Interview: Marguerite Bennett on LOIS LANE, JOKER’S DAUGHTER and the Voices in Her Head

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If you haven’t heard of Marguerite Bennett yet, you haven’t been paying attention. Her first story for DC Comics starred some guy named Batman. After that, she took us space-tripping with Lobo. She’s got an issue of Batgirl on the stands as I write, an issue of Talon lined up for next year, and DC just announced she’ll be writing two annual-length one-shots about two very dynamic, very different women: Lois Lane and the Joker’s Daughter. Marguerite was kind enough to answer some questions for Comicosity about her rapidly expanding resume, her creative process (growling at editors?) and the First Lady of DC Comics.

Alison Berry: Congrats on the new books!

Marguerite Bennett: Thank you so kindly! I’m so happy to be doing this interview—y’all have been so supportive of me since the Batman Annual and I much appreciate the kindness.

Before we begin, I actually have something I need to get off my chest—

What is Iron Man without his suit?

Stark naked.

*puts on sunglasses, high fives a million angels*

(Okay, now the questions.)

February-2014-DC-Comics-Solicitations-Superman-Lois-Lane-1AB: It’s always great to see female writers taking on female characters. Did you have an explicit interest in writing more female characters, or Lois Lane & Joker’s Daughter specifically? 

MB: Regarding the news, I’m delighted, honored, and absolutely terrified. In all honesty, three months ago, I didn’t have a particular focus on writing female characters. There was no active avoidance, and female monsters are sort of my specialty, but heroines drew me no more intently than heroes. I think I gave a few prickly answers regarding the assumption that I’d only want to write women, actually.

While I stand by my polite and petty vexation with the initial assumption, I’ve experienced a few things since my introduction to the industry that have made me reconsider. Now, to clarify, there was never any stance that I did not want to write women—there was no stance whatsoever. It hadn’t occurred to me to ever go into a story with any sort of intention. I come from prose, and characters just sort of bloomed up out of the stories with indiscriminate, non-binary genders. Since becoming more involved in the actual social aspect of comics, however, I am trying to address the imbalance in representation across the board, which translates as particular consideration for work involving women or other under-represented groups.

(And before someone scrambles down to the comments to rail against “diversity for the sake of diversity”—yeah, I see you, sugar—I have never included anything in a story that I did not believe was authentic to the themes and significance of that story. Story always comes first. There’s just no good damned reason that a story can’t have fair representation in terms of ethnicity, gender, orientation, or identity.)

AB: You’ve stated that you love that Lois has maintained her resolve in the face of a difficult, sometimes ugly world. Are we going to see something of where that resolve comes from in your story? 

Absolutely. I mayn’t say anything of value at the moment, but her resolve is a thing of wonder.

AB: In light of Ms. Lane’s 75th birthday this year, there’s been a lot of general talk about her history and her legacy. Why is Lois Lane important? 

MB: Lois Lane is the voice of humanity in a world of super-humanity.

When a sun god fell to Earth, this is the individual at whose side he chose to remain. Beyond the idea of romance—let us, for only the moment, set that aside—this is the individual that contained all of our inherent goodness, all the better angels of our nature. There is no naïveté in her (and innocence is so often misconstrued as goodness); instead, her goodness is born of experience, of seeing the ugliness of the world, yet never growing weary of it, or made bitter by it. She rises above all of the cruelty and deceit the world can throw at her—and when she cannot rise above it, she endures it—and if she cannot endure it, then she strives to keep herself whole and uncompromised until she can rise again. She’s flawed and clever and compassionate and scathing—fantastically human, as the world around her becomes increasingly superhuman, metahuman—or inhuman. This is the woman who can look gods in the eye, and make them look away first, by virtue of her indefatigable convictions.

BM_JOKER_DAUGHTER_1_1copibsnre__527c35915c2372.93768062AB: There is a lot of buzz about the Joker’s Daughter, despite her relative new-ness to the Bat-mythos. Now that you’ve spent some time with her, where do you think that excitement comes from? 

MB: I think, beyond Joker’s Daughter herself, there is a terrible suggestion of what would happen to readers if, one day, some piece of the Joker came into their lives?

He is a villain of such horror and grandeur—I think it is chilling but also rather intoxicating to imagine what you would do—you, now, reading this—if some part of the Joker himself came into your keeping. He hasn’t come to kill you, hasn’t come in person, but his face (which is his crown) is now in your hands, to treasure or to spurn or to secret away or to keep or to destroy or to don. You now possess a relic of death, the living proof of the existence of the Devil. Would you feel chosen or doomed? Would it give you meaning or deprive you of freedom? What do you do with it? How would possession of such a thing change you? What would it compel you to do?

She is but one possible answer.

AB: You’re a part of a new class of creators at DC Comics — a bit less established, but frighteningly talented. You’ve knocked every story you’ve published for them out of the park so far. Will you please tell me the answers to all of The Riddler’s Zero Year riddles? 

