JMS Circles the DC Universe in Red

When it was first announced in March 2008 that J. Michael Straczynski was not renewing his exclusive contract with Marvel Comics and was going to be writing two books for DC Comics, fans of the "Babylon 5" creator were clamoring to find out what he'd be working on for the house that Kal-El built. Over the course of the last year, the projects have morphed and mutated several times but finally, this August, the superstar writer's first DC project is coming to comic book stores everywhere in the form of "Red Circle."

The series will run over four consecutive weeks as four intertwined 32-page #1 issues, each featuring different art teams. In he weeks leading up to the official announcement in the August solicitations, DC's official blog The Source released "Red Circle" character redesigns by J.G. Jones and cover art by Jesus Saiz of The Shield, The Web, Hangman and Inferno - all former MLJ/Archie Comics superheroes, who will be appearing in the upcoming miniseries.

DC attempted to revive all but Inferno once before for their Impact imprint in the early 1990s, which depicted the heroes in their own universe. Published most famously by Archie Comics under the "Red Circle" banner in the seventies and eighties, this time around the Red Circle heroes will operate smack dab in the heart of DCU's current continuity.

CBR News checked in with the fan favorite writer to complete the Red Circle and also dialed in on which DCU heroes will headline JMS' first issues of "The Brave and The Bold," also expected by the end of the year.

CBR: First off, JMS, is the "Red Circle" miniseries set in present DCU continuity?

J. Michael Straczynski: The mini is in continuity, though we don't see much of that world. And any subsequent series, big or small, would also be in current DC continuity.

What separates Red Circle heroes from traditional DCU heroes?

I think it's a tone more than anything else, and the nature of their origins and characterizations. Any time you return to the mouth of the river with classic characters, there's a certain purity of intent that comes into the picture that's hard to quantify, but it's definitely there.

Does the four-issue "Red Circle" series tell one large story or is this a series of one-shots?

Yes and no and yes. Each issue tells the origin of that character, then sets the stage for the next character, which tees off what happens in the book that precedes it. In other words, in the first issue, we are introduced to the Hangman. We track his origins from the Civil War to the present, and in the last part of the book, something happens that ties directly into the origin of Inferno. Further adding to this, the last page of each book is drawn by the artist of the next book in the cycle, helping to reinforce both the transition, and the sense of connection. There's a loose sense of almost karmic linkages that future writers can explore or not as they see fit.

Do the characters appear in each other's issues?

In one way or another, yes.

Did you pick which Red Circle characters would be featured?

It was a process of going back and forth with [DC Executive Editor] Dan DiDio to determine which characters could be modernized and would have "legs" sufficient to last in the current DCU. Ultimately, they trusted my judgment.

Can you tell us a little bit about The Shield, The Web, Hangman and the Inferno? For instance, will you reveal how Joe Higgins got his powers and became The Shield?

Each of the issues is the origin story of that character, so we will definitely be showing how Joe Higgins got his powers, which starts with an ambush in Afghanistan in which he's mortally wounded. Someone deep in the military pulls him in, dying, to a program that could save his life and give him these new abilities but at considerable cost. Who's behind that, and why, and what this deal will eventually mean is a thread that can be explored later by other writers.

The Web and Hangman didn't originally have superpowers but were both considered Olympic level athletes in the original origin stories. Do they have superpowers now?

These days, Olympic level athleticism doesn't cut it. So The Web doesn't have superpowers, but he has a massive level of tech at his disposal to compensate for that. The origin of the Hangman is now somewhat supernatural in nature, in a story that dates back to the Civil War.

Does The Web's back story still include that he was noted criminologist John Raymond, whose brother Tim was a criminal and after he helped the police capture his brother, he became a superhero?

Yes, John's brother's situation does have a direct effect on what he chooses to do, but not in the same way as the original book.

And is The Hangman still Robert Dickering who adopted his secret identity to avenge the death of his brother John, another former Red Circle superhero, The Comet?

Because that origin was so similar to that of The Web, both avenging their brothers or otherwise motivated by their brothers, I took a different tack with Dickering.

Finally, we know very little about Inferno, but is he still a circus performer who fights crime by spraying fire from his mouth? And can he burn his way through steel doors and walls and melt bullets before they reach him?

Inferno is something of a mystery. He's not a circus performer, and he has two very different appearances. When he's himself, he's one person. When he's Inferno, someone else emerges. Who that other person is will form the center of a mystery that can be explored later.

Is the plan to use this miniseries as a pilot for a possible ongoing series?

I don't know if they're going straight to another mini or max, or into an ongoing.

Will you be involved with a second miniseries or an ongoing series, if one is commissioned?

No one has yet broached an ongoing, though I was asked about doing a follow-up mini. At this point, that'll be tackled by others.

Your run on "The Brave and The Bold" hasn't been solicited yet but could share some names of who we might see in your first arc and maybe share details about the story?

Going back to the history of "The Brave and The Bold," I'm doing one-issue stand-alones that put together pairings in unlikely ways, so half the appeal is, what the heck is that person doing with that person in the same story?

So the first issue features Batman and Dial H for Hero. The second issue is Barry Allen Flash and the Blackhawks. Among those coming up afterward are Deadman/Wonder Woman, Jor-El/Jonathan Kent, Aquaman/the Demon, Captain Marvel/Bizarro World Captain Marvel, League of Substitute Heroes/The Inferior Five, Dr. Fate/Green Lantern, the Atom/Phantom Stranger and Brother Power, the Geek/Hawk and Dove.

"The Red Circle: The Hangman" #1, featuring art by Tom Derenick and Bill Sienkiewicz, is scheduled for August 5.

"The Red Circle: Inferno" #1, featuring art by Greg Scott, is scheduled for August 12.

"The Red Circle: The Web" #1, featuring art by Roger Robinson & Hilary Barta, is scheduled for August 19.

"The Red Circle: The Shield" #1, featuring art by Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens, is scheduled for August 26.

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