A tie-in to the upcoming “Justice League Of America” by Geoff Johns and artist David Finch, “Katana” debuts in February, teaming Nocenti with artist Alex Sanchez. As for “Green Arrow,” beginning with issue #17 “Animal Man” writer Jeff Lemire will take over the series, joined by “I, Vampire” artist Andrea Sorrentino.
Not even the aftermath of hurricane Sandy could stop Nocenti from her comic writing duties, as CBR caught up with the busy New Yorker in the midst of meeting deadlines and moving space heaters to talk about the beginning of “Katana,” the end of “Green Arrow” and why she’s “relieved” to leave Oliver Queen in another writer’s hands.
CBR News: DC recently announced you’ll be writing a Katana solo series. How did this gig come about?
Ann Nocenti: DC approached me and asked if I wanted to write Katana! I love [filmmaker Akira] Kurosawa, I love all of the samurai films, I love the ambiguous nobility and the whole subterranean culture of extra-judicial shenanigans that goes back thousands of years before there were courts of law. You had these samurai that were trained to protect noble families, and then you had the poor people who felt vulnerable and would get a samurai-for-hire, a ronin they were sometimes called, to do a job, stop these guys who are stealing our food. You have this strong culture in Japan and China of the highly trained swordsman.
Katana comes from that; she comes from a lineage that goes way back. She was trained at a young age. One of the things I want to play with is what happened to all those clans — it’s almost like the parallel would be the mafia. The mafia’s been around forever, they controlled Las Vegas and certain industries. There have been times they’ve been smashed by some crusader determined to get rid of them, but they’re still there. They still run gambling and prostitution and other rackets, but they move into more so-called “legitimate” businesses in order to hide behind that wall. I want the book to feel like there’s the ancient clan culture of ancient Japan — which the way I play it is, it depends on what weapon you prefer, so there’s a Dagger Clan and a Sword Clan and there’s a real deep love of a particular weapon. I want the book to feel really modern and for Katana to be quite fashionable, while at the same time dealing both in modern culture and clan culture. So she goes to San Francisco where she knows there’s clan action.
One of the biggest, most defining aspects of Katana’s character is the sword imbued with the soul of her husband. Is that still going to be part of your take?
Yeah — Excalibur, of course, comes to mind, but there’s a rich mythology and history of particular weapons having power, but only if they find the right person. It’s kind of like that; she has this incredibly powerful sword that she herself cannot control or understand. The people around her, you can see in “Birds Of Prey,” they’re like, “Katana’s talking to her husband in her sword again!” [Laughs] It’s played like people don’t really confront it: maybe he’s there, maybe she’s crazy. So the sword is going to be a big character in the series, and it’s not within her control. She can use it like a normal katana, but its deeper powers, its soul-taking powers, its ancient history, these are things she doesn’t know about yet. That’s the stuff we’re going to fool around with.
We’ve talked before about how Green Arrow and Catwoman both throw themselves into danger. How do you see Katana? Is she also someone who launches into danger or is she an entirely different breed from those heroes?
I think she’s a lot more cautious. I think that she’s careful; she was raised in a traditional Japanese family, [and] as you can see in “Birds Of Prey” she has some restraint, she doesn’t become an instant gal pal! Like, “Let’s go shopping! Let’s get a drink!” [Laughs] She’s got this reserve because inside her she’s carrying these weighty things. I don’t see her at all as somebody who will fly off on a whim. She’s more of a quiet schemer and plotter.
It was also announced you’ll be leaving “Green Arrow,” with the “Fall Of The Green Arrow” story arc your final one on the book. WHat can you tell us about it?
