Ed Brubaker Interview

[Ed Brubaker Interview]Ed Brubaker has got the tiger by the tail these days. He's gone from writing alternative comics to writing DC's flagship "Batman" comic and now he's on board as the writer for DC's Catwoman each month. Still, he finds time to launch a new book next year on Wildstorm's Mature line of comics starting with a five issue mini-series called "Point Blank" and a spin-off ongoing series after that called "Sleepers".

Brubaker talked with CBR about his upcoming work and gave a little insight into what makes his Batman different from the rest.

[Catwoman]Keith Giles: Tell me about "Catwoman." What new perspective do you bring?

Ed Brubaker: I guess it's different because I never read what came before (laughs). No, but really, I read what was pointed out to me by the editor as the more formative stuff, then I read from the beginning of Devin Grayson's run on. I don't know how different [my Catwoman] actually is from what came before, other than that what came before isn't necessarily the kind of thing I would write. The main thing that's different to me is that I'm trying to get into her as a character who obviously has a lot of internal conflict in her life and explore her character. I felt she lent herself to that film-noir kind of world, and luckily we were able to get [artist] Darwyn Cooke to draw it and he's totally comfortable in that kind of a world.

KG: How did the Slam Bradley series in "Detective" come about as the lead in to the new "Catwoman" series?

EB: At first, when the editors were asking us to do this lead in teaser type thing -- the back-ups in "Detective" -- their suggestion was to do just a Selina Kyle story where she wasn't Catwoman and show what she was doing before our first issue and I thought, you know, that it's more important to leave it vague what she was doing. So, I thought, let's have someone exploring her character and this will be a chance to point out everything I think is cool and important about her character. So, it turns out that Darwyn and I both really liked Slam Bradley as a character and wanted to use him.

For me, "Catwoman," as a comic, has been too concerned about showing her always having to steal something. Like, every few issues some priceless diamond shipment is coming to Gotham and she's gotta go steal it. But you know, after a while, no one's going to bring their diamond shipments to Gotham.

KG: Yeah, you'd think…and if they did wouldn't they bring a small army along with them to guard it?

EB: Yeah, the Crown Jewels are not going to be on display! Plus, if you've been a professional thief for ten years, and you're as good as Catwoman is supposed to be, I mean, real professional thieves pull off like two, three jobs a year. And they're not kleptomaniacs. They're not doing it all the time and they don't get lured into stuff that they just can't pass up stealing. Those are the people who end up in jail.

KG: Right!

EB: If you were really some hot-shot thief, not only would she not steal that often, when she did she'd steal big. I also figure she's got millions stashed away in safety deposit boxes all over the country and in Gotham. So, I just thought, who is she? Where did she come from? The way you tell almost any story is to find out who the character is, what their background is, what's important to them, and try to discover which stories make sense for that character. The interesting thing to me is, looking at Selina Kyle, she's someone who was orphaned as a kid, raised in the system in the some of the worst conditions, ended up on the streets. But she's got to have some capacity for caring. I think she's only shown that, so far, with Batman really. Or in "Batman: Year One," she showed some compassion for Holly, but that was it. So, why doesn't she care about other people like her? People who the system doesn't care about, the cops don't care about and who, really, Batman doesn't care about? That's kind of where I found a place to get Selina's stories from.

KG: Very interesting. No one's really thought about that side of things before.

EB: Well, I don't know if anyone else has ever thought of it before, they may have, (laughs) but that's what I'm doing.

KG: But, most writers have approached Catwoman from the stereotypical cat-burglar character who is very shallow as a person.

