Conversation with Greg Rucka (part 3 of 5)

Cover to 52 #16In this edition of our multi-part interview with Greg Rucka, we talk about the thing that many Question fans are still holding grudges over — Vic/Charlie’s death in 52. Rucka explains why it worked in the story, why Montoya took up the mask, and why–surprise!–fans shouldn’t hate so much on Dan DiDio!

EN: How did you come on board as one of the “architects” of 52? Were you part of a pitching process, or was the project pitched to you?

GR: Oh, see, you’re doing it again, Eric. You’re asking another one of these questions that I can give a 30 minute answer to.

Let’s see…I’m horribly bad with dates, so you’ll forgive me for that. What had happened was this: Way back in late 2001, I think, Geoff Johns, Judd Winick, Dan DiDio, and Eddie Berganza and I met in Burbank. And essentially, we hashed out the build-up to what would become Infinite Crisis. At that time, that was going to be five mini-series, and a variety of other things, that would all build to the event.

Jump forward say, two or three years — like I said, it’s hard to remember — and we’re in Infinite Crisis, and talking about what we’re going to do after it, what the results are going to be. And there’s this plan to do “One Year Later.” Now, the idea for One Year Later was a good idea. It just utterly failed in execution. Instead of taking the opportunity to really change things and evolve characters and books, what DC ended up with was “three issues of everything looking different, and then right back to the old status quo.” We could spend a whole night talking about what went wrong there, frankly.

Anyway, we know we’re going to do this one year jump. At this point, it’s just Geoff and me and Dan, because Judd had been pretty much totally claimed by Cartoon Network at that point. Geoff, Dan, and I have met in New York, and we’ve worked out these ideas, and now we have to go and sell it to Paul. Because Paul has to approve the big things, and jumping a year in the DCU, that’s a Very Big Thing, especially if we’re saying it’s a year where Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman aren’t around.

So we’ve done all this prep, and the three of us go up to Paul’s office. Dan has a giant sort of display tablet, like a giant sketchbook — I’m sure there’s a name for it — and it’s got our notes. We’re actually going to present this to Paul, which is a first — in the past, it’s been Dan going to sell the idea while Geoff and I are off giggling like madmen or whatnot.

Two things that should be noted at this point. One: Dan gets a very bad rap, but the fact is, he’s extraordinarily passionate, and he really doesn’t believe in doing things half-way, or poorly. And I can hear the sniggering now, but bear in mind that publishing a line of 60 plus books every month and maintaining quality control over it, that’s not easy. So Dan, he’s in full PT Barnum mode.

Two: Paul Levitz gets a bad rap. He gets it for being Publisher. Everyone forgets that Paul is, first and foremost, a writer. He’s this guy who’s somehow ended up being chaperone for the DCU. Which means he’s the guy who has to defend the characters to Warner Bros, etc.

So. Geoff, Dan, and I walk into the room. Paul says hi. We say hi. Geoff and I sit. Dan gets out his big tablet, puts it up on the easel. Flips it open. And says, “Okay, so after Infinite ends, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all have to take time off. We jump ahead a year and–”

And Paul says, “We jump a year?”

“Yes, we jump a year.”

And either Geoff or I chime in, saying that this is a really cool opportunity to do things to the different books, etc, etc. And Paul says, “No, I understand that. But if you’re jumping a year, everyone’s going to want to know what happened in that year.”

“Well, we figured that’d be back-filled after we did the jump, Paul.” And Dan flips open to the first page.

And Paul says, “You know what’d be interesting? It’d be interesting to see that year, but in real-time. Kind of like 24. Like that.” And Dan, Geoff, and I all freeze. We look at each other. We look at Paul. “I don’t know, something like a weekly book,” says Paul.

Dan blinks. Dan closes the tablet. Tucks it under his arm. Looks at Paul.

“We’ll be right back.”

And the three of us go down one floor to Dan’s office, and by the time we’re there, we’re already calling it 52 and trying to figure out how to do it.

EN: Wow.

GR: And I’m jumping at the opportunity, because immediately, I’m seeing the possibility to actually do it as a novel. Dan literally has to sit me down and explain that, yes, while I would be willing to give up everything I’m working on, Geoff and I cannot write this whole thing together. We spend an hour working out the idea in a rough form, we put it in front of Paul, Paul laughs and says go for it.
We sell it to the editors, who ALL look at us like we’re UTTERLY INSANE, with the exception of Steve Wacker. Wacker actually goes into DiDio’s office immediately after the meeting where we tell the editors, and says, “Give me the book.”

