In the DC Universe, the Batman of Africa and Gotham’s number one cat burglar have three things in common: they both fought the Talons during the “Night of the Owls” event, they both face upcoming personal changes in their life and both are penned by writer Judd Winick.
In his ongoing monthly “Catwoman” comic book series, Winick and artist Guillem March have given Selina a new running buddy named Spark and the beginnings of a new mission: stop the kidnapper known as Dollhouse.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic on “Batwing,” Winick welcomes a new permanent artist, Marcus To, and a new direction for David as he teams up with Nightwing and Justice League International to take down bad guys across the world.
Skulking in the shadows of Gotham, THE BAT SIGNAL spoke with Winick about both of his books, including how he creates villains for the morally ambiguous Selina and how Nightwing and the Justice League International heroes fit into Batwing’s world.
CBR News: Judd, in “Catwoman,” Selina seems to be turning over a new leaf, getting upset about women being kidnapped off the street and wanting to do something about it. Does the specific targeting of women strike a chord in Selina that someone menacing other people would not?
Judd Winick: Yes, I think this is all about dipping our toe in the water of Selina not becoming a hero but embracing that aspect of the anti-hero a little more than we have. It is a slow build. She is still a thief. She is still going to be a thief even if and when we start embracing this more. That is not going to change.
In my opinion, we see a little of it when she decided not to let Penguin get murdered! He is a bad guy who does bad things but she thought it was just wrong. You can’t walk away from the guy who is going to get killed. I think anyone reading knows she has a moral center, but we are going to start addressing her having a sense of responsibility, that if there are things she can do, maybe she will. She is not necessarily seeking it out, but things come into her scope that she can’t help but take an interest in.
It seems that being on the right side of morality still might not put Selina on the right side of the law. Will making questionable and illegal decisions still be a large part of her character even when she is aligning herself with the good guys?
Yes. There are questions of should she, is this her, is this where she belongs? She’s going to be a bit of a doubting Thomas. Is all of this just crap, is anyone actually doing good? There is a reason why she’s a thief and it’s not just happenstance. I think she has a particular worldview that maybe being a hero does not satisfy. So there were will be many questions going forward.
Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about the villain Dollhouse and how does she tie into those crazy looking flappers on the cover of issue #12?
Second question first: the crazy flappers are the literal dollhouse that Dollhouse lives in. You get more about what is going on there when you actually see what the dollhouse is. Dollhouse is not only Dollhouse’s name, but also the vocation; Dollhouse lives in a self-made, nearly living dollhouse. So the character is creepy as Hell and when you see what the character does, it’s going to be even more so!
As far as I can tell about the character: it is someone who is quite formidable. As we get into the identity, it is, as you will see, someone undoubtedly creepy. I wanted to create someone who would really stir up the crap with Selina — but not 100% insane, someone who has a method to their madness. That’s how I usually like doing villains. In this case there are reasons that they’re doing this, and even a bit of history. That will keep going up through issue 12, which is the big finale with Catwoman and Dollhouse.
Along those lines, how do you create a villain for someone like Selina who has ambiguous morals?
It is tricky! She needs adversaries; for some issues it has literally been Batman. But she is a criminal and criminals make enemies, even among other criminals. Selina is a bad girl, she does bad things, but it’s mostly because she is stealing. She isn’t really hurting anyone, depending on where you fall in on what theft actually is. It’s not really hurting anyone with a capital H. But there are people who don’t like their stuff taken away! In some cases the bad guys and adversaries are the police officers of the Gotham PD. We ran into some crooked cops and they are not going away anytime soon either. She stole about 400 grand from them and they are, to say the least, not happy about it.
On the other side, we had her run-in with Detective Alvarez, who helped her back in issue #6. Although she is making enemies, will Selina continue to make allies like Alvarez?
Yes! We have not seen the last of Detective Alvarez at all. He’s the only one who seems to be chasing her in his precinct and he can’t help but be curious why they do not want to nail her to the wall. Also, as we see, he’s an honest cop and an honest cop maybe someone Selina needs. He is going to be playing a major role in the upcoming issues.
