Catching Up With Greg Rucka

Fri, July 14th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Michael Patrick Sullivan, Contributing Writer

"Omac Project" Special

It's not as much catching up with Greg Rucka" as it is Greg Rucka slowing down for a bit.

For the last year and half, Greg Rucka has been one of the chief architects of the twenty-first century DC Universe. Until recently he was writing the monthly "Adventures of Superman" and "Wonder Woman," while also involved in the planning of one of the biggest events to shake up the DC Universe, "Infinite Crisis" and its subsequent fallout. He was also wrapping up the critically acclaimed "Gotham Central" series and preparing to launch a new one, "Checkmate," spinning out of his "Infinite Crisis" companion mini-series, "The OMAC Project." All the while, he was still maintaining a novel-writing career and working to get back to his creator-owned espionage series "Queen and Country" which had gone on an unplanned hiatus. Now that the debris is beginning to settle, Greg Rucka sat down with a coffee and a smoke to tell CBR News where he is now and where he might be going in the future.

"For the most part I think it's really positive," said Rucka of the reception his new DC title "Checkmate" has received. "The things that are happening in it, I think people are not inclined to make a big stink about. We're starting to develop an actual readership. I think it's going very well."

Rucka said that the book affords him a unique opportunity in the shared world of DC characters. "It is, to a great extent, mining untapped territory in the DC Universe. It's going in and dealing with issues of nation-building, politicking and espionage that I don't think really has been explored in this way before. There have been espionage books before, but nothing that, for lack of a better analogy, has used the 'Queen & Country' model. All espionage is political and trying to establish a DC Universe where the United States has a political agenda that isn't really in sync with the rest of the [United Nations'] Security Council, that's new. I think it creates great opportunities for stories."

There is, however, a recent precedent for black ops super-heroes in the DC Universe, that of Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke's "JL Elite" mini-series, which cast a team that took preemptive action, however "Checkmate" takes the approach in a different direction. "I don't want to tell stories along those lines. I'm not interested in playing the Authority game," he said, referring to the Wildstorm book that casts a super-hero team in the role of a unilateral policy-making strike team. "That's not the DCU."

While "Checkmate" is more grounded than either "JL Elite" or "The Authority," Rucka still acknowledges its roots in the fantastic. "It's all well and good to want to tell stories about what it would be like to have super-heroes in the real world, but it all falls apart the second you say super-hero and real world. It just collapses on itself. You can't tell that story.

"It's funny because the canvas is huge," he continued, "but the scale needs to be a little smaller, because that's what most politics are about. All politics are local. It comes down to what you are doing with your neighbor. That neighbor may be another nation, but at then end of that day that's what the stories really live and die behind."

Giving fans a taste of what's to come, Rucka said that "…issue five deals with the selection of the Black Queen's new knight. Sasha's knight died in issue one so she has to select a replacement." Rucka further teased by saying that the new knight will be one that readers haven't seen before, but will be a recognizable name. "Issues six and seven," Rucka continued, "focus on Waller and her bringing the Suicide Squad back in action to solve a problem, which is a big no-no for Waller because she's not allowed to have any operational oversight at all."

Covers From DC Comics' "Checkmate"

Asked if there is a long-term plan for the title, Rucka said, "I have an agenda for it. Because I know where the DCU is going, I have established some things -- at least in the series bible and for my own purposes -- that will become more readily apparent as we move through 2007 and into 2008."

As to whether or not that plan includes an ending, Rucka is more flexible. Rucka joked, "Yeah, there's an endpoint, they all die!" More seriously, Rucka said, "I'm not planning on writing that one. It's an ongoing series with DC, so no, there's no endpoint. The book is selling right now. I'm not sure it will continue to sell because I'm not sure that people will be that interested in another three, four, five months, but I could be wrong."

For those concerned about the future of the book, Rucka compared the sales figures on "Checkmate" to his most recent series with a small following and explored a more grounded part of the DC Universe, "Gotham Central." "It's selling about three times as much."

Rucka also clarified that it was not sales that ended the acclaimed series. "DC didn't cancel the book. I ended it," said Rucka. "I told Dan [DiDio, DC's Executive Editor] I wanted to end 'Gotham Central.'" Rucka's reasoning had to do with the departure of "Gotham Central" co-creator's Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, who signed exclusivity contract's with Marvel Comics and are now both on "Daredevil" as writer and artist, respectively.

"Michael and Ed weren't there anymore. 'Central' was a project that we did together. The three of us started it together and I do think, in many ways, that was one of the things that made it very special. I don't begrudge either of them for leaving DC for greener pastures. They did what was best for them. It felt very uncomfortable to me, and a little indulgent, to take something that I always thought of as ours and say 'well, it's mine now.'

