Monday, March 5, 2012

On a look into the past that references a look at the future

Archie Comics will shortly be launching a new version of their superhero characters in an all new digital-only process.  This will be something like the fifth attempt to make a go of the characters in the last twenty years, and the second in the last two.  DC just tried the Red Circle line just last year or so, and it was met with, tragically, apathy. 
Back in the 90's DC licensed the MLJ heroes and created the Impact line, which I REALLY liked.  I gave the line a lot of coverage in my fanzines (which was like the Internet, except on paper, and only a couple dozen people saw it).  After bribing group editor Mike Gold with Cherry Pepsi (which at the time was only being test-marketed in Canada, and I Knew A Guy) he agreed to an interview about the line. As this was done, the books were on their first few issues, and the sky was the limit. 

One thing that's fun about the interview is how many other topics were touched upon that seem so relevant to today.  Mike discusses the idea that even then, as today, it's VERY hard to get readers to try new books and new heroes.  He talks about how continuity always needs touching up, and how Captain America could be a franchise name, if he only had a good movie... So many of the topics discussed could have come from any interview about modern titles.

I have VERY high hopes for Archie's Crusaders title, and hope to be talking them up a great deal in the near future.  But for now, here's a look back at what was quite a risk in the early 90s.

Mike Gold-the Interview

Before we started the interview, I had remarked that I was pleased to find Lancelot Strong in the Who’s Who (I assumed he was “Doc Strong” who was mentioned heavily) only to learn...

Doc Strong was a totally separate character from Lance Strong. He’s part of our backstory. However, the idea of using the name Lance Strong in there somewhere certainly has occurred to us. But we haven’t worked that out yet, it’s just something we’re trying to do.

Of all the Archie Characters, Lance Strong was my favorite.

Mine too. I even have copies of the original artwork which I got from Joe Simon. Some day we might start to reprint all that old stuff, which would be a kick. Yeah, I bought that stuff off the newsstands when I was eight or nine. It was the first time I was ever conscious of Jack Kirby’s artwork. I still didn’t know it was Jack Kirby, but it was the first time I was aware of *that* particular artist’s work. I had already seen it on, I think Green Arrow, and I’d probably seen Challengers of the Unknown by then, but neither of those titles had the strength of those first few issues of The Fly and The Double life of Private Strong.

I guess the obvious first question is: how are the books doing?

Doing very well, we’re very happy with it. We set ourselves a certain goal, which we admit wasn’t overly ambitious, because we knew that, for example, X-Force and X-men were coming out this summer, and we knew a lot of money was going to go towards that. But it’d be foolhardy to expect an entirely new line of books to be an instant success, because it means it’d be getting purchased by the already existing readership. Which would be fine, we’d LOVE that, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to use these to bring new readers into comics, bring in slightly younger readers, the kind of folks that would normally read the DC books. So I’m more interested in our newsstand sales, not the direct sales. The direct sales are very healthy, we’re very happy with the direct sales. The newsstand sales figures won’t come in for another two months.

But we’re in this for the long haul. It’s the only way you can do a project like this. Look at Marvel’s sales when they hit the market, and look at them now...hopefully it won’t take us that long. But we’re out there. The sixth title’s out there now, and the seventh title will be out in mid-April.

We’ve added annuals for our initial six titles, and a third issue of the Impact Who’s Who. So in an eight-week period, we’re starting a seventh title, a third Who’s Who, and doing annuals. That’s pretty heavy expansion. Obviously, if the books weren’t doing well, we’d be building a fortress around them, and not leaving! So we’re happy with them, and we’re already gonna start talking about the eighth title. Our editorial staff has an approach that we like,

How do you guys work together to keep the continuity of the books tight?

Every year we get together with the entire creative team (at least the writers and the pencillers, the inkers are usually so busy on so many different books that it’s hard for them to stop everything and go off with us.) And we get together, the creative and the editorial staff, and we’ll talk about the direction for the coming year. Maybe a little fine-tuning of the end of the first year to help better facilitate the coming of that second year. We’ll lay out our storylines, and talk about what sort of books we’d like to add for the second year. It’s real exciting stuff. Last year we did it in Tarrytown, NY; this year we’ll be doing it somewhere in the midwest.

Now that Katie Main’s moved on to the Looney Tunes books, who’s on the editorial staff?

Paul Kupperberg has come on the staff, as has Jim Owsley. Michael Golden is now our Cover Editor. I’m editing LOTS, and as of issue 15, Jim will be taking over that. I’m editing The Web, and Jim and I have been doing the work on the seventh title, and he’ll eventually be the editor on that. And once he takes over the seventh title, I get to go start work on the eighth. Paul is editing The Fly and Black Hood, and Jim is editing Comet and The Jaguar.