Series artist Guillem March has been doing some fantastic subtler work very focused on Selina’s facial expressions. From an outside perspective, it seems that his style is beginning to evolve — is that a feeling you get from working with him as well?
Yes, I think all one has to do is look at the pages from issue to issue — he does actually get better every single issue! But it’s the whole packaging, beginning with the fact that none of his characters look the same, they all have a strong identity. He moves the camera so much in the sense of the angles he picks and the shots he gives us, which is only topped by his amazing acting. I feel very comfortable that when I need to convey something with just a look or expression it’s totally going to happen. And he’s funny! He really gets the jokes; sometimes they aren’t joke jokes but more a wink or a nod or the sarcasm on her face. There is a great moment when she finds the suitcase full of 400 grand. She’s not speaking but the look on her face is a giant, “Holy shit!” It’s big and wonderful and wide-eyed, but she’s alone so she’s not speaking to anyone other than herself and it’s not over the top. I just love it.
Do you have a favorite way Guillem draws a character or a particular part of Gotham?
I think it’s much more general than that. For me, the things I count on and expect are those terrific acting moments and that terrific sense of humor. I’m often surprised how much better things come out then I could have possibly planned, like a great action sequence. Guillem just did one that is a shoot-out, but oh man! The decisions he makes, the things he does, how low he puts the camera, and how the glass is going to shatter — these are things that really matter. When you put down on the page, “The glass rains down from all sides”, you don’t necessarily think you are going to see it. With him you do.
The Spark and Selina relationship is respectful on the surface, but Selina has made it pretty clear she’s interested in him as more than just a partner. What was the thinking behind how Spark would function as Selina’s foil?
I wanted someone who was almost as equal as a thief. In my opinion Selina is better than him, but he’s someone who can be with her as a real running buddy. I thought she could really have some fun with someone she could literally run around with but also count on and respect. That was important. He wasn’t just some mook she is using to finish this gig. It is someone she’s grown to rely on and somebody who is fun. Spark is funny. He’s got a mouth on him and I like that. He’s not going away anytime soon either — and more sparks will fly, all puns intended!
Turning to your other series, while Batwing appeared in Gotham for “Night of the Owls,” the next issues will see him operating on an international level and teaming up with Nightwing and the JLI. Did you talk a lot to Kyle Higgins and Dan Jurgens about their characters?
No. In this case we’re doing it through editorial. This isn’t a crossover so much as it is just using the characters. I know Kyle a little bit, mostly through Scott Snyder, so through editorial we asked if it was cool. But it goes to a larger issue tact we’re taking at DC. We’re trying to be better in paying attention to continuity, but at the same time not being so slavish to it we’re not producing story. There are different opinions on that even in the room as far as DC goes. “You can’t use Nightwing in those issues because he’ll be in Austin, Texas that month!” So what? He’ll spend two days there doing what he’s got to do. Readers understand that. This has been a debate that’s gone on for as long as I’ve been in comics. There are editors that wouldn’t let characters get touched in any way because something is going on in their comic.
That said, we’re not going to ignore the continuity of what’s going on. Right now Nightwing has a prickly relationship with Batman. We’re not going to have any chummy moments with them. They’re in sort of a snit, so we acknowledge that. But the idea we can’t have Nightwing go to China is crazy. We want Batwing to be a part of the Bat family. He knew he needed a hand; Batman is not at his beck and call but Nightwing was more than willing to help. We want to feel the fluidity of the DC Universe and get other characters in there. At the same time we are conscious of what the other books are doing.
So that’s the “how we make the sausage” aspect! As far as doing it — we spent a good eight issues in Africa telling the long form story of Kingdom and Massacre. Now I want to tell a shorter story and make it as superhero-y as possible. The tenor and the tone of the book is the same, but let’s switch it up a little bit. That included involving everyone from Nightwing to Batman and Robin to the JLI. We’re introducing new super villains, high stakes, and a larger scale globetrotting Batwing: Batman of Africa and soldier of Batman Incorporated!
