The Past Is Never Dead…

“…it’s not even past.” —William Faulkner, Requiem For A Nun

Yesterday evening, I had an interesting Twitter back-and-forth with Patrick Zircher about the perils (and potential pleasures) of revisiting the past for stories. Which led me to a couple of thoughts:

When I was a beginning writer pitching fill-ins, Len Wein gave me some good advice. He said that as a beginning writer, I wasn’t going to be allowed to mess with the status quo, and I also wasn’t likely going to be privy to whatever was upcoming. So in writing a fill-in, it was a good idea to get the lead character away from his/her usual supporting cast and status quo. Swamp Thing could wander away from his friends, encounter someone, have a story and then his pals catch up, for instance. And bam, there’s an issue—if it’s an interesting story, it’ll satisfy readers, even though you haven’t moved the main story forward. And that’s one way to do it—separating the lead from the current status quo in space, in distance.

But time is a way to separate the character from his/her usual status quo, too. For instance, a Spider-Man story could start with Spidey weary and beleaguered from all he’s currently going through. He sees a spot—an abandoned restaurant? A particular set of waterfront docks?—that makes him think back to earlier days, when things were simpler. And we flash back to a story of those earlier days, as he remembers them, telling us the story of what happened on that spot. We get to see everyone younger, more innocent, but we also see that Spidey’s dilemmas were just as tough back then, his life just as beleaguered. He comes out of the flashback reinvigorated, thinking about how he always found a way then, and he’ll find a way now. Whether that would be a good story or not depends on what story you tell in that look back, but the principle of the past as a means of stepping away from the present for a clean separate story is a workable one.

Or let’s say you’re writing FANTASTIC FOUR and you want to lead up to a Dr. Doom story. You could start it in Reed and Ben’s college days, and see Ben as a BMOC, Reed as a brilliant hopeful, Doom as the potential friend who is too arrogant to unbend. And aside from whatever plot stuff you might want to plant, when you move to the present the reader will have experienced stuff that will give them a more immediate perspective of the Doom/Reed relationship, on Ben’s tragic loss of humanity, etc. See him as a rugged college chick magnet, and it makes his monstrous form all that much more of a burden, because we see the life he lost. By stepping into the past, you can make it come to life for new (and older) readers who never saw this stuff—or only saw it as summary. It’s a chance to show, to dramatize, things that for most readers have only been told.

An entire series of stories set in the past can give readers a portrait of change and growth over the years, something that didn’t get focused on when it was happening, because the concern was always “now.”

There are many ways to step aside from the norm for a different way to look at the series or the leads, and invoking the past is only one of them. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful, in various ways. The story of Clark Kent’s first day on the job, from Perry White’s point of view, may tell us a lot about Perry in a way that makes an interesting story. Even if we’ve already seen those events from Clark’s POV. Or Lois’s.

It’s like writing war fiction that revisits D-Day. The history may be established, but there are many stories to be told, seeing it from different angles. The story of Hiroshima is a different story if you follow the pilots of the Enola Gay or the scientists who invented the bomb hearing the news. Or people on the ground. Revisiting those events can support many new stories.

The fictional history of a comic book character may not be as stirring as D-Day or Hiroshima, but the principle is there. The human struggle can be experienced in many different ways.

A revisiting of past events can also modernize them. What may have been stilted or corny before can be made fresh to new audiences, or gain nuance and meaning from additional detail or new angles. For instance, it just strikes me now that I don’t think we ever met any of football hero Ben Grimm’s college girlfriends (Note: Turns out we did, back in an issue of THE THING), but surely there must have been some. What could you get out of meeting one of them, then seeing how her life has changed in contrast with how his has? Would that give us a new look at the man within the rocks?

“What happens next?” is the question that usually drives adventure comics. But it isn’t the only question to ask that gets you to a good story. Heck, in my career, most of my biggest successes have happened when I was asking a different question (often “What else happened?” or “And how did that feel, huh?”).

