If you’ve not checked out any of CBR’s recent chats with comic creators, you’re really missing out. Last week writer Steve Englehart stopped by and answered questions from his fans. This lengthy chat covers his work at Marvel, DC Comics and with Malibu’s Ultraverse titles. Sit back and enjoy.
By the way, our next scheduled chat is this Thursday, October 13th at 6:00 PM Pacific with Bob Layton.
skinnymikec: Hey Steve, what are your upcoming projects?
Steve Englehart: Upcoming projects – I did a “JLA: Classified,” and am now doing a “JSA: Classified” that ties into it.
Cayman: Can you hint which JSA characters are featured?
Steve Englehart: JLA/JSA – well, the JLA run, four parts, features the worst JLA members ever: Steel, Vixen, Gypsy, and Vibe. I wanted to give them some sort of epic. Then the JSA run, three issues, picks up in current time, with Vixen and Gypsy involved with Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat, and Stargirl.
Jellobay: Any chance Night Man or the Strangers might make a comeback?
Steve Englehart: I don’t think there’s much chance of Ultraverse stuff coming back.
Steve Englehart: I had a long talk with Marvel recently and they gave me no hope in that direction.
Jellobay: Too bad. There would be a market for it.
Steve Englehart: I agree there’d be a market for the Ultraverse, but Marvel says no.
Brian Cronin: Is it a sales thing, or a rights thing, Steve? Or an “I can’t talk about it” thing?
Steve Englehart: It’s some sort of contract thing, as best as I can tell. I was skeptical of that for a long time, but I keep hearing it.
Steve Englehart: Something evidently in the agreement between Marvel and Malibu, though I can’t even imagine what it could be. In the end, the contract explanation could just be hot air. All I know is, they don’t want to go there.
Messchird: What was your first gig, Steve?
Steve Englehart: I did a 6-page monster story for Marvel, “Terror of the Pterodactyl.” They liked it and offered me the Beast, so that was my first superhero thing
Brandon Hanvey: Steve did you start out self-publishing?
Brandon Hanvey: Have you ever wanted to do creator owned work?
Steve Englehart: I did not start out self-publishing. I started out trying to be an artist. but I’m self-publishing now with the “Coyote” and “Scorpio Rose” TPBs from Image, and I hope that leads to new material with them.
Brian Cronin: It must be nice, at least, to see the current market shape up in the acceptance of companies wanting to publish good, creator-owned work like “Coyote,” or IDW with “Jon Sable” and “Grimjack.”
Steve Englehart: Yeah, I’m getting a real sense that the break between the way we learned to do comics in the ’70s and the way they’re done now is causing a lot of people to want the earlier approach.
Steve Englehart: We came in when comics were on their way to their peak, we learned from masters, there were still greats from earlier eras alive…so we put together a pretty good package of skills and knowledge. I think today a lot of people lack that breadth of knowledge. and then, we were a lot more interested in character than a lot of what goes on today.
Steve Englehart: Times change. Sometimes they change for the worse…
Steve Englehart: There will be new material with Marshall and Terry, but at this very moment I can’t say what it might be…
Jellobay: Any Marvel projects coming up?
Steve Englehart: I dunno if there are any Marvel projects coming. We were asked to do some, but we’re not making much progress in that direction.
Brian Cronin: What was the reaction to your Beast at the time? Shock, horror, or acceptance?
Steve Englehart: My Beast was well-received, by fans and – more importantly – by Marvel. 🙂
Steve Englehart: I made use of his intelligence, and Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway had set up a good situation for him, so I ran with that.
Steve Englehart: The cool thing, in retrospect, was that it was the only X-Men book at the time. 🙂
Brian Cronin: You ended up using your Beast characters in your “Avengers” run. Is that something that you like to do? Stick with characters you enjoy, no matter the book?
Brian Cronin: It worked really well with Patsy and Hank in “Avengers.”
Steve Englehart: Yes. When I did the Beast, there was no other X-book– and when it came time to revamp the Avengers lineup, there was no other X-book, so he was available, and I really did like him.
Jellobay: Speaking of the Avengers, what are your thoughts of the new team?
