GREG RUCKA HAS SHOWN THE SPY TRADE FOR THE DIRTY BIT OF BUSINESS THAT IT REALLY IS IN QUEEN & COUNTRY, MADE BATMAN A TRUE DETECTIVE AGAIN, AND HELPED REDEFINE THE DC UNIVERSE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION WITH HIS WORK ON INFINITE CRISIS. NOW, NONNIE TAKES SOME TIME TO TALK TO THE MAN ABOUT WHAT IT ALL MEANS.
Nonnie: First off, I want to say congratulations on The OMAC Project doing so well.
Greg Rucka: Thank you. Yeah, I think that took everybody by surprise. It did much better than people expected.
N: I thought it was a fantastic read.
GR: It came out very well. There's a long history of titles at DC with the word "OMAC" in them that did extremely, extraordinarily badly. I don't think anyone expected it to perform the way it did, which is vindicating if nothing else. It's pretty cool. I'm very pleased with it. It did its job-- it left people with a lot of questions. I'm proud of it and I think we pulled it off.
N: Ever since the announcement of the minis and the Infinite Crisis itself, you've been touted as one of the "architects" of the DC Universe. What exactly does that mean?
GR: What should I say? You know, I'm not sure… huh, how to answer that? Well, I think the architect thing comes up because there's a great degree of planning at work, and I was in on the plan at the ground floor. So, I guess in that sense I don't view it so much as being an architect so much as being part of a team. And working on a team… you do your part. My part was to set up stuff in a certain area in a certain way, and make it work so that when [writer] Geoff [Johns] came up with the deal for Infinite Crisis, all the pieces that I was responsible for were in place for him. It's the strangest thing. I mean, I guess it's a fair thing to say, but I don't tend to think of myself as an architect. I'm just one of the worker bees, for lack of a better word.
N: So, do you consider Infinite Crisis to be your story? Or is it just a giant, epic story? Or is this Geoff Johns all the way?
GR: It's weird, because I don't think I can view it as a proprietary thing at all. At the end of the day, Infinite Crisis is all Geoff and all [artist] Phil [Jimenez]. But I say it like they're working in a vacuum, and they're not. Geoff is remarkable in many ways as far as being a professional and a writer. But one of the things he's extraordinarily remarkable for is his generosity. There are very few people that he has actually talked to and engaged with regards to Infinite Crisis, but he's talked to everybody he can about their stuff and how to make Crisis work for them. When that happens, we all buy in. It's something that's happening to our universe. It's the universe that we work in. So I look at this and say, "This is Geoff's baby." But at the same time, I can still see my part in it.
N: You've been dealing with the iconic characters at DC pretty much since you got there. Do you feel like you have a certain responsibility to these characters when you're doing these epics?
GR: Absolutely, yeah. You want to get it right. You want to treat them well. At the end of the day, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are characters that are going to be around long after I'm gone. They are much bigger than I am-- bigger than I'm ever going to be. And I don't have a problem with that. I mean, it's a privilege to be able to write these words that superheroes are going to say. And with that in mind, every time I sit down to write Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash, or whomever I'm writing, I do try to remember that I'm trying to serve them as best I can. I've said that elsewhere, and I suppose it sounds a bit hokey, but I really do believe that. It's my job to serve them and make sure that their stories are told. I'm there to do it, ideally, in a way that doesn't get in the way of it.
N: Why do you personally think the DC characters have become so iconic? Is it because of their archetypal nature? Just what about them strikes a cord with people?
GR: When we talk about superheroes, and we talk about the characters working, the word that almost always comes up is "iconic". There's something iconic about the character-- about who they are, why they are, and what they mean. If I could tell you what makes them iconic I'd be able to create iconic characters of my own. I mean, I don't know what those traits are. Some are universal. Superman, you know, he takes the last survivor story and the exiled story and a Biblical current-- I mean, he's the last son of Krypton. When was the last time a son played a major role on this planet?
N: Good point.
