Returning to his roots as a writer, former DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz is going back to the future for his first two major projects.
Already announced as the incoming writer of “Adventure Comics,” Levitz is writing the long-running title’s first ever annual before beginning his run on the Legion of Super-Heroes starring series, and he has already penned a “Superman/Batman” annual slated for next summer, which will feature Terry McGinnis, the Dark Knight of Tomorrow from the hit animated series “Batman Beyond.”
Levitz resigned as President and Publisher during Warner Bros. restructuring in September. The restructuring led to the creation of DC Entertainment Inc., a new company now led by its President Diane Nelson. A new publisher has yet to be named.
Along with his writing duties, Levitz, a Brooklyn native, now serves as a contributing editor and consultant for DC Entertainment. A long-time fan of “Legion of Super-Heroes,” Levitz wrote two classic runs on the title, including the wildly popular “Great Darkness Saga,” during the 1970s and 1980s. He has also penned multiple issues of such series as “All Star Comics,” “New Teen Titans” and Wonder Woman over the 37 years, and served as editor, vice president and executive vice president for DC Comics, before assuming the role of President in 2002.
In an exclusive first interview since his return to full-time writing, Levitz told CBR News that he plans to pick up on some plot threads he left dangling from his previous runs on “Legion of Super-Heroes,” hopes to introduce at least one or two new Legionnaires and is going to “blow some stuff up real good.”
It’s no secret that, despite a successful run as an executive, you wanted to return to writing comics one day. Now that the time is here, are you excited to be back?
This is what my battle plan for my life had been for quite a number of years. I think pretty much anyone who knows me well has heard some version of the “before-I’m-done-I-want-to-do-a-body-of-writing-that-matters-again” speech, so that part of me is very happy. Now the question is, “Can I do writing that matters?” And we all get to find out the hard way.
The first major project we’ve heard about is your return to the Legion of Super-Heroes in “Adventure Comics.” Considering your long history with the characters, it seems to be a great place to jump back into the game.
It’s an extraordinarily comfortable place for me to jump in. Legion was my first love as a kid reading comics. “Adventure Comics” was the first collection I fulfilled. My collection goes back to “Adventure Comics” #103 where Superboy came in. In the old days, you could build a collection like that without robbing a bank. Expensive ones were $5 or $10. Ooh. Although I had a few stories published in “Adventure” of the Justice Society stuff in that $1 comic period, I was never really a regular writer for “Adventure Comics,” so it’s a cool twist of the world to be fulfilling that inner eight-year old.
The Legion is obviously something that I spent a lot of my life on. I did not expect to do a third run. But when Geoff [Johns] was giving it up right at the moment that I was turning around and saying, “Hey guys, I’m going to be able to write some stuff. Got anything?,” it seemed like it would be just dumb to not start off there.
Due in large part to the size of the team and a continuity that would make some readers’ heads explode, the Legion of Super-Heroes is a different beast than the Justice League or even Justice Society. That said, readers that love Legion, really love Legion. What is it that you love about them, and how do you make them work in a team book?
It’s the same thing. The virtue and the challenge of the series is its enormity. You just have such depth of material to work with that, as a writer, you can sit there and say, “Whose life haven’t I screwed up lately?” And it’s really the equivalent of being able to put yourself in the middle of a high school and play with the entire grade. And tinker with it that way. On the other hand, “[Whines] You’ve got to know all of their lives.” And if the book isn’t being written absolutely perfectly, which few of us do, that means when you first pick it up, it may mean, “Who are all of these people?” And, “How do I figure this out?”
I literally, as is well known, used a scorecard to write the book. Hopefully people didn’t need a scorecard to read it.
I’m not sure what you can share in terms of storylines, but is there a nod to any of the plot threads from your previous work?
Right now, I’m still doing my homework. And trying to both read the material that happened in between and figure out how the DC Universe fits together and how the future fits, which is enormously challenging because, although I’ve been involved, obviously, with the DCU for the last 20 years, there’s a difference between being involved behind a desk at a distance and being immersed in it as a writer or a reader. So I have a lot of learning to do before I figure out how all the pieces fit together, but I hope to return to some of the characters I love and explore some things that I hadn’t got to.