Steve Englehart: I hate to give this answer, but I really don’t comment on other people’s work. It just seems like common courtesy if I don’t like the stuff, and if I only talk about stuff I do like, it points up what I’m not talking about– if you follow me. So, I take a pass.
Brian Cronin: Hehe. Good system.
Jellobay: Understand completely.
Steve Englehart: Ralph Macchio, the editor, asked me to get rid of the Beyonder, whom Ralph despised. I had not liked him much myself, but when I did my research, I got to see what Shooter had been trying to do, so I think I sent him on his way with some dignity (yes, I know he’s come back since…:) )
Stephane Garrelie: The first story by you that I read was Cap/Falcon/X-Men of your Secret Empire/Watergate story in “Captain America.” Do you think that so political a story would be possible in the comics today?
Brian Cronin: Excellent point, Stephane. It is funny how stuff like Richard Pryor on SNL, or Steve’s Cap, couldn’t be done today, and yet we act like we are so “advanced” culturally.
Steve Englehart: I was asked about doing some “Captain America” today– I said it would have to include politics– they said “well, never mind.”
Steve Englehart: But that specific story? On the one hand, I was writing about events that all of America was interested in, so it wasn’t some ad hominem attack on Nixon. On the other hand, a lot of people are interested in what’s going on now…
Jellobay: When you wrote the Cap. Stories, did you use your point of view more or try to see how the character would view things.
Steve Englehart: I try to see things through the character’s POV always. I was discharged (honorably) from the army as a conscientious objector– my POV was not Cap’s– but I happen to believe that you’re buying Cap, not me.
Brian Cronin: Remember that recent article about you being the first person to come up with the idea of “kamikaze terrorists?” Did you ever make that connection yourself?
Steve Englehart: I did see that article– when the guy interviewed me I had never thought of it before. let me add that that’s not my POV, either.
Brian Cronin: Hah!
Brian Cronin: Duly noted!
Messchird: Sometimes, I feel comics are dead here. But there’s a rise in comics as movies (“Sin City,” “Batman Begins,” “Hulk”). What’s your opinion on that?
Steve Englehart: It’s tricky. I think movies are doing a lot of good for comics– certainly making the general public aware of them as “acceptable” media, and reminding a lot of people that they liked these guys were they were “unacceptable.” But at the same time, that’s led to some people wanting comics to be movies, and they’re not.
Steve Englehart: Case in point– I used thought balloons in my “Dark Detective.” It came as a great surprise to me that thought balloons aren’t generally used any more. And why? Because you rarely have voice-overs in movies. But these aren’t movies. In comics, thought balloons are a tool at the writer’s disposal and it’s stilly to toss it away.
Steve Englehart: Moreover– a guy at San Diego pointed out something else– thought balloons allow you to carry on the “D” story– the underlying story that isn’t in the main character’s foremost thoughts. You can say, “Hmm, I wonder how Cap’s project is going” just in passing, so that when you get to the real story about Cap’s project, you’ve kept it in the readers’ minds. Does that make sense?
Brian Cronin: Agreed. Can you imagine a novel written without any inner voice, just dialogue?
Jellobay: Makes good sense, but even older writers shy from using the balloons nowadays.
Brian Cronin: I think it is probably a case of people just fed up with bad thought balloon use
Brian Cronin: There is this stigma because bad writers have used it to just do info-dumps or horribly written exposition. That is a fault of the writers, though, not the device.
Steve Englehart: And which they’re now moving away from, by the way– to the Dark Detective approach.
Brian Cronin: Seeing as how we’re currently in the age of DC the one continuous universe crossover, how hard was it when you were in charge of DC’s big crossover event? Did you have any editorial-esque role in how “Millennium” would be handled in other titles, like Geoff Johns does now with the DC Universe and “Infinite Crisis?”
Steve Englehart: Yeah, I worked out with every other writer what needed to be done. They then proceeded to do or not do their part. 🙂
Messchird: Are comics on a way to another Golden Age or just headed for the rubbish dump since I rarely see an actual comic nowadays.
Steve Englehart: Who knows? Seriously, I’ve been thinking for a while that they were on their way out, but movies may have saved them. But still, the comics themselves have to offer something special for it to keep going.
