Media types love to hype ‘ones’ to watch, be it NHL rookies, junior senators or comic book writers. With his latest gig, Eric S. Trautmann has transitioned from ‘one to watch’ to ‘can’t miss him.’
Recently named as the new co-writer of “Action Comics,” alongside his pal Greg Rucka, Trautmann is currently writing the six-issue miniseries “JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith” and “The Shield” ongoing series for DC Comics.
A veteran story writer and developer of ‘game worlds’ for Microsoft, Trautmann penned a “Perfect Dark” comic series in 2007 after writing the franchise’s ‘story bible’ and editing two “Perfect Dark,” novels, both written by Greg Rucka. He and Rucka immediately hit it off and later co-wrote several issues of “Checkmate” with the Eisner Award winner.
CBR News checked in with Trautmann to see where his head was at now that he’s writing arguably the most important title in the history of comics and found a Superman fan that has been gearing up for this day since he was five years old.
When I first reached to you for an email on getting this assignment, your initial response was, “HOLY SHIT I’M WRITING ACTION COMICS.” What makes writing “Action Comics,” considered by many as the granddaddy of them all, such a massive gig?
Oh, god, where to begin?
On the one hand, it’s the history that’s behind the title. This is literally the house that Superman built. Add to that, the ridiculous amount of talent that has contributed to the title since 1938, not to mention the ridiculous amount of talent working on the Superman books now. So, no matter what, I’m now a part of that history, and it’s not something I take lightly.
On a personal level, the first comic I ever bought with my own money was a Superman title, “Superman” #331, in fact, so I’ve always had an affinity for the Superman family of comics. It’s a thrill to be a part of it now.
And while I realize that you’re not writing Superman in the title, at least not at the outset, were you a fan of the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies growing up as a kid? Or were you more of a “Super Friends” guy?
Loved it all. I watched the George Reeves TV show, listened to tapes of the radio show, watched “Super Friends,” watched the Reeve films, all of it. I’m sure my mom still has pictures of me running around in my homemade Superman costume when I was 5 or 6.
Assuming you’ve been either following along or have caught up on the “World of New Krypton” storyline running through the Superman books, what is it about the high concept that you think is making it resonate so well with readers? I mean, the return of thousands of Kryptonians is pretty cool.
I can’t speak for other readers, but what works for me is that it’s taking established, long-term Superman ‘mythology’ and doing something new and unexpected with it. That’s always been something I enjoy and something I try to do with my other DC work.
What do you like about the leads Greg Rucka has developed over the past six months, namely Nightwing and Firebird? And do you think they’re worthy of holding down the “Action Comics” mantle while Superman is off doing his thing on New Krypton.
I absolutely do. They’re intriguing characters, who are quite different from Kal-El, but are doing the job. I like the fact that they lack Kal’s experience, and are learning as they go, which is interesting to me. As superheroes, they have their hearts in the right place, but they don’t have the developed skills or experience of Superman, so it has a different feel. And yet, one of the things that makes Superman work is that he inspires others to heroism, and there’s a strong element of that in the Nightwing and Flamebird stories.
So, to me, it feels very grounded in the mythos and very familiar, without necessarily being the same. As a reader, I respond to that. Comics should be about showing us new stuff, polishing up older concepts and making them gleam. And Greg’s work – indeed, all the various writers and artists working on the various Superman titles – delivers that in spades.
You’re joining Greg as the ‘Codename: Patriot’ and ‘Hunt for Reactron’ arcs are concluding. What can you share about what’s ahead for Nightwing and Flamebird and the other main characters of “Action Comics,” like Lois Lane and her father, General Lane?
Nothing. I will give you nothing. You can’t make me talk!
Seriously, I will say that there’s some resolution to the ‘sleeper agents’ storyline, and you’ll get to see, starting in #883, one of the scarier villains I’ve been fortunate enough to write.
Actually, do you know how long you’re on the book or is this run open-ended?
I haven’t actually discussed that much with the editors. I’m on for at least four to six issues of “Action Comics,” and beyond that? We’ll see.