EB: I have the benefit of coming from outside mainstream comics. I spent my early twenties to my early thirties totally outside that world, doing alternative comics. Now I've come into this as sort of a crash course. When I first got offered the "Catwoman" book, I had just finished reading a series of books by Lawrence Block's "Matthew Scudder" books, he's a private detective. So, in these books, about halfway through he just starts taking jobs for people who the cops wouldn't help. One of the books is about these criminals who were targeting drug dealers because they know they won't go to the cops and they're kidnapping their wives and saying, "Give us a million dollars or we'll send your wife back in pieces" and so they give them the million dollars and they get their wife back in pieces anyway. The cops wouldn't really help them. The cops would just be like, "So, where'd you get the million dollars?" So, this was a brilliant crime. So, I looked at that and I thought, "That's the way to approach Catwoman." Like Matt Scudder, he's a PI who's best friend is a criminal and that's a lot like Selina Kyle who is a criminal and who happens to be a pretty cool person underneath it all.

KG: So, what surprises do you have in store for us with Catwoman?

EB: Uhmm….sheesh. I guess I could, but I feel like the way comics are now so much is spoiled ahead of time. It's not like reading TV Guide to see what next week's show's about, I mean, people are reading "Previews" now. You gotta figure like maybe 20% of people who are buying comics now read Previews, maybe more. So, everyone's months ahead. I'm like ten months ahead on Catwoman and you've got to reach a point where you either care or don't care about stories being spoiled.

KG: Well, you don't have to spoil anything for us.

EB: Ok, I won't.

KG: So, will we see any of the other Bat-family members show up in Catwoman?

EB: Batman, yes. A couple of other characters from Gotham City are in there, but I'm trying to stick as far away from any cross-overs or continuity tangles as possible. Like, with Catwoman we never mention the whole Bruce Wayne Murderer storylines coming up. One of the cops from "Detective Comics" shows up and there will be a few other characters in there. Who knows, Wildcat might even show up someday. It's kind of like a big noir soap opera. I kind of started out thinking I'd just do a year on the book and then I wrote up until issue six and I thought this is some of the best writing I've done. It's really cool to be writing a super hero comic that isn't Batman. I mean, Batman is the coolest job in the world, but there's all this continuity with him. Batman's like the most popular comic book character of the twentieth century. There's not a lot I do that gets sent back to me from the editors, but I know that I can't shake things up too much. There are major meetings about changes to Batman's world. Everybody has to sign off on any major stuff. But, with Catwoman it's just me and my editor and whatever we want to do with Catwoman, that's it. Catwoman's a major DC character and everyone wants to use her in their book. Darwyn and I have basically re-designed her look and now if she appears in the Flash or something, she's going to look the way we designed her. Not with a tail or the purple costume.

There's times I wish I could do what James Robinson did with "Starman" and do the book for six or seven years and then kill the character off at the end. (Laughs)

KG: She's mine and no one else can use her. (Laughs)

EB: But, I'm really into most everything I'm writing now.

KG: So, what was the first indie comic you did?

[A Complete Lowlife]EB: I did a comic in 1989 for Slave Labor called "Purgatory USA" sort of a pre-cursor to "Lowlife." The stuff in "Lowlife" kind of came out of those.

KG: Auto-biographical stories?

EB: It's nothing I want people to seek out, really.

KG: How did you get that gig?

EB: I started off as a cartoonist. I always wanted to do my own stuff. When I was a kid I wanted to be a penciller and I really wanted to draw Spider-Man or Captain America and then I discovered Cerebus and Love and Rockets as I got older and got turned on to this whole other world. I always felt like my art wasn't "Super-Hero-y" enough. But, then I thought, if Dave Sim can do it, I can do it. But, then as you grow up as a cartoonist, hopefully, you actually start to get an appreciation for the history of the comics medium. Instead of just looking at Hanna-Barbera and saying those guys can't draw. I mean, wait a second! (Laughs)

I spent so many years doing indie stuff that now I'm amazed at people's opinions of art and comics. Everyone's got this bizarre idea of what's good art and what isn't.

