Peter Calloway might be relatively new to the streets of Gotham, but the television writer turned comic book author already has three of the city’s famous femme fatales in the palm of his hand.
As the new writer on the ongoing “Gotham City Sirens” title, Calloway controls the monthly fates of villains and heroes Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman, the unlikely trio of allies who first banded together under the guidance of Paul Dini following Bruce Wayne’s seeming demise in the pages of the Grant Morrison-penned “Final Crisis.” Although Harley and Ivy long existed as a “Thelma and Louise”-esque pair, Selina Kyle’s addition to the mix introduced a new dynamic that helped lean the more-often-than-not villainesses toward a (generally) more heroic path. The series follows the three as they battle enemies, face personal demons and attempt to cope with their Odd Couple-like living situation. The series has also featured regular appearances by members of Gotham City’s criminal underground – including characters such as Hush and the Carpenter.
Calloway’s first arc on the title, which began with September’s issue #16, explores Selina’s personal feelings and her current emotional state now that the love of her life has returned to her. In between plotting the future for the lovely ladies, Calloway spent some time with CBR’s regular column THE BAT SIGNAL, answering questions on the gals’ current status quo, Harley’s relationship with the Joker and how the writer first succumbed to the call of the “Gotham City Sirens.”
CBR News: Peter, you’re pretty new to the world of Batman, starting with your one-shot a while ago as part of the “Joker’s Asylum” series of books, and now “Sirens.” What’s your stay in Gotham been like so far?
Peter Calloway: So far, so good. My favorite character of all time, in all mediums, is Batman. So, anything surrounding him, for me, is total gold. I find Gotham, the character that is the city itself, so interesting. Then all the people who populate, all these voices and embodiments of vices, are totally fascinating. I love it.
You just hit on something really interesting. A lot of writers identify Gotham City as a character itself. It really feels like Gotham is more defined as a city and as an entity more than anywhere else in comics. What’s your take on that?
I would absolutely agree. I guess you can make an argument for Metropolis, but from the original Batman story to what Grant’s doing now with “Batman, Incorporated,” it’s so central. The look is so important. The fact that he’s in the shadows and on the gargoyles, the look is so important for the tone of the stories that are being told. It is a living breathing entity to me certainly. To use it in the story is such a fun thing to do. And at this point in Gotham’s history, there’s so many different areas to it. There are still streets that are destroyed from the earthquake. I love that. It’s such a varied place. With almost any story, you can give it the perfect location in Gotham. For that, it is just an unbelievable resource.
As we mentioned, you’re kind of new to the comic world. I have to ask, how exactly did you break in?
My very good friend is Marc Guggenheim. I know him through an ABC TV show we worked on called “Brothers and Sisters.” He and I, we both, in our offices at work, had a hardcover of “The Dark Knight Returns.” So, we immediately gravitated toward each other and started talking about stories and talking about comics. He was writing then and he asked if I would ever like to write for comics. I said, “Absolutely. It’s a childhood dream of mine.” Essentially, he got the ball rolling and I talked to the Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler. He and I talked and I wrote a spec Batman story to prove I could write in the medium. I got a call a few months later from Mike Marts and he wanted to know if I would write the “Joker’s Asylum” issue. So, I wrote that and then he e-mailed me a couple months after that and asked if I would come on “Gotham City Sirens,” and I jumped at the opportunity.
In the terms of coming in as a total fan, Catwoman and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, they’re just so fun. They’re such fun characters with such history. One of things that I really love about comics and that separates from all other types of media is that built-in history that you can mine for things and pick up storylines from years ago. You can reinvent characters and give them a new twist and do things that are really fun. That’s what makes it incredible to write.
Well, I definitely wanted to talk about those three characters, starting with Poison Ivy. What is your take on her? Do you see her more as a villain, especially compared to Harley and Selina?
The way I’ve approached the dynamic of the three is that she’s the brawn. She is strength, and things are black and white to Poison Ivy. She’s fundamentally a villain. That’s my belief. Selina is sort of the other side of that. She’s fundamentally a hero. Through the things that happened to her in her life, she’s been twisted into a villain. So, they are on opposite sides of the scale. Then you have Harley in the middle, who is both good and bad. She straddles both really nicely.
But to get back to Poison Ivy, she is such a strong woman. She doesn’t listen to anyone. She knows what she knows. It is concrete. Her powers are pretty vast. Especially with the stuff that Paul was doing with her early on in “Gotham City Sirens,” he showed her to be really, really strong. That seemed like the right direction to take the character.