From that point, I think, we were maybe six months prep before writing. Maybe even longer. The calendar starts to skew horribly in my memory, I’m afraid. But that’s how it happened.

Grant was brought in next, and Mark was brought in a couple weeks later. We had a meeting in New York that was Dan, Steve, Grant, Mark, Geoff, Keith Giffen, JG Jones, Jann Jones, Ivan Cohen, and myself, and that was when we really started breaking it down, and when we really started the work on it in earnest.

Like I said, man. LONG answer.

EN: Yeah, but an interesting one. I always wonder what the writing process consists of at the “big two,” and how many stories come from the writer, how many from…I don’t want to say corporate meetings, but editorial conferences, maybe?

GR: Well, I will say that we had two reporters from a comics pub with us at the initial meeting in New York, on Day 2. They sat in to take notes, etc. And one of them remarked, after the fact, that if the same thing happened at Marvel, there’d have been five times as many people in the room. And everything would’ve run past marketing first, and Hollywood, etc.

That’s hearsay, mind, but I’ve always appreciated the fact that Paul threw out the idea, and then set us loose on it. He pretty much stayed out of the whole process, start to finish. And — honestly, this meant a lot — when Week 52 came out, he sent all of us handwritten thank you notes, acknowledging the work we’d done and congratulating us on making it all the way.

EN: And every week was on time!

GR: Yeah. Though I think we were the only people who weren’t surprised by that. Giffen used to like to say that 52 was like NASCAR: everyone was watching for the crash. But there was never going to be a crash — no one was going to allow it.

EN: Was it hard to shift to that weekly writing schedule?

GR: It wasn’t the shift in schedule as much as the shift in method, if that makes sense. It’s much much harder to write short than to write long, and comics require economy of writing, anyway. But all of the sudden, instead of having, say, 22 pages to write, each of us had 2 or 4 or 1 or 8, but broken into chunks. And we’d often be working on multiple weeks at the same time.

We tried, at the start, to make the process analogous to something else we’d done…like saying that, “writing 52 is like writing four monthlies.” But all the analogies fail, because it was unlike anything we’d done before. It was unbelievably difficult, at times. And that was just the writing. Not even talking about the production side. And, as a side note, the DC Production Department made 52 happen. They are the unsung heroes of the series; without those folks, it never could have happened, let alone would’ve happened.

EN: I think the whole thing comes off pretty well as a cohesive story. There wasn’t much fragmentation, and in the last ten or fifteen issues, I think most things came together satisfactorily.

GR: There were certain rules that we stuck with all the way. One of them was that, for all of the stories except for one, I think, we knew exactly where we were ending when we started. And the one exception was a case where we knew the ending, but the story changed around Week 5, so we still knew where we were heading.

I really do look at it as a true novel — beginning, middle, end, satisfactory resolution, character growth throughout. Thematic elements used well. I’m very proud of the work we did.

EN: Any chance I could pry from you which story changed?

GR: The Booster Gold story changed.

EN: Really? That’s the one I thought would have been decided from the get-go.

GR: At the beginning, it was going to be a very different story — Booster was going to have to fill in for Superman at different points to avert a great disaster. And around Week 5, we were having one of our weekly conference calls–when I say Week 5, I mean working on Week 5, not published Week 5–and Grant says, “What if Skeets is evil?” And we all went dead silent.

And Waid says, “Fucking BRILLIANT.” We took it an entirely different direction, then. But for the others, almost uniformly, they ended where we intended. Some things changed — the Ralph storyline went through contortions, at times — but the rest of the stuff, it was pretty much etched in stone when we began.

EN: How were the core characters chosen? I’d like to imagine a sort of fantasy baseball style draft where you have to fill a team of archetypes, but the decisions seem more deliberate, especially as the pieces of the series start to come together in the third act.

GR: It’s a good question. Understand, we started with an agenda, and that was to show as much of the DCU as possible in the course of this “missing year.” And to do that, we wanted to touch on different elements. So we established, essentially, thematics.

1) The Space Story, which would show the “universe.”

2) The John Henry Irons Story, which would show, for lack of a better phrase, what it took to be a true Hero capital H in the DCU…and which would also talk about the nature of superpowers, and how it was that powers didn’t make the hero.

3) Supernatural/Death — Ralph’s story, essentially to answer the question, Why do some characters get to return, and others don’t?