I remember being at a convention as a teenager seeing Scott Shaw! These kids came up and were looking at some art he'd done for some Cocoa Pebbles stuff and one of the kids said, "Do you ever wish that you could draw good so you could draw Spider-Man or Superman?" and he said, "Well, I think I do draw good. This is how I wanted to draw my whole life!" I mean, arguably his was a much more commercial style than the guy who was drawing "X-Men" at the time and they're looking at a page that, in the early eighties, he was paid like five thousand dollars for. That kind of opened my eyes and then I got into the alternative comics where everyone has their own style and started learning about cartooning as an art form. Then I realized that this tiny genre of super-heroes owes a lot to those people in the early days that a lot people who read comics don't even know about.

KG: Very true. Especially in America it's all about the icons and super heroes.

EB: And one of my favorite current cartoonists is Don Rosa and I haven't been able to read his stuff for like five years now because he does stuff only in Europe. Nobody publishes his Uncle Scrooge comics in America and that's just ridiculous.

KG: Yes it is. So, to change gears here, what do you think about how your "Deadenders" comic fared?

[Deadenders]EB: I actually thought "Deadenders" would be an amazingly huge commercial comic! (Laughs) Vertigo needed a teen comic and I thought that WB would probably make a tv show out of it and it had scooters in it and kids who are into scooters will buy anything with scooters in it. Actually, I think, now that it's all over, I think it would make a more successful television show. Everytime WB is looking for new material I hope that Deadenders will get noticed.

KG: Well, what if the series had continued? Were there plots you didn't get to develop?

EB: I had planned through issue twenty four and it got to the point where it wasn't going that good and then I wanted to end it at issue eighteen and then suddenly my six issue plan got cut into a three issue plan.

KG: So, you did plan an ending?

EB: Well, I did plan to do it for two years. There were things I could've done after that, but if the book had been more popular I could've written stories about the other kids in the book.

KG: Do you have a preference as a writer for more realistic stories as opposed to the super-hero stories?

EB: I don't know, probably. I feel a little hemmed in by Batman, sometimes, because it's Batman. Every single issue has to be about Batman and there's a certain amount of action I've got to have in every single issue but you know I just look at that as my constraint and do my best. Sometimes I've succeeded, sometimes I've failed.

KG: You're big on characters, are there things left to tell about Batman? How many hundreds of stories have been written about this guy?

[Batman]EB: The idea is to find new things. I'm pretty sure I'm the first guy who's ever shown Bruce Wayne's first kiss. There may have been something in the fifties. But, I just try to look at the comics that have gone before and I say, "For me, this is the way to take this character", and the problem is that there's so many people working on Batman every month. Three books a month have Batman as the main character and then there's every member of the supporting cast with their own books where he appears as a supporting cast member and then Batman is in the JLA and half the time he's in Superman or some other comics too.

I hate to sound like I'm grousing about Batman. But, it's the one book that I work on where I have to worry about that stuff and cross-overs. Especially when we're in the middle of a big storyline where everyone takes part in a bigger story. Usually we just get a big bag every month with xeroxes of everyone's issues after they've been inked and lettered, but now we're at the stage where we're reading each others scripts to make sure we don't overlap.

KG: Like if someone gives him a scar over his eye…

EB: Yeah, make sure you don't put it over the wrong eye in your book. Right. There was actually, in January, a place where Devin and I wrote the exact same scene and she chose to take this one spin on hers and so I had to re-write like half of the dialog in my scene since mine shipped after hers.

I'm clean-up every month since Batman ships last.

KG: How would you define the Brubaker "Batman?" When people are looking back at your tenure on this book, how do you want them to remember your work?

EB: Well, the best Batman ever! (Laughs) I'm sadly not much of a Batman historian, but I felt like the Batman of the fifties, sixties and early seventies that was the coolest stuff. The comics in the nineties looked like it was too tied up together, not too easy to jump in. I think they're pretty accessible now though.

KG: Is there anything that sets your "Batman" title apart from the other titles out there now?

