‘Catwoman’ No. 24 first look: Ann Nocenti talks Joker’s Daughter

Oct. 21, 2013 | 2:56 p.m.

Page 1 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

Page 2 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

Page 3 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

Page 4 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

“Catwoman” No. 24 hits shelves Wednesday, giving readers a closer look at the twisted Joker’s Daughter and the underground tunnels of Gotham where she resides.

Veteran comics writer Ann Nocenti took over “Catwoman” from Judd Winick last fall with “Catwoman” No. 0, about halfway through the title’s New 52 run so far. After becoming entangled with the leader of a Gotham gang and facing off against the Penguin in recent issues, Catwoman has found herself exploring Gotham’s secret underground tunnels in order to rescue a friend who got caught in the crossfire.

Hero Complex readers get an exclusive first look at issue No. 24. Check it out in the gallery above or by clicking the links below.

Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Hero Complex caught up with Nocenti via email to chat about building Gotham Underground, developing Joker’s Daughter and what’s next for Selina Kyle.

HC: What inspired the idea of a secret underground world beneath Gotham? It’s something we’ve never seen before, and it feels very “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

Page 1 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarrogona. (DC Comics)

Page 1 of “Catwoman” No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

AN: I live in New York City, and one day many years ago I was with a poet, Gregory Corso, walking through Greenwich Village. He pointed to a doorway in an alley that he said led to a tunnel under Manhattan, a tunnel he’d use to run from the cops. I started learning about old Prohibition-era speakeasy tunnels under the city, for running whiskey. A few years ago the city began excavating my block, digging down so far you could see an ancient bottleneck of a century’s worth of old pipes. I’d walk by every day and see the workers down there … it sparked my imagination. I started collecting stories about the homeless that lived under Manhattan in old subway and train tunnels and urban legends of nuclear fallout bunkers, fake facades that hid things — real and imagined societies of people hiding from the world for whatever reason.

Then I started brainstorming with DC editorial about who could be down there, and they sent me images of Doctor Phosphorus. At the time, there were a few stories in the news about sinkholes, and I read about a vast buried coal mine that never stopped burning. So I gave that lair, “Charneltown,” to Doctor Phosphorus, a burning man in so much pain he’s mean. Then we developed the Warhogs, who built a fallout bunker using sandhog machines, the same techniques used to build water mains. They are led, not by a “prepper,” but by a bio-engineer who witnessed firsthand the potential toxic danger of what was being developed in bio-labs. Then for Nethers, where Joker’s Daughter lives, I based that on the Ashokan Reservoir, NYC’s water supply upstate. Three towns were flooded to make that lake, so I gave that bit of history to Gotham Reservoir — the idea that the original residents would cling to their hometowns. And the cave Duela hides in is based on the cenotes in Mexico — little underground caverns with lakes. I wrote a Poison Ivy story once where she grafts plants together while in Arkham Asylum, plants that have a luminosity so she can have light in her cell. So those vines grow down into Gotham Underground and light the tunnels.

Page 2 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarrogona. (DC Comics)

Page 2 of “Catwoman” No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

Gotham Underground became a team effort, with my editors tossing ideas at me, and the DC art team designing these worlds, and then Rafa Sandoval, the artist on “Catwoman,” and Georges Jeanty, the artist who developed Joker’s Daughter, made all these ideas come to life. The colorist, Sonia Oback, created a glowing, neon, otherworldly color palette for the underground. Once we developed the world, I had Catwoman explore it in the way you’d play a video game — you head places, make mistakes, and the next time you play you’re better at the game. So now this Gotham Underground playground is there for others to explore and expand however they wish.

HC: “Catwoman” No. 24 gives us our first good look at Joker’s Daughter. What do you find appealing about the character? What are Duela Dent’s motivations?

AN: When my editor sent me the first two images of Joker’s Daughter, I was struck by how confident she looked, despite her boney appearance and horribly scarred face. So I starting thinking, how did Duela gain such confidence in a world that prizes beauty? Scott Snyder had already done a major story line imbuing the Joker’s Face with huge power, so I built her character on a kind of inverted beauty — the idea that “Ugly is the new beautiful.”  Duela has a kind of twisted sisterhood and was inspired by the Greek play “Lysistrata” to get the women under Gotham to mutiny against the men. She’s made her first move for control, and now with the underground stories, she’ll meet her match in Catwoman.

HC: How would you describe the relationship between the three leading ladies — Catwoman, Tinderbox and Joker’s Daughter?

Page 3 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarrogona. (DC Comics)

Page 3 of “Catwoman” No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

AN: They are all headstrong women who cloak their strength. Catwoman puts on a black catsuit and prowls in the shadows. Tinderbox puts forth a ditzy façade to hide her calculating nature. Joker’s Daughter uses the power of her “father’s” face. All three see each other as chips in a game … how can they use or play each other to gain power during the inter-tribal war for the Underground? The power struggle between them gets intense, and there are some terrible consequences.

HC: Catwoman is such a loner, so it’s interesting to see her work so closely with Rat-Tail. Why is she willing to risk so much to bring him back from the pit?

AN: Catwoman has a layered motive for going underground. She feels responsible for Rat-Tail falling into the sinkhole in the Badlands. She realizes that Gotham Underground could be useful to a thief. And she loves her city, and is curious about what could be down there. She got her first glimpse of the underground in “Catwoman” No. 19, when she escaped Arkham Asylum and fell into a hub where many tunnels merge, a kind of Mobius strip of M.C. Escher stairs and tunnels to nowhere. She’s curious. Where do all these paths lead?

HC: One of the characteristics that sets Catwoman apart from others in the DCU is that she’s neither hero nor villain, though she does possess her own unique moral compass. With such ambiguity, how do you keep you her motivations consistent?

Page 4 of "Catwoman" No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarrogona. (DC Comics)

Page 4 of “Catwoman” No. 24, written by Ann Nocenti with art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona. (DC Comics)

AN: New 52 Catwoman is young. So she doesn’t have the regal, supreme confidence and experience of the Catwoman that has 50 years of stories behind her. So her motivations are closer to that of a young person just figuring the world out, not a seasoned adult. I don’t think most people are all heroic or all villainous, so I find ambiguity of motivations to be a natural human condition. She loves the art of the confidence game, the art of a great heist, but she chooses her jobs carefully and is guided by, as you say, her own evolving moral compass. And then there are her unconscious motives, that stem from her childhood in foster care and orphanages, and essentially feeling unwanted and unloved.

HC: It would seem you have a penchant for characters who are just a little bit twisted — playing with the line between sanity and madness. Why do you keep coming back to these sorts of characters — what’s the draw?

AN: That’s a good question. People struggle with moments of deep dread about life, and moments of surety. Often within the course of the same day. Life is a roller coaster, especially if you take risks.

HC: With more than a year with Catwoman under your belt, what are some of your favorite moments from the book, or aspects of your work that you’re particularly proud of? Any regrets? And where would you like to see it go? Are there any aspects of her character that you’d like to explore next?

AN: This Gotham Underground four-part story is my favorite so far. I regret dropping the Gotham PD story line. During the Penguin turf war, I was bringing in some of Gotham PD’s great detective characters and developing new ones, so I’d like to get back to telling those crime stories. And Rafa Sandoval wants to do a very complicated heist story, so I’d love to do that tale with him. And continue to explore the tension of how Catwoman plays with the world but is always essentially alone.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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