Of all the descriptions and theories behind the line, people have claimed they’re solely for younger audiences, that you’re trying to do Marvel-style comics, and that you’re doing “entry-level comics” which explanation do you like?

Entry level comics is my term. I used that term six years ago in my original memo describing the idea of these titles. It’s NOT just for kids. Although I think that DC has with malice of forethought, concentrated so severely on the older two- thirds of the comics market, that it made it look that way. The roots of comics are in children’s entertainment. And those of us who have been fans since we were kids have been very obsessed with the idea of legitimizing the medium. And I think that’s good, I think that’s important, I think there’s been a tremendous number of books of all sorts for older readers, more mature readers, and will continue to do so. My editorial group here at DC will continue to do so.

Well, you’re editor on Hawkworld, about the most mature title DC is doing

Well, it’s about the most mature super-hero book. The issues we deal with in Green Arrow are a lot more sophisticated than that. That’s not a value judgment. And there’s a lot of singular projects-Viking Prince came out recently-a cleverly disguised romance comic. And I’m very proud of that book, I think they did a very nice job.

But because DC has put so much energy in the last five years in that direction, it does look like a series for kids. It’s not; it’s accessible to kids, there’s a difference. I think anyone that enjoys straightforward superhero comics will enjoy these books.

There are a lot of longtime comics readers-they may be 15, they may be 35-who are just a little too confused, or a little too tired of the Marvel Universe, even the DC Universe, as it’s been redefined, because it’s gotten too big or too complicated. I think there’s a point when, for some readers, when they start to cut back on some of their superhero titles, and still stay involved with the more sophisticated stuff. And when you start cutting back, you start losing significant chunks of that universe, and it’s very hard to read what’s left. So here’s a line of books that’s six titles strong, eight titles strong, whatever.. .that’s not so hard to keep track of.

By the end of 1992, there’ll be fewer Impact books than there are X-men titles. Heck, maybe less than there are Ghost Rider titles, for crying out loud! Tom deFalco’s been going around saying that we’re trying to imitate Marvel, and that we’re getting it wrong, which shows that Mr. DeFalco (who I respect and have known for a long time) is getting a wee bit egocentric. We’re not trying to imitate Marvel at all. For one thing, we place a high value on the writers and the artists, they’re not interchangeable. Number two, we have a lot more respect for our readers. We’d never refer to our readers as zombies, let alone trademark the phrase. That’s horribly abusive.

In terms of style, storytelling, technique, that sort of thing, we may be more in touch with Marvel’s roots that Marvel is right now. I think that we are MUCH more influenced by the work of people like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby than Marvel has been in the last ten years. But that doesn’t mean we’re trying to imitate Marvel. For one thing, we CAN’T imitate Marvel. Marvel does Marvel Comics; nobody does Marvel Comics the way they do. You have to go in there with that legacy, with that history, with the thirty years worth of continuity, with the marvel attitude. Which is why Marvel does not do NON-Marvel Comics very well. Marvel bombed with Star Trek, DC has flourished with it. Because Star Trek was completely a non-Marvel comic. I mean, look at a lot of the comics that were published under their Star line. They mostly disappeared after six issues, because they just don’t fit in with the Marvel style. I mean all this as a compliment. It sounds like a slam, especially after I just did slam Tom, but the reality is that Nobody does Marvel comics like Marvel Comics, and nobody has ever done Marvel comics like Marvel Comics. DC tried to do that back in the 70’s...and failed miserably. Look at all the stuff Jack Kirby did for DC in the 70’s as compared to the stuff he did for Marvel in the 60’s. Whereas it was just as good as, although not as enduring as the Fantastic Four, for example, it was completely different. Because it wasn’t in that Marvel Universe. You can’t do a fake’s stupid to try.

And now you’ve got the Superman titles taking all the Jack Kirby “Jimmy Olsen” plotlines and using it all again...

…and doing some wonderful things with it. Because it fits so well in the DC Universe. So obviously we’re not trying to imitate Marvel. I wouldn’t mind if, thirty years down the line, someone said you imitated Marvel’s success, that’s great! I’d love that! But I’d be happy if thirty years from now people say we imitated half of Marvels’ success.

