In September, the third smartest man in the world, Michael Holt AKA Mr. Terrific, received his own ongoing series courtesy of DC Comics, writer Eric Wallace and artist Gianluca Gugliotta. With the initial story arc wrapping in this month’s issue #3, the series has yet to unveil whom the number one and two smartest men in the world are, but it has delved into everything else, from Mr. Terrific’s Los Angeles lair to the death of his wife at the hands of the villain Brainstorm. And that’s not even getting into the love triangle developing with his employee Aleeka Okafur and fellow CEO Karen Starr, whose identity as Power Girl is yet to be revealed in the newly relaunched DCU.
A writer for SyFy’s original television series “Eureka,” prior to launching his most recent ongoing comic book series, Wallace told CBR he had big plans to make “Mister Terrific” a “cosmic” comic. Starting in December, he will make good on that vow, introducing a new alien menace to threaten Michael Holt and the rest of the DCU.
Taking time out of his hectic writing schedule, an enthusiastic Wallace spoke with CBR once again about his series, detailing how he creates obstacles for the brainy hero and how Jack Kirby influences his take on Mr. Terrific.
CBR News: Eric, we saw Mr. Terrific take on the villain Brainstorm in the first three issues of his series, and in this next story arc we’ll have Mr. Terrific tackling an alien menace known as the Kryl. While Brainstorm was a villain who used Mr. Terrific’s brain against him, will the Kryl be a more physical threat to Mr. Terrific? Or are there psychological aspects of Michael Holt you are exploring with the Kryl as well?
Eric Wallace: The Kryl will definitely challenge Mister Terrific on a physical level. They are a very brutal warrior race, bent on ruling the Ninth Dimension. However, they are not above using psychological methods to learn pertinent details about their opponents. Which is bad for Mister Terrific, because he is definitely their most formidable opponent yet!
But there’s also another reason to have The Kryl as the book’s second storyline. In the first storyline — the battle with Brainstorm — Mister Terrific learned a disturbing truth about himself; that he is a man divided, one whose intellect can’t solve every problem. And when he turned to violence to solve things, matters only got worse. Now, with The Kryl storyline, Mister Terrific faces the exact opposite scenario: fighting powerful alien foes for which violence may be the only answer. What will he do? How will he cope? And most importantly, how will it affect him on an emotional level? Especially since he’s already questioning everything he thought was right and sane about himself (as a result of the events in issues #1 to #3).
So yes, there is a continued exploration of Mister Terrific’s psyche in issues #4 and #5. And just as with Brainstorm’s revelation, the battle with the Kryl — and an encounter with some very unexpected allies — will also give Mister Terrific even more insight into himself and how he fits into the fantastic world he has created for himself.
Going along with that, you’ve mentioned that you want to build Mr. Terrific’s rogues gallery. How do you approach creating a villain for the world’s third smartest man — are the scariest villains for him to face bad guys that can exploit or undermine his intelligence?
Every great superhero has great and memorable villains, but the best villains don’t just provide a great battle; they also teach the hero something important about themselves. Brainstorm taught Mister Terrific a badly needed lesson in hubris. Mister Terrific’s encounter with The Kryl will teach him about the importance of belief in our lives, that sometimes you need more just scientific facts to get the job done. Sometimes you also have to believe that you can do the job in the first place. How this plays out exactly, I won’t reveal — sorry, no spoilers here. But I will say that a very special young person whom he meets plays a key role in Mister Terrific’s encounter with The Kryl. Her name is Harmony, and yes, she’s a young person we’ll hopefully be seeing more of as the “Mister Terrific” series goes on. â€¨
You’ve also said that you intend “Mister Terrific” to be a very cosmic comic. Outside of Michael literally tackling extraterrestrial threats, is your idea that Terrific is a character that exists and operates on a different cosmic plane than the rest of the DCU due to his genius, adventures, etc.?
Mister Terrific exists in the DCU just like all the other characters re-introduced in the New 52 relaunch. As we’ve already seen in issue #2, Michael Holt knows people like Oliver Queen, whose Q-Tech division is a rival of Holt Industries. But there are other billionaires in the DCU — Bruce Wayne & Lex Luthor among them — and Michael Holt knows them all. And just what do these extremely wealthy people think of each other? We’ll be finding out in upcoming issues of “Mister Terrific.”
As for the “cosmic” nature, that refers to the scope of the series. “Mister Terrific” is a book about science gone mad. As such, it’s going to take our hero beyond the confines of our planet. But that doesn’t mean that, beginning with The Kryl (again, issues #4 and #5), Mister Terrific will be dealing exclusively with cosmic threats. Far from it. There are many other threats worst than Brainstorm hiding right here in Los Angeles. One of them, the biomechanical monstrosity known as Digitus, will make his presence known in issue #7.
Also, this series will continue to contrast Mister Terrific’s battles against mad science with the troubles in his personal life. As we learned in issue #3, Brainstorm revealed Mister Terrific’s key weakness: that the hero who knows everything about science and technology conversely knows very little about his own heart and emotions. “Mister Terrific” is very much a series about one scientist’s journey of self-discovery into the most mysterious realm of all: the human psyche.
