Shooting arrows and a life of thievery: An Interview with Ann Nocenti
Ann Nocenti is a critically acclaimed writer, and has written for both Marvel Comics and DC Comics. She is best known for her runs on the Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Classic X-Men books. She is currently the ongoing writer for Green Arrow, and is taking over Catwoman from Judd Winick. She was nice enough to speak with me, and answer some questions I had concerning the two ongoing books.
Tommy Zimmer: To start off, let’s talk about Green Arrow. You have focused a lot on the character’s ability to jump into action without thinking about the consequences sometimes like an arrow being shot at a target. What made you decide to take this approach to the character?
Ann Nocenti: The New 52, which was a great idea, and if I understand it correctly, it was about taking characters with 40 or 50 years of history and stories, and starting fresh. To me, starting fresh meant younger, with less experience, less seasoned, and yet somehow with all that experience and talent latent inside. Kind of like genetics—I have my grandfather’s farming blood in me, without his experience of running a farm, but it’s there, I feel it in my DNA. So Green Arrow/Oliver Queen would not have the years of street experience of his entire mythology—but he has the bones and blood for it. He’s heading towards having a stronger conscience, he’s evolving towards understanding repercussions, but he’s just not there yet. The seasoned Green Arrow of Denny O’Neil and Mike Grell’s era, a man who can have a mature relationship and fights for social justice… this new Oliver Queen is still to green (pun intended) to be that mature. But I wanted all my stories to have that subtext and tension: with the Skylarks, he felt the first shudders of repercussions for shooting off recklessly on a whim. With the Dark Arrows, he started to sense that if you are going to protect a city—don’t jet off and abandon it. He meets a girl in a bar and talks about Occupy Seattle—he’s curious, but he doesn’t rush off to fight social justice. But the seed is planted.
TZ: You have emphasized the duality of his life. Not only showing Oliver Queen in his superhero persona, but also him in his normal life. He seems to be struggling with women a lot. Is that why you chose to introduce the Skylark trio?
AN: With the Skylarks I just wanted to set a honey trap. I wanted to have a satiric story about fame and fans and celebrity—then twist it in a dark way. The Skylarks want to please him—then they want to own him. And Oliver Queen STILL doesn’t know that the one Skylark that did care for him didn’t betray him after all. So the door is open for another visit from the Skylarks.
TZ: Going forward, will that be in the back of his mind as he goes off on more adventures? Will that loss of love haunt him at all?
AN: In the China stories, he falls for Suzie Ming, China’s favorite superhero. She is everything the Skylarks were not—she’s modest, she has a vision for China, the country she loves. The corruption and pollution of China hurts her to her core. She is to China what Captain America was to the US, in his heyday. Queen recognizes a goodness in Suzie Ming, and a sense of putting your country before yourself. She’s the opposite of what you’d expect him to fall for: she’s not dark, she’s not a femme fatale. But she falls for Green Arrow, not Oliver Queen, which could become a problem.
TZ: Continuing with that idea, he seems to have had a real heart to heart with Pauline in the issue Steven Kurth did… will we see more of her as she seems to have vanished….?
AN: I love the issues that story raised: it was all a metaphor for modern pharmaceuticals as a way of leveling emotions rather than dealing with them, hence, Pauline Pearl thinks she’s robotic. She WANTS to be a robot. It’s kind of a flipside to that great book and film, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” that became “Bladerunner.” In that story, the replicants craved humanity. In today’s world of leveling extreme emotions, being a robot is seen as a good thing. Not FEELING too much is seen as a good thing. Or at least that’s what I was trying to say in the story. Then the ending… when Queen goes to see what her “Robots Anonymous” club is like, and he meets people, like himself, that like the feel of metal on their skin, he’s a bit shocked. I’d like to do more with that notion of an underground help group for people that wear metal.
TZ: For you, do you think Oliver found something in her he could relate to? Maybe the inability to control his own life?
AN: That’s a good question, and yes, I think you are right. He’s moving too fast to THINK. He never pauses. He flings himself from battle to battle. I specifically don’t show him relaxing, don’t show him doing anything normal or routine. But because of his recklessness, and repercussions, he’s finally beginning to reflect a bit on his actions.
TZ: In the #11, you introduced the Dark Arrows. What makes them tick in their view of Queen? You obviously were inspired by the Occupy movements and Tea Party-type stuff occurring around the country?
AN: The Dark Arrows were calling him out. They were traditional Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They were asking him to pay attention to things like the home foreclosures in his own city. The ironic point in that story is that Queen Industries was in the process of being “foreclosed” on. Green Arrow had vanished, Queen been declared dead, his company stock plummeted, and was taken over by a Chinese businessman. In a sense, he’s about to be in the same situation as many in America: foreclosed. And there is a hint that the female Dark Arrow is a disturbed rich girl, and had a very different agenda than the Occupy Movement.
