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Keith Giffen Reimagines DC’s Sugar and Spike for “Legends of Tomorrow”

by  in Comic News Comment
Keith Giffen Reimagines DC’s Sugar and Spike for “Legends of Tomorrow”

With DC Comics‘ “Rebirth” arriving this summer, there are obviously a number of big changes coming for the publisher. But in the new anthology series, “Legends of Tomorrow,” some tried-and-true characters are making eleventh hour comebacks. Firestorm is clearly the headliner and Metamorpho and Metal Men also have decent followings so no big surprises there but the one, real head-scratcher was the inclusion of Sugar and Spike – that’s right, Sugar and Spike.

Created, written and illustrated by Sheldon Mayer, “Sugar and Spike” was a humor series showcasing the hijinks of a young girl and boy that ran for 98 issues between 1956 and 1971. The once-popular characters have been wildly underutilized since Mayer’s death in 1991, but industry veteran Keith Giffen has been asking DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio for years if he could relaunch them for a new generation of readers. With the release of “Legends of Tomorrow,” he got his wish.

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Now reimagined as meta-human private investigators, the childhood friends are back as young adults and Giffen told CBR News that he has no plans to fall into the age-old trap of hooking up his male and female leads romantically. The writer did tease that their relationship (and undying respect for one another) will be explored and also discussed, which DC super-heavyweights will feature in the series.

CBR News: Even in the solicitation copy, it sounds like DC Comics was expecting to readers would be surprised that we were getting a rebirth of Sugar and Spike. Was this your pitch or did editorial come to you?

Keith Giffen: I have been after Sugar and Spike for years. Every so often, I would bother [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan [DiDio] about it. I would reach out and see if there was any interest in doing anything with the characters. Don’t get me wrong; I was never interested in doing Sugar and Spike the way Sheldon did it. I was never interested in telling stories with them as little kids. I’m not going to compete with that — it’s a losing game. I was more interested in what we have here, which is, what ever happened to them? Finally, Dan got tired of hearing me whine about it, and he said, “Go for it!”

Maybe I missed something as I haven’t read all of their stories, but is there anything in their mythos or backstory that would lead us to expect that Sugar and Spike would one day become meta-human private investigators?

No, that’s all me. [Laughs]

I don’t think there is anything in “Sugar and Spike,” though I haven’t read every single strip either, and I am sure some fan will find some strip where Superman is in it that will foreshadow what we are doing. But no, I don’t think so. I just had this idea for a series about private investigators who specialized in superhero-themed cases. Once I thought of that, I started thinking about who that could possibly be. And it came to me: Sugar and Spike. It fits. There is nothing really in the characters that says they are going to grow up to be anything at all, which is kind of wonderful because they fit into anything that you want to put them in, as long as you do it with respect. You respect the source material. I don’t think I’ve done anything in the “Sugar and Spike” story that should get any fans angry.

The banter and dynamic between the two characters is a lot of fun and feels like they have known each other for a long time. What makes the relationship tick?

When you are a kid, you deal with what’s thrown at you. And to me, Sugar was the kind of kid that would think, when she grew up she would have a little bit more control of her life. I just figured, let’s remove the control and see how she reacts to it. What if she grows up and finds out it’s the same hell?

Spike is a whole other matter. He has always struck me as a go along with the flow guy. Sugar would come up with these wild schemes, and Spike would say, “Okay. Let’s give it a shot.” That was easy. But with Sugar, she is somebody who is frustrated by life but hasn’t given up. She will not let life get the better of her. One thing that I really liked about the old “Sugar and Spike” strip was that no matter how much trouble they got into or whatever the circumstance was, Sugar always walked out of it thinking that she was right, and I like that in adult. Once I got that handle on the character, Sugar kind of wrote herself.

You mentioned Superman playing a role in this series, Batman’s presence is felt in the first installment, and we can expect to see Wonder Woman, too. These are not lightweights that Sugar and Spike are assisting. Beyond the work they do for others in these done-in-one adventures, will you be exploring Sugar and Spike’s relationship?

My take on Sugar and Spike in their later years is that they are partners, they are best friends, and that’s really it. If this takes off and somebody else takes it on, I can’t make any promises for them, but as far as I’m concerned, they are best friends. It will never go any further. I don’t believe that every time you have a male character and a female character that it has to turn into something romantic. I think that’s what killed “Moonlighting.” And yes, there is a little bit of “Moonlighting” in “Sugar and Spike,” but they understand one another. They are the best of friends, they will be there for each other, they don’t have to date. There is no reason on Earth that they have to date. As a matter of fact, if they were to date, I think it would be disastrous.

You’ve crossed paths with so many other comic book luminaries. Did you know Sheldon Mayer?

To be honest, I never met the man. When I first came to DC, a lot of the guys were still working there but I don’t think I ever met Sheldon. I have always appreciated his work, especially when it comes to “Sugar and Spike.” I never got to meet the man but that doesn’t diminish my respect for his work at all.

I read that Neil Gaiman called “Sugar and Spike” “the most charming thing” that he’s ever seen in comics. Would you agree?

I think charm has a lot to do with it, but I think agelessness has a lot more to do with it. You could do “Sugar and Spike” now, and it’s still funny. It doesn’t matter how much life has changed since the 1950s, “Sugar and Spike” still works. It’s not necessarily all ages, but it is ageless. It’s a timeless strip. It’s wonderful what he pulled together.

You are an artist and have worked with countless artists — how did you team with Bilquis Evely for “Sugar and Spike?”

To me, she came out of thin air. They were looking around for an artist, they showed me some of her stuff and it was fully blown. She has wonderful stuff. She is the perfect fit for what I am trying to do in “Sugar and Spike.” I look at her stuff, and her storytelling is spot-on. And it stuns me because I have worked in this business long enough, I thought that I knew everybody, but I don’t. She came out of nowhere, and has very quickly become one of the artists that I can hand a story to and leave the room, and I when I come back and look at the story, not only is it beautifully drawn, but the story is told in a nice, straight-forward fashion. There is a bit of flashiness here and there, but she knows when to tone it down, too. As far as I’m concerned, I am damn lucky that her name came up for the strip, because now I can’t dream of doing it without her. She has a perfect touch for it.

“Legends of Tomorrow” #1 is available now.

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