J.M. DeMatteis: Hip to be Square(d)

In 1987, writers J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen revolutionized superhero comics with their now legendary run on “Justice League International.” Irreverent, hilarious and wickedly clever, the dynamic duo created comic magic with artist Kevin Maguire as the re-imagining of the world’s greatest heroes not only included what is arguably the most famous punch in the history of the DC Universe but also the type of humor most often reserved for 22-minute episodic comedy from the minds of James Burrows, James L. Brooks and Larry Gelbart.

Fast forward to 2004, Giffen and DeMatteis joined forces once again to bring the funny back to the world of capes and tights in “Hero Squared.” And this time around, they added a dash of “Moonlighting” for good measure.

“Hero Squared” tells the twisted tale of Captain Valor, who is trapped on a parallel Earth where his doppelganger is a slacker named Milo. Making matters worse -- or better, depending on your way of looking at a glass of water-- is the fact that Captain Valor’s arch-nemesis Calignous is the alternate-world version of Milo’s girlfriend, Stephie, who’s followed Captain Valor to this Earth to wreak havoc.

After a one-shot tagged the “X-Tra Sized Special” was published to critical acclaim by Atomeka Press, a three-issue miniseries featuring art by relative newcomer Joe Abraham was commissioned by BOOM! Studios in 2005. DeMatteis and Giffen also released the two-issue “Planetary Brigade” and the three-issue “Planetary Brigade: Origins” in 2006. The two series showcase the adventures of a group of heroes fronted by Captain Valor and the Grim Knight. A second major BOOM! series followed and now the publisher is set to release the epic conclusion in the upcoming three-issue series, “Hero Squared: Love & Death.”

DeMatteis told CBR News it’s time to close the curtain on “Hero Squared” because, not unlike the relationship of Maddie Hayes and David Addison, the characters moved the writers to a fitting conclusion. “This is a case where the story has pretty much dictated where the writers take the book,” he said. “As ‘Hero Squared’ moved forward, as Captain Valor became more enmeshed in our so-called real world and the characters evolved in response to events, it became harder and harder to just maintain the status quo. We were moving in a very definite direction and that direction was the end of the Valor-Milo-Stephie-Caliginous saga. And that’s what ‘Hero Squared: Love and Death’ is all about.”

CBR News sat down with DeMatteis to learn more about the conclusion of the cult-favorite hit.

CBR News: Why do you think “Hero Squared” works as a concept? Beyond the humor, there are also some real tough questions asked throughout the run, including the difficult task of trying to quantify and qualify what being a superhero really means.

J.M. DeMatteis: Exactly. “Hero Squared” is a difficult book to pin down. It’s a superhero adventure; it’s an examination of the inherent limitations and, yes, stupidity of the genre; it’s a buddy comedy; a romantic comedy; and a bit of a classic bedroom farce, to boot. It’s funny, it’s serious. But most of all, it’s character driven. It’s all about relationships — the interactions, and evolution, of four very distinct individuals.

In some ways, “Hero Squared” is to superhero comics as “Galaxy Quest” is to “Star Trek.” It’s simultaneously a loving tribute to and a deconstruction of a genre. It’s a spoof and yet, taken on its own terms, it works as a serious adventure story.

What can you share about the final three issues?

The readers of “Hero Squared: Love and Death” will get an absolute — and we hope, satisfying — conclusion to the “Hero Squared” saga. When the story reaches its end-point, there will be no way to turn back and return to the status quo. The story will be over. That said, we still have the “Planetary Brigade” universe with lots of pre-“Hero Squared” Captain Valor stories that we can tell if Keith and I ever get the urge. And we still talk about setting Sloat loose in a one-shot solo story one of these days.

Will we learn who the real “villain” is in “Hero Squared: Love and Death” — Valor or Caliginous?

Keith and I were talking about that just the other day. The truth is, depending on your perspective, either one of them can be the villain. Either one of them can be the hero. From my perspective, they’re both just human beings — in admittedly extraordinary circumstances — who have tried their very best to do what they see as right. They’ve both screwed up, but one of the main points of the story is that this idea of reducing people to labels, to easily categorized stereotypes, is a huge mistake. We’re all far more complex than that. That’s something that someone should mention to our politicians once in a while.