4) The “humanist” story, on the ground level — Montoya and Charlie, and what it’s like to live in this world populated by gods.

And 5) The Super Hero Story — the archetypal Save Us From The Biggest Threat Ever Story — to show the grandeur, and also to show the cost.

So we had columns, and we were throwing out characters, people we could use. I’m forgetting #6, I just realized–Black Adam, the impact of metahumans, etc, on global politics, what that effect is.

There were other elements, too — supernatural was going to touch on religion at one point, but that fairly quickly fell by the wayside. Anyway, we knew there were these things we wanted to cover, so it became a question of finding the best characters to tell those stories.

EN: Though there is that bit with the Cult of Conner.

GR: Yeah, but Cult of Conner became something very different as Mark wrote it from what was intended initially. The Cult of Conner was supposed to be a very humanist, up with us kind of thing, and it wasn’t supposed to be a “cult”, with all the negative connotations that demands.

The idea there was to show, at the start of the year, a group of four or five kids who were profoundly effected by the death of Conner, by his sacrifice. Kids who would go out and say, Hey, Conner died for us! He died to save us! We owe it to him to make good on that. So that by the end of the year, you’d see a huge movement amongst the youth in the DCU — What Would Conner Do? They’d be out with Habitat for Humanity, and Meals on Wheels, and Medecins Sans Frontiers. They’d be trying to change the world on a real, tangible, non-superpowered level. You can see how we strayed a bit from that.

EN: Yeah, but in a still sort of believable way, I think.

GR: Yeah, it worked. I’m not coming down on Mark at all, I hasten to add–there was a story to be told, and he found the best way to tell it. I still would’ve liked to have seen the WWCD bracelets, though.

EN: I think that, hypothetically, you’d have both contingents. The hopeful, for-the-future types, and the kids who, to tie it into something similar, wore the RIP Kurt Cobain shirts and sat around morbidly worshiping the dead.

GR: Well, the idea is “out” there in the DCU now, but of course, no one’s picked up on it.

EN: Those bracelets would’ve been something great to hand out at the conventions though…

GR: Absolutely. Been a great give-away at the panels!

EN: So in drawing up these columns, were Montoya and the Question at the top of your list of street-level characters? Was there anyone else you were considering?

GR: Montoya was at the top of my list, but at the time, she was vying with John Henry, because we hadn’t split the themes, yet. Coming into IC, Montoya had reached the end of one arc, and was in a good position to move into another arc. There’d actually been a plan to give Central a spin-off type book, called “Streets of Gotham,” where she’d have been, essentially, a PI. But once we started talking John Henry, and started realizing that he was, in many ways, the most pure “hero” we had on a “self-made man” level, we knew we needed another POV. And that’s how Montoya came in.

I honestly do not remember who it was who suggested the Question. If it was me or someone else, but it made perfect sense. Of all the costumed heroes in the DCU, he was the one who’d always been at ground level, and it was ground level that concerned him, where he lived. I don’t really remember, but it may have been that we’d been talking about using Question in “Streets,” and that was how he entered the 52 discussion.

EN: In some ways, I think one of the reasons that the Question was underused over the years is because of that ground levelness. It’s hard to bring him into a world of alien invasions and superhero battles and such without him losing a little bit of that realness.

GR: Absolutely. That’s also one of the reasons the animated makes him so much more Rorschach, I think.

EN: But in the course of the story, Charlie and Renee wind up fighting an alien, beating up a werewolf, stopping a super-hero assassination, journeying to a hidden Tibetian Shangri-La…

GR: Yeah, but they always do so with a sense of “holy shit!” And it never, ever becomes routine.

EN: It all still comes off as coming from that street level, yeah.

GR: Even Charlie’s spirituality isn’t something that’s ever taken for granted. And that assassination…entirely human. A suicide bomber? Or homicide bomber, I should say.

EN: There’s that great moment that I think sums up that point of reference, where Isis is flying Montoya through the Himalayas, and Montoya’s reaction is one of complete wonder.

GR: Yeah, that’s quite intentional, of course.

EN: Touches like that made the meeting of the street-level and the fantastic believeable.

GR: There’s also the moment when Renee falls atop Charlie coming through the trap door, and her first reaction to the monster is What the hell is that?? And Charlie’s response is How the hell should I know? It’s outside his bailiwick, so to speak.

