REFLECTIONS: Talking with Peter David, Part 2

Reflections, Volume 3, Number 14

When I was but a young boy, I wandered through my local ACME and noticed a comic rack. I wandered over and perused the spinner until my eyes hit "Supergirl" #3, by Peter David, and I immediately grabbed it off the comic rack and asked my grandmother if I could buy it.

She paged through it quickly, placed it roughly back on the rack with a definitive "no."

A year later when I got into comic collecting, "Supergirl" was one of the first ongoing series that I was addicted to, and I tracked down issue #3, which I found out was a "Final Night" crossover. Children died, some were stabbed with an icicle and there was violence throughout - I don't really see why Grandma didn't want me to pick it up.

Anyway, I so fell in love with "Supergirl" that when DC cancelled it with issue #80, I wrote one of those nasty notes to the publisher threatening to never again pick up a DC comic. Oh, those were the days…

The point is that Peter David and Linda Danvers both had a big effect on my early comic reading career, which makes the latter half of this interview very important to me. How important, you ask? Well, read on…

If you missed it previously, start with part 1 of my interview with Peter, then return here for the second part of our lengthy chat.

Peter David at WonderCon, February, 2006

Robert Taylor: Let's go back to "Hulk" for a minute and talk about killing off Betty, shall we?

Peter David: If I had known that I would be off the "Hulk" in an issue or two, I never would have killed her off. Never.

It came across like a hit and run. What it really came down to was this: Bobbie Chase and I were discussing future directions for the series, and Bobby said that, as far as I were concerned, Betty was untouchable because she was my wife's favorite character. She then said, "Not to be indelicate, but your wife has filed for divorce." And I said, "Yeah…." She said, "Does that still hold with Betty?"

And I said, "No, let's kill the bitch." Okay, not exactly that. I said, "Fine, she's toast."

The intention was that Betty was Bruce's emotional core and anchor to reality. The notion of how Bruce would deal with the world when his anchor to the world was gone seemed to have gargantuan potential. It was a story that never would have been done by me if my marriage hadn't fallen apart, because I wouldn't have never dreamed of killing her off. But with my wife leaving me, the halo of safety was gone.

So we killed off Betty. And then people above Bobby noted the dwindling sales on the book which were, in my mind, due to the crappy stories from "Heroes Reborn," and they said that what they felt would help sales would be a series of stories where the Hulk was nothing more than a rampaging beast who went around smashing things. There would be a series of guest-stars who get beat up while Hulk smashes the Marvel Universe up for a year or so.

Those stories wouldn't be interesting to write. I killed Betty to tell stories exploring what a man bereft of his emotional anchor would go through, which I have to admit, particularly at the time, resonated for me. So if I could do stories about a man adrift emotionally there could be some incredible stories that come from the depth of my heart and soul and despair, which would make for damn good reading.

I was also concerned that taking the book in that direction would destroy sales. That, after 12 years of writing a book of emotional depth, people would not be interested in reading Hulk Smash again, which is what Marvel wanted.

So I told Marvel "No." And Marvel's response was not to let the door hit me on the way out. And Bobby, who was devastated, told me that I had one issue to wrap everything up. One issue! I had essentially planned to stay on the book until issue 500. I had enough stories for about two years, and then 500 was going to be my sign off. Instead, not so much.

So, I wrote my last issue and I was gone. And so when everybody asked what I would have done, I tell them to read that issue. But what made the concept of killing Betty off workable to me, was not the killing off of Betty, but the fallout. Killing her off and leaving the book, why the hell would I do that? That's basically taking a dump on the fans, leaving scorched earth behind me and saying "so long suckers!"

RT: And then when you returned to "Hulk," Betty came out of the water at the end. Were there any plans to follow up with that and where did it come from?

PD: That story was intended to be a limited series. Well, actually it was meant to launch an "Ultimate Hulk" book. But then Marvel decided they didn't want to do it, but Joe Quesada liked the story, so they asked me to retool it for the regular Marvel Universe. So I retooled it.

