After speaking openly about his love for Grant Morrison’s take on Buddy Baker just a few weeks ago here at CBR, Lemire will now be writing a new “Animal Man” series — illustrated by Travel Foreman and Dan Green — which launches in September alongside 51 other brand-new titles.
His second new series features another superhero Morrison revamped, though in more in recent years, as Lemire follows up on his work in “Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown” with “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.” with artist Alberto Ponticelli
Lemire spoke with CBR News about both titles, divulging what it takes to embrace your dark side in the new DCU and how he’s sharing scripts with newly announced “Swamp Thing” scribe Scott Snyder. Plus, the writer was up for a bit of non-DC discussion as he praised the talents of John Dykstra (“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”), the legendary special effects guru who is translating the first book of Lemire’s Eisner-nominated anthology “Essex County” into a superhero film.
CBR News: I guess that I should have listened more closely to your inflections a few weeks back when you were speaking so eloquently about tackling characters like Animal Man early in your career much the same way Grant Morrison did when he was establishing himself in the early 1980s.
Jeff Lemire: [Laughs] I guess so! It’s really cool and a dream come true for me. I love all the early Vertigo books, especially the era right before they officially became Vertigo, and then the first couple of years of Vertigo when all the characters were still linked to DC, like Swamp Thing and Animal Man and Sandman and Shade. To get a chance to now bring them back to DC and sort of create this own little dark corner of the DC Universe with people like Scott Snyder and Peter Milligan and Paul Cornell is exactly the kind of stuff that I would dream about doing.
DC certainly isn’t making it easy for consumers. You have to go out and buy Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on “Justice League” and all the titles spinning out of that book like “Aquaman,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Flash.” The Bat-books all look amazing, the Green Lantern books are rock solid and then today — wham. Right in the face, we get these five awesome books no one was expecting, with amazing talent attached, like you said, creating essentially Vertigo 2.0.
I know. I think DC did a real good job at creating a really diverse group of books among the 52. There really is a little bit of everything there, and for people who like darker, kind of supernatural stuff, I think they’re really going to like what we’re doing. If that’s your cup of tea, you can have that and still have it kind of linked to the DC Universe, which is really fun.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’m just super-excited. Obviously, this is something that I’ve been working on for a few months now, so it’s not new to me, but I’ve just been dying to start talking about it. I am relieved that it’s finally announced.
When we spoke about “Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown,” you mentioned the enormous shadow Grant Morrison casts across characters he’s written, and here you are again, re-imagining Buddy Baker in an all new “Animal Man” book. Will that groundbreaking run serve as a bible for your series?
No. When people think of Animal Man, I think the vast majority think of the Grant Morrison run, and rightfully so. Those are mind-blowing stories and I love them. But for me, it’s not a matter of trying to live up to that, or re-do that, or anything, I’ve got to make it my own.
The core of the character is the same guy that Grant was writing and that Jamie Delano wrote. He’s a father and a husband first and a superhero second. He’s caught up in things that are always threatening to tear his family apart, and that’s the core of the book. Certainly, you could get really intimidated by writing two books that Grant Morrison used to write, but I just don’t think about it. I just do my own thing and try to do something new and fun with them. You just have to be true to the aspects of the character that people liked in the first place.
With such a long history within the DCU, how do you go about selecting the aspects of Animal Man you think remain valid to the heart of your book versus leaving some of the other stuff well enough alone?
Obviously, I went back and re-read everything, every Animal Man story there is, I think. A couple of times now. If you were to stick to everything that’s been done through the entire 80 or 90-issue Vertigo run and the stuff done in “52” and afterwards, Animal Man probably has the most convoluted origin of any character. Ever. I swear he does.
At some point, you just have to take the things out of the origin that make sense for you and for that story that makes sense for you, boil it back down and let some of the other stuff go. If you tried to stick to all the Vertigo continuity, it would just literally not make sense. The Jamie Delano stuff. The Grant Morrison stuff. And then Jerry Prosser did some stuff right at the end. They all contradict each other. It would just be maddening, so in the end, you have to kind of step away from all that.
One of the good things about the September initiative for DC is that we can take a fresh start approach and take bits of continuity that we think work and just really start fresh with the characters. You don’t need to have read all those stories to enjoy what I’m doing, but at the same time, I’m trying to honor the writers that dealt with the character in the past too.
I know you’re sworn to secrecy about specific plot points and what we’re going to see, but is there anything you can share about the tone of “Animal Man.”
