CCI: J. Michael Straczynski

Last Saturday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, J. Michael Straczynski held a lively discussion of his work on "Wonder Woman," "Superman," potential film projects, and the skeletons in his writing closet. He also hosted a live reading of the upcoming "Wonder Woman" #601 with professional actors in an effort to win over skeptics of the heroine's new direction.

Straczynski began by saying the rude introduction in the convention program upset many people, including his own agent. It read as follows:

J. Michael Straczynski- J. Michael Straczynski speaks (despite requests to the contrary) about his work on (and on and on) such comics as Superman (well, we guess it had to happen eventually) and Wonder Woman (at least they have the same fashion sense), his movies, including Shattered Union (shattered hopes that he wouldn't show up), Forbidden Planet (is that still going on?), and more he will be announcing here for the first time. Get the inside skinny on the writer's life from one of Hollywood's most prolific and hardworking writers (because you always have to work twice as hard when you don't know what you're doing). (Bob, very funny, just remember to edit this back to normal before uploading it to the Comic-Con schedule.)

"I wrote that," Straczynski said, adding he likes making the intros ruder and ruder. "Next year's will be, 'Joe Michael Straczynski: So the Fuck What?'"

The writer said that he will have a cameo appearance in Kenneth Branaugh's "Thor" film. "Either I'll screw it up, or I'll be the best part of the film." Continuing to discuss his career outside of comics, Straczynski described the often frustrating process of having to delay talking about truly exciting developments. "Stephen Spielberg has a project for you, but you can't tell anyone about it! Wolfgang Petersen wants to work with you, but you can't tell anyone about it! James Cameron wants to work with you, but you can't tell anyone!" Straczynski smiled, referring to major past projects. "Then Jim Cameron says, 'Oh, I'm working with Joe Straczynski...'"

Straczynski said he may be directing a film about Leni Reisenthel, the German propaganda filmmaker, which will be shot partly in a studio once used for that purpose. When he was being shown around, Straczynski's host said, "Joseph Goebbels would come here, and Hitler, the chair where you're sitting is where Hitler would sit." Straczynski jumped as if stung to demonstrate his original reaction.

In other movie-related discussion, JMS, as the writer is known, said his screenplay for "World War Z" is written, but could not confirm what would happen beyond that.

With respect to comic book projects, JMS admitted the new Wonder Woman costume (black jacket, black pants) had not met with universal enthusiasm, he noted, "Tim Gunn of 'Project Runway' loved it." JMS also said he thought "Wonder Woman" #601, the first of his run, would be released before Comic-Con and "I won't have to be afraid of the sniper on the roof."

Straczynski reportedly suggested DC give out copies to all attendees, but the publisher wouldn't go along with this plan. Instead, he decided to hold a staged reading of the issue. "No one's ever done a staged reading at Comic-Con," Straczynski said, and brought actors Erin Bennett, Tara Platt (who also played Wonder Woman in "DC vs Mortal Kombat"), Yuri Lowenthal, and Paul Hungerford on the stage to read as the issue was presented on an overhead screen.

The issue begins with Wonder Woman standing amidst the ruins of Paradise Island, consulting a blind oracle (voiced by Bennett). The opening scenes recount the new origin of Wonder Woman in the altered history, showing Paradise Island's last stand. Platt voiced Hippolyta as well as Diana. Lowenthal voiced the mysterious leader of the Paradise Island siege, who looks to become a significant character, as well as other characters. Hungerford also played several roles, and Straczynski narrated silent scenes.

Following the conclusion of the performance, Straczynski asked, "How many of you who were unsure are going to give it a shot now?" There was light applause. "That ain't bad." "How many of you were going to buy it anyway?" This question received more applause.

Straczynski then opened the floor to questions.

After praising Straczynski for writing strong female characters, a woman asked, "What was up with Mika in 'Ninja Assassin?'" "Did you notice it was co-written? There's your answer," Straczynski said.

Chris Weston is currently drawing remaining issues of Marvel's "The Twelve," Straczynski confirmed. "As soon as he is caught up, the book will be coming out."