Talking about that mad science, from the look of Mr. Terrific’s T-Spheres and his other advanced technology, I get a very Kirby-esque vibe. Did the Fourth World material or any of his cosmic work influence you as far as tone and feel for “Mister Terrific?”
Jack Kirby is a huge influence on this series, but not because of his Fourth World work. The biggest influence on “Mister Terrific” as a series is Kirby and Stan Lee’s incredible run on “Fantastic Four.” The balance that run achieved between epic cosmic stories and smaller family drama is what we’re aspiring towards in this book.
As far as Michael’s tech goes, when we spoke briefly at NYCC you said that you wanted to base the comic in science — that while the gadgets are futuristic you could see how you extrapolated it from existing technology. Is this something you are continuing to play with as Mr. Terrific is pulled into space to fight the Kryl?
Yes, I’m continuing to draw from real science theories and solutions in The Kryl saga. In fact, we’ll see late in issue #4 how Mister Terrific again uses his “MacGyver”-esque gifts towards genius-level science problems to help save the day.
Now, does that mean some situations in “Mister Terrific” won’t be straight out of science fiction or science fantasy? Of course not. The Kryl themselves are a perfect example of this. Technically, until extraterrestrial life is actually discovered in any way, shape, or form stories with aliens can be — at best — speculative fiction. And in the case of The Kryl, I certainly hope they’re science fiction, because I wouldn’t want these folks invading Earth — we wouldn’t stand a chance.
But aside from the occasional uber-concessions to the fantastic, this series will always strive to present conflicts, villains, extrapolated technology and other threats that could — in some way, however theoretical or futuristic — occur within the next century.
Turning to the characters, in these first three issues, you’ve set up not only Mr. Terrific but also Aleeka and Karen, his two love interests and allies. What can you say about Aleeka, Terrific’s second in command?
Aleeka is one sharp lady. Brilliant and a consummate leader, she’s been playing second fiddle to Michael Holt for a number of years. But what Michael doesn’t realize is that she’s tired of being Number Two. It’s more than just ambition. It’s the fact that Aleeka has the kind of intellect and talents that need to be constantly challenged. And guess what? Running Holt Industries after all this time is becoming routine. This yearning for something more in her career is going to take Aleeka into a very unexpected direction, one that will change her relationship with Michael Holt forever.
So, there’s a huge future in store for Aleeka. Again, no spoilers here, but this transition in Aleeka’s life begins in issues #7 through #9, during the battle with Digitus. The goal is that by Year Two of “Mister Terrific,” Aleeka Okafur will be the most “powerful” person in Michael Holt’s universe, and an even bigger player on the DCU stage. Of course, whether or not she uses her newfound status to help or hurt Michael Holt will be a surprise.
We’ve also got Karen Starr AKA Power Girl involved in these issues, though so far we’ve only seen her operating sans superhuman abilities. Is Power Girl de-powered? Is she going to continue to be a supporting character for Michael Holt rather than a superhero ally for Mr. Terrific?
Sorry, but because of the no spoilers policy, I can’t exactly say what’s in store for Karen Starr. But I can say this: Karen’s relationship with Michael Holt has already begun to sour, and there’s a reason for this, one that is the beginning of something much bigger in both their worlds. This conflict will eventually lead to a major revelation about one of the biggest mysteries in Mister Terrific’s life. So stay tuned.
To go back and talk about the art on the book, what is it like working with artist Gianluca Gugliotta?
Gianluca is an absolute delight to work with! Not only is his artwork incredible, but his designs for the cosmic elements of this book are just amazing. Readers will get to see Gianluca’s imagination unleashed during The Kryl storyline in issues #4 and #5. It’s wonderful stuff that is just gorgeous to look at.
Gugliotta’s style has a dream-like element to it, with lots of swirls of energy and massive buildings and unusual angles on action. How much of that comes from Gugliotta and how much is it things you two have discussed for the way the comic should look?
I put some seriously crazy descriptions into the “Mister Terrific” scripts, but I give Gianluca plenty of space to do “his thing.” And, as you’ve already seen, his thing is pretty darn incredible! So yes, most of that strange, ethereal quality comes from Gianluca, not my writing. What’s amazing is that readers still haven’t seen Gianluca’s best stuff. Those incredible T-Sanctuary designs? They’re nothing compared to the cosmic grandeur of The Kryl designs, especially in issue #5. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. It’s science fantasy designing with an edge, but also with a fragile, realistic beauty that is wonderfully unique.
Finally, now that we’ve read inaugural story arc defining the world, how would you sum up Michael Holt/Mr. Terrific as a character?
Simply put, Michael Holt is a scientist, which means curiosity rules his countenance. For better or for worse! This is true whether he’s in a suit or in his T-mask. But the key difference between Michael and Mister Terrific is that Michael is a man. Men can be slandered, corrupted or torn down. However, “Mister Terrific” is an ideal. It cannot be destroyed. And if it is defeated, that ideal will rise up again. That’s the whole point of the motto “Fair Play, Win the Day!” That no matter how great the darkness might become in our lives, the resilient positivity of the human spirit will eventually triumph. This is the true definition of heroism, in my opinion, and it’s what I’m trying to get across — especially to young readers — in every issue of “Mister Terrific.”
“Mister Terrific” #4 hits stores December 14.