Ed Brubaker Looks Back On Batman, Part Three: Catwoman
With long runs on hit titles like Captain America, Daredevil, Sleeper, Fatale, Criminal and more, writer Ed Brubaker has cemented his position as one of the most prominent writers in American comics, and he got his start with superheroes with Batman. After being brought in from the world of crime comics to write the Batman comics in 2000, Brubaker rose to prominence with his work on Gotham City's heroes, including cowriting the seminal Gotham Central, relaunching Catwoman with a critically acclaimed and influential new direction, and retelling the first encounter between Batman and the Joker.
This week, ComicsAlliance is taking a look back at Brubaker's tenure on the Dark Knight with an in-depth interview. In part one, we discussed the writer's work with Scott McDaniel on Batman and his collaboration with Sean Phillips on the Elseworlds one-shot, Gotham Noir. In part two, we talked about Brubaker's run on Detective Comics, his landmark work with Greg Rucka and Michael Lark on Gotham Central, and his and Doug Mankhe's influential Joker story, The Man Who Laughs. Today we conclude our discussion by talking about his relaunch of Catwoman alongside Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart, why he was worried that it would be a "poisoned chalice," and why it's one of the most significant comics in DC's long history.
ComicsAlliance: Let's talk about Catwoman. Back when we started the interview, you mentioned Slam Bradley, who I would say is a slightly more obscure Siegel and Shuster creation than Superman.
Ed Brubaker: He's pretty much a blatant ripoff of Dick Tracy. He came into Catwoman in an interesting way, actually. I had been working on Batman for a few months, and Matt Idelson, who was editing Catwoman at the time, called me up and said, "What do you think about Catwoman right now?" We'd been getting advance xeroxes of all the books from the Bat office, so I'd been reading Catwoman in black-and-whites at the time, and they were doing a storyline where Catwoman went to jail and got in naked shower fights. I wasn't into it. [Laughs]
So I just said, "Well, I don't personally dig it. I think it's kind of insulting to women readers, and I don't know if it's aimed at women readers, but she's a really great character. I love the Catwoman stuff from the '60s and '70s, and I love Batman: Year One." I was just sort of kicking ideas around, and I didn't know he was going to offer me the book, and I said, "What you should do is figure out a way to get her back to those East End roots, but then add that classiness of the high-society thief to it." Matt said, "That's a great idea. Do you want to write it?"
I thought about it for a day, and I called him back and said I'd commit to 12 issues, as long as we could give her a new costume and get a new artist, because the guy who was drawing the book at the time was really good, but he was a cheesecake artist. It wasn't Jim Balent, this was years after Jim Balent had left the book.
CA: Oh, you don't have to tell me where Jim Balent was in 2002.
EB: Yeah, you're the expert, right? Anyway, that was my condition. We were looking around for an artist, and Matt sent me xeroxes of the first 20 pages of Darwyn Cooke's Batman: Ego. I said, "If we could just get this guy, that would be amazing," and Matt said, "He's got this big Justice League project that he's been working on, so I doubt we'll get him," and that was New Frontier. Then it turned out Cameron Stewart, who was inking Deadenders, actually shared a studio with Darwyn and Chip Zdarsky and a few other guys. So at Comic-Con, Cameron introduced me to Darwyn, and I told him, "Hey, I'm taking over Catwoman, and I have permission to redesign her costume." Hoping that would lure him, that chance to redesign and redefine a classic character.
EB: So we got talking about the idea of revamping Catwoman, and that he would only have to stay for the first storyline, because there was some delay on New Frontier, so he just barely had room in his schedule to pencil these four issues.
At that point it was just going to be Catwoman #82, but when he sent in pencils to DC, we were suddenly getting phone calls. Everyone was going crazy for it, and they had to cancel Catwoman and reboot it with a new #1. They wanted to push it back six months and have us do backup stories in Detective that would lead into it, and they were going to have the person who was doing Catwoman rewrite their final issue so that it ended looking like she was dead. I remember being worried Darwyn was going to quit because the book was being pushed back and that might mess up his schedule. I knew he had New Frontier coming up, and that was going to be his priority as soon as he was done penciling Catwoman, because he was writing, drawing all of it. So I got on the phone with Darwyn, and he was actually psyched about it.