Sales is something I’m not overly concerned with. My job is to produce good comics, and to do it with a specific audience in mind, and to do it on time. Obviously they want those books to sell, and for the company to make money. DC’s a large company, and we don’t publish titles that lose money. There’s no reason to, there’s so many more good books that we want to publish that we don’t have time to do. If a book is losing money, you try to fix it and it doesn’t work, or you feel you really shouldn’t fix it cause of the artistic integrity of the book cancel them. Yeah, there are a couple of books we can kind of float for a while because we like them; we’re big enough that we can be indulgent for one of two books, but that’s all.

My primary concern isn’t sales. We have a good marketing staff here, a wonderful editorial staff, terrific business support staff. If a book gets a fair shot at the marketplace, it’s up to the readers as to whether they want to see it or not. Anybody who tells you they know what the reader wants to see is a liar and an idiot. Nobody knows. If they did, they’d never cancel a show on television, they’d never cancel a comic book. So we’re not so pretentious to say “yes, we know the readers want to see this, we KNOW that...” nonsense. No, we take our fair shot at the market place. Sales is in the back of my mind, as useful information to try and figure out directions to go, but also to see where people are not going, and see if there’s a way we can go there. And that’s how these books started, really. We weren’t in the superhero field. In the traditional, straightforward superhero field. Even Superman, which is a brilliant series of books, I’m enjoying Superman more now than I’ve enjoyed him at any time in the last 10 years... that’s four books, and the continuity is very tight between those four books. And I think that the younger end of the readership would find that to be very difficult. To make that commitment to four books, one every week.

You mentioned Captain Marvel, and that raises a question- Do you own the Fawcett characters right now?

Yeah, for about a year now. The business end of comics is fascinating. Fawcett licensed the characters to DC in an exclusive license, in a very good deal. And the deal was so good for Fawcett that it sort of minimized the use of the characters. We couldn’t include any of the Fawcett characters in the Greatest Golden Age Stories collection. The royalties would have been so high as to raise the price of the book. Fawcett has changed hands a few times in the last twenty years - CBS owned it for awhile, a couple other companies.. .and finally, every couple of years, we’d have to call up and say, “Hi, who do we send the check to?”

So we’d say” We’d like to buy the characters outright,” because over the years, DC’s bought out a lot of different publishers. And until recently they’d say, “Oh, we own Captain Marvel? Cool! No, we’ll keep it,” But finally the current group of people said, “Who? Oh, fine, sure... give us a LOT of money.” And we did.

This is exactly my point-you guys own the Fawcett titles, most of the Charlton titles, the Quality Comics characters. Maybe a fifth to a fourth of the characters you own are currently in use, yet you decided to go for a completely NEW set of characters to start up a new line. Considering that in some cases there’s nothing but the name left of the original Archie characters, why didn’t you go with characters you already own?

There’s a couple of reasons. Number one-this is gonna sound negative but I don’t mean it that way- the characters that you’re referring to have a lot of baggage. They’ve all been revived in the last ten years, many in the last five years, in some significant way by DC. So for example if we went out there and did, say, Plastic Man and Captain Marvel.. .well, we’ve just DONE Plastic Man and Captain Marvel.

We may do them again: I mean, the recent Captain Marvel resurrection was fairly successful. In the sense of sales, it was VERY successful. From an aesthetic standpoint... I thought there was some good stuff going on, but there was some stuff that didn’t quite work...

The idea of making Billy Batson an abused child sickened me.

...yeah, I think there were people who didn’t like that, personally. Although the sales were very good. But here I am, I just gave you my lecture about sales. But anyway, if we were to do a line consisting of characters that DC already played with, and then removed them from those backstories into a different continuity... I thought that would be kinda confusing. But it is something we talked about. As a matter of fact my first thought was to take the old Quality characters.

My second thought was to create NEW characters. Which we practically have. I thought that taking something that DC had never done before would make it seem much more exciting, would bring much more attention to it. It does raise that one question-” Why are you doing this?” Another thing is, a lot of us, myself included, have a lot of fondness for those Archie Superheroes. Again, those early issues of The Fly and Pvt. Strong were very significant to me as a child. The Jaguar, similarly. The Black Hood was a character and story I always liked. Some of the stories over the years were quite good, some of them...

…like the cowboy Black Hood on the mechanical horse...

…yeah, some of them didn’t quite work. The idea behind the Mighty Crusaders was a good one, and there were a couple of issues that were a kick. Jerry Siegel worked on those books. And it’s nice to sort of play in that ballpark.

