THE BAT SIGNAL: Nocenti Toys With "Death Of The Family" In "Catwoman"

DC Comics' multi-part Joker crossover, "Death of the Family," kicks off in the Batman group of books this month, including "Catwoman" by new writer Ann Nocenti and artist Rafa Sandoval.

Beginning in "Catwoman" #13 and continuing into #14 Joker has his sights set on Selina, taunting her with remnants of her past while Catwoman is engaged in a lethal game of living chess that has dire consequences for the chess pieces should they lose.

With Joker on the offensive and Selina in the dark, THE BAT SIGNAL swooped in to speak with Nocenti about the book's new direction, Nocenti's take on the Joker and what readers should expect after Selina's entanglement with the Clown Prince of Gotham!

CBR News: In issue #13 you start Catwoman's "Death Of The Family" tie-in arc. Did you know going into the book that your first issues would be Joker related?

Ann Nocenti: When the "Death Of The Family" storyline was masterminded by Scott [Snyder], [Editor] Rachel [Gluckstern] called me and said, "Do you want to play in this playground?" And I was like, "Yes! Of course!" [Laughs] I always thought the Joker was one of the greatest villains of all time. What I like about the villainy of the Joker is that it ranges from almost Three Stooges like humor -- just sort of gags and stand-up -- all the way to stuff that's so dark, especially with the Heath Ledger performance [in "The Dark Knight."] He's been given a huge range as a villain: he's not stuck in one dimension, he's got a really scattershot aspect to his insanity and wants to fool with people and sometimes he gets really dark. I love the idea of being able to play with a really dark Joker.

While the other Bat allies have direct connections to Joker -- like Barbara and her past with him, or Jason Todd and his -- Catwoman is not a character who is well known for tangling with him. Why would the Joker target her?

Well, I think it gets back to what is the New 52; you restart a character at #0, how do you deal with the fact that you're wiping out sixty years of history, but it's the same character. She has had adventures with the Joker, back in her past. I always use the same word, DNA, but it's kind of what it is -- she is young, she's starting out, she's only had thirteen issues, she doesn't have sixty years of stories anymore, she has thirteen stories. But the DNA of who she is and all the manifestations, going all the way back, is there. So she has met the Joker. She knows who the Joker is. But in playing it, you have to do this dance where she doesn't know the Joker because she's New 52. It's familiar to her, this guy, in she knows who he is -- it's familiar to her in she knows Batman has battled the Joker, but in terms of her specific battle with the Joker, because I think she had some moments with him even twenty years ago, it's not the sort of thing that would be vivid in her mind as it's the past.

In issue #13 artist Rafa Sandoval really imbued an abstract, almost dreamlike quality to the pages when Joker first starts taunting Selina. Did you two talk about visually reflecting him toying with her mind?

Yeah, we talked about that sequence in particular because it is the Joker -- we couldn't reveal yet that it was the Joker, but we wanted it to have this creepy, shadowy quality that embraced her running around rooftops, trying to find who it was who was projecting this shadow in the sky. I mean, imagine somebody sends you something that you know was one of the treasured toys of your dead best friend. Your mind would be reeling! "Who got this out of the fire? Who is sending it to me?" So her mind is reeling, not just from memories of grief of this girl who helped [Selina] her whole life, but there are also these projections in the sky and she's chasing.

So what we talked about was early German expressionism, movies like "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari" or "Nosferatu" where you have these creeping shadows and tilted angles, to put the reader off balance with the abstraction of it. Our hope was, I don't know if it worked, that you would be inside Catwoman's mind, which has been pretty derailed by this. Out of the sky falls a toy of her dead best friend, and then there are weird shadows and someone wants her to chase them and she ends up finding another one of her toys! That sequence was, "Let's unsettle her subconscious." And at the same time you see her as Selina going, "Well I got a new apartment, how fun!" [Laughs]

In that aspect she's going about business as usual!

