When things get messy, only one person knows how to clean it up — the Butler, geriatric hero of the upcoming five-issue miniseries of the same name by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Dan Duncan.
“The Butler” opens the door to a world housing the latest generation of heroes, who unfortunately act more like the self-centered stars of the latest MTV reality show than the benevolent members of the Justice League of America. When the super-powered team forcefully takes over the United Nations, the Butler, faithful housekeeper to the various incarnations of the super group for over 30 years, realizes the fate of the world suddenly rests on his tidy shoulders. Utilizing his years of experience and knowledge as the man behind the curtain — literally in the case of dusting — and armed with his wits and well-pressed tuxedo, the Butler proceeds to systematically mop the floor with the various members of the heroes-turned-villains team in an attempt to teach the young whippersnappers a thing or two about true heroism.
Well-known in the comic industry for his years of experience as writer on such titles as “Uncanny X-Men” and “Generation X,” and as the mastermind behind the fan-favorite mutant mega-event “Age of Apocalypse,” Lobdell spoke with CBR News in an exclusive first interview about the Image Comics title. The writer served up a look at how the idea for the series first developed, two of the characters the Butler takes on, and a race against time with… Christopher Nolan?
CBR News: Scott, “The Butler” follows… well, actually, why don’t you explain to readers who may not the premise what the series is about?
Scott Lobdell: I’d rather have you explain it. I explain it all the time. [Laughs] As the story opens up, the Butler has been the team’s butler for about 30 years now, through several generations of heroes that come and go. He discovers the most recent generation is the self-absorbed kind of characters that we see in today’s news and entertainment headlines. They’re not as bad as [“Jersey Shore’s”] Snooki and Lindsay [Lohan], but he’s gone from a time where he was talking to “Stars and Stripes” for exclusive interviews to chasing away the TMZ crew from the mansion’s dumpster. He’s at a point where he realizes that maybe this isn’t a world that’s worth putting his time in anymore and it’s time to go.
One day, for reasons to be revealed within the story, these heroes take over the United Nations and give the world an ultimatum. In the course of the story, other heroes and even a handful of villains try to take them down, but it turns out that it’s impossible because they are their Earth’s mightiest heroes. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that there’s one man on the planet who knows each of their individual weaknesses and the weak links in the security system of the mansion itself. That turns out to be the Butler. It’s come upon him to use his experience with working with heroes and be the one, single, non-powered, elderly individual who can take down this group of heroes.
How exactly did you come up with the idea for the character of the Butler? I mean, you hear the joke that in mystery books it’s always the Butler, and was that the case for you? When you came up with the world for this story, was it always the Butler as the hero in your mind?
I don’t know if it was right away, but I remember thinking of the visual of him standing there among the wreckage of the heroes he’s taken out and the tagline would be, “The Butler. He didn’t do it, but he’s about to.” [Laughs] That was one of the earliest impetuses. Also, the last time we had a conversation, after the interview, we talked about that great scene in “Batman” where Alfred comes to Batman in the Batcave with Vicki Vale and Batman turns around and is like, “What was that…?” We joked about how Alfred comes back a few minutes later with the Pizza Delivery boy and the Dry Cleaner. Batman has to take him aside and explain the point of a secret identity. That was in my head too. [Laughs] But really it’s kind of like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” In comic books, we see these great battles taking place, but what’s actually going on behind the scenes? It takes the traditional character of the butler and brings him to the forefront.
There were two other questions I had about the character of the Butler himself that I wanted to hit on. The first, you mentioned that he’s been working for this super team for about 30 years, so how old exactly is he at this point in the story?
He’s definitely older. I’d say he’s certainly past the point of no return. If it were a movie, I’d be looking at Anthony Hopkins or Michael Caine, but Michael Caine’s already done that sort of super hero butler. I see him as much older, but in my head, I’m toying with the idea of playing around with the whole comic book timeline that we have. I’d love to see him as a World War II veteran, but that would make him well into his 90s, and that’s assuming he was 20 when he was in the war. [Laughs]
[Laughs] With the magic of comics, anything is possible. The other thing I wanted to ask, and as silly as it sounds, I am curious about this. Does he wear his tux the entire time as almost his own super hero costume?