GR: And Batman is the archetype of the dark avenger-- the specter in the shadows. He's the guy that rights wrongs. Look at Diana [Wonder Woman]. Diana is the warrior priest, which is its own archetype. The best example I can come up with is Kung Fu. You know, David Carradine. That's the type of character she is. She's the type of character that travels, teaches, and rights these wrongs, and finds themselves engaged in combat whether they want to or not. I'm not sure that helps, but there are a lot of things that go into it.
N: You said that you acknowledge the fact that these characters are bigger than any one writer or artist, or even any stable of them. But do you think that the DC Universe actually has an ending to it? I mean, we've seen the beginning of it with the creation of Superman and Batman, and in continuity with the JSA [Justice Society of America] and the Freedom Fighters, and other World War II era heroes. But do you ever see it ending? Do you think they'll ever reach a point where they think each character has achieved their arc? That they've reached the end?
GR: Are you asking me if I think they'll ever reach a point where they'll reboot and do it again? I'm not sure. I mean, we're not going to run out of stories. In some ways, we already have. If that makes any sense. We tell pretty much the same stories over and over again. We tell the same myths. But every time we tell them we tell them in a different way, and I think that keeps them fresh. And for that reason, I think there will be an opportunity to do it again and again and again. If it ever gets to the point where we say, "Okay, we're done," then the opportunity will still be there. It's just a simple matter of saying, "Okay, let's fire it up one more time." If you put it in context of storytelling and myth, the end of the DC Universe is a story. But it's a story that you're not liable to see in print. At least not in any style where people can say, "Okay, this is definitive." As soon as you put a definitive ending on it you've sort of capped the potential; which is why that for all the wonder that is Kingdom Come, it will ultimately become an Elseworlds story. It is not a story that will become a DC canon. It is a possible ending to the DC Universe, but it is not a definitive ending.
N: Do you think stories like All-Star Batman & Robin and Kingdom Come will still be relevant in fifty years? Do you think they ever will actually reach a point where they'll be integrated into the canon?
GR: I'm not sure what'll be relevant and what won't be relevant. The stories that last, the stories that have legs are the stories that the fans connect with. And what the fans connect with is anybody's guess at any moment. The theory is if you tell the best story you can, and you tell it well, then that will do the job. But, you know, we were talking about OMAC in the beginning, and there weren't great expectations for it, and for good reason. I mean, I don't take it personally. You know, people are like, "Omac? What's an Omac?" But I think it succeeded because people thought it was a good story. Now, for that reason, they may remember it in ten, fifteen, thirty years. But in the same token, they may say, "This is so tied into that Infinite Crisis thing they did that it doesn't make sense." See what I'm saying? Certain stories will last. For instance, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One is going to be around forever. It is timeless and exists absolutely by itself. And it is just a brilliant, brilliant story. Or look at Batman Begins. Batman Begins is its child. They go hand-in-hand. It's of such strength that they went, "Hey, we got a movie to make here." So, you know, it's anybody's guess. And I don't think even if I wanted to I could ever say, "Oh, this'll be around in 100 years!" I write with the purpose of telling the best stories I can, and serving the characters I have at the time the best I can.
N: What are the responsibilities of a writer to do research for a certain project? And is it a writer's responsibility to kind of look back and make certain things more modern?
GR: I think it's substantial. But I also think that continuity is a dangerous thing. You don't want to be a slave to it. There are some dogs in continuity. There are just some really bad decisions made. But at the same time, it's all part of a continuum, so you take what you can and try to serve it as best as you can. I'm not a big fan of being a slave to continuity-- I think it's a mistake. You should never let continuity get in the way of telling a good story, and I think that's one of the five laws right now at DC.
N: DC has five laws?
GR: Yes. They give us a handbook and then make us drink Kool-Aid. No, I work with editors, and I like working with editors. I like putting my work in front of somebody else and saying, "Does this work?" And, you know, there have been times when we discuss a continuity story where X, Y, and Z happens, and at the end of the day we try to serve that continuity. And if there isn't a way to serve that continuity, does it hurt that continuity? But, again, does it hurt a good story to try and serve our pursuit of it? Does that make sense?
GR: I think you have to be familiar, but I don't think you have to know everything inside and out. I really don't. And I think that for some people it's a detriment to do so. But you need to know where you are coming from. If you don't have that, you don't know where you're going. And, if nothing else, you have to be fair to these characters. You owe it to them.
