'Something Readers Can't Get Anywhere Else.' Busiek Details 'The Power Company'

[The Power Company]And now for something completely different.

Well, maybe not completely different. Kurt Busiek has alreadycarved out a name for himself as a writer of superhero teams on Marvel Comics' "TheAvengers," "The Thunderbolts" and "The Defenders." And if the Avengers arethe standard superhero team in the Marvel Universe, Busiek's begun to shakethem up somewhat in recent months. At the same time he's been the co-writerof the company's "Defenders" revival, featuring an unlikely (anduncooperative) team of heroes. But he set a current high water mark forunusual superhero teams with "The Thunderbolts," which had perhaps thebiggest surprise in modern comics when it was revealed at the end of thefirst issue that the new team was actually a group of masqueradingsupervillains.

So let's just say it's different, and leave it at that.

For one thing, Busiek's new superhero book, "The Power Company," ispublished by Marvel's Distinguished Competition, DC Comics, a first forhim. Although the book was first announced several months ago, Busiek isrevealing details of the series for the first time this weekend at the CanadianNational Comic Book Expo in Toronto. For those who couldn't attend,Busiek also opened up series artist Tom Grummett's sketchbooks and talkedabout the series in depth to CBR News.

"The Power Company' will premiere in a special 16-page bonus section inthe December-shipping issue of JLA," Busiek said on Thursday. "I thinkthat's #61. It'll have a 'cover,' a 14-page Power Company adventure to giveJLA readers (and anyone else interested) a free taste of what the serieswill be like, with an intro on the team itself, a look at the characterdynamics and some plot teasers for what's to come, and I think the 16thpage will be showcasing the DCU 'event' that follows in January.

"In January, we're doing a DCU event, oddly enough -- and just toreassure anyone who's crossovered out at this point, I assure you all it'snot a crossover. It won't intrude into any of your favorite series, itwon't be a 36-part extravaganza, and it won't set you back a bundle.

"What it will be is seven one-shots, coming out throughout January. Eachof the one-shots is written by me, with art by a crack team of specialistschosen for their appropriateness for the one-shot they're drawing and forgeneral niftiness. Each will star one of the members of the Power Company,and will feature them teaming up with, clashing with or otherwise crossingpaths with established DC super-stars or teams, as a way both ofintroducing the team members and of establishing their place in the DCU.The one-shots are set at various points in DC history, because while mostof the characters are new, we're planting some of them into established DChistory so that they can have been around for a while by the time theseries debuts. Each of the one-shots is self-contained, but all seven ofthem taken together will form a pretty rich introduction to the PowerCompany cast -- and will let me get to have fun writing some of my favoriteDC heroes, after 20 years in the industry mostly writing for Marvel andothers.

"I'll get to what's in the one-shots in a moment, but just to wrap upthe launch schedule ... in February, the regular 'Power Company' seriesbegins, and will be monthly thereafter.

"It's a real thrill to see this project becoming a reality -- not onlyhas it been a dream book of mine since I first came up with the concept in1983, but we've been working on it for quite a while now, since sevenone-shots all by the same writer takes a good bit of extra schedule time.I'm plotting #3 of the regular series now, but that's my 11th storyfor this book, so I've been living with these guys for quite a while.

[The Power Company]"And to reiterate the concept -- it's a professional superhero teamorganized along the principles of a law firm. They have partners,associates, billable hours, pro bono work, support staff and more, and abig part of the book will come from the fact that the members aren't allthere for the same reason. One might be out to do good and save lives,while another wants to make as much money as possible, and a third wantsglory and fame, and a fourth just wants a good steady job ... the contrastand clash that comes from the heroes' different motivations will make forsome pretty lively character drama."

Eighteen years is a long time for a concept to germinate, and "The PowerCompany" has evolved in that time.

"Originally, it was just a group of professional superheroes, more likeprivate detectives with super-powers than the law firm structure itbecame," Busiek told CBR News. "Also, the characters have been developedover the years -- I started with a completely different set, and tinkeredand changed them and swapped characters out for other ideas until I woundup with a team close to what we've actually got. And then it gotre-tailored some more for the DC Universe, as we found DC characters toplay roles, and braided other characters into DC history."

