Having made a name for himself as the writer on such projects as DC’s “Flash,” “Kingdom Come,” and “JLA,” as well as Marvel’s “Captain America,” Mark Waid is no stranger to the glare of the spotlight. Not too long ago, he made news by signing an exclusive agreement with CrossGen and again even more recently with the announcement that he would be writing Marvel’s “Fantastic Four” while still writing “Ruse” for CrossGen, an unprecedented arrangement with the publisher. Mark had a few moments to talk about “Ruse,” CrossGen, and his upcoming work on one of Marvel’s flagship titles, “Fantastic Four.”
Will Allred: Let’s get started. Are the reasons that you moved to CrossGen still just as valid as they were when you made the decision?
Mark Waid: I still think it’s admirable of anyone to enter this industry at this stage and start pulling at ripcords, yeah. CrossGen’s intentions are very good.
WA: From the setting and characters in Ruse one gets the idea that you are a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories. Is this the case?
MW: Actually? Truly? No. Which makes me a Philistine, I know…but I’ll never forget my first Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Read it when I was a teenager…and was so INCENSED that the entire solution depended on a scientific falsehood (“SNAKES CAN’T HEAR!”, I think I screamed) that it scarred me forever. Since starting “Ruse,” I’ve delved back into the canon and see the stories more for what they are — clever firsts in fiction, the beginnings of some of the detective-story trappings we take completely for granted by now. But I just never could get over the fact that the solutions to the mysteries themselves were often pretty specious. Give me Ellery Queen any day. And put that down.
WA: For those that haven’t picked up an issue, what is the premise for “Ruse” and what was the inspiration for the characters?
MW: Well, CrossGen publisher Mark Alessi commanded me to write a Victorian detective series with a Holmesish lead and a pretty girl sidekick, so in my usual rebellious way, I took it as far away from that as I could, mostly by deciding that the sidekick was actually the interesting one and the main character of the stories, far more than Watson ever was. For Simon Archard, I admit I gave him that sort of snide, withering voice I tend to give out pretty freely (Brainiac 5, Dox, Max Mercury); for Emma, I drew more on that innocent part of me that truly marvels at the wonders of the world around me.
As for the premise…Simon Archard, the world’s greatest detective, is by this point in his career so good at what he does that he’s bored stiff and has begun to withdraw into himself because he sees no more challenges. Emma, his assistant (or partner, if you ask her), sees that there is still some warmth and humor buried deep inside him and has charged herself with bringing that out come hell or high water.
As for the art, I’m teamed with Butch Guice, Mike Perkins, and Laura DePuy.
WA: What do you say to the comic fans that like super-heroes and have been a little leery of another comic universe? Feel free to give them the hard sell.
MW: Can’t. All I can do is tell them to read what they like and what catches their eye. Marvel and DC don’t put out all the good comics any more than Fox and Paramount put out all the good movies. And, I GUARANTEE that “Ruse,” by DESIGN, can be read TOTALLY independently of the CrossGen line.
WA: Do you approach your CrossGen characters, Simon Archard for instance, differently than you approach the wholly corporate-owned characters like the JLA or Captain America?
MW: Not really. The basic approach is simple: find the part of me that echoes in them and then write the hell out of it.
WA: Your new arrangement with CrossGen is, well, unprecedented. Talk about that a bit.
MW: I wrote “Ruse #1” after I announced my resignation, and Mark Alessi liked it so much that he offered to bend the rules somewhat and have me continue with the book in a nonexclusive mostly freelance capacity.
WA: Let’s talk about the “Fantastic Four.” Talk about landing the assignment. The gag order on you doesn’t seem to have stopped Jemas and Quesada from talking about it. What do you make of all this inter-company politics?
MW: Oh, who the hell knows? Executives do what executives do, and rather than get upset about the long history of comic company feuds, I’ve elected to sit back with my popcorn and watch the circus.