The reason we didn’t create our own new characters was partially for that reason, they were interesting characters, and DC’s gotten very gool at reviving old characters. And from a technical standpoint, brand new Superheroes tend not to work very well. Or sell very well. I mean if you made a list of all the totally new costumed superheroes published by anybody, DC, Marvel, even the independents... but of course, according to the Buyer’s Guide, Archie and Disney are independents, so I don’t even know what that means anymore...

It means they aren’t published by the Big Two...

…yeah, but that’s silly, cause Disney’s so big. Hell, Disney’s farts cost more than what Marvel and DC make... (pause) and you can quote me on that.

Bwah hah hah! Mike Gold Speaks Out!

Anyway, if you made a list of new characters with no tie-ins, like a new X-man that later gets his own book, that doesn’t count.. . Can you name any? That have been successful in the last ten years?

Well, I would say Starman, but that’s been cancelled after 46...

But even Starman’s not new-there’s always been a Starman in DC. Over at Marvel they’ve got Darkhawk and Sleepwalker... but they’re only six or so issues, we’ll see how long they last. I’m not being cynical, I hope they do succeed; friends of mine are working on them.

We all try, DC tries, Marvel tries, certainly the independents try, at least the ones who want to do independents do, because they have to. It’s very very difficult to launch a brand new superhero that has nothing going for it in terms of backstory. So that’s why we decided not to make up our own. It’s an interesting challenge, I would like to do that someday. And someday, maybe we will.

As for copyrights and all... Each of the creators have equity in their own characters. So for example, Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck redid The Fly. Now, that was created by Simon and Kirby, for Archie, and so Archie gets some money off of that, they get a licensing fee. But Len and Mike own a percentage of the new Fly. But if the rights reverted to Archie, or if we sold the rights to another company... I mean property is property, we could sell Superman to you if we wanted...

(fumbling through pockets) Well, I got ten bucks on me...

Yeah, right. . . . And if you were to use the current version of the Fly, you would have to pay these guys as well, because they own a certain piece of the action. If you did not use their version, but went back and used the Simon and Kirby version of the Fly, that’s fine. Each of the teams have equity in their re-creations. So we’re very cognizant that in some cases there’s very little left except the name and a couple of little elements here and there.

There’s NOTHING left of the Web. Unless it turns out one of the agents has a harridan of a wife.

Yeah, that’s something we haven’t discussed.

Len Rothco’s got a wife, screaming “Where’ve you been?”

So anyway, the writers and the Artists do get a piece of the action.

Does Archie have any say on the editorial tone of the books?

No, none at all. We have a contract in which we’ve made certain promises, and they certainly have the right to hold us to those promises. You know, they don’t want to take these characters and turn them into X-rated books or anything, and that’s not our intent. But, you know, thirty years down the road who knows what could happen, so the contract prevents our successors from changing the essential purpose of the line, and keep the characters from being exploited in that manner. But then again, you’re talking to a guy who, when he was at First, REALLY wanted to do an American Flagg! / Veronica Lodge crossover, so what do I know?

We might as well start talking about the books. Starting with the five books that are out there now, what are we gonna see next year?

In the books, we’ll of course be developing the characters; we’re going to add to the supporting cast. You’ll be seeing more and more characters that could stand up on their own, and could move around through the various Impact titles. You will not be seeing arbitrary crossovers every month, except for the Web, which isn’t arbitrary, because they’re the fiber that holds our universe together. We’ve got a Fly / Shield crossover coming up, and that’s nice, that’s a big deal.

Well, let’s start with the annuals. in the Annuals, we’re gonna be doing four different things, three of which will be in any single annual. We’re doing a storyline that will continue through all six annuals, that’ll be a 28-page story. Now that’s a linked annual stunt, DC and Marvel’ve been doing that for a long time now.

We wrestled with whether to do individual stories or if wanted to do a linked story. And the reason I decided to go with a linked story was, well, when I was a kid, annuals were very rare. Not every book had an annual. And the stories in the annuals, when they did original stories, which was even more rare, were very unique. They were stories that could not be in a regular issue, they were too big, too important. Nowadays we do mini-series, prestige format one shots to do those types of stories. Nowadays we can do those stories in a regular book. In the 60’s they didn’t have 64-page special issues in a monthly. Today, if we wanted to, we could. We do it all the time. So the types of stories that were special for annuals in the 60’s could be done any time today. So what makes annuals unique today is that linked concept. You can still do a special kind of story. They don’t have to link in a crossover sense of the word, just the sequential sense of the word. Because after all, you’re dealing with a self-contained universe.

So our story starts in The Web, continues on and ends in the Black Hood. The stories won’t be like a mini- series, where if you miss, say, the third annual, you’re hopelessly lost. Although you’re enjoyment will be enhanced considerably if you read them all, at least if you read the first and the last one, you can fill in what happened in the middle.

