Shea Fontana has an impressive track record with DC! She has been a significant driving force behind DC Superhero Girls, a line that has branched out into one of DC’s most successful multimedia ventures. Additionally, she recently wrote the book DC Women of Action, a comprehensive guide to many of the women in DC’s world, as well as the impact they’ve made on people within and outside of the comics industry. Batman: Overdrive is the latest in Fontana’s work, and it continues the trend of fun stories for younger audiences, who are growing up with these heroes making an impression on their lives. This is my first interview for Batman News, so I was very excited to ask her mature, well-researched questions that show how serious and professional I want to be.
And then I started talking about hair, because of course I did.
BATMAN NEWS: Your hair is great. I only saw it for like a second, but I thought it looks really good.
SHEA FONTANA: Thank you. Thank you. I’m always changing it so people become very confused cause they’re like, you don’t have purple hair right now. Who are you?
No, I understand. I’ve been, I keep thinking about changing my hair, but I feel like people would be worried if I cut it at this point. Like, I’ve just done nothing with it for like, two years.
Yeah, people will think you’re in some sort of emotional distress.
Yeah! (And I probably would be.) So, what I was thinking about doing was starting with a few questions about your previous work, and then segue into Batman: Overdrive, if that’s okay with you.
That sounds great.
Awesome. So, the earliest work I know of yours is a DC Superhero Girls book that a lot of comic book fans adored because of the name. So, on behalf of my friends, I’d like to personally thank you for making a book called Finals Crisis.
Haha! I feel bad taking credit for that (although I will). No, it was actually Mike Carlin, who is a great editor: the editor on Death of Superman, and a ton of incredible stuff. He was one of our people at DC who worked on DC Superhero Girls. And as we started on that book he was like, I’ve got the title for you. Here we go: Finals Crisis. I was like, too good to pass up. Everybody immediately was like, yes, this is what we’re doing.
And the book ended up being a New York Times bestseller, didn’t it?
It did! So it was a New York Times bestseller. It was really exciting and validating to see the success of the book, although I was never surprised by the success of the book, if that makes sense. Because, so many people are like, “Aren’t you amazed? Aren’t you surprised at all these girls buying comics?” And I was like, no, not surprised at all. I knew there was a huge audience for this kind of property and for, you know, these superheroes who are high schoolers and have the same kind of problems that other high school kids do, but they are superheroes, and they just happen to be girls as well. So I knew that there would always be a huge audience for Finals Crisis and I was very excited and just grateful that the book did so well. It was really fun to see.
It must’ve been validating as well. Especially when you say there’s an audience for something and naysayers don’t believe that. And then you get on that bestseller list and, you know, the proof is in the pudding.
Absolutely. Yeah. It was really… I mean, it took until 2015 before they did this property. So it was very long coming, but we knew that there was an audience for it. And I think especially at DC at that time, there were so many women who worked there who really championed the book, and championed the idea of DC Superhero Girls, because they knew, as kids, this is exactly what they wanted. And it was just too bad it took us so long as a society to get there. But I’m really, really proud of all the work that we did.
I have to congratulate you, because it’s bigger than ever now. I imagine that a big part of that is thanks to your work.
Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s just exciting to be able to see both the success of the books and then see the toys on shelves, and see it on TV. It’s really fun to see how it’s grown and changed through the years.
I really enjoy the TV show as well. So moving to the next subject, I’ve also read your Wonder Woman five issue series, and the Justice League one-shot you wrote for DC a couple years back.
Yeah! So those all kind of came out of the DC Superhero Girls stuff that I had been doing. It was fun to be able to play in the DC canon sandbox for a while. Wonder Woman was just such a dream come true to be able to write her and contribute to her legacy, and be able to see and relate to the character. Especially when my issues were coming out just after the Wonder Woman movie came out. So it was really fun to see these new readers hopping on board to the book as the movie came out, and it was such an incredible thing to see. Just Wonder Woman everywhere. The Justice League book was the most fun. They just kinda came to me like, “would you be interested in pitching a one-off issue for Justice League?” And I was like, absolutely! So I got to play with a lot of the characters that I didn’t get to work on in DC Superhero Girls like Superman and Batman. So that was a lot of fun to be able to get to know those characters a bit.
