Ann Nocenti, one of DC’s key writers, was good enough to take a moment to speak with us about Katana, Catwoman, and intertwining them in the Justice League of America.
Gamma Squad: You have a fairly extensive background in film, theater, and journalism. How do you draw on that for the books that you write?
Ann Nocenti: From my years in journalism, I love the way research takes one down crazy new roads. I tend to over-research an idea. The hard part in comics and film is distilling that information down into something with story-telling power and visual impact. And making films gave me a love of b-roll. In film, your a-roll is your master shots, establishing shots, but b-roll is the fun part, the second camera where you capture the mise en scene, and also find the little visual ticks that help define a character.
For instance, in Green Arrow, I knew I wanted to strip him of everything. So I gave him a head wound and had his head bandaged, as a symbolic way of showing it wasn’t outside forces taking him down so much as stemming from work he had to do on his own heroic nature.
Gamma Squad: Katana is built around an actual neighborhood in San Francisco, Japantown. Why did you choose that as your setting?
Nocenti: My editor at the time, Rachel Gluckstern, thought it would be good to have Katana leave Gotham when she left the Birds of Prey. Rachel suggested San Francisco. I began to research the city, and found two blocks left of what used to be Japantown. Katana was raised traditionally Japanese and yet is clearly an aggressive, progressive woman. So I thought a modern Japantown that also had a fictional element that went back in time would be a good setting for her. Alex Sanchez is brilliant at layering the real Japantown with an ancient Japan from the past.
Gamma Squad: How close is your Japantown to the real thing? What liberties do you have to take?
Nocenti: Japantown has a rich history. It was a sprawling area, but after Pearl Harbor, and the WWII internment camps, the Japanese were forced to leave. The Japanese couldn’t own homes at the time, so the area was taken over by others. But there are a couple streets that have been preserved, as a symbolic gesture and a tourist attraction. I decided, that since Katana is fighting the ancient clans of The Outsiders, that I would telescope time and have her Japantown hark back to the pre-WWII Japantown. That’s why Junko lives in a thatched hut, and there are brothels and yakuza bars, things that you can’t find anymore in the real Japantown. Katana gets a job in a yakuza sake bar, to eavesdrop on the clientele and find out about the Outsider Clans.
Gamma Squad: In addition to Katana, you’ve also got Catwoman on your plate, both members of the Justice League of America. Will being on the same team mean the two intersect more often?
Nocenti: Catwoman and Katana meet in Catwoman #19, and it isn’t a pleasant encounter. For the most part their solo books exist in a separate universe from the JLA and from each other. Katana is on a vengeance mission, and Catwoman an infamous thief, and neither are likely members for the JLA. But I knew they were joining the JLA, so I wanted to slowly move both characters towards a more heroic sensibility so that it would make sense that they would go on missions for the JLA. Catwoman finally steals a diamond (Eclipso’s Black Diamond) that makes her sick of diamonds. She understands she can’t be a solo operator forever, and considers working with the Rat-Tails to fight off the Penguin in Gotham. Katana develops a supporting cast in Japantown and allows herself to trust others. These things lay the groundwork for these two loners to begin to think about working with others.
Gamma Squad: You took over Catwoman after a somewhat controversial launch to the book in some respects. What’s it like taking over for a book after so much chatter about it online?
Nocenti: In general, if you take over an established character like Catwoman, who has 60 years of stories, many readers will be upset that your take doesn’t fit their favorite take on the character. Years later, in hindsight, some of the most controversial takes on characters went on to be celebrated. Doing something new stretches the character and helps re-define them, but it takes years for readers to accept change to a beloved character. I read the previous writer’s run on Catwoman, and thought it was fun. It was lickity-split fast paced, a great ride.