Massacre was a villain very tied to problems in Africa and David’s own past a child soldier. Will the Jackals, Long and Lord Battle also have a personal connection to David or to the geographical areas they are from?
As far as the personal I am not going to allude to anything! If they are I don’t want to give anything away and if they’re not I don’t want to lead people on.
As much as we might play with folks being in costumes and superhero-y, we’re still very tied to a theme of Africa. We’re still trying to do things that feel somewhat geopolitical — not like a trip to a social studies class but things that feel authentically African are lock step with all the superhero stuff. I’m not giving anything away by saying one of the catalysts of the next arcs involves oil in Nigeria. It isn’t particularly sexy on a superhero level, nor is it supposed to be. It’s not the crux of what is going on but the catalyst, and that is real. About 3% of the oil in the world comes out of Nigeria, which is not a lot in the grand scheme but for a small nation it’s a ton. The people who live there do not benefit from it. It’s just the upper echelon and the Western companies who make a ton of money off the oil. It’s this enormous hotbed of activity and strife and terrorism. So that’s part of it along with Nightwing and the JLI and the new super villain Lord Battle.
Along those lines, the description of the Jackals sound like they are similar to the Somali pirates. Is there a correlation there?
They are Somali pirates with a huge super hero/villain bent to them. They are Somali pirates who wear animal skins and carry cybernetic equipment! Again, we’re trying to blend one with the other. I never want this to feel like a trip to the social studies class. I want it to feel like our books based in America: we have a lot of reality mixed in with the hyper reality of science fiction and fantasy. That’s what we’re trying to do with Batwing.
With the JLI and Nightwing coming in, will we see Batwing developing his chops as not just a superhero but also a potential leader of superheroes?
Yes, it’s a pretty big go-team thing going on. When the JLI are in the book, Batwing is taking point on that. This is not his team but this is his operation they signed up for. I don’t think anyone doubts Batwing is someone who would make a good leader. Again, it’s trying to give a sense of Batwing’s place in the DCU.
While the JLI are in the book with issue #12, has the cancellation of “Justice League International” affected the story you’re telling at all? Or is what you’re doing unaffected as it is specific to your book?
The script was written before the announcement. Even though the book is being canceled, I don’t think the JLI is being disbanded so much as we’re not publishing a book about it. I can’t tell you how it’s being wrapped up, y’all will just have to read the JLI title. In Batwing, we will leap in as a team, and Batwing as a member.
Starting with issue #9, Marcus To takes on duties as “Batwing” artist. How has it been blending your style with a new artist, and what does Marcus bring out in Batwing that we haven’t seen before?
It was an odd bit of good timing to be honest. We were getting into involving a lot more superheroes, a lot more international stuff, and anyone who has seen Marcus’ work on “Red Robin” and “Nightwing” knows Marcus can do superheroes and does the Bat family really well! It was, for me, an easy transition. There was nothing I was coming up with I thought he couldn’t handle. It plays to his strengths and more; he’s amazing, he’s had to do a bunch of characters in this one and locations and Africa and he did not have the ramp up of doing eight issues.
Finally, between both “Batwing” and “Catwoman” is there anything fans should be paying close attention to as we go into your next arcs?
With Batwing these are some big, big issues coming up. All you have to do is look at how many people and heroes are involved. We’ll be on a couple of continents introducing a lot of new characters and teaming up with folks readers already know. There are also big, big Wrath of God bad guys as well, and it gets extremely personal for Batwing.
For Selina it’s a smaller scale as she doesn’t have a suit of armor to fly around in! But it is also uniquely personal on several levels. Whether it’s dealing with her past or driving forward her present it always feels like a personal story. This gets extremely creepy, wonderfully graphic, and crazy violent, but Selina is a badass! This is probably her at her most badass moving forward. She has to deal with someone who is a true adversary, not someone trying to rip her of. She’s going after a bad guy, so she has to change up her game.
“Batwing” hits stores June 6; “Catwoman” issue #10 is out June 20.