Sometimes I think of superheroes and super villains as soldiers. When you're in a war or some kind of crisis there are a lot of weird things that happen that you brush by. Soldiers are trained to deal with seeing horrible things and keep being soldiers. But how does a solo -- I guess we'd call her an anti-hero/villain -- deal with it? She was raised in an orphanage and saw lots of bad stuff, so she's kind of used to deflection: "That was weird last night, but now it's morning!"

And we saw that in the #0 issue you wrote as well, as she bounced back and forth between being Catwoman and working in the office.

Yeah that's something that, again, I think the #0 issues were a way to say, "Here's the mini-bible on the character, for those of you who are twelve and thirteen and fourteen and just starting to read comics. Here's your #0 issue where you get the essence of this character." The #0 issues I read seemed to work for me, in terms of if I was just getting into comics, and as a way to say to older readers, "Look, we don't really want you to deal with the weight of sixty years of history!" That's a lot of weight! [Laughs]

Another thing that stuck out was the repetition of games -- Joker's playing a game with her while she's stealing parts of a giant chess set. Was the chess game an idea you had before learning about the tie-in?

When they gave me the gist of what was going to happen in the Bat family books I felt it would be a Joker-y thing to do, to play a chess game with these huge pieces. It's a little cornball, but I always liked the scene in "The Seventh Seal," the Bergman film, where the guy's going to play a game of chess with Death. Joker's playing a chess game and she is a pawn in the game. He's checking out who's in the Bat family and what are their feelings about him. He clearly thinks of her as a pawn in this bigger game of finding out if she a White Queen or a Black Queen -- is she going to be Batman's foe or his ally?

Of course next issue things get really wacky because he enters the scene and we show how he's messing with her head. But he's a twisted genius, so he's laying the groundwork: "First let me pull the ground out from under this girl. Let me find things she finds disturbing and like a nightmare she can't deal with. Then let's offer a heist that will be easy for her to do and she'll make a lot of money, and then boom!" She realizes at the end with the checkmate she was one of the pawns. And the little kid in the trashcan is an old piece of chess history. Really early games of chess used to make pawns like trashcans because they were considered the disposable pieces, which they're not in real chess! But they have this underclass tone to them. I wanted to have some psychological resonance to her feeling like a trashcan kid and an orphan kid. You get the feeling that the Joker's just becomes obsessed with everything surrounding Batman and everyone around Batman, and he's going at each one in different fashions.

Looking down the road, after "Death Of The Family" you have Catwoman facing off against Eclipso and trying to steal the Black Diamond from the Black Room. Is this the same Eclipso readers know from before the New 52?

Well, again, I really like continuity. I like playing in the bigger game and Eclipso is an old character and the Diamond is basically considered [an] evil object! In different books that are set in the past some of them are having the Black Diamond and showing pieces of its history and who had it. What happens in "Catwoman," now we're in the present, is the Black Diamond ended up in a vault under high security and everyone hopes that it never gets out. And here Catwoman is handed this assignment and is like, "Oh boy! I get to steal a black diamond? How cool!" She has no idea! [Laughs]

What's really fun for me is there hasn't been that much done yet with the Black Room -- the Black Room is this room in the A.R.G.U.S. building where a lot of powerful objects are stored because the thinking is, "Maybe this is an evil object, maybe not, but we should keep this locked up and guarded." What's been really fun for me is to read about the history of all these objects, because some of them are real pieces of history and some of them are pieces of DC history, so it's been really fun to choose what objects to play with in the Black Room. It's going to be one of her greatest thefts.

I think because of going from dark storyline to dark storyline I'm going to ground her again in her day to day life in Gotham, bring it back down to reality, bring back Detective Alvarez. There's not much about him yet, other than he has this sort of curiosity about Catwoman. He wants to bust her but he has some sympathy for her. I've always liked that cop/con relationship; there are some similarities to them and the way they play off each other. So I'm going to bring him back, and of course Gwen is going to stick around.

"Catwoman" #14 hits shelves November 21.

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