That’s one story. The other two stories will be picked from three sets of stories we have. One series will be original adventures of four of the original Web agents, set in the 60’s, to help flesh out that part of the backstory considerably. One will be set in ‘63, one in ‘65, one in ‘68, and the last in 1972 involved in Web adventures of that time. They’ll be in four different annuals, but not in the Web Annual. Because the people who read the Web annual will get them in the front story. We’re doing four adventures of past Black Hoods, and four stories featuring the original Shield and the original American Crusaders.

For books that weren’t supposed to have much of a back story to come into, there is quite a bit of history. There’s thirty and change years of history

We created our own baggage, yeah. But our history has a lot of holes in it. Much of the history consists of a sentence or an outline. So we know what happened in the past, but we have complete freedom to develop it any way we want. And add to it any way we want. Marvel got caught up in that when they decided to acknowledge that there was a Captain America in World War II. Okay fine, but wasn’t there a Captain America in the 50’s? Well, yes. But okay, who was he, if the Cap from WWII got frozen? Well, we gotta work that out. So they worked it out, and they did a wonderful job.

DC has been wrestling with those issues all the time. Marvel is now in the situations where they have to go back and redefine what happened in the 60’s. Because if we tell people that the reason Tony Stark was in Vietnam was because of a war we thought was a really good thing, and we were trying to vanquish the Threat Of Communism, it sounds a little silly, considering we lost that war, and Communism isn’t quite the threat it once was. So now John Byrne just redefined that origin. So Marvel is fine-tuning their backstory. And I imagine in thirty years, Impact will have to go back and redefine their backstory as well.

But we do want to have a backstory that gives us a sort of heritage. And the idea of there having been superheroes in the past is a real important idea, that’s a real important concept. Because it mitigates the issue of “why are there all these superheroes all of a sudden?” If it’s such an important idea, why didn’t it happen before? Well, it did happen before.

A lot of fans are upset at the idea that Superman wasn’t the first superhero in the DC universe. Well, he wasn’t the first superhero in comics anyway. There was Dr. Occult, and also the Pulps were being published as well. We don’t have an icon like that to upset people.

What’s going on in the future of the individual titles?

Virtually every major backstory in the individual titles will be resolved by the end of the first year. And new ones will start. So like, for all the people who think that The Shield will always be a hero on the run, on the outs from his father, and that’s the way the series will be forever, no. It will not. None of these threads will run forever. Some will be resolved, others will start up, there’ll be a bit of overlap there. Those things get boring if you let them run forever and ever. That’s really been the weaknesses of some of the more interesting series. Things you can’t resolve. I mean, the prime directive is the biggest problem Star Trek ever had, because it’s the one law you can’t change, and it completely prevents you from doing any stories. Off the ship, you can’t do any stories! They’ve been trying to get around the Prime Directive for years! So we resolve that stuff, and then we move on.

Let’s see, supposedly we’ll meet the original shield, The Black Witch was a member of the Crusaders and she’s coming back, Bill Loebs has a character called Copper Cat...are there any other of the older characters we’ll be seeing, either new or old?

Well, the Hangman will be appearing soon, Blackjack, people like that. We’re right now working on creating more villains, and new institutions. Quite a number of the older characters are being revived because the assorted creative crew want us to revive them. In point of fact, there are three creative teams out there right now that desperately want to do Steel Sterling. And the first team that asked for it got it, but if they screw up... there’s another team ready to take over in a heartbeat, and if THEY screw up, there’s another group behind them! We’ve got two teams working on Mr. Justice. And there is development going on on almost all the MU characters. We’ve even got Tom Lyle trying to figure out how to do Bob Phantom. It’s a cool challenge, and that takes us back to your earlier question of why did we take the Archie characters because there’s all these cool characters that nobody’s dealt with.

I’m curious about the Hangman. Since originally he became a hero because his brother, the Comet, died, I guess it’s safe to say that’s not the new guy’s origin.

No, you’re right. That is one of the first contemporary continuity devices ever done in comics.

That was in 1941, practically the beginning of comics. The idea of one character would be created as a result of another. I think that pre-dates Wildcat, who was created because Ted Grant liked Green Lantern.

Archie had a couple of firsts. The Shield was the First flag-based character, beating Captain America to the punch by about half a year.

Closer to a year, eleven months. That’s quite remaarkable, and most fans don’t understand that, because Captain America is so close to an icon. He would be an icon if he had a successful movie.

