When they fought the Nazi menace during World War II, the DC Universe's first superhero team, the Justice Society of America, were doing what they knew was right. Little did they know that one of their wartime operations would come back to haunt them - one of them, in particular, and he wasn't even there! Writer Avrid Nelson and artist Alex Sanchez depict Mr. Terrific's fight to uncover a decades-old conspiracy and clear his name in the pages of August's "JSA Classified" #29. CBR News spoke with Arvid Nelson about the three-part story titled, "Mr. Horrific."
Real historical events inspired Nelson to write the Justice Society adventure that lies at the center of the "Mr. Horrific" storyline. In the twilight days of WWII, the United States was on the hunt for Nazi scientists. "The United States imported -- and pardoned! -- a lot of Nazi war criminals, scientists, because they could and did help with American military and political programs," Nelson told CBR News. "You can argue about whether it was right or wrong, but the fact is that people like Wernher von Braun, the man behind the United States space program, was literally a war criminal. He used concentration camp labor to build V2 rockets that he designed. The V2s killed hundreds of people in England. Even if you think it was a good idea to pardon him and put him to work for NASA, it's still a complicated issue."
The Justice Society and a team of US Army Rangers worked together to smuggle von Braun out of Germany before Russian agents could get their hands on him. "Flash-forward to present day, and the son of the Ranger captain responsible for nabbing von Braun has become a United States senator, just like his father did after World War II," Nelson explained. "It turns out they might have some very un-American political beliefs beneath the veneer of their blandly optimistic campaign speeches."
For fear of spoiling revelations about the story, Nelson refused to divulge any more details, except to say that a murder is committed, and modern day JSA member Mr. Terrific becomes mired in a chain of deception and danger when he discovers an unbelievable secret about the senator. Forced on the run, traversing the globe and trying to stay alive, Mr. Terrific must get to the bottom of a conspiracy that "involves Norse mythology, a remote Arctic island, and a Third Reich that never died."
"JSA Classified" editor Mike Marts has a fondness for the hidden secrets of the world, and as any "Rex Mundi" fan knows, Avrid Nelson shares the same interest. "Mike is a Holy Grail conspiracy aficionado like myself," Nelson said. "'Rex Mundi' is all about the grail, so I guess it appealed to him. We've been in touch for a long time now, since when Mike was at Marvel. When he moved to DC, he emailed me, and one thing led to another!"
"JSA Classified" is Nelson's first foray into the DCU, and he admits he didn't know much about its characters and concepts when he began. "I had never heard of Mr. Terrific before," Nelson confessed. "I didn't know the difference between the JSA and the JLA. In some ways, that might have helped. I hope it did. I didn't have any prejudices going in, and I think it really freed up my mind to do whatever I wanted."
Once he got to know Michael Holt AKA Mr. Terrific, Nelson saw some clearly dominant personality traits in his protagonist. "Well, MT -- that's what I call him -- is definitely very smart," Nelson said, "but he's naive, too, the way very intelligent people can sometimes be naïve. He's a case of book-smart and street-dumb. His best qualities, his loyalty and his idealism, are also his vulnerabilities. The complications he gets into in 'Mr. Horrific' are all a result of him trusting people he shouldn't have."
The events of "Mr. Horrific" take Mr. Terrific all over the world. "I wanted to write a political thriller and a spy thriller all at once," Nelson stated. "One of the things I love most about James Bond movies is all of the globetrotting, the exotic locales. But I guess I wanted to write a story with exotic locals that you don't usually see. You know, 007 is always in Monaco or the Bahamas or someplace like that. I wanted to set the story in places that are a lot more remote and forbidding. More than that, I dare not say. It would ruin some surprises."
"Mr. Horrific" will unfold in a variety of locations, but also in a variety of time periods. "The JSA was the first superhero team ever. Their genesis is tied to World War II and the fight against the Nazis," Nelson said. "So that's when the mystery begins, in World War II. Something the JSA did during World War II had unexpected consequences, very bad consequences. It gets Mr. Terrific into a lot of trouble."
A confrontation with a US Senator means Mr. Terrific faces a foe with a number of powerful allies, but the former JSA chairman has his own set of capable comrades he can call upon. "MT will get by with a little help from his friends, his friends in the JSA," Nelson confirmed. "I tried to keep it mostly JSA members who were around in World War II, since they have direct memories of capturing von Braun."
Each issue of the three part "Mr. Horrific" has not just its own distinct feel, but also its own genre. "That's the ambition, anyway," Nelson said. "The first issue is a political thriller. The second is more of a spy story. And the third is kooky Golden Age science fiction.
"I really hope that each issue, practically each page, will provide surprises and laughter. The JSA are pretty goofy, let's face it. I decided to embrace that and make it part of the story."
Indeed, the overriding tone of the story will be similar to those found in classic pulp fiction stories. "It's got an old pulp feel," Nelson explained, "but it's a fine line to walk. I wanted to write a story that will make readers feel the same sense of wonderment and awe kids felt reading the original JSA comics in the 30s, but I also want it to appeal to contemporary readers."
The "Mr. Horrific" arc of "JSA Classified" is Nelson's first DC Comics story, and the writer hasn't ruled out the possibility of doing more. "I really didn't get into comic books to write super-hero stories, I have to admit that," Nelson said. "So I was very surprised at how much fun it is. Pleasantly surprised. We'll see where it leads!"