Antony Johnston Deals with the Daredevil

In the now classic "Born Again" storyline in Marvel Comics' "Daredevil" series, Matt Murdock's life was destroyed by his enemy, the Kingpin, but he found a way to overcome his obstacles and rebuild. It's safe to assume, then, that Daredevil knows a little something about hell and what it means to go through it, but recent issues of his series have left many wondering if he's forgotten the old saying about roads and being paved with good intentions.

That's because Daredevil recently took control of his old enemies, the ninja clan known as the Hand. The Hell's Kitchen hero is attempting to turn the clandestine group of killers into a force for good, and to do this he's had to make a lot of morally questionable choices. The latest challenge on DD's quest is the other four branches, or "fingers," of the organization. In the current "Left Hand Path" arc of the series, co-writers Andy Diggle and Antony Johnston and artist Marco Checchetto are detailing Daredevil's trip to Japan for a meeting of the Hand's regional leaders.

In "Daredevil" #505, part one of "Left Hand Path," the machinations of the other Hand leaders ensnared Daredevil into a trap that might cost him everything. CBR News spoke with co-writer Anthony Johnston about the arc, which continues on April 14 with the release of issue #506, working with Andy Diggle, and his first Daredevil solo story, the one-shot "Daredevil: Cage Match," which is in stores May 12.

CBR News: Antony, you and Andy Diggle are developing quite the working relationship. You guys collaborated on the final issue of "Dark Reign Hawkeye," are working together again on the current arc of "Daredevil," and I understand your partnership on the series has been extended to another arc. Is that correct?

Antony Johnston: That's right, yes. Andy and I have been friends for years, and we coincidentally went freelance around the same time back in '02. We've often talked about writing something together, because we have a similar feel for stories, but "Daredevil" was the first time we'd been able to make it happen. Initially it was just to help Andy out of a bind - he suddenly found himself writing four books at once, because of some weird scheduling - but it turns out our instincts were right, and we work pretty well together. So we're going to continue for a while.

Can you break down the collaborative process between you and Andy for us? How does it work? Does one of you plot and the other script, or is the division of labor not that precise?

Not at all, no, it's very collaborative. I know some people don't believe that - some reviews of "Daredevil" #505 assumed I wrote the entire issue solo, and Andy just put his name to it. People were even claiming they could tell Andy hadn't written it, because it didn't "sound" like his work. Which is hilarious, and absolutely not the case.

Andy controls the overall direction of the book, obviously. We regularly get together on the phone and bounce plot ideas around until something solid forms. I normally then do plot beat breakdowns, which we both go over and revise. Then we split up the rough draft duties by alternate issues. So Andy will do the rough draft of one issue, I'll do the rough draft of the next, and so on. We both write full script, so there's no question of splitting plot/script duties up in the way you suggest.

Anyway, the rough drafts get passed back and forth, and we make revisions and notes on each other's work as we go. So by the end of the process, every issue winds up as something that neither I nor Andy would or could have written on our own. 

Andy has final say over everything, of course - ultimately, it's his book - but it's a genuine collaboration, and we both work pretty damn hard at it. So this idea that one of us is sipping daiquiris while the other slaves away in solitude is ridiculous, and kind of insulting to us both.

What's it like collaborating on a tale featuring Daredevil? What is it about the character you find most compelling?

I like his tragedy, and the street-level grit of his world. This isn't a guy who shoots laser beams out of his ass, you know? Daredevil's one of the most flawed and human heroes in mainstream comics, and that definitely appeals to me. I also like that he occupies this separate little corner, with only occasional forays into the wider Marvel Universe. I think that helps make for compelling stories.

Ultimately what type of story is the current "Left Hand Path" arc? From the opening chapter, it appears to be a hybrid of the martial arts action and crime stories you would expect to find in "Daredevil." Can we expect more of that tone as the story goes on, or is the tale going to become something else?

It's a mystery, certainly, but it's also a character piece, and leads straight into future events. I've seen some people comment that this arc feels like "filler," just because we're not in New York. That's insane. "Left Hand Path" is part of a wider set-up that's been building since #501 and affects everything in Daredevil's life; we just haven't revealed everything yet. Have patience.

I think it's fair to say you can expect a little more action than you might be used to in "Daredevil." Nothing like a bit of ninjutsu to get the blood pumping.

Are there any others hints or teases as to what fans can expect from the remaining chapters of "Left Hand Path?"

Surprises, twists, and clues to the future. Also, ninjutsu.

Let's switch gears a bit and discuss your first solo DD story, the one-shot "Daredevil: Cage Match" which comes out in May. How did this project come about?

Because of the aforementioned weird scheduling, "Left Hand Path" is coming out bimonthly, and Steve Wacker ("Daredevil" senior editor) asked if I wanted to write a one-shot to run in-between those months. I said yes, pitched a few ideas, and "Cage Match" is the one he went for.

One of the central figures in "Cage Match" is Luke Cage. In your mind what are Cage's most interesting personality traits?

I don't know a single writer who doesn't enjoy writing Cage, which I think speaks volumes about his personality. Cage is laconic, sure. He's a man who can see both sides of a situation. But when it matters, he cuts through the crap and gets to the heart of a matter. He knows the right thing to do, and has the self-belief (and bulletproof skin) to pull it off - all without losing his cool. Who doesn't love that?

DD and Cage have worked together in the past and they've even been friends. Why do they get along so well, and how fragile are the bonds of friendship between them?

They both grew up in rough areas; they both have a temper; they both have fairly mundane superpowers, in relative terms; and they both care about their communities, the streets they grew up on and the ordinary people whose lives are just as important as any hero's. They're simply a good fit, because they care about the same things. 

Where it gets fragile is on how best to solve problems that are more complex than just punching someone in the face. They're not that far off politically, but they have very different views on authority, the law, how to maintain social justice, and so on. It's like two guys running against one another in primaries - sure they're in the same party, but they run on different platforms. 

(And that is a one-shot I'd like to see...!)

When does "Cage Match" take place? From the cover it seems like this might be a tale of the two characters in their early days...

Put it this way, Matt has a secret identity, and Luke is in a tiara. So yes, we're going back a while.

What can you tell us about the plot and themes of "Cage Match?"

It's about friendship, and the respect you have to give someone to remain their friend. It's about not backing down from impossible challenges, because to do so would jeopardize that respect. It's about Matt and Luke facing off in the abandoned, dusty ring at Fogwell's Gym for the ultimate match.

Oh, and it's about Foggy stepping into the spotlight for once. Poor guy.

How important is "Cage Match" in the overall Daredevil mythos? Is this just a fun one-off story, does it set the stage for a larger story to come. or does it do both things?

Definitely leaning more towards the "fun one-off" side of things. But it does have a serious point to make about Matt and Luke's friendship, and the respect they have for each other, both as people and heroes - something that will be an important part of Daredevil's near future.

Post-"Daredevil," will you continue to explore the Marvel Universe, or are your plans going to take you elsewhere?

I've just started work on a new miniseries to come out later this year. I can't tell you anything about it yet, but suffice to say it's another one firmly grounded in that "street-level" aspect of the Marvel U.

Outside of Marvel, I have a cold war spy thriller graphic novel, "Cold City," coming from Oni later in the year. "Wasteland" is still rattling along (despite some delays, which we're moving to resolve very soon). I'm also working on some videogames, and other comics, that I can't talk about right now. But it's all exciting stuff.

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