A New Kind Of Superheroine: Ann Nocenti Talks 'Katana'

On February 13, DC Comics will have another solo superheroine book to fill their ranks: "Katana," written by Ann Nocenti and illustrated by Alex Sanchez. MTV Geek took a moment to chat with comics industry legend Nocenti about the new title -- and to delve deeper into the psyche of Katana.

Geek:You have a history of writing very strong and tough female characters. Can you tell me how Katana fits into that tradition...and what makes her and her story unique?

Ann Nocenti: Thank you! When I first started writing comics, in the way-back days, Typhoid Mary was my explosive response to women characters in comics-- I made her an innocent virginal type, a clever, dark, liberated woman, and as Bloody Mary, a feminist bent of punishing men-- all in one character. She was an instinctual rather than a calculated creation. When I read Katana's run in Birds of Prey, I was curious about her restraint. She didn't laugh, didn't loosen up, didn't seem to have a light side. I thought, well that demure nature is what we believe of women of Old Japan, so she seemed not like a modern Japanese but from an earlier time. That, along with having her husband killed by the sword she carried, all that bottled-up anger... I started to feel the intense contradictions in her, and the potential for a personal explosion. I liked how her BOP teammates humored her when she talked to her dead husband in her sword. It seemed a very female "circling of the wagons," how the women supported her possible delusional nature.

There was an intense creative period of many months of me pitching Katana character sheets and stories, the feedback process with DC editorial-- Bob Harras, Dan Didio, Rachel and Rickey my editors, was extremely supportive and creative. Together we shaped her, and decided that her sword would, at first, be the key. Is she crazy or is her husband in her sword? Then in writing Katana #1, I wanted to layer the comic in antiquity, and yet be modern. So visually you slipped back and forth between time periods. And the centerpiece of each issue is a spectacular battle. I'm lucky to have studied martial arts for many years, so I'll bring that experience to the fights. And being a huge fan of Japanese martial arts movies, I'll bring that sense of wild skills to Katana.

Geek: Katana was of course introduced in the pre-"New 52" series "The Outsiders." Will she have any connection with The Outsiders in this book, or specific characters from that series?

AN: No plans for that yet, but it's a great question, and one we talk about.

Geek: What function do you think Katana serves on the Justice League of America -- both in terms of the skills she brings to the table, and how her personality fits into the overall mix?

AN: Katana is a trained, disciplined martial artist. She removes herself from Birds of Prey to go on a personal journey in Japantown, San Francisco, and pursue a quest for vengeance against the Sword Clan, the men that killed her husband. In Katana #1 she fights COIL, who has a spiral sword, a whip of a sword, and she realizes she's not just up against him, but legions. She is allowing herself to let loose, to unravel a bit, to fight this battle. But when the JLA calls-- she's all business. She's a soldier in an army for them. Back to the restrained, disciplined fighter. She brings that to the team-- a reliable, fearless martial arts master. But as things change in her solo book, that might change in JLA also.

Geek: Working off the previous question -- you also write "Catwoman," who happens to be on the same team as Katana. How would you characterize the initial relationship between these two teammates?

AN: In Catwoman #19, Catwoman and Katana meet, and it is not pleasant. Catwoman is a wild card, a loose cannon, reckless and impulsive. Katana is the opposite, a closed book. I think that's rich ground to play with-- will Catwoman resent her first bad meeting with Katana? Do opposites attract or fight? That's something that can be explored in JLA, but on the other hand, they are both going into "soldier mode" when part of a team, and most likely leaving their personal complexities at the door. Or not-- but it's going to be fun to see what JLA does with that.

Geek: How closely do you work with Geoff Johns and the "Justice League of America" crew with "Katana" -- and would you say that this is a title that can be enjoyed and understood outside the context of the new group title?

AN: I didn't work with the JLA crew at all, but I work very closely with Rachel, my editor. She threw me an idea for issue #3 that changed the course of the book! Katana is a solo book, it can be enjoyed on its own, but of course the experience of the character deepens by reading both books. And on another level, she will be deeply connected to the DCU-- issues two and three bring in surprising, and very exciting guest villains.

Geek: What is it like working with artist Alex Sanchez on "Katana"?

Alex Sanchez is just perfect. He's visually capturing the essence of the book: that Katana is restrained, but a wildness boils inside her. That she grew up in Japan, and so she has all the demure, traditional, respectful aspects of Old World Japan. And yet she is a modern woman. He is layering the comic with antiquity and the modern world, a contrast that will be come more striking in later issues. This is a comic that exists in both the present and the deep past at the same time. His artistry in showing this is truly stunning.

Geek: If you could "pitch" "Katana" to a new reader in only a sentence or two, what would you say to them to get them psyched about the title?

AN: I guess to boil down all I've said-- Katana is the tale of a tightly-wrapped Japanese martial arts master who seeks vengeance for crimes that span centuries, a mission that unravels her sanity.

"Katana" hits stores February 13th.

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