DC Comics announced today that Marc Andreyko, the comic book writer best known for launching “Manhunter” for the publisher in 2000, will be the next scribe on the character showcase anthology “DC Universe Presents.”
While previous runs on the series have delved into fringe New 52 characters like Deadman or Vandal Savage, come October Andreyko will be focusing on two heroes not yet seen in the New 52 DC Universe: Black Lightning and Blue Devil.
Black Lightning, created in 1977 by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden, was one of the first major African-American superheroes to star in a DC Comics title. Jefferson Pierce was an Olympic athlete turned educator turned superhero who used his metahuman abilities to generate electrical energy and fight crime.
Blue Devil, created by “Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld” writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn with artist Paris Cullins, began life in 1984 as a Hollywood stuntman. After attacking the demon Nebiros on a movie set, Cassidy was blasted with magical energy, fusing the devil body suit he was wearing to his body. A fairly light and humorous character at first, later incarnations turned him into an actual demon with magical powers.
Speaking exclusively with CBR, Andreyko happily discussed his updated takes on Jefferson Pierce and Dan Cassidy in “DC Universe Presents,” as well as his approach to refitting the heroes for the New 52 and his higher aspirations for the duo.
CBR News: I understand you’re using both Black Lightning and Blue Devil. My first question then is the most basic one: what is your story about and why use these two characters?
Marc Andreyko: Well, the story originated after WonderCon; I was at Disneyland with [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio, and we were talking and he mentioned the concept of Black and Blue — Black Lightning and Blue Devil. This was just in passing as we were waiting in line for rides, and then I kept bugging him about it and the ideas just started flying. It’s a grand tradition in entertainment, literature and films of two people who are complete opposites becoming friends in spite of themselves, whether it’s Maddie and David on “Moonlighting” or Felix and Oscar on “The Odd Couple,” or even Bert and Ernie on “Sesame Street!” So the idea of taking these two characters, one who was explicitly magic-based and one who was explicitly not, added metaphorically to the differences they had. The book is taking place in Los Angeles, and we’re not starting with an origin story. We’re starting with these guys having already been established. It’ll leave unanswered questions to how they got where they are, which I always find interesting. Most of us don’t pick up comic books with the very first issue, at least originally. You start in the middle of the storyline and then you fill in the details retroactively as you go. I think that adds to the intricacy and interest of a character.
So you’re dropping us in medias res?
You used the term! Excellent — I wasn’t going to for fear of sounding pretentious, but I’m always glad when someone else matches my pretense! [Laughter]
Now you said that the two are essentially an odd-couple pairing — how do they work as foils for each other?
In the story, personality-wise, Jefferson Pierce is an Olympic-level athlete, so for him the training and discipline begets power, whether that’s athletic power or honing his lightning skills. Magic to him is kind of foreign because magic tends not to be from A to B to C — magic is sometimes A to C and then all around. So Blue Devil’s very powers are contrary to the way Jefferson thinks and the way Jefferson lives his life. Jefferson is a very focused guy. You have to be to be an Olympic athlete. You have to have discipline and training. Dan comes from a Hollywood family and has always been this kind of guy who glides through life, taking jobs when he needs them and then, when the money runs out, taking another one. Magic sort of extrapolates on his persona. The conflict there is both personality-wise and super-powers.
The original Blue Devil was a Hollywood stuntman who was magically fused to his suit. In your take on him, are you losing the lighter, comedy aspect to his character?
Oh no, not at all! These guys are definitely Riggs and Murtaugh from “Lethal Weapon.” No, Dan is definitely the lighter one, the jokey-er one. Once again, going back to another pop culture reference, he’s Bruce Willis to Black Lightning’s Cybill Shepherd — without the romance!
Then what is the tone of the story overall? Is this going to be a light-hearted buddy comedy? A more serious superhero story?