Yeah, the Justice League one-shot in particular was like one of my favorites. You do a really good Cyborg and Jessica. You’ve written a fair few Justice League members now in various comics; I’m wondering if you have a favorite to write?
Oh, that’s like choosing your favorite child. I don’t know if I can answer that, but I will say, especially in Batman: Overdrive, being able to write Bruce Wayne was, one of the most creatively fulfilling things I’ve been able to do. Batman was really my first love as a kid, and just getting into the Batman world was how I got into comics as a whole. So it was very, very exciting and very fulfilling for me to be able to write Batman. Although I have to say I also loved the Jessica Cruz storyline, DC Superhero Girls: Spaced Out. I loved getting to write her there, and then also in that Justice League one-off. She’s just such an interesting character, and I think she’s so relatable for so many people who do struggle with anxiety. So I think she’s a really fascinating superhero, and probably one of the most realistic superheroes that we have. Because I think, those mental health struggles that she does have translates so well into her superhero life, and the realistic portrayal that she gives to those moments when… you know, everybody doubts themselves, everybody has some sort of struggle, but hers are so heightened. She’s a really interesting character to write when some of the other characters are a bit more bravado, and they think it’s a bit easier to be a superhero – I think it’s actually much more relatable to think it would be very, very difficult to be a superhero.
I absolutely agree. I remember when I was a kid, I saw her character developing in real time and that meant a lot to me, especially when I was going through high school. Now, you’ve written a bunch of different DC books in various formats. Among other things, you’ve done a story in one issue, five issues, and now this new graphic novel here. I was wondering if you could tell us about the difference in writing these formats. Do you find any of them easier?
I would actually say, and I think this is true of a lot of writers, the longer things like a graphic novel tend to be easier on the whole than shorter stories, because you have to… I think most writers are just always brimming with ideas. And the idea of cutting and editing and you know, shrinking things for a story is actually much harder. So there’s a couple of eight page things I’ve done in anthologies. I did a Deathstroke story, um, and I did…
The Catwoman Looney Tunes story, right?
Yeah, I did that Catwoman story. And I find those almost equally as taxing as writing a longer issue. So page for page, they’re much more taxing because you have to be so restrained about your storytelling. So I find it harder to come up with stories that are only eight pages out compared to 120 pages.
That makes a lot of sense. When I was reading Batman: Overdrive, I was glad that it took some time for the characters to ponder on things before they made decisions.
Yeah, having those moments is really important, especially in a graphic novel.
Yeah! Finally, you recently wrote the book DC Women of Action, which talks about the history of different women in the DC universe as well as the impact it had on fans and creators. Obviously when you were writing that, you would have discovered a lot about a ton of different characters. Was there anything in particular about a character that made you see them in a new light?
I have to say my favorite thing that I learned while writing the DC Women of Action book was mostly just about the history of Lois Lane. I love Lois Lane to start with – and I know she’s not a superhero proper, but she’s super in my eyes. But it was just such a fascinating thing, how she really started as this Rosie the Riveter-style character, who was super independent, and she was out there being a working woman in a time when not very many women were working outside the home. So she was really just this inspirational character for a lot of women. And as I started talking to a lot of the writers and artists and other creatives behind the newer comic books, her name came up so much as their favorite, and who inspired them to kind of be a writer.
There’s that first moment you have with a character, who is a writer, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a job. And I guess I could do that.” So I thought Lois Lane was hugely inspirational. I also love the connection she had with Dorothy Woolfolk, who was one of the editors in the 1970s with the Lois Lane books. Just the way that Dorothy took this character after she’d had a few hard years, when Lois became a little bit more submissive, and her storylines were a lot more about getting engaged to Clark, or trying to get Clark to marry her. She just really transformed the Lois Lane character into the feminist that we know her as now. Just being out there, fighting and being independent. And there’s even a storyline in the early seventies where Lois breaks up with Clark, and she tells them to go and take his male ego with him. So it’s really fun to see the way she became kind of this cultural symbol of feminism in the early seventies.