"If it was going to be an issue of bringing in another writer, I have no idea who I would have gone to and said 'do this with me.' It was the right thing to do and I have always known how I was going to end it. That, 'Infinite Crisis,' all of that conspired and said 'this is the right time to do it.'"

One of the results of that ending was a new version of the Golden Age character, the Spectre, in the form of slain Detective Crispus Allen. It was something that had been set up, nearly three years before when Dan DiDio asked Rucka to place a character named Corrigan in the series, alluding to the Spectre's first host. "It makes such perfect sense and it's a great ending for a character because it doesn't end there," said Rucka. "It takes what I think is a pretty rare thing in the DCU, and my politics are showing here, but we took one of the very few well defined, viable, non-powered, African-American males that we had in the DCU and we shot him in the back. We killed him and in so doing we turned him into one of our oldest established supernatural characters. There has been a lot of talk about DC trying to diversify the line and I think that was the way you do it. Find the story where it works and, you know, guess what? Black guy's the Spectre and it works. It makes sense."

"Gotham Central"

Rucka also reflected on the origins of "Gotham Central." "I had read an issue of Wizard several years ago where they did one of those pie chart polls in the back that I'm convinced they don't actually have any data for, but at the time it had 'which character should get their own series?' It had Commissioner Gordon at something like 48 percent and I remember taking that to [former DC executive editor Mike] Carlin and him saying 'no.' Then 'Powers' came out and Brian [Bendis] did real well with it and it was 'Look! Powers! Cops! Cops in the super-hero world!' At that time, Carlin gave his approval."

However, in "Gotham Central," Gordon appeared only fleetingly in the first story arc. Now, post-"Gotham Central" and with the "One Year Later" jump in DC continuity following the "Infinite Crisis" event, Gordon is back in his office in the Gotham City Police Department. Of Gordon's return, Rucka says, "We view them as iconic. We think of Batman, we think of Gotham City, we think of Alfred, we think of Gordon and you want to have Gordon there. The plan was never to have Gordon away as long as he was," referring to Gordon's retiring after having been shot in the "Officer Down" story line in 2001. "That was [former Editor Bob] Schreck in the bat-group, doing his thing and 'Central' sort of existed outside of the bat-group. Matt Idelson, who was a bat group editor, oversaw it, but Schreck had no influence on the book and we had no influence on what was going on in the other bat titles -- and that's probably for the best. That's why you didn't see Gordon come back. I had a whole plan for Gordon, too. Way back when, [Schreck's predecessor] Denny O'Neil and I talked about it before he left."

Now that Gordon is back, Rucka is not rushing to get back to the character with whom he an affinity. "I like that character so much, but I want to wait and see what Grant [Morrison] and Paul [Dini] do before jumping in there," Rucka said, referring to the new writers of "Batman" and "Detective Comics" respectively. "Each of them are going to have their takes and they're going to sort of reestablish what Gotham is. It's going to be up to them to take what James Robinson's done and take it for a drive." Robinson having written the first "One Year Later" Batman story arc. "Working off of that, I'll think about it. I've got plenty to do right now. I'm honestly not looking for work."

Part of that "plenty to do" is DC's weekly hit, "52," which he co-writes with Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Mark Waid. Of the ambitious project, Rucka says, "It's a full time job. It's the closest to a nine-to-five job any of us in comics has ever had. The writers at least. It's easily the equivalent of writing four monthly books."

Rucka goes on to break down what working on the book involves. "On a given day, I will get rough pencils form one week, finished pencils from another week, script revisions from another week, and have script pages due. I'm amazed that Geoff can get anything else done. Coming off 'Infinite Crisis,' he must be fried. Or Waid. Or Grant. The thing about '52' is you know it's going to end." Rucka laughingly continues, "We're on 32, we only have 20 more to go! We knew at the start what the stories were. We knew how it was going to end and the closer we get to that end, the more exciting it becomes."

"52" Week 7

"52" Week 9

Dan DiDio, in a panel on "52" at Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year, characterized each of the writers. "Geoff moves us to the future," he said. "Grant is the big idea. Greg is the street level." Rucka looks at it a little differently. "Mark put it a way that I kind of preferred, and maybe because I found it flattering to be compared to Grant, but he was saying Grant sees things in such a macro. He looks at the palette and he goes 'this!'" Rucka spreads his arms wide and steps back. "I tend to narrow the focus. I get very, very focused and zoom in. I want to figure out why that person is wearing those boots. I admit that's my thing. That's the thing I'm interested in doing and there are many people that don't give a damn why Montoya is wearing those boots," referring to former detective Renee Montoya, one of the focal characters of "52."