MB: Y’all are so magnificently sweet! That means so, so much to hear, I just can’t tell you.

I should love to tell you all the answers—it was great fun to research for Scott. I was still in school at the time, and in the margins of my workshop notes, I’d have scribbled out details on gods and sphinxes and riddles and wit, anything I could remember out of history or mythology. Scott’s the one who took the raw material and made it great, though. It’s been such a weird little treat to see the riddles emerge in Zero Year, bit by bit. My favorite one is yet to come.

BG_Cv25_lhp85yxmfz_AB: Does it freak you out to have contributed a chapter to the deconstruction and reconstruction of Batman’s (and Batgirl’s) beginnings? 

MB: It does. Enormously. I sit at table alongside people I grew up reading, people who built the fantastic structure of the DC universe, and all I can do is fidget and blush when I think on the scope of it and wonder how on Earth I’ve been permitted to lay hands on it, young and new as I am. My career is four months old and I’ve had the outrageous presumption to approach characters this phenomenal—Batman and Barbara Gordon and now Lois Lane—if the stories hadn’t resonated with readers to the degree they did, I’d have died of shame. I’m so grateful for the trust and support the readers have offered. I hope to make y’all proud.

Perhaps the most embarrassing instance was having a dinner conversation with a lovely gentleman and being perhaps too frank about my insecurity with having my first issue as, well, Batman. The gentleman and his wife were quite considerate and reassuring, and as the dinner drew to a close, another guest called the gentleman by name—Len…as in Len Wein. I have read Swamp Thing since I was a child, but the only pictures I’d ever seen of him were years out of date, and I think I might’ve called down an earthquake to swallow me up from embarrassment at that moment (but he was terrifically kind about the whole thing and told me some very encouraging things).

AB: You have a really great gift for character voice — Batman, Lobo, Lois Lane, even Arkham Asylum itself. How on do these voices co-exist inside your head? What is the distillation process for getting them onto the page? 

MB: Thank you so much! Navigating the headspace is actually really exhausting for me.  My whole body gets into it—my expression, my voice, my posture, my vocabulary—I’ll wander around the house and experiment with snarls or laughter or poise, chirp or growl or lilt dialogue out loud to myself, respond, touch things that they would touch them, abide fully in their bodies. (Then scamper back to my computer and scribble down what I’ve learned while spying through their eyes.)

Poor Mike Marts, bless him, accidentally caught me going into Lobo headspace in his office once. I was sitting on his couch and I’d been my normal chirping cheerful self and then I started to plan Lobo dialogue and my whole posture slowly stiffened and darkened and glowered down, but I didn’t really notice it until he asked started and inquired if I was okay, and I’m really sorry that I sound like a crazy person. It just helps me think. The devil’s in the details.

I have to take a break and clear my palate, so to speak, between characters—else I wind up with characters behaving unlike themselves and the whole thing rings false. It’s an emotionally tiring process, especially on a deadline, but I think it makes the stories richer.

TALON_Cv15_kbv3d33vy9_AB: You’re obviously most at home in Gotham City, but are there any other corners of the DCU you’d like to visit at some point? Central City? Zamaron? Themyscira? 

MB: I’d love to visit Themyscira and Atlantis. The idea of these whole separate worlds enchant me—I want to know what bedtime stories children in those nations hear, what delicacies do they eat there, how do they swear, what are ways in which they can accidentally be insulted, what are their folkloric bogeymen, what are the onomatopoetic noises their animals make, what are the words that they have that do not translate in languages with which we are familiar.

I love to travel. One summer, which I spent in Russia when I was sixteen, saw about two days of students nervously ferreting information out of each other, until finally both the Russian and American students sat down and held an enormous conference in which we translated all of our profanity—English swear words into a literal Russian translation, then what Russian phrase had the approximate meaning, then a complete phonetic guide in Cyrillic, then stars to indicate the level of severity, and tips on circumstances in which the word or phrase would be appropriate to use—and then the same complete system from Russian to English. We were very thorough—it was truly our diplomatic duty well done. I should like to do the same in Themyscira and Atlantis.

AB: You visit your 18 year old self first week of freshman year and tell her that in 7 years her name will be on the cover of DC Comics. How does 18 year old Marguerite respond? 

MB: This…is an amazing question.

I suppose 18 year old Marguerite laughs and giggles out the theme song of the Adam West show and goes home and rewatches the Animated Series in her lofted dorm room while listening to Simon and Garfunkel albums and wearing those silly embroidered peasant skirts with everything.

I think if I told her that, she’d blush and wouldn’t believe me.

Mostly because I don’t think I believe it myself, most days.

I have been too blessed. Thank you all so, so much for your kindness and support. I hope you love what we’ve got coming.

Batman: Joker’s Daughter and Superman: Lois Lane are scheduled to hit comic shops in February 2014, but in the meantime, be sure to check out Marguerite Bennett’s single stories in Batgirl #25 (out this week) and Talon #27 (coming in January 2014).

 

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