That’s a really good answer, thank you. I didn’t know some of that stuff about Louis. Were there any other women in DC, a character or maybe someone behind the scenes, who meant a lot to you in particular when growing up – or maybe even now that you’re working for DC?
That’s tough, I have to say. It was really exciting for me to get to write a bit about Ramona Fradon, who was one of the Aquaman artists in the 1950s – and she was one of the first artists working for any comic publishing company on a regular basis. And she had just such an impact on the DC style and what came to be known as like, what does Aquaman look like? And she was a co-creator of Aqualad. She’s co-creator of a lot of other characters as well. I actually have one of her pieces on my wall now, because it was just so incredible to get to know her work a little bit and see her. Like, she does not think of herself as a revolutionary, but she absolutely was. I think she was 22 or 23 when she got started at DC and just, she’s walking into that office and you know, it was almost completely men at that time. And she really helped her own, and proved how great she was as an artist during that time.
That’s a really good story. Did you meet her while you were in the process of writing this book?
I did not have the opportunity to meet her. I know that she still actually… I think she’s a little over 90 now, but she still does accept commission requests. (You can find them right here! )
I know that she recently did one of the Wonder Woman covers for Wonder Woman #750. So she’s still out there working occasionally, even though, she’s well-deserved in her retirement – but she still likes to work.
Yeah, fair enough. It’s good to see she’s still involved with DC, even to this day.
(DC Women of Action is currently on sale at Amazon.)
Okay. So now, moving onto Batman: Overdrive. Fair warning, since our readers are all comic book fans, I can’t guarantee they know what a car is, but they should be able to catch on. Can you tell us a bit about how you thought of this story and how you pitched it to DC?
Haha! Yes – so originally after, I guess it was maybe in the summer of 2018, when DC had just announced this new middle grade and YA initiative, they came to me because DC Superhero Girls had been so successful. And that really was the impetus for them launching more into the middle grade space. And they said, what would you like to do next? And I said “Batman.” Batman was, as I said before, such a gateway to comics for me. And really Batman: The Animated Series is the reason I’m probably both in animation and comics. So I owe Batman a lot, and I’ve always really loved the character. And even though in DC Superhero Girls, I got to play with just about every single character that I wanted to, we did want to keep Batman and Superman out of that universe, because we thought that they would kind of come in and dominate everything. And that would be what the series was about, instead of the characters we actually wanted it to be about.
So when they gave me the opportunity to pick a character, I wanted to go with Batman. And as I got thinking about, you know, what was really interesting to me about Batman, and also how I felt as a teenager, I really felt that Batman getting his first car, AKA the early version of the Batmobile, would be such a turning point in his life. For me, especially growing up in a very rural town, getting a car when I turned 16 and being able to drive, opened every new door for me and really allowed me to explore art and music and books, and things that I wouldn’t have been able to do when I didn’t have a car.
So I thought about that with Batman and how Bruce Wayne has this desire for independence, this desire to be this kind of loner, his own man that doesn’t have to answer to anyone. It’s such a 16-year-old thing to me. So immediately, I thought of doing the origin story of the Batmobile. And I pitched that to, at the time it was Marie Javins who was heading up the initiative. And she was like, “Alright, let’s do it. It sounds fun.” So it was kind of easy process to pitch and get started on, and I obviously had a lot of Batman inspiration, from all of the great books and series and movies, to pull from. So it was just really easy to jump into the Batman world for me.
I didn’t immediately make that connection, but it makes a lot of sense now that you mention it. What I was curious about though, was the connection between the Batmobile and his dad’s old car. I thought was really interesting that you linked this Crusader that Thomas Wayne had, with the Batmobile that Bruce would eventually make – and then the decision for him to slowly customize that. What made you decide to make the Batmobile his dad’s old car?
