Jeff Lemire’s star continues to rise in the world of comics. For the second straight year, one of his titles — this time DC Comics’ “Superboy” — has been nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series. The third trade of last year’s nomination, “Sweet Tooth,” is set to be released by Vertigo Comics. The Canadian cartoonist is also drawing an upcoming issue of “Jonah Hex” and just told an emotionally powerful eight-page story with Ultra the Multi-Alien, yes, that Multi-Alien, in “Strange Adventures” #1.
Though far from wicked, Lemire still gets no rest, because the indie darling turned DC Comics mega-talent is bolting headfirst into “Flashpoint,” writing the tie-in miniseries, “Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown,” a three-issue series, illustrated by Ibraim Roberson with covers by Doug Mahnke, debuting on June 8.
Lemire, who loves Mahnke and can’t believe he’s providing covers for the mini, is a self-professed huge fan of DCU’s C and D-list superheroes. Enter the Creature Commandos. While Lemire has assembled most of the original monster squad that first appeared in “Weird War Tales” #93, he’s also added a few new names to the roster — the big one being Grant Morrison’s version of the Frankenstein monster, who was introduced into DCU continuity in 2005’s “Seven Soldiers” maxi-series.
Always candid, Lemire shared multiple important plot details with CBR News during a spoiler-filled conversation, including who Griffith the Werewolf is desperate to sink his teeth into and the deep, dark secret origin of Nina Mazursky. Be warned.
CBR News: You’re a multiple Eisner-nominated indie darling, and now you’re writing a three-issue miniseries that’s part of DC’s big summer, crossover mega-event. As a kid growing up in southwestern Ontario, did you geek out for these big maxi-series?
Jeff Lemire: When the first “Crisis” came out, I was probably 10 years old. And that was probably the greatest thing that I’d ever encountered at that point of my life. I remember reading those issues, the original ones, so many times that they fell apart. I got so bored with reading it one way, but I still wanted to read it again, so I started reading it backwards at one point. [Laughs]
So yeah, the original “Crisis” was awesome. And then as I got older, I stopped reading that stuff. I don’t know if there was ever one that really lived up to “Crisis” anyway, until just recently they’ve been getting better again.
So did you put up your hand and say, “Pick me, pick me. I want to be a part of this.” Or did Geoff Johns approach you?
Well, I’m already doing tons of crap, so it’s not like I’m looking for work. But in one of my original conversations with Geoff Johns, when he called me about “The Atom” a year-and-a-half ago or something, he asked about me maybe writing some of this stuff, and I obviously wasn’t going to say, “No.” I wanted to be a part of it, for sure.
But the genesis of the actual “Frankenstein” miniseries is kind of bizarre because it wasn’t one of their original ideas for being a part of the “Flashpoint” world. They had approached me to write a couple of different things that I didn’t end up doing. One of the group of characters that I always liked as a kid was the Creatures Commandos. I loved “Weird War Tales.” I wasn’t too crazy about the ideas that they threw at me as far as what they wanted me to do, so I came back and pitched a Creature Commandos series as part of “Flashpoint” without the Frankenstein character being a part of it. I was just going to use the Frankenstein character that was a part of the Creature Commandos.
They really liked the idea, but — I don’t who it was, it might have been Geoff Johns or Eddie Berganza or someone from behind the scenes who suggested using the Grant Morrison Frankenstein as part of the team. As soon as they mentioned that, it all came together very quickly for me because I love that miniseries that he did with Doug Mahnke. I love that character and that version of Frankenstein so much that it just immediately became the story. How could the Grant Morrison Frankenstein be leading the Creature Commandos? As soon as you start trying to figure out how that could happen, that’s my story. So it just sort of wrote itself at that point.
Not only do we have a new Frankenstein, but the rest of the team isn’t exactly the original Creature Commandos either.
It’s sort of a mixture of some of the original characters that were in the original “Creature Commandos” strip from the seventies and eighties and also a new character.
So yes, it’s Grant Morrison’s Frankenstein, who is the real Frankenstein monster created by Doctor Frankenstein. He’s the leader of the team, and then we have two characters that were part of the original team: Velcro, who is the vampire character, and Griffith, who is the werewolf character. They’re still here.
Since Frankenstein’s monster was sort of the inspiration of the Commandos in this world, they obviously didn’t have a need to create their own Frankenstein. So Lucky Taylor, who was the original Frankenstein character, was never created. He’s not a part of the team. I also never really liked the Medusa character, the original Creature Commando, because I just felt she didn’t fit. You had these classic horror movie archetypes of Dracula, the Werewolf and Frankenstein, but Medusa was a Greek myth. It was totally shoved in there. It didn’t fit the theme. So I didn’t bother with her and instead, I created a new female character that is sort of a female version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. She ended being my favorite character and ended being the heart of the whole story.