I hope to also explore things and take advantage of how the medium has changed. Readers have different expectations. “Legion” was the second, direct-market only continuing book that DC launched when I was writing it. And I was talking with somebody the other day about that moment of time and saying, it was really one of the first handful of titles where you had to have an assumption that the readers were more than 10 or 11 years old. And we didn’t set out to do anything X-rated, or even NC-13 rated, as a result, but it became, “Well, I can assume the reader will be able to understand something more complicated. I can assume they are going to come back month after month, and I can tell a more complicated interwoven story.” Well now, 20 years later, you can obviously make a far more complicated set of assumptions about who our readers are. We know the level of sophistication is enormously greater. So how do you write for that fully? How do you take the best advantage of it?
Are there any specific storylines you can tease for “Adventure Comics?”
I can tease you, but I don’t know. I came up with a title that I really liked to potentially use on the annual yesterday (Wednesday), which I’m not going to share with you. My editor was very happy with it. We talked about the idea, and the title came naturally. And now I have to figure out how to make that work.
I think the thing to be effective with in the tease is to say, it’s my hope to pick up on all the existing plotlines that I can find and identify. It’s my hope to touch as many of the characters as possible within the first few issues. The first time I did a “Legion” annual, which was actually the first annual DC ever did back in, God, ’81 or ’82, I managed to get every single active Legionnaire at that time in that annual for at least a cameo. I don’t think I’m going to try that trick again. It worked that week. I am hoping to have at least one or two new Legionnaires introduced through the course of my first year. And I’m going to have some stuff blow up real good.
â€¨Do you have a favorite Legionnaire?
It really depends on who I am writing. In the story where Dream Girl won an election on ballot stuffing, but it was the kind of ballot stuffing that we didn’t have the sense to identify in the rules as being against the rules, so I felt obliged to do it. I’d never really cared for the character before that, and God, did I have a ball with her. And I think the readers did ultimately, too. So, some of them you just discover along the way.
Do you know when the artist you’re working with will be announced?
I know the guys have a pretty solid idea of who they want as the primary artist or two. But with the number of pages we’re looking to produce, it’s unlikely in today’s world that any one artist can do it all. But I don’t know when they are going to announce any of that.
I’m an unusually ignorant writer of the process, considering what I’ve been doing for all of these years, because I’ve really seen the process from a whole other direction. And for the most part, you’re a writer and you’re getting your first big assignment in a number of years, you’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching.
But I’m very anxious to please the readership and to give them a good ride. I always enjoyed the back and forth with the readers through the letter columns. It’s one of the things that I miss about comics today. So, hopefully, that kind of dialogue will continue, whether it’s through sites like yours or the DC Comics site or through conventions. I think the number of years I’ve been behind the desk makes it easy to forget that I was a comic fan foremost. The first fanzine that I did, that had a circulation of more than about four, had a huge one page article on the Legion in it that I did. This has been very much a piece of my life since I was a very little kid and it brings out my second or third childhood.
Currently in “Adventure Comics,” Superboy is the main feature and the Legion is the co-feature. Understanding that the Legion will be moving to the main feature, will the title continue to have a co-feature?
I think the theory is that it’s going to be pre-dominantly Legion material in the book. It’s certainly possible that if, either I get into trouble, or the artist gets into trouble, or if someone walks into Dan [DiDio]’s office with some brilliant new idea, that he’ll say, “Look, can we have a piece of space to tell this other story for a number of months?” No problem. But most of the time that I was writing the Legion, I managed to con the company into giving me more than 20 pages to do it in. I was on the book five issues before we changed it from 17 pages to a double-sized book back in the 1970s. And then we did the hardcover/softcover, and then we did matching miniseries and all sorts of tie-in stuff. And of course the Baxter book was, I think, 25 or 27 pages for most of its life. This is a large cast. There is a lot of room to tell a lot of stories. And I’ll fill as many pages as I can get away with.