Jellobay: Have you ever had a run on a series (building character relationships and events) and then have what you built ignored by the very next writer?
Steve Englehart: Sure. “West Coast Avengers,” “Green Lantern Corps”…
Brian Cronin: Oh man! One of the most dramatic shifts ever. “Green Lantern Corps” to “Action Comics Weekly!”
Steve Englehart: The shift from GLC to ACW was going to be jarring anyway, but killing Katma Tui just pissed me off, I liked her a lot.
Brian Cronin: Priest insists that he was told to do it, by the way (in case any readers blame him).
Steve Englehart: I know Chris, so I would never blame him
Brian Cronin: I figure you wouldn’t, but I wanted to make sure some readers know it as well. He got a lot of guff over her death.
Jellobay: Has another writer ever approached you, after you took over a new run?
Steve Englehart: Not usually. When I handed “Captain America” off to John Warner, he asked me for advice, but generally no. There is, as with the books that got messed up, sometimes the idea of “I’m the new writer so everything begins with me,” but even without that, we’re supposed to be able to handle the job on our own. I’d gladly tell anybody anything I knew if asked
Jellobay: “Strangers” was the best, I still read through them from time to time.
Steve Englehart: I liked that book a lot, too, and it tends to get overlooked now because of the “Night Man.” But I have to say, overall, I get asked about the Ultraverse a lot, which tells me people really would like to see it again…which brings me back to Marvel’s not wanting to go there
Lex: Which was your favorite “Strangers” character to write?
Steve Englehart: Well, I have to say Atom Bob, because he was, in the beginning, so laid back about it all…and in the end, he was something else entirely.
Lex: Atom Bob. He was always my favorite. Did you intend for him to become the Pilgrim from the beginning?
Steve Englehart: No, I did not intend the Pilgrim thing from the beginning. I just sort of said one day “who would be the least likely person…?”
Brian Cronin: I remember being really freaked out by that
Brian Cronin: The pilgrim revelation.
Lex: Well, yeah, he was the least likely person to become Pilgrim. I didn’t realize how emotional invested I was in the Strangers characters until that happened. It was huge!
Brian Cronin: Yeah, Lex. It is long enough ago that I’m detached now. but at the time, I’m sure I was foaming at the mouth, “how could you do that?!?”
Steve Englehart: I love to make readers foam. 🙂
Jellobay: I’m a Marvel fan boy, but they ruined the Ultraverse.
Steve Englehart: Yeah, various Ultraverse characters have appeared in the Marvel Universe– but now there’s an edict that they can’t any more, for the same unclear reasons as below. But I have been saying for ten years now, it would so cool for these guys, who only knew a few superheroes among themselves, and had achieved a level of celebrity in their universe– if they came to the Marvel Universe, they wouldn’t know they were supposed to be impressed by Spider-Man, or care who the X-Men were. It would let us see the Marvel U with fresh eyes. But it’s never happened.
Brian Cronin: Did you write for the “Night Man” TV series?
Steve Englehart: I wrote 3 episodes of the TV series.
Brian Cronin: That is good, at least. That you got to do some TV work out of the Ultraverse situation.
Messchird: What classic comics that you did, what you would recommend for starting people on your work?
Steve Englehart: I recommend everything. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Steve Englehart: Seriously, I do my best (almost) every time, and one reason is so I won’t have to say “Don’t read such-and-such”…
Brian Cronin: What status quo on a book that you took over was hardest to adapt to? Was it the Johnny/Alicia marriage?
Steve Englehart: Status quo – I don’t really know (ah, poetry). I take what I’m given and if I want to change it, I make that change part of the characters’ growth.
Brian Cronin: Fair enough.
Steve Englehart: But in regards to the Fantastic Four– I really felt at that time that the original foursome had gotten very stale, so I shook things up, and that included bringing Crystal onto the team.
Brian Cronin: So bringing her in to the Fantastic Four was meant to work with the marriage? Gotcha. So it wasn’t a matter of, “Oh crap, they’re married when I want to bring in Crystal!” That’s cool.