You said that you see Harley as straddling the line between good and bad. This is a character that was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for “Batman: The Animated Series,” eventually making her way into comics. Comic fans find it hard not to love her, but as a writer, what do you like best about her? Is it her personality, the eccentricity and craziness?
I do like that part of her, but I do have to say that what I find so charming and endearing about Harley is that she wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s so open with people and honest, and that comes through her eccentricity. She’s very strange and approaches the world from a very messed up way. But she is really sweet. I do believe that underneath it all, underneath all the abuse she’s suffered by the Joker, she is a very sweet person. We saw some of that in the Christmas issue last year. I think that’s really who Harley is. I think she functions as the glue that holds the three of them together. If you really think about it, there really is no good reason why these three women should be together. Poison Ivy and Selina are pretty different people, but they have a common bond in Harley. I think that is really where her importance lies. I think that adds to really cool stories. Also, she hates Batman. She sides with Poison Ivy in that way. Then you have Catwoman and she’s in love with Bruce. As I get into it and writing these issues, I find that there’s so much to mine from them and all these different directions to go in and focus on.
You hit on the note about Selina that I wanted to ask about – her love and loyalty to Batman. Bruce has been gone for a year, so how is she dealing with the fact that he’s back?
The short answer is, there’s stuff that she’s going to be dealing with in upcoming issues. Mike and I sketched out an arc for her next year that has to do with him. As you said, when people think of Catwoman, if you’re doing free association, you think of burglar, villainess, hero and then you’d come to Bruce Wayne. That is one of the fundamental things about her. She knows who he is and Bruce loves her. With Talia, it’s an interesting thing because she had Bruce Wayne’s son. I think that’s an interesting thing and you’ll see that build in issue #17 and come to a head in issues #18 and #19.
Looking at what’s coming up, you hinted at a story arc for Selina and in the solicitations, we see a story with Harley and the Joker returning. What are some other stories you have planned and what can you say about the ones I just mentioned?
This is the minefield. [Laughs] I don’t want to upset my editor, but we have some fun stuff with Joker and Harley and how that is going to put a strain on the relationship between the girls. It really, really will. There is a big moment coming up, which I cannot tell you about, but it’s a major plot point that we have. The Sirens, it’s really going to look like things are falling apart for them. As he always is, Joker is this incredible catalyst and this incredible antagonist. We’re going to see that. We’re going to test Harley’s loyalties and it’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s in the first half of 2011.
So, that isn’t going to be a done-in-one style story? It’s going to be a pretty big arc.
My storytelling sense – the stories that I like the most really evolve. There’s one story arc. We don’t stop one and pick up another. There are repercussions from it and [we see] how it morphs into something else. Coming up in issue #19, the focus is going to shift and we’re going to see how what Selina is going through affects the other Sirens and how that catapults us into the next story arc with the Joker. The next thing, which again I can’t tell you about, is going to propel us into the next piece of the story. I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t tell different stories. There are very different stories, but it’s just how do you have one storyline done as elegantly as possible but at the same time, keep it all moving forward and evolving in a fresh way? That’s the thing that’s so fun about writing comics and in writing TV is one of the things we strive for. I’m trying to do that in “Gotham City Sirens.” And what’s coming up is really fun and really cool.
We took a look at your past, we looked at your present, so let’s close with a look at the future. Are there any characters in the Batman Universe or comics in general that you want to bring in to the title or explore more?
I just had her in issue #18 and #19, but I really love Zatanna. I think she’s great and she’s so interesting. There’s some really fun stuff to do with her – funny enough, she’s in another Dini book. [Laughs] Obviously, Batman. I mean, who doesn’t want to write Bruce Wayne. If I got a call and they said, “Do you want to write Batman,” I think I might faint. There’s so many. That’s one of things that’s so great about the Batman Universe. There’s so many interesting characters. The Robins are so much fun. Writing Dick and Damian would be so much fun. I’m just a big geek. They are all complicated people with complicated lives at this point. That’s what’s fun. How can I tell a story that hasn’t been told with this character? How can I show some power or hint at something that happened in their past? In fact, as a lover of Catwoman, I think you’ll really enjoy issue #18. It’s all about Selina and all about her complicated history with Batman. It’s really fun and I can’t wait to get it out there.
Follow the song of the “Gotham City Sirens” to your local comic shop on December 29, when issue #18 hits shelves