I think it had to do with… of course, every origin story of Batman is so much about his parents, right? So even though this is what some might say is another origin story for Batman, it’s really a origin story for kids in this generation. You know, the 10, 11-year-old kids who’ve never had a Batman origin story for them. So I really wanted to make it modern and interesting, and a way to connect Bruce to the Batmobile was through this idea that his dad had this really cool car, that he loved, and it was wrecked when Bruce was born, when he was on the way to the hospital. So it was Bruce coming in through this story, this wreck of a car that Thomas Wayne had wrecked 16 years ago, and kind of trying to reconnect to his dad and to something that his dad loved… and trying to fulfill what he thought his dad would have wanted for him through this car. And then as he gets into that, it is really him understanding that instead of just restoring the car, and making it exactly as everything was before, and kind of going exactly in his father’s footsteps, that he could do something even more and even better than what Thomas Wayne would have ever imagined. So it’s really Bruce taking the car into his own hands and, you know, accepting the legacy of his dad, but really pushing it further into his own destiny.
I like that a lot. You made a few creative decisions in this book that make it a little bit more relatable for kids in the modern day, going through what Bruce is going through. Another thing I really liked was the designs in the story. Could you tell us a bit about the back and forth between you and the artist, Marcelo Di Chiara, in creating them?
Yeah, so Marcelo and I had worked on one of the DC Superhero Girls digital first stories. And one of the things that he had also worked on was a Teen Titans story and one of the things he did with the Teen Titans was create some awesome vehicles. So when that story came out, the editor was like, I know someone who draws cars really well, which is not a talent everyone has. It’s very difficult to get the perspectives right in drawing a car when you drive. So we went out to him, and he just hopped on board – and he immediately was so collaborative and as excited to be in the Batman world as I was. And we had a great back and forth as he jumped into the art. One of the first things he did was he started on the character designs for our main characters in this story, which I think he just really knocked out of the park.
One thing I especially love about his art, and especially in this book ,is how well he does youthful characters, where they do feel like they’re 15/16 years old. A lot of artists really struggle with those kinds of teenage characters, and teenagers end up looking like adults and you, you feel like it’s off, but you can never figure out exactly what’s wrong with it. But Marcelo just did an amazing job in capturing the youthfulness of these characters. And I just love Bruce’s expressions, and these big bushy eyebrows that he has, and the way that he cocks his eyebrows. He’s very suave, like the makings of the ladies man that he could be in a few years, but he’s still totally awkward and totally 16. So it was really exciting to work with Marcelo on that.
Also, with the Poison Ivy design and Catwoman and Harley! I love how scrappy he’s made Harley and she’s like, she feels like she’s about 13, but she’s had a hard life – she’s skinny and scrappy and she’s the, ready for a fight whenever anybody comes into the room, kind of girl. You can just feel that coming off of her and the art. And then Catwoman, who is very feisty in this story and really is a great counterpoint for Bruce and someone who will challenge Bruce in ways that no one else will. So Marcelo has done just an amazing job in imbuing all of his art with those characteristics.
Yeah, I really like Catwoman’s scarf and Batman’s hood in particular. I think those are really inspired.
I would also like to talk about another character that you guys worked on and designed, but wasn’t drawn from anything that’s already been made. I want to talk about Mateo Diaz, because he seems to be a new character, but I really liked the dynamic he brought to the team. So I want to know what brought him about.
So as I started to think about Batman, in so many of the Batman stories, the thing about Bruce Wayne and Batman is that he wants so badly to be a loner. He just has this hardened exterior, and he wants to shut everybody out. But what he really needs, obviously, is the Bat-family, and to accept others and allow others to help him. So I really – especially as this younger teen version of Bruce Wayne – I see him fighting so hard to not be anyone’s friend. And then he has to be, because he needs help restoring this car, he has to get someone to help him. And Mateo doesn’t care that Bruce wants to be alone, like that does not phase him at all. And Bruce does not understand that on any level, but Mateo is just so warm and inviting and he just has such a big heart. It’s such an obvious need, you know, he wears his need for friends on his sleeve, whereas Bruce is trying to hide that away. So I thought he would be a great challenge to Bruce in his loner ways, because he would be such a perfect friend for Bruce.