Steve Englehart: Oh absolutely– Alicia and Crystal at the same time made for good stories. 🙂
JoeCasey: For anyone who hasn’t picked up the Avengers TPB, “The Serpent Crown” (and don’t own the original issues), go buy it right now.
Brian Cronin: Good call, Joe. I am so pleased that Marvel is beginning to package your run, Steve.
Steve Englehart: After years of doing almost no TPBs, and certainly none of mine, they’re suddenly pumping them out! 🙂
Greg Hatcher: Second that about “The Serpent Crown.” “Celestial Madonna,” too. Mr. Englehart, are there other collections coming of your Marvel stuff? Seems like the Beast solo run would be a natural.
Steve Englehart: They’re doing the “Captain America: Secret Empire” run in January.
Brian Cronin: They are? Sweet.
Greg Hatcher: Woohoo! That’s great news — about “Secret Empire,” I mean. I missed that when it came out, and my friend Bret’s been extolling its virtues for years.
JoeCasey: Actually, “Secret Empire” TPB is out in December! Merry Christmas!
Brian Cronin: Even sweeter.
Jellobay: Does Marvel consult you about what to put in a trade?
Steve Englehart: No, they don’t consult.
paul brian deberry: Steve, do you mind talking about “Doc Savage” for a second? And how many times did you work with Gardner Fox?
Steve Englehart: Whoa-“Doc Savage.” There’s a subject that rarely come up! 🙂 I think I only worked with Gardner that one time, but that’s what I was saying before about being at the center of things back in the day. Most of the big guys from our past were still around, even while we (us Marvel guys) were doing the future.
paul brian deberry: I loved those stories.
paul brian deberry: You introduced me to Doc Savage.
Stephane Garrelie: I read that you documented yourself a lot to write “Doctor Strange”… was it exceptional or is documentation an important part of your work?
Steve Englehart: When I wrote Doc in “Defenders,” I wrote him as “one of the heroes, with magic powers.” When I got his solo book, I thought, “I really ought to learn more about this, to write a credible magician” so I started reading up. I do stuff like that a lot– it makes for better stories, yes, but also, I learn stuff I don’t know.
Jellobay: Are you doing any conventions in the near future?
Steve Englehart: Well, I was supposed to be at the Minnesota FallCon this weekend, but I got called for jury duty and can’t make it. we are definitely rescheduling for next year. meanwhile, unless something else pops up, I’ll be at mid-Ohio on Thanksgiving weekend.
JoeCasey: Okay, time to split. Just wanted to pop in for a second. Mr. Englehart is a huge influence on my work and he’s truly a hero of mine…
Steve Englehart: Point man– oddly enough…
Steve Englehart: When I wrote it, I said “I don’t want to do the continuing adventures of Max August,” so I never wrote a sequel. But about two years ago, I got a really good idea for a sequel that even played off the idea that twenty years had passed, so I wrote a proposal. And then completely out of the blue, I got an email from my “Point Man” editor, now with another house, asking if I had anything new going on! So there’s a good chance that there just may be more along that line…
Greg Hatcher: Wow, that’s great news!
Steve Englehart: There may be something to that magic stuff…
Brian Cronin: Did you get any resistance at Marvel to your Patsy and Buzz reworking? Or did Marvel just say “do what you want with them.”
Steve Englehart: I got no resistance to anything from Marvel in the ’70s. The editorial theory was “we’re giving you these books. If you can make them sell and meet your deadlines, you can keep doing them.” That was it. This is why it was so great then. We were encouraged to be as creative as possible, so long as people kept buying– and really, why should it be any other way?
Brian Cronin: Someone wanted me to ask you, Steve, about astrology. How much has astrology influenced your work?
Steve Englehart: I learned it for Doc and am still interested in it, but I rarely use it directly for work. That “Star-Lord” project was going to, but it never happened.
Brian Cronin: The same someone wanted to know if you could give a Scorpio Rose “reading order.”
Steve Englehart: Scorpio Rose Tarot secrets would be a whole other conversation. 🙂
Steve Englehart: Speaking of Rose, though– some guys have just done a film-school short with Coyote and Scorpio Rose in live action debuting in Toronto next month, but I don’t yet know where.
