Long time fans of Batman were given something of a treat earlier this month with the publication of "Batman: Dark Detective," a new mini-series which marked the return of writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers to the Batman mythos. The pair's original run on Batman in 1977 is considered a classic Batman story, so the return of these creators to the character generated quite a bit of interest.
Englehart and Rogers teamed up on a number of comics over the years. In addition to "Batman" and "Dark Detective," there were runs on "Silver Surfer" and "Foozle," as well as the creator owned "Coyote" series that ran in the early '80s at Eclipse and Epic. The series was part of a wave of influential creator-owned books that landed on the comics scene in the '80s. The long out of print series will return this August when the first of five trade paperbacks collecting "Coyote" is released by Image Comics. The collections will follow the conclusion of the "Dark Detective" series at DC. CBR News spoke with writer Steve Englehart to bring new fans up to speed on the character and what the future holds for "Coyote."
"'Coyote' was something I first did in the early '80s for Eclipse. I did it with Marshal Rogers," Englehart told CBR News from his Oakland, CA home Monday afternoon. "I wrote a 60 page graphic album, the origin of Coyote, which Marshall then took and divided somehow into seven parts, which ran in Eclipse Monthly magazine and was later collected. It had a fairly small print run in its original form."
During this time Marvel approached Englehart to see if he'd be interested in continuing the book with them under their Epic line. The book was moved to Epic and artists like Steve Leialoha, Chas Truog and Jackson Guice. "Simultaneously, while I was at Eclipse I also did a series called 'Scorpio Rose' with Marshall that was supposed to run three issues, but it ran only two," continued Englehart. "Then Marshall ran into a lot of personal problems and didn't ever really finish the third issue. It was a couple of years later before he even really produced any layouts, at which point I said that putting out the third part of a book so long after the second part people are going to have forgotten it. So, I sort of decided we'd take the financial hit. Let it become legendary since there'll never be a third issue!"
"Scorpio Rose" later went on to appear as a back-up feature in the pages of "Coyote" and was drawn by Todd McFarlane, representing some of his first comics work. The character later joined Coyote as part of the ongoing cast of the "Coyote" comic.
"So, with all that background, 'Coyote' was a pretty influential book at the time," said Englehart. "I've had a number of Image guys come and tell me what the Eclipse and Epic people did sort of inspired them. I'm not taking responsibility for them all becoming millionaires, of course."
This past February, Englehart attended the WonderCon convention in San Francisco and ran into his old pal Image Publisher Erik Larsen. Larsen said he'd like to republish the "Coyote" and "Scorpio Rose" books, which brings us to the present. The first trade paperback will collect the 60 page origin of Coyote with a new cover by Rogers. It'll also contain the two published issues of "Scorpio Rose" by Rogers and it will include the, up till now, unpublished issue of "Scorpio Rose" in its unfinished form as layouts with a running synopsis of what you're looking at from Englehart.
"The interesting thing about this to me is that when we were doing this run of 'Scorpio Rose,' it was a three-part thing that we only did two parts on and I eventually decided there would never be a third part," said Englehart. "The story had been a complete story in my mind when I first thought it up, but since it never really was completed, ever since then it's sort of existed as like 2/3's of something without a real clear ending in my mind, let alone those people who never got a chance to even look at it. Going back and really doing the third story, even in this format, does complete that block and gives you and myself the whole thing for the first time."
Rogers did offer to finish up the third issue for this collection, but Englehart thought differently about it. "Frankly, I think it's more interesting to see it in layout form and to see what it was he was thinking about at the time," said Englehart.
Future volumes of the "Coyote" TPB may also contain some never before seen work, including a prose "Coyote" story that Englehart wrote years ago that was originally intended to be part of an anthology that Kurt Busiek was going to edit, but that book never materialized.
But who is Coyote, you ask? Englehart gave us a synopsis of his origin. "Coyote's parents were living on a reservation in the Central Nevada desert and were moved off of it so the Government could conduct nuclear tests," explained Englehart. "But they didn't really get that, the tribal claim over the land was centuries old, so one day they took their little newborn and drove out to go see their old homestead. The parents walked up the hill, there was a bright light and the parents never came back. So, this baby was left dying of the heat in this abandoned pickup truck where he was found by the Coyote totem spirit himself who then raised him. That's why he spent his entire life living in the desert without seeing another human being, but growing up totally conversant with all the different totem spirits-- the buffalo, the snake, the horse and all that-- so he's a human being, but his world was completely mystical and unencumbered by anything that we call civilization. So, at the age of 18 when he walks into Vegas for the first time with the bright lights, buxom women, flashy cars and $2.99 steak dinners.