Yeah. I also like how there was some depth to Mateo in the sense that he also had a strained relationship with his family, and that was one of the many things that Bruce could relate with him on. And then the dynamic between them shifts near the end, regarding him and his family. I thought that was really clever in kind of making a parallel between them.
Well, thank you. Yeah, that was one of the major themes with all the kids in the book, that it’s kind of… no matter your socioeconomic status, it’s easy to have a hard relationship with your parents. So teens relate to that kind of like feeling, that they don’t belong in their families and feeling like they’re striving for one thing that their family has set up for them, and they can’t exactly make it just right, because they’re their own individual people.
That’s a good segue, because speaking of strained parental relationships, I wanted to talk about the relationship you’ve made between Bruce and Alfred in this story. I thought it was really good – I wanted to ask if you thought their dynamic is different to what the two were like in the regular comics, or if you imagine something like this story happening in the main universe when Bruce was younger?
I do imagine that! You would need some very potent foundation to the relationship in the main universe when Bruce’s older, because Alfred really is his first and truest confidant. He’s the only one who knows initially that Bruce is the Bat, he’s the one that’s there to serve him when he gets back from a mission and you know, clean his wounds and do all the things that no one else would be able to do. So I really thought that this beginning of the relationship, where it is initially quite rocky and it takes a lot for Bruce to be trusting and accepting of Alfred, would be an appropriate start to a relationship that is very strong later on in his life.
It worked really well, because it made sense that he thought Alfred was his jailer at first, and that it wouldn’t have been easy to feel like he could trust him. Another thing that you did was that you made the Falcones the antagonists in the story – which I really enjoyed, because I really think they’re very under-utilized. Did you consider any of the traditional villains outside of like Catwoman’s crew, or was it always going to be the Falcones?
I didn’t want to do any really super powered villain to go up against Bruce. And as far as the Joker, I don’t feel like I’m the right person for that story at this point in my life. And at this point in Bruce’s life, I wanted to do a bit more of a realistic villain, and someone who could set up a good detective mission for Bruce. So that’s why I went with the Falcones, and just exploring the seedy underbelly of Gotham, and who the family in charge is and who is pulling the strings to that. And I also really like that it is a family dynamic. So with the family theme of the story we have, we’d see this other family that looks very tight on the surface, and it looks like Alberto has a great relationship with Carmine and they look like there’s the perfect father-son connection there, because Carmen is at his practices cheering him on. And you see all these moments where it seems like they kind of have this unflappable bond, but really there’s still a strain there. There’s still, you know, a, a legacy for Alberto to fulfill, that maybe he doesn’t want to fulfill, and he doesn’t want to go the same way that his dad has set up for him. But he has to because he feels that’s the family way.
Yeah. It was kind of like a dark mirror version of what Bruce had going on. One of my favorite scenes in the book is this chase scene between Selina and Bruce, going into the third act of the story. I won’t spoil it for the readers, but it’s one where Selina is chasing Bruce, and it’s kind of a role reversal, which I thought was really, really well done. I was wondering if you had a favorite scene in particular to write.
You know, that was one of my favorites as well, because it’s where Selena really gets to call Bruce out on his… nonsense, we’ll say for this audience.
Haha! I mean, it’s a pretty mature audience, you can probably swear.
Haha- So it’s the time that she gets to take a step back and be like, “Hey, you’re being really selfish and full of yourself and stuck in this past. You think you’re so great, and you think you’re over it, but that’s just because you haven’t actually dealt with it. You’ve never gone through it, you’ve just pushed it aside.” So I really love that scene – I think in this script, if I’m remembering correctly, the stage direction was “These are two really athletic kids. Let’s have a bunch of panels with them running through the city and chasing after each other.” So it was really fun to see what the artist brought to that and how he showed off. You know, Bruce and Selina are obviously probably two of the most skilful and agile kids you would ever meet. So it’s fun to see how Selina’s chasing Bruce through the city, and this moment where he gets away from her. The cat is chasing the mouse, and she doesn’t get him. So it’s a really fun scene.
