on respect for each other and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We have a great synchronicity when we work and the procedure changes all the time. Really, each book is different and we handle it that way.”
Gray agreed. “As Jimmy said, every project is different and we talk every day. We have brainstorming sessions, pitch each other ideas, tear each other’s ideas apart or just nod and say, ‘Yea, that works perfectly.’ Even though we’re good friends, we still have the ability to be extremely critical of each other when it comes to work.”
While the two writers have lots of projects to keep them busy, they still have plenty more on the horizon. Palmiotti ran through the pair’s upcoming slate for us. “Well…we are working on a ‘Punisher One-Shot’ (for Marvel). I am inking that book along with ‘Doc Samson,’ and also working with good buddy John Romita Jr. (finally) on a series of Vision four-pagers. Soon Marvel will announce a new book Justin and I are working on (and have been working on for the past year). All I can say is that it’s two of Marvel’s most fun, talked-about characters drawn by someone that has only drawn one single comic book for Marvel…and he has been doing comics for over 10 years. Yes, I am a tease. For DC, Justin and I are writing ‘Jonah Hex,’ a new series with Amanda Conner, and a yet-to-be-announced team book. Outside comics – finishing up the Ghost Rider game for Majesko and a number of projects that I can’t talk about. One last note: ‘Painkiller Jane,’ the character Joe Quesada (Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics) and I created, will have a two-hour original movie airing December 10th on the Sci-Fi channel.”