Yes. He’s a very proper gentleman, and even though it has fallen upon him to take down every one of his employers, he does it with the class and grace and professionalism that you would expect from someone of his lofty station in life. He’s never seen without his shirt pressed and his shoes polished. He is first and foremost a butler and he takes his job seriously, even when he’s saving the world. And it’s funny, because you and I are having this whole conversation and I haven’t had to reveal his name yet. I am really toying with the notion of maintaining his anonymity throughout the story so he is always just referred to as the Butler. But I don’t know if I can get away with it. I don’t know that when the actual story is told if I’m going to be able to pull that off, but I’d like to.
Well, you could have it that these young, self-centered kids never actually refer to him by his real name because they never took the time to learn it. So, they just call him stereotypical butler names like Jeeves.
[Laughs] We can call him Alfred and Belvedere and everything but.
We talked about the Butler, but what about his adversaries? Can you talk a little about some of those characters and what they’re like?
Yeah. There’s a character called Battle Post, who has the elements of the patriotic superhero and who uses an armor-type outfit. In comic books, the faithful sidekick always takes on battle armor and wears it, but in Battle Post’s case, it’s the great grandson of the original hero who really has no discernable heroic qualities at all. He’s a jerk and he feels it’s his turn to use the battle armor and he uses it to pick up chicks or get out of traffic tickets. I love the notion of this type of character who is the last person you’d want to see with a magic ring or a secret soldier formula passed down through his veins. There’s also a character called Behemoth who secretes this plasmic case around him when he gets emotionally overwrought. The angrier he gets, the bulkier this organic shell becomes around him. Whenever he goes into battle he progressively gets stronger the more his power is called upon. It’s up to the Butler to figure out how to take him down without engaging him in battle. Fortunately, the Butler knows clues into the guy’s personality that no one else would have picked up on over the years. There’s a bunch of other characters that I don’t want to reveal yet as well.
From what you’ve said, would it be fair to say that there definitely seems to be some influence you’re taking from existing characters when creating this super team?
What I’m trying to do is invoke some of the basic traditions of the superhero teams that we’ve seen over the years, whether it’s been the Avengers or the Justice League or the Teen Titans or… what was that book with all those mutants? I forget. [Laughs] So, I’m playing with those conventions. I don’t want people to look at a character and go, “Wait a minute, that’s just Captain America.” Certainly, there are elements of characters that we see from group to group. You have the stalwart Superman/Cyclops/Captain America/Robin character. You have the darker Batman/Wolverine type character. I’m trying to play to those conventions but not to the point of duplicating them.
I wanted to also talk about the artist on the series, Dan Duncan. You’ve worked with Dan before, so what about his style made you want him for this project?
I’ve worked with so many artists throughout the years who have come by and, with their particular style, pushed comic books in another direction. Joe Madureira or Chris Bachalo are two really good examples. While we worked together, it was very clear to me in the early stages that these guys were people who were really going to have an influence. While Dan is very young and a recent graduate of the Kubert School of comics, just from the work that I’ve seen him do when we worked together on “Music Box” and all the work he’s put in when he shows me samples, he’s a kid who really, really thinks about every page. And because he’s doing the penciling, the inking and the coloring, he has a control over the art that I haven’t seen in a number of years. I’m excited just when he sends me a new sample or his version of a character.
Is there a character design he did that really surprised you?
Behemoth is the perfect example. He’s a character that I said was just really bulky and emotionally overwrought. When Dan sent the sketches, he had this character completely engulfed by this plasmic energy and you see this actual human being in the center of that, like he’s submerged. I looked at this and I said, “This is the coolest way to do this type of character that I’ve ever seen.” He wrote me and said, “I’m sorry if I went too far,” and I was like, “No! I love this!”
To close out, there’s a question people usually ask at a time like this and it involves the possibility of a sequel. But as per a conversation we’ve had about the state of Hollywood today, sequels are yesterday’s new. What are the chances of a prequel?
Well, if it happens, I hope it happens before Chris Nolan does the early adventures of Alfred as played by James McAvoy. I hope to get the Butler prequel out before “Alfred: The Early Years” with McAvoy and the kid who plays Manny from “Modern Family” as a young Bruce Wayne. Although it would be great to see Sofia Vergara as Dr. Leslie Thompkins. [Laughs]
Look for “The Butler” to come knocking on your comic book shop door in Spring 2011