You’re right, I’m not allowed to talk about any of the specific plot details. I’m not even sure if I’m able to talk too much about the direction of the book other than what’s been said, but for me, what draws me to the character immediately is the family aspect. That’s something I have obviously done in all of my past work. What I love about “Animal Man” is that it’s not just a book about Buddy Baker. It’s a book about Buddy, Ellen, Cliff and Maxine and how Buddy’s life and his powers and the things he gets into affects that family unit and how they stay together despite it all. For me, that’s such a great core, such a great heart for a book to have.
I love seeing a superhero who is also a father. I love seeing that aspect. I love writing scenes with Buddy interacting with both of his kids. They’re both completely different personalities. He has a completely different relationship with each of his kids and his lifestyle affects both of them differently.
Holding it all together is his wife, Ellen, who is such a great, strong female character to write. There’s just so much to offer a writer there. And then you take the darker, supernatural aspects of the book and throw that in, and that’s a lot of fun too. It’s just really rich ground to cultivate, for sure.
And because Animal Man wasn’t far enough from the Big 3 for your liking, you’re also continuing your adventures with Frankenstein in “Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.”
Don’t forget, I just wrote an Ultra the Multi-Alien story for “Strange Adventures,” too. [Laughs]. I’m really starting to get a reputation. “Frankenstein” was something I pitched to DC. I really wanted to continue telling stories with that character.
Did you fall in love with him while you were writing “Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown”?
Yes, and I think DC was pretty happy with what I was doing on that series. They wanted more, as well. That book has been such a surprise to write. Every time I go down to write an issue, I’m still so surprised how much fun it is write that character, to develop these crazy science fiction concepts for S.H.A.D.E. and to do these big, fun, over-the-top stories with a really dark edge to them. That book has been a lot of fun. I’m really anxious to see the reaction it gets, because I think it’s going to catch some people by surprise.
With “Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown” underway, should folks interested in this new series be picking up the “Flashpoint” tie-in miniseries as a primer for what’s ahead?
Definitely. There are some new characters I created in that “Flashpoint” miniseries that will come back to the new DCU in my monthly book. One bleeds right into the next. I shouldn’t say too much, but a lot of the characters in the “Flashpoint” series, we’re going to see them again in the monthly book — but they may not be the same versions of those characters, if that makes sense.
Totally. [Laughs] You mentioned the family side to Buddy Baker’s story. Do we get to see the same sort of storytelling with Frankenstein, or is it all gun-blazing and swordfighting madness?
No, he’s not going to just be this two-dimensional monster. That would get pretty old after a couple of issues. I really want to go back and examine who this guy and who he was. He’s lived for hundreds of years, so there’s a lot of history there to explore — his relationships with S.H.A.D.E. and how that all happened, what makes him tick and what makes him want to protect humanity. These are all questions I look forward to getting into.
Fingers crossed here, but does the fact that these two books were announced along with Scott Snyder’s “Swamp Thing,” Paul Cornell’s “Demon Knights” and Peter Milligan’s “Justice League Dark” imply there will be some sort of crossover between the titles? I know Scott Snyder was praising your “Animal Man” and “Frankenstein” on Twitter mere minutes after he was done confirming his own “Swamp Thing.”
Well, that’s the fun thing about doing these characters back in the DCU as opposed to having them off at Vertigo. Now, they’re back in that shared world, so we have that opportunity. Obviously, nothing specific has been discussed because we’re all just getting our books off the ground, but I think we’re probably all open to it. I know Scott and I are; we just have to see how things shake down. Scott and I are very close, personally, and we share scripts and talk. I’ve read his first couple “Swamp Thing” scripts and he’s read my first couple “Animal Man” scripts. We give each other feedback, so we’re really on the same page with the direction we’re both taking with those books. So yes, the potential is there, but like I said, we’ll have to see how things play out and how the first year of the books turn out.
And if two new books from DC Comics wasn’t enough for you, “Essex County” is being made into a movie. You’re going to stop taking my calls, aren’t you?
Yes — this is our last conversation. Definitely. [Laughs] No, that’s very exciting, as well, obviously. Much like this DC stuff coming in September, it’s something that’s been in the works for some time and I haven’t really been able to talk about it, so it’s great that it all kind of hit this week. It’s very exciting. John Dykstra is doing the film. His resume speaks for itself with “Star Wars” and everything else.
It’s kind of cool because “Tales from the Farm” and “Essex County,” the comics themselves, are sort of quiet and introspective and character driven, but the adaptation that they’re looking to do is a bit more commercial. I’m kind of happy with that, because I wouldn’t want someone to just directly reproduce my vision. I’d rather they just take it as a jumping-off point and do something different.