There was no comic book company more creative than DC back in the '80s. Touting books like The Killing Joke, Watchmen, Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sandman, the company altered the perception that comics were simply for kids. Writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman added literary complexity to the superhero genre and artists such as Brian Bolland, Stephen Bissette, and Dave Gibbons crafted ingenious art that had never been attempted before.
But recently, DC has fallen on some hard times. Bogged down after years of mismanaged stories and an overly complicated continuity, the company has seen its characters become less relatable and accessible for the common reader. It got to the point that if you didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the company and its characters, there was a chance that you would be completely lost by page one.
The company is aware of this and earlier this year they announced the "New 52," an initiative that relaunches 52 of DC’s most popular books from the beginning in an attempt to streamline stories and become more accessible to the average reader. These books will slightly tweak and reimagine these classic characters, while still retaining what made them so iconic in the first place. One of the men leading the charge for this new era of DC is writer Judd Winick.
Winick is the writer for the brand new Catwoman series as well as the debut solo title for the recently created character Batwing. Winick is no stranger to DC, having worked previously on Batman, Green Arrow, and Power Girl, but none of his previous titles were as important to the future of the company as his work on the "New 52" will be. Complex caught up with Winick to discuss origin stories, comic controversy, and tight leather body suits.
Interview by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)
Complex: What should readers know about DC’s "New 52" initiative?
Judd Winick: If you’ve ever read comics, or had an interest in comics, then this would be the time to pick up DC comics. I think a good example is that I was on an airplane about six months ago and I was sitting next to a dude that was kind of looking over my shoulder as I was writing. He said, “I see you're writing and the word ‘Batman’ keeps coming up. Do you work on the movies?” Then I told him, “No, I actually work on the comics,” which had him way more excited.
He said that he grew up reading comics, and I had a couple of years on him, but not too many, so we grew up reading roughly the same stuff. He was in his mid/late 30's and he said he stopped reading about 10 years ago. I asked him why and he said, “Well, one, I grew up, no offense. But you know what, that’s not the reason. The real reason is that I stopped reading for a few years and I felt like ‘Forget it, I’m lost. It will take me 100 comics or five years worth of comics to catch up or figure out what’s going on.'"
So I’m saying to him, and anyone else that has an interest in comics, you can pick up any one of the 52 comics, or all of the 52 new comics, and it’s like a fresh start. It’s just like coming into a television show or a movie, you can come in clean and start over. As we’ve said many times, this isn’t a reboot, it’s a fresh start. With that, we’re keeping a very strong eye for new readers. You wouldn’t have to read comics over the past two years, forget twenty years; it’s a good time to jump in.
Your most high-profile book in this initiative is Catwoman. Where does Selina Kyle begin in this new universe?
We’re kind of taking her back to the core of what Catwoman is. I think if you grabbed 100 people on the street and asked them about Catwoman, they would probably have the gist of who she is. It’s like, “Yeah, she dresses up like a cat, she’s a cat burglar, she steals things, and she’s really crazy sexy.”
And that’s all you need to know, that’s it, and that’s what we’re going with. Back to the core of who and what she is. She’s beautiful, she’s dangerous, she’s addicted to danger, she’s addicted to being a criminal. She’s not a villain per se, she’s a criminal; she steals things, more because she loves the thrill of it and is addicted to the danger than that she needs money. It’s not like she’s squirreling away money to somehow retire to an island. It’s more about “I dig doing this,” and whatever money she gets, she blows through it quickly.
Was there any trepidation on your part to take over such an iconic character that, a year from now, is going to be a huge movie star?
No, I’m up for it. Of all the characters in the DCU I’ve done, and I’ve done tons of them, Catwoman is one of the only characters that I had not written at all. Not even a little bit, not even a little drive-by; a little moment. But she is someone that I have always been a fan of, someone I have always found very compelling.
I think she’s fun—that’s what this book is more than anything else. It’s kind of dark fun because she’s not a good guy, because she’s not interested in saving people. She’s got kind of a moral code, but she’s a thief. When the wrong people get in her way, the wrong people get hurt.
The fact she’s going to be out there in [The Dark Knight Rises], which will be nothing short of epic, it’s going to be a monster, that just excites me. I’m thrilled that the book I’m working on will be part of the zeitgeist in another way.
You said this book will be great for new readers, but what about longtime readers? Will this still be the Catwoman that they’re familiar with?
She’s not going to be some alien hybrid who is suddenly working in Russia and is a guy, ya know? She’s Catwoman. Of all the characters in the "New 52," she’s one of the few that retained her costume from the last several years because it was something that worked. She dresses like a cat in all leather, she has a whip, she steals things.