Why the wait, though? Surely Busiek could have found a receptiveaudience at DC in the wake of his acclaimed "Astro City" and "Thunderbolts."

"I've been pretty busy since 'Thunderbolts' #1 -- and before it, forthat matter," Busiek told CBR News. "This wasn't something I could havedone the last few years, not with my schedule the way it's been. But when[editor] Bob Schreck joined DC, I started talking to him, and thinkingabout creating something at DC, and time and opportunity came together theright way for the Power Company to finally happen."

In characteristic fashion, Busiek is digging in deep in the sandbox ofthe DC Universe for the new series.

"The book is set in the heart of the DCU -- right from the start. Someof the characters are pre-existing heroes, and some of the new heroes havebackgrounds that tie them in to DC history. We've got a mixture of bothnew and established villains right from the start, and will be using DCUconcepts and settings as varied as STAR Labs, LexCorp, Dinosaur Island andmore. I've had a blast cruising around the DCU finding cool stuff to use,whether it's stuff familiar to any DC reader or obscure stuff that'll bevirtually new to most of the audience. Plus, I keep making Peter Tomasinervous by threatening to use the Silver Twist ..."

To long-time readers of his work, Busiek is probably best-known for hisencyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe, not the DC Universe.

"Oh, I hope I'm best known for my writing...! But no, I'm nowhere nearas familiar with DC history as I am with Marvel history, and I'm getting alot of help from people who are," Busiek told CBR News. "There's stuff Iknow and love, and there's stuff I'm completely unfamiliar with, so I'mhaving a great time getting to use characters I've liked for years -and-getting to discover new things, and use them, too.

"But my using DC history is turning out very differently than my usingMarvel history. With Marvel history, I often picked up a character with along history and told 'the next chapter,' which some readers foundoff-putting, because they weren't familiar with the history and even thoughwe recapped or reintroduced it, they didn't feel the same kind ofattachment. With 'Power Company,' I've got a new series, with new storiesto tell that start at ground zero, or close to it. And so when I go out tofind DCU characters to use beyond the ones in the main team, it's more inthe service of telling these new stories than in the service of continuingexisting storylines -- it's very much a fresh start, and the characters I'mdigging up and brushing off or borrowing or refurbishing or whatever areplaying a role in 'Power Company' stories, rather than the Power Companybeing a stage on which they can play out their previous continuing dramas.I don't know if that makes sense, but it feels far more to me like thestart of a brand-new thing than the continuation of something readers mightnot be familiar with, and I think that'll make the stories feel moreaccessible, more welcoming to readers not steeped in the history of it all.In some ways, I feel like Stephen Bochco, bringing in Randolph Mantooth fora role on 'L.A. Law' -- if the viewer remembers 'Emergency!,' it's nice tosee Mantooth again, but if they don't, it doesn't matter, since he'splaying a part on this new show, not reliving the old one.

"So on the one hand, I get to use characters with as rich and powerful abackstory as Kobra or Manhunter -- but I can also dig up obscurities likeCarapax or the Mineral Master or the Underlord or some one-shot wonder from1965, and they'll function like completely new characters; the readerdoesn't have to be familiar with them, doesn't have to know where theyappeared before. As long as they play an entertaining role in the story I'mtelling, it won't matter if they made an appearance in two issues of'Detective Comics' back in 1973.

"To pick an example, Deadshot was a long-forgotten obscurity whenEnglehart and Rogers picked him up, reworked him, gave him a new look andreintroduced him in 'Detective.' Nobody needed to have read his firstappearance -- he came off as a fresh, exciting character in a new story.And he went on to be a popular villain and a mainstay character in 'SuicideSquad,' and it's hard to remember now that there was a time he was apreexisting nobody that someone came along and salvaged.

"So we'll see some of that in 'Power Company,' but never so much that itgets in the way of telling good, involving, forward-moving stories."

