Wonder Woman and Before Watchmen writer Brian Azzarello | Interview outtakes
Just before Halloween, we sat down with Chicago scribe Brian Azzarello to talk to him about his big year. His latest collaboration with artist Eduardo Risso—Spaceman, a stand-alone crime story with a sci-fi sheen, set in a dystopian but not-too-distant future Earth—just hit bookstores. Meanwhile, he's writing high-profile but controversial miniseries, Before Watchmen: Rorschach and Before Watchmen: Comedian, not to mention the monthly adventures of a revamped Wonder Woman, one of the biggest critical successes of DC Comics' New 52 initiative.
We couldn't fit all the details from our hour-long chat in the main article, so here's an edited transcript with highlights of our conversation—along with an exclusive sneak preview of four pages from Wonder Woman #14, on sale November 21, and the prologue to Spaceman.
For a guy who’s made his reputation writing hard-boiled, down-to-earth comics like 100 Bullets, taking on a major superhero title is clearly a departure. Do you agree it's an odd choice for you?
There couldn’t be a more overtly obvious superhero for me to work on than Wonder Woman. There’s no getting around that character’s look or appearance. She’s so in your face. You can’t throw her in the shadows like you can with Batman.
How did this gig come about?
I was out to dinner with Dan DiDio. This was actually prior to the New 52 becoming the New 52. We were actually in talks about me doing a different character. We’ve gone out to dinner and I told him what my feelings were about taking this character in a certain direction. He was happy with it, so we were finalizing that. I asked, “Are you doing this [heading in new directions] with some of the other ones?” He said Batman is staying Batman, and he told me what editorial wanted to do for Wonder Woman. I was appalled. I came up with something different right there at dinner. I thought the direction was going to be a mistake for that character, right at her core. And I knew nothing about her!
Is most of what you know about her based on the Lynda Carter TV version?
I didn’t even watch that.
Have you talked to Jill about her? [His wife, artist Jill Thompson, drew Wonder Woman in the ’90s.]
Somewhat, but not a lot. ... By the end of the dinner then, I’m not working on this other character anymore. I’m gonna be writing Wonder Woman. I don’t know if he told me this idea because he actually wanted me to write Wonder Woman and I got conned—but it could be.
Did you go right to the mythological roots?
I did it at that dinner—went right to what makes her different from every other character there is. … Interpreting these characters, we’re looking to get to the physical and psychological core of—Ares, for example. So we’ll call him War. What’s he like? The Greek gods are all sort of stand-ins for what’s good and what’s terrible about humanity anyway. They’re us, turned up to 11. That’s what we’re trying to do.
You know there are comic-book purists who hate the idea of Wonder Woman having a father.
Some people thought it was an insult to the ideal of feminism. Giving her a father was an assault to that. Though I have never met a feminist who didn’t have a father. ... With Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, any really famous character, you can break their origins down into a sentence or two, and Wonder Woman didn’t have that. And the sentence or two is not for people who read comics; it’s for people outside of comics, in general popular culture. But now she is Zeus's daughter, and now it works. In a general pop-culture sense, it works. That’s something that everybody can get their head around.
What’s in store for Wonder Woman and Orion? He’s about to burst onto the scene, we know. Anything you’re willing to tease about him? Is he still a New God?
Yes, he’s a New God. I’m not going to fuck with Kirby! [Comics legend Jack Kirby, who later in his career created the New Gods for DC Comics, also co-created Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor and the X-Men for Marvel Comics.]
I wonder how Diana responds to his calling himself a “New God.”
He’s a great character to play up against her, that’s for sure.
Does he still have a connection to Darkseid? Or “Dark Seed,” as I always pronounce his name.
I call him “Dark Seed” too.
Is he still Darkseid’s son?
He is Darkseid’s son.
Regarding Before Watchmen: Were you ready for the controversy about this project?
I knew it was going to be a shit-storm.
Some fans get so upset about “what DC has done to Alan Moore” by letting other creators write and draw the Watchmen characters, but to my mind, it’s nowhere near the same thing as what happened to [Superman creators] Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, or to Jack Kirby under Marvel. And Moore’s spent much of his career reinventing other people’s characters too. I figure, well, I can’t be worried about Alan Moore.
I can’t be worried about him either. Frankly, if you read his interviews, he says nothing good has come out of comics in the past 20 years, and he hasn’t read comics in the past 20 years. I’m supposed to worry about that guy? No. I can’t. I’m trying to make good comics.
How long did it take you to decide to sign on?
It took me talking to [artist] Lee [Bermejo]. That’s all it took. I got a call from Dan. This was prior to Wonder Woman, a few years ago—that’s how long this thing has been percolating. He said, “I’ve got a character I want to offer you.” I was busy, and I said “Dan, I don’t really feel like doing anything more.” He said, “Let me tell you the character.” I said, “Sure.” “Rorschach.” And I said, “You are out of your mind. You can’t do that.” [Laughs.]
At that point, I didn’t even know he was planning on all the books. But immediately I see—it was Lee. It just made sense. I asked if he had an artist attached, and he said, “No, who do you want to draw?” I said, “Well let’s not even get that far ahead, but it really seems like it would be a project that Lee and I would be pretty good for.”
At that point had you done Joker with him?
Yeah. So I called him. I said, “Hey, I got offered something.”
Something really big.
“Something really big.” And he said what, and I said Rorschach. He was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it.” There was absolutely no hesitation. All the apprehension that I was feeling, he had none of it. So at that point, Lee’s gonna do it, so I better not let anyone else write this thing.
Are you glad you took it on?
Let’s wait until the collections come out. It hasn’t been an easy project to work on, editorially, because they have to come out at a certain time, the scheduling. So that’s been difficult. Cracking the nut of the characters has been on the difficult side. And like you said, I have a couple of real dark characters, so my stories are going to be dark. And it’s like, do I want to tell these rotten stories about these rotten people?
As much as it’s been difficult, it’s been a good time working with these guys. Working with Lee, again, is always great. Working with JG [Jones, the artist on Before Watchmen: Comedian]—this is the first time we’ve worked together, and we’ve always talked about doing something. The response—again, what do I know? People don’t come up to me and say like, “I hate what you’re doing.”
You didn’t encounter any discussion about it at the New York Comic-Con in October? There was a panel, but nobody stood up and says, “This bugs me”?
I think we had a question like, “Did you consult with Alan Moore about this?” That was as tough as it got. And the answer is obviously no.
What about Dave Gibbons?
Nobody asked me about Dave. I know Dave; I don’t know Alan. And no, I haven’t talked to him either.
Wonder Woman and Spaceman preview