Two issues into it, we find out that Bruce Jones has jumped ship and was going over to work at DC. I have to admit I was flabbergasted when I heard that. Marvel spent three years flogging Bruce Jones' run on "Hulk" relentlessly. Unbelievable! I was on "Hulk" for 12 years and never got a fraction of the press that he got. I would kill for that kind of coverage and focus!

And it resulted in Bruce becoming a name in the industry and then Bruce left for DC, and I was kind of thunderstruck. You do that for me for three years, I will crawl across broken glass for you. They then told me that they were going to shut down the ongoing book for a year while my miniseries ran, but then they thought they could just take the miniseries and make it part of the ongoing series. And I'm going, "Oh #&@! Me." The story that I was writing was not designed to be part of the ongoing arc or follow what Bruce had done. So I did the best I could to retool the storyline to at least desperately flow from the semi-comprehensible storyline that Bruce had done previously.

It was…problematic. There was a lot I liked about the story, particularly Lee Week's art, which I thought was fantastic. And I liked the way that Nightmare's daughter came out. I really liked her. And I would like to do more with exploring her, because she could be a lot of fun. But overall, the storyline showed the growing pains of going from being a launch for an "Ultimate Hulk" to being a "Hulk" limited series to being part of the ongoing title.

RT: Are you still reading the "Hulk" now?

PD: No. Nothing against Greg, I don't generally read a book after I've left it. The problem is that all the characters will sound wrong to me. It also helps because, invariably, fans will ask me what I think of so-and-so's work on the book now.

RT: Oops.

PD: I openly admit that I am the worst person to ask these questions because I can't look at it with an unbiased eye. So if I don't read it, it's okay. I haven't read "Planet Hulk," but some people seem to like it. It's not my character anymore, and anything that I read is not going to go through the filter of my own mind and will sound wrong to me.

There is no upside, because one of two things is going to happen - I am either going to give into my predisposition and not like it, or I'm going to like it and become insanely jealous. So what's the point!?

I made a good faith effort when Bruce was going into his second year. I picked it up and felt like someone needed to explain to me why the book was popular, because I didn't get it. This unleashed a fire of criticism at me, with people saying I'm just jealous. I don't know, maybe? But I think I know my mind as well as anyone else, but maybe I don't know my innermost soul, but I still found major problems with it. So that reinforced my feeling that my way of handling things is better anyway.

RT: Well, this makes a good segue way into what you are reading now and enjoying.

PD: I'm reading all the mutant books for obvious reasons. I'm enjoying some more than others but don't want to single any out because there is probably going to be a mutant-writer get together and I don't want to deal with some writers coming up to me and saying "Oh, thanks for the kind comments about my work," and others looking at me and going, "You $#&@er." (laughs)

I like "Strangers in Paradise," and don't think the book gets remotely the notice it deserves. "PvP" is hysterical and underscores how important the dialogue is because the art is so minimalist. I like "Runaways."

RT: Are you reading "52," because things are finally beginning to come together.

PD: I've been reading it from time to time, but not steadily. I'm probably going to sit down and read a whole bunch of it in one fell swoop.

RT: Since you've been working at Marvel, your books have been getting artist after artist after artist…

PD: Yeah, you've noticed that?

RT: Yeah. But do you think that having a stable artist on a book…

PD: Isn't having a stable artist an oxymoron? (laughs)

RT: Well, yeah. Do you think it hurts the books?

PD: I think it cripples the book. It makes me absolutely nuts. Fans are put off by the constant shifts in artists. It makes the storytelling more difficult, to put it mildly.

When you work with the same artist month-in and month-out, you very quickly get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses, and as a result, can key the story to his strengths and cut back on his weaknesses. The problem is that if you are doing round robin artist, it hampers the writer's ability to do that, so much so that, month after month, you don't know which elements of which story are better than others.

It's tricky.

RT: If you could choose artists for your books, who would they be?

PD: I will say that Todd Nauck was on "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" because I asked for him. I knew that Ringo was leaving the book and didn't want too much of a jolt in the visual style.

That said, I think Scot Eaton has done a terrific job on this storyline.