Even the origins are similar

In some ways, yeah. I wouldn’t say there was any influence or anything, though. It’s still nothing compared to the greatest coincidence in comic history...

..Swamp Thing and Man-Thing?

Nope, because the Heap pre-dates both of them by decades. No, the X-Men and Doom Patrol. And those books came out almost exactly the same time- Doom Patrol beat the X-Men by like, six weeks, I looked it up once. And neither of them were ultimately successful in their original run, either. It kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if Doom Patrol was revived the same day the X-Men was revived. And Len Wein could have done it just as easily, ‘cause he has just as much affinity as the Doom Patrol.

Len Wein is a guy who’s gotten a raw deal in comics. Here’s a guy who created Wolverine, Swamp Thing.. .he’s created more successful characters than you can imagine, and up until recently, he was working for Disney. But he’s working on something for us here. He’s doing a mini-series first, and then a regular series.

Human Target’s going on television, ABC has commissioned 8 episodes.

Are there any other supporting characters ready to go?

No, but we’re looking at that for the eighth title.

The seventh title is going to be more concerned with the existing characters, because the seventh title’s going to be The Crusaders. I don’t want to say who’s going to be in it yet. Cause if you think about it, it’s kind of interesting, because condsider; the Black Hood’s the new kid on the block, and the Web already exists not as a super team, but as the guys who watch the super team. So how could the web fit into a team like the Crusaders, but on the other hand, how could the Web not fit in? How can you keep them out of it? From a government standpoint, and from a public relations standpoint, that would be a catastrophe. Plus, you have various web agents who know various superheroes quite well, and have good working relationships with them. Those Web agents have been crawling all over everybody in the Impact books since the first issue of LOTS. So those are issues which are the issues gonna be addressed in the first few issues of the Crusaders.

Creative team set?

Mark Waid will be writing the book. He’ll be great because he’s been involved with many of the titles from the start, so he knows the characters. And that’ll be full writer, not just scripting. We OWE him that. Mark’s a very good writer. The thing about bringing him in as a dialogist at the beginning for Tom and Grant was first off, he’s a very good dialogist, and he gets to be a sort of backseat editor as well. It allowed to work on several of the books at once, to help develop the entire Impact universe. Mark is one of the unsung heroes of the Impact universe. He also wrote ALL the Impact who’s who entries.

What else can you say about the eighth title?

We haven’t even decided who’ll start in it yet. We haven’t decided if it’ll be an already existing character, or maybe a character we haven’t introduced by that time. My predilection is to use a character that we have not introduced yet. That’s something we’ll be talking about most heatedly at our next creative meeting. The main thing about it is I have these plans for a new format for the book, something slightly unusual, but definitely different. It’s still in the thinking about it stages, though.

As for the character themsevles, we’ll take the best idea. Actually, we’ll mud-wrestle for it, and whoever gets it, gets the book. Really, what we’ll do is we’ll take the best concept, the first, best, fully developed concept. You could have a great concept, but need a year to flesh it out. Sometimes it takes a weekend.

The classic case of rolling out of bed and developing a concept was the invention of the Metal Men. There was a hole in Showcase. Whatever was scheduled didn’t show up, whatever. So they needed something desperately. So they turned to Robert Kanigher and said, “We wanna fill these issues of Showcase, can you do something?” This was a Friday. Bob says “Sure, no problem,” and comes in Monday with a full-blown treatment of the Metal Men! Completely new idea, never been done before, not based on anything... it may have been percolating in the back of his head for 120 years, but regardless, Monday, two days later.. .boom, there it was. And they said, “Hey, this is great, let’s do it!”

And they liked it so much they did four issues. Which for Showcase was a rarity, a run was usually three. That doesn’t make the Metal Men any better or worse than anything else we’ve done. I’ve worked on some concepts here, like the Impact universe, that we’ve worked on for YEARS before we were confident with it, before it was fully realized. And I’ve worked on stuff that was created in minutes. Jon Sable, Freelance was essentially created in an afternoon in my living room. Mike and I were talking, and I knew he had some sort of idea for something that was very unlike anything he’d ever done before. Previously he had only done fantasy.

Tom Lyle and Grant Miehm are plotting their own books...

Yeah, but having an artist as a plotter or co-plotter is not at all unique. Before he started dialoguing, Kirby plotted an awful lot of his stuff, and Steve Ditko actually got credit on some Spider-Man I think, and a lot of Dr. Strange. And of course people are doing it now. Grant and Tom are relative newcomers, they’ve only been in the business for a few years. And of course they’re talented, their work speaks for itself. And for them to plot their own stories is great, I wish they had the time to learn to dialogue their own stuff. But that’s a skill; they’d have to spend a few months or however long doing dialogue, and having it rewritten in some work with another writer before they got the hang of it. It’s like learning to drive a car. But they’re too busy; in Grant’s case pencilling and inking, with Tom pencilling, both plotting.