And if that doesn't establish Busiek's DC Comics fan bonafides, here's afew of his favorite DC Comics over the years:

"What pulled me over to DC from Marvel was Steve Englehart's 'JusticeLeague' and 'Detective' and Cary Bates' 'Flash' and 'Superboy,'" Busiektold CBR News. "Though as it happens, I don't actually plan to use anyonefrom any of those runs. (But now that you mention it, there'sSabre-Tooth...) I've also been a big fan of Mark Waid's 'Flash,' Len Weinand Steve Englehart's 'Green Lantern,' Kirby's 'OMAC' and 'Kamandi,' KarlKesel and Tom Grummett's 'Superboy,' Chuck Dixon's 'Nightwing' and 'Birdsof Prey,' Paul Levitz's early ['Legion of Super-Heroes'] and 'All-Star'comics, Evanier and Spiegle's 'Blackhawk,' Roy Thomas's 'All-StarSquadron,' Mike Barr's 'Detective' and 'Batman & the Outsiders,' and lotsmore stuff that isn't leaping to mind right now. Ostrander and Mandrake's'Spectre.' Roger Stern and Kerry Gammill's 'Superman.' The Simonson run of'Metal Men.' And more, more ..."

January's Power Company event looks like this:

"JOSIAH POWER -- the founder and managing partner of the Power Company,he's a successful African-American lawyer who gained super-powers as aresult of the 'Invasion' crossover a few years back -- powers that wound upruining his legal career, and forcing him to find something else to do withhis life. The one-shot takes place shortly after the 'Invasion' crossoverended, and features Superman and the then-current Justice League, alongwith Power himself. The art will be by Keith Giffen (the writer of the new'Suicide Squad' series, the architect of 'Invasion' in the first place, andthe longtime plotter/layout artist of 'Justice League') and Al Milgrom(noted inker of just about everything at Marvel, and co-creator ofFirestorm, who'll pop up in a cameo at least, just for Al ...)."

"WITCHFIRE -- a media celebrity par excellence, she's a famous singer,model, actress in generally-awful movies and even a daredevilstunt-cyclist. If it gets her name in the news, she's usually up for it.She also dabbles in the occult, which has given her some powerful (anddangerous) mystic abilities. Her one-shot is set back around the time ofthe early days of the current 'Wonder Woman' series, back when George Pérezwas writing and drawing it, and guest-stars ... Wonder Woman! The art isby Matt Haley (of 'Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl,' 'Tangent:The Joker' and more) and Karl Kesel (inker extraordinaire and writer of'Harley Quinn').

[Skyrocket]"SKYROCKET -- the team's most dedicated hero, she's an intenselypatriotic African-American woman and an ex-Navy aviator who uses a hi-techpower harness, capable of transforming energy from one form to another --heat to light, electric to kinetic, etc. -- as the local superhero of St.Louis. She's been around in the DCU for a while, though she's been mostly aregional hero and hasn't turned up for any of the big crossovers (or if shehas, she wasn't front and center, and missed her exploits being chronicledin the published books). Her one-shot takes place at the time of herorigin, about seven years ago DCU time, and features Hal Jordan as GreenLantern, at the height of his heroism and fame. It's drawn by classic'Green Lantern' artist Joe Staton, inked by Christian Alamy, who inked therecent 'Enemy Ace: War in Heaven.'

[Manhunter]"MANHUNTER -- he's Manhunter. Exactly what that means, who he is, wherehe comes from and what relationship he has to Paul Kirk, still thebest-known of DC's many Manhunters and the last to wear this costume, we'renot saying. People will have to read the book to find out. But we will saythis much -- when we came up with the idea, we ran it past Walt Simonson,to make sure we weren't doing anything with the Manhunter legacy that hewouldn't object to, and he gave us his blessing. His one-shot is set inAfrica, and begins during the events of the classic Goodwin/SimonsonManhunter epic, and ends about two years ago (DCU time), with ameeting/clash between Manhunter and Nightwing. Art for the one-shot is byDan Jurgens ('Superman,' 'Zero Hour,' 'Captain America' and many more) andace inker Bob Layton ('Iron Man,' 'Avengers,' 'Captain America')."