As to how long Superman will continue walking, "He'll keep walking until he gets where he's going. Then he'll stop." More seriously, Straczynski recalled talks with DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio in which the two men discussed what the new Superman direction should be. "There was a concern that he's become irrelevant, that he's fallen off the cultural radar," the writer said. He added, "Putting him next to 10,000 Kryptonians diminishes him."

"[Superman] was created as a hero of the Great Depression, the court of last resort for the average man," Straczynski continued. The "Grounded" arc will "get him into the lives of people he encounters, there will be some big threats along the way because some towns where people have moved out, who knows what has moved in." The arc will last about twelve issues, and after that, "I'll keep going until I begin to suck, which will be about two issues from now."

Asked whether he would be interested in writing a Wonder Woman film, Straczynski was candid that the idea had occurred to him. "After I got the comic, I approached Warner Bros. about Wonder Woman. They've got somebody, he's writing it now," he said. But, noting that the beleaguered project has seen many scripts over the years, "I'll wait that guy out."

The first new villain of "Wonder Woman" would represent "the first ring of several concentric circles," all based on mythology, Straczynski said. After the first major threat, the next villains are the Keres, who drag dead soldiers down to Hades.

On the subject of influential Superman stories, Straczynski did not equivocate. "My favorite has always been Alan Moore's 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?' I think that's the most perfect Superman story and always will be."

Asked about the differences between the different publishers he's worked with, Straczynski suggested he's always most interested in innovation. "When I came into Image [with 'Rising Stars'], they were very exploratory and trying new things," he said, and the same was true when he began at Marvel in the era following that company's bankruptcy. But as Marvel, in Straczynski's view, became more corporate and focused on crossovers, the creative freedom was impeded. "There were many things about 'Civil War' that I didn't agree with," he added. "Tony Stark being a bad guy, I didn't buy, or Captain America giving up because a mob didn't like him." He said DC is now the place for "creative freedom."

On the writer's previous assertion that he wrote "Ninja Assassin" in 50 hours, Straczynski explained that the Wachowski brothers brought him on for a fairly significant script revision. When he asked when the script would be due, he was told, "It has to go out to the actors agents on Friday. This was Tuesday morning." After a rough several days, Straczynski turned the script in Friday morning. "You don't think about climbing the mountain; you put one foot in front of the other until you run out of mountain. If you think about climbing the mountain, you're screwed."

When asked if there were characters he had no interest in writing, Straczynski cited Geoff Johns' stable of heroes "because he's so much better than me." "My goal is to write faster than whoever's better than me, and better than whoever's faster than me."

Before Jim Lee's redesign, other artists were consulted for the new Wonder Woman costume but were timid about making significant changes. "For story purposes, this has to be a huge change," JMS said. "What's cool about the bracelets is that they have an embossed W, so when she hits you in the forehead with them, she leaves a mark."

Asked whether he could have anticipated that Asgard, which Straczynski brought to Earth in "Thor," would be destroyed again as it had the last time it was Earth-based, the writer said simply, "There was a reason I stopped writing 'Thor.' You've pretty much identified it." He then elaborated by explaining how he saw the value of setting Asgard in the middle of a quiet Oklahoma town. "I was hoping to keep it there for a while, but when I heard what 'Siege' was about I thought, 'Fuck, I just got here.' So long, guys!"

JMS reiterated a discussion yesterday that Wonder Woman will be appearing in other titles, but Donna Troy and Wonder Girl will not be affected. "Phantom Stranger and Deadman know her from both worlds," he said, but for most characters, "This happens in a bubble-it's not like she was married and then wasn't and nobody remembered she was ever married."

Asked about his research, JMS said that ideas come to him based on snippets of things he remembers then look up the details online. "Because everything on the internet is true. To somebody."

On the topic of memorable instances of Hollywood red tape, Straczynski said, "It's like saying, 'Talk about air.'" He noted that the movie industry is in a rather interesting situation right now. "They don't know what works, suddenly; things they thought were going to do well, don't, and things they were just going to throw out there do incredibly well. When they don't know what works, they hold on tighter."

A fan added that he was shocked that "Saw 6" and "Meet the Parents 3" are among films that do ultimately get made. "Wouldn't that be a great crossover? 'Saw the Parents!' I can sell that."

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