SPOILERS: The following discussion contains some spoilers of last weeks “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.” You have been warned.
Last Wednesday, DC Comics released their latest universe-spanning event “Countdown to Infinite Crisis,” which sets things in to motion for a massive storyline that will unfold over the next year or so. This follows the success the publisher had with “Identity Crisis,” and given the fact that DC announced “Countdown” has already sold out of its first printing, it’s clear this latest event is experiencing a similar level of success.
While both books contain very different stories, fans have found something of a common theme running through them – the death of high profile members of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ version of the Justice League team, now known as the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League” group of heroes. In “Identity Crisis,” fan favorite character Sue Dibny was murdered, while her husband Ralph Dibny AKA Elongated Man, has been forever changed by the events in that book. In “Countdown To Infinite Crisis,” two more members of the “ICBINTJL” cast have been altered forever – former Justice League leader Maxwell Lord shot Blue Beetle AKA Ted Kord execution style. Fans of the original series that ran during the ’80s and two recent mini-series cried foul, claiming DC is targeting these second-tier character for removal out of some vendetta. Of course, that’s not the case and CBR News caught up with writer Keith Giffen to discuss this and get his perspective on the events of “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.”
In the 1980s Giffen and DeMatteis sort of “adopted” characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, the Dibny’s, J’onn J’onzz and others as they created their own Justice League. With the loss of one member in the pages of “Identity Crisis” and now a second in the pages of “Countdown to Infinite Crisis,” Giffen says his reaction to the deaths of both characters was about the same. “It was like, ‘Oh, well, that’s not the way I would have done it,’ and really, when you think about it, 90% of comics criticism is just that,” Giffen told CBR News last week by phone. “Would I have killed Blue Beetle? No, I wouldn’t have, but I’m not the guy writing it. It’s not like they went out and took the guy out back and shot him. Any one of us could get a call a month from now saying, ‘Bring him back’ and you type ‘Blue Beetle walks in the door’ and everyone goes, “Oh, he got better!’ It’s comic books! Did anyone really believe, except for those who don’t read comic books and fell for it, that Superman was really dead?
“The reaction I have to ‘Countdown’ and ‘Identity Crisis’ is a question, ‘Is it a well told story?’ I thought ‘Identity Crisis’ was. I understood ‘Identity Crisis.’ I didn’t agree with everything in it, but that comes back to ‘Well, that’s not the way I would have done it.’ I haven’t really sat down and read ‘Countdown’ yet, but I have popped through it checking out the high points. While I can’t really comment on how well it holds together, but look at the people in charge – Geoff Johns and crew there – it’s got to be a good read! Would this be the way I’d handle things? No, but if you check the book my name is no where near it. It’s not as if I’m storming around saying ‘How dare DC mess with second rate characters!’ Let’s set the record straight: Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice and those characters, the only reason why we used them is they were the only characters we were allowed to use. Captain Marvel was only on loan to us for the first six issues, we knew he was going bye bye. [Editor] Andy Helfer had to fight every single day to keep Batman in. So, it wasn’t like we said, ‘Let’s bring in Booster Gold,’ it was much more like going to DC and asking who we could have. And don’t forget we were handed a certain Justice League membership and Blue Beetle was front and center. It’s not so much that I adopted Blue Beetle, but that all these characters came to be very convenient mouthpieces for the types of stories we wanted to tell. Their personalities were the kind that Mark DeMatteis and I both enjoyed exploring. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but it’s also business. Is the book selling? Yes! Did they make the right decision? I’m going to have to go with yes.”
But here’s something to keep in mind – if not for the work done by Giffen, DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire, the deaths of these second tier characters wouldn’t have been a big deal and we wouldn’t be talking with Giffen today. “In a perverse way it’s kind of flattering. Because, had we not put these characters in a position where enough people cared about them, their deaths would have been meaningless. To a certain extent, and again in a really perverse way, we helped put the gun to their heads.
“A lot of people are saying ‘Well, look at this, they’re just picking on all the ‘Formerly Known as the Justice League guys!” I look at it and I think a case could be made for it, but I know for a fact that that’s not the case. It’s coincidental, Robert Blake kind of coincidental, but it’s coincidental. People are saying to me, ‘You must be so mad at DC and especially that Dan Didio,’ and I respond with, ‘I have lunch with Dan Didio! We get along fine.’ I understand what he’s trying to do, I don’t agree 100% with what he’s doing, but I cannot deny the success that he is having. And I do agree with a lot of things he’s doing. Sue’s death had resonance. Did you have to rape her before hand? Not really, but it was part of the story that was being told and that kind of, sort of, almost made it work. That’s a personal thing with me. It’s such a hideous, vicious, nasty and vile crime. I wallow in that muck in ‘Battle Royale’ [from Tokyopop]. I don’t really want to see it in my four-color superhero guys, but that said it’s just my opinion. Once again, everything here is my opinion. I’m not trying to put down anybody or say that what I have to say is more important than anyone else.”