EN: We’ve already started to get into some of the smaller story details…let me start a more specific line of questioning from the beginning….When we start our story, Montoya’s got a reputation, at least in the bar, as a heavy drinker, and seems to be stuck in a real rut, what with her parents disowning her and her partner being murdered. What were your thoughts in bringing her so low?

GR: She’d started a spiral post-“Half a Life” that I knew was going to bottom out with Cris’ death. So I knew we were starting her at the bottom. And I knew that was how Charlie saw her when he found her at first — this woman with all this potential, and she’s about to utterly self-destruct. Renee’s contemplating suicide in Central 38/39, after all.

It was, at least to me, a realistic way to portray what was going on with her — she’d pretty much annihilated her own self-worth. And in that way that alcoholics do, she’d alienated everyone who could possibly help her. But all of her behavior at the start of 52 is self-destructive, and, frankly, very unsympathetic.

EN: It seems to me that it gives her a long way to rise as well. To me, 52 was, in many ways, about redemption for the characters whose stories it told.

GR: I think that’s a fair read. Certainly you can find elements of redemption in almost all of the story-lines. With Renee, though, it was primary. The guilt she’s carrying is literally crushing her to death. And her ability to forgive herself is the only thing that’s going to save her.

EN: Early on, there were rumors that the Question was going to be a protector of Gotham in Batman’s absence (I think this was in the solicitation materials), and that the Question wouldn’t turn out to be who we expected him to be (this was rampant speculation — I think the leading candidate was Harvey Dent). Were either of these early story ideas?

GR: Nope. Never even considered.

EN: The Internet is crazy.

GR: I’m kinda hoping you have a list of them like this. I’d love to debunk them.

EN: I think those are the only two I have, but I could scour for more!

GR: Well, feel free to ask ‘em.

EN: In one of the earliest appearances of the Question, there’s a long, foreshadowing back and forth about the dangers of smoking. How early in the plotting of the story was the Question’s death determined as inevitable?

GR: At the start. Like I said, we knew where almost every story was going to end from the beginning. With Charlie, we knew he was dying at the beginning.

EN: How did that story point come about?

GR: You know, I knew you were going to ask that, and in all honesty, I cannot really remember. Like most things, we were working in committee, and ideas were being worked by all of us in the room. When we assembled the list of characters we were going to use, we also assembled what we called “The Death List.”

EN: So there IS a Death List!

GR: We did this so we would know — and more importantly — the other folks who might be using the characters in the future — would know they were coming off the board. But if you’re asking “who’s idea was it?” I honestly do not remember. I wish I did, because it’d save me grief I’m going to get for saying that.

I just know that fairly early on, we were asking ourselves why Charlie was there in the first place, and it was proposed that he was dying, that he was looking to tap someone to take up the mantle for him, and that it would be someone he saw himself in. The actual mechanism, meaning the cancer, came about as a result — we knew Isis would die in X manner, and Osiris in Y manner, and Ralph in Z…

EN: Maybe that’s the proper question to ask, not why, or when, or who, but what did the Question’s death bring to the story….

GR: There are multiple answers to that, I think. First and foremost, it was a good story, that did what a good story should do — it left an impact, it made the reader feel something, and it had worth. It wasn’t, shall we say, just killing a character for the sake of seeing their blood spill.

In the grander scheme, we wanted to address, as in the Ralph storyline, that death still had impact in the DCU. And that no matter how “mundane” or “small” it might seem, it was never small or mundane. It was a big damn deal, and it happened every day, despite the characters of the DCU’s best intentions. Not everyone goes out saving the universe. And out of that came the realization that we were pretty much obligated to Renee taking up the mask in Charlie’s place.Suddenly we had a legacy story, and it seemed to us, at least, that it was a very different kind of legacy story.

Instead of a single issue, here’s how it happened. We had the opportunity to watch the whole process, beginning to end, with all the emotion inherent within it. This is, incidentally, why I differentiate between “The Question,” and “Charlie/Vic” and “Renee.” Because, like it or not, Renee Montoya is The Question.

EN: Not at this point in the sequential question-asking she’s not! Or maybe, she is…deep down.

GR: Heh. Well, I suppose one could argue that between Week #48 and Week #52, she is, as she’s appeared twice in the mask.

EN: So once the story element of Vic/Charlie’s death was in place, how was it decided that lung cancer would be the thing that took him out?

GR: That was immediate, actually. Both Keith Giffen and I jumped on that, because we’re both smokers, even if we’re not smoking at the moment. it’s like alcoholism, it’s an addiction, and I don’t think you ever stop being a smoker; you just aren’t smoking at any given moment.

