Living legend Keith Giffen — is known largely for bringing the bwa-ha-ha-ha! to “Justice League International” and unleashing Darkseid and “The Great Darkness Saga” on the Legion of Super-Heroes at DC Comics. But what’s lost on legions of Marvel zombies as director James Gunn preps his “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie for 2014 is that Giffen co-created Rocket Raccoon and was instrumental in assembling the current iteration of team during his best-selling Marvel sci-fi crossover event “Annihilation” in 2006.
This January, Giffen expands the New 52 with “Threshold,” aiming to deliver the same level of success in the new ongoing series featuring art by Tom Raney, which spins directly out of “Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual” #1 in January.
In “Threshold,” DC’s space heroes — including reimagined versions of the Star Rovers, Star Hawkins, Space Cabbie and Tommy Tomorrow — face off in a “Hunger Games”-style reality TV show in a galaxy far, far away. The series also features Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), another co-creation of Giffen’s that recently saw his solo series canceled, and a brand new Green Lantern named Jediah Caul. If that’s not enough, “Threshold” also boasts a regular co-feature starring the Yello Lantern Larfleeze drawn by Scott Kolins.
The always candid Giffen shared his thoughts with CBR News about slicing his own piece of sci-fi pie from the New 52 and how DC’s relaunched continuity allows him to revisit characters he’s written or illustrated in the past and reinvent them — and perhaps re-write some previous wrongs — for a new generation of readers.
CBR News: If “Threshold” had been announced without a writer attached, I would have said, “That sounds like a job for Keith Giffen.” How did this project come about? Was it your pitch or did DC come to you?
Keith Giffen: It was kind of a combination of the two. I always wanted to do go in and see if I could do for DC’s science fiction and cosmic characters what I did for Marvel with “Annihilation.” I brought it up a few times. But it never seemed to be the right time. And frankly, I thought DC had forgotten about it. Then Dan [DiDio] called up and said, “Remember that science fiction thing you wanted to do? Put a few things here. Put a few things over there. And you can have it.”
Dan never calls me and tells me to do what I want. [Laughs] It’s always here’s what I need: “For this to work within the DC Universe, I need this, this and this.” And as long as I do this, I pretty well have free reign. I guess he trusts me enough to not damage things too badly.
But to answer your question, it’s something that I’ve wanted for years. All of the characters are there like Space Ranger, Space Cabbie, Stealth and quite a few new characters. It’s a little slice that I’ve carved out of the DCU. And I’ve said, “Now just leave me alone for a little while ’til I get it set up.” And they have. And I’m having fun with it. I love world-building. It’s right up my alley.
Do you see a difference between superhero comics and science fiction comics?
I do. But the only difference there is between a superhero book and a sci-fi book is the setting. In a superhero book, the guy flies by and bullets bounce off him and people scream, “Oh my god. He’s a hero. Oh, we’re astonished.” Where in a sci-fi book if a guy flies by and bullets bounce off him, people are more likely to say, “You know, he should have given me the right of way.”
In a science fiction book, there is more acceptance of aliens and the bizarre. That said they still share the same basic trappings of a superhero book — a hero going up against what seem to be insurmountable odds for the good of all people. It also relates back to Joseph Campbell. The heroes prevail.
Other than the fact that I may be dealing with people with blue skin, it’s close enough to a superhero book that people that only read superhero books will recognize “Threshold” as a superhero book. People that are looking for science fiction that relates back to the setting. And for those people that like to watch me jerk the DCU around, they’ll like it too.
In your first story line, “The Hunted,” there is a competition called The Game. It sounds a bit like Stephen King’s “Running Man,” which was turned into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura in 1985.
Yes, it’s sort of “Running Man” by way of “Battle Royale.” I’m a huge fan of “Battle Royale.” I have been since I got my first bootleg copy of the movie. I actually volunteered to Tokyopop to do the smoothing out of the manga.
I think it was Dan who came up with the idea that maybe there should be some sort of “Running Man”/”Hunger Games” type competition. And I thought it was a good core idea but I had to sit down and see if I could do something with it that made it different. I didn’t want this to be DC’s “Hunger Games” or DC’s “Running Man.” Because the question becomes, if there was no “Running Man,” why would [they] do this?
