In Truth & Justice #5, written by Grace Ellis, with art by Maria Laura Sanapo, colors by Wendy Broome, letters by Becca Carey and with a cover by Kris Anka, Batwoman heads away from Gotham City… but mystery ends up following her anyway! This issue, which tells a standalone story, will be available on June 15th, 2021, but today, The Beat is thrilled to present an interview with Ellis investigating the exciting upcoming story!
The Beat caught up with Ellis over the phone to ask all about what went into writing a Batwoman story set in an Appalachian town, how the genre requirements for a detective tale compliment the ones for a superhero story, and perhaps the hardest question of them all: which cryptid is her very favorite!
AVERY KAPLAN: Much of your body of work centers women, and Truth & Justice #5 is no exception – it passes the Bechdel test several times over. Is this a conscious effort or does it simply occur naturally?
GRACE ELLIS: I think it’s a little bit of both! Those are the types of stories that I’m drawn to, personally. I shouldn’t say this, because now every editor I have is going to break me of this, but I have made an effort with DC to never write a man speaking, as an inside joke to myself. No men speak in the Lois Lane book, there’s someone in this story that mutters to himself – but it’s a running inside joke with myself.
Other than that, not really… I just like writing about women! Which is great, because that’s what people want me to write about.
KAPLAN: This story takes place in Appalachia (which leads to the possibly all-time great pun “Bat-pallatia”)! Is there a reason for this setting (and is it just that the pun was irresistible)?
ELLIS: The pun definitely came after the setting! That one came organically from our friend Kate, I think.
Mostly, because I have never written Batwoman before, I was thinking about what makes Batwoman Batwoman, and one of the recurring things was: so many of these are very similar to Batman. So what could we do that would differentiate her from Batman? Take her out of Gotham.
Because you know, she has this history in the military, so in a sense, she’s not tied to Gotham, she’s America’s protector. So I wanted to put her in a setting where she’d kind of be on her back foot a little bit, and have to work a little extra hard, where she’s not necessarily familiar with everything… and I can’t think of anything that’s more different than Gotham than a backwater Appalachian town. Which, I live in Ohio, I’ve been to plenty of them, it is something I’m familiar with. So I thought it’d be fun, and it was fun!
KAPLAN: So were you already personally familiar with this kind of setting?
ELLIS: I live in central Ohio, and Columbus is two hours from every other part of Ohio, basically, so I have spent a fair amount of time in the mountains of southern Ohio. It’s fun, it’s really different from the cities! The people are different because they’re interacting with their world differently.
KAPLAN: This story features an urban legend: the Shale Pass Mothman! Were you excited to include a cryptid? Is Mothman your favorite?
ELLIS: Oh, yes! I think yes to both of them, if I’m being honest, yes to both questions.
I love a cryptid – I mean, that’s Lumberjanes. That’s who I am, I guess. I feel like I would have to talk to my therapist about why I’m so drawn to cryptids, maybe something about “hidden selves,” you know… It’s something deeply psychological.
KAPLAN: This story emphasizes elements of both detective and superhero narratives. What goes into crafting a story that combines both of these genres?
ELLIS: Oh, that’s a really good question! I never really thought of them as separate. I think because it’s a Bat story.
When I think about Batman, I think about detective first. Because, “World’s Greatest Detective,” right? Detective Comics! So I guess I think of it as a detective story with punching in it.
Also, part of what draws me to the detective elements is that they’re more human…. And when you think of them as detectives rather than superheroes, which are kind of mythological, I think it’s easier to access their human emotions and think of them as human people rather than a superpowered, untouchable being – just as a writer, at least.
KAPLAN: I see that this issue carries the “DC Comics Proudly Presents” banner, celebrating Pride Month! Why it is important that we get to see queer characters featured in stories that do not necessarily headline (or center) their queerness?
ELLIS: Well, I think that this is one of those things where you need a little bit of both. You definitely need the coming out stories, but I think it’s just as important to include representation where it’s just queer people existing, because that’s what we’re doing 99% of the time. We’re just going through the world like anyone else, just living life.
If part of the goal of representing queer characters, or any minority characters really, is to show this is a group of people who are people, that you’re just seeing those people, that a big part of that should be showing that they’re just people having normal people emotions and going through normal people things, like “trying to stake a vampire in the woods,” for example. Normal people things. Who among us hasn’t, you know?
KAPLAN: I especially enjoyed the character of the bartender at the Smiling Miner! Was there any particular inspiration behind this character, or any other details you can share with us?
ELLIS: Well, I was so surprised to see the art! When I wrote that character I didn’t describe her at all – and I should say that I love the art in this book, I think Maria did a phenomenal job, she is phenomenally talented. But I intentionally didn’t describe the bartender character because I wanted to see what she would come up with, and she came up with this lusty barmaid type, which is not what I was picturing at all, but I love it. I think it’s phenomenal!
I was picturing more of a no-nonsense, very gruff bar woman. I think it works just as well, if not even better… which is part of the delight of doing comics. Artists are constantly making things infinitely better!
KAPLAN: Well, and her outfit’s so great!
ELLIS: It’s so good! Honestly, I’m not just saying that. I’m blown away by Maria’s art in this. It’s great! It’s so fun.
KAPLAN: Have there been any comics (or any other kind of stories) that have been especially inspirational for you lately?
ELLIS: Well I’m working my way through The Secret to Superhuman Strength right now, which is Alison Bechdel’s new book, and I think that’s really fun – she does a lot of really ingenious, comic-y things in that.
Truth & Justice #5 will be available at your local comic shop on June 15th, 2021.