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Bad Azz Mojo - Part 4

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Known for his darker takes on humanity in his famous Vertigo stories, Brian Azzarello chatted with Broken Frontier about his stories and where they come from. Today's stop: something unexpected.

Part One: Loveless
Part Two: Deathblow
Part Three: 100 Bullets

BROKEN FRONTIER: Ok, so onto another project of yours.  Recently the Haunted Tank Showcase edition came out from DC and sold out.  When I expressed my surprise to the people at my comics store about this, they said that you were using the character in your upcoming Tales of the Unexpected backup story.

BRIAN AZZARELLO: Haunted Tank is part of it yes.  I will be writing the backup story in Tales (which is basically the Spectre book) with Cliff Chiang.  We’ve got a 16-page backup in each issue.

BF: Double-sized issue?

BA: Double-sized backup! [Laughs]

BF: Now, Haunted Tank is the only character I heard would be in there but it seems like you’ve got a few more GI Joes that don’t belong to you to play with here?

BA: Aside from Haunted Tank, I’m using Doctor 13, who is probably the main character in the book.

BF: Will this be a collection of short tales or one longer story?

BA: It will be one story.  We’re doing the 8 issues of the series and it’ll be one story with 8 chapters.

BF: Any chance of you saying some more of the characters you’ll be using?

BA: I don’t want to give it away, but here’s one – I, Vampire.

BF: Did this story require any research at all from you?

BA: Yeah!  I had to go back and read some cruddy old comics! [Laughs]

BF: Now while you were reading it, did you ever wonder why?  With such obscure characters it seems like very few would remember them.

BA: Actually a lot of people remember them.  There are a lot out there.  Trust me.  You do anything that deviates from the way people think a certain character should be and you will hear about it.

But you’re right in a sense.  Because one of the things I really wanted to do here was to use a bunch of characters used in a real long time.  These characters have basically been forgotten… well, until I do something that someone doesn’t like.

BF: Was there anything in these characters past that made them ripe for a team up or did you just grab a bunch of them and throw them together?

BA: None that I could find. 

BF: With characters as odd as these to put them together, did you have to make this a period piece?

BA: [Laughs] This takes place strictly in “Comic Time.”

BF: And like Deathblow, these are someone else’s characters.  Even more so, these guys belong to a bigger company in DC.  I have heard you say that you had some trouble with Batman—was there anything with these guys that you weren’t allowed to do?

BA: No way.  In going to DC with this pitch I asked them for use of these characters and they almost looked at me as if to say “What for?”  So I knew right then that I would pretty much have free reign to do whatever I wanted with them.

BF: Then was this book your choice?

BA: Bob Schreck is the editor of the book and he asked me if I wanted to write the backups.  I had wanted to work with Bob for a while too so it seemed like a nice shot.  I haven’t worked with a lot of editors to be honest.  Will Dennis has been editing most of my stuff.

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BF: What about the artist?

BA: Yeah, Cliff Chiang was my choice too.  He was another artist where we had discussed working together for a while.

I came up with the idea and then wrote the scripts and it was unlike anything I had ever done.  The closest thing (in terms of tone) that I scripted was the short story in the Julius Schwartz Green Lantern book that I wrote.  So people are not going to expect this out of me – not that I like to give people what they expect anyway.

So I showed the script to Cliff and he read it and said he wanted to draw it.  And I said to him, you are so wrong for this script that you’re the perfect choice.  The artwork that he has done for the book is just brilliant too.  Some of the best stuff he’s ever done.

Cliff tends to be offered dark, real world kinds of things, but this is a comic book man!  There are all sorts of weird stuff that happens that he normally doesn’t get to draw.  As Bob said, “This is Tales of the Unexpected .  So let’s give them something they don’t expect.”  And that’s what we did.

BF: Was it fun for you to be able to stretch out with a story and characters like this?

BA: Oh yeah.  It was really fun.  You know how I treat these characters?  You know how Wes Cutter is treating the people of Blackwater?  That’s how I’m treating these characters.  I’m having a good time making them not like me. [Laughs]

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BF: In this whole discussion I realize that we’ve spoken about four books that you are writing.  How do you approach that?  Do you write an arc for one book and then move to the next one?

BA: Well, there is no set way that I approach it.  Mostly, I write them issue by issue and go back and forth.  But sometimes, if the book and story are coming out I’ll sit down and churn out a few issues for each book.

BF: OK, so, as I said, we’ve now discussed four books from you.  Did we miss anything?

BA: Joker.

BF: You’re doing a Joker story?

