Last week saw “Superboy: Futures End” #1 arrive from DC Comics, and aside from exploring the “Five Years Later” future of the current weekly event series “Futures End,” the issue marks a farewell to this iteration of the Kryptonian teen.
But for writer Frank J. Barbiere, the issues is only the beginning of where both he and Superboy will go in the months ahead. In telling the story of Superboy’s final battle with an evil batch of clones who mirror his own creation, the writer also introduced new elements to the New 52 such as Roxy of Gen-13, and he plans on defining Kon-El even more in an upcoming “Secret Origins” #7 story.
Beyond that, Barbiere remains busy all over comics. His creator-owned series “Five Ghosts” continues at Image Comics with new issues on the way and a TV option in the works, and it was just joined by BOOM!’s “Black Market” in terms of his original properties. Meanwhile, he continues to write “Solar: Man of the Atom” for Dynamite’s Gold Key initiative and has an “AXIS” tie-in arc of “Avengers World” hitting later this year.
With an expansive superhero presence ahead, CBR News caught up with Barbiere about the origins of his Superboy tale, why he’s working to bring back the flavor of the ’90s for the clone hero, how he plans his work at DC and Marvel around his creator-owned load and how 2015 will see more of everything from him including five new creator-owned projects.
CBR News: Frank, this “Superboy” issue marks your own first work for DC, and I have to say that while a lot of people have been talking about some of the creative choices in Mark Doyle’s Batman office, between this issue and things like “Teen Titans” it seems there are also a few breaks from the DC house style coming from editor Mike Cotton’s books as well. Can you tell me a bit about how you came in and how you were able to change things up?
Frank Barbiere: Yeah, I absolutely feel that. I was so, so happy when they brought in Ben Caldwell to draw this issue. A lot of my friends who are more into animation and indie comics know him from his “Dare Detectives” series he self-publishes, and they were saying, “Oh my God! How did they get Ben Caldwell to draw this?” And I just said, “They asked him.”
But it was actually my good friend Anthony Marquez who brought me into DC. He’s a Kubert School grad and attended with Chris Mooneyham who I do “Five Ghosts” with, so I’ve met him many times. But he was an assistant editor at DC working with Mike Cotton. He put me on Mike’s radar by handing him “Five Ghosts,” and finally they found an opportunity to bring some new blood in with these September books, and they thought of me. I hit it off with Mike and Eddie Berganza, and they seemed really excited to try some new, different stuff. But it was all Anthony who brought me in, and he just left DC to do comic art full time, which is awesome. He was really good as an editor and excited with good energy, and now he’s drawing a “Shadow” book at Dynamite and doing something for Dark Horse as well. So I look forward to seeing his art out there.
From the start of this, I was very happy that I could do a story that was outside of continuity that also didn’t feel like a fill-in, so to speak. It was nice to get the characters in a place that felt completely fresh. Very much our goal was to see Kon in the future with a team that felt a little bit more like a family unit. We could see him go from kind of a lone wolf — which I think he’s been so far in the DCU — to being someone who learns a little begrudgingly that he has to rely on his friends to accomplish anything.
And it was great to do the end of this saga of him fighting clones — which I don’t want to call a clone saga for obvious reasons. [Laughter] I was just so glad to think outside the box there. Ben did an amazing job with the art, and our colorist Mike Atiyeh did a wonderful, wonderful job. I feel very fortunate that this got to be my first work at DC.
The issue very much feels like the last issue of a series you’ve never seen before, though it also works as a one-shot. You’ve pulled in a lot of DC touchstones from Roxy of Gen-13 to the Grant Morrison version of The Manhattan Guardian to some villains who reflect the “Reign of the Supermen” era that Superboy was born from. Did you go in with a hitlist of characters you liked that you wanted to put into this “imaginary” book?
Yes, and we wanted to use things that made sense for Superboy. We wanted there to be a lot of connective tissue. We could have done a story here completely unrelated to all the mythology, and in fact I had one pitch early on that had them going to a battle planet that was so outside everything. We talked about it and workshopped ideas and decided to come back to a clone story because it would put a nice cap on the actual series. Grant Morrison fan — as most of us are — and I loved his take on Guardian in “Seven Soldiers” so that’s what I wanted to use. Rose, of course, has been a part of “Superboy” for a while, and it was fun to get her in there.
Roxy was fun because clearly there is stuff being seeded for Gen-13 — and I can’t speak to what DC has planned — but it was so cool for me to introduce her into the New 52 and have her out there now. I could have them talk about stuff from their past that we haven’t seen but will eventually show up in the DCU. And she was a great character to write. With her big moment at the end, I felt like I’ve read a lot of “Gen-13” but I’ve never see her have a really aggressive power set. So I wanted to give her that moment where she gets to deliver a big punch.