I just thought I’d do something almost like a B-movie; I love just gangster movies where there’s nothing that heavy going on, it’s not an art film, it’s, “Let’s just go watch something fun!” The last two issues [of “Green Arrow”] had the crossover with Hawkman, which was kind of interesting to do because I think Hawkman is a very powerful character and I wanted to do an homage to Joe Kubert, the creator of Hawkman, who passed away this year. I really loved his war comics, so I saw this Hawkman story as a warrior’s tale. The whole issue is a battle. There are these pauses, but when soldiers pause they don’t pause for long, and they have these brooding moments before they fling themselves back into battle. That was fun to do. He has this conversation with Hawkman where they recognize each other as fellow warriors, which is why they trust each other even though they don’t know each other. It’s kind of cool to do that. And then there’s some direct imagery in the end, the image of the helmet on the rifle stuck in the ground, which either meant, “We’re taking a rest stop” or “Someone died here.” So with [artist] Freddie Williams II there are some shots that are direct homage’s to Joe Kubert — it was our Joe Kubert story with feathers! [Laughs]
Then I had conversations with the new [“Green Arrow”] writer, Jeff Lemire. I had the fall of Arrow; he just had this reaction of, “What am I doing running a corporation?” So he bolted to the Arctic Circle, and as soon as he gets back, he bolts to China. Meanwhile, he’s losing his company. That was a storyline that followed all these people across America whose homes were going into foreclosure. What if this really rich guy went into foreclosure? Who are you when you lose everything? I wanted to show he still is exactly who he is. Yes, he’s a rich kid and he’s lost everything but he still has his skills and moral compass. So I had some conversations with Jeff about whether or not that would be a good place to leave him, at the bottom, and Jeff’s ideas for his Green Arrow and my ideas for leaving Green Arrow sort of dovetailed perfectly. There’s a lot of coordination there so it’s not one of those abrupt changes. I really admire his writing a lot and I am very curious to see what he’s going to do with Green Arrow!
Green Arrow is not a character I ever quite got a handle on the way I was instantly simpatico with Catwoman and I feel instant simpatico with Katana. Green Arrow was a lot more of a struggle for me; who is this wealthy guy who wears all this armor? Some characters are tough nuts to crack, let me put it that way. They’re not that easy to get a handle on and figure out exactly what kind of stories they move best in. So I’m sort of relieved! I never really cracked the nut — I had a lot of fun — but on a deeper level, really getting the character, and really doing seminal stories about a character, that is a much harder thing to do.
I know from talking with you before that you associated Catwoman immediately with early 1900s movie character Irma Vep, and it seems you’ve similarly associated Katana with this samurai culture you’re very interested in.
I mean, I know orphans, I know thieves and I had a pretty deep love of Kurosawa films, so I felt I understood the culture they were coming out of. The whole rich kid raised with a silver spoon playboy types — I know guys like that, too, but I don’t tend to hang out with them! [Laughs] You really have to match the character somehow in a deep way to write good stories about them. The Green Arrow I was more attracted to, the one who didn’t have the armor, the one that was kind of the Denny O’Neil hero where he was more of a street guy, just had a hood and bow and arrow, I was much more attracted to that Green Arrow. He’s more of a Daredevil character in that he’s on the street. That particular character had a strong social conscience.
But the Green Arrow I was handed with the New 52 was a tech guy with armor; he was just a very different character. My idea, of course, was to break him down so that he wasn’t rich anymore, and then slowly move him towards the conscience and the sense of social justice that’s in his DNA because of his predecessor version.
Despite your short time on the book, do you feel at the end of the day that you’ve told a complete story with Oliver growing as a character?
Yeah. I mean, I wanted to start him off as a jerk and then have him see consequences to his actions. What happens when you leave town with triplets to have fun? What happens when you abandon your responsibilities at your company? I think what I wanted him to do was to become more thoughtful about the world around him. There’s one scene that’s important to me where sits in a bar and he talks to a girl and says, “What’s this Occupy Seattle stuff?” And she was like, I think they’re kind of heroic, and he’s like, “Since when is just sitting in the rain heroic? They need a leader!” And the girl’s like, no, you’re missing the point. To me, little moments like that, where Green Arrow thinks, to take him to a point — his arc was, rich kid having fun with his toys and power, flying around and slowly understanding that he’s fucking up, slowly understanding that there’s another way to go about this. I left everything very wide open so the next writer can go in any direction they want!
Nocenti’s final “Green Arrow” arc begins in issue #15, stores December 5; Nocenti’s Katana series sees release February 13, 2013.
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