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REFLECTIONS: Talking with Tony Bedard, Part 2

by  in Comic News Comment
REFLECTIONS: Talking with Tony Bedard, Part 2

REFLECTIONS #218

Two weeks ago I promised you’d get much more with writer Tony Bedard a week later on CBR. Unfortunately, the gargantuan monster that is Comic-Con International got in the way of that, but fear not part two is ready to go! Last time Tony and I discussed his work on “Batman and the Outsiders” and “Supergirl.” One might think that was enough for any writer in any given month, but Tony is back this week to talk about his work on DC’s weekly “Countdown” series, “Batman: Confidential,” “Legion of Super-Heroes,” “Black Canary” and “Birds of Prey.”

Instead of blathering on about what a genius writer I think he is and talk about why I can’t wait for every single one of his projects, I’ll just launch into the interview, because my praise would be so long that the column would have to be split into three.

“Countdown” #40

Robert Taylor: So, let’s talk “Countdown.” I recently interviewed both Adam Beechen and Jimmy Palmiotti, and in both interviews I was fairly surprised to find that you guys haven’t had any brain aneurisms yet.

Tony Bedard: It’s obviously a different process. In some ways it’s simpler and less headachey. But that also makes me a little wary because the headaches come from doing necessary work and tearing ideas apart and rebuilding them.

We’ve had a couple of little hiccups here and there, like somebody calling somebody the wrong name, but overall we are doing well.

RT: Which is your favorite of the various subplots to work on?

TB: Mary Marvel. I never thought about the character before, but I really like what we are doing with her, how she’s been redesigned and is being tested.

I went through a time in my life when I wasn’t sure if I was a good person or a bad person too…

RT: So you started dressing in black latex?

TB: And doing things that are not repeatable [laughs]

Some people might feel we’re violating the character, but I actually think that, at the end of the day, we will have validated Mary Marvel. In the meantime, it is very interesting where she is going.

RT: Are there any storylines you were wary of at the beginning, but now are enjoying the telling of?

TB: I guess the closest is the Rogues storyline because I wasn’t familiar with Piper or Trickster in relation to the others. But now I love the characters and they’ve gotten into a rhythm that I’m really enjoying. In fact, my favorite issue to work on so far has been all about them. It’s number #32.

“Countdown” #45

RT: How far have you written to?

TB: 28 is the latest I’ve written.

In the last few weeks, we stopped, went back and looked at everything we have done and gone over everything with a fine-toothed comb.

We got off to a fast start, but then decided not to get out too far ahead of ourselves and really try to tighten everything up.

RT: How many issues are drawn?

TB: That’s hard to say because, at any given time, there are four or five issues in various stages of completion. I think I’ve got pages coming in on 32.

RT: So you guys are fine on deadlines then, knock on wood.

TB: Oh yeah.

RT: Tell me about working with Mike Marts and Mike Carlin.

TB: You know I’ve worked with Mike Marts the whole time I was on “Exiles,” so there is a total familiarity and comfort level there.

RT: Was it Marts who brought you on the book, or was it Dan DiDio?

“Birds of Prey” #111

TB: I think it was from both ends. Mike knew I was reliable. I was doing two issues of “Exiles” most months, so he knew I could take the workload.

I met Dan DiDio back when he was at Valiant. We worked together on something between Doctor Mirage and Walt Willey of “General Hospital!” or some such soap opera. [laughs] But Dan was on the TV end of things.

RT: When and how did Mike Carlin climb onboard.

TB: The last year or so of Crossgen, I had been sending all my Crossgen stuff to both Marvel and to DC because I knew I would have to get work at one or both of them someday soon. [laughs] When I was at Marvel, I was sending all my stuff to DC and hedging my bets.

I picked up a four issue arc on “Batman: Confidential” from Carlin, even before Marts had moved over. It’s drawn by Rags Morales, and when it sees the light of day it’s going to be the coolest thing I’ve worked on in a dog’s age.

The funny thing is, when I was on staff at DC and Mike was the Executive Editor, it was a different position for him because he didn’t get to do hands-on editing, and I don’t think he was as happy. Running into him again, up to his elbows in the creative process, he couldn’t be happier. It’s been a joy working for him.

RT: Let’s talk Keith Giffen. With the issue two weeks back he was finally onboard doing the layouts, right?

TB: Yeah.

I haven’t had any direct contact with Keith, but I knew him from back in my Valiant days when he was working on “Magnus, Robot Fighter.” I’m sure he is just as interesting today. He’s got a lot of energy and a lot of ideas and is ferocious in the way he comes across with them.

RT: Is the overall layout design of the book going to change substantially because of Keith’s input? I know “52” continued the very strict six panel layout design throughout all the issues, and yet thus far “Countdown” has been more open in design with a lot more two-page splashes.