What’s her name?
Her name is Nina Mazursky and in this story, she’s actually the daughter of Dr. Mazursky, who is the original leader of the Creature Commandos. He experimented on her and changed her when she was a little girl to save her life. But — well, I don’t want to say too much. She’s a really fun character.
I read that you really embraced Griffith, too.
Griffith is the closest character to one of the characters you might find in “Sweet Tooth.” He’s this really sweet natured guy who can also be completely ferocious. There’s kind of a weird love story between him and the Creature from the Black Lagoon character. That ends up being the heart of the whole story.
Back in the old “Creature Commandos” strips, and this is not meant as a dig on the original writers, but at the time when those were written, there really wasn’t a lot character development. So it was fun to flesh out who these different characters could be. I made Griffith this big-hearted guy, and Velcro, I turned him into a complete asshole — an arrogant, aristocratic guy who is too good for all the other ones. He’s sort of the comic relief for the book. It’s really fun to make these personalities up for different characters.
Is that the major draw for working within “Flashpoint?” That you can run wild with these characters?
The whole conceit of this thing is that these are the same characters and the same people that they are in the regular DC Universe, but the circumstances and the situation around them is so different that it’s altered the people they end up becoming. At the core, they are the same characters, but circumstances made them take different paths in life and make different decisions. That’s really interesting — much more interesting than doing an Elseworlds thing where it’s Batman in the 1920s or something. These characters are actually linked to the “real” DCU. They are the same characters, and I think that’s what makes it important and more interesting than just a throwaway, alternate world story.
Another name that is mentioned in the solicitations that I don’t recognize is Miranda Shrieve. What can you tell us about her?
She’s another new character. Matthew Shrieve was the only human member of the original Commandos. He was the military liaison for Project M in the original strips, and in this book, he is as well.
Miranda Shrieve is his granddaughter, and without giving too much away, something happens to the original Shrieve that sends her life on a different path. She’s basically our monster hunter character. She’s really got it out for these guys.
How heavily does this cross into the events of the main “Flashpoint” miniseries. Do Barry Allen or Thomas Wayne make appearances?
I thought for these miniseries to be successful, they have to stand on their own. This really is a self-contained story about these characters. You can read the miniseries, really, without any “Flashpoint” stuff and still enjoy it. At the same time, if you are reading the “Flashpoint” story, it is firmly set in that world and it reflects what’s going on, but it’s not like Batman or The Flash pop up in #3 and they all fight together. It’s not that closely linked.
What happens in the book does have implications for the greater story, but it’s not a crossover in the sense that you read “Flashpoint” #4, and then you have to read “Creature of the Unknown” #3. You don’t have to read it that closely.
What did the folks at DC say when you pitched the main event as Frankenstein vs. Hitler?
Like I said, my original pitch didn’t even have Frankenstein. My original pitch was “We3” meets “Hellboy,” which they liked. But if you are going to have Frankenstein in World War II, he’s got to fight Hitler. It’s mandatory.
Is this the first time you got to write Hitler?
Ah, yeah. And probably the last.
I know you love these C and D-list characters, but writing a Creature Commandos story also allows you way more freedom as a creator than if you were writing a Batman or a Green Lantern tie-in, right?
There’s total freedom. With Frankenstein, the only baggage is that it was a Grant Morrison property. And that’s a pretty long shadow to stand in. At the same time, look at how Grant Morrison started at DC 20 years ago. He started doing “Animal Man.” And who cared about “Animal Man?” Nobody, right? He had total free rein to take that character and do what he did with him, which was brilliant. If he was offered Batman back then, I don’t think there would be the Batman stories he’s writing right now.
I’d much rather find my voice as a writer doing these kinds of things because I just have so much more freedom. To be honest, I’ve always kind of preferred DC’s C and D-list characters. I just find them so interesting. That’s why I loved the original “Crisis.” I loved the Superman and Wonder Woman stuff going on, but it was just seeing all of these crazy characters in the background. It was like, “Who are they?” You wanted to know more about them. That’s kind of the fun of doing this now. I get to answer those questions, like, “This is who they are” and develop them myself. Put my stamp on them. It’s a lot more fun writing Frankenstein, in some ways, than writing Superboy, because Superboy has so much history. Even though he’s not Superman, there’s still that “S” on his chest, so there are certain expectations, where this is a completely open book.