Keith Giffen knew the question on everyone's mind when DC Comics announced its plans to launch a new solo series featuring Lance Corporal David Reid was, "Why Magog?"
Giffen knew because he asked the same question.
But the fan-favorite writer and artist took the project on as a personal challenge (in part because he'd already landed a dream gig as the writer on the upcoming "Doom Patrol" relaunch) and he's glad he did. Giffen loves writing Magog and can't wait until readers get a look-see at what he and artist Howard Porter are bringing to the DC Universe.
First introduced in the Elseworlds epic "Kingdom Come" by Mark Waid and Alex Ross in 1996, Magog is a futuristic and much more violent reimagining of the Man of Tomorrow, who butts heads with Superman and Wonder Woman as multiple factions of superheroes and metahumans fight for justice whilst employing radically opposing means.
Magog later made his DCU proper debut in 2008 in the "Justice Society of America" storyline 'Thy Kingdom Come,' co-plotted by Ross and Geoff Johns. The once-alternate Kingdom Come Universe was re-designated as Earth-22 in the pages of "52," making this appearance possible. In this new origin story for Magog, David Reid was serving as a Lance Corporal with the Marines in Iraq when a freak accident, a result of touching a museum artifact, left him unconscious. Three weeks later he woke up filled with plasma energy and a mark reminiscent of the Eye of Providence emblazoned on his left forearm. With the aid of a trident, he was able to shoot focused blasts of energy.
A great-grandson of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Reid was invited by the Justice Society of America to join their ranks because it was in fact FDR who is credited with the formation of the first team of superheroes. Reid was killed in battle. Flashforward to the arrival of Gog, the last surviving Third World god, who brought Reid back to life as Magog. After serving under Gog, Magog finally realized the evil within the monster and killed him, leaving Reid at odds with the majority of the superheroes in the DCU, just as he'd been in "Kingdom Come."
That's where Giffen and Porter's story picks up, and that's where CBR News picks up with Giffen.
CBR: With all due respect to Lance Corporal David Reid, is it safe to say writing a "Magog" ongoing was not at the top of your list in terms of your next project?
KEITH GIFFEN: Me? Magog? No, I had no idea this book was coming. When [DCU Executive Editor] Dan [DiDio] called and asked me about Magog, my first thought was the same as everyone else's: Magog? But when I looked at it, I thought, "Okay, this will be a challenge." And when I started writing it and started getting into the character's head, I found a voice for him and it just clicked.
And when Howard Porter came on board and started doing such stellar artwork, probably the best of his career, it's become a book that I look forward to and it's a lot of fun to do.
You're right. Nobody is more surprised than I that I am enjoying and really looking forward to a Magog book.
We know Magog the superhero. But what is he like when he's not being Magog - when he's Lance Corporal David Reid? We know what to expect from Superman when he's Clark Kent and The Flash when he's Barry Allen or Wally West.
To my way of thinking, Magog is still very much David Reid, a marine Lance Corporal. That's the Magog thread that I'm using. The fact that this guy got his powers when he was a soldier so he brings a different mindset to superheroing. You know the political debates that we have all of the time wherein terrorist activity is a law enforcement matter or a military matter? Well, Magog doesn't have that debate. To him, it's a military matter and he goes after it with military precision. If there's a tagline at all for Magog, it's, "Thank God, he's on our side."
He's a more hardcore character than the average superhero. That said, I'm not pushing it to Lobo or Wolverine territory, I'm trying to give the character a unique spin which allows him to stand on his own. It goes more and more into not only who is Dave Reid but who is Magog? And how do they reconcile. We're hoping to spin some pretty interesting stories.
And the same rule applies to all of the books that I've been working on lately. Yes, you'll see some supporting cast, yes we'll see Justice Society, but I'm all about new characters, new villains, new concepts and new situations. Hopefully, by the end of the year, Magog has a rich group of villains that are uniquely his but can be thrown into the DC communal well and if you want to use them, fine. If you don't, that's okay too, because we're having fun with them.
If you are waiting for Magog versus the Joker, it's a long wait, because I will not use a villain, a concept, or a situation that can be found in the DC Encyclopedia. Again, barring characters that are critical to the book, but I won't use any of that until DC says, "Okay. Use this character. It's time for this."
This is kind of a circuitous answer to your question, but what does Magog do when he's not being Magog? When is he not Magog? The attitude that he brings to bear bleeds over to his life outside the Magog uniform. Notice, I didn't say his private life or his secret identity life, because just because he puts on civilian clothing doesn't mean that he's not still Magog.
We're hoping to create an environment where that type of character can thrive.