I don’t think anyone is going to look at this and say, “This isn’t Catwoman at all! This is totally different!” No, she’s the Catwoman we know and love and has been around for decades and decades.
Are you going to expand on her supporting cast or is she going to be tied to Batman’s supporting cast?
Yes and no. Batman is absolutely in the book, Batman’s in the book a lot, but she will have her own people which we will be fleshing out. It’s a crime book; there’s a little bit of that Ocean’s 11 bend to it.
Being a good thief is not unlike being a good detective. You have to do the leg work, you have to talk to the right people and get your intel, get your ducks in a row. And if you’re going to get away with it, you better do it right so you only have to do it once, and not get caught. So it isn’t something you can necessarily do alone; you've got to get people, reach out to people, plan it, and it’s fun like that.
It’s kind of hammering nails. I mean that in the sense that she doesn’t go up to a building with an infrared sensor and hack into it and whatnot. She cuts glass, she breaks into doors. It’s a little bit old school, even in her high-tech world, she’s going to be old school.
Are we going to see any familiar villains at the start of the book?
She kind of is a familiar villain. [Laughs.] No, not right away. We’re kind of working on some new people here and there. Do criminals or bad guys like Catwoman really have a rogue's gallery? No. But she’s going to have some of her own criminals, gangsters, costumed bad guys who she is going to be mucking it up with. As well as members of the Bat group who will be floating in here and there.
The other title that you are doing, which is gaining so much press is Batwing, spinning out of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. What made this book so appealing to write?
We were kicking around, doing a monthly based on one of the guys from Batman Incorporated, which is Grant Morrison’s series from last year, where Bruce Wayne admitted that he’s funding Batman. Batman has then gone around the world and anointed established superheroes and gave them funding and the ability to be heroes, with the idea that they would have to listen to Batman and be part of the Bat-army.
One that really appealed to us was Batwing, for a lot of reasons, everything from having him set in Africa, which was a landscape largely untouched by the DCU. Giving him his own story, own origin, and taking the very unreal storytelling of superhero comics and putting it in the very real setting of Africa. Africa is this beautiful, horrendous, historical, politicized continent. It’s a continent, not a country, which has been a bit of an education for people here and there.
He’s the Batman of Africa, but he won’t be able to cover the whole place the entire time. But there’s so much rich story to do, and characters to invent, and whatnot. The truth about Africa is that it’s almost as bizarre as anything we could come up with. Everything from, you know, warlords.... They have these actual men going around Afirca that call themselves "warlords," who kidnap children and put guns in their hands and make them into soldiers. Then they hop them up on Meth so they would kill people. That actually happens. It’s not something we could cook up in fiction, but there it is.
So, that said, it’s still a superhero book. Batwing’s going to be out there in his over-the-top Batman armor with wings, he flies, and he finds other crazy dudes in costumes. His arch-villain is a guy he suddenly named Massacre. He’s a big, giant dude in body armor who sports two machetes.
It’s a superhero book, but in the setting of Africa, so we’re trying to embrace it as much as possible. We’re tying to keep it real and trying to get it right. It just hasn’t been done before in such an expansive way in the DCU, so we want to make it right.
Does Batman Inc. still exist in the new DC Universe?
Yes, it does. And Batwing is very much a soldier in Batman Incorporated.
You’ll ease new readers into that whole world then?
Initially, no lie, we sort of hit the ground running and jumped right into a solo adventure of his in Africa. We find out that, initially, a number of retired superheroes that have disappeared five or six years ago are turning up dead and it’s this guy Massacre who has been killing them.
So we have to learn a little bit about Massacre and who he is and why he’s doing that. But along the way we learn about Batwing. Like the rest of the “52’s” we don’t start off with the origin. We will not see Superman crashing from Krypton, we won’t be seeing any of that.
In this case, we won’t open issue one and find out how Batwing became Batwing. We’re going to just dive into the story. And then in issue three and four you finally get a taste of who he was and how he got here. It’s a dark origin, it’s dark stuff. He’s a Batman, so it’s not like was pre-law and decided, “You know what? I’m going to put on a costume and fight bad guys.”
Good, so he won’t be in an indie alt-rock band and decide to be Batman.
Exactly. Horrible things happened in his life which brought him to this point where he wanted to fight evil, right wrongs, and save the world.
Are you going to separate this book from Batman, or will he always be in the background as a dominant presence in the book?
No, Batman’s right there in the first issue. He’s there very much, not so much as a mentor, but more as a boss. [Laughs.]