And again, you’re starting the run with an annual, correct?
â€¨I think that’s the plan. They’re going to use a couple of issues of “Adventure” to wrap up the Legionnaires of the 20th Century plotlines that have been running in “Superman,” which I think makes a lot of sense, because it will make my head hurt less. And I suggested the annual as a way to bridge in. We never had an “Adventure Comics” annual, so it gives us kind of a cool #1 moment to launch with and then we can dive in full strength.
You’re working on a “Superman/Batman” annual, as well, featuring Terry McGinnis from “Batman Beyond.” Were you a fan of the animated series?
I enjoyed the series a lot. And I enjoyed working with the Warner Bros. animation team tremendously over the years – a very, very good bunch of guys. And of course, I had an opportunity to be involved with a lot of those things from the first stages. I remember sitting there with Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, talking about “Batman Beyond” before the first episode was done, sort of when they started doing test stuff.
When [editor] Eddie [Berganza] approached me about doing next summer’s “Superman/Batman” annual, he suggested, “Why don’t you look at the old covers and see if something inspires you?” And I thumbed the covers of my childhood, and saw there was a Superman of 2965 and they gave him a matching Batman and they did a story fighting Muto there and I said, “Well, wait a minute. We have a future Batman and Superman maybe we could do a tradeoff there.” And I checked in with Alan and Paul and said, “Do you mind if I play with your toys, guys?” And they said, “No. Have a party.” And it’s been a ball.
That’s the second script I’ve done coming back to the keyboard, the first thing of real size and weight and it was a great exercise because I didn’t have to untangle the whole DC continuity, I could just watch the animated episodes and remind myself how Bruce and Terry talked to each other and how Superman fit with it and go to work. And it’s sitting there in the can, written, ready to go to the artist.
Terry has a rabid fanbase, but readers that are locked into DCU comic continuity may not be familiar with him. Does that compound the ‘size and weight’ of this issue?
Yes, but it’s also just fun because you’re playing with an unexplored theme. A lot of what I’ve enjoyed in my career as a writer is playing in the corners of the universe. I did some mainstream Superman and Wonder Woman and pretty much any of the characters on some occasion, but the stuff that I had the most fun with and stuck with the longest was stuff that was in the future, or on Earth-Two, or out somewhere where everything didn’t have to fit together. I have profound respect for how the guys are managing to work through a dance as complicated as “Blackest Night,” but it looks really tricky. I’d like to warm-up before I did something like that.
Can you tease any details about the story you’re telling in the annual?
It’s hard to give much away with it being just one issue, but it picks up on the meeting of Batman Beyond and Superman in the old “Batman Beyond” show. It’s that continuity. And I think I counted about seven or eight elements of DC Universe mythology that I somehow managed to get in for a panel or more, somewhere throughout the process, as much to amuse me more than anything else. But hopefully that amuses the readers, as well.
It’s always tricky with “Superman/Batman,” but is this story set in current DCU continuity?
I don’t know. I understand in some theory, “Batman Beyond” takes place on Earth âˆš82 at this point. It fits very squarely into the “Batman Beyond” TV show continuity to the extent that has a logical place in the DC Universe. It fits there, OK?
Are you already working on some other projects for DC? And if so, will we see any of them in 2010?
I hope so. How much work I do in 2010 will be determined in part by how quickly I can get up from this desk. But I’m starting work, starting to write, if not every day, at least every week in some substantial body. I did a little eight-pager for a project that we haven’t announced, before the “Superman/Batman” annual. I’m starting in now, seriously, on the Legion stuff. I almost did a fill-in on something, where they thought they needed a fill-in for a day or two. And then they didn’t. But maybe I’ll get around to being able to do that in one place or another.
Right now, I think Dan is just saying, “Hey, he’s here and he’s not doing anything useful enough. Let’s put him to work.”