Once I set down the rules and figured out how I was going to make the whole thing work and what the context is within this section of space, and how the game works, what is their primary motivation — other than staying alive? Because once you’re released, once you’re part of the game, you have 24 hours to do whatever it is that you feel you have to do and then anybody can take you down. Anybody for any reason can take you down and get the money.
You’re introducing a new Green Lantern to the mythos. What can you tell us about Jediah Caul?
When you get involved with stuff like this, you try to find as many connections, if you’re smart, to the established DCU as humanly possible without crippling yourself in continuity.
Once we had Lady Styx, we asked, why hasn’t she been more of a presence? The idea is way back when the Guardians had the Manhunters, Lady Styx and the Guardians signed a mutual, non-aggression treaty. They realized if we go to war, we are mutually destructive and we’ll just wipe each other out. They’re basically just snarling at one another until somebody breaks the treaty.
Even during our Cold War with Russia, we always had spies. And Jediah Caul is an undercover Green Lantern behind enemy lines. Events that happen in the “New Guardians” Annual, which is sort of a lead-in to “Threshold,” kind of complicate his life. Let’s put it that way. [Laughs] But unlike most people who learn from their travails and say, “You know what? I’ll be a better person for it.” Nope. Jediah Caul doesn’t.
There’s that Green Lantern connection, and you’ll see how we play that, but really, that’s it. He’s off and running. And there is going to be some other DC characters dropping by too to be hunted or to interact.
I love that “Threshold” features numerous characters that you’ve written or drawn before: Omega Men, Blue Beetle, Stealth… I guess you can go home again?
Yeah, it’s nice coming back and working with characters that I’ve worked with before under the rules of the New 52. Because I can go back and fix the things that I did wrong. I’m not a perfect person when it comes to storytelling. Everything that I put down isn’t precious and priceless. If there are things that I’ve screwed up, I will just ignore it. [Laughs]
I am very excited to rework some of these characters. Tommy Tomorrow is there. Space Cabbie is there. I am reimaging him as Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.” Stealth is there. Space Ranger is there. Star Hawkins is there and so is Ilda. And there’s a really weird relationship going on there. Not what you think either.
And in “Threshold” #2, I’m not going to give this away, but we’ll introduce who I swear will be the breakaway character for this book. This will be the one fans start buying the book. And by the way, Larfleeze has nothing to do with “The Hunted” story. Larfleeze is a 10-page co-feature and a completely different story.
And I’ll admit. I have no intention of doing the Omega Men I did before. I’m taking a different tact. I’m trying to pretend that I’ve never touched them before. Blue Beetle, specifically Jaime, is a character I have a certain amount of affection for as I ushered him into the world. It’s fun to have a book with all of these characters that I’m familiar with but I get to gentrify a bit and not have to worry about the rest of the DCU. Just for a little while.
Until the first crossover.
[Laughs] Exactly. But as for the “Rise of the Third Army” in the Green Lantern books, I don’t touch base with it. It doesn’t really affect what I am doing. There are echoes of it and I acknowledge it but it’s not going to come into my section because I have way too much to establish as it is.
Is “The Hunted” a finite story? Or is it a limited story and we’ll see a new main story arise in the months or years ahead in “Threshold?”
That’s not my call to make. “Threshold,” as far as I understand it, is a book to showcase science fiction properties in the DCU. It’s the same way, I assume, that “Sword of Sorcery” is not going to stay Amethyst’s book forever. If Amethyst proves to be popular enough, she’ll go into a book called “Amethyst” and something else will be slated into the spot. It’s almost like a limited showcase.
That said, I see “The Hunted” being a long-term story to tell. It’s not five issues and solved. You can’t solve something this big in five issues. But this first arc of “The Hunted,” whether it is five or six issues, will essentially be Jediah Caul’s arc. Were it to continue or be popular enough to continue as a monthly book called “The Hunted,” Jediah would eventually fade into the background and somebody else’s story arc would come forward, all the while forwarding the primary story arc of “The Hunted,” which is how can we turn this game to our advantage.
After Jediah Caul, the next five or six issues might focus on Stealth or Space Ranger or Tommy Tomorrow or Jaime or on a character that we haven’t even see yet. In “The Hunted,” I am thinking long-term but planning short-term.
You mentioned the co-feature starring Larfleeze. Not your creation but certainly a character that’s right in your wheelhouse as a creator. Did you ask him for him to be included?
