Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Danny DeVito. All three have been labeled as a “Renaissance Man.”
Eric S. Trautmann. Welcome to the club.
His email sig says it all: Writer/editor/artist/musician/weapons-grade smart-alec.”
And he’s going to need all of those tools to pull off his first major solo writing project in comics, DC’s upcoming six-issue miniseries, “JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith,” because when you pit the Silver Age’s original super team against a ‘religulous’ terrorist organization, something’s gotta give.
Especially when Mr. Terrific and Power Girl are fighting the good fight.
A veteran story writer and developer of ‘game worlds’ for Microsoft, Trautmann penned a “Perfect Dark” comic series in 2007 after writing the franchise’s ‘story bible’ and editing two “Perfect Dark,” novels, both written by Greg Rucka. He and Rucka hit it off and later co-wrote several issues of “Checkmate.”
CBR News checked in with Trautmann to see what tactics he used to line up his pieces in such a way where he is now helming a major summer miniseries for one of the Big Two. And now that those pieces are in play… what’s the endgame for JSA and Kobra?
CBR News: First off congratulations on this being your first major solo gig in comics – and what a project to kick off your career!
Eric S. Trautmann: Thank you. It is a heck of a project, yes. And not a little intimidating, I must confess.
Was the series your idea, or did DC bring the project to you?
Yes and no.
At one point, I’d been asked to take over the reins on “Checkmate” after Greg Rucka’s departure following the conclusion of the “Castling” arc in issue #25. The editor of the series at that point, Joan Hilty, had wanted us to take the book in a sort of “Janus Directive” direction, and Kobra was to be the main antagonist, building off of all the Kobra stuff Greg had so masterfully built, and upping the ante from “Castling.”
I spent a fair amount of time working that all up, but by the time we wrapped up #25, the die had been cast, and I ended up not getting the book. So, I filed that material away with a regretful sigh, and moved on to the next project.
After Joan moved over to Vertigo, Rachel Gluckstern sort of inherited the project, I guess, and following Ivan Brandon’s “Faces of Evil: Kobra” one-shot, DC now had a reinvigorated Kobra to play with. I’m not sure who thought of me for the book, but Rachel called me and asked me if I wanted a crack at a Kobra series, since I’d done prep work on something similar for “Checkmate.”
It wasn’t until a few draft proposals in that I found out that it was a JSA book, so that came as a tremendously pleasant surprise.
Are you a long-time fan of the Justice Society?
I’m a long-time fan of many of the characters, and have enjoyed Geoff Johns’ extended run on the series, of course. I’ve fallen so far behind in my comic reading over the last year or so, though, so a lot of my fondness for the characters comes from stuff I read a long time ago.
Is it difficult to juggle such a massive team?
Tremendously difficult. To be frank, my personal preference is to handle much smaller groups of people. I’d love to write a solo book, or a book with smaller teams. Somehow, I’ve ended up working on books that have these absolutely huge rosters. “Final Crisis: Resist” had dozens of characters, “Checkmate,” which, at one point, deputized every cape and mask in the DCU, and now the Justice Society?
I think the next book I pitch is going to be Aquaman sitting in a cave. Alone.
Do you have a favorite JSA member? Why?
I have a few favorites. Power Girl is a tremendously fun character to write because she’s basically as cranky as I am. And I’ve sort of made my bones by writing strong female characters: Joanna Dark, Sasha Bordeaux, and so on. Wildcat is delightfully old school, just cracking his knuckles and breaking the right heads, but also a dedicated teacher. And of course Mr. Terrific. It’s a joy to be able to come back to Michael.
Michael was always very hard for me to wrap my head around when I was working on “Checkmate,” and I really never felt like I ‘got’ him until “Final Crisis: Resist.” Just in the nick of too late, I guess.
That’s probably my favorite part of “JSA vs. Kobra.” Writing Michael again, a very tired, very stressed out Michael.
Does he figure prominently in the new story you are telling?
Certainly. Michael is one of two point-of-view characters narrating the series, so he’s definitely front and center.
One of two? Who is the other?
The other P.O.V. character is Jason Burr, the villain of the piece.
Before, we get into Jason, maybe we should talk about Kobra.
Kobra has a long history with both JSA and Checkmate. Can you update readers who may not be familiar with Kobra and Checkmate what they need to know about these two organizations heading into the series?
Oh, my. Where to start?
Kobra began life back in 1976, I think, and was a Jack Kirby/Steve Sherman/Martin Pasko/Pablo Marcos series. It was unique to me at the time because it was a whole book about a bad guy.
The Kobra ‘cult’ is sort of an apocalypse cult, working to bring about the Kali Yuga – a period of utter destruction from which, they believe, a new paradise will grow.
Back in the seventies, the leader of the group was Jeffrey Burr, a mad genius, who, among other things, managed to build his own Lazarus Pit. It was revealed he had a twin brother, Jason, with whom he had an empathic link. Several shadowy intelligence agencies recruited Jason to track his brother with a failsafe plan in place that, should they not be able to stop Jeffrey, they could kill Jason and the empathic link would cause Jeffrey to die.
Through that series, Jeffrey eventually found a way to sever the link, and he killed Jason, who’s stayed dead until Ivan Brandon’s “Faces of Evil” tale.
Jason runs the organization now, which – through Greg Rucka’s handling of Kobra in “Checkmate” is a far cry from the of-its-period 1970s’ Kobra. The modern Kobra is a true terrorist organization – cellular structure, massively successful counterespionage efforts, and a cadre of ‘blood magicians’ called The Bestowed, who can ferret out informers and traitors.
So, really, what readers need to know about Kobra moving into “JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith” is that Jeffrey’s gone, Jason’s running the show, and he’s a far more formidable opponent than his predecessor.
He has a slightly different set of priorities, and in many ways sees his brother’s rule of Kobra as tainted, corrupt. He’s spending a lot of time trimming deadwood within the organization, and is working towards a rather profound shift in gears.
Beyond that, we’re in spoiler territory. But unlike Jeffrey, Jason really does have a plan, and he’s playing the game ten moves ahead.
And that leads nicely into Checkmate.
Checkmate only figures very lightly in this series. All readers really need to know is that Michael holds a rank with Checkmate, and it’s an international, U.N.-sanctioned ‘metahuman reaction force.’
Does this series tie into your run on “Checkmate” with Greg Rucka? Or the current ongoing “Justice Society of America” series that is currently changing hands from Geoff Johns to Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges?
It’s a really tangential ‘tie’ into “Checkmate,” save for some general concepts. There’s more linear continuations of storylines left hanging after “Final Crisis: Resist” – notably the Code Zoo escapees and the fate of Sasha Bordeaux, Michael Holt’s current paramour.
My hope is that the series ties pretty seamlessly into the “Justice Society of America” monthly; the whole storyline encompasses a period of time of only a week or so, maybe less, so it should nestle comfortably between arcs. That’s the intention, anyway.
Your partner in crime on this series is artist Don Kramer. Have you been enjoying his pages as they’ve been coming in?
Don’s been an absolute joy to work with. And with his familiarity with the JSA, he’s an invaluable resource to me. He’s been very quick to spot areas where I might be hitting a wrong note, and that’s been unbelievably helpful.
I should also add that Don is working with inker Michael Babinski, who is literally in the same room with him. The resulting pages have just been tremendous. It’s clear Don and Michael are having a blast.
Coming out of this series, do you know if DC has future plans for Kobra?7
I’m honestly not sure, but my hope is that – at the end of the series – there’s going to be no choice but to ‘notice’ Kobra as a major player in DCU’s pantheon of villainy.
And what about you, do you know your next project at DC?
Yes. But I can’t say too much. It’s an older character, more or less a solo book, but beyond that, it’s too premature to say. Sorry, man.
Are you working on any other projects right now, comics or otherwise?
Several. Hence my screaming night terrors when I think about my schedule.
Among other things, I’m doing some videogame consulting work, which I’m not really allowed to divulge much about, alas.
Oh, and I’m launching a webcomic with Brandon Jerwa, David Messina, and Mirco Pierfederici – a horror/adventure tale that got its proof-of-concept in the second “Popgun” anthology.
The webcomic is called “Wide Awake,” and we’ll have a six-page teaser available on Free Comic Book Day this Saturday.
Brandon and I are also hard at work on an original graphic novel for DC/Vertigo, but it’s a little too soon to talk much about that, too. Alas. But soon, I promise.
“JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith” #1, with a cover by Gene Ha, is scheduled for June 10.