I was lucky enough to get to talk to the immensely talented Katie Batchelor about her recently released graphic novel Her Name Is…Savage, a fantastic and action-packed spy-thriller from publishers Paper Movies and ComicMix. We got to discuss her adding to the 50-year-old legacy of Gil Kane, her creative freedom under smaller publishers, and the subversion of tropes within a male-dominated genre.
MFR: For any who may not know, His Name Is…Savage and the original character were the creation of Gil Kane back in the late ’60s. Was approaching this legacy with a new perspective and with a woman as the protagonist more of an exciting or intimidating challenge?
KB: Both. It was exciting to jump into the universe of such an iconic character and creator and launch a new world to modernize Gil Kane’s vision to be more relevant for current audiences – to make a new generation aware of his iconic work. But it was also intimidating in that Kane has a huge legacy and devoted fans. One of the many engaging aspects of Kane’s work is that it’s very accessible. That’s an aspect that the team took very much to heart, that HER NAME IS…SAVAGE be accessible to both avid fans and new readers.
Kane was very ahead of his time in that he viewed comics as cinematic back in the sixties, if not earlier. He referred to his action sequences as choreography. If you reread his Savage, they’re extraordinarily film-like. I love that cinematic choreography notion and wanted capture that epic feel and dynamic with HER NAME IS…SAVAGE to really lunge readers into an engaging adventure.
Having a female character as the lead was an amazing opportunity to create a resilient and enduring character, but also one that we can have fun with and who has a sarcastic sense of humor. Savage is a woman who defines herself — an empowering character to write and an empowering character for readers. Growing up, I always admired Wonder Woman who displayed such strength and tenacity, I was honored to be able to create a character in a similar vein, albeit without the powers.
MFR: It can be difficult to make major additions or changes to old stories with large publishers. Did having a smaller publisher like Paper Movies make a difference in how much freedom you were allowed in this project?
KB: Absolutely. Paper Movies is a creator-driven company, as is ComicMix, our fantastic co-publisher. We were fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing team who gave us the creative freedom to literally do whatever we wanted while also honoring Gil Kane’s legacy. The #1 goal was to create a badass, smart lead who could be as memorable, as tough, and as savvy as any other character you can find on the stands or in film or television.
HER NAME IS…SAVAGE can be read completely independent of Steven Grant’s recent relaunch of HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE (which is fantastic!) or Kane’s original. The character definitely forges her own path and you do not want to get in her way. We also had the added advantage of following in Grant’s modernization of HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE, so we have several Easter eggs and connections to that relaunch and Kane’s original – including a fun cameo from HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE.
MFR: What classic spy story tropes did you target to subvert (other than the obvious gender-swap of the protagonist) and how did you go about turning those tropes on their heads?
KB: Spy movies tend to be either realistic or fantasy. HER NAME IS…SAVAGE is escapism into a heightened yet grounded reality. It’s a world that doesn’t exist, but also isn’t too different from the world we live in. I didn’t want to be constrained to spy motifs like the CIA or MI6 – we wanted the flexibility to go bigger and grander just like Kane’s original.
Typically spy tropes have government agents as protagonists. Savage is not a government agent. A government agency might view Savage as working with them, but Savage views the agencies as working for her. They are a means to an end, not a job. She doesn’t trust government agencies. But Savage is someone so smart, so dangerous, and so competent, that the government is willing to work outside its own boundaries because they know she is that good.
In many spy stories, the spy wants to remain hidden or unknown from their targets or the ‘bad guys’. In Savage, she utilizes her fear-inducing reputation and immediately throws herself out in the open to become their target for her plan to ultimately succeed. The spycraft of Savage is the mental cat-and-mouse game. No one other than Savage herself knows her end goals. And her end goal is massive – literally a world changer. By the time readers finish the book, they’ll realize that not only is Savage the most dangerous person on the planet, she’s also the smartest.