EN: I think I told you in one of our early e-mails that the human death was fitting for the character.

GR: Yeah, you did, and I agree. I think, honestly, Charlie would’ve hated dying while disarming the Universe Ending Bomb. Just wasn’t his style.

Anyway, lung cancer. There’s a bit about this in the 52 Vol. 3 notes, but Keith and I worked pretty hard on this, on making it honest and realistic and terribly, terribly tragic and unpleasant. It was also, incidentally, Keith who proposed that it wasn’t the smoking that killed Charlie, but rather, the binary gas he’d been exposing himself to over the years.

That’s left unanswered, but it’s an interesting wrinkle — if that is the case, and Charlie knew, and he hands it to Renee, isn’t he condemning her to the same thing? Which is, frankly, the reason I’m inclined to say it’s not the case.

But Keith lost both his father and his father-in-law to lung cancer, and he’d seen it, as he put it, “both good and bad.” So there was a lot of that informing what I wrote.

EN: I had that same question years ago…about whether the binary gas was carcinogenic!

GR: It creates some damn interesting questions, I’ll say that much. If it is, did Tot know? And if, as we’ve discussed, Tot is Charlie’s father…I mean, ouch.

EN: Crime Bible II: The Tot Conspiracy

GR: Nah. He’s in CB #4.

EN: Awesome!

GR: And we see a little more of his relationship with Renee. He does not much like Renee right now. Whether or not Charlie really was his son biologically, he certainly was his son emotionally; and she’s the walking, talking, breathing embodiment of that loss. That’s hard to take. No parent wants to outlive their child.

EN: Let’s talk about the Vic / Charlie dichotomy. What’s the intention behind the name shift?

GR: Vic was, to me, always his professional name. Charlie was the name he gave the people he didn’t hide from at all. His birth name, Charles Victor. But, honestly? You really want to know?

EN: Sure.

GR: Denny never called him the Question or Vic. He always called him Charlie. And that’s why I did it.
Because I liked that, I liked that it was his real name, and it was the name Denny used for him.

Understand, Denny didn’t talk about Bruce or Tim or Selina — it was Batman and Robin and Catwoman. Not that he didn’t acknowledge the identities, but it wasn’t how he referred to them. But the Question, to Denny, that was Charlie.

EN: I always loved how Denny danced around that issue, in a book called The Question, never having anyone refer to him directly as such.

GR: Oh, hell yeah! I loved that. And think about it — could you for a second imagine anyone looking up to see Charlie leaping down at them…”It’s THE QUESTION!!!!” Totally out of keeping with the book.

EN: Yeah. Even Izzy called him Ol’ No Face.

GR: I also like that he ditched the calling cards, as well. They didn’t fit.

EN: Charlie’s training of Montoya has many of the same factors as his earlier interactions with the Huntress — he starts by watching from afar, and encourages her to reconsider her identity, and now he’s brought her to Richard Dragon. One of the most obvious differences is that there’s not as much, if any, of a chance of romance with Renee, due to her sexual persuasion. In the end, is Montoya a success story for Charlie as a sort-of sensei, whereas Helena was a failure? Or are they two completely different experiences?

GR: No, I see them as very related. Helena was a failure, and I think it broke his heart, especially considering that Helena was the Woman After Myra. But Renee is a success. He set out to save her life, to give her the tools to do so, and in the end, he did exactly that.

I don’t think we need to be shy about the fact that I’ve let you read the scripts to CB 1-3, and I think you can see what I mean, there.

EN: Indeed!

GR: For all that Renee is struggling with the “plot” elements, as a human being, as a person, she’s healthy, she’s got her shit together. She is, in fact, the best Renee Montoya she has been. And I absolutely think Charlie would be very happy if he could see her.

EN: Did you have any hesitations about bringing her into the world of costumed (well…in her case, sort of costumed) vigilantes? Does she still have the same sort of street level appeal that she had in your runs on Detective and Gotham Central?

GR: That was a big consideration, actually. I had never honestly thought of her as a character that would take on a mask, ever. I seem to recall arguing against her doing so during the early 52 meetings, until it was pointed out to me that, dramatically, it was unsound. And further, if we were going to remove The Question, in the form of Charlie, from the DCU, we were obligated to replace him with The Question, in the form of Renee. And, as said, that dictated a lot of what followed.