Nope. Not at all. I saw Larfleeze come on the scene when Geoff [Johns] created him and I thought, “That’s a really interesting character. I like the way Geoff handles him.” But that was as far as it went. Because, frankly it was Geoff’s baby and I don’t chase other people’s characters. But when Dan called, he said, “We’re going to do Larfleeze in the backups and you’re going to write it, right?” And my first response was, “Does Geoff know?” Once again, it comes down to it’s me. But apparently, it was fine with Geoff. And he was happy passing him on to me to put in the back of “Threshold.” It’s an act of faith. [Laughs] I’ll tell you that much.
And when I sat down with Larfleeze, I could really see how he falls into what I do. He’s a massively flawed character but he’s hilariously flawed in circumstances where those flaws come to the surface. The bwa-ha-ha is in “Ambush Bug.” And this isn’t Lobo. It’s Larfleeze, which is a whole other set of circumstances.
We also introduce a new character there. I really thought that Larfleeze needed a butler like Arthur. We figured out who that would be and the cast of characters that he would come with and we’re good to go.
Right now, my favorite characters to write are the Star Rovers. You look at the Star Rovers and you’ve got three hokey characters walking around the DCU doing nothing. But what if you turn them into Larry, Darryl and Darryl, it becomes fun.
Again, not that it’s going to be a comedy book. “The Hunted” is as serious as a heart attack — the basic concept that a game has become so popular in a section of space that it transcends our fixation with the NFL. They’ve got t-shirts, special hunting clubs, merchandising: “I’m saving my ammo for Stealth!” It’s a huge cultural thing out there. But when you cut away all the spectacle to what they are doing and take the basis of the idea and twist it, it’s something else.
I like that idea. You’re having a good rollicking time and then half-way through the story, you realize, “Wait a minute. This is kind of disgusting.” I always try to go for that feeling like you’ve been punched in the stomach. That’s probably why I don’t end up on “Batman.”
In addition to writing, you have a long history illustrating these types of stories, but for “Threshold” you are handing off art duties to Tom Raney. Are you enjoying the collaboration?
I have no trouble with Tom at all. I’m the one that went to DC with his name. First off, I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t on a regular book. I run up against that constantly. When I’m looking for artists, I bump against this constantly, the great artists, the ones that know how to tell a story, draw really well and they’re always there for you — they’re not getting regular work. They’re all over the place. And when Tom came available, DC said, “Okay. Let’s go with him.” And he’s been performing. He’s doing just fine.
I can’t think of a single artist that I haven’t gotten along with or had a good working relationship with mostly because I don’t just hand them a script and say, “Draw it, peon.” I like to get in touch with the artist, get them invested in the book. Ask them what they like to draw, what they don’t like to draw. I hate drawing horses so don’t give me a western. Or if you do give me one, give me one where they walk a lot. I like to bring the guy in and so far, Raney’s doing great. His designs are spot-on. He’s really taken the whole idea of what DC is trying to do to heart. She’s called Stealth. She’s appeared before but you don’t have to draw her anything like she’s appeared before. It’s just like I do with O.M.A.C. We just have the name. We can do whatever we want with it.
I just love the work he’s doing and with Scott Kolins on the Larfleeze backup, the stuff he’s doing to establish this world, working in hand with Raney, is spectacular. The cool thing about Scott Kolins and the reason I like working with him so much is that he’s on-time, he does great work, blah, blah, blah, but he understands — like when he’s doing something like the [“New Guardians”] annual, when he’s introducing all this stuff — he has to defer to Tom Raney if he has a design he wants for a character because Tom’s the one that has to draw it over and over and over again and you don’t want to have to go backwards.
No problem at all as a matter of fact. Things are almost going too smoothly on this book. [Laughs] It makes me nervous but I have a good team backing me up. I feel that when I write a script, I don’t have to re-read to see if there is something in there because this guy might screw it up. I can just put it down and they’re adding to it. There was one scene where I saw it one way and Tom did it a different way, he actually put a whole new spin on it and I was actually annoyed that it didn’t dawn on me to do that. That’s the best kind of working relationship that you can have with somebody.
“Threshold” #1, written by Keith Giffen and featuring art by Tom Raney and Scott Kolins, is expected January 16.