I think that was one of the highlights of the book. Did you enjoy this being a fun one-off about these characters in a younger world, or if this book is successful, do you imagine seeing yourself writing more stories in this version of Gotham?
I would love to write more stories with these characters in this version of Gotham! I would love to see, you know, the story where Bruce actually goes out as the Batman. In this one we see him almost getting there, very close, but he doesn’t exactly don the cape yet. So I would love to get him to that point and really see the whole evolution of his character into the Batman.
That makes sense. What characters might you consider including if you did a hypothetical sequel? I know you said that you’re probably not the right person for Joker, but I could see Harvey Dent working really well in a story like this.
Yeah, absolutely! Harvey Dent would be great. Also, I know it’s weird, but I always love a Mad Hatter story. He’s a weird character and I think he could be a lot of fun. And then I think it would be a lot of fun to explore Lady Shiva, who we plant a little bit in this story, how she would come up as a great antagonist for Bruce.
Yeah, I did notice that – because you’ve got Catwoman’s team with the usual Gotham City Sirens, and then Shiva was there and I’m like, okay, that’s interesting. And I was definitely wondering what the thought process was in going into that.
In that I always thought that if there was a sequel, and Alberto was out of the picture, Shiva would step up as the leader of the crew and take over, and it would be a cool girl gang to go against. Then you would have to have Catwoman going on to more “good side” endeavors. I think Lady Shiva would be an awesome person to step into that role as the kind of antagonist for Bruce in the next story.
I’d really like to see that. Especially because, we kind of saw the seeds of that in the dojo at the very start of the book. I’ve got a couple more questions: You mentioned Mad Hatter, but do you have any other characters that you’ve always wanted to tackle but you haven’t had the chance to yet?
That’s a hard question because with DC Superhero Girls, I really had such free reign of all the DC characters. Oh man, we’ve put in so many characters. I think by the time we had finished, there were like 80 or something characters we had officially designed, and had been in the content somewhere. That was a very fun thing, to be able to go back into a lot of DC history, some of which I was familiar with and some of which I wasn’t, then find these characters that were so specific. Mike Carlin, again, was a great resource on that – because I would be like, “Oh, I need a character who has this power, something like this.” And then it’d be like, “Ah, yes, of course in 1969 there was this character in the background.”
Haha! That makes sense. I can rephrase the question – what’s a character that surprised you when you were writing them?
Ooh, I would say my favorite character that was really surprising and fun to get into in DC Superhero Girls was Bumblebee. I had not known a lot about her going into it. I was vaguely familiar, you know, I had seen her in one of the Teen Titans cartoons here and there. But getting into her history, she really was the first, uh, female American we would call a “cape superhero” in the DC universe. And she was such a big part of the early Teen Titans. It was really cool to get to know Bumblebee.
Yeah, she’s such a big presence and she’s really enjoyable to read as well. Before we finish, I just wanted to check with you if there was anything you wanted to tell people about yourself or this book that I haven’t covered.
About the book: I really think it’s a book that just fans of comics will like. It is definitely geared towards the middle grade audience, but I think it just has that kind of pure superhero action fun, that will really appeal to comic readers across the board. I think there’s a lot to be had there for both new readers to Batman. and people who have read every issue.
I remember reading it – sure, you could tell it was for more of a middle grade audience, it was pretty rewarding to see little Easter Eggs, and it was also really fun. So I have to congratulate you on writing a really solid book that I think a lot of kids are going to enjoy.
So that comes to the end of the questions I had! Thank you so much for coming, I really appreciate your answers. You were really honest with us.
Well, thank you so much, Nicholas. It was really fun to chat about the book, and thank you for all the nice things you said. That always means a lot to me. I know that people think it doesn’t matter, but all of us authors, we’re kind of isolated as we’re writing. And then we’re like, “Oh, people are reading this, this is amazing!” And it’s fun to actually get some feedback.
Batman: Overdrive can be purchased here.
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