Through the Mail Slot

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Hey, folks. I’ve been under the weather for much of the last six months, and trying vainly to keep up with deadlines, so there hasn’t been much time/energy left over to blog. But I’ve built up a bunch of e-mails to answer, so let me take advantage of a quiet Sunday afternoon to deal with some of them.
Starting off, from JAMES:

Since you ended up revealing that Kang may never become Immortus in AVENGERS FOREVER, do you have any personal theories about the true identity of each character might be?
Did you intend to leave things open to the possibility that Tony Stark would become Kang? There’s certainly a precedent as outlined in my theory on Kang’s origin here:
…Kang’s origin?
Or Vance Astro being Rama-Tut given both were living in the same time period of 3,000 and both retained docu-chips of the Heroic Age?
I’m not sure if you’ve written any clues since due to having lost my sight in the interim:( but would love to know your thoughts:)
To be honest, James, I didn’t think there was any mystery as to who Kang really is—even when Stan was floating the idea that Kang and Dr. Doom could be the same person, it didn’t make much sense. Kang, at least as I write him, is just what we saw when his history was first explained: A guy living in a future so well-run that there’s no adventure any more, so he creates a time machine and goes off in search of it, becoming the greatest conqueror the universe has ever known.
His motivation is dead simple: He was bored, and he wanted a challenge, wanted to forge a grand legend. So he did.
That’s all I need to know. I don’t much care who his 20th (or, now, 21st) century forebears are—particularly because over a thousand years, family trees branch out so much that he could be descended from von Doom, Richards, Stark and a dozen other figures. Or none of them. It doesn’t seem to affect, to my mind, who he is or why he does what he does, so I was always more concerned with what he’d do next more than where he came from.
As for what happened in AVENGERS FOREVER, that wasn’t meant as a revelation that there are unknown secrets to Kang’s or Immortus’s origins—merely that Kang, by sheer force of will (and with the ambient aid of the Forever Crystal, no doubt), wrenched himself away from his destiny, forging a new track. Immortus was still Kang, but via a different time-branch than this Kang is now following. They have the same pasts they always did; they just now have divergent futures.
But of course, it’s up to Marvel to say what’s so and what ain’t—this is simply how I viewed it at the time.
From RICK:

Since you were a friend of McDuffie’s and the Milestone crew, I just wanted to ask, what’s DC going to do with Static?
This character and his book already had problems before it was even published:
Diversity in the DCU
Rozum leaving has added even more problems (also, there’s some good discussions in that thread that apply to why an excellent book like XOMBI failed).
I’m not sure Robert L. Washington III is a big enough name to keep the book from sinking. I’m a fan of RLW, but can’t you push for Geoff Johns or Morrison to write it? Maybe you could suggest that to DC?
DC usually has a habit of killing characters off (especially in big events) when their solo series crash and burn. And if Static manages to escape that sort of fate, it’s still more than likely the character will never receive another book again if this one tanks this badly.
Sorry, Rick, but being a friend of Dwayne’s doesn’t give me any inside information of DC’s plans, or any influence over them. I have no idea what their plans for STATIC are, nor can I push them to put the already-hugely-busy Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison onto the book. If Geoff or Grant wanted to write it and had the time, they’d probably have been writing it right from the start, and if they don’t, me suggesting it isn’t going to make them change their minds or open up their schedule.
Were I editing the book, I’d probably have given it to Bob Washington, because he co-created the series and is a good writer with a great sensibility for that sort of story. But I’m not, and that doesn’t mean that whoever they tapped to replace John—Marc Bernardin, I believe—won’t do a good job. And Scott McDaniel’s a terrific artist who brings a ton of energy to whatever he does. I worked with him on TRINITY and loved it.
So at this point, I’d just see what comes.
AstroNewCover.jpg
From PERRY:

Kurt, I’m desperate for some good news about the return of ASTRO CITY. I keep checking your site periodically (no pun intended), but of course you haven’t posted there since April. I know you got caught in the demise of Wildstorm, and then probably further delayed because of all the attention focused on the big relaunch this month–but please tell me that DC isn’t stupid enough to let it languish indefinitely!
What would really make my day is if you told me you and Brent have worked so far ahead during this interregnum that A.C. will publish weekly for a while when it finally does come out. But I know I shouldn’t be greedy… 😉
Am also wondering about that “American Gothic” kind of book you announced…any plans for that to see the light of day, or is it a dead letter now?
Taking it in order:
No, ASTRO CITY’s not going to languish indefinitely, and yes, Brent and I have been plugging away at it, piling up pages to make sure we can have the book run monthly when it does come back. And yes AMERICAN GOTHIC (now called THE WITCHLANDS) is still in the works. It’s just all taken a lot longer than we originally expected.
Part of it was the demise of Wildstorm and the reorganization and relaunch of DC, yes, but part of it happened even earlier, during the business reorganization that happened when Paul Levitz left the company and DC went for a long stretch without a publisher. During that time, we made big plans to relaunch ASTRO CITY as a monthly and to launch AMERICAN GOTHIC alongside it, so I’d have two monthly books standing side-by-side at Wildstorm, and that’d be the core of my writing career for the foreseeable future. But the business details of all that took forever to work out, because it was happening while DC was working out bigger and more complex business issues themselves. Just the sort of thing that happens, from time to time.
Trouble was, while I was waiting for all this stuff to work out, I still needed to stay busy, so I wound up reviving BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT, which had been put on the back burner a few years earlier, and agreeing to do KIRBY: GENESIS with Alex Ross at Dynamite.
And once I was committed to those, naturally, the business deals all worked out and presto!, I suddenly had twice as much work as I could comfortably handle.
And on top of that, I got sick—a resurgence of the detox-related fatigue problems that stem from my bout with mercury poisoning, and the assorted side effects that come with it.
So I spent months trying to meet too many deadlines, and if I was fully healthy, I might have managed it, but since I wasn’t, things just went really slow.
And finally, we decided this just wasn’t working, and reorganized things a little.
We put THE WITCHLANDS on the back burner for now—it would have been nice to have it debut the same month as ASTRO CITY, but I just can’t feet four sets of deadlines at once, not right now. Used to be I could, but I was younger and healthier, and these are more challenging books.
And I’ve got enough done on CREATURE OF THE NIGHT that Jean Paul Leon can keep drawing for a while without me needing to turn in the next script.
So right now, I’m working on ASTRO CITY and KIRBY: GENESIS, and that’s going to be my main workload until K:G is finished. Once that’s done, I’ll finish off CREATURE OF THE NIGHT. And once that‘s done, we’ll get THE WITCHLANDS up and rolling again, so I’m only trying to meet two sets of deadlines at any one time.
We’re far enough ahead on ASTRO CITY at this point that we should be able to make an announcement in the not-too-distant future about when it’ll be back (but the word “weekly” won’t be in it, I can tell you that!), and the rest will come along as time and schedules permit. I hope that counts as good news—and I’ll stick in one of Alex’s gorgeous upcoming covers to sweeten the pot!
This is getting a little long, so click on the link below, for more…

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Through the Mail Slot

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I had a wonderful time at the Mid-Ohio Comic Con this past weekend, hanging out with friends, chatting with fans, and signing what I conservatively estimate as nine tons of Avengers, Astro City, JLA/Avengers, Superman, Trinity and other such comics. And I’m not sure I’ve ever signed that many hardcovers in one place. I hadn’t been to Mid-Ohio in close to ten years, and I think some of you were saving up…
[I also bought comics…or, uh, comic. Having recently read G-Man: Cape Crisis by Chris Giarrusso, I bought a copy of the first volume, G-Man: Learning to Fly, from him, and enjoyed it just as much as I did the second one. A delightful all-ages book, check it out.]
But after three days (counting travel) of very little sleep, hotel bed, jet lag, cramped airplane seats, tight connections and a memorably-vile Cheez Whiz omelette (no, I’m not kidding. Why, Hampton Inn & Suites, why?!), I am stiff, sore, exhausted and broken today.
So what am I gonna do? Answer blog mail, that’s what I’m gonna do!
From KERRY:

I know you are a busy man and get requests like this daily, but your talent is worth the try. I was wondering if you have any writing tips or time to read some of a novel I am working on. I admire your talent and have met you at several comic shows across the USA. Each time you have been more than gracious to sign books and spend time with me.
If you don’t have the time I completely understand.
Alas, Kerry, I don’t have the time. Plus, even if I did, I don’t read unsold fiction for legal reasons. On top of that, I don’t much enjoy doing critiques, and don’t think I’m terribly good at it, so it’s not something I want to spend my time on—and then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m just some guy. I can’t sell your novel for you, or even introduce you to editors. You’re far better off showing your work to people who can actually buy it. If nothing else, when they say, “I liked this bit,” or “I think you should change that bit,” they’re saying it as the representative of a publisher, while I might be telling you to change exactly the bits that an editor might fall in love with and offer you a contract over.
That said, my best advice on writing and breaking in can be found at:
On Writing for Comics
Breaking In Without Rules
These may not be terribly useful to you, since they’re more about comics than anything else. But, well, that’s the only field I’ve done enough professional writing in to be considered any sort of authority.
Good luck with it!
From ERIC:

I want to create the awareness of comic in Ghana and some part of Africa. We can strike a deal on that.
No, sorry, I don’t think we can.
But it’s all right with me. I’m sure Ghana and parts of Africa could use more awareness of comics.
From ALBERT:

I just wanted to say that I have been a big fan of yours since I first discovered Astro City #1 back in 1995. To date, you are probably the only writer I look for specifically at the comic book stores. Thank you for all of the great writing. I just picked up your new Dracula series and I can’t wait to read it this weekend.
Hope you liked it!
From ELI:

I bought Robert Mayer’s Superfolks on your recommendation a few years ago and I just got around to reading it now. Thanks so much. I’ve already read most of the books that came after it, so reading the inspiration was fascinating. Some of the jokes fell flat, but the story still stands up. I was surprised when I found out how they were sapping Brinkley’s powers, didn’t see it coming. I also thought the descriptions of his feeling towards Pamela and Peggy were excellent.
Thanks very much.
Very glad to hear you enjoyed it, sir. It’s a terrific book.
From NIKKO:

I’m working on a complete Astro City collection for my own personal satisfaction and I was wondering if you could tell me if I’m missing anything. So far I’ve got every issue, including the 3-D variant of “Welcome to Astro City,” the 1/2 issue that came with a Wizard magazine, and the Visitor’s Guide. Just recently I picked up the Samaritan and Confessor “action” figures and I have most of the trades (and I know which of those I don’t have). Is there anything else? Some special variant I’m not aware of? Some promotional issue or rare figurine/t-shirt/beer koozie? I’d appreciate any help you could give me. Thanks!
Now I’m racking my brains, on a day when my brains don’t want to rack very well…
There was a variant cover to vol. 2 #1, and of course the Wildstorm edition of the Wizard #1/2 issue. And there were some promo posters here and there. Graphitti Designs did three (I think it was three) different T-shirts, and at least one refrigerator magnet set. And someone did a print of one of Alex’s covers—I want to say it was of vol. 1 #2, but considering the day, I wouldn’t want to trust me on that.
If I’m missing anything, someone let me know, either here or over on the message board, okay?
From JOHN:

I have a very serious question to ask you as a longtime comics fan. This is concerning a story you wrote circa 1986: The Legend of Wonder Woman issues 1-4 for DC comics.
My question is: Did you intend this story to be a tribute of sorts to the silver age (Earth-1) Wonder Woman, even though the art by Trina Robbins clearly has it as a Golden Age style, given the events of Crisis 12, where Diana (Earth-1) had been devolved and her history was reversed as well?
The reason i ask this is because I’m trying to support my claim that although the artwork is in the Golden Age style by Robbins, the story itself focused on the recently devolved Earth-1 Diana by the Anti-Monitor in Crisis, and as a result affected the surviving Earth-1 Amazons and Hippolyta her mother, who by the end of the story were turned into stars by Aphrodite, since she wanted to be spared the pain of forgetting she ever had a daughter (since the Earth-2 Diana had already been given her reward of being allowed to live the rest of her life alongside her husband, the Earth-2 Steve Trevor, on Mt. Olympus, by the Greek Gods, as seen in Crisis 12).
I’m not sure how much of that I can straighten out, but:
The Legend of Wonder Woman series has a framing sequence set during the final events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that part, at least, was definitely supposed to be about the Earth-One Wonder Woman. The reason she appears on the splash of LoWW #1 as a statue, after being turned into formless clay in Crisis was editorial miscommunication—we’d been told she’d been turned into a clay statue, and started our story before that final Crisis issue was drawn.
The flashback story we told about Wonder Woman and bratty young Suzie, on an adventure involving Atomia of the Atom Galaxy and Solala and Leila from the Land of Mirrors—I have to say, I can’t remember at this point. The comics are somewhere in the basement, and it’d take forever to dig them up and check.
The real purpose of the Legend of Wonder Woman mini-series, though, was a legal one. Back then, DC’s deal with the Marston Estate was that if DC didn’t publish at least four issues of a series headlining Wonder Woman a year (and by “headlining,” that meant as the lead character, not in a team book), the rights would revert. When it became clear that the post-Crisis Wonder Woman revival wasn’t going to be ready to launch as quickly as DC would like, they needed to publish something headlining Wonder Woman to maintain the rights, and tapped Trina and me to do it.
The adventure we told was an artistic tribute to the post-WWII era of Wonder Woman, which was the era Trina had grown up on, and wanted to use as a strong influence. Atomia debuted in 1947, and Solala and Leila in 1948. Could the Silver Age Wonder Woman have met them? Sure, why not? It’s not as if Batman and Superman’s villains weren’t often duplicated in both Earth-One and Earth-Two. And Bob Kanigher did do a rehash of the Atomia story in the 1970s, but I don’t recall at this point which Wonder Woman that was supposed to have happened to.
Sorry if that’s not the answer you were looking for. But I really like that approach to Wonder Woman’s world—a world of fantasy kingdoms and fairy-tale concepts, of exotic, fanciful wonder, in contrast to the (somewhat, at least) harder-edged and pulpy crime/SF worlds of most of the male heroes. I’d love to see a modern-day take on that kind of thing.
I will note that we had to give Wonder Woman the double-W insignia instead of the classic eagle insignia, even though the story was set before she adopted that symbol, because, well, DC told us we had to. So we did.
From JACK:

I am a freshman English major at Kent State in Ohio. First off, I am a big fan of your work, specifically your work on Marvels, and your run on Avengers. I’m sure you get letters like this all the time so I’ll try and be brief. I want to be a writer. Specifically, I want to write comic books. I understand the career field for comic writers is highly competitive, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I was wondering if you had any tips/suggestions a budding writer like myself could use. I’m fairly clueless as how to break into the field. Thank you for your time, and your advice.
My best advice is at the links in the response to Kerry, above.
Plus, I’d recommend a few books: Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels with Peter David by, uh, Peter David, Alan Moore’s Writing For Comics Volume 1, by, um, Alan Moore, and The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Denny O’Neil. I haven’t read the David or O’Neil books, and I think I read the Moore as a two-part article in The Comics Journal years ago, but all three gentlemen know their stuff.
And then there’s Scott McCloud’s books, Understanding Comics, Making Comics and Reinventing Comics, which are all worth a read.
From my old friend LOU MOUGIN:

Kurt: Enjoyed the “Comics as a Mass Medium” article. You brought out some interesting bits there with the need for “lowbrow” or “middlebrow” culture to carry the medium…like Nik Cohn said, the Art Movie may be the upper-crust stuff, but it takes Hollywood to create the myth.
One thing that seems to get ignored in this is the importance of crossovers with entertainment that kids (or even adults) follow faithfully. Sure, the author of Kavalier and Klay is right in that not enough step-on titles for kids are being produced, and not distributed where kids can get them. But one thing he’s missing is this: when I was a kid, long before VCRs or DVDs or Blu-Rays were out of the realm of Buck Rogersish stuff, if I wanted to see Huckleberry Hound, I had to wait a whole week for the cartoon to come on again. But if I wanted to read Huckleberry Hound, I could take out a Dell comic featuring him and his supporting cast and read it anytime I liked. Those Dell tie-in titles got a lot of us hooked on comics.
Similarly, if you went to a movie back then, you saw it one time (maybe twice, if you were lucky, addicted, and had enough spending cash). But if it was adapted into a comic, and lots of them were, you could revisit Son of Flubber or Mary Poppins any time you opened up the comic.
This got me hooked on comics, and provided a first step, from which I eventually graduated to DC, then to Marvel. Without them, I wouldn’t have become a dyed-in-the-whatever comic book nut.
Don’t know if this hasn’t been considered, but it should have been.
Makes sense, Lou, though that’s another thing we’ve seen change over time. Nowadays, if you want to see, say, Hannah Montana, and it’s not on right now, there are those VCRs and DVDs and such. So spin-off comics have competition they didn’t used to, often from the original material.
But that doesn’t stop comics publishers from publishing The Muppet Show and Transformers and G.I. Joe and assorted other titles, which offer the reader more of what they like from TV and the movies. And in the time since I wrote that essay, we’ve seen more non-superhero titles that are still strong genre titles—one of which, The Walking Dead, is making a splash on TV, too.
Is that the answer? Well, no, there’s no one answer. But it’s a piece, I’d say.
From LARRY:

Just wondering if and when you’ll be returning to the DCU and, if so, what project(s)? I liked Trinity (although I was disappointed that Space Ranger wasn’t, in fact, Space Ranger) and most of what you’d done before that in the DCU. And seeing which writers are returning to the DCU now and in the near future, I was hoping to see your name on credits too. Thanks and I hope you are feeling well.
The only DC character I’m currently working on, Larry, is Batman, sort of, in the Batman: Creature of the Night project I’m doing with John Paul Leon. And that’s a follow-up to Superman: Secret Identity, and isn’t the Batman of the DCU.
After doing JLA/Avengers and Trinity (and before that, Avengers, Avengers Forever and others), I seem to have gotten the big universes “out of my system,” at least for now, and am happier working on books of my own creation, like Astro City and The Witchlands, or books where I get to define the world even if I’m working with existing concepts, as with Creature of the Night and Kirby: Genesis. I assume that after I do that for a while, I’ll start to feel the itch to play in the big sandboxes again, and will want to write the Fantastic Four or the Legion or some in-continuity series again, but for now, I’m content where I am, and am coming up with more ideas for standalone projects than for DC or Marvel’s storied casts of heroes.
So I’d guess I’ll be back someday, but no immediate plans, at least.
From CHRIS:

I’m sure I could have just asked this on a message board, but I figured I would try email first because I’m lazy and it’s quicker than setting up a forum account.
I recently read for the first time Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe. For years, all I read and knew of that ‘team’ was the original 12-issue maxi series, and the Avengers issues you wrote featuring them. After finally reading Gruenwald’s epic finale, I gained new appreciation for your issues featuring the team, and re-read issues 5-6 and the ’98 Annual. And with that new appreciation came some questions (and quite honestly, I’m sure you’ve been asked these same questions multiple times before).
Now I have still haven’t read the Quasar/Squadron Supreme stuff, so my questions may be answered there, but here goes.
1) Why keep ‘Arcanna’ in the Moonglow identity and costume?
2) Was there an explanation for why Dr Spectrum got his ‘color’ back, or did you and George just prefer is original look?
3) I noticed for the first time that Len Kaminski co-wrote the ’98 Annual, did you originally plan to co-write the New World Order special together as well?
4) Slightly off topic, but I love the Swordsman character, the original and the confusing parallel doppelganger, did you have any plans for him and Magdalene after the Annual?
5) And one last incredibly stupid question to ask a writer, but I haven’t read Avengers Infinity in years, and I have no idea where my copies are, but I remember Haywire was in it and he ends up with a new lover…..Who does he end up with?
Sorry to bug you, I just got the urge to ask you these questions as soon as I finished reading.
Thanks for all your incredibly entertaining work, and keep it up.
I’ll do my best, Chris.
I’ll note that no, I haven’t been asked most of those questions before, but since you ask:
1) Largely, I think, because Mark Gruenwald did. A number of the things he did with the Squadron were done specifically to make them less like the JLA, since while there was never a problem with the Squadron being used as parody, but if someone did straight adventure stories with them, DC tended to complain that such a use was too close to the JLA and thus unprotected by parody laws. So Mark took steps to make the characters distinct and different, shaking up their world, killing some heroes, changing others, bringing in new members who weren’t obvious parallels of JLA members, and so on.
One of those many changes was giving Arcanna Jones the Moonglow identity. I didn’t see any reason to go back to the Arcanna identity, so I stuck with what Mark had done.
2) Keeping in mind that I’m doing this from memory, I’m pretty sure there was an explanation, but that Mark wrote it. Had Doc Spectrum been still in that black-and-white form when we’d picked him up, I think we’d have used him that way.
3) No, Len helped me out on the annual for schedule reasons, but the New World Order one-shot was his from start to finish.
4) I didn’t have any specific plans for Magdalene or the Swordsman, no. I was just getting them off-stage in a dynamic way. As I recall, at the time they were living in a house that Tony Stark owned, somewhere in the NYC area, so it seemed to me that if there were crises in Manhattan involving the Avengers, they’d be likely to come running to help out. And I didn’t want that—I had a plenty big cast even without them. But I didn’t want to kill them off or anything, so rather than leave them, essentially, “parked” in an uninteresting situation, it would be better to send them off on a journey. That way, any time a writer wanted to use them, he could pick them up wherever he liked—they could still be searching for a home, they could have found one but now need the Avengers’ help to protect it, they could have fallen into the clutches of enemies…having them off on a journey opens up possibilities, while having them hanging around as Tony Stark’s houseguests just didn’t seem interesting.
As such, all I was doing was getting them off my stage…but in a way that would make it possible for me (or someone else) to do something exciting with them later. And if they never return, well, we can assume they found a happy situation somewhere, instead of just sitting around twiddling their thumbs.
5) I don’t think Haywire was even in Avengers: Infinity, was he?
He was another of the characters Mark had brought into the Squadron to differentiate them from the JLA, and Len Kaminski had planned to kill him off in the opening pages of New World Order, largely because Len was trying to shift the Squadron back to something more resembling the classic JLA, albeit in an altered-enough setting to avoid DC’s ire. I thought Haywire was worth saving, so I had him stay behind rather than go off and get killed, and sent him off on another “get him off-stage but dynamically” thing.
As I recall, he cropped back up in Avengers: Celestial Quest, where Steve Englehart continued his story. I think he was involved with Silverclaw, but ultimately was still obsessed with bringing back his old girlfriend Inertia, an obsession that led to his death (or transformation; you never know when you’re dealing with cosmic beings). If it was his death, though, at least it stemmed from his own character motivations, and not just out of team membership bookkeeping.
And finally, from MIKE:

Keep checking dccomics.com to see if a new issue of Astro City has been posted… and keep being bummed. Anytime soon? I miss AC.
Right now, in the wake of all that’s happened with DC’s reorganization and the closure of Wildstorm, we’re just working away at future issues, Mike. When we’ve got enough in the can, both of Astro City and The Witchlands, we’ll launch both books on a monthly basis.
Hopefully, that won’t take too long, but in the meantime, just hold tight. We’ll be back—and while I can’t speak for that no-account scripter, I can tell you that Brent and Alex are doing gorgeous work.

Through the Mail Slot

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A little blog mail’s stacked up, so I should deal with it, starting with this picture (and note) from Isidore…
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Hello, sir. I’m a fan of Superman and a digital artist…I just wanted you to thank you for Superman: Secret identity. The story that you wrote is certainly the best Superman story ever told.
You were so inspiring to me that i made a picture out of your writing. This one is dedicated to you, sir.
Thank you so much!
And thank you, Isidore, for the very kind words, gorgeous illustration! Anyone who wants to see it full size can check it out at Isidore’s DeviantArt page, along with the other cool art he’s got there. Nice stuff!
And now, from Peter…

I’ve been a big fan of yours since the mid-90’s, and I’m always looking forward to reviewing your stuff. (I write comic-book reviews for Spanish sites and magazines.)
I’ve liked Astro City: The Dark Age (though to be honest, I much preferred the brilliant in-between specials, and I’m really looking forward to more done-in-one stories) but there’s one thing that is driving me crazy: The redacted original proposal in the back of the last issue.
I am a big fan of BTS stuff like that, and it was a nifty extra. Still, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now, and although I think I got most of the Marvel references, there’s some I can’t make out. Mostly in issue 4, I’ve not been able to guess what are you talking about in the first paragraph, who “the new *******” or which big story is happening alongside the climax.
Any chance you can give us a hint about it? Or about the other redacted names? (I get #1 is all about the Punisher, #2 is about the gang war in Miller’s DD and #3 is the Dark Phoenix saga, though I’m missing some of the details.)
In any case, thanks for the cool stuff, and keep it up.
Sorry, Peter, but if we were going to tell you what was behind those black markings, we wouldn’t have blacked them out in the first place. I will say that we diverged so far from the original plans by then that there really isn’t much left underneath—the first three books are very different from what they’d be if I’d done the story at Marvel, but the fourth one is even moreso.
I apologize if it kept you from sleeping. That wasn’t our intent!
Next, we’ve gone from Secret Identity to Astro City, and now, Matt’s got some comments on Power Company

Just a note to say that I finally got to read Power Company. I wasn’t sure what to think of it when I first saw it. I was afraid it would be like many books put out by the big two where they seem like they want to try something new but end up being very gimmicky.
It reminds of some of the group books I liked back when… similar to early JSA, and independents like Sentinels, Crusaders and DNAgents when I was growing up. It has what I love; character development, action and actual thought behind what makes the superheroes super in their powers as well as psyche. It involved it’s own mythos, yet interacted with the DCU. If you can take this the right way, it’s almost good to have it be a shorter run, like a tasty morsel. But I hope to see more of the characters if possible So, thanks for doing it!
Very glad you liked it, sir.
Here’s a note I’ll leave anonymous…