As to street appeal…well, I’d argue that was the Question’s appeal in a nutshell.

EN: If we’re not hiding the fact that I’ve read the scripts, then I’ll say that I think it still works. The mask is a matter of convenience for her like it was for her predecessor. At the core of her character, in and out of the mask, she’s a detective, trying to satisfy her curiosity.

GR: Very much so. Like I said, Charlie saw himself in her. And he wasn’t wrong. And, I’d also say…though this is spoilerish, though, by no means, should be excluded…like Charlie’s stories, a lot of her questions are entirely internal.

It looks, topically, that CB is about Montoya tracking specific elements of the Dark Faith. But she’s asking certain questions of herself, as well, which will become more apparent in CB 5. Everything in CB has a reason, and while the issues start out looking very disparate, they unify for a very clear, very simple reason. By the time you hit CB 5, the threads come together, and by the time the last issue is over, you understand what’s been happening and why.

EN: Foreshadowing! Back in 52, Montoya spends a few weeks in the hills with the monks, but what she learns there isn’t enough. What’s the missing piece that Dragon’s trying to help her get to in the scene with the cave?

GR: Everything in CB has a reason, and while the issues start out looking very disparate, they unify for a very clear, very simple reason. By the time you hit CB 5, the threads come together, and by the time the last issue is over, you understand what’s been happening and why.

It’s the same thing she’s been holding on to the whole time. Guilt. Richard forces her to look at herself. Everyone else gave her opportunity to avoid that. But he pretty much locks her down and says “deal with it.”

But, you know, in keeping with the kind of story that 52 was, to say that one week fasting in a cave, and say, 6 weeks training with Richard, that’s enough…no, that’s not nearly enough. Again, one of the things that Countdown messed up was the continuity for Renee. Ideally, she wouldn’t have been seen by anyone in the DCU for almost another year post 52, because that’s a year spent getting her head straight, and learning from Richard.

And the brilliance of Richard is that he doesn’t teach you to go kung fu fighting. Kung fu fighting is the ancillary by-product. Richard teaches you to learn yourself.
You may not master yourself by the time you’re done — hell, Richard would probably argue that if you ever think you’ve mastered yourself, you’re back at square one — but you’ll have the tools to proceed.

EN: In keeping with that line of thinking, I like how, in the issue where Isis dies, Tot’s got the costume and everything ready to go, seemingly sort of assuming that Montoya’s going to follow in Charlie’s path (though I think there’s more to this than meets the eye). But Montoya only puts on the fedora, and not the mask at the end of this issue. It’s like she’s taking baby steps.

GR: Oh yeah. She’s not sure she wants it, to begin with. Forget whether or not she can actually do what Charlie did. And there’s something else — and this gets touched on in CB 4 — which is, she’s not Charlie, and she knows that, and she knows she can’t be. And since she’s still doesn’t know who she is, either, well…yeah, sure, let me try this on.

GR: There’s a bit in CB 4 — I’m writing the issue right now, so I don’t know if it’ll stay — but there’s a bit where Tot’s saying to her, “Charlie never did that.” “That’s not how Charlie did it.” “Charlie used to…”

And Renee says, “Tot, I’m not Charlie.” To which he says, “As I’m well-aware.” Or something like that.
It’s bumpy between them.

EN: So, although she’s sort of pushed into putting on the mask in the closing issues of 52, has Montoya fully become the Question at that point?

GR: I think more so at the end of 52 than at the end of 48. In 48, it’s the mechanism — the mask liberates her to do what she has to do. But in 52, the mask is irrelevant. It’s now part of her identity, and that’s the Question.

Though I will say that Kate’s line, I think, “Where’d your face go?”

EN: “You’re looking at it.”

GR: Yeah, that’s it. That’s recognition. The line was to be read as acceptance.

EN: In that issue, she also ends that cycle of losing partners. Does that help her in dealing with the guilt issues?

GR: In large part. But Richard would argue — and Renee, at least the Renee in CB, would agree — that she’s able to save Kate because she’s already forgiven herself for not being able to save Charlie or Cris. Or, more precisely, that she’s accepted what happened to Charlie and Cris and her place in that. Because I’m not sure Richard is that interested in selling or teaching forgiveness. But acceptance, that’s the key.

It’s that whole, “But if I cherish it, I won’t want it to leave.” Good ‘ol Richard. Give a migraine to the Dalai Lama.