RT: I really like Scot's stuff. I think he's a bit of a chameleon at art. You can throw anything at him and it sticks.

PD: How appropriate for Spider-Man.

I think we had a lot of solid artists on "X-Factor," and I could not be happier with Pablo. The thing that is really impressive is that the editors managed to maintain the overall look of the book even though we were changing artists faster than most people change socks. The fact that the book retained its cohesion of its look at all is a small miracle. And, let us keep in mind that, over the course of a year, we came out with 12 issues! Although it took a baseball team number of artists to do it, we did it.

RT: Are there artists at Marvel that you would like to work with in the near future?

PD: Uh, this could get embarrassing because if I name so and so he will then tell me that he has worked with me.

I actually try to avoid that question because, although I can remember the names of original "Star Trek" episodes from 1967, but the names of everyone I have worked with slip away.

I'll be at conventions where people ask artists on a panel what it was like to work with me, and I'll think that I've never worked with that man before in my life, and they are talking about that one issue of "Hulk" they did that was a fill-in. So I generally try not to answer that question because they may take it personally.

You know who does some really nice stuff? Barry Kitson.

RT: Yes indeed. And he needs that one book to make him pop again and get him in superstar status.

PD: Here's what we'll do: a series with Nightmare's daughter and have Barry Kitson draw it.

RT: What's coming up in "X-Factor?"

PD: We have the ongoing story where Jamie is going around and recollecting his various stray dupes, and we are having a chance to address the Agent of SHIELD that is a Jamie Madrox. There is an issue where a dupe has become a minister and has a whole life set up, and what kind of impact taking this guy away will have on everyone around them.

Then we have Siren and Monet going to Paris to get away from everything for awhile, and instead running into anti-mutant hysteria and get sucked into the middle of it.

And then we are embarking on a storyline involving a group of former mutants who form a terrorist cell and I am calling it the X-Cell. Years ago the big theory about AIDS was that is was a disease that the government had created in labs and had escaped. And there is a group of mutants who are convinced that the government is behind M-Day and is responsible for getting rid of all but 198 mutants. And now they are going after the government and want them to undo M-Day and restore the power of mutants.

RT: "House of M" seems to be a major continuing factor in "X-Factor."

PD: Initially, when we conceived "X-Factor," M-Day was not a part of this at all. We didn't know about the thing, and they developed the whole No More Mutants thing, which was a bit of a kick in the pants because they are supposed to be the protectors of Mutant Town and, guess what, there are no more mutants.

Then we developed the notion that Mutant Town has become a haven for people who used to be mutants and no longer are, so when you think about it, they need protection more than they ever did. So positives came out of that.

Plus, we continue to deal with the fallout and ramifications of "House of M" in "X-Factor." This helps the feeling of the Marvel Universe being realistic because we are probably dealing with "House of M" more than any other X-book currently is. So for those fans who want to feel like the Marvel Universe has a new world sense, they can look to "X-Factor" because this big crossover didn't just disappear into the ozone layer with no ongoing ramifications. I don't mean the main X-mutants, but "X-Factor" continues to explore the results on a ground-level basis for Joe Mutant, if you will. That gives us a lot of story possibilities that we've barely begun to use.

RT: Is Pablo sticking around hopefully for awhile?

PD: God, I hope so.

RT: Now let's move over to a series that hasn't had any fill-in artists so far, knock on wood, and that's "Fallen Angel."

PD: J.K. Woodward is moving away from the photorealism style because neither of us were satisfied with the way it was coming off in print. I wish you could see the PDFs of the book. We would get the computer colors and it all looked fantastic. And then the book would come out and the printer would darken everything up, and no matter how many times and how many ways and how many single-syllable words we used to get the printer to stop darkening, it didn't work. So J.K. moved to a more traditional line style, which doesn't look, to my mind, as nifty as photorealism, but at least now you can tell what's going on.

RT: How long are you sticking with it. Is there an endgame?

PD: No. As a matter of fact I'm working on issue #18. The book is one of their better-selling non-licensed books. The great thing about IDW is that they continue to publish the book for the best reason possible. The reason that it continued was because the guys at IDW loved the series when it was coming out from DC and didn't want it to end. They wanted to see what happened next.

