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David Liss’ Daring Marvel Mysteries

by  in Comic News Comment
David Liss’ Daring Marvel Mysteries
Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversay Special
“Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special” #1

From the story of a down-and-out 18th century boxer to murder mysteries involving a Revolutionary War private eye, the historical novels of David Liss mix and match genre tropes and historical fact to award-winning success. Considering that, making the jump to comic books set in the superhero Golden Age might seem a no brainer for the hard-working novelist, and last week saw Liss’ first foray into the four-color medium with “Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special” #1 – a Marvel 70th Anniversary one-shot with art by Jason Armstrong.

While Marvel editor Bill Rosemann always thought Liss would make a perfect match for the Marvel U, the writer took a little more convincing. “Bill contacted me a bunch of years ago after he read my first novel ‘A Conspiracy of Paper,'” Liss told CBR. “For whatever reason, there was something in the book that made him interested in the prospect of me doing some work for Marvel. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time or the creative energy at that time to try to figure out how to write a comic book. I was still trying to figure out how to write [prose] fiction. Later on, I very much regretted that I hadn’t pursued things more forcefully, but last fall Bill contacted me again with this specific project in mind, and I was absolutely thrilled to have a chance to try my hand at the [superhero] genre.”

This summer not only proved the perfect time for Liss to get cracking in comics, it also proved the best window for the almost forgotten star of “Daring Mystery” to make a comeback. The purple-cloaked hero called The Phantom Reporter recently saw a spotlight shined on him in the pages of J. Michael Straczynski’s “The Twelve” series. “I am a big JMS fan and – though I wish I had done it otherwise – I read ‘The Twelve’ before I read the Golden Age material [with The Phantom Reporter], so it was difficult not to see the source material through JMS’s interpretive lens,” Liss explained. “His Dick Jones is a much more subdued and thoughtful character than the Golden Age version.”

Still, with a Golden Age reprint anchoring Liss’ new story, the roots of the masked news reporter are well represented in all parts of “Daring Mystery” #1. “I did what research I could on the character, and I read as much of the original material as I could get my hands on,” said Liss. “While I wanted to take the source material seriously, the Golden Age Phantom Reporter is probably, by today’s standards, a psychopath. He dishes out excessive violence often with very little provocation. Of course, much of that is about the storytelling of the period, not about how the original writers wanted to develop his character. Even so, that material is there, and it felt dishonest simply to ignore it, so while I wanted to make Dick Jones an intelligent and thoughtful character, I also needed to keep him someone who knows how to resolve problems with remorseless and slightly unhinged violence.”

Beyond that wham-bang style, Liss’ one-shot carries all the cornerstones of his novels, from an ominous tone of danger to a twisty mystery plot. “I wanted to produce something with a noir and period feel to it. To that end, I needed a murder and a mystery and some detective work,” the writer explained. “I wanted the story to have something of a Dashiell Hammett feel, but I also wanted to write a comic book story, and elements you would not find in a mainstream ’30s mystery. So while some of the mystery elements root it to its period, so too some of the more unusual happenings in the story.

Pages from “Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special” #1

“I also wanted to write about a real character who has real conflicts, and I suppose that feeds into the Marvel prototype. In my view the Marvel hero with a tragic or conflicted background just makes for good storytelling. Conflict and set-backs and challenges are how characters become three dimensional, so the Marvel mold felt perfectly natural to me. I used that conflict to inform Dick Jones’s duel identity as a reporter and a masked vigilante. At its heart, this is a story about why a man who already has the means to combat injustice, that is through his voice as a reporter, would find it necessary to put on a mask and fight injustice in this much more immediate and physical way.”

David Liss knows the ins and outs of the superhero form, though the writer explained that most of his knowledge came as an adult reader rather than as a teenage fanboy. “I grew up reading and loving comics, and though I was never a Marvel Zombie, there are several Marvel titles I’ve loved from way back when, especially Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher,” he said. I stopped reading comic books in my mid twenties when I started graduate school – mainly because I stopped reading everything other than material in my field. One of the great things for me about writing this issue has been that it’s forced me to make time for comic books. There are some writers, and I am very suspicious of these guys, who claim never to read other writers’ work because they want to keep their voice pure. I require lots of input, and I love to learn by seeing what other writers do well and badly, so when I first took on this assignment, I immediately started reading as many good comics as I could.”

Liss noted that some of his favorites included Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ “Justice League” as well as “The Sandman.” “More recently, I’ve been reading ‘New Avengers’ and ‘Dark Avengers,’ and I’ve been trying to catch up with ‘Captain America.’ Also, I love Robert Kirkman’s series ‘Invincible’ and ‘Walking Dead,'” Liss said.

Don’t expect David Liss to be done with comics just yet. “Bill and I are currently discussing a new miniseries, though it is in the very early stages right now,” he said. “Otherwise, I am very open to whatever opportunities come my way. I want to keep writing comics, and I would love to eventually have the chance to write an ongoing book. I’ve always been drawn to serialized fiction, and it would be a real thrill for me to have the chance to develop a story and characters over a long period of time.”

“Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special” #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.

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