EN: Should’ve asked this one earlier: Killing the kid in Kahndaq brings Montoya back to the low we saw her at in the first few issues. Do you think the transformation would’ve seemed too easy without this return to zero for her?

GR: Yup. And it was important, I think, to see in the course of the series how fragile she was. Remember, there were a lot more people reading 52 than had ever read Gotham Central. Most of them didn’t have the first clue what was going on with her. They just thought she was the token gay latina.

EN: “Token Gay Latina” was the Tone Loc song wasn’t it? Or was that, “Funky Cold Medina”?

GR: You’re showing me my age, man. Tone Loc!

EN: The Halloween cover sent shockwaves through the good ol’ internet — The Question…a girl? Was there ever a fear that there would be too much foreshadowing? That the readers would be too educated in their guesses? Or does it even matter if the readers guess at the ending?

GR: Y’know, I think we actually had a good laugh over that. That JG had given away the whole store with that cover. To the latter, I’m in the camp that says, no, it doesn’t matter one bit. And in fact, I’m not a fan of those writers who go out and poll the internet and try to anticipate the readers, just to prove them wrong. I try to write smart, but I recognize that 10K fans are going to solve a mystery much faster than 1 fan will. And that’s okay by me. The story should be what matters, how we get to that ending. Not whether or not the reader is shocked.

That said, however, I don’t like spoilers. If there’s something coming, and people haven’t figured it out, I really hate it when someone blows it for them.

EN: Through encrypted messages published in the endpages, for instance?

GR: Yeah, that one really ticked me off. I know why Dan did it, but I really resented like hell that he’d done it at all. Again, though, you can argue that the surprise wasn’t the thing — the story was.

EN: It did get people talking.

GR: As if they weren’t already.

EN: Here’s one from a reader on the message board: Did at any point, possibly too late, Mr. Rucka feel that the partnership between Vic and Renee (and their combined interactions with Batwoman as well) and the fan’s positive response to it might have created a greater story potential in a twisted Moonlighting situation type-way opposed to how the arc ultimately ended with Vic’s death and the mantle passed on?

GR: I did think that, but as a result of something Dan said during the “half-way” meeting. Dan came into that meeting and said he didn’t want Isis or Charlie to die. And our response to Isis was, no, no way, she’s dead, end of story. The whole arc of the character was to die.

EN: The Internet in general will not believe what you just said.

GR: Yeah, I know. But Dan came in, and he actually argued that we shouldn’t kill either of them. And Geoff pretty much flatly declared that Isis was dying, nuts to him.

But Charlie…Wacker and I had started referring to Charlie and Renee as “Maddie and Dave.” And the appeal of their interaction was such that we were sorely tempted, and more so when Dan gave us the out. But again, we looked at what we had, and where we were, and we couldn’t do it — it would’ve invalidated the first 26 issues in so many ways. But there were a few days off and on where I really struggled with sticking to my guns on it.

GR: I actually had to be coaxed back into it by Grant, Mark, and Geoff, all of whom said that the story was a good one, and we needed to see it through.

EN: So, in essence, you were thiiiiis close to keeping Vic/Charlie alive. And we shouldn’t hate Dan DiDio.

GR: To the despair/joy of many of your readers, yes, I was [holds fingers very close together] this close to sparing Charlie. And no, it wasn’t Dan’s fault. Dan’s responsible for a lot of blood spilled in the DCU in the last several years, but you can’t blame him for Osiris, Isis, or Charlie.

EN: Was that crazy smirk on Charlie’s face–when Black Adam interrupts Montoya mid-coitus–in the script? For a guy who’s known for his lack of a face, that’s got to be one of the most comedic expressions I’ve ever seen in a comic book.

GR: Oh yeah. He KNEW what they were going to barge in on.

EN: Because of the predictability of Montoya’s cycle of despair….

GR: Yeah, I mean, Charlie SAYS that she’s dealing in her traditional manner, ie, she got drunk and then went out to get laid — made herself feel nothing, and then tried to feel some connection through an intimacy that would be ultimately meaningless.

There’s actually a whole page from that issue that was pulled, showing Renee and Prettiest Lass In Shiruta rolling around in the sack.

GR: You remember which week that was?

EN: Found it: Week 18.

GR: OK, let me check something….Heh. Here it is. The page was yanked for being too explicit:

Yanked page from 52 #18

EN: Is this something I can share, or is it for my eyes only?

GR: Heck, share it. Hold on, I’ll see if I can find the missing narration….