Steve Englehart: I would like to do Mantis if I could do Mantis. As you may know, I used “Celestial Quest” to try to clean up what had been done to her, and set her up for future appearances, but I didn’t have the freest hand in that process. I personally don’t know what a celestial Madonna would do…which is why I’d love to write a series and find out.
Brian Cronin: Another person wanted me to ask if Mantis was based on a real person at all.
Steve Englehart: Mantis was not based on anyone. I wanted a femme fatale, we were involved in Vietnam, and she appeared out of that (and then didn’t turn out to be a femme fatale). Later, when Starlin and I did Shang-Chi, he was definitely based on Caine from the TV show.
Brian Cronin: And that does it for questions from folks who couldn’t make the chat!
Brian Cronin: Except for the following throwaway question– “Ask him why he is not writing Batman because Batman sucks currently and he should write it.”
Greg Hatcher: Well, lots of us read “Dark Detective” and wished he was the regular Bat writer. I bet he gets that a lot.
Steve Englehart: I don’t want to write a regular Bat-book because I’d then be subject to company-wide continuity. I do like the idea of doing Bat-specials now and again where I have more freedom. As you may be noticing, freedom plays a large part in what I personally like about writing comics. 🙂
Brian Cronin: What strikes me as interesting about your work in the ’70s was that, unlike the other folks like Conway or Wein, you never got involved in editing. Was that intentional on your part?
Steve Englehart: I chose not to edit. I was Roy’s number 2 while I was in New York, but (a) it didn’t seem likely that I’d be moving up, since Stan had held the editor-in-chief job for so long, Roy certainly would, and (b) I went to California and liked it. So I thought, I’d rather be a writer. Later, when everybody else got to be editor-in-chief, I thought maybe I’d missed my chance. But I do like that freedom of not being a suit.
Calamas: One of the most interesting things about your original “JLA” run was how you appeared to take advantage of the double-length issues. Am I wrong or did you approach these stories differently?
Steve Englehart: DC wanted me to give all the characters personalities, since they didn’t have any. That was cool, but I figured if I was going to open them all up for the first time and tell a superhero story, I needed more room. So I proposed the 34-page monthly concept. I dunno if I then approached things particularly differently, but having more pages meant smoother-developing storylines, and I did concentrate on stories that let me show off the characters
Cayman: Would you like to write more adventures for The Shroud?
Steve Englehart: I would like to write the Shroud again. He’s one of those guys, like Deadshot and Nomad, that I created (well, I didn’t create Deadshot) as a throwaway– not realizing that nothing is ever thrown away in comics. So now that he’s had a further life–and because Marvel has no Batman– it would be fun to write him again.
Greg Hatcher: Has any other artist surprised you the way you said Marshall Rogers surprised you on “Detective?” I remember you talking in an interview years ago about how much more than expected it was.
Steve Englehart: Marshall certainly surprised me because he (and Terry) were very good, and DC didn’t have many very good people at the time, so I was expecting much less. But I remember getting an unknown George Perez, and an unknown Paul Gulacy, and meeting an unknown Jim Starlin…and I’m sure there were more. Comics is a hybrid medium if you’re not a Miller or a Byrne, so I’m always looking to get thrilled by what the artist brings to the table.
Brian Cronin: How weird was it following Kirby on “The New Gods?” How did you and Gerry approach that?
Steve Englehart: Well, I love Kirby in most things, but I didn’t like the 4th world very much, because Kirby can’t write. He can plot, but he can’t write. So, I tried to drill down to the cool concepts and then make them come alive for me.
Steve Englehart: I might add, I proposed to DC recently that the 4th world is supposed to be a great thing, and yet nobody really believes it is, so there it sits, godlike and untouchable, but shunned as well. So I proposed that it should all be rewritten by a real writer (probably me, since it was my idea) in an attempt to bring it to full fruition. And I made that proposal knowing full well the real Kirby-fanatics would hate me forever. But I do think there’s a lot there that’s hidden behind Jack’s verbiage. But DC said no.
Steve Englehart: Seriously, I always tell people this, and no one ever disagrees– the stories on the Fourth World just were not as good as they could have been, and yet no one wants to change them!
