Interview: Writer Brian Azzarello on Wonder Woman, 100 Bullets, and Spaceman

A mythic superhero. A broken astronaut. A revenge tale told over one hundred issues. Writer Brian Azzarello couldn’t be accused of writing the same thing every time out. Or could he? On the eve of the release of his new series, Wonder Woman; and with his new Vertigo series with Eduardo Risso hitting a month later, we chatted with the author about his take on the future, why “the crime guy” is tackling Princess Diana, and whether he ever looks back at 100 Bullets (spoiler: he doesn’t):

MTV Geek: Let’s start off talking about Spaceman… I’ve read the story in Strange Adventures – which I liked – but what was the germ of the idea for the story?

Brian Azzarello: I got the germ like where I get so many germs: in a bar. [Laughs] I was having drinks with a friend of mine, he’s a bio-engineering professor in Chicago. It was about the time when NASA announced that they and the Russian space program were going to work jointly to get to Mars. So we were talking about that, and he – being an engineer – said, “It’s not going to happen. The human body can’t make that journey yet, because we lose too much bone density, and our skeletal systems will be compromised by the time we make it to Mars – the amount of time it would take.” And they really don’t know, at this time, to change that. Him being a bio-engineer, I said, “Couldn’t NASA engineer that? Couldn’t they take some kids then make the trip?” He said, “Yeah, that would be possible.” And that was the germ.

Geek: You’re working with Eduardo Risso again… How has your working relationship changed over the years, or is it pretty much the same as when you started 100 Bullets?

BA: It’s definitely gotten – not a lot more comfortable. There’s just a familiarity now. We’ve gotten to the point where we can finish each other’s sentences. We’ve done thousands of pages by now.

Geek: Has that changed your process from the scripting side at all?

BA: My scripts, when I started working with Eduardo… They had to be really, really sparse because those scripts had to be translated. I couldn’t get too descriptive, it had to be really bare bones. And it stayed that way!

Geek: Interesting… I read in an interview you described the story of Spaceman as not science fiction, but science hell… Could you elaborate on that?

BA: That’s what my Editor calls it. Credit where credit is due. He should get credit for something. The environment of this world we’re doing, this science fiction world, it’s predicated on most of the dire predictions scientists have made as far as climate change coming true. With that, there’s also political and economic change that happens as well. It’s dystopian, to say the least.

Geek: You just touched on this a little, but when you’re creating a whole new world in science fiction, what goes into that?

BA: Spaceman is creating from the base up. It’s been much more intensive.

Geek: Was there any source material you pulled from?

BA: You know what? We pulled a lot from natural disasters. Like Katrina, we pulled that. We’re not just visually creating a different world, I created a different slang, a future slang for these characters, because language changes. It’s a challenge, but it’s a really exciting one.

Geek: Let’s talk about the main character, Orson. He starts in a pretty “low” place, so to speak… What’s his journey over the course of the story?

BA: You know, that poor guy, he’s going through the same thing the rest of us are: where’s his place in the world? That’s his journey. Where do I fit in? I think for me, I go through that every day. [Laughs]

Geek: Let’s chat about Wonder Woman… We keep hearing back and forth that it’s a horror book, or it’s not a horror book… I’ve talked to Cliff Chiang about this, and I’ve seen some of the pages, and it LOOKS pretty horror influenced – what’s your take on it?

BA: Who’s saying its not a horror book? Did Cliff say it’s not a horror book?

Geek: I think he said it has “horrific elements,” was the phrase he used?

BA: Okay. Anybody who is working on it isn’t saying it’s not a horror book. It’s a horror book. [Laughs.]

Geek: All right, it does seem – from seeing the pages – the horror elements come from the mythological creatures.

BA: We are playing up the more thick and evil elements of the Greek Gods. And with that, you get the horror elements that Cliff mentioned. The gods are playing a major role in this book now, and with that, there comes this base human emotion, and this base human action. When I think of horror, that’s what I think of.

Geek: Were you a Greek myth buff going into this?

BA: More a Greek myth buff than a Wonder Woman buff.

Geek: What draws you in about the Greek Myths then?

BA: Listen, the Pantheon? That’s the first crime family. That’s what draws me in.

Geek: On the other hand, there’s been some really wonderful takes on Wonder Woman but – particularly if you’re NOT a Wonder Woman buff - writers have had a notoriously difficult time getting a handle on her… Do you feel the New 52 launch gives you a chance to simplify and clean her up, for yourself? Or are you encountering the same challenges?

BA: I think I’m cleaning it up, for everybody. All the characters have that one sentence that can describe them. She doesn’t have that. I think we’ve given it to her, and it will make it clean for everybody.

Geek: I imagine you’ll want to tell us right now what that one sentence is, right?

BA: No, I can’t give it to you yet! [Laughs] It’s too important! It plays out in the first story arc… At the end of the first story arc, you will hear the sentence.

Geek: [Laughs] Okay, getting back to Cliff’s art a bit, his take on Wonder Woman physically looks different. Her face is thinner, she looks a little more Greek… Is that something you guys discussed going in?

BA: Yes, we did. I wanted to make her look more ethnic. I mentioned to Cliff, I said, here’s a chance to actually throw away the cookie cutter.

Geek: Let’s move on talk about 100 Bullets. The 100 Bullets Deluxe Hardcover is coming out soon… I know it’s only been a short time, but what’s it been like looking back on the beginning of the series? Have you looked back at all?

BA: Ummmm… Not really. [Laughs] I did once, there’s a restaurateur here who asked for the complete series. I had the trades, and I was looking through it that way… I haven’t seen the hardcover, though. I not something I reference over and over again. I don’t have time! [Laughs]

Geek: 100 Bullets starts so simply, and it ends in such an epic place… How closely did what you outlined at the top of the series line up with where you ended up at the end? Were there surprises along the way?

BA: It ended exactly where it was intended to end when we started. Nothing changed. Yeah, it started out simple, but we needed to start out simple, you know? I has distilled that series down to its emotional core, which was revenge, and the emotional consequences of revenge. We gave you a really simple take, and hoped it hooked you. And we hoped you would come back! You’re right, it was set up like, oh this is going to be a revenge of the month story. And when it opened up, it just grabbed people. We got you by the throat with the revenge of the month, and then we got you by the balls with the back-story.

Geek: Lastly, between Spaceman, Wonder Woman, and 100 Bullets, you’re writing – or have written – very diverse pieces of graphic fiction… Is this a conscious effort not to be pigeonholed, or does it just come down to, write what excites you?

BA: It comes down to whatever excites you, yeah. It’s funny, because I do think I am pigeonholed as, “That’s the crime guy.” Which I don’t mind, pigeonhole me as crime, I’ll take it. But I wouldn’t writing Wonder Woman if I didn’t have something to say about her. I need a story, if I don’t, I’m not going to do it. I have something to say about Wonder Woman. Who knew?

Wonder Woman #1 hits comic book stands on September 21st from DC Comics; 100 Bullets Deluxe Hardcover from Vertigo on October 12th; and Spaceman #1 hits on October 26th, also from Vertigo.

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