OK, this was what was written for Page 5, Week 18, as of March 30, 2006 [Microsoft Word Doc File].

EN: Thanks for sharing!

GR: Feel free to reprint it, if you like. You’ll like my “marginalia” — Keith, restrain yourself.

EN: You said in an interview that one of your favorite Question lines in 52 wasn’t your own…Here’s my guess. Was it the, “Black Adam! Shazam! Isis! …I’m seeing if it’s contagious,” line?

GR: Yeah, that’s the one! That was all Geoff, and it was pure genius. And again, pure foreshadowing.

EN: Oh yeah! I hadn’t thought about that aspect of it. There was a ton of foreshadowing. When I went back to re-read, I felt a little stupid for not knowing all along.

GR: The benefits of knowing where we were headed. And again, why we really ended up sticking to our guns.

EN: Okay, last question…Which of the 52 storylines that wasn’t Renee/Charlie was your favorite?

GR: Oh, that’s hard.

GR: I love the Morrow storyline.

EN: The Island of Mad Scientists?

GR: Yeah. I think I’m partial to that one, because it took me very much by surprise — it was Grant through and through.

You know, there was once a point where it was going to be Montoya who freed Black Adam from Oolong Island. But we were running out of room at that point, and ended up having to shift the beats around.

EN: How would that have worked in the grand scheme?

GR: It would’ve been an extension on the scene where Renee goes to Adam after Isis dies.

GR: She was going to get to Oolong, free Adam, and then try to talk him off the ledge. And of course, it wouldn’t have worked. The beat where Adam spares her life because Isis and she were friends was going to be there. Frankly, it works better as it was ultimately written.

EN: I think so too.

GR: But I like the fact that Montoya and Black Adam do have this shared experience, at least.

EN: I like that she stood her ground twice while being choked by arguably one of the most powerful super-powered folks on Earth.

GR: Again, it’s what Charlie saw. Because Charlie would’ve done the same.

EN: Well, actually…I guess she was pleading for suicide the first time. But she showed no fear!

GR: Here’s another censored page…

Uncensored page from 52 #2

GR: This one went to press, they added more clothes to both Renee and the woman she was with. Which led to people wondering why there was a second set of undies on the floor. I think the penciller actually snuck a dildo into one of the panels, I’m not sure.

EN: Haha. I think I tried the buy the page after this, where I noticed they did the same thing. [Page was actually won by forum member J3H! — Check out his guest room!]

GR: It’s actually a problem, finding the balance. The fact that she’s gay means that we’re always going to be accused of pandering. And then you have to deal with artists who, almost by definition, want to show as much skin on shapely women as possible.

Lust is a hard concept to convey in a comic. I’m hoping people will read what’s written, rather than bring to it their agendas. Fat chance, I know.

OK, I’m 30 minutes over, here, so I really need to call it.

EN: Yeah…sorry about that!

GR: No trouble — it’s always a pleasure.

7 Responses to “Conversation with Greg Rucka (part 3 of 5)”

  1. The Question | Vic Sage | Renee Montoya » news » Just posted: new discussion with Greg Rucka says:

    […] just posted the latest installment of our ongoing conversation with writer Greg Rucka. In this one, we discuss 52, the death of Vic/Charlie, the fall and rise and fall and rise again of […]

  2. Rob says:

    Again, great interview.

    I miss Charlie…

    Looking forward to the Crime Bible though…

  3. The Question | Vic Sage | Renee Montoya » interviews » Conversation with Greg Rucka (part 2 of 5) says:

    […] Continue the conversation with part 3! Spread the good word: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  4. Keith Jones says:

    These interviews are really keeping me occupied after work every night. Can’t wait for the next one.

    I’m looking forward to Crime Bible as well. Greg is one of my favorite writers. And constantly trying to think of a good story to pitch involving the Question of my own … hearing another writer’s thoughts on the character is almost as helpful as reading the source material.

    Keep ‘em coming!

  5. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 12, 2007: Tintin’s blacklist says:

    […] Eric Newsom presents the third installment of his five-part interview with writer Greg Rucka. This time out, […]

  6. Brendan says:

    Just read all three parts to date and am really enjoying how in-depth these are! Now I’m going to have to dig out Cry For Blood (I remember loving that) and give 52 another shot once all the softcovers are out.

  7. links 10.16.07 « supervillain says:

    […] Oct 17th, 2007 by sean witzke -Greg Rucka on writers block. and an interview about 52. […]

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