"I started to sweat, because 'fun' is a death word in comics these days."
Welcome back to the second part of my epic interview with Mark Waid. But wait! If you haven't read the first part of the interview, look no further than here.
While the first half of the interview mostly covered Mark's contribution to "52," this half explores his work on "Brave and the Bold," "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes," and all that fun personal stuff you should expect from any "Reflections" column.
But the highlight of the interview, for me, is when we talk about the slow death of "fun" comics in an industry so focused on battling heroes, death and other lewd crossover acts. It was a real eye-opener of a conversation for me, and merits some deep thoughts about the subject.
That said, let's get shaking.
|"Brave and the Bold" #1|
RT: "Brave and the Bold" rocks. Now I'm reading "Blue Beetle" after reading the issue costarring him.
MW: That's the biggest compliment we've gotten on "Brave and the Bold" so far - that readers say it's enticed them to try "Blue Beetle." "Blue Beetle" is a great book, and that's the entire point of running a guest-star like that through "B&B" - to point readers to other series they might want to sample.
RT: How do you determine the team-ups? Is it all coin flipping? All character? Or a mixture of both?
MW: Green Lantern and Batman was a no-brainer because Batman had to be in the first one - tradition - and we wanted to pair him with a strong hitter. Green Lantern, at the time "B&B" was approved by DC, was still our second bestselling book.
And then I chose Supergirl because, again, at that time, it was our third bestselling book. Times change. [laughs]
Lobo made sense because I couldn't think of a better, more odd-coupley character for Supergirl to play off of than Lobo. Blue Beetle was a cinch because the Blue Beetle/Batman stuff writer John Rogers did in issue #7 of "Blue Beetle" was so charming and so much fun, it sparked me to show a side of Batman we don't normally see - the non-scary mentor side
That's what it is all about. I'm not choosing characters because I think their costumes are cool, and I'm not picking characters because I think George will do a good job drawing them, I'm choosing characters because I look for whatever it is about them that allows me to explore a relationship that I haven't seen explored in the DC Universe yet.
RT: Obviously there are an unlimited number of team-ups, but just how many do you want to explore? This is me subtly asking how long you want to stay on the book.
MW: I'm there for the foreseeable future. To make sure George gets the book on time without collapsing, we have a three month on/one month off publishing schedule.
George is on for at least the first twelve issues and hopefully more. I don't plan on going anywhere either.
RT: That's the answer I like to hear. So, are there any team-ups we will never see?
MW: Never is a long time.
RT: In the foreseeable future?
MW: Nothing immediately comes to mind.
I think it would be commercial suicide to pick DC's two worst selling characters and put them in the book together. Like Dial H for Hero and Challengers of the Unknown. No one but me is going to buy it.
And now that I've said it there will be six guys who will race to post on the CBR Forums that they would, too, buy it! And they are all forty-five.
RT: I'm yawning and I'm twenty-two.
MW: However, this book lets us run those characters through--it's deliberately structured that way. Adam Strange is not cover-billed on any of the issues, but he ends up playing a major role in issues five and six. And that's how we want to play future issues and future storyarcs. Say Wonder Woman and Power Girl are featured on the cover, it doesn't mean you can't have some more obscure characters running through the book as supporting players.
RT: I didn't know it was going to be a continuing storyarc.
RT: So, what is coming up for the rest of it?
MW: We have Supergirl and Lobo trying to find their way to Rann. Green Lantern and Adam Strange are already on Rann trying to deal with the Rann-Thanagar War and the fact that the Hawkmen have a new weapon on their side that is an established piece of DC continuity that I can't believe nobody's put into the war yet.
And then it all pays off in issue #6.
RT: I feel like the book is what "Superman/Batman" sometimes was and often strived to be, putting in all the little continuity tics and minor characters…
MW: But the stories make sense?
RT: Yeah! Exactly. I didn't want to say it out loud.
MW: Oh, I'll say it. I hope that proclamation doesn't doom us, though.