N: Do you follow the same logic when you're writing your novels?
GR: I feel that I have to be internally consistent. If I'm not, I lose my reader. In any piece you set up the rules of the universe, and when you set up those rules you're telling the audience that this is the way it is. Then, if you change things in the middle or if something is radically altered, unless you're actively doing that, you're going to confuse people and you're going to lose them. So I'm working on the new [Atticus] Kodiak novel right now, and this is technically the sixth novel in the series. In the fifth book the status quo changed radically, and one of the things I'm wrestling with now is how much of the old status quo do I want to service in this new story. Because there are going to be readers who go, "I want to know about this character from this book," but the new status quo doesn't really allow for a lot of that. So you're trying to set the rules that are internally consistent while at the same time being dramatically satisfying.
N: Talking about servicing characters, have you ever run into a character that you just don't get?
GR: I have on more than one occasion. There's an issue of Wonder Woman coming out-- I believe it's issue #222-- and I found myself in this situation where I had to write this character, Cheetah. I was not really excited about that because she hadn't been gelling for me. So I had this conversation with Geoff Johns, who I think is pretty much the modern master of taking bad heroes or villains and making them very, very compelling. And one of the things he said is, "Write it from Cheetah's point of view. That'll force you to figure it out." And he was right. In fact, I think this turned out to be one of the best issues of the run as a result. And I went from not liking Cheetah very much as a character to being in love with the character by the end of it, and wanting to write more stories featuring Barbara Minerva. So it does happen. But, I read a quote online recently by Brad Metzler saying, "There's no bad characters, only bad writing." That's him quoting God knows who, but it's true about writers. It's absolutely true.
N: What happens when you just can't get a character or story? Do you dismiss it? Or do you always look for that different angle?
GR: Yeah. I don't work in a vacuum. That's foolish when you have editors. I like to engage people. When I'm working on a story, I'm not possessive about it. I want to talk to my editor about it. I want to talk to other people about it. I need to talk it out before I start writing. For me, part of talking it out is finding my problems. I see problems I'm having with characters, not getting them, so part of the process becomes, "Okay, how do we make it work?" I can't think of any instance right off the top of my head where I've said, "I can't make this character work, so I'm not going to do it." More often than not, I find myself in situations where I go, "I want to do this, but I can't make it fit." I can't make it benefit the story, so then I have to jettison it. But I don't ever jettison a character just based on like or dislike. If the character has to be in the story, the character has to be in the story.
N: What are the strengths of telling a story in the comic medium over, say, television or even a prose novel?
GR: Comics do things I think no other medium can-- several things, actually. But primarily among them, it forces a reader's engagement in a way that is more active than even the reader realizes. You can watch a movie and they're going to give you everything. Sometimes you have to figure out what's happening on your own, but a movie is pretty much guaranteed to fill in the blanks. All comics are are filling in the blanks. That's all they are. I give you an image, then I give you another image, and you have to bridge the two. And you have to do it over and over again to make the narrative work. Nobody has yet done the study, but I'd be fascinated to see what the results of giving three people the same sequence of four panels and seeing how they interpret the action. I'd be fascinated to hear what people say happens between panel one and panel two and panel three and panel four; because as much as it depends on the writer to read the reader, and the artists to read the reader, the reader does a ton of work that they're not even aware of. We watch TV and movies and even read books, and we know the language that we're dealing in. We don't really have to learn how to watch a movie. The only thing you really need to learn to read a novel is to read. But comics are their own language, and you have to learn how to read it. My father, God bless him, had a horrible time reading comics. When I first got into comics, he had a very hard time reading them. And it wasn't because he'd never read comics. It was because he hadn't read comics in thirty years. He had to learn the language, because the language has changed. The language of comics in 2000 is not the language of comics from 1970. You look at a comic that came out last week and a comic that came out in 1975 and they are astoundingly different in how they tell their story. The language has changed, and you have to teach yourself the language. You can't go to someone and ask them, "How do I read this?" It's a process and you have to do it yourself. That's one of those things that no other medium has, and I think that's one of the things that makes comics so magical.
N: What are some of the weaknesses of the medium?
