Zen & The Art of DC's "The Great Ten"

Tony Bedard, writer of the critical hit "R.E.B.E.L.S.," is set to unleash "The Great Ten" on the DC Universe this November with the start of a 10-part miniseries, illustrated by Scott McDaniel ("Trinity").

Created by Grant Morrison and first introduced in DC's year-long, weekly series "52," The Great Ten are China's high-powered team of super-functionaries (more on that term later), and in Bedard and McDaniel's upcoming epic, they'll be up against their greatest challenge ever as the gods of ancient China have returned to destroy communist rule.

CBR News spoke with Bedard about the series and found a writer who couldn't be more proud to be bringing the greatest super team from one of the world's oldest and continuous civilizations to life in the pages of "The Great Ten."

CBR: For those not familiar with the team, who are The Great Ten?

TONY BEDARD: The Great Ten are the Chinese government's officially sanctioned superhero team. That "officially sanctioned" part is important, because in mainland China, an independent vigilante isn't going to last very long. The communist government would crack down on that sort of thing right quick. Also, members of The Great Ten are referred to as "super-functionaries" instead of superheroes. The emphasis is on the role they play - their function in society. But in the world's most populous nation - a nation that will probably wield the most influence in the 21st Century - these 10 individuals will determine whether that influence is used for good or ill.

These heroes were first introduced by Grant Morrison and company in "52." What is it that you love about China's super-powered team and what Morrison created?

To begin with, they look terrific. The character designs were done by my good friend J.G. Jones, who is a friggin' genius. And having worked in an editorial capacity with Grant before, I suspect he may have done some preliminary sketches of his own to give J.G. some direction. So that's two geniuses behind their creation. But most of all, I love the enormous potential in these characters. They are still more or less un-established, despite their appearances in "52" and "Checkmate." And as a writer, you hunger for the opportunity to take an untapped character or team and breathe life into it - to mine that potential the way Grant did with Animal Man, or Alan Moore did with Swamp Thing, or Frank Miller did with Daredevil. Now, I know I'm not on the same level with those guys, but you've got to aim high, right?

Do you have a favorite member or two of the team?

Actually, no - and that's on purpose. The way I'm setting up the series, each issue focuses on a different member. Each script is an opportunity to fall in love with a different character. And while some characters, like August General in Iron and Ghost Fox Killer, are immediately intriguing to me because they look so cool, I'm trying to approach this so that when it's all said and done, they're all equally cool in ten entirely different ways.

Ten issues. Ten super-functionaries.

Yes. We begin with Accomplished Perfect Physician, then focus on Celestial Archer, then Thundermind, and so on. And because each of these characters has a whole different feel and origin, each issue will have a flavor all its own. Ghost Fox Killer, for example, is a pulp hero in the mold of The Shadow. Seven Deadly Brothers is a martial arts hero akin to Jackie Chan. August General in Iron is a twisted version of Captain America. Each of these characters calls for a different tone and approach, which is great fun for a writer. One of my favorite things about my time working for CrossGen Comics was that we published so many different genres. "The Great Ten" is my opportunity to do different genres within the same superhero epic.

What can you share with us about the story you'll be telling in the series?

We'll begin by focusing on Accomplished Perfect Physician, the "Doctor Strange" of the team, whose origin centered around a crackdown on Buddhist monks in Tibet. Now he's being sent back to Tibet to crack down on a new uprising by a group that sort of parallels the real-life Falun Gong movement in present-day China. The Physician is very conflicted about this mission, and as the situation spirals out of control, the gods of ancient China return to protect their worshippers and to restore China's traditional values - which means deposing communist rule. Each of The Great Ten will have to choose sides in this nationwide battle, but they're also going to find that the gods have a secret of their own, and the future of China hangs in the balance.

Will this series play out within ongoing DCU continuity?

Yes it will, but because China is a somewhat insular society, you'll see people around the world concerned by what's happening, but you won't see the Justice League rushing in to get involved or anything like that. Such an action would be a violation of Chinese sovereignty. However, this tale will end up fundamentally changing the status quo in China.

So no "Blackest Night" or "R.E.B.E.L.S." tie-ins?

Correct. Doing that might boost sales, but the point of this series is to develop these characters in their own right, and I don't want an outside story to distract from that goal.

When DC announced the project on The Source, you were quoted as saying you really got into Eastern philosophy when you were in college. How much of those teachings will play into the series and have you been doing additional research on the subject matter since you landed the gig?

Well, I was raised Catholic, but as I left home I began reading all sorts of books, exploring different points of view regarding religion and philosophy. I think one of the first reads to shake up my worldview was the "Don Juan" books of Carlos Castañeda. Also, I was influenced by Denny O'Neil's "The Question" series, which featured a "recommended reading" section on the letters page. Remember those? I read a lot of those books, learning about the history and thinking behind kung fu, tai chi chuan, etc. This led to the books of D.T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, the "Wandering Taoist" trilogy by Deng Ming Dao, "The Tao of Pooh," "Zen and the Art of Archery," and other wonderful books that opened up a whole new world for me.

I think maybe I was open to all this stuff because of my childhood spent moving from one completely different culture to the next. I was born in Puerto Rico, moved to the Philippines when I was five, and then to Atlanta when I was 10. Each move was a jarring shift that exposed me to very different ways of life and different views of the world. The Philippines especially had a big impact on me and left me with a deep appreciation for East Asian cultures. I also got to visit Japan and Thailand. I may have been very young, but I still came away with the lasting firsthand knowledge that there's a whole wide world out there beyond our shores. And because I didn't live in the States until I was 10, I also got to experience and appreciate America in a way you might not if you were born here. I got to see it all with fresh eyes.

All of this informs