They don't do this book to get rich. Trust me, no one is getting rich off of "Fallen Angel." It's not like they are publishing it because they will make a bundle off of dramatic rights, because DC still has those and refuses to do anything with it. There has been interest from several different studios, and they don't do anything with it because that is the way they roll.

They keep the book going because they want to see what is going to happen next. As long as they can afford to do it without losing their shirts and as long as I want to write it, and I have no particular plan to leave the book anytime soon, it will continue to be published.

RT: You hinted in your blog that an upcoming issue would touch on the whole Linda Danvers/Fallen Angel story. Comments?

PD: When we launched "Fallen Angel," I was deliberately coy with whether or not Lee was actually Linda. I wanted to give people a reason to buy the book, and since I came over to IDW there was no point in being coy. The book was going to rise or fall on its own merits. Now that it has stood for a year on its own merits, I thought I would throw in some more subtle fun that I did when it was coming out as a DC book.

The notion was that I created the Fallen Angel as a character who might be Linda. She's not. That ship has sailed. So what I do is introduce into the mix a character who might be Linda. Can I say this is Linda Danvers? Of course I can't. However, it's pretty freaking obvious that it is.

RT: Like when DC did that rip-off version of "The Authority" whose name escapes me?

PD: Yes, except this is no joke. The story itself reads like any other issue of "Fallen Angel." There's some nudge nudge, but no wink wink. It's as serious a story as any other.

The notion was introduced that the people in Bette Noire fulfill certain functions and before they were there other people fulfilled those functions. What this plays off of is the notion that there was someone in Bette Noire before the Fallen Angel who performed her functions.

Is that person Linda? Well, between you, me, and the eight million people reading this, yeah. But we aren't gonna say that.

RT: It's not like she's going to wax lyrical about the time she made out with a horse or anything.

PD: Although that would be fun. But no, we aren't going to be quite that specific.

RT: Let's talk a little bit about your novelizations of movies. After you finish the novelizations, do you have a picture in your mind of how the film should be, and do you carry that into the movie with you?

PD: I have a picture in my mind of the way that I interpreted it. When you are reading a screenplay all you are reading is the blueprint. You can look at a blueprint of a human female, and if you design it one way it will be Kim Basinger, if you design it another it will be Angelica Huston, and so on. So I know the way that I interpreted the script in terms of my novelization. The people might interpret things in a different way. There are some scenes that I have novelized that I am almost positive will end up on the cutting room floor. There are things in the script that I consider gaping holes and I have to plug them, but the audience watching the movie won't notice them.

RT: What was your favorite?

PD: Probably the first "Spider-Man" film. When I got that script, I thought it would make a great "Spider-Man" film.

By contrast, when I got the script for "Hulk," I thought it would make a good Ang Lee film.

RT: And it did make a good Ang Lee film.

PD: Don't make me AngLee. You wouldn't like me when I'm AngLee. (laughs)

But when I read the script for "Spider-Man" I knew it would make a good "Spider-Man" movie. This movie was made lovingly and Raimi made it a great Spider-Man movie.

RT: And finally: "Dark Tower."

PD: I want to be judicious in my descriptions, and I will say that it has been a joy working with Jae Lee. Robin Firth is doing a great job of breaking down the series into bites. Getting notes from Stephen King is cool beyond cool. And I have to tell you the anticipation for the book is beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Retailers are telling me they are ordering huge numbers for it, and I'm doing a midnight show appearance at Midtown Comics. We have no idea what to expect because we have never done a midnight release. I figure it's either going to be packed or either going to be us. Then I'm going up to Casablanca Comics in Maine.

RT: Here is a comic book that you can hand out to non-comic readers and they will pick it up.

PD: Man I would kill to run an ad for "Fallen Angel" in the back of the book, but that can't happen.

RT: Well you could have a character much like Lee show up, punch someone and leave.

PD: I'm really thinking I can't. (laughs)

Coming up next week: Mark Verheiden!

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