Rather than a story focusing on the Superman and Batman families he's explored in DC's monthly "World's Finest" series, the two-part event tie-in brings together a disparate group of characters from across DC history for a story that explores the origins of heroes in the DCU. Anchored by the original Seven Soldiers of Victory team, the book's tale is related through the eyes of obscure Sheldon Mayer character Scribbly Jibbet, who watches the team deal with the fallout of the original reality-warping event "Crisis On Infinite Earths."
CBR News spoke with the former DC Publisher about how history and heroics collide in his series, and he explains how a lack of iconic characters actually proves a strength to his story, shares the inventive way artists Jim Fern and Shannon Wheeler will collaborate on the book and looks to the future of the DCU in the wake of "Convergence."
CBR News: Paul, while you were recently writing a "World's Finest" book, your "Convergence" two-parter stars a vastly different set of characters than Huntress and Power Girl. How did this come about? Do you have a specific history with the Seven Soldiers of Victory that I'm forgetting?
Paul Levitz: Well, [DC Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio gave me a choice of three different things that were available -- all of which were on the odder end of DC. The closest I come to the history of the Seven Soldiers of Victory is something that happened when I was 16. I was a young assistant editor at a time when we were moving offices, and in the course of moving, I found an unpublished Seven Soldiers script from the 1940s. I guess it was close to 30 years old at that point. I'm not sure why it was in the office where I moved or how I came upon it anymore, but at that time I was working on "Adventure Comics" with Joe Orlando, who was the editor. Joe let me take the script, clean it up a bit and assign it out to modern artists, and we ran it in the back of a few issues of "Adventure." That's the closet I came to the Seven Soldiers until now.
In a sense, what appealed to me in this story was that it was pretty much a clean slate in the world of "Convergence." Really, what I did with the story was make it rewarding for me because of who the narrator is. I built this around Scribbly Jibbet, whose name you will probably not remember. I guess he's the only character in the DC Universe who preceeds DC. Shelly Mayer created Scribbly originally, as a boy. His Scribbly stories -- in the view of Art Spiegelman, who is very knowledgeable on such -- is arguably the first autobiographical example of a cartoonist writing about a cartoonist in America. Shelly created it at first for Dell, but then he brought it to DC when he became the first editor of "All-American Comics." He did a run in that comic and then did about 15 issues of Scribbly's own comic.
They were very much period pieces of a young cartoonist in New York breaking in -- stories of his family and all that. It's the place where the original Red Tornado character comes from. She was a supporting character in that comic. And then Shelly didn't touch Scribbly for a couple of decades -- he had one cameo of the character showing up in an issue of "Sugar & Spike" a generation later. I thought, "If 'Convergence' is putting everything together, let's take the earliest piece we've got." So Scribbly becomes the editorial cartoonist for a Metropolis paper, and you get his view of what's happening with the Seven Soldiers, what's happening with all of "Convergence" and kind of what it means to be a hero, or a part of the DC Universe, in his eyes.
Returning to the history of DC is not only something the company has done as a whole, but it seems like something you've always had an interest in doing. For a few years, I went around buying up all the "Adventure Comics" digest issues where you had done full annotations for all the early Legion of Super-Heroes comics.
[Laughs] I had such fun with that. They were just tiny little 300-word text pages, but it was fun to put all the pieces of that story together.
A far less obscure historical piece that plays into this "Convergence" series is that these characters are theoretically being plucked from when "Crisis On Infinite Earths" was happening. Did the story allow you a chance to reflect on that series, which is in many ways the grandfather of all these reality-warping events?
It's a relevant part of how the pieces of the puzzle fit together here, but it didn't feel like revisiting for me. I guess that's in part because my own involvement in "Crisis" was more on the managerial side than the story side. On the story side, it was very important to the Legion because of the death of Supergirl. But that was still off in its own moment, and I wasn't going back into that space here.
As for the Seven Soldiers, aside from Green Arrow, I'm not sure any of them have ever had strongly defined personalities. Who did you get to tap into on a character level and explore more fully?
It's a two-sided sword, You have more elbow room with those characters, but you have less resonance. When you do a Superman story -- like how I just finished a "secret origin" story in "World's Finest" about the history of the Superman and Batman of Earth 2 -- there are lots of moments where you're getting a little bit of Superman, but because you know him so well, there is an enormous amount of emotional resonance. I didn't have to spend any time proving he loves Lois Lane to see why he's in tears when Lois dies, I have a line that I'm fond of in the issue that comes out next month and wraps up the series when Lois dies, and it says, "People were hearing his nightmare screams across the world for weeks after that." You don't have to explain that about Superman. You can just dip into the idea of, "What would Superman do if Lois Lane died?"
You just don't have that with the Seven Soldiers, though I do have some fun with the Shining Knight, who is probably the most prominent character as a personality type in this "Convergence" series. He has an interesting background and history when you think about him going back to Arthur's court. That sense of history and sense of an epic ties well to what's going on in "Convergence" and these radical changes in their lives.
Befitting the rarely-seen status of the characters in play, the art on this two-parter seems like it will be something quite different than the standard event comic. Jim Fern and Shannon Wheeler are both contributing, and I assume Shannon is focusing on Scribbly's story. How has their work been divided up?
Well, it's not so much a half-and-half split, because Shannon is doing Scribbly's art but not Scribbly himself. When you have a portion of the story that's told by a cartoonist, some of that story -- not a lot, but some important parts -- gets told through his cartoons. That's Shannon's contribution, and it's been absolutely wonderful. Again, when you have a structure like "Convergence" and when you have so many books dealing with parallel or inter-linking events, it seems to me that the way to have fun with it and give your work meaning is to do something that the other 39 series aren't. The idea of having that different perspective in the book and having an artist as different as Shannon -- who I don't think has done any DC work in the past -- just seemed to be a hoot. The first issue pulled together really nicely.
I feel like deep down in his cartooning DNA, Shannon shares a little something with Mayer as well.
Yeah. I haven't spoken to Shannon directly, so I don't know whether he went back and read 98 issues of "Sugar & Spike," but that wouldn't be the worst assignment in the world. As you say, they share some parallels as cartoonists. But Shelly wouldn't be doing things the same way. He's been gone a long time now, and he was a good friend. I'm thrilled to be honoring him, but I think the honor is in being remembered not in having someone else try to make themselves look like him. Shelly didn't want anyone to look like him ever.
You've been living the writing life for a while now since leaving the Publisher's chair at DC, and I knew at one point you were expressing interest in doing some graphic novels. With DC making its move out West and some new opportunities opening from that, do you think we'll see the fruits of that desire soon?
I have some other projects at various stages that aren't announced at this point. I'm thrilled to be doing the new "Doctor Fate" project at DC with Sonny Liew, who I think is just a phenomenally talented artist. I just saw some of his first design sketches, which are lovely. So keep watching. I've got a few things I want to do before I'm done, and I've got a while left, yet.
"Convergence: World's Finest" #1 arrives on April 29 from DC Comics.