Giffen pointed out that one of the things that’s a little awkward about these deaths is that there are still four more issues of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League” story to go in the pages of “JLA Classified.” “Now, not only have I got dead Sue, but I’ve got dead Beetle and Max the murderer!”
Giffen brought up the man who literally put the gun to Blue Beetle’s head, Maxwell Lord, a collaborative creation of Giffen, DeMatteis and Helfer, with credit given to Giffen and DeMatteis. Does that mean he’s necessarily upset with how they’ve changed the character? Not really. “Look, I also created Lobo, but do you think I gave a damn there was a Lil’ Lobo running around in ‘Young Justice?’ No,” said Giffen. “If I have any dismay about what I’ve read so far in ‘Countdown’ is that in order to make a point, some of the writers just forced shit in there that shouldn’t have been there. J’onn J’onzz turning around and treating Blue Beetle like that came out of the blue. The fact that he was treated like such a shit heel, all right, that might be some people at DC’s attitude towards the character, but the people who scream the most about consistency and continuity should be the most consistent and continuity minded. Just to make a point, to shift things around like that, it’s unfortunate, but I didn’t write it and that’s just my opinion.
“Maxwell Lord started off as kind of a bastard, but not pure evil. If you remember correctly, Maxwell Lord murdered someone in his origin. Lord was always sort of a nebulous, self-serving hard ass. I don’t know that he’d pick up a gun and shoot somebody in my world, but it’s not my world. My world is ‘ICBINTJL,’ it’s kind of the martini of comics. It’s an acquired taste and not everyone’s going to like it. It does stand out like a sore thumb and I understand DC saying we can’t have one book going left while the rest of the company is going right.”
With that being said, Giffen’s got plenty on his plate to keep him busy these days. Upcoming is “Common Foe” from Image Comics with co-writer Shannon Denton, who you’ll be hearing more from in the coming days here at CBR. Giffen said he likes to write certain kinds of horror movies and comedies that he doesn’t see much of any more and in many ways writing “Common Foe” fills that horror void. “‘Common Foe’ started out as an eight page short story that turned in to a 125 page graphic album spec. It’s no-hold barred, spam in a cabin! It’s really no different from ‘Night of the Living Dead’ or ‘Evil Dead,’ except that our guys are armed and in the middle of WW II. It’s a fun romp.”
And where “Common Foe” may satisfy that horror jones the writer has, “Hero Squared” satisfies his need to write comedy. “Mark and I are having a ball with [“Hero Squared”]. That is our preferred, tongue in cheek book. That is us unfiltered.”
Obviously comparisons will be made between “Hero Squared” and “I Can’t Believe it’s Not the Justice League,” but when you sit down and read it, suddenly it’s clear that while the comedy might be similar, very different types of characters inhabit the book.
“It’s ours and it’s our world and we’re starting from scratch and gradually populating that world. We don’t have anybody coming in and saying ‘we’re going to take Wonder Woman out of Justice League because you’ll soil her!’ And there’s none of this you can go this far, but not that far. That’s all legitimate, by the way. The company owns the characters. I just can’t have Superman show up one day with his nose cut off! But with ‘Hero Squared,’ when I write this, I feel my muscles un-tensing. It’s such a joy to go to and it’s a real joy to have a publisher like Boom! Studios and Ross Richie who just says do it, steps back and publishes it and supports the living hell out of it.”
While fan reaction to “Hero Squared” has been great, it hasn’t translated in to the healthy sales seen on the similarly themed DC title and Giffen understands why. “Those fans are the fans of the Justice League guys. I don’t think the [majority of] fans are fans of Keith, Kevin and Mark. [‘Hero Squared’] would probably have done a lot better had their been a DC bullet or Marvel box on it, but it did well enough to continue. I’d love people to go out and pick it up, but I have to question if I do a Lobo book and it sells blank thousand copies, how many of those thousands are because of Lobo or because of me or because of me and Simon Bisley? I think our heads get a little big every so often and we start thinking, ‘The fans follow me around!’ No they don’t. You could say the same thing about Grant Morrison who is right now at the top of his game. Look at the X-Men numbers, then look at the numbers on ‘Sea Guy.’ It’s nothing against him, it has to do with how many people do you bring just through your writing and he brings more than most, a lot more than most, but still he’s not going to bring X-Men numbers to another project. Maybe if Jesus came down and wrote a comic, but even then you’d have to wonder how much of it is Jesus and how much of it is wanting to get in to heaven.”
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