Matt Idelson and Wil Moss have been very welcoming to me, as have all the other creative folk on the various Superman titles. I’m still a little starstruck exchanging e-mails with the likes of James Robinson, for example. And they’ve all gone out of their way to let me know that I’m very much a part of the team, which has been very pleasant. But my focus has been on tackling the immediate tasks necessary for “Action Comics.” There have been various scenarios discussed on what’s happening going forward, but honestly, I’m just trying to spin up on the ridiculous amount of plotting and scheming that this motley crew has cooked up.
You and Greg have a long-history working together dating back to the days of you editing “Perfect Dark: Initial Vector” and “Perfect Dark: Second Front,” two video game adaptations he wrote and you edited. You later co-wrote “Checkmate” and “Final Crisis: Resist.” What makes the relationship click?
Our wives joke that we were separated at birth.
We genuinely enjoy each other’s company, which doesn’t hurt, and I think each elevates the other’s game, if that makes any sense. Really, I think we keep working together because it’s just a lot of fun.
We tend to have similar sensibilities, but not identical, and for my money, those areas where we don’t overlap are where the interesting stuff in the work comes from.
And there’s just something about working with Greg that brings out my inner mad scientist – the ‘Montoya Journal’ and ‘Gideon-II’ stuff all started out as the two of us chatting idly.
This may seem silly, but how do you and Greg co-write a comic? Do you take the nouns and he takes the verbs?
Ha! Not quite.
In a perfect universe, we tend to discuss the overall story, formulate ideas for theme, character arcs, key scenes, etc.
Then, typically, I’ll head down to Portland and we sit in Greg’s garage, continue to shoot ideas back and forth, until we hammer out a fairly broad outline. From there, we drill down a bit more, eventually cooking up a ‘beat sheet’ – a tight outline of what beats need to be hit, what page budget each beat gets, who’s writing what, and so on.
At that point, we each head off to write our individual scenes, and then we kind of blend them together and file down the seams.
You are also writing “The Shield” for DC Comics. For folks who missed the first issue last week, what’s it about and why should readers add it to their pull list?
“The Shield” is the latest incarnation of one of the venerable Red Circle/MLJ heroes, recently introduced into the DCU by J. Michael Straczynski during his “Red Circle” series of one-shots.
This version of The Shield is Lt. Joe Higgins, a Lieutenant in the United States Army. He’s critically wounded in Afghanistan and is recovered by a secretive government unit that saves his life by giving him a nanotech ‘warsuit,’ which both keeps him alive and grants him his metahuman abilities.
He is now the U.S. Army’s first superhero, deployed to trouble spots around the globe.
As to why they should add it to their pull list? I’m biased, of course. I think the character is interesting – he’s an infantryman, not a superhero, and he approaches problems like a soldier. Initial response to the first issue has been very positive, because I’ve attempted to chart a course for the character that makes him distinct from other ‘patriotic’ superheroes, where he’s neither jingoistic, nor an avatar of negative commentary about American foreign policy.
The main reason to read it, though, is Marco Rudy, who has turned in insanely detailed and gorgeous pencils. His work has just been astonishing on this book.
Can you share any details about what’s ahead for The Shield?
Currently, he’s in Bialya, dealing with insurgents and some kind of meta-human threat in the shattered remains of that country. Plus, Magog. Lots of gunfire, explosions, terrorists, and some nasty surprises hidden in those mountains.
What else are you working on these days?
My nervous breakdown.
“I’m wrapped up on “JSA Vs. Kobra” now, save for lettering corrections on #6, which is nice. There’s “Action Comics,” “The Shield,” and “Wide Awake,” the webcomic I write with Brandon Jerwa, optioned for feature film, and coming soon to an internet near you. In addition, I write a monthly column for MSN’s Parallel Universe site. The column, called ‘The Observatory,’ is basically my random musings on film, comics, TV, and so on.
Jerwa and I recently completed script work on a long-form original graphic novel for Vertigo, though I can’t say much about that, yet.
On top of that, I work out of my wife’s comic store – Olympic Cards and Comics in Lacey, WA – once or twice a week, which is always fun.
So, yes, it’s been a busy year.
“Action Comics,”#883, co-written by Trautmann and Rucka, featuring art by Pere Perez, goes on sale November 11.
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