“Birds of Prey” #110

TB: You might see him asserting himself a little more. We made a conscious decision when we started the project to include more two-page splashes. We wanted to open up the images quite a bit. I don’t think artists have to slavishly follow what he is laying out, but it certainly helps that he has a very clear, dynamic storytelling style.

RT: How have you been dealing with the mixed reaction to the series thus far?

TB: I think that there are so many other factors influencing people’s judgment of “Countdown.”

It would be great to have people judge it solely by the work itself, but that’s not going to happen because “Countdown” comes with a lot of baggage in comparison to “52,” and people might not be sure if they want to re-up for another weekly book. We are half getting judged for our own work and half getting judged for someone else’s work.

I’m trying not to pay too much attention to the internet chatter, because if I do I will zero in on all the negative stuff and not be able to write another word. [laughs]

RT: How successful do you, personally, think it is?

TB: It’s the kind of story I like to see. I love focusing on underutilized characters and seeing them built up. Those are the things I like best about “Countdown.”

Some people complain that there isn’t enough movement in the story when we are only a month into the project. The last three months of “52” were powerhouse, but there was a lot of build-up to get to that point. When we only have three more months to go with “Countdown,” I’ll be more inclined to worry about negative feedback. I already know the payoffs to all these things that we are building up to, so I’m really not that worried about it.

RT: Let’s talk “Legion of Superheroes.” Were you a big “Legion” fan yourself? I’ll admit that prior to Mark Waid’s work on the title, I never read a Legion book in my life.

TB: Being a “Legion” fan is a thing unto itself, man. [laughs]

Speaking of not reading message boards, I stay away from the Legion ones as much as possible. But it’s only because the Legion has four or five distinct incarnations that are somebody’s favorite, and with those fans it’s either their version or none at all.

“Black Canary” #4

For example, you saw the version of the Legion that showed up in the JLA/JSA crossover, right?

RT: Yes, sir.

TB: And they aren’t the ones that Waid has been doing in his book.

Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns really dug the seventies version of the Legion, so that’s what they went to. But if you choose one version of the Legion to do, the fans of the other four factions gang up on you.

As a creator, that is a bit of a challenge. But as a fan, I’m not like that. I happen to like something from each of the Legion eras. I’m just trying to tip my hat to all of them — which probably means I’ll please no one.

One person who is pleased with Bedard’s work on the book is just-exited writer Mark Waid, who had this to say: “Tony’s doing a great job with the Legionnaires and their voices as established, but more importantly, he’s creating new characters that are fun to watch. And he didn’t even complain that I used Validus in Brave and Bold before he got to him. Good man, that Bedard.”

RT: So what’s happening in the book currently?

TB: It’s one big overall story arc, even though it is split into three chapters. I’m tying up several loose threads from Waid’s run. It’s definitely still his book and I loved what he did with the Legionnaires.

I’m trying to focus on specific Legionnaires who haven’t gotten the spotlight that much. There are certain major players like Brainiac 5, who is much smarter than everyone else and doesn’t mind reminding everyone of that. He’s kind of a jerk but I love that about him.

RT: Just like me! [laughs]

Let’s talk “Batman: Confidential,” which hasn’t been solicited yet, right?

“Black Canary” #3

TB: No, though Rags is finishing up the fourth issue. It’s just a matter of time.

We are following up on a cult classic Batman story that was in “Batman Special” #1 in 1982. It introduced The Wrath, who was the anti-Batman. On the same night that Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down and he promised to fight crime for the rest of his life, this little kid’s parents were robbing someplace and were gunned down by patrolman James Gordon. The kid swore to dedicate his life to fighting law and order. So he dressed up as the Batman except in purple and then the two of them clashed. It was a great idea, ahead of its time. The whole concept was so edgy that I think DC avoided it for years until we saw a similar character named Prometheus turn up in Morrison’s “JLA” run.

But people always remembered the Wrath character, and I wanted to bring him back again and follow up on his story. The problem was that he died at the end of “Batman Special” #1. We found a new way to reintroduce him that actually builds on the basic idea of the original. It’s something that Carlin and I talked though, and he found a way to get me to deepen the Wrath concept.

RT: I know previous times I’ve spoken with you, and often when we are just emailing, you will randomly break into song and dance about your adoration for Rags’ work.

TB: He’s like my brother, man!

Of all the people I met at Valiant, my path has been more linked to Rags’ than anyone else. I kept in touch with him after Valiant fell apart, and when I was working for Dan Raspler at DC I got him a gig on “Hourman.” He really made his mark and then got “JSA” and “Hawkman” and “Identity Crisis” and all that stuff. He always gives you back 150% of whatever’s in the script, and I’ve been wanting to work with him again for years. He really took this “Batman: Confidential” story to the next level.

Also, he’s such a nice person. If I had a single sister his age, I’d want her to marry Rags. [laughs]

RT: Let’s talk “Black Canary.” I’m assuming you were a big fan of Gail Simone’s work on “Birds of Prey.”