"So, he's been living in the desert his entire life and this is the first human, western civilization reality that he sees and therefore he assumes the entire world is like Las Vegas and expects the entire world to be this giant playground. So, he comes in and sort of runs afoul of all the things happening in our world. He's not prepared for them, but on the other hand he can roll with the punches. He can take a joke and he can turn a joke around on other people who're trying to put it on him. So, he gets mixed up with the casino business, gangsters, etc. But, then as the series went on, I assumed that anything that didn't exist in the Central Nevada desert was fair game to throw at him. Over time I've got aliens, I've got the Israeli secret service, hit women who can kill you by looking at you, etc. I was sort of throwing in the super villains, the cosmic stuff, politics, just sort of everything because it's all weird and all fun to him. Again he's happy go lucky, so the weirder it gets, the more he likes it. It's him kind of figuring this whole thing out and coming to terms with how weird this all looks to him. Just by blundering around he gets involved in the middle of other peoples plots, gains enemies, lovers and friends."
As to the genesis of this project, Englehart said that Coyote "was sparked deep in my personal soul. That sounds so hokey I can hardly bear to say it," laughed Englehart. "Back in the day Al Wise was from Las Vegas and I spent a month in the middle of the summer with him. It did a couple of things for me. For one, my earliest impression of Vegas was living with a family who lived a normal life rather than just going to Vegas for the glitz and gambling. So I got to see Vegas as a place rather than as a concept. Al also introduced me to going out into the desert. We went out to some beautiful parks around there and hiked around. That's where Coyote was born for me. It's kind of like my initial entrance into the desert. The idea that everything was so clear and clean, you could see for miles, the colors were so bright, so on and so forth. That, tied in with everything else that I was hearing about the old west gave birth to this character named Coyote.
"He is basically the kind of primal spirit, again very clean, very crisp, very unencumbered. He's a very primal nature spirit. Traditionally in American Indian legends, he's the trickster like Loki. Coyote the trickster is the most human of the totem spirits. He thinks he's smarter than he is, which Indians find very human, but he's very happy go lucky. Very cheerful. Because he thinks he can outsmart anybody. Sometimes he can, but if he can't he just gets up and goes on about his business and tomorrow will be a better day. It's a very unencumbered kind of spirit. Very different from say Batman, Dr. Strange, etc., guys who are very deep in their brain. He is much more sunny and funny and just kind of rolls with the punches."
With the book more than 20 years old, Englehart still looks on the work he did favorably and doesn't find anything he's particularly displeased with. "I do wish we had a consistent artist throughout," said Englehart. "But, the good thing now is we can say we had guys like Leialoha, McFarlane, etc. Again, this was the '80s and the Eclipse and Epic lines were kind of the beginning of the non-traditional comics stuff. First, Pacific, all those non-DC companies were coming into existence. Epic, which was run by Marvel, but was edited by Archie Goodwin and off doing its own thing. So, we were trying to figure out this whole concept back in the day. I don't want overplay this by any means, but Image and places that came along in the '90s saw what we did wrong, learned from that and went forward."
Reproducing the original work for these TPBs hasn't been as great a challenge as you might expect. The original 60 page origin by Rogers was printed in black and white for Eclipse Monthly magazine (later it was gathered in a rare, compiled edition which was colored, although not well according to Englehart.) While the original artwork is long gone, having been sold off over time, Eclipse did a good job on the printing of the series and Image will be shooting from those published pages and is having them recolored for publication. The two published issues of "Scorpio Rose" were all in color and that's all they have to work from, so Image will be shooting directly from the colored versions. "Thereafter, all the stuff that was done for Epic I have the films on," explained Englehart. "Years ago, for some good reason that I'm glad happened, Marvel owed me some money for something or other and Mike Friedrich, my agent, said to Marvel why don't you just give us the films. There was no idea at the time what we'd do with the films, but here we are. Everything from the second TPB on will be shot directly from the original films."
Many of those original First and Eclipse books are finally returning to print again, like the return of "GrimJack" to IDW Publishing. Englehart explained that he hadn't really considered trying to get "Coyote" back into print and had it not been for Erik Larsen, it may not have happened. "About ten years ago Jim Valentino came up to me during a San Diego convention and said he wanted to reprint Coyote. Right after that they had a big collapse at Image where they had to cut back on a lot of books, so it never went forward."
After Malibu Comics went under, a company Englehart did a lot of work for, the writer sort of drifted away from comics for a while and admits he wasn't really thinking about comics much. Then DC called up last year to see if he and Marshall would like to do some new Batman material, which led to him attending WonderCon this year and the eventual meeting with Erik Larsen.
Outside of these two projects, Englehart said he also has completed a "JLA Classified" arc for Mike Carlin at DC, but with two other projects already in the pipeline ahead of it he's not certain when it'll see publication. The writer is looking forward to doing more work in comics in the coming years. "I've quit comics forever a couple of times (laughs), but the first time that I did and came back in again was when I realized that forever might not be the appropriate word," said Englehart. "I like doing comics and I think I've got something to offer doing comics and if other people agree with that then I'll probably do some comics."