Interview with Writer Jason Henderson, Part One

Recently, Caroline had a chance to interview writer Jason Henderson, whose work includes the Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow miniseries from Marvel. The Q&A ended up being so interesting that we’re going to spread it over two days. Today’s installment will focus on his most recent Marvel work, now available in hardcover. Among other things, Jason will explain how Daughters of the Shadow — which includes the continuing adventures of everybody’s favorite sneaker-wearing samurai detective, Colleen Wing — is the perfect blending of Batman and the Outsiders, a James Bond movie, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I think all our readers can agree this makes it one of the awesomest things ever.

Now, on with the show!

First of all, Jason, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer some questions. It’s a pleasure to get the chance to interview you.

Listen, I really admire Fantastic Fangirls. I love that it has its own voice and I’ve found several articles, like Where Have All the Silver Age Women Gone? to be very compelling reading. So thank YOU!

For those who might not be familiar with your work, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure. I’m Jason Henderson. I’m a writer from Texas and I’ve worked in comics, games, and novels. Probably the best-known thing I’ve worked on would be my current young adult (“YA”) book series Alex Van Helsing, which takes place in the same universe as my comic book series Sword of Dracula.

I first became aware of your work through the Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow miniseries, which is now available as part of the Shadowland: Street Heroes hardcover. The protagonist of that mini is Colleen Wing, a character I love, but who even long-time Marvel readers might not be familiar with. Can you give the “elevator pitch” about who Colleen is and why readers should be excited about her stories?

Colleen is a master swordsman in the Marvel Universe who has been living her life in the shadows, and not in the shadows like Wolverine going into hiding or anything, but in the shadows in that, to the extent that people know Colleen, she’s always been an “and.” She’s the second name in the team “Misty Knight and Colleen Wing.” She’s the rebound girl who dated Scott Summers, but not the one he wanted to settle down with. (Scott ended up with a girl who looked just like his dead wife, and who turned out to be an evil clone. Which is just the way.) But she has incredible skills, having been trained by her grandfather to be a samurai. So I just took it for granted here that this is a character who is maybe less well known, but is yearning to come out of her shell.

You want the truth, I think this story really needs another couple issues to breathe—there was a lot more we wanted to do, and with luck I’ll get to return to Colleen Wing.

How did you get involved in writing this miniseries?

I had actually been in the middle of pitching an entirely different series about a female superhero, one with full-on superpowers. That didn’t happen, but the editors came back to me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a “street-level hero” team led by Colleen Wing. Although I didn’t ask, it’s possible they came to me because, if you look at the comics I’d done—Sword of Dracula, Soulcatcher, and Strange Magic and Sylvia Faust, every one of those had a female lead. “Strange Magic,” in fact, was my first Marvel book, though it was an Epic title not necessarily in continuity, about Doctor Strange’s daughter.

Although Shadowland is considered a “Daredevil” event, and Matt Murdock has a key role in the story, it struck me that the book is mostly about Colleen’s relationships with other women: her fellow ‘Daughters,’ her former partner Misty Knight, and even the legacy relationship with her dead mother. Was this a conscious choice? Were there any particular ideas you had in mind while developing Colleen’s relationships?

Yes. Well, to begin with it was meant to be a female team, so most of the characters are female, and then their friends tend to be female, and they’re investigating people who exploit women. There are some male bad guys and of course Daredevil is male, though he’s really the “M” here, like the guy in James Bond movies who sends the heroes on the mission but isn’t a main character. But you’re right, it’s an all-female landscape. It was a choice, but I have to say once made it wasn’t one I thought about. 98% of the characters are female, but I didn’t think about it enough to affect the story.

Having said that, I think the relationship between Colleen and Misty is a very important one and it really drives a lot of the book. But you know what my model for it was? Batman & The Outsiders, when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson finally made up after fighting for years.

Does that mean you see one of them as the mentor here, or is that analogy more in the sense of there being a rift that they had to overcome? I know they left things in a bad place at the end of the previous Heroes for Hire series, and I hadn’t seen any other stories address that. I was glad to see the relationship written with such depth and subtlety, even without it being an explicitly “Misty and Colleen” series. Do you think the characters are so bound together in fans’ minds that they need to be part of each other’s story?

This was completely my own demand for the story. I felt that the relationship between Misty and Colleen had been probably the most prominent relationship in Colleen’s life prior to this story, and she’s kind of been running in place because of this rift. So the Dick/Bruce example was because of the importance of the relationship, although they had always been equals rather than mentor/mentee. So I’m not aware there was any fan clamoring or anything — I just really wanted to make this a personal story about adults who have grown to rely on one another, and now need to mend their relationship so they can be healthy and be apart. That scene goes on, like, for five or six pages, and I loved it.

How did you feel about working with Marvel continuity? Since Colleen is a character with a previous history, did that create any challenges in writing the story? Did it give you any gifts?

I love continuity. It’s so fun to have backstory to play with, and besides, the truth is that there are always trap doors and secret hinges in continuity. For instance we discovered that Colleen’s mom had never really been discussed, which gave us a great opportunity to fit material into continuity.

I think generally you have to respect continuity in its largest parts. There’s an old formula I remember from a religion course that truth in some churches is considered Hierarchical, Developmental and Historical. Some continuity is very high in hierarchy, such as that Professor X founded the X-Men. Some is more developmental: Was Magneto a Gypsy or not? The higher the hierarchical nature of the continuity, the more you must respect it.

Are Colleen’s fellow Daughters your original creations or were they pre-existing? If they’re original, who was responsible for the character designs? I thought those were an awful lot of fun.

Well, initially I pitched a much more super-powered team for Colleen, more like the one in Heroes for Hire. But as it came about that this team would be working out of Shadowland, they needed to reflect that sort of ground-level feel. There was one character that already existed that we wanted to use—Black Lotus. The rest I filled out—I have the notebook where I sketched it—where the members of Colleen’s team would be a version of Little Women: Black Lotus is stuck-up Meg, Yuki is shy Beth, Cherry Blossom is self-centered Amy, and Makro (named after a Japanese spider-crab) is tempestuous Jo. I described them and then Carlo Pagulayan started sketching designs [see an example below], and the designs were, I have to tell you, close to complete right, right away.

What was it like working with Ivan Rodriguez, the artist on Daughters of the Shadow?

So far working with Marvel is always different from any other kind of comics work I’ve done because the editor is really the hub of all activity. So Ivan and I both worked through the editors—Michael Horwitz and Mark Paniccia. Having said that, he was fast and conscientious—we’d go to bed and wake up with new pages and I’d jot down responses and he’d turn around changes right away. And then when we really needed to work together—such as if Ivan wasn’t sure what I was describing in the script, we’d work it in these multi-part emails. I just love the way teams work.

We’ll take up the Q&A tomorrow[ETA: Read Part Two], to talk about vampires and manga and how to grow the audience for comic books. Meanwhile, you should know that, in addition to his Marvel work, Jason Henderson is the author of Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, a novel for middle grade readers; the comics Sword of Dracula and Psy-Comm, and video games including Activision’s Singularity, for which he was nominated for a 2010 WGA Screenwriting Award. You can find him online at alexvanhelsing.com.