The answer to that is actually yes to both. I don’t think one excludes the other. For me, the best dramas always have moments of comedy in them because they allow you to diffuse some of the intensity and dire things that happen. If something is too grim all the way through, it becomes white noise, and if it’s too comedy, it feels superficial. The comedy in these stories comes organically from the characters and the situations they’re in; there aren’t going to be pratfalls and cream pies or that sort of thing. It’s not putting jokes in and reverse engineering a story out of them — it’s the jokes and comedy coming out of story itself. There will definitely be stakes and high drama and there will definitely be tragedy involved, but once again I think having lighter moments only add to the intensity of more serious moments.
How many issues will your story run?
It’s going to be a five-part story. There’ll be hints and flashbacks and that sort of thing, but the meat of the story will be this specific adventure and case that they are on. Hopefully people will like it enough that we’ll generate enough buzz to be able to announce a “Black and Blue” regular book! This idea is so rich, I’ve just been jotting down notes like a madman; these characters together on the surface seem like an odd pair, but I think that’s why it works so well.
As you said, this isn’t an origin story, so can you fill us in on a little background here? For example, how is this Jefferson and this Dan different from the versions who existed pre-New 52?
Along with the edict of the New 52, they’re younger. They’ve been around when we start the story, but they haven’t been around for a very long time. This isn’t their fiftieth adventure; this is really early in their partnership. There’s still lots of kinks to work out. Tonally, it’s taking what worked about the characters pre-New 52 and being faithful in the sense of what the original creators established with them, but not be beholden to that — using what works and extrapolating from that, not tying them down to any preexisting continuity or expectations. Basically, the theme of the whole New 52: if you knew these characters before, then you will definitely enjoy this book, but if you didn’t, you will enjoy this book just as much, if not more, because there isn’t ages and ages of backstory for them.
Though was Dan DiDio’s suggestion initially, were you already a fan of either Black Lightning or Blue Devil?
I grew up in Cleveland, and that’s where [Black Lightning co-creator] Tony Isabella is from. When I was a kid, he was the only local comic pro, so as a local Clevelander I followed his work. So I knew of Black Lightning and I was a big fan of “Batman And The Outsiders.”
Blue Devil I loved, I remember when DC used to publish ten-page previews in their books, there was a “Blue Devil” preview, I think it was in “Fury Of Firestorm” #24. I remembered just being completely enamored by it because the tone was, once again, light, but it wasn’t frivolous. The design of the character and that great artwork by Paris Cullins and Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn really created a world that was so inviting and so fun. I’ve been a long time fan of Blue Devil. I followed him from when he was in his own book to when he was in Justice League through Shadowpact, so the idea of getting to write him is a big thrill to me. I’ve been a fan since his inception.
The one thing about living in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry is it adds to what I can bring to him. I can expand upon that world with a reality to it and add a behind the curtain look. Blue Devil just gels with what my everyday life is, in a lot of ways.
So we’ll see Blue Devil sitting on the 405 in traffic, huh?
We might! He doesn’t fly as of yet, so there might definitely be stuff like that going on! When I did “Manhunter,” [the second series] was set in Los Angeles because I love the idea of having real cities in the DC Universe. DC is known primarily for its fictional cities: Gotham or Star City or Metropolis. But the idea of having these great characters in a real world city with identifiable locales and landmarks just adds a freshness to this. I think whether it’s having a book set in Los Angeles and dealing with the film industry or having a book set in Washington DC and dealing with politics, you want to make the location as much of a character as the characters themselves, because it only adds to the richness of the story you can tell. If it can be Any Town, USA it’s not interesting and the stakes feel lower.
Though it’s not an origin story, are you responsible for establishing these characters in the New 52 — figuring out their history, what counts from past continuity and what supporting cast sticks around —
We’ll be touching upon a little bit of the supporting cast. We’re really going for the big adventure, big action scene, big sort of exciting story to tell with hints of past. There will be characters introduced from the supporting cast, but this won’t be all set-up. We’re kind of going to ask the reader to keep up with us in some ways, because once again, I think the more actively you engage the reader when the reader has to put stuff together, it makes them more invested in the story as opposed to telling them everything. Sometimes stories tell readers what to feel so much, it’s like reading someone playing a video game. It’s very passive. The stories I always responded too as a reader were the ones that asked me to be a part of the story as opposed to being a watcher of the story. Now that’s me sounding pretentious! [Laughs]
Turning down a different track, who is the artist on the story?