Who approached whom? Did they ask to plot, or vice versa?

No, they expressed an interest. Both those guys were brought into the project before the writers had been assigned to the books. Brian Augustyn was the editor of the Comet, and after talking to Tom, thought it might be real interesting for him to actually plot the book, and that pretty much the same case with Grant. Part of the fun in comics is helping people work in new directions. Helping them do stuff they’ve never done before. Cause you’re really creating magic here, and it’s not just the end result that’s magical, the process is magical too. Working with Mike Grell on his first major non-fantasy stuff is just as exciting as working with Grant or Tom on these titles.

And casting against type is always interesting, too. People were real surprised when I put Mike Baron on the new Flash. The Flash is a straightforward superhero, that’s not the type of character you immediately identify with Mike Baron. But the idea was to take this character who had been a kid, but was all of a sudden an adult. Being an adult was a new experience to him, being a superhero was something he’s been since forever. And then give him a little bit of money, and see what happens. He’s always been a superhero, but now all of a sudden he’s an adult, and he’s got all these responsibilities, but he’s still essentially a kid, what’s he gonna do? Well, probably try to get a lotta girls. Mike was a real good choice for that revival. And then I put Bill Lobes on the book. That was my last editorial act on that title. And the first thing he did was take the money away. Which is just what we discussed.

That’s the same philosophy that we’re doing on the Impact titles. The money thing was an interesting storyline for the first year. If you keep it going for much longer than that. . . then he Bruce Wayne. But we’ve got a Bruce Wayne. That’s why they did it to Ollie Queen back in the 60’s or 70’s. But here’s a kid- he’s been a kid, he’s been a superhero, he’s been rich, now he’s not ever rich anymore. And he’s got his mother on his ass-what does that do to him? That’s also why I wanted to get away from the sexual aspect, the way he was jumping into bed with every woman he sees. Because it was something he’d done, and in order to show a sense of maturity, you have to show that maturity in his relationships as well.

And now Mark Waid’s taking over the book, and that’s great. I don’t know where Marks’ taking the book, but I don’t wanna know. I’m not editing the book, it’s not in my editorial group, I can read the book as a fan and enjoy it. That’s one of the problems of working in comics: you’re doing this all the time, so can you still be a fan of the medium if that’s all you do for 40, 60, even 90 hours a week? Well, the answer is, you kind of have to be, it’s the only way you’ll work that hard. You try to isolate yourself... I didn’t want to read the Batman film script; I wanted to go in and see the film fresh. Luckily I’m a big fan of newspaper strips. So I can be completely engrossed in the comics medium all day, and still go home and read my Kitchen Sink Lil’ Abner and have a wonderful, and not have to worry at all about how it’s going to influence Hawkworld or something.

I can’t do that with reading golden Age comics. I have access to DC’s library! I can’t take them home or anything, but! can read them anytime I want. I have the stuff on Microfiche, all that. But that still has an impact on the stuff I do for a living. I’m consulting editor for the DC archives books, the greatest stories book, like that. So I look at an old issue of Batman, and I have to say to myself, “Gee, should I think about this story for the Greatest Batman Stories volume 2 next year?”

…I can see you’re just bleeding for me. (laughs) Fuck it, I’m a comics fan and they pay me to sit around and read comics all day. So every time I bitch and harangue, I have to sit back and think, “Waaiiit a minute, I could be working at IBM, I don’t need this...”

The one thing everybody’s been going on about is the idea of the nebulous connection between the DC and Impact universes. I already noticed one of the Web agents reading a Batman comic in Who’s Who...

Well, what does that say? Just that there are Batman comics, but there are Batman comics in the DC universe too. None of that commits us to anything, we’re teasing with stuff like that. Sure, I don’t want to cut ourselves off from doing crossovers with the DC universe.., or any other universe. We wanna do a Black Hood/Judge Dredd story? Fine. But with the DC universes, it is here, we are part of the same company... We’re very careful to leave an opening there, so that we could do a crossover if we wanted to. But if we do. . .well, in comics, everything happens eventually. Sooner or later, Lois Lane’s gonna meet Nancy. And come to think of it, it’ll probably happen in Zippy. (Bwah-Hah’s) There was a Zippy strip about a year ago where Zippy meant Prince Valiant, and that just blew me away. It was about what comic characters do in their off-hours. And Prince Valiant looked the same and talked the same, but he had a polo shirt on. But anyway, we do keep a sort of a window of opportunity there, to keep our options open. But it’ll be a big deal, it won’t just be like, “Oh, yeah, Superman’s showing up in Jaguar next month...” And I’m not even sure that we’d do the biggest characters, anyway. We might take the two least selling characters. We might take the Atom and Mr. Justice.