And after this finale to the series both seen and unseen, you’re moving on to a “Secret Origins” issue about Superboy. What’s it like going from end to beginning?
That was really cool because I kind of got to do my primer on Superboy in the DCU proper. Clearly, they’re moving ahead and everything they’ve done already is part of the canon. But I’m proud of the “Secret Origins” story because we found a really cool framing sequence for it that fits naturally into everything. For me, it’s almost a kind of epilogue for the Superboy we’ve seen. I’ve never been a big fan of a sad, brooding Superboy. The point I tried to get across in “Futures End” is that he realizes he’s not Superman and doesn’t have to be that. What we really try to do in the “Secret Origins” issue is to drive that idea home and let Superboy find his place in the world. That’s a LOT to do in 12 pages. [Laughs] But working with Mike, we really came up with a nice bit of framing that gives an overview of where Superboy has been and where he’s going in the future as well.
Coming into all this, it was a really big honor for me to work on a character I really like. I read a lot of issues going into this and tried to synthesize out everything and keep what’s come before. I really love the Geoff Johns issues and all the ’90s stuff. There was just a lot in the mix, and I really wanted to get past Kon being brooding and move him in a direction where he knows where he wants to go. And really, I feel like what’s happened in the New 52 is a great first act for this character. A lot has gone down, but in the “Secret Origins” issue we shape it to where you can see where it’s all going. Hopefully wherever he ends up, someone will run with that because he’s a great character with a lot of potential.
It may be too early to talk about this, but do you have more plans for DC work in the future?
Absolutely. Mike and Eddie have been great, and I met with [DC editor-in-chief] Bob Harras who’s been awesome. I really hope to do more there. This has been a great experience, and it’s very much like where I’m at with Marvel. It’s nice that when things come up, I’m a person who’s involved in the conversation. Things are never certain, but it’s great to be in the rolodex.
Obviously, you’re a long time comics reader, and even though you broke through with a pulp series like “Five Ghosts” and a crime/spy series like “The White Suits,” I’m expecting that as soon as you arrived people were asking, “When are you going to do your superhero book?” [Barbiere Laughs] You’ve got this DC and Marvel work, “Solar” at Dynamite and your own thing with BOOM!’s “Black Market.” Is that the result of a conscious choice to try to do a lot of different things or an attempt to cast a wide net in terms of projects?
A little bit of both. I came in and clearly I loved superhero comics. I still do, and I stay current and feel like things are better than they’ve ever been. Over the last 15 years or so, we’ve just had an influx of writers who are writing this stuff in a more elegant and intelligent way. And that’s not to speak ill of anyone who came before, but I think it is a sign of the times. Look at “Multiversity” and the scope of that. I was just re-reading a bunch of Jason Aaron’s “Thor” and think it’s amazing how he can take a character that’s been around forever and deliver such a fun take. And now he’s got the new Thor, and there’s so much potential there. Your job as a writer is to find a good story that means something that you can also push ahead.
So I was always kind of nervous about doing my own superhero stuff, but I was very fortunate that I came into the industry doing creator-owned books. It’s a nice safety net in terms of scratching a creative itch. Now when I do Big Two stuff or work for hire comics, I don’t feel restrained because if I want to do something outside the conventions of the medium at large or the superhero genre, I can do it in my own books. I find it much more inspiring on work for hire to say, “What are the tropes and the conventions here, and how can I tell a story I connect with within that?”
A lot of that feeling has gone into “Solar.” I’m actually pretty far ahead on that book, and the whole next arc is plotted out. There we get to learn a lot about the character of Erica who is the new Solar. She’s really coming into her own, and we really begin to understand who she is as a character and how her values shape how she’ll use the power of Solar. She has a new costume too, which I think is great and will make her stand out as a brand-new character. In a lot of ways, “Solar” was my intro into writing a big superhero, and I’ve found I can say what I want to say within the genre so long as I pay attention to what I’m working with. I don’t need to try to break the mold but instead use it to my benefit. I think that’s what a lot of the great writers are doing right now, and that’s what I shoot for. I don’t know how successful I am. [Laughs]
I’ve got a ways to go, but “Black Market” is my first crack at creating my own world that has superheroes in it. There are a lot of touchstones I brought into doing that, but one of the biggest ones was “Powers.” That brought me back into the comic book store every week and introduced me to Image and Bendis and really what could be done in that space. That is to say, you can tell intelligent, different stories in this medium with superheroes. And “Powers” led me to discovering “Gotham Central” and a lot of other books like that. One thing Bendis has said in the press is that he wouldn’t want to do a superhero book of his own unless it had something really interesting that he wanted to say. With “Black Market,” I feel like I’ve found something that takes a lot of the things I love from more modern takes on superheroes and brings it back to reality in a human way. I think it shows the way everyday people would be affected by superheroes while also doing more traditional crazy, big action.