He immediately threw out the idea of doing Slam Bradley, and I said, "Oh, I was just about to mention Slam Bradley!" Literally, because I'd pitched that story years before, and he was a character that I always remembered. There was an issue of Detective when I was a kid, some double-sized special, that had all the different Detective characters in it that had been in the first Batman issue or something. There was a Slam Bradley story in it that I remember. It's a big murder mystery with all these characters teaming up with Batman. You know the one I'm talking about?
CA: Right, "The Doomsday Book," from Detective Comics #572.
EB: That came out when I was a kid, and that's how I'd heard of Slam Bradley originally. So, the idea was that we would do this cool, noir detective story about a detective who was hired to find out if Catwoman was really dead.
Darwyn was a really interesting artist to work with, because I would give him a script, and he'd call me up and say, "I fit these three pages into one page, and then I drew this crazy dream sequence and I sketched some dialogue in that you can do whatever you want with." It was very much a hybrid between scripted and Marvel Style, at least on those. There was a great scene where Slam gets knocked out and then it's like he's floating on the clouds. That was not in my script originally, he just drew that and I got to write cool narration to float over it.
EB: So we finished the backups and then went right back into finishing his four-issue arc, with me searching for another artist who would try to fill his shoes. It was kind of a whirlwind, but by the time #1 was printed, I had written at least through #11. A lot of the stuff was already drawn or being drawn. I've never been that far ahead on a book in my entire career, ever. I was only doing two books a month at that point, and it was a lot of fun. I was working with great artists and having the time of my life.
And Darwyn is like Steranko, in that he takes over a book and redesigns the logo, redesigns the character, you get everything when you get him on a project. It was just pure lucky timing on my part. If I had not met him at Comic-Con that year, I have no idea what my career would be right now.
CA: You talked about wanting to take Catwoman back to Year One, and I'm less familiar with the ongoing series before your run than I am with Batman. Were you the first person to bring back Selina's protégé Holly?
EB: Yeah, Holly had apparently been killed. We found out around #2 that she'd been killed in Action Comics Weekly in the '90s. I think they'd already kind of retconned her a bit before that, too. Once Frank Miller was gone and someone looked at Year One and was like, "Hey, are we saying that Catwoman and this Holly girl are hookers?! We've gotta make sure that's not the case!" And they had her sent to a nunnery and then married her off to some businessman who turned out to be a mobster or something. I forget all the details, honestly.
But I was interested in the streetwise aspects of her life, and that history she shared with Selina. One of my best friends at the time had been homeless as a teenager, and strung out on drugs, so I thought, "Well, maybe Holly was a junkie." That gave me a way to get into her story, which was a world I'd seen a lot of growing up, having lost friends to heroin or watched them get clean and struggle with that.
So, I think I had met Frank Miller around this time, and I told him about what I was doing on Catwoman and how I was going to bring Holly back to the book (not knowing she was supposed to be dead) and he said, "You know Holly's gay, right?" I said, "No, I didn't actually pick that up from the story, I just thought she was Catwoman's teenage friend."
EB: So I decided to give Holly a really cool girlfriend, and have that be part of the book, too. They were loosely based on my neighbors Karen and Jen, actually, who I hung out with all the time in the late '90s. And maybe because of that, or maybe because of my own taste, I was very conscious of wanting their appearances in the book to not be an After-School Special. Nothing bad ever happened to them simply because they were gay. They never got bashed, you know? I didn't want any of the cliché stuff to happen, I wasn't teaching you anything. I just wanted them to be characters in the book who were a loving couple.
We actually won a GLAAD award for the storyline where we meet Holly's girlfriend Karon. And there's a scene in #5 where Holly and Karon kiss, and I remember back then I was really worried it was going to get cut. Just to show you how much times have changed.
This is around 2002, so it was a whole different world. I remember Mark Millar had gotten a lot of flak for the gay wedding [between Midnighter and Apollo] in The Authority because he had said that it was Batman and Superman getting married, and from what I recall, some higher-ups at the corporation didn't realize that he meant analogs of Batman and Superman. [Laughs] So the editors were very uptight about stuff like this, or could be. But to their benefit, everyone at DC looked at that scene and were like "What's wrong with this? It's two loving people in a relationship." And everyone stopped worrying about it.
When I look back at that, I'm so proud of the first 25 issues of that book, when I felt like everything was firing on all cylinders. I probably should've left when Cameron Stewart left instead of sticking around. That's one of those things I look back at and think "Ah, I had a perfect run up until then!"
