Interview with Antony Johnston – Part II

Welcome back to the second half of my conversation with recent Daredevil co-scribe Antony Johnston! Here we talk about things like fandom, pregnant superheroes and much more. In case you missed it, the first half of this interview can be found here. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post!

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Let’s talk a bit about Daredevil fandom. You’ve spent 2010 in Daredevil land and you’ve commented on my site which is greatly appreciated, and I know other readers agree, but what are your impressions of Daredevil fans? We’re known to be very invested in the character.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. My impression is that, generally, hardcore Daredevil fans – and I’m talking now about the real true hardcore fans, like yourself – they’ve struck me over the past year as being quite smart people who are, as you say, very invested in the character and generally reasonable. There hasn’t been too much frothing fanboyism, which makes a nice change from some other fandoms.

Cover to Shadowland #1

I think if there’s a fault within the hardcore Daredevil followers – and I’m prey to this myself with my own favorite fiction, so this isn’t meant as some kind of damning indictment — it’s a resistance to new things. There’s a tendency to view any change as commercially motivated, and therefore bad. I have the same problem myself. With some fiction, when you see something that is clearly designed to appeal to a wider audience, you go “Oh, they’re watering it down, it’s a sell-out! Why can’t it just be like it was?” I totally understand that. However, the financial realities are that sometimes you have to do that, because certain books do not sell all that well.

Shadowland gave Daredevil a huge spike in readership, but it’s still nowhere near the top of the list. It’s still, compared to stuff like Avengers or Spider-Man, quite a low-selling book. So I totally understand the reaction, but at the same time I’d implore people to be a bit more understanding that these are the commercial realities of the entertainment business. And it is a business. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, business decisions are made with respect to commercial interests. You just have to make the best of those decisions that are made.

Let’s talk about Shadowland: Blood on the Streets, which was part of Shadowland, but set in its own little corner and didn’t tie that much into the main event. I know you’ve talked about this in other interviews, that you pitched an idea and had quite a bit of freedom in what you wanted to do.

The only direction I was given was that they wanted something street-level and a bit noirish. Which is why they asked me to do it, because they knew that was right up my alley. And I was given a big list of characters, they told me to choose some, and it really was that simple. “These are the characters that are available and that we’d like to give a little bit more exposure to. Pick some!”

Cover to Shadowland Blood on the Streets #1

So I did, I picked four characters, discussed it with editorial and came up with the story. The characters came first and I fitted the story around them, but I knew they would be a good fit for the story I wanted to do, so it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.

I really liked Shadowland: Blood on the Streets and thought it was great. I think it will stand well on its own in the future and people can go read just that without having to read anything else related to Shadowland and still enjoy it. So, good job!

Well, I hope so. I really enjoyed writing it, partly because it was, as you say, set in its own little corner. Blood on the Streets to Shadowland was kind of like what Daredevil used to be to the rest of the Marvel Universe, with the occassional passing reference to continuity and then off doing its own thing. I enjoyed writing it, I enjoyed writing all the characters. I hardly knew anything about the Shroud before I started writing that book, for example, but over the course of the book I got to really like him, and I’d actually really like to write him again! He’s quite fun. Hopefully, I’ll get to return to some or all of those characters at some point.

We also had the story with the whole Misty Knight pregnancy that wasn’t, and there was apparently a lot of opinion on fighting crime while pregnant.

The whole pregnant/not pregnant thing was just bad timing. We always knew that she wasn’t really pregnant. However, I don’t know if there was miscommunication between departments or whatever, but the revelation that she was never pregnant at all was one I was hoping would be published after Blood on the Streets was finished. Instead, it was published after issue #2 came out. There wasn’t much we could do about it, but Blood on the Streets was written with the intention that readers would always believe that she was pregnant.

As I said at the time – and this is what I meant about getting to know the tropes of superhero fiction – she has a cyborg arm, for heaven’s sake! Made by a man who flies around the world in a suit of armour that he built in his basement. These are the things that you have to accept if you’re going to read superhero books. If you accept that, and you accept there’s a world where people literally get punched through brick walls… let me emphasize that, punched through brick walls… Then I don’t really see why there’s such a problem accepting that a woman who is pregnant, but not even showing yet, is willing to get out and do a bit of kung-fu.