The moment all the reviews started coming in they all said, "It's fun." "It's fun." "It's fun." I started to sweat, because "fun" is a death word in comics these days.
RT: If you kill off Hawkeye, people are going to hate it, but at least they are going to buy twenty of it.
MW: That's just it.
"Fun, fun, fun" being our rap makes me worried. Sales were strong on the first issue, but the second issue drop-off was a little steeper than we'd predicted. And I honestly think that was because every reviewer said it was "fun."
"Fun" automatically kills off a lot of your sales. Don't get me wrong; the book's still a success in the current market, and no one at DC has expressed anything but enthusiasm. We certainly seem to have a hit on our hands, George and I. I just hope that the "fun" label doesn't hit us too hard. If so, it's just another sign that current readers don't want "fun" comics.
RT: You should have Blue Beetle raped by his armor or something.
MW: To my mind, "Brave and Bold" isn't "fun." It can be funny, but so could "Firefly" or "Buffy." Interweaving your drama and shock with humor doesn't lessen the drama and shock - it heightens it because it keeps the readers off-balance.
RT: Let's talk about "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes." And, more specifically, why you left so suddenly.
MW: The honest answer is because Barry got his Marvel exclusive. I didn't want to stick around without Barry there. We'd planned to wrap up with issue #36 or so, and I'm disappointed that we couldn't follow up on the threads we wanted to follow up on, and I certainly don't begrudge Barry, who has my unwavering support no matter what he chooses to do. But I think we ended on a pretty good note.
RT: So what do you think about Tony Bedard as the replacement?
MW: Tony is a great replacement.
I think that issue #29, which Tony wrote and which just came out, was really good. I read that and wish I had written it. It was a really clever take on the Dominators and a really dramatic twist in the story.
I've liked Tony's work forever and think he's a really good choice for "Legion." I know that's the obvious thing for me to say - I mean what else am I going to say, "He's gonna suck!"? - but I genuinely mean it when I say I have faith in him, and history shows it's true. I brought Tony into Crossgen, something he has almost forgiven me for. [laughs] I keep dragging him along whenever I do stuff, because I want him to do more comics.
RT: I've always wondered this, but never gotten the nerve to ask you. Did you ever read any more Crossgen after you left?
MW: Not really, no. I just couldn't. Frankly, I'm not sure I read Crossgen while I was there. [laughs]
RT: Okay, let us change the subject to happy stuff then - with the lightning round! What was your first comic book?
MW: "Batman" #180. It's Batman verses a guy in a skeleton costume. Probably not his best moment.
It was the first issue published after the TV series hit the air in 1966, which meant that "Batman" went from selling 350,000 copies a month with a 50% sell through to a million copies with a 98% sell through.
Not only was it my first comic, it was the first comic for 600,000 other kids.
RT: Wow. Can you imagine if everyone who went to go see "Spider-Man 3" just walked into a comic store and picked up one new Spider-Man comic?
MW: Oh my God! It would be amazing for us.
RT: At least they timed Free Comic Book Day well for us this year. And at least Marvel was smart enough to publish a Spider-Man story.
MW: That is extremely helpful. We really have to stop publishing Free Comic Book Day comics that are better samplers of what's going on in comics now.
RT: What comic books can you never miss?
MW: "Birds of Prey," because I love what Gail does. "All Star Superman" whenever it comes out. "She Hulk" over at Marvel. And the "Spider-Man/Fantastic Four" miniseries by Mike Wieringo and Jeff Parker.
RT: I haven't picked that up, oddly enough.
MW: It's not going to change the world, but it's fun.
RT: There's that word again.
MW: And it's Ringo drawing Spider-Man again, and I'd love to get a piece of that sometime in the future.
RT: I always ask DC exclusive creators what they thought of "Civil War" and Marvel exclusive creators what they thought of "52." So, how'd you like "Civil War"?
MW: I think they did a better job than we did of making it a new-reader-friendly story. It certainly had its exciting moments.
I think the finale showed such a fundamental lack of understanding of who Captain America is that my jaw is still on the floor, but, oh, well.
