Sturm Und Drang: Wagner On His Works

[Superman: Trinity]In Hollywood terms, it's akin to working with Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Hepburn all on one picture. That's what Matt Wagner is going to be doing -- wearing both his writer and artist hats -- with next year's hat trick of a miniseries, "Trinity: Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman."

"With this series, I'm trying to examine what it is that makes these three characters the Holy Triumvirate of American Superhero comics," Wagner told CBR News on last week. "When you look at the major storylines that have made a real mark in the last several decades ('Kingdom Come' and DK2, to name a few) it's always these three characters that seem to naturally come to the forefront. I've always been attracted to defining moments in narrative and, when this idea first occurred to me, I was delighted to find out that the tale of their first meetings had not yet been told in the DC continuity. And, since the two series I mentioned above both dealt with the sum of this triangular relationship much further down the road, I wanted to go back to the beginning. I wanted to examine a time when Batman and Superman weren't quite so at odds with each other, and a time when the presence of other superheroes was still a rarity."

"Trinity" isn't the only piece that Wagner has both written and drawn in recent years, but if you made the mistake of thinking so, you're not alone.

"Actually, I did an 8 page Grendel story in the pages of last year's Maverick annual. It was done with the intention of its eventually being part of the collected trade paperback of the current 'Grendel: Red, White & Black' series. In that series, the last short story is drawn by Michael Zulli and features the utter dénouement of Hunter Rose's life; the bloody aftermath of his final epic battle with his arch nemesis, Argent. So, I figured we needed to actually see the battle again in the trade. Trouble was, this part of Grendel's tale is already fairly well documented in the original graphic novel, 'Devil by the Deed.' My solution was to portray the battle more from the perspective of Argent's memory of the event rather than Hunter's ( which is how it comes off in DBTD). I was really, really pleased with the results but was quite surprised when the story received very little feedback or fanfare.

"I don't suspect that'll be the case with 'Trinity.'

"Although I wear many hats in this industry, I mainly consider myself to be a cartoonist. Despite various excursions in writing for others or as the cover illustrator for a popular book, the real execution of my talents comes from the combining of words and pictures.

"And who wouldn't want to tackle such ripe story material as this?"

While Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman have been presented very strongly as a trinity in recent years, it is a recent thing in comics. Wagner thinks that Wonder Woman holds her own quite well against two of the biggest names in pop culture.

"When I first approached this project, the character I knew the least about was Wonder Woman. I was quite impressed by the truly serious approach her story had been given beginning with the relaunch of the series in the late '80s. I found a fertile and well-developed mythology there and that made the comparison and contrasting of these three archetypes all the easier. In trying to figure out the defining aspects of each hero, I stumbled upon this almost mathematical set of relationships; two are men and one's not, two are superhuman and one's not, two are earthlings and one's not, two are aristocrats and one's not, two are orphans and one's not, two are immigrants and one's not. Obviously, this equation can just go on and on and on. I think Wonder Woman gets an unfair regard mainly from the comics community itself. I think to the general public, she's just as distinct as the other two."

With the series still so far from publication, Wagner demurred when pressed for details about the series. He was willing to be a little more specific as to expected release date for the book, however.

"At this point, I think we're looking at June, July and August. I really want the whole thing to ship on time and not fall prey to the infamous 'Prestige Curse' of having the last issue not come out for months and months after the rest of the series."

Already in the can -- thanks to being a reprint of classic stories from the Comico run of "Grendel" -- is Wagner's "God and the Devil" miniseries from Dark Horse, and begins in January. Wagner doesn't think those unfamiliar with the Grendel mythos need be put off by jumping in with this miniseries.

"I'm always amazed at how many people do, in fact, just jump headlong into 'Grendel' without a very complete understanding of what has gone before. I think part of that is due to the series' inherent nature of re-inventing itself for every storyline. That said, 'Grendel' started out as an early example of Criminal Chic, back in the '80s when such concepts weren't yet so prevalent (loooong before Tarantino). Eventually, though, it became one of the first attempts at another structure that has since gained favor; a continuing series that was, in fact, a progression of mini-series (again, loooong before 'Legends of the Dark Knight'). What began as an upside-down morality play in time became an epic examination on the nature of aggressive violence. Grendel is both concept and character in these pages and the results are always exciting and unexpected."

