Boston Brand, also known as the DC Comics superhero Deadman, was born and killed in 1967.
Created by writer Arnold Drake, Deadman first appeared within the pages of “Strange Adventures” #205 as a circus performer who, after being shot and killed, was brought back as a ghost by the Hindu goddess Rama Kushna and instructed to fight for justice in his incorporeal state. One of DC’s oddest characters, in recent years Deadman’s status in the DCU has risen, starting with “Blackest Night” and culminating with Deadman’s starring role in “Brightest Day.” Now, in “DC Universe Presents,” DC’s new anthology series revolving around various characters in the DCU, writer Paul Jenkins and artist Bernard Chang will bring their own unique spin to Deadman and his otherworldly mission as he headlines the title.
Having spent the majority of his writing career the past several years working with Marvel Comics, Jenkins told CBR he was thrilled to be back at DC and quickly delved into his plans for Deadman, the plans for the “DC Universe Presents” anthology and the deeper, darker, existential questions the ghostly hero will have to tackle in Jenkins’ story.
CBR News: How did you come to write Deadman? When you came over to DC, were you just planning on doing “Batman: The Dark Knight” with David Finch and then the Deadman opportunity arose?
Paul Jenkins: It’s the other way around, actually. I was supposed to do Deadman first. The way my contract was working at Marvel timing-wise, in deference to the fact I was exclusive to them, I wasn’t really going to be that involved in the start of the New 52. But the timing did happen so I could be involved. I talked with Bob Harras and Eddie Berganza initially and said, I’d love to come back and it’d be great to do some more stuff with DC, it’s been way too long. They all seemed interested in it and Matt Idelson, his division has “DC Presents” and my editor Wil Moss, who is a really, really great guy. They called me up and asked me about my interest. One of the things I’m really interested in doing is getting some of the core characters that they haven’t utilized in the past and seeing how viable they are. How interesting is a Deadman series? How interesting is Hourman and these other really good characters? I previously had a meeting with Geoff Johns out in LA, and I said to Geoff, “Oh, man, I love Hourman! I’ve got this great idea for Hourman!” And the response was, “How do you feel about Deadman?” “Uh, great, brilliant, I like Deadman, too! What do you have in mind?” [Laughs] So what they had in mind was for me to do a five-issue arc that really delved into who is he, what he has become, why he does what he does.
And, he’s a cool character! He’s on this journey trying to undo the wrongs he’s done in his life and he constantly inhabits other people’s bodies in order to undo these injustices. But there’s more to it than that. I think we’ve got a core story that really gets one layer below that and asks, why has this god come and chosen him to be the guy to do this? What’s so important about him? It’s this big mystery in that, at this point in his career as Deadman, he’s kind of worked out that something much, much bigger is happening through him than he ever previously understood. But I’m not going to tell you what it is! [Laughs]
Of course, that would be giving it away! After “Brightest Day,” Deadman gained some stature and wider recognition among fans and characters in the DCU. Is there a feeling that, if these issues are well received, it could potentially spin off into a Deadman series with you writing him?
You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I really don’t. I like the character, I think he’s interesting, I think that we have a fairly definitive type of arc that looks at him and answers the questions, what’s the point, why Deadman, what’s so interesting about him? But those kinds of questions are best aimed at DC.
I did “Wolverine: Origin” and then Paolo Rivera and I did “Mythos” for Marvel, and each one of those was a real basic primer on Captain America, or Ghost Rider, etc. Anybody could pick up one of those “Mythos” books, read one short issue and say, “I know who Ghost Rider is,” or, “I know who the Fantastic Four are,” even if they never read a “Fantastic Four” comic book. That was the mandate and they were the hardest books I’ve ever written in my entire life. I think that when I talked about doing Deadman with Geoff and DC, the idea was in part, “Why don’t we do these definitive stories that really set up the character in a modern environment?” If somebody picked up this five-issue arc, they’d read it and say, “Now I know who he is!” so they wouldn’t have to catch up on the stuff from “Brightest Day” or previous things. They can read that self-contained series and get of sense of who Deadman is. That’s really where they want to go, rather than the stable of back stories, and frankly, I don’t blame them. I think that’s a really good idea.
Will these five issues also explore in more detail Rama Kushna and the god side of Deadman?
Yeah, it really does explore his relationship with Rama. Here’s this guy, and he wasn’t a pleasant person and he didn’t treat people very well and he got shot on his trapeze and he fell off and died. As he’s dying, up pops this apparently Hindu goddess who says, “I’m not going to let you die, I’m going to give you a chance to redeem yourself.” So my first question would be, well why? What’s the point? She says to him, “Here’s the arbitrary rules we have invented for you: keep going, right wrongs, fight injustice, inhabit other people’s bodies and sort their problems for them — and if you don’t do it, you’re going to be destined to wander the Earth miserably as a ghost forever.” If I were Deadman I’d go, “Well, what the hell was that? What’d you do that for?” What we are doing with this story is examining intimately what happened to him. How did he get this gig and why did this lady show up and say “Hey, I’m going to give you a shot at redemption.” He’s going to find there’s something more going on in what she did than he ever really understood. He’s been at this point, sixty, eighty, a hundred people, and he’s going to start saying to himself, “Wait a minute, why these people? Am I connected to these people in some way and are they connected to each other?” Through the course of this thin,g he’s going to find out this huge secret that he never particularly understood.
You’ve said before that Deadman is a great way to examine existentialism — what do you mean by that?