Do you consider the close a happy ending?

It’s ultimately happy, yes, but there are also some deeply sad moments along the way.

Is the door left open for more “Hero Squared?”

As noted above, the Planetary Brigade Universe is still out there to be tapped into. And, let’s face it, Keith and I are smart enough that, if we wanted to reboot the series, we could find some way. It’s comics, after all. That said, this really is the end of the line for “Hero Squared” as we know it. Add this miniseries to the two previous trade paper back collections and you’ve got a complete novel: beginning, middle and end. If we never do another one, the whole story is right there. My hope is that, down the line, Boom! will put together a big fat “Hero Squared” Omnibus collecting everything.

Are you yourself more like Milo or Captain Valor? And Mr. Giffen?

I’m absolutely like Milo. I think Keith and I have both invested Milo with aspects of ourselves. The character is a neurotic, self-doubting Everyman. But, then, underneath his bluster, so is Captain Valor.

According to Previews, BOOM! Studios has dedicated December to you and your work.

We’ve got the first issue of “Hero Squared: Love and Death,” the first volume, of three, reprinting my Vertigo series “Seekers Into The Mystery” with art by Glenn Barr and Jon J. Muth, and a collection of “The Last One,” another Vertigo series of mine, with art by Dan Sweetman. “Seekers” and “Last One” are two favorites of mine and I’m delighted to have them back in print.

BOOM! will also be printing my grocery list as four-issue miniseries as well as a special limited edition hardcover of my daughter’s report card! (Okay, I made those last two up.)

Is that a first, having a month dedicated to you?

And probably a last. But, seriously folks, I’m delighted that Boom! is putting all this effort and energy into these projects. [BOOM! founder] Ross Richie, [Editor-in-Chief] Mark Waid and the whole Boom! crew are a great bunch.

What's next for you, both as Editor-in-Chief at Ardden and as a writer yourself?

At Ardden, we’ve recently launched our “Flash Gordon” reboot to glowing reviews and sell-outs. We’ve got several new titles, both licensed properties and originals, in the works and we hope to be announcing a couple of those very soon. As for my other work, I’ve got a novel, tentatively titled “Imaginalis,” that I’m writing for a new imprint at HarperCollins called The Bowen Press. It’s a young adult fantasy novel and I think fans of “Abadazad” will enjoy it. I’m working away on “Imaginalis” now, but it won’t be released until 2010.

Comics-wise, my big project right now is a six-issue miniseries called, “The Life and Times of Savior 28,” a story that, in some ways, picks up where “Hero Squared” leaves off, but in a far more serious way, exploring the dark underbelly of the superhero myth as it relates to pop culture, politics and American history of the past 70 years. This is a passion project of mine, one I’ve been developing for, no kidding, 25 years, and it’s been exhilarating working on the scripts. The art is by Mike Cavallaro, the Eisner-nominated creator of “Parade (With Fireworks)” and it will be out in the spring, from IDW.

I’m also co-writing, with my friend Derek Webster, a new project for Ardden that we’ll be announcing soon and I’m doing some more “Spider-Man” stories for Marvel. And the aforementioned, Mr. Giffen and I are working on a top-secret project that I can’t talk about just yet but we should be able to announce it some time in the next month or so. All I can say is that it’s not a comic book. And I’ll leave it at that.

I also want to plug the upcoming “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” animated series that kicks off on Cartoon Network in November. I’ve got three episodes coming up this season, one of which teams Batman with the Green Lantern Corps, specifically my old buddies Guy Gardner and G’nort.

And that’s just some of the stuff in the pipeline right now. It’s a very busy, and creatively gratifying, time for me right now.

“Hero Squared: Love and Death” #1 is scheduled for release in December from BOOM! Studios.

EXCLUSIVE: Marvel's War of the Realms Enlists the X-Men, Punisher & More

More in Comics