There are little things we have been conscious about planting, little hooks that we can later go back and grab. I don’t wanna say what they are, because that’ll take the fun out of it, but they are there. But for example, remember the Cosmic Treadmill from Flash? Wouldn’t it have been cool if it had been there all along, way before they used it? That’s what we’re doing.

The main argument people have about the idea that the Impact books take place in the DC universe proper is they daim, “Well, how come nobody’s ever heard of these people, and why doesn’t the Web work with S.T.A.R?

Yeah, but if you ascribe to that philosophy, then you have to have completely full-blown universes from square one, and never grow or add to it. The theory is “well, it wasn’t there before, so it CAN’T be there now.” Well, that really stagnates. Continuity is a good thing, it’s an important thing, but it’s not dogma. You can’t be completely trapped by continuity, otherwise you cannot grow, you cannot live. If we were completely trapped by continuity, you would not have Flash, you would not have Hawkman, you would not have the Justice League, because they contradict previous versions. I know there are a lot of people out there for whom it almost is a religion, and I don’t mean to demean their enjoyment of continuity, but if we can’t create new characters, you just can’t grow.

Everybody fixes things up. Marvel went and figured out a reason why Nick Fury was still alive in 1970, and that’s great, because the character’s so heavily wedded to WWII. But all of his friends and buddies from world war!! are gonna have to die-they’re all pushing 70. That’s fine, but someday soon, it’s gonna be real strange to hear that Reed Richards and Nick Fury hung out together in WWII. And soon, it may have already happened, that story will have not happened. Because it won’t make sense any more.

Rex Stout did a great job of that in the Nero Wolfe books. In the forty-odd years he wrote the stories, the characters aged by about seven or eight years. And if he’d thought he had more time to write the stories, they probably wouldn’t have aged that much. And once in a while Rex made a mistake. He’d get the name of the Doctor wrong. If somebody in comics made a mistake like that, we’d go out and do a twelve-part mini-series explaining the error, and I think that’s taking continuity too far. I think there’s a point where you say, “Nope, it’s a mistake. I’m sorry, but it’s not a bad mistake, let’s live with it.” Or maybe it’s an improvement, so all that other stuff didn’t happen, gee I’m sorry.

Continuity is a tough thing, a real tough thing. But the one thing people have to remember is that characters created in the forties were created with different values and different standards than we have in the 90’s. The characters created and re-created in the sixties might not work the same now.

Our whole attitude with the Soviet Union has changed completely. Almost all of Marvel’s characters were all based upon very strong anti-communist concerns. It was either anti-Communism or radiation. Well, we have a different attitude about radiation today, too. If they tried to do the origin of Spider-Man today, and they told a story about a kid that got bit by a radioactive spider, then the readers would expect that kid to die. They did a wonderful parody of that on The Simpsons, with “Radioactive Man,” that was a wonderful inside joke. “Gee, I thought he’d die! No he got Super powers! Cool!”

So anyway, in a lot of those characters, we have to downplay stuff, sometimes we have to ignore stuff. The anti-communist paranoia is something that readers today would have a hard time understanding. And we know too much about radiation now, too. Of course, you can always say that a guy came from another planet and now he has powers, and that works, because nobody knows where Krypton was and it’s blown up anyway, how can you say there weren’t people there?

About ten years ago! was having lunch with John Byrne and having this argument about continuity. And I made a dreadful error. I said that there are some plot holes that people are incapable of ignoring. If someone at marvel notices a plot hole, they go do a story about it. And John said, give me an example. I said “I FF #2, there’s three Skrulls that were hypnotized into thinking they were cows...what happened to them?” And he said he’d work on it.

1 comment:

  1. I remember being excited over the Impact Comics line because it meant new stories of The Fly. The excitement lasted all of two issues when I finally bit the bullet and admitted that (at least from my perspective) the character was being badly written.

    Now that I'm thoroughly enjoying LIFE WITH ARCHIE, I'm hoping that this new incarnation of the superheroes shares in the quality (any chance of Pureheart the Powerful being revived?).