I was just having so much fun. I remember I did an issue from Holly's point of view, that starts with her doing email spam from the Dalai Lama, a quiz about what the answers to these questions mean about your life and who you are. I got that quiz like eight times one week, and I was like, "Jesus Christ!" so I decided to put it in something. And it gave me a structure for a single issue that I'd never seen before.
CA: One of the things that I like about that run is that there's always the romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman, but you built the romantic tension around Catwoman and Slam Bradley. Until suddenly it was about Batman and Catwoman.
EB: Yeah, you know, here's something interesting, some inside stuff I haven't talked about publicly. The reason that I quit Catwoman was that I'd pitched a storyline, which you can see it being set up, actually -- there's an issue that Sean Phillips and Stefano Gaudiano did the art on, where it's just Selina and Bruce going on a date, and it ends with Slam going up to her house and seeing her go inside with Bruce and the lights go out upstairs..
That was seeding a bigger storyline that I was going to do. I had pitched this entire storyline, where Selina was going to take over the East End and that storyline was going to culminate with Catwoman dying, and Slam and Bruce afterwards were going to find out she was pregnant when she died, and they weren't going to know who was the father. And then Holly was going to be the new Catwoman for a while.
You can see that being seeded when she was being trained by Wildcat. A lot of stuff I was already laying the tracks for. But I was told, "No, you can't do that, you can't have Selina get pregnant and not know who the father is. Come up with something else," and I just felt like the wind got sucked out of my sails. I'd mapped this whole big thing out, and I didn't have it in me to just go back to the drawing board, so I left the book.
Then a couple years later, I'm over at Marvel, and DC does "One Year Later" and what is happening in Catwoman? Well, Holly's the new Catwoman and Selina's got a baby, and no one knows who the dad is. [Laughs] It turns out that Slam's son -- Slam Jr? -- is the father. I didn't even know Slam had a son, so... that was weird. I would not have had her sleep with both a father and his son, personally. [Laughs]
CA: That's amazing.
EB: But anyway, I do feel like the first 24 issues of that book, I'm very proud of. The Javier Pulido arc might be one of my favorite things I've ever written. It's all about the aftermath of a bunch of horrible stuff. The story's divided up between Slam, Holly and Selina. I think we did a lot of experimentation in that.
CA: Do you have any final thoughts, reflecting on your run on the Batman titles? Obviously, you went on to become, I'd say, easily one of the most prominent writers in comics. You went on to do Daredevil with Michael Lark, which has one of my favorite moments of all time.
EB: Which scene?
CA: When the Punisher gets himself arrested. That moment and the Joker getting arrested in "Soft Targets" are two of my favorite last pages in comics.
EB: You know, I didn't realize until a couple of years later when someone pointed it out to me that Punisher literally goes out and breaks a guy's neck for just slapping somebody. There's no indication that this guy's a murderer! I didn't even think about it, I was just like "It's the Punisher, this is what he does." That was a lot of fun.
That Daredevil run, too, so much of that came out of the work on Gotham Central with Michael, and I learned so much while working on Batman and Catwoman about balancing storyline and soap opera. Marvel recently sent me the new collections of Daredevil, and I was thumbing through it because I haven't looked at it since I stopped working on the book, and I had forgotten I was juggling so many storylines in that series. But so much of that was the stuff that I learned working with Greg and Michael.
Getting offered Batman was a great opportunity, and I really did not expect to get that in my career. I came in as the indie guy trying to do mystery comics, and ended up writing Batman for several years, getting to do Gotham Central, getting offered Catwoman. I'm really glad that I said yes to Catwoman. I almost said no, and that would've been a huge error.
I was worried that it might be a poisoned chalice. But tt was also a book that no one was expecting anything from. People expect you to do a great job on Batman, but Catwoman, at that point, was a great opportunity to go in with no pressure and figure out what my way of telling superheroes was. I think that was really influential on how we approached Gotham Central, too.
Greg didn't talk about this at all [in your interview with him[, but when we first started talking about Gotham Central, I was really influenced by what Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross had done on Marvels. I had never seen anything like that, the history of '40s Marvel told by the guy on the street. I remember thinking, "If we can get that tone into Gotham Central, then we will have nailed it." We created our own thing instead, but the tone of that story was really important to me . That, and a few chapters of the Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets novel that David Simon wrote. There's a chapter that's all about the interrogation booth, and I remember Greg and I quoting that to each other all the time.
That whole time was a lot of fun. Even though there are a few things here and there that always happen on jobs that stick with you when you look back on them, honestly, it was a great time for my career.