RT: And don't forget about Iron Man!
MW: The villains won. Congratulations! Iron Man I don't care about, though. Iron Man I never liked. It's Captain America that kills me.
RT: I don't really care about Iron Man either, but now in every book he appears in, whenever he walks in a room you just want to groan. It shouldn't be like that.
MW: Basically, what made me itchy about "Civil War" is that - whether intentionally or not - the message seemed to be "give up your civil liberties and stop fighting for the things you believe in and everything will be fine." I get enough of that from the Bush administration.
But, man, it sure was a good-lookin' book. Steve McNiven is brilliantly talented.
RT: Exactly. What do you think that your biggest strength as a writer is?
MW: Story structure and clarity. I know what you can and can't do on a comic book page and I have a pretty good sense of pacing. I think I'm also pretty good about always bearing in mind that story comes from character.
RT: Biggest weakness?
MW: I don't…
RT: …have a weakness?
MW: Yeah, more like I don't know which one to choose. I think the one I'm most aware of right now is that my character voices aren't quite as distinctive as they should be. And my dialogue comes off as being a little too expository sometimes.
RT: Can you explain that a little more for me?
MW: Har de har har.
RT: Well, my next question was if you had a weekly comic book series who you would want the three other writers to be, but, you know.
MW: There ya go.
RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?
MW: "Watchmen." It's a complete textbook on how comics are done.
RT: What, that you have written, are you most proud of?
MW: I'm torn between "Fantastic Four" and "Flash."
RT: Oh, I loved "Fantastic Four" so much.
MW: And with Ringo, how could you go wrong?
RT: Has there ever been a comic that touched or changed your life?
MW: Oh sure, there have been a bunch.
"Action Comics" #500. It was the life story of Superman and came out in 1979. Superman is explaining his life history. And he gets to Krypto, and writer Marty Pasko found a way to make Krypto not sound like a stupid idea, which was good, but not what struck me. What struck me was how Marty found a way to use that moment to get into Superman's head and have him admit how important it was to finally have someone around to share things with. "Thinks like the feeling of the wind in your face - in a way no one else in the world can feel it - or the sound bullets make when they bounce of living flesh." That's a great line.
That was the moment when I suddenly realized how a good writer makes these characters real. He sees the world through their point of view. He imagines what it's like to have their powers, what their life is like.
My favorite Flash line that I ever wrote was when Wally got his Flash powers for the first time and said "The only sound in the world was the rush of the wind and the thunder of my own two feet."
I found that Marty Pasko page on eBay a few years ago and it's hanging in my office now to remind me how we do what we do.
RT: What advice do you have for someone trying to break into comics?
MW: Remember me ten years from now when you are a superstar and I am walking around San Diego with a tin cup saying, "I created Impulse."
RT: If you could only write one comic book for the rest of your career, what would you want it to be?
RT: Who would be your art partner?
MW: Since it's unlikely I'll ever write Superman on a regular basis, I'll just say Curt Swan.
RT: What is the best comic book movie ever made?
MW: I go back and forth on this.
I'm going to be sacrilegious and split your question into two.
My favorite comic book movie and the second best ever made is "Superman: The Movie."
But as much as it kills me to say it, "Spider-Man 2" is the best comic book movie ever made.
RT: Weirdest convention experience?
MW: Oh God, where do I start?
Alex Ross and I were doing a store signing for "Kingdom Come" ten years ago in Maryland, in the mall. It was great, and we were thrilled because of the walk-by traffic and it was Sunday and the mall would be packed.
And they got the Baltimore Klingon Masquerade Society to work security. In full Klingon get-up and make-up.
The entire experience very quickly went from moms walking by and pointing and saying gleefully "Oh, it's Superman and Batman, Johnny!, Let's check it out!" to "Don't look at the weird men, Johnny. Keep walking! Keep walking!"
They were terrified of letting their children anywhere near us!
RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?
MW: My answer will change from day to day, but at this exact moment it is saving Ralph and Sue.
Next week: "The 4400's" Chad Faust!