Hi. I have recently finished reading all the Astro City comics. I never read them all until now. I am sorry that I waited this long to do so. I love your stories, and characters. Please continue this great work. I like the storyline of Royal and Charles Williams. That’s my favorite.
I have been working on a project of my own. It is a superhero story. I don’t want to tell more because the story means a lot to me. I would like to know if someday I could pitch the idea to you. I know for a fact that you would appreciate the story. I would like to know what would be requirements to pitch the idea and who to contact. I wanted to talk to you first because of the stories you write. Any help would be appreciated.
I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks for your time.
I’m thrilled you liked Astro City so much. But alas, I’m not the right guy to pitch stories to.
I’m a writer. I don’t buy stories from other people. I sell them. So in the first place, I’m not the guy to pitch stories to because I can’t do anything with them. I have tons of my own story ideas, and those are the stories I want to write. The person who should write yours is you. And the people to pitch stories to are editors and publishers, people who can actually hire you to write the stories you want to tell, and publish them once you have. They’re who I pitch stories to, and they’re who any writer needs to pitch stories to.
In the second place, I’m not the guy to pitch stories to because, like many other writers, I avoid reading or hearing unsold stories for legal reasons. As I said, I’ve got lots of my own ideas, and I don’t want to run the risk of having someone think I swiped their idea. If I’ve had a story idea in my files for twenty years, and someone pitches me a story that’s sorta like it, what do I do? Do I scrap my story idea for fear someone will think I stole it from them? I don’t want to have to do that, so it’s safer all around to just avoid reading unsold stories.
Sorry not to be more accommodating, but I hope you have very good luck in developing your story into something you can write yourself—and sell to a publisher.
And to wrap up, from Pat…

So, Kurt, when’re you gonna give us some more Dreambound? It was such a bizarre little group that I loved it. Plus, I really want to know how Swashbuckler got the slash on his neck? And how in the heck a dead guy dreaming can be resurrected?
C’mon, Kurt…pleeeeeassssse!
P.S. Some Tomorrow Woman would be good, too.
I did work up a Dreambound mini-series, in the wake of Trinity, Pat, but it was—as you might expect—a very odd project. It was far more a fantasy series about these super-powered oddballs who were trying to find a way to make their dreams come true, and not really very superhero-y at all. As such, the artist I wanted to draw it wasn’t interested, because there wasn’t enough action, and I wasn’t that interested in doing it without him. Plus, while I think something like that might have worked at Vertigo, I suspect at DC proper it would have had disappointing sales.
I tried coming up with other ways to make it work—at one point working up a whole intertwined set of mini-series featuring the Dreambound, Tomorrow Woman, Konvikt, Vartox, Intergang, the Odd Man, Live Wire, Commander Steel and more, and at another turned it into a freakish superhero series called The Odd Men—but while it turned into a superhero project that could have been really fun, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do with the Dreambound, which was that quirky little fantasy series about making your hopes and dreams come true. Plus, it never really gelled into something that I thought would last long enough to tell the story I wanted to tell.
So I think I’ve probably let those characters go, and if anyone else at DC wants to pick them up, it’s fine with me. A bunch of the ideas I came up with, I still want to use somewhere, so I’m folding them into Astro City, in various ways—when you see the Dream House, that’ll be a big clue—and I think the only one I’ll really regret not being able to do is Primat’s packed-house pop concert at the Hollywood Bowl. But now that I think of it, maybe there’s another way I could get at the ideas in that, too…
As for Swashbuckler, all I’ll say is that he was buried near San Francisco, and he has that scar on his neck because he “died” by being beheaded. That ought to be enough to figure out who he was. Or was intended to be, at least. You never know, with comics.

The Online Experience

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On Tuesday, June 8th, I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m taking part in an online book club. Specificaly, we’ll be discussing Arrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms, the mini-series (and collected graphic novel) I did with Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Alex Sinclair and the fine folks at Comicraft.

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The book club is run by Andy Schmidt, for years a Marvel editor, currently a Senior Editor at IDW Publishing, and the author of The Insider’s Guide To Creating Comics And Graphic Novels. The Book Club is part of Andy’s Comics Experience enterprise, which is focused on teaching the craft of comic book writing and the art of breaking in to the business, so I would imagine the book club isn’t just a straight reader-oriented discussion, but will be focused, at least in part, on craft and presentation and will probably veer off to discuss other things I’ve done. But I can’t say for sure—I’ll be finding out myself on June 8.
For more information on Comics Experience, on Andy or on the book club itself, click the hyperlinks.
Fair warning: Comics Experience is a business, and the book club isn’t free. But I figured I should mention it, because some of you might be interested, and hey, I’ve already had to dig up two sets of headphones (and rescue one from my daughter, who absconded with it to use with the iPod as soon as I’d gotten it working) to make sure I can properly participate in the discussion.
I’m looking forward to it. For anyone who’ll be attending—see you there!