Originally published in issues 24 to 34 of the original "Grendel" series, "God and the Devil" leaps forward in time from the days of Hunter Rose.

Click to Enlarge.

"'God & the Devil' is set several hundred years into the future, following World War III and the destruction of most of the world's natural oil reserves. The accompanying societal upheaval has resulted in a return predominance of the Catholic Church. But, much like the situation during the Middle Ages, the power structure within the church is splintered and contentious with pretty much every continent claiming their own pope and Vatican. Considering the schism within the church we see happening today, as well as the global cult of celebrity worship and the post-petroleum rise of a worldwide dictator, I'd have to say that this series too, was waaaay ahead of its time. After issue #0, which was drawn by Tim Sale, the series is ten issues long and the penciling chores are shared by John K. Snyder and Jay Geldof, with both of them as well as Bernie Mireault pitching in on inks. These new editions are also being color re-mastered by Jeromy Cox and feature all-new painted covers by John."

Tim Sale fans wanting more than just a zero issue prelude to "God and the Devil" will likely get a great deal more after the "God and the Devil" reprints get through.

"Tim was first introduced to me years ago by his then-agent, Mike Friedrich. Eventually, we became dear pals and Tim ended up drawing the very experimental issues that follow this story line, 'Devil's Reign.' So, since our plan is to eventually have the entire Grendel library back in print, I'm sure his arc will follow this one and we'll be seeing an all new batch of covers from the mighty Tim."

Until the publication of "Trinity," Wagner's most mainstream work is undoubtedly his stint as cover artist on DC Comics' "Green Arrow" series. Originally coming aboard for the Kevin Smith-written revamp, Wagner surprised many by staying on the book through the present day.

"Truthfully, I'm surprised as well. I originally intended to end my cover gig when Kevin finished his second run. But, then, [editor] Bob Schreck called to ask my advise on his brilliant plan to reach totally outside the comics field for the author who had to follow in those large, Jersey-bred footsteps. Not only is Brad Meltzer a great guy, but he's a four-time New York Times best-selling author! And, most importantly, nobody knew what to expect for him in regards to writing comics. Brad, as it turned out, was also coming through Portland on his promo tour for his latest book, 'The Millionaires.' We got together for dinner and Brad gave me the pitch on his planned storyline. Not only did the tale have some cool and decisive things to say about the character, but he also had some definite ideas about what he wanted to see on several of the covers. Most distinctly, he had a vision for the first cover of Ollie standing beside his own grave (and the really cool epitaph) and (what is proving to be everyone's favorite so far) the third chapter as well. I remember dropping Brad off at his hotel and he said to me, 'I want Solomon Grundy and his upper torso is just peppered full of green arrows.' Instantly, an idea struck me and I added, 'Yeah ... and he's pulling one out of his eye!' Well, after that, I thought I was done.

"But then Schreck called again to tell me that Judd Winnick was slated to take over after Brad (turns out they were actually college roomies -- small, small world in comics). I've known Judd for years and he totally gave me the big ol' puppy-dog look, 'What? You're not going to stay on and do my covers?'

"So, here I am and it looks like I'm staying on for a while. Which, like I said, is a big surprise to me as well, because it wasn't very far into Kevin's run that I realized the inherent challenges of being the 'Green Arrow' cover artist. Not only does GA basically have only one trick (I had him firing his arrows on 7 of the first 10 covers, and the Wizard cover, and the hardcover) but he's also got ONLY ONE COLOR! So, its been a real challenge to mix things up and try to keep the covers interesting. So far, I've been pretty damn happy with the results. I'll probably quit when the challenge becomes too much of a task."

And finally, the obligatory Wagner question, even given his full schedule above: When will "Mage" fans be getting more "Mage," specifically the third part of the cycle, "The Hero Denied?"

"Well, we're sold thru on the reprints of 'The Hero Discovered' from Image, so we're going to be collecting those into four-chapter trades that mimic the trade versions of 'The Hero Defined.' The 'Mage' movie is slated to start filming in the early spring and so I'm gauging my leap into 'Mage III: The Hero Denied' based around that. I'd be an idiot to pass up the massive publicity that is sure to accompany the film."

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