GR: For me, there are several, but I think the biggest one is time. There's not a whole lot of time in that I have X amount of pages that the story has to be done in. I get twenty-two pages a month, and that's it. So some things get sacrificed. I've written a couple of Queen & Country novels, both of which are novels not because I said, "Great, I want to do a novel," but because I wanted to tell a story with the Queen & Country characters that can't be told in the comics medium. It requires a medium that has more time for me to spend on the minutia of them, which is something that novels are wonderful for. If I did the new one, Private Wars, as a mini-series it would be thirty issues. It would be ridiculously long. And many of those issues would bore people to tears.
N: Because you have less time in comics, do you plot them in a different way than you would your novels?
GR: Yeah. I tend to break them down. For me, comics are very structured creatures, because it does come down to the fact that you have twenty-two pages that you are working in. Each page, each panel is one less than you have later on. For that reason, it has to be paced very carefully. If it isn't, then you run into very muddy narratives. In a novel, I can wander off. If I'm writing a novel and I need another 1,000 words, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I have that room to move, which I don't with comics.
N: Film writers have their three-act structure; do you use a similar structure when writing?
GR: Loosely. Calling it a three-act structure is codifying what a lot of people know about drama. And I'm familiar with all the terms and the lingo and the structure, and I know what's supposed to happen in each stage and so on. And, on some level, there's an awareness of it when I write. But I don't write to it. I can't. I don't sit there and say, "Okay, my second act-- I have to have this, this, and this." The story knows what it wants and what it needs. If you've been listening and working on it, then you'll provide those things.
N: Do you have any interest in writing television? Like, an episode of Justice League? Or maybe a movie?
GR: Yeah, eventually. I'm interested. I'll take the opportunity if and when it comes. Right now I've got enough on my plate. But I'd love to try working in different mediums. You know, I want to do a stage play, too.
N: I've heard you say that, "A writer should be able to write anything."
GR: Yeah. I think that calling somebody a comic book writer or a novelist... for some people, that's fine. But for me, I'm not content with, "He writes comics." I want to be the kind of writer who can say, "What's the best way to tell the story here? Well, the best way is as a stage play." Or, "This would work as a movie, not as a comic." That's the goal. Can I guarantee that I can perform it? No. But that's the goal.
N: Is your lack of time the reason you decided not to write the script for the Whiteout movie?
GR: Initially? No. You know, initially, I didn't pursue it with a whole lot of zeal. And at the time it sold I was in no position to make demands. If it came up today I'd probably be able to get the first draft. But I also think, for instance, that I'm not the guy to write the Queen & Country movie. I'm the guy to go in and doctor that script. But I'm not the guy to write it, because I'm too close to those characters. And frankly, I would write a very bad Queen & Country movie. It wouldn't be exciting enough for Hollywood's needs. It'd be very boring. And I acknowledge that. I have no problem acknowledging that. Which leads to something else-- I don't sit down and say, "I'm going to write this as a comic, then sell the movie rights." I think that it's insulting to both mediums to do that. People get cranky that Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings wasn't the books. Well, duh! If you want the books, read the books. These are called movies and they have different requirements. You have to approach it differently and you have to sacrifice things. Lord Of The Rings is an appropriate form for what it is.
N: Do you have any other properties making the rounds in Hollywood?
GR: There's talk of bringing the Kodiak stuff out eventually, but I got other stuff going on right now. It's not a rush for me.
N: What's the one character you'd love to work on but haven't had the chance to yet?
GR: I've been appallingly lucky at DC. They've given me access to pretty much their whole stable. And the one character that I've been chomping at the bit to write I'll actually be writing in 2006.
N: Is it The Question?
GR: Yes, it is.
N: Will it be a new ongoing?
GR: I can't say anything else. I can confirm that I'll be writing The Question, in 2006 and that's it. Otherwise, Geoff will hunt me down and punch me. And Johns has a vicious punch for a little guy.
N: One question we always ask here at tastes like chicken is, do dogs have lips?
GR: Do dogs have lips? Yes, they do. This is a question?
N: It is. We even have stickers with it on them. It's sort of a staple of our marketing.
GR: Do dogs have lips? Yes, dogs do have lips.