"It's a combination of two things, that Dan is talking about," Rucka said. "Geoff likes to write super-heroes being super heroic. Mark likes to write these characters with real character. That's what he wants. Dan says 'street level' because I write crime fiction and that's where that comes from. Everybody's read the Batman story where Batman's telling it and those have been written by some of the best people to write comics. You don't need me to write that. The stories where Batman is seen though someone else's eyes? These are the rare stories for me. Those are the ones I feel I'm going to do better at.

"I like and I have always believed that good drama and good storytelling come from human moments," Rucka elaborated, "and you can put human moments on any scale, but they are, for the most part, the small things. They're not the moments where you go (shouting) 'No!' They're the moments where you're just so tired or the person isn't listening to you or the person is listening. It's the right words said at the right time or the wrong words said at the wrong time because those are the things we've all lived with. We haven't lived with the 'Infinite Crisis,' but we've lived though having our hearts broken and those are the things that speak to me. Those are the things I want to write about."

Rucka continued to try and lay bare the unique creative process behind "52." "It's hard to explain for people who aren't part of the process. This doesn't work on the basis of 'Oh, Greg is writing 'The Question and Geoff is writing Black Adam and Grant is writing Magnus.' It doesn't work like that. It might be safer to say that we're typing certain characters consistently. Everything we do, we're doing by consensus or by committee. Grant will say 'these are the things I see for this story' and we'll say 'that's great, what about this?' There is a dialogue and that's all the writers, that's [editor] Steve Wacker. We are all involved in this. Then I will go and sit down to write my six pages for week 29 or what-not. I'm writing a part of week 29 that the beats of which, that the bones of which have been worked out with everybody. We're all responsible. If there's something you love, we're all responsible. If there's something you hate, we're all responsible. It isn't simply an issue of it being 'this is Rucka's part.' It doesn't break down like that. As a result, it requires remarkably little by way of ego."

It has, however, taken a lot in the way of time and energy. Was Rucka's creator-owned Oni Press series "Queen & Country" a casualty of that?

"It was absolutely a casualty," said Rucka. "I wrote some novels last year and I'm writing two this year, that's a lot of work." Asked what novels were in the pipeline, Rucka said, "A new Atticus Kodiak novel coming in summer of 2007 called 'Patriot Acts' and the second 'Perfect Dark' novel. The novel after 'Patriot Acts' will probably be a 'Queen & Country.'"

While the crush of work and deadlines forced "Queen and Country" into a hiatus, it didn't affect Rucka's plans for the series as it crosses from comics to novels and back again. "Ideally, 'Red Panda' (the current comics arc) would have come out between the novels 'A Gentleman's Game' and 'Private Wars.'" Of the release schedule, Rucka says, "I don't honestly believe it diminishes either the novels or the comics. You get what you need if you read 'Red Panda'; you get what you need if you read 'Private Wars.' You get what you need to know. If you're reading 'Red Panda' and then you read 'Private Wars,' you're going to have a better idea of what's being referenced, but not having that reference, doesn't diminish it."

On the subject of the possible "Queen and Country" film, Rucka says Fox is moving forward with the project. "I have every reason to believe they are sincere when they tell me they want to make the movie. With all things in Hollywood, it depends on so many factors being right at the right time. There are actors interested in the part of Chace. My agent tells me that she gets regular calls from talent saying that their representation is asking if the part available yet. One day, it'll happen. What's it going to look like when it happens? I have no idea."

Rucka has little concern over the translation of the property from print to film. "The people who are involved in the development of the movie at this point are very smart, so I have great faith, but they're making a movie and that's not a comic. That's not a novel. If you go to a movie called 'Queen & Country' expecting it to be the comic or be the novel you're going to be disappointed and you should be, because you're being kind of foolish. That's what the novels and comics are there for."

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"Queen & Country" #30-31

He went on to say, "I think they understand that the most crucial thing in doing an adaptation like this is getting the characters right and to try to translate the character as honestly as possible." However, Rucka does not consider himself right for that job. "I don't want to write it. I'm too close to it. I wouldn't be able to do a good job and I know that for a fact. I saw one of the first drafts that came in, a fabulous draft. I read that draft and thought 'this proves I couldn't do it' because I wouldn't have been able to make that decision, that the guy that wrote the draft did. I would have been 'that's too precious.' I don't think I'm the guy to adapt my own stuff. If I wrote an original 'Queen & Country' piece, that would be different."

As the light at the end of the "52" tunnel nears and "Queen & Country" settles back into a rhythm, Rucka is looking forward to the pressure of so many projects lightening up, allowing time for other pursuits. "I am not watching anything. I am not reading anything, much to my shame. I read those books out of DC that I have to in order to keep up and I barely have time for that. My hope is that by mid-July, I'll have the deadlines cleared up enough that I can sit down with a stack of comics that's collected and read all the stuff that [Ed Brubaker's] been doing at Marvel and watch stuff that's been TiVo'd. I haven't even seen 'Superman Returns' yet."

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