I’m not at liberty to say, yet!
Then, as a writer, what was the biggest challenge with this? Was it bringing these characters back into the New 52? The limited number of issues?
Telling the story in five issues and making it compelling hopefully won’t be something that I drop the ball on — that part came pretty easily. For me, it was doing all the research. Researching these characters and their histories in the pre-New 52 and then throwing away my preconceived notions of them as a reader who knew these characters for the past twenty-five, thirty years, trying to approach them from the standpoint of what the edict of the New 52 is, taking characters whose names might be familiar and making them completely interesting and exciting and relevant to people who don’t know anything about them while acknowledging what went before. For me, getting rid of all the barnacles of existing continuity was the most difficult part, and it wasn’t that difficult. It was just a new way of thinking. Saying that was the most difficult part is like saying the most difficult part of eating your sundae was finishing it all! It’s been a great experience, and like I said, I have affection for both these characters. Hopefully that will transfer to readers when they pick up the story.
You mentioned you’d love to write more “Black and Blue” stories. Is the official hope with this to spin it off as an ongoing series if there’s a large readership?
I think that’s definitely the case. I think that’s the case specifically after the #0 issues, to kind of use these books to test the waters. Back in the day when I was a kid reading comics, there were books like “Marvel Premiere” or even “Showcase” when Flash came back after the Silver Age, or “Amazing Fantasy” #15 — Spider-Man was a one-off that generated enough goodwill to pursue it further. I think what’s great about books like “DC Universe Presents” or the upcoming “National Comics” is you can test the waters for these characters and get people to check them out and give them a complete story, but hopefully engage them in a way where they want to see more of these characters. Lord knows I would love to write these guys! This has been like a hemophiliac with a paper cut — it just keeps running out of me! Hopefully people will be engaged by this and want to see more because I know I have a lot of stories to tell with these guys. I think the whole concept of this book is unlike anything being published currently in mainstream superhero books, so hopefully it’ll fill a niche people didn’t know there was and hopefully they’ll really enjoy it.
Simply because you’re referring to them as Black and Blue, I can’t help to think of another superhero buddy duo — Blue and Gold. Was that something you had in the back of your head while working on these two?
Well, the difference between Black and Blue and the Blue and Gold is that Booster and the Ted Kord Blue Beetle were actually really great friends. They were best friends. They were almost more like brothers than anything else. You can’t have a Blue/blank team-up without instantly thinking of those guys, and those guys were way in the back of my head, but their relationship is so inherently different from the relationship between Blue Devil and Black Lightning. I love the contrast of a relationship that starts out antagonistic and then they become friends in spite of themselves and in spite of you. I just think that conflict is just a rich one that we all have, we all experience in our everyday life, like your best friend’s significant other you don’t really get along with but you put up with and you get to know. I think the metaphor in this relationship is something every person who reads this has with other people, and what’s great about it, too, is that it allows the reader to grow and discover things about these characters as they discover them about each other. Once again, engaging the reader as if they are there and making them part of this growing friendship/partnership. When you get your readers to invest like that, you have them forever and hopefully you can tell them stories that make them want to stick around.
Finally, are there any other DC books in the works for you?
This is taking prevalence right now. Like every other writer in the world, I’m doing pitches and I’m talking to [DC]; hopefully this will do well enough they’ll want to throw all sorts of stuff my way! [Laughs] But this is taking primary focus.
I love working with DC. DC is where I got to make my name with “Manhunter.” They’ve always been a real oasis of creativity as well as a big mainstream entity, so to be able to create in a universe this rich is always a joy.
Marc Andreyko’s Black and Blue five-part story begins in “DC Universe Presents” #13, on shelves in October.