And it’s not like I didn’t address it in the story. In her internal dialogue throughout, Misty made a lot of references to the state of her health and whether she should be out doing this, and that maybe she should be thinking more about the safety of the baby. At the same time, she’s a superhero, she’s not going to step down from the challenge of putting things right. It’s a balancing act for the character.

The next chapter in your Daredevil story, so to speak, was Shadowland: After the Fall. I felt it was a very good epilogue story and you even managed to put Matt Murdock into it even though he wasn’t physically part of the story. How did you approach this issue and what did you want to make sure to include?

Cover to Shadowland: After the Fall

Obviously, I knew it was going to be an epilogue. I also knew that the majority of the characters involved in Shadowland, by then, would be unavailable. They would have moved on and done their own thing, so that left me with a small cast of characters to be able to work with. At the same time, we hadn’t really seen much of Ben Urich during Shadowland. He was in the Bullseye one-shot, he had a non-speaking part in Blood on the Streets right at the end, but that was pretty much all we’d seen of him. Bearing in mind that Ben is a friend of Matt Murdock’s and a regular recurring character in the Daredevil title, I thought that was a bit odd. So, I knew that I wanted him to feature heavily in it. Then it was just a question of answering the question, why would Ben be involved? Probably because he’s writing a story. This story needs to be written, and who better to write it than him?

Then it was just a question of getting everything in place. I was very pleased with how it came out. It’s very “me,” probably even more so than Blood on the Streets. Of all the Daredevil-related stuff that I’ve done, it’s probably the closest thing to the sort of work I do outside of Marvel. I’m very happy with it. I’d say that issue, Daredevil #508, and #512, are my favorite work from the Daredevil title itself. Those three are my favorites, and probably the closest to the kind of books that I normally write.

On to the future of Matt Murdock! Are you following Daredevil: Reborn and, if so, what did you think of the first issue?

Cover to Daredevil: Reborn #1

Yes, of course I’m following Reborn! And I thought the first issue was good. It’s funny, after having said that After the Fall was probably the closest thing to my normal style, I’d also say that Daredevil: Reborn #1 is the closest thing to Andy’s normal style that I’ve seen him write yet for the title, even more so than all the previous issues he’d done and the Shadowland core series.

I think anybody who knew Andy from things like The Losers or his Green Arrow series, if they picked up Reborn, would immediately know that it was him. He seems comfortable writing it. Now he’s hit his stride and he knows what he’s doing. I’m speaking strictly as a reader here, because he hasn’t sent me the scripts for Reborn, and I don’t get to see any more advance stuff than everyone else. Reborn #1 is probably his best Daredevil issue yet.

So, on a more personal note, what’s in the pipeline for you in 2011? I bet you’re still staying busy.

Wasteland will continue; that will end at issue #60, and towards the end of last year I literally worked out, issue by issue, the next thirty issues, taking us right up to the end. So there’s that. I also have another couple of video game projects on the go, I’m talking to Marvel about another series, and there are some other graphic novels in the pipeline. Unfortunately, the vast majority of stuff that I’m working on, I’m not allowed to talk about.

Apart from Wasteland, the only thing I can say for sure is that I have another graphic novel coming out, also from Oni Press, called The Coldest City. That’s being drawn right now and, in terms of production, is nearing the home stretch. That will be out some time this year, and is also very “me.” It’s a real world Cold War spy thriller that is set two weeks before the Berlin Wall came down. I think if you liked my issues of Daredevil you might like that, because it is very noir in tone, and the pacing is not dissimilar.

Best of luck to you, Antony and thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! Anyone who wants to follow what Antony has going on can go to his website www.antonyjohnston.com.

Christine Hanefalk

Christine Hanefalk

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Christine is a die-hard Daredevil fan who launched The Other Murdock Papers in 2007 to share her passion for Matt Murdock and his friends with other fans.

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