TZ: That issue seemed to rush their entrance into his life as you seemed to use that as a springboard for the Chinese adventures? Why is that? Will they be returning?
AN: I wanted to show that Oliver Queen has his eye on things much larger and more international than what’s going on in Seattle with social justice issues—again, in the New 52, heroes have a clean slate, are younger, and so have some maturing to do. Plus, I think right now America and China are at odds with issues of copyright infringement, free press, pollution control, labor laws, etc, and Oliver Queen having advanced surveillance technology to sell behind the firewall of China, it seemed like a good place to take him. Seattle’s largest immigrant population is Chinese, so I’m also seeding the future there. He now has an ally in China in Suzie Ming, and a nemesis in Jin Fang.
TZ: What made you decide to place Arrow in China? Is is the ongoing financial competition between American and Chinese companies for domination of the global economy? How much will he sacrifice to get his company and to what lengths?He certainly seems he won’t be giving up any of his technology….?
AN: Yes, exactly. The resolution to that story isn’t out yet, but yes, he is grappling with how far he should go to save his company. In issue #13 you see what he does.
TZ: A theme that seems to resonate in all the New 52 runs on Green Arrow but most strongly in your’s is Queen’s public persona. How much will he continue to be able to get away with? Will people start to wonder who he is and why he chooses the decisions he does?
AN: I think it is a lovely conceit in comics that characters can strut about with their public personas just a shade away from their secret identities. When Clark Kent whips his glasses off and becomes Superman, is anyone really fooled? His face is exactly the same, but the delight in that character is how he’s developed his bungling body language so beautifully that people buy it. Oliver Queen, like Bruce Wayne, plays up the womanizing, socializing persona in their civilian form, in order to throw people off. Do a pair of green goggles really alter your face so much to make you unrecognizable? No. Do we love the conceit that they do? Yes.
TZ: As your run continues, will you start to delve into his background much more?
AN: I skipped the Green Arrow #0 issue, I didn’t write that one, and don’t really have plans to delve into his background, other than that I think his father was far more complex than even Oliver Queen knows. His father, in putting Emerson in charge of the company, was telling his son he didn’t trust him. He didn’t think his son was ready. But when Emerson tried to take over Queen Industries, using the supposed death of Oliver Queen to get rid of him, it backfired. Queen’s father had put a “good will” clause in Emerson’s deal: hurt my son, and you’re out. I think Queen’s father is going to rise as the key to young Queen’s core.
TZ: With the new continuity relating to his background, did Queen ever date Dinah Lance? Will Black Canary ever appear in the upcoming issues?
AN: As far as I understand it, no, he’s never met Black Canary. I imagine that yes, he will meet her in the future.
TZ: Finally, what do you feel Harvey Tolibao brings to the book?
AN: Harvey’s detail is extraordinary. It’s just gorgeous. I love the way designed the Skylark Triplets, and his design on Jin Fang and his Tong thugs is just masterful. And now Freddie Williams is doing a few issues, and his Suzie Ming is perfect. She’s got a mix of tradition and sass. She has her eye on the horizon—on the future of her beloved China, and he’s captured that perfectly. Now we’re doing a Hawkman story in Green Arrow #14 that is dedicated to Hawkman creator Joe Kubert, and it is a war story, also in honor of Kubert, and the shots Freddie’s done of these big men pushing themselves in battle, then the dark moments, the pause in the battlefield when they wonder if they made the right moves, Freddie is capturing the glory and agony of those moments with enormous power.
TZ: Moving into Catwoman, how did you become the writer on it? Did you send a pitch or did Judd choose you to replace him….?
AN: Bob Harras called me up and told me the book was open, and he asked me to write it. I was thrilled, Catwoman has resonated with me for a long time. I was obsessed with Irma Vep from the old Feuillade series, he had a woman in a catsuit creeping around stealing jewels… and then Michelle Pheiffer’s Catwoman was, for me, a divine feminist moment, when she quit her wage slave job and ripped up her feminine lonely-girl home and hit the rooftops. I mean, wow.
TZ: Mr. Winick has emphasized Selina Kyle’s sexuality more than most writers. As a female writer, do find that he was ever misogynistic? Did you find he was true to the character in your view?
AN: Catwoman is sexy. That’s just the way it is. It is her decision to pour herself into skin-tight leather with one long zipper, no one elses. It’s a key to her character and her mythos, that comes out of her orphaned and foster care beginnings. Her being sexy and portraying her as sexy is not at all misogynistic to me, it’s fun, it’s who she is. Is there a darkness underneath? Sure, I think so, and that’s something I’m going to explore.