As for the assignment, shortly after my resignation was announced, editor Tom Brevoort called me and offered me the “Fantastic Four” — and I had to think about it, to be frank. The long-running series I tend to have affection for are those I discovered when I was a kid — and by the time I found the “Fantastic Four,” they were WAY past their prime, creatively speaking. But after a night or two of wrestling with the offer, I decided that (a) I love the CHARACTERS, and (b) with all due respect to those who have gone before me, many of whom have written better “Fantastic Four” stories than I’ll probably ever pen, maybe someone coming aboard who WASN’T deeply wedded to the “Fantastic Four” of the 1960s is the shake-up that book seems to need. We’ll see.
WA: For those who don’t know, who’s handling the art on the series?
MW: Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel. I can’t wait to start working with Mike again — here’s a guy who, in the early 1990s, single-handedly created a new school of comics art that eventually gave us the Ed McGuinnesses of the world. Mike’s very good and very invested in TELLING A STORY in the most innovative-yet-clear way possible. And Karl Kesel, of course, is one of the best inkers this medium has ever had–plus he’s a great “Fantastic Four” authority himself and has volunteered his invaluable services as a go-to guy and sounding board.
WA: How do you see the individual members of the cast?
MW: As a little more…visually disturbing to the man on the street than they have been. They’re still a fun family, but c’mon…watching a guy next to you burst into flame? Or stretching his neck across the room? That’s not unsettling? Stan and Jack always worked to remind us that while the Marvel characters were people first and foremost, their look and presence had an EFFECT on the common man. In fact, the adjective Stan always used to describe the FF was “offbeat.” That’s what they are. Offbeat characters.
And because they’re so great, I don’t need any new “take” on most of them. Ben’s one of the most well defined characters in comics and Johnny is a 25-year-old teenager. Sue, I think, could use a gentle push into Hot Soccer Momdom. I think the reason she’s not been a more popular character is because she’s been misdefined by her power–a woman who wanted to be an actress and who wore Christian Dior gowns everywhere isn’t a wallflower who wants to blend into the background. I think Sue’s invisibility maps far more to the notion that she’s so multi-faceted that only her family can see the real her.
And Reed…I love Reed the most, but somewhere in the past few decades, he went from being Stan and Jack’s brainy man of action, who’d literally have to be held back from kicking Namor’s ass whenever he ran off with Sue, to “the guy who explains how the big machine works.” No. Lab rats spend all their time in the lab, but Reed’s an adventurer. Reed knows there’s a limit to what he (of all people) can learn behind a meson microscope and is always eager to dive headfirst into exploration.
WA: Will you approach the “Fantastic Four” differently than other books that you’ve written?
MW: Vastly. I wrestled with my first script for weeks and weeks until I realized my problem: I was writing it like a super-hero book, and THESE GUYS AREN’T SUPER-HEROES. They’re adventurers, they’re explorers, and if Galactus shows up, sure, they’ll intervene if they’re able–but remember, they’d be doing (as fully as possible) what they do even if they HADN’T gained extraordinary, freakish powers. No, you’ll see lots of action and lots of energy…but they owe a great deal more to Doc Savage and Indiana Jones than they do to the Avengers and the JLA.
WA: What can the readers expect from a Waid penned “Fantastic Four” (besides the unexpected)?
MW: Hopefully, the new. All the time. I’m using this assignment as an opportunity to reinvent myself, as well–rethink the writers’ tricks I’ve learned over the years, re-examine how I go about putting stories together. I owe that much to the “Fantastic Four” — it’s not something people who started reading comics after 1970 tend to remember, but in their day, the Fantastic Four was the VANGUARD of the new. They were the X-Force or Authority of their time, ushering in the Marvel Age of Comics — and the goal is to restore that prominence to them by spending a lot less time with Diablo and Annihilus and a lot more time with ideas and concepts you’ve NOT seen before.
WA: It’s been awhile since your run on “Captain America” where things didn’t go as smoothly as you would have liked. Has Marvel changed that much in the intervening years?
MW: Oh, good GOD, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Jemas and Quesada are a breath of fresh air after the way Marvel ran itself into the ground creatively in the ’90s by continually and invariably acting out of fear rather than confidence. For pete’s sake, comics aren’t SUPPOSED to be CONSERVATIVE any more than rock music is.
WA: Any other projects coming up that you can talk about.
MW: Not at the moment — cooking up something pretty big with DC, but nothing’s firmed up yet. Magic 8-ball says, “Ask again later.”