Braver and Bolder with J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski ("Superman Earth One") is the first to admit that when he landed at DC Comics for the next phase of his comic book work, many a Spockian brow was raised when his first major, ongoing project was announced as "The Brave and The Bold."

And yet, the fan favorite creator of Babylon 5 hasn't disappointed fans as he's weaved five completely distinct stories in his first five issues, with the latest featuring what could easily be argued as the most far-reaching team-up in the history of the long-running franchise - The Joker and The Atom, Ray Palmer. In an homage to the sci-fi classic "Fantastic Voyage," JMS took readers (and The Atom) to The Joker's childhood, and to no one's surprise, it was not a very happy place.

JMS told CBR News that in the months ahead, the title is only going to get braver and bolder in terms of its storytelling and that he has a secret weapon he's planning to unleash by the end of 2010 that will take "The Brave and The Bold" to a higher level, not only in terms of impact and significance, but actual sales, as well.

He also revealed exclusively to CBR News, which superhero teams will be featured in "The Brave and The Bold" #34 and #35 - a special two-parter told through two entirely different points of view.

CBR News: You've given us some great team-ups so far in "The Brave and The Bold," but the latest was something nobody would have ever expected. How did you come up with the dynamic duo of The Joker and The Atom?

JMS: It's kind of like that game you'd play as a kid, "Which of these is not like the other?" When I set out to come up with a game plan for "The Brave and the Bold," the first questions I asked were: who has been paired and who hasn't? Who can we bring in from either end of the spectrum that has never played with that character? Granted, you can go a bit far afield on that if you're not careful. "Let's do Lex Luthor and the Boy Commandos!" But in general, it leads to interesting combinations.

What is it about the pairing of The Joker and The Atom that you thought would be so special?

I like to go for contrasts: the logical mind of a scientist, like the Atom, inside the mind of a lunatic; a small character against someone who's big and florid; a guy who saves lives inside a guy who takes lives - it's more tone than anything else.

And do you feel it worked?

Yeah. It's creepy, and I like that. One of the things I'm working toward is to make each issue as different as possible from the rest. Each is its own little self-contained experiment. Some go deep into the philosophical stuff, others are more action oriented, and some are just for fun. In a way, I'm treating them like one-act plays set in the DC universe, and that means going from the straightforward story to the totally off the wall and experimental.

Have any of the team-ups you've delivered so far not worked as well as you'd hoped?

So far I'm pretty happy with what we've done. It's a good start. We set the tone for what's to come. Now we have to dig in and start delivering on the promise of those first issues.

Next up, you have Aquaman and Etrigan, the Demon, which again, sounds like a wonderful match while being somewhat askew. What was it about these two characters that you thought would gel?

I liked the image of fire and water, two elemental forces. And I wanted to write something for Aquaman that would show that this is a guy not to be trifled with. I mean, he can control the life forms of 70 percent of the Earth's surface, he's royalty and he has a foot in both worlds. That should, by all rights, be a pretty strong character.

The solicitations reveal that your April issue features Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Zatanna. More importantly, you also have a new artist. Is Cliff Chiang replacing Jesus Saiz?

Jesus will always be our main artist. To spell him from time to time, and if there's a story that's really suited to another artist's style, we'll, of course, be open to that. You match the style to the tale. But Saiz is doing great work, and we're very lucky to have him on the book.

When we last spoke, you said you've told DC that by the end of 2010, "The Brave and The Bold" will be somewhere in the top 20 or 30 books and that you have a plan to make that happen. Can you share any details about how this will happen?

Step 1 is to build up the credibility of the book as something other than an oddity. We've made some good progress in that area, given the majority of the reviews and attention the book is now getting from critics and the blogosphere.

Step 2 is to start upping the ante, taking some real chances with the storytelling, getting more experimental.

Step 3 is a secret. I've talked about it with [DCU Executive Editor] Dan DiDio, and he's on board. It's our Manhattan Project, for lack of a better term. If we pull it off, it'll draw enough attention to bring the book the rest of the way up.

Well, we'll be waiting to hear more about that. In the meantime, can you tease some of the team-ups that we'll see in the months ahead?

The next two issues fall into the experimental category.

The first of these features the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol. A crisis sends the Legion back in time to get the right team to pull off the job. They come back to the future to handle it, only to find new and unexpected complications springing up. But they do deal with it. It's a serious issue with lots of action.

The next issue features the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five, which is set at the same time as the previous issue. In this one, the Legion has learned of the same crisis, and decides to show the Legion that they're just as capable as anyone else, so they go back in time to get the right team... only to end up per accident with the Inferior Five. Determined to make the best of it, they come back to the future to deal with the problem, and everything they do keeps screwing up what the Legion is doing - so now we learn the source of the constant and unexpected complications. The Legion story is mainly a comedy of errors. It shows how you can take the same basic story and tell it two ways, one serious, one funny. It also lets me play with parallel timelines and narrative structure in ways we really haven't seen much before.

Even the covers are parallel. The first cover shows the Legion and the Doom Patrol in a victory pose in front of the time bubble, with shadowy figures barely visible on the other side. The second cover shows the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five posing on the other side of the bubble, with the Legion of Super-Heroes barely visible as shadowy figures on the other side.

That's what I mean in terms of doing more experimental sorts of stories, and taking chances. It could blow up in my face. Or it could be insanely fun. You never know and honestly, that's the fun of it.

"The Brave and The Bold" #32, written by J. Michael Straczynski with art and cover by Jesus Saiz, arrives in comic book stores across North America on March 3.

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