BA: Yes I am.

BF: That’s awesome. And what type of story is this – a miniseries?

BA: Yes, five issues.

BF: And is it similar to what you did on Lex Luthor: Man of Steel?  Telling the “other side” of the tale?

BA: That is exactly what it is and with the same artist too, Lee Bermejo.  We did the Lex book and just asked ourselves “How do you follow up Lex?”  The answer was the Joker.

BF: You used the Joker in your Batman story arc (Broken City – ed.). Did that make this any easier for you to write him this time?

BA: The Joker is actually pretty easy for me to write.  I mean, really easy.

BF: Why is that?

BA: I don’t know… maybe I should see someone about that. [Laughs]  Writing Lex was like writing my diary.  I agreed with everything that guy stood for.  Now, with the Joker, it’s stuff I wouldn’t even dare put in my diary!

BF: What do you see the Joker’s role as, both within the Batman mythos and comics in general?  Do you see him standing for anything?

BA: No, which is good.  And I want to bring some of that back to the character.  The last thing you want that character to be is predictable, because when he’s predictable he loses all his power of that character.

BF: Funny that you say that because one argument I tend to get in with people about the character is that they tell me he’s predictable and I argue that they’re missing the point.  To me the Joker (at his best) is the character that’s predictable, but only in his unpredictability.  He is the one character who could show up as a deus ex machine without being one… If that makes any sense at all.

BA: It does, but I’m approaching it in a slightly different way.  The important part to me is that the other criminals in Gotham City – they’re afraid of Batman, but they are absolutely terrified of the Joker.

BF: There is a real sense that the Joker seems to enjoy everything he does—

BA: Well, he just looks like he does because he’s got that big smile on his face.

BF: He also laughs a lot.

BA: But he’s a sad clown underneath. [Laughs]

BF: Next you’re going to tell me he’s like Charlie Brown walking around with a rain cloud over his head.

BA: Laugh clown laugh!

BF: Was this a character you had to do any research for?

BA: Not really.  This is a lot like the Lex book, where the story doesn’t take place in any particular point in continuity, so you can place it wherever you want to.  So that’s what we’re doing with Joker too—getting into the heart of the character some more.

BF: Is it safe to assume that Batman is going to show up?

BA: It is Gotham City, so he’s got to be around somewhere.  He’s going to be on every page – you’re just not going to see him.

BF: And will other members of the Batman mythos be showing up?

BA: Of course.  All the bad guys.

BF: Do you find the villains more fun and easy to write?

BA: Yes, I do. [Laughs]

BF: Does that scare you?

BA: Not me.  Maybe you?

The villains have such a disrespect for authority and I admire that.

BF: If this goes well, can we expect any more of these “villain books”?

BA: C’mon!  Who else is there?

BF: Sinestro?

BA: He’s that Green Lantern guy right?  Yeah, there’s Sinestro too! [Laughs]  No, I think we’re sticking with Joker and Lex.  They’re the icons of the villains.

BF: Do you feel any responsibility with the Joker?  You mentioned that Haunted Tank has fans that will get upset if you do something they don’t like – is something like that prevalent with a character like the Joker?

BA: I can do no wrong with this guy.

BF: Is that part of the joy of writing him?

BA: Yeah. [Laughs]

BF: Are there any particular stories or writers that you feel have really nailed the character?

BA: The Killing Joke is pretty good. In Dark Knight Returns he’s a pretty compelling character.  Steve Englehart did some interesting stuff with him a while ago. 

But it might be too easy to say “Alan Moore and Frank Miller write good Joker stories” – they write good everything!  It’s not that easy for me. [laughs]

BF: Well, you did say he was the easiest character for you to write. Is that because of the freedom you have while writing him?

BA: I just don’t know… Maybe he’s my Lono. [Laughs]

BF: I think you’d be surprised by how many people feel the same way.

OK, so I do have one final question for you.  A friend of mine named Randy Green is the assistant manager at a store called Comics And More in Plymouth Meeting, PA.  At the last minute he helped me get some back issues of both Loveless and 100 Bullets that I am ashamed to say I was missing. 

When I told him the issues were for an interview with you he demanded that I ask you if there is any possibility of another Cage series from you.  I told him that it was pretty unlikely, but since he did help me out I feel somewhat obligated to ask.  So, any chance of another one?

BA: To be honest, the Luke Cage that exists right now is one that I have no interest in writing.

BF: I’ll be sure to let my buddy down easy.  But I do thank you sir; it was a pleasure to talk to you.

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