WC15: Robinson, Adams & More Discuss Comics' Love of Antiheroes

A group of creators from both Marvel and DC Comics gathered to talk antiheroes at WonderCon 2015, with James Robinson moderating the panel. Joining him were "Sinestro" writer Cullen Bunn, "Death of Superman" writer Dan Jurgens, Wolverine co-creator Len Wein and legendary artist and writer Neal Adams.

Robinson introduced the talent and noted comics as "the last bastion of black-and-white morality" in entertainment. Of course, there are shades of grey as well, and Robinson referenced Adams' and writer Denny O'Neil's Green Arrow from "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" as a character who aligned himself with "left-wing" politics as an antihero, while calling Wolverine "a character everyone is fascinated by." Robinson also mentioned the various villains "fans can't help but like" before drawing the panelists attention towards Adam's depiction of the Joker in "Batman" #251. Written by O'Neil, the issue presented a Joker who was no longer a simple "cardboard cutout" of a villain.

"One of the things that I think about when I write a story is how to surprise myself and the reader," Bunn said in response to Robinson's inquiry about how to approach writing an antihero. "For me, antiheroes offer more opportunity for those surprises. You don't necessarily know how they are going to respond to any one situation."

Robinson asked Adams how he began changing the character of Green Arrow, since the original version was essentially a "Batman imitation." Adams cited the character of Robin Hood as partially inspiring Oliver Queen's evolution. "That's who he is -- [it's] so simple," said Adams. The creator stated that he refused to work on the book unless he could "change the character," changes he says serve as the inspiration of The CW's "Arrow."

Neal Adams recalled a tale of meeting a few "Arrow" writers that came up to his table at Comic-Con International last year. "They said, 'We're the writers of the show,' and I said, 'Go to Hell.' They asked what I thought about the show, and I told them, 'Well, you really want me to tell you the truth, or should I just bullshit you?' They said, 'No, no, no -- tell us the truth.'"

Adams, describing some of his problems with the show to the writer's staff, recalled telling them, "Well -- Green Arrow doesn't shoot arrows into people's chest and into people's hearts and kill them. They said, 'In the second season, we're not doing that. I thought, 'Oh, really? You've jumped off my shit list!'" Telling them, "There's lots of characters from the DC Universe that you can borrow," the writers replied, "Wait 'til the next season shows up.'" As a final piece of advice, Adams told them, "And you could put a smile on his face once in a while!"

The creator went on to explain the differences in morality between DC and Marvel heroes by citing Superman as the first superhero. A "strange visitor from another planet," Adams noted that the character still has the same amount of "arms and fingernails" as your average human being, and "smiles a lot." "Mr. Goodie Two-shoes becomes a hero. Even when brought the re-inaugurated comic superheroes in the '50s -- they brought Green Lantern and the Flash back. The Flash works for the cops, for godsakes -- and he's a nice guy."

As for Marvel's approach to its heroes, "Stan [Lee] is writing his six-page stories, and Jack Kirby said to Stan, 'Why don't we do this? Why don't we take your monster stories and extend them to 22-pages and make them heroes? So we'll take Doctor Banner who's a scientist and bring him out to the desert where he gets bombarded by gamma rays and he turns into a giant Frankenstein's monster.' ... All these guys were awful and became superheroes -- whereas over at DC Comics: Ding! They were nice guys."

Shifting the conversation to Wein, Robinson asking whether Wolverine's moral center was established before he wrote the character. "I never expected everything that came out of Wolverine," said Wein. "He was not meant, initially, to be the star of every Marvel book that doesn't star Spider-Man. He was meant to be a really interesting supporting character... His natural inclination is to gut you. He would end up stopping with the claws about this close to your skin." The character changed in tone after the author "had given the book to [Chris] Claremont." Claremont "had Wolverine gut a bunch of guys for no good reason -- and suddenly, he was the biggest character [Marvel] ever had."

Robinson closed out the panel by speaking with Jurgens about the inception of Booster Gold, who he described as "a little bit selfish, and a little bit flawed." "When I took [the character] to DC, I wanted to do something that was different from what they had, because in 1985, all the DC heroes were so squeaky clean," Jurgens explained. The author described Booster as an "everyday reaction" to completely altruistic superheroes. "I'll go out, and I'll do the right thing -- and I'll make some money along the way."

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