"Ambush Bug," "Justice League," "Hero Squared," and I'm assuming "Doom Patrol" -- you are known for bringing the "BWA-HA-HA!" to superhero comics. Is "Magog" funny?
Yeah, any character can be funny. Even Shakespeare in his tragedies would have two drunk guards to lighten the situation a bit. A lot of people, in stressful situations, go to humor. Be it gallous humor or black humor or sometimes tasteless humor. There's a little bit of sense of humor in "Magog" but it's not a funny book. It's not "Justice League." It's not "Lobo." It's not "Ambush Bug" or "The Heckler." These are dead-on, serious stories, as serious as a heart attack, about the threats that he's facing and if there's any humor it comes out of an interaction with a character. Or what I would hope to be a wry observation. It doesn't always turn out that way but I hope for it. So anyone thinking he's going "BWA-HA-HA" it up. No, he's not.
Will readers need to know Magog from "Justice Society of America" or "Kingdom Come" coming into this book in September?
Nope. I approaching the first issue as, "Here's Magog. This is your first exposure to him." Which is probably not an unrealistic way to approach it but I'm not going to turn it into a "Who's Who" page, where you're going to read the first issue and know everything you need to know about the character. It's going to be a slow unfolding. But I think if you start reading "Magog" and read on, and you just accept the idea that it's a story about a guy name Magog and as he, or as David Reid, discovers more and more about this Magog legacy, so will you then we're going to be fine.
But no, you're not going to have to be reading an issue of "Justice Society of America" in order to understand what's going on in "Magog." Comics are close to four bucks a pop right now and the very least we could do is force somebody to buy a book that they wouldn't normally buy, to read the rest of a story. I don't go for that.
You spoke about Magog discovering his powers. We know he has incredible strength and I assume that he's still using the trident, as well.
Yes, he's still using the trident. It's almost like - oh boy, I hate to mention it because people are going to go, "See. I told you it was going to be funny" - "Greatest American Hero" wherein he has the powers but they didn't come with an instruction booklet. So it's a voyage of discovery for him. Not a funny voyage. Because sometimes the discovery of what he's capable of doing is disturbing.
We're playing around with his powers and abilities to try and insert a couple of things that he can do that are unique to the character. Super strength. Modestly invulnerable. Swinging around the trident. Been there. Done that. So we're adding a little bit to the character but making sure it works within the context of what the character is and what has already been established about the character.
You mentioned appearances by the Justice Society. Are JSAers like Mister Terrific upset with Magog's lethal brand of justice?
The friction with the Justice Society is an ongoing theme. They don't just disapprove, they're actually appalled by it. When you read the first issue, it will be pretty clear that the Justice Society thinks that they have Magog on a pretty short leash. And Magog, well, he slipped the collar.
Is there a JSAer who is front and center in this disapproval?
If you read "Justice Society of America" and you get to know the underlying principles that are at work there, the Justice Society, at least to a certain extent, is still carrying around ideals that have been with us since World War II. Justice, the American Way - thou shall not kill. Ask first, then hit. Whereas Magog is coming from a harder place. He's coming from the world of a soldier. And he's coming from, "My last cognizant memory as David Reid is some clown shooting a rocket grenade at me. That's never going to happen again."
Magog, unlike the Justice Society, will tolerate a certain amount of collateral damage as long as the mission is complete. Not saying he's an unpleasant guy. I've actually come to like the character as I work my way through him. But he's an acquired taste. He's the 'martini' superhero. He's an acquired taste.
You mentioned Howard Porter off the top. He's doing some pretty amazing stuff?
When [editor] Mike Carlin let me know Howard Porter was going to be the artist on the book, I was overjoyed. Howard is a good, solid talent, knows good storytelling and most important to me, he knows what a deadline means. He's capable of getting work in on time. He's got a work ethic and how great is that. These pages that he's been handing in are just so far over and above anything that I've ever seen him do and he's really enthusiastic about the book. We talk regularly about what's going on, so it's almost a perfect situation. When you get an artist as excited about a book as you are and everyone is firing on all cylinders, you stand a better than 50 per cent chance of succeeding out there.
I've heard all the comments. It's like, "Why Magog? When Alan Scott or a Mister Terrific are so much more deserving of a solo book?" I kind of like the fact that comic publishers, DC in particular, are still capable of throwing a curve ball at the fans that they don't see coming.
At least give us a chance. It's not like anybody was asking for "Daredevil." So when that first issue comes and you decide it's not your cup of tea or you hate it or whatever, fine. Jump on us with both feet and call us to task. But at least give us a shot. Let us get that first issue out and maybe we can the question, "Why Magog?"
"Magog" #1 featuring art by Howard Porter arrives in stores September 2 from DC Comics.