That’s a tough boss.
He’s more like the guy in the head office that provides everything and might give Batwing a push in the direction where he needs to go. He’s a tough teacher and he’s got a full plate.
At the start of these new books, are you going to write shorter story arcs, as opposed to longer stories that people might get lost in if they don’t pick up the book right away?
I say it cuts both ways. These are ongoing stories, not unlike a television show that slowly unwinds and has twists and turns. That being said, per issue, we try to deliver the goods every single time. You’re not going to come into something and be completely lost if we’re already a few issues in.
You can dive in there at pretty much any point and be satisfied. And that’s something we’re looking at very, very hard. But not self-contained stories, I won’t lie to you. We’re not doing shorter arcs, quite the contrary, we’re doing ongoing stories. But with an eye on keeping each issue very satisfying so that anyone can jump in at any point, understand what is going on, get in there, and follow right along.
You’ve been involved in controversial stories with the resurrection of Jason Todd and now this. Which do you think brought more controversy, the “New 52" or Jason Todd?
Both had the internet enraged at one point.
It’s like apples and Volkswagons. With Jason Todd…I was the dude that brought him back to life in an attempt to move the story forward. I remember when it first came out, like six years ago, and this dude at a convention brought up the “controversy.” It’s not like it’s on CNN or something, it’s us guys on the web and whatnot, maybe a couple thousand people going back-and-forth about this. I just thought it was a great story, I just thought it was an opera.
It made sense to me in the landscape of Batman that his greatest failure has come back in the flesh to haunt him. And Jason didn’t just come back to life, he came back as a villain, he came back with vengeance on his mind, he came back to possibly pursue the idea of becoming a better Batman than Bruce Wayne ever was. And that was very interesting and compelling to me. Truth be told, more people like it than don’t like it.
As far as "New 52," please, we’re shaking up the whole world of DC Comics, then turning it on its ear and shaking it again. Then we’re gutting it and shaking it over again. It’s a whole different animal. This is a cataclysmic shift. If there is a point that I wanted to make it's that this has not been easy. I mean, it’s fun, no lie, but it’s really been hard, hard work. Everyone has had to rewrite scripts, check outlines, do it again, all with the edict of “Just make it better. It’s just not there yet. It’s just not doing it. It’s not fun enough, it’s too convoluted, too much like the old. This should feel fresh.”
A year from now, do you think we’ll be looking at this as the initiative that improved DC’s fortunes?
Yeah, I think it’s going to work. I totally think it’s going to work. I really believe numbers will go up and not drop. I think as word spreads, people who have not read comics in a really long time will be coming back. That’s what I’ve been telling people, that you can pick up 15 comics that you haven’t read in years and you’ll be fine. Cruise the racks and see what you like.
And to be totally honest with you, every single month I get a box of everything that DC publishes; it’s just part of the gig. It’s both for fun, as a reward for being a DC writer, and there’s also the flipside that I have to keep up on everything. There is no way humanly possible that I can get through it every month. All of the trades, all of the hardcovers, all the individual comics; it’s just too much. But I’m telling you, the month of September I’m reading every goddamn thing that’s coming down there.
Some of them I've read, because I’ve had to just for our internal continuity reasons, and also because I just want to see what everyone else is doing. I want to see what [Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.] is about as well as what we’re going to be doing with Nightwing as well as the big boys. What’s going to happen with the Justice League of America? It’s really, really going to be compelling stuff. Fifty-two little television shows are going to be coming out, so it’s going to be cool.
Besides your own work, what’s the one book are you’re most looking forward to seeing unfold over time?
I just said my peace with that; I’m going to read all 52! I don’t have a favorite. I mean, I do have a favorite: my own damn books, absolutely. Truthfully, those are the ones that I am most invested in and curious about how they’re going to do.
And bullshit aside, I’m working with two amazing artists. On Catwoman, you got Guillem March who draws unbelievable people with a little bit of this Bernie Wrightson thing going on. Stunning, just stunningly beautiful people and horrific people in the same breath. It’s great; people are going to lose their minds over Catwoman.
On the flipside, which is a totally different tone, totally different look, I’ve got Ben Oliver who is drawing our Batwing book. And Oliver does this photorealistic style, which is just unreal, just unbelievable. It’s like reading a little movie, which makes things that much more horrific and exciting and dramatic. I think in both cases, readers are just going to be knocked on their butts.
To circle back, I’m excited about every single one of them coming out and I really want to see where they’re gonna go. And with that, if I had pick the ones I’m looking forward to the most: my own damn books!
Interview by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)