Beyond talking to Simonson about the idea, Busiek didn't run the conceptpast any other previous Manhunter creators.

"Not really," Busiek told CBR News. "For the most part, the otherManhunters have been either something new or reworkings and updatings ofthe Kirby Manhunter, and it'd be hard to say that John Ostrander shouldhave more say than Steve Englehart, or whomever; they were already buildingon what Jack created. But what Archie and Walt did was some serious kindof magic -- a character that amounts to something almost totally new, eventhough they built in a connection to the Golden Age Manhunter -- and hasresulted in a legacy that's endured and won enormous respect, somethingthat seems to require more than just careful handling, but should be leftalone if the people who had that original vision don't approve of whatmight be done. Paul Kirk seems to have become, along with Barry Allen, oneof the departed saints of the DCU, while Mark Shaw (and perhaps even ChaseLawler) has devoted fans but not quite the same majesty. Archie, sadly,isn't around to give his opinion, but Walt is -- and when I first calledWalt, I said, 'Look, I have this idea, but if you don't like it or don'twant it done, I'll do something else.' He pointed out that DC ownsManhunter, and doesn't need his permission, but I said that wasn't what wasimportant. Just like I wouldn't do anything with Mantis or Howard the Duckover at Marvel without Englehart or Gerber's blessing, I'd rather not touchthe Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter legacy if Walt wasn't going to like it. Andthe idea I had was ... well, it's different. To my delight, Waltthought it over for a week, then made one small request and said go ahead.

"But I felt like, if I was going to work that territory at all, I had togo to the godfather first and get his permission. A cheerful, bearded,Scandinavian godfather, to be sure, but still ..."

Predictably, fans have gone nuts over the news that Manhunter -- onedressed in a costume like the Paul Kirk Manhunter once wore -- will be inthe series. But Busiek and Grummett aren't worried the character willovershadow the rest of the book.

"No," Busiek told CBR News. "Tom and I know how he fits in, and we'reconfident he'll be a good addition to the ensemble. It seems he'll bring alot of fan interest (and dread) to the book, but I think those fans whocome to the book to see what we're doing with the Manhunter legacy willstick around and become interested in the rest of the cast."

Busiek's the kind of writer who puts every character into a book for areason, and Manhunter's no exception. Of course, Busiek's also the kind ofwriter who keeps the really big surprises to himself.

"That's something readers will have to discover in the book itself. Not how most people would think -- I'll say that much."

[Striker]"STRIKER Z -- a former Hong Kong action-movie stuntman who accidentallygained super-powers, he's now an up-and-coming twenty-something superherowith an agent, a PR rep, and only the vaguest idea of what he wants to dowith his 'career.' He's a living battery, generating astounding internalenergies that he uses to power various clip-on gadgets, from a 'flightjacket' to blast cannons, force-field generators and more. He's got a goodheart and means well, but he's easily tempted by fame and fortune, and justwho he'll ultimately be is up in the air. His one-shot is set in HongKong, after the handover from the British to the Chinese and amid theturmoil of the HK film industry of the time. It guest-stars Superboy, backin the days he was based out of Hawaii, and features art by Ramon Bachs andRaul Fernandez, relatively new artists who've done sterling work on 'StarWars' projects for DarkHorse, and on the 'Joker/Mask' crossover.

"BORK -- our other pre-existing DCU character, along with Manhunter, isBork, who has only appeared once before, in a well-remember NealAdams-drawn 'Brave & Bold' Batman & Flash team-up called '...But Bork Can Hurt You!' He was aninvulnerable merchant seaman and dock-walloper who set out to become theking of the Gotham docks, but all he got for his trouble is a sore jaw anda long jail sentence. The power that gave him his invulnerability is stillwithin him, though, and he's mutated during his jail term, becoming amassive, super-strong man-monster. His one-shot is set during the yearsbetween his defeat and his ultimate release from prison, during a breakoutthat brings him face to face with Batman and the Barry Allen Flash again,and gives him reason to rethink his entire life. Art is by Kieron Dwyer('Superman: The Dark Side,' 'Action Comics' and an upcoming 'Avengers' run)with the able aid of his studio-mate Rick Remender.