EB: I think I explore the Bruce Wayne side more than the other books out there. Devin Grayson did focus a little on (Bruce) with all that psychoanalysis stuff that was written by Bruce Wayne about his friends. But, she's interested in how Batman relates to the rest of the Bat-family as the really screwed up patriarch of the family. Whereas I'm more interested in exploring more of the tragedy angle where Bruce is more of the fractured persona and the Bruce Wayne part of him never really lived beyond the age he was when his parents got killed. After that he was really Batman only pretending to be Bruce Wayne sometimes. I thought that was fascinating, and I thought that was really screwed up.

KG: Oh yeah..

EB: Well, there are stories there, obviously. I've really tried to bring more humanistic stuff to it, more emotional impact to the stories. Not to suggest that they haven't always had it, but that's what I'm more interested in, more of the human element.

KG: So, tell me about your Wildstorm Mature stuff that's coming out.

EB: So far I'm working on one book for them. I start in January on the other book. One is called "Sleeper" and that is a spin-off of the mini-series that Colin Wilson is drawing called "Point Blank." It's kind of a weird project that sort of randomly happened where I had been talking about doing some creator-owned work through Homage and Scott Dunbier had an idea about a murder mystery comic in the Wildstorm Universe. Then it ended up being part of the Wildstorm Mature line and so Scott asked if I had any ideas as an ongoing and at first I thought about it and I said I was doing too much super-hero stuff at the moment. Then I thought about it for like five minutes more and I called him back up and said "Ok, I've got a great idea!" So, that's "Sleeper." I basically pitched it as "Donnie Brasco as a super-hero" because he's a superhero who is pretending to be a super-villain.

KG: Very cool.

EB: Well, it's kind of a very obvious idea. (Laughs) But, I told Scott that I'm tired of worrying about preventing a crime. The villain has more of a complex character at times than the hero. Of course, no super-villain has been able to carry their own comic. Not even Doctor Doom or The Joker who are like the two most popular villains out there. So, I was thinking that the way to do it was like that Playstation video game "Driver." Have you played that?

KG: Oh yeah, I've got that one.

EB: I remember thinking at the time how funny it was that you couldn't just be a criminal in that game. You had to be a cop pretending to be a criminal.

KG: Which, of course, justifies everyone you crash into and everything you destroy.

EB: Right. So, then I realized I had to change the mini-series around to make it work. It started out that, in "Point Blank," somebody gets murdered and Grifter is like really pissed and throwing people through windows and blowing people's heads off and trying to kill the guys who killed his friend. I describe it as "Get Carter meets The Watchmen", sort of a deconstructionist superhero story about a guy on the rampage. He's on a slow rampage, cause he's trying to solve this mystery but he's just a guy, he's not like Batman or Sherlock Holmes. So, then I had to change it so there wasn't a murder. Now, the person who was supposed to get killed is actually alive on life support. So, (in "Sleeper") the main character is a good guy pretending to be a bad guy but the only one who knows the truth is on life support.

Plus, a lot of what inspired me was stuff like the John Le Carre novels where he talks about the way people get made into double-agents where they have no choice and there's some of that in there. The title "Sleeper" comes from the espionage term for a double-agent. I got that from Greg Rucka actually. I couldn't come up with a name for the book and I talked to him and he immediately suggested "Sleeper" and I went public with the name as soon as I could so no one else could produce another book next year with the same title.

KG: Which Wildstorm characters will we be seeing?

EB: Well, in "Point Blank," Grifter of course, some of the Authority, characters from Wildcats, Team7 and Gen 13 -- but not in costume -- because one of the things about having these guys in your mature readers book is not to mention their superhero names and not have them in costume.

KG: Of course. So, when are these coming out?

EB: I think in May, "Point Blank" starts, and "Sleeper" follows that directly. Sean Phillips will be doing the "Sleeper" artwork for us.

Marvel Comics Teases A Spider-Man/Fantastic Four Team-Up

More in Comics