TB: Gail’s stories have so much heart and dimension, but one thing people don’t talk about as much is the mean streak she can give a villain! It takes my breath away sometimes.

RT: Oh yeah. Remember her first arc on “BoP” where Black Canary was tortured for four issues straight?

TB: Yeah. That began the overarching through-line of her entire run. She broke down the Black Canary and built her back up over the course of 50 issues. I read through her whole run and saw how she remade the character. Dinah was always a strong character, but Simone really made her into an A-lister who could go toe to toe with Batman.

“Batman & The Outsiders” #1

And she’s not damaged either. She’s gone through a lot and had a lot of trauma in her past, but she doesn’t come across as haunted. Even Batman is driven by one tragedy and is an incomplete human being because of it, but Dinah isn’t.

When they knew they were going to end the “Green Arrow” series and have the whole wedding thing, they knew they wanted to do a “Green Arrow: Year One” and a “Black Canary: Year One” type of thing. But after some discussion, we realized there was more meaty dramatic stuff happening right now for Black Canary, so we decided to make her mini-series a current-day one.

RT: Now, are you close with Judd Winick? Because you seem to be stealing all his books away.

TB: That is a pure coincidence!

RT: Up next you’ll be writing a new Shazam series-oh wait, you are writing Mary Marvel in “Countdown,” too.

TB: It’s actually a little bit nerve-wracking to follow Judd on a book. I love his stuff. I never felt like I reached his level on “Exiles,” and he raised the bar even higher for “Outsiders.”

RT: What’s coming up in the remaining “Black Canary” issues?

TB: The League of Assassins is trying to get Sin back because they are fractured right now, and they think if they get Sin back they can get the League of Assassins back on track.

And during all this, Dinah is wondering if she can get married to Ollie and still give her daughter a normal childhood.

RT: How in God’s name did you come up with that action scene in the McDonald’s PlayPlace?

“Supergirl & The Legion of Super-Heroes” #35

TB: I’m a dad!

If I take my son to the zoo or amusement park, I’m always looking around and imagining scenarios, like the komodo dragons getting out, or the highland swings detaching and launching people to their doom. That sort of thing.

RT: Is the miniseries going to tie in with your “Birds of Prey” issues?

TB: A little bit. My first issue has Dinah and Babs having a quiet dinner. Babs tries to talk Dinah out of getting married, which is obviously a very awkward talk to have, but what kind of friend would Babs be if she didn’t try?

RT: How do you personally feel about the marriage?

TB: You could look at it and think that he has been so bad to her that it weakens Dinah’s character if they get together. But I also look at real life and see that love often doesn’t make a lick of sense, and neither does marriage.

If you love somebody, you can find it in your heart to forgive quite a bit. Something about this whole question speaks to my Catholic upbringing, to the whole notion of how important it is to forgive and how there is greater good in doing that. I don’t go there religiously in the storyline, but I’m reminded of that. It takes strength to leave but it also takes strength to forgive, to get past a problem and grow from it.

RT: So isn’t Sean McKeever supposed to be writing “Birds of Prey?”

TB: I think it was just a matter of timing. Gail has other very cool things in the works, and her run needed to end at a certain time, and McKeever’s run got pushed back a little because of other scheduling reasons.

The great part of it is because I have four really fun self-contained stories that I am really happy with. Of all the books I’ve written over the past couple of months, those were definitely the easiest to write.

RT: Wow, and it’s a book led by strong women. Quell surprise. What other characters are going to appear?

“Supergirl & The Legion of Super-Heroes” #34

TB: As I mentioned, the first issue is going to be Babs and Dinah while Knockout is coming back. The next issue is going to be focused mainly on the Huntress racing against time.

The next will be Babs versus Calculator, but in person and in a physical way. The story is called “Nerds of Prey.” [laughs]

The final one is a Lady Blackhawk story. She hasn’t gotten enough face time, and she is a lot of fun.

RT: Lightning round time. We’ve done this before but I’ve got some new ones thrown in for ya!

TB: Okay.

RT: What’s your biggest strength as a writer?

TB: I try hard.

[laughs]

I know that sounds lame, but I try to put the effort in. I know that if someone is paying three bucks, I can’t ever mail it in.

RT: What is your biggest weakness?

TB: Endings. I can open Pandora’s Box, but I can’t always get it shut again.

RT: Let’s say you are writing a yearlong weekly comic series. Who are the other three writers?

TB: Oddly enough, I’d go with Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon and Ron Marz, the same group I was with at Crossgen. I felt like we had a lot of chemistry and camaraderie. There are a lot of writers who I adore that I would never put on a team gig.

RT: The weird thing is that I asked Ron Marz the same question and his response was almost exactly the same.

If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

TB: “Negation.” It was a total team effort, a joy and a creative high point for me.

RT: Thanks, Tony. You survived the lightning round quite nicely.

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