Ultimately, I feel like it ends up being more of a crime book in a lot of ways that’s textured with superheroes. And in that, I’m so thrilled to have Victor [Santos] drawing. I think he’s done a tremendous job that people aren’t talking about enough. He’s done great on everything he’s done with “Mice Templar” and “Solar” and with Brian Azzarello on “Filthy Rich.” It’s some of the best sequential work I’ve seen in a long, long time, and with our colorist Adam Metcalfe it’s come out really, really well.
I love writing comics. I’m never lacking in inspiration whether it’s my own stuff or work for hire stuff, so I’m always trying to look for what’s cool that I could do something interesting with. And because I read so much every week, it’s daunting in the best way to see people constantly reinventing these characters in new ways. It’s humbling to be working alongside the writers out there today, and hopefully people will see a growth in my work from last year to this year. I’m always pushing to get better and keeping the people reading happy.
I think if there’s a thread shared by both “Black Market” and “Five Ghosts,” it’s a sense of the past coming back to haunt you with the genre tropes making that haunting more a literal threat. Do you see connections across your own work in that sense?
Yeah. That’s something I also found really interesting in [Doctor] Strange at Marvel. That’s a character who’s really haunted by his own back story. It makes for richer characters when you can give them a strong metaphor right out the gate. There are so many thoughts on what makes a well-rounded, developed character. I’m a huge nerd for writing books and things on craft, and whenever I try and break one of the rules and it doesn’t work, I feel embarrassed. [Laughs]
I think with my own stuff, the big difference from established characters is that you’ve got to get people to buy in to who your character is and get them on board. I’m happy with where “Five Ghosts” is at now because we’ve really established who Fabian Gray is. We dug into his past in the last arc, and now he’s feeling like an even stronger character. We want to build him into something iconic — someone you know the moment you see him. That’s so, so difficult, and it really only comes through time. That’s why I strongly feel that if you’ve got a creator-owned book with a strong story behind it, you can let it go for a while. “Five Ghosts” isn’t going so well that we’re making tons of money. We’re still taking a bit of a loss and making sacrifices to make the book happen, but we also feel like we’re getting better with each story. We’re getting ready to ship issue #13 as I speak. Chris is wrapping the art up, and I’m really hopeful we can bring some more people on board with this new sequence.
It seems like you have bursts of books where a lot of stuff you’ve been working on will hit in succession. Do you feel like there’s another round in the offing as 2015 approaches?
Yeah, I had a weird gap there for a bit. A lot of stuff I’d been working on for a long time came out. like “The White Suits,” which was slowly gestating. I’m very happy we’ll see the trade in November, but it’s crazy to me that it’s finally out. I have a lot of new creator-owned stuff coming in the next year and a half, and I’m really excited because it’s stuff I’ve been able to build slowly and do with a brand new mindset. I’ve learned so much from having done comics in the last year and a half, and I’m excited to do maybe five new creator-owned books.
At the same time, I’m very happy to keep writing for Marvel and DC. I’ve got some issues of “Avengers World” coming up that I’m co-writing with Nick Spencer which have been so, so fun. It’s cool to write something that takes place in the universe but doesn’t feel stuck in the middle of something else. These issues are “AXIS” tie-ins, but they have a really, really big plot point in them. I think when people read the issues, they’ll enjoy it. It’s got a lot of characters in there and is about how Doom — inverted “AXIS” Doom — puts together his own team of Avengers. There’s also another thing I’m writing for Marvel that hasn’t been announced yet. And it’s the same with DC. I’m so glad to have work there and be doing the “Secret Origins” issue.
Meanwhile, “Five Ghosts” will be running through the end of the year and continuing. And it’s exciting to have the TV option news, which is really a lot more involved than a lot of people think. We’re actively pitching to networks right now, and we’re hoping to have some more news there by next summer. It’s been a very quick turnaround. We’re over the moon about doing this with UCP, and they like the series as it is. They don’t want to set it in modern day New York City or anything like that. They want it to be the comic and are a champion of “Five Ghosts.” So it’s cool for us, but we’re really focused on the book and want to bring more attention we’re doing to the work there.
So there is a lot of new stuff I’ll be rolling out in the spring in beyond. I’ve got another thing at Dynamite that’s part of the Creators Unleashed line, and we haven’t announced it yet, but I’m very excited to get it out there because it’s different from anything I’ve done.
“Superboy: Futures End” #1 is on sale now from DC Comics.
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