On the "Run!" with Matthew Sturges

Recognized as a rising star at DC Comics, writer Matthew Sturges is on every editor's most wanted list. And now he's writing a story about a guy who fits the same bill -- except in the case of the Human Flame, the target on his chest is far more disconcerting, as fans will see on May 6, when Sturges ("Jack of Fables," "House of Mystery") and artist Freddie E. Williams II ("Robin," "The Flash") launch the six-issue miniseries, "Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!"

First introduced in 1959 in "Detective Comics" #274, the Human Flame - a.k.a. Michael Miller -- returned to the scene in last year's "Final Crisis," where he murdered the Martian Manhunter at the request of Libra, filming the whole thing with his cell phone. Now, every superhero in DCU wants Michael Miller to pay. But at the same time, the supervillains of the DCU don't like the Flame either, because he backed the treacherous Libra as the new leader of the baddies' fraternity.

CBR News spoke to Sturges from his home in Austin, Texas about why - after 50 years - it was time to give Human Flame his own solo series.

CBR: What's there to love about The Human Flame? He's got no friends and a whole whack of enemies, so how do you write him as a lead of a six-issue miniseries?

Matthew Sturges: I think that Human Flame definitely falls into the "love to hate" category. He has almost no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He's a train wreck of a human being - and that mustache! But there's something very compelling about him as he wakes up in the reality of the DCU after "Final Crisis." He's a man alone, a man who will do anything to survive. And there's an indomitable core to him that keeps him going where a lesser villain would simply give up and submit to his fate.

And while the story is very much about him and his rise to great power, he also acts as a lens through which we can see what's happening in some odd little corners of the DCU's underworld.

The thing that, to me, makes him such a compelling character, though, is the fact that in his mind, he is utterly justified in everything he's ever done. He's not a villain, or a loser, or a joke to himself. And seeing how Human Flame's reality collides with everyone else's is a big part of the fun of this book. And these collisions are taking place constantly - there's no downtime in this series.

The Human Flame was a blip on the DCU timeline before Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones made him an important player in "Final Crisis." Do you explore the Human Flame's back-story and/or origin at all in the miniseries?

In the first issue of the series, we encounter some of this in passing, but what drives the story isn't who the Human Flame was. He was nobody. We're focused on what he's becoming, and how it happens. That said, we do get to see the prototype of his "crime suit," and it's a sight to see. It's not pretty, I can tell you that.

Does one have to have read "Final Crisis" to follow along with "Run!"?

No. "Run!" picks up from the moment Human Flame (or Fire Weasel, as editor Ian Sattler likes to call him) wakes up in the hospital following the events of "Final Crisis," and it never looks back. This is not a reflective miniseries, or a complex metatextual examination of the superhero gestalt. This is a book about a guy who can shoot fire from his nipples, running for his life. And it's a hell of a lot of fun.

The solicitations tease this series examines the "underbelly of the DCU." Who are the other major players in this series?

I don't want to spoil anything, so I can't tell you any of the big names, though there are a few. The series starts in the underbelly of the underbelly, with some of the least-well-known names in all of villainy. These aren't D-list villains. They're more like, I don't know, N-list villains. There are also some Kyrgyzstani mobsters. What I'll bet you didn't know is that the Kyrgyzstanis in the DCU is a group of people you definitely don't want to anger. I'm sure that Kyrgyzstanis in our world are absolutely lovely people.

Does The Human Flame have any allies?

He believes he does. But he's not very good at making or keeping friends. He does get a love interest of sorts, though.

Who is chasing Human Flame in "Run!"?

Who isn't chasing him? There's pretty much nobody in the DCU that has any positive feelings toward Human Flame. That's exactly why he's the central character of "Run!" The villains hate him because he was the one who vouched for Libra and led to all of the grief that they experienced. The heroes hate him because he was responsible for the death of Martian Manhunter. The Kyrgyzstani mob hates him for reasons that will become very clear early on, and he's got no fans in the nursing profession, or in the world of costumed mascots, I can tell you that much.

Where were you when Martian Manhunter died?

I was on my back porch, talking to "Salvation Run" editor Joey Cavalieri. When I was writing "Salvation Run," the death of J'onn J'onnz was such a secret that they didn't even tell me about it until I was writing the last issue of the series. I was the last person to write Martian Manhunter alive. It makes me feel uneasy.

Does Martian Manhunter play a role in "Fina Crisis Aftermath: Run!"? Even posthumously?

Only in the sense that the specter of his death hangs over the way that people relate to Human Flame. Of course, I haven't written the last issue yet.

What can you say about the work of artist Freddie E. Willams?

I've been a fan of Freddie's since I first laid eyes on his stuff in "Robin." He's got a really fascinating process. It's all done digitally, and so watching the art develop from his breaks to his finished art is totally different from the standard practice of penciled breakdowns followed by finished pencils, and inks. It's really cool, and the stuff that he's doing on "Run!" is beautifully visceral and kinetic. Even the few pages where nothing violent is happening have a feeling of momentum to them that's beautiful to see.

Anything else you can share about the project?

"Run!" is a pretty unique book. It has a sensibility and an energy that you don't often see in superhero comics. With a project that's somewhere off the beaten path, it's not always easy to put a team together where everyone 'gets' it, but on "Run!" we're all on the same page, and we're all really happy with how it's turning out.

Ian Sattler came to me with the basic premise, and it matched up with a certain kind of book that I'd been interested in writing for a while - something that was paced so relentlessly that the reader scarcely got a chance to breathe. We had a fantastic time brainstorming ideas, kicking things back and forth, laughing our heads off. We're all having a blast making the thing, and I think that can't help but show up in the final product.

Do you have any other new projects coming in 2009?

Of course, I've got "Justice Society of America" starting in the summer, with co-writer Bill Willingham and artist Jesus Merino, who's doing a bang-up job so far. Bill and I knew exactly what we wanted to do out of the gate, and we've actually already written five months' worth of scripts.

And there's another project that I'm incredibly happy about, but can't announce yet. I think when people hear about it, they're going to say, "Thanks, DC!"

That ought to keep me busy for a while, I think!

"Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!" #1 goes on sale in May from DC Comics. 

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