Gail Simone: I love the Fourth World concepts. I find them freakishly innovative. But some of the comics were hard sloggin’.
Brian Cronin: I dunno. I liked the fourth world comics, but I guess I would agree that they could have been even better. That’s a fair enough point.
steeler80: I think Kirby was a fantastic artist, of course, with one of the best imaginations in the business, but his dialogue was really wooden.
Lex: I recently bought all the 4th world black and white trades. I’ll agree that the writing is something hard to get through, but I think everything else about it is brilliant.
Steve Englehart: Exactly, Gail. The concepts were great, but you had to slog to get there. I propose eliminating the slogging part and try to make them shine like Thor at its height. That would be my objective.
steeler80: Mr. Englehart, I’m sure this is a late to the party question but what other works do you have coming out?
Steve Englehart: A JLA classified run, a JSA classified run, Coyote collection TPBs, some new work with Marshall and Terry from DC, maybe possibly something from marvel…
Jellobay: Can you give us a hint on what it would be for Marvel?
Steve Englehart: I can’t say what it is for Marvel because we never quite get to having an “it.” We’ve talked about a number of things, they’ve said they were going ahead with a number of things, but so far, we’re not getting there.
Brian Cronin: Did you always plan on the Thing not joining the Avengers?
Steve Englehart: It was always understood that he’d go back to the Fantastic Four after a year. I just messed with your minds.
Steve Englehart: I liked them in that cartoon. It was actually a pilot for a spin-off, which never, obviously, took place.
Lex: Aw man! I would’ve loved a “Strangers” cartoon! That’s too bad.
Gail Simone: My first Englehart story was in a book, I think called, “Weird Heroes.” It was a blast.
Steve Englehart: Yeah, that “Weird Heroes” thing was a fun idea. I was sorry so many people were interested so he never had a shortage of writers. 🙂
Brian Cronin: What was the deal with “X-Caliber?”
Steve Englehart: I created “X-Caliber” when having a name like that was no biggie. Then later, Marvel decided they had to own all such names. They asked me to give them the rights– I proposed they buy them– they proposed not giving me any more work if I didn’t give them the rights. But I didn’t, so they created “Excalibur.” Later, at Valiant, they were hassling Shooter over “X-O Manowar,” so I offered to let him use X-Caliber; leased him the rights for a buck.
Brian Cronin: Why did you bring Wonder Man back? Why him?
Steve Englehart: Every so often you have to refresh the Avengers lineup, and I always liked to bring in old favorites and new unexpected guys. Wonder Man was about as unexpected as you could get, since he’d been dead for ten years. But sort of like I said about wanting to write the celestial Madonna so I could find out what she was, I was going to explore what being dead had made of Wonder Man– only I never got the chance, so I can’t give you any specific plotlines.
Brian Cronin: What happened with “New Guardians?” Can you let us in on anything you had planned for that title?
Steve Englehart: When I created the New Guardians, I went to the Editor-in-Chief and asked for a promise that I could do “sex, drugs, and politics” with them. He gave me his promise that I could. When I wrote the first issue, my editor objected to several such things. I said the EiC had promised I could do them. The EiC then said “we leave it all to our editors.” It was a big disappointment, especially since I’d admired the guy for a long time. But anyway, I wanted to do a very realistic look at heroes– sort of what Milestone did five years later, or what Vertigo would do if they did regular heroes.
Brian Cronin: It was disappointing (as a reader) to see “Millennium” end with this build up to new guardians, and see that not go anywhere.
GnomelandSecurity: Steve, I think you should start kicking people in the nuts
Brian Cronin: You had been working with Joe Staton for awhile at that point, did he ever have input on the story? Or was he a “tell me what I need to draw” guy?
Steve Englehart: I’ll avoid the nuts, but I think I will head this toward a close. I love working with Joe Staton. He could draw anything, with characterization– and now they’ve exiled him to “Scooby Doo.” Where he does great work.
Brian Cronin: Yeah, exiled, but I am just pleased to see him working period!
Steve Englehart: I’m gonna thank everybody for joining in on this thing, and start edging out the door…
Brian Cronin: Okay, thanks a lot, Steve. This was great!
Steve Englehart: Bye, everybody!