"SAPPHIRE -- a teenage runaway trying to survive, who managed to getbonded to a super-weapon -- an artificial gem she can manipulate mentally,forming it into skintight body armor, shields, weapons and more.Unfortunately, before she was bonded to it, the gem belonged to Kobra, oneof the DCU's most dangerous villains -- and he wants it back, and the thiefwho stole it from him dead. Just by waking up each morning and drawingbreath, she's on a collision course with Kobra, and he'll go through theentire Power Company if he has to to get his revenge. Her one-shot is setshortly before the 'Power Company' series begins (and after the recentKobra epic in 'Robin'), and features not only Kobra but the present-dayJLA. The art is by Mark Bagley ('Ultimate Spider-Man,' 'Thunderbolts') andMark Farmer ('Avengers,' 'JLA: The Nail,' 'Incredible Hulk' and many more)."

Some of the artists Busiek is collaborating with are fairly big names,bigger than sometimes do these sorts of projects.

"We just figured out who we thought would do the best job and startedmaking phone calls," Busiek told CBR News. "I made most of the suggestions,and I was delighted to find out how many people out there seem receptive tothe idea of working with me, and liked the characters and the concepts. Sowe wound up with a terrific group of artists, and I couldn't be happier.

"I'm hoping we can do more with them, if the Power Company members getsolo stories or specials or whatever ...

"After the one-shots, the regular series will pick up with the formationof the team, a clash with Dr. Cyber, a mysterious menace from beyond ourreality and a full-press 'grand opening' of the company that'll build to amajor threat to all life on Earth, with only the Power Company betweenhumanity and total disaster. And then we do some more stuff!

"Because the Power Company is a firm rather than a team, they won'tregularly all go on the same missions -- we can use the whole roster asneeded (and will be, in the opening and climax of the first arc), but canalso tell stories of solo missions, two- or three-man jobs, and evenmultiple assignments at once, as the Company faces danger around the world.

"The series is based in San Francisco, but will range around the globeand beyond, from outer space to the future to other dimensions ... anywherethat'll give the heroes of the Company a challenge and a grand adventure."

In addition to their unorthodox structure, the Power Company is also theleast white superhero team published by a major publisher today. Busieksaid he didn't set out to create a more diverse team.

"Just a matter of how the characters developed," Busiek told CBR News."Skyrocket was a black woman right from the start, and somewhere in theprocess of developing him, Josiah Power seemed to work well as a black man.Striker Z was a white kid for a long time, but as I started working out hisorigin and backstory, it just seemed like it would add an interestingcontext to have him come out of the Hong Kong action-movie field -- andonce I fastened on that, it made sense for him to be Chinese.

"So I didn't set out to make the team ethnically diverse, but I can'tsay I resisted it for a second when it started happening. I think a largepart of the reason superheroes are so overwhelmingly white and male is thatso many of them were created when white and male was the default setting,and they've been around ever since. Well, there's no reason for that to bethe default any more, so why do it? The Power Company are mostly newcharacters (and indeed, the only two white men on the team are thepre-existing ones), so they should reflect the world and the culture inwhich they were created, rather than conforming to expectations built up inprevious decades."

For a guy whose love of comics throughout the decades is well-known,Busiek is building up something of a track record for convention-bustingsuperhero teams. That's the sort of thinking that usually marks a creatorwho's discontented with superhero comic norms. That description doesn'tapply to Busiek in this case, though.

"No discontent, not really -- merely a recognition that every series hasto have something unique, something that sets it apart from the other stuffout there," Busiek told CBR News. "The [Fantastic Four] are a family. TheX-Men are (or at least were) a school. The Metal Men are robots, the DoomPatrol are freaks. And we already have a JLA and an Avengers, so thoseslots are taken. The Thunderbolts were something else because we need bookswith their own identity, not books that are offering something you canalready get elsewhere. The Power Company are another idea. If theyweren't, then they wouldn't have a reason to exist -- we already haveclassic-styled super-teams, and they're doing just fine.

"We'll be offering something else, something readers can't get anywhere else. I think all books should do that."

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