MFR: Something I noticed in this story that separates itself from your usual action/espionage thriller is the more intimate and charitable motivations of Savage’s mission. Instead of a quest for vengeance or to stop a global plot, Savage is accomplishing a task with specific people she cares about in mind. Was this something you wanted for Savage as another way to differentiate this book from the norm or was this the story you always wanted to tell regardless of “He” or “She” being Savage?
KB: I want women to feel empowered by Savage and root for her. The more female protagonists we can have, the better. Savage should also be relatable to everyone — with real flaws and complexity, as well as a sense of humor. This is the story about the most dangerous person on the planet – epic and with amazing set pieces. So Savage should be someone who women and men can really root for and say ‘that’s badass.’
The story starts with Savage in the last place one would expect a spy to be laying low – an orphanage – a seemingly humanitarian mission. But the reality is that the orphanage is a great cover, a very strategic location to implement her plan and draw out an untouchable enemy. Savage, for better or worse, doesn’t do anything by accident. Plans may change and the unexpected occurs, but her actions always have a purpose, always goal orientated. Even in the violent action scenes, it’s all about what’s the most efficient way for Savage to deliver her brand of justice.
Early in the story, another character recognizes that Savage is trying to ‘save everyone’. But Savage would never admit that. In her mind, she’s more trying to prevent collateral damage and eliminate those who would prey on the innocent – she wants to change the world and create a new system.
Savage wants to root out the untouchable headline grabbers – particularly those ‘bad guys’ that governments are too inept or afraid to go after themselves. Those that negatively impact real people and real events, but for whatever reason are protected via political clout, money, wealth, power, connections… Savage doesn’t trust authority to do its job. That’s where she comes in.
MFR: Men are often drawn to these dashing and badass hero archetypes such as Savage and James Bond as they are obviously a form of a male power fantasy. With the rise in seeing women star in these similar roles not just in Her Name Is…Savage but also with works such as Atomic Blonde, The Old Guard, and even calls for a woman as 007, do you think women get a similar rise out of such representation in the way men do? Or are the motivations and reactions around crafting and taking in such characters more socially driven?
KB: Empowerment, certainly. I hope all readers can imagine themselves or people they know in Savage’s role and identify with Savage on a personal level. Whether it’s a sense of empowerment or escapism or roller coaster ride, readers should get real satisfaction and entertainment — and motivate people to see someone in a spy role like this beyond stereotypes.
I hope Savage doesn’t conform to any preconceived notions. I want her to surprise and keep readers at the edge of their seats, and even make you laugh. She’s witty, brave, smart and tough – but also complex with real flaws.
Growing up, I had an Eleanor Roosevelt quote on my wall: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’m a big fan of taking risks, diving off cliffs. Savage does that multiple times a day. I figurately dive off cliffs; she really does it. There’s a scene in the graphic novel where Savage literally crashes through glass. It’s not a ceiling and we didn’t intentionally write it as a metaphor, but it’s impactful – such a great visual that it became our cover. This powerful woman shooting out a glass wall and breaking boundaries.
There are certain traits associated with being feminine — being kind, being a humanitarian — but those should be human traits. So, Savage has a kindness in her that should be an attribute of all people. She’s multi-layered and multi-dimensional in that she wants good people in the world, wants kindness, and she herself is. But she also feels like she needs to use her unique abilities to achieve her results – whether you agree with that morally or not is up to the reader to decide.
“The most dangerous person on the planet lunges back into action with the expertise and ferocity that made her a covert legend — to hunt down a ruthless international syndicate hellbent on seeing her dead first. Her Name Is…Savage fuses the bone-breaking fury of the John Wick franchise with the cerebral intelligence of Homeland. Savage is a titan — unapologetic and ferocious — righteously consuming any depravity in her way. Challenging expectations. Defying limits. Walking straight into the inferno…”
Her Name Is…Savage is co-authored by Shane Riches and drawn by Jesus Antonio Hernandez Portaveritas, and is a standalone companion piece to both the original works by Gil Kane and Steven Grant’s His Name Is…Savage. Be sure to grab these and other fantastic graphic novels from publisher Paper Movies at their website!