TZ: In doing that, he focused on her dual life and went back to her use of disguises which goes back to her first appearance in the comics. Will your Catwoman be using such tactics or will she mostly be using the cat suit?
AN: Theives use everything in their arsenal… and that includes all the hustler’s skills of pretending to be something you’re not. It’s the beauty of the long and short con. And growing up the way she did, she probably tried out various personas to give people what they wanted, and cloak who she really was. She’s a natural deceiver, but always for the goal of a score. I don’t see her deceiving friends, or those around her, unless it is unconscious. But being deceptive does flow around and affect your manner– you are what you do– so that’s something we’ll play with.
TZ: As she deals with the Joker in the upcoming “Death of the Family” event, why does he choose her? What’s his gripe with her?
AN: I’m following Scott Snyder’s lead on this. He pitched a wonderful little psycho-dilemma that has to do with the symbiotic relationship between Batman and the Joker, and gave us that psycho nugget to play with. It has to do with the core love/hate relationship between heroism and villainy, and I chose to have the Joker intuit the root pain in Catwoman and torture her with that. I can say that it’s has been a blast.
TZ: Selina has had a troubled past. From growing up in a broken home to becoming a stripper to a cat burglar, what will be her origin story in the New 52 #0 issue?
AN: I think the origin of seminal, mythic characters are shifty things. You go back to the ground, to the original moment, like a mining expedition, and shift through the clay and find some new layer. So she has a new origin in Catwoman 0, but it resonates and harks back to various origin stories in her past. It’s a re-telling, in a new way, that I hope adds another layer of pathos and power to the thing that drives her.
TZ: What themes from that issue will resonate in your upcoming run?
AN: She’ll have a powerful, obsessive, existential and a practical desire to know who she is.
TZ: How much confrontation going forward with Batman will there be? Do believe they are meant to be together as some versions of her story have portrayed?
AN: He’ll be in and out of her life, and yes, I agree that they have an intense connection, but I don’t think they need each other so much as they need to know the other one is there, out there somewhere. They will never have a traditional relationship, but they understand what makes each other tick, and he will continue to pull on her conscience and she will continue to resist that pull.
TZ: Will she be undergoing any changes such as maybe a change in her uniform or return to her long hair?
AN: I don’t think so, I’m thrilled with the way Rafa is drawing her, and he’s nailed the sassy, singular style of Selina Kyle. If he or my editor Rachel suggest visual changes, I’m sure I’d be game.
TZ: What do you think she is seeking as she continues to steal? Will she ever find it?
AN: That’s a great question. She is seeking something unattainable: to truly know who she is. It’s an unanswerable existential question, and no matter how many babbles and glitter she fills her life with she remains in the empty nest she was born in. It’s deep, but that’s all the more reason she’ll be breezy and flighty and fun-seeking– she’ll continue to skate far, far above the pain.
TZ: Who will be the main artist on the book? Rafael Sandoval and Adriana Melo seem to be doing an issue each as your run begins? Do you have any input on artists as a writer?
AN: Rafa Sandoval is definitely the permanent artist on Catwoman going forward. He’s genius, my jaw drops when I see the pages come in. He has the essentials: Great storyteller, great characterization, but what he spins beyond that is just magic. That Rachel got him for the book is a major coup that I am soooo grateful for.
TZ: Going forward, what characters will remain supporting staples in your run? Will Detective Alvarez or Spark continue to show up? I adore continuity, so the death of Lola continues to haunt Catwoman, her heist connection Gwen is still around, and I plan on bringing back Detective Alvarez, because I think there is a thin line sometimes between cop and con, and I’d love to play with that tension. Then going forward, I want to do some homework, read early Catwoman’s and find new things in her past to play with, come up with surprises from her past.
TZ: Finally, what adventures do have planned for her going forward? What do want readers to take away from your run? How long do plan to stay on the book?
AN: My next batch of stories I’ll be playing with continuity a lot, crossovers, playing inside the Bat Family, and then after issue 18 I’ll be taking her in a new direction, hopefully creating her “Joker,” her symbiotic nemesis, her arch villian. I hope my run with Catwoman is very, very long!
Be sure to check out Ms. Nocenti’s debut issue of Catwoman #0 which hits stores today. We would like to extend our thanks to Ms. Nocenti for her participation in this edition of Zimmertainment!!
Tommy Zimmer is an upcoming writer of short stories, comic books, journalism/media reviews, screenplays, and anything related to writing. On zimmert101.wordpress.com, you can view his latest work, and see what exciting things he is currently doing!!