One of the things that is happening, and I’m trying to couch this in a way that does not give away what we’re doing with the book, but if we go on from what I was telling you a couple of minutes ago, Deadman’s question to himself, or even to the universe is, “Hang on a minute, why was I put in charge of this particular thing and how was I chosen to be the guy absolved of all his sins, etc.?” It used to be kind of interesting to him when he was put into the body of a daredevil stunt rider — you get to ride stunt bikes for a while and solve his problems. That’s very Boston Brand. But what happens when he’s put into the body of a priest who is losing his faith and his job is to help the priest rediscover his faith? Or a girl who is getting bullied on the Internet? He’s being put into these situations and now he’s saying, “I don’t get it. I used to think I understood, but now it seems I’m trying to find answers to questions that are beyond me. Why do bad things happen to good people? What’s the nature of my relationship with God? All these big existential questions that I’m being put in these people to solve — I’m not qualified for this! How come it’s me?” That’s what I mean by, we’re going to explore the idea of existentialism. He’s going to realize that he’s exploring these big existentialist questions through the bodies of other people.
Is this the only story you’re writing for “DC Universe Presents,” or will you stay on and write other stories for the series after this?
I don’t know. It really depends on what my schedule is going to be and what they want. I talked with Geoff, and he was interested in me coming in and doing a number of them. Like I said, the very first thing I said is, “Oh wow, I really like Hourman — is there any way I could get to do him?” We chatted it through and I thought Hourman was a cool story. But I think the first thing to do is get the editors through the first issues of the New 52. I think they have a tremendously huge task ahead of them trying to coordinate this. Rather than jump too far forward, I think the best thing is to get this done and have it come out on time.
I’ve really been excited about Bernard Chang — his artwork is looking really amazing on the book. I think if we get through that one, I’ll certainly put to them that I’d like to do the Hourman one I talked about, but I really just have to see what my schedule is and what other work I might be doing at DC.
Aside from his artwork obviously impressing you, what has it been like working with Bernard Chang?
I’m very lucky in that I like to find artists to work with who are engaged in the storytelling process. One of the things artists are often surprised about me is that I’ll call them up and say, “Here’s my story, I want to do this, but do you have anything you want to add?” Some artists find it very intimidating or aren’t interested, but other artists are really into it. Bernard is really into it. I asked him to give me some of the things he wants to do visually, because I’ll incorporate those visual elements into the way we tell the story. That’s what I’m doing with David Finch as well; he likes big splashy pages, he likes big bombastic moments, but he also likes to do the detective work. With Bernard, I said, “Look we’ve got a dead guy who’s a ghost — we don’t have to literally portray the world if we’re going to do supernatural stuff.” Having said that, he drew a bunch of these magical-based pictures that are not grounded in reality. Bernard had these really good ideas of things that might work, and I said, “This is great!” We had breakfast a couple of times when I was out in LA. He really likes to be engaged and involved and talked through with me ideas he has for the visuals. So it’s great. I’m very lucky with both artists.
As you mentioned before, you’ve done a ton of work for “Marvel Knights.” Do you have any plans to want to do something similar with DC, to do Elseworld stories or Vertigo stories or other standalone series with DC?
Yeah, I’ve talked to Shelly Bond and Karen Berger about doing something at Vertigo again. It’s been a long time. We all felt really old when we had that conversation! [Laughs] It was like, “Wow, remember when?” But apart from that, I have a couple of other things in the work at DC. I can’t really discuss them until they get finalized as projects. I will say that one of them is a pretty big and important project that they’ve got in the works, something I think the fans will really dig over the next couple of years.
One of the things that I am definitely going to concentrate on at DC is going into the core characters or even the villains and so on and doing what I’ve always been able to do at Marvel — kind of find them and define them and say, “Here’s the rogues gallery of Flash. Let’s go in and do single issue stories about each one of them!” I’m not going to do that particular one — I’m just using that as an example. But maybe we’ll do four issue series of all those types of characters or do definitive ones. Because we did that with “Mythos” and we did that with some of the “Marvel Knights” stuff with Inhumans and Sentry and so on, and especially “Wolverine: Origin.” I’ve been kind of given the opportunity to define characters in some ways. That’s not to say that my version would be the definitive one, it’s just a question of coming in and doing a character-based story. We talked about doing that at DC with a couple of different editors, and I think I could be engaged in that for a couple of years.
You are coming into DC at the beginning of their huge relaunch and getting a chance to really put your hand in and mess with these characters. What, on the creative side, is getting you most excited for September?
You know, I feel bad for all of them, for Dan and Bob Harras, because it’s a massive undertaking. You think, “Well, 52 books, they already publish 50 books,” but they have to coordinate story and characters and creators all across the board and make sure you’re getting a good, fresh take and make sure the character designs are done. But what’s exciting about it is that they really committed to saying, “Look, we can’t just do print publishing, we have to go into the digital realm.” There’s always going to be a market for print publishing because there’s always going to be a market for books. You can hold up a book and keep it in your bookshelf and people are happy with that. But you can also read a book on the Nook or iPad and so many people are choosing to do so. Why should comics fall behind? I’m so excited for the possibility of digital comic book storytelling. In fact, I have a number of ideas of ways in which I want to do it that aren’t necessarily along the lines of what is being done right now, which is in just making the audio of the page flip as we flip the page. The iPad was really the game changer, because suddenly people could get a color version and it was big enough for them to read.
Sure, there are plenty of exciting creative things I want to do, but I have to give DC kudos — they are the first of the big two companies to say very clearly, “We want to go digital. That’s not to get rid of the retailers, that’s not to get rid of print publishing, but we really want to make the digital copies accessible to the readers because the readers are going to want them whether we provide them or not.” It’s a big undertaking. It’s probably being seen as a big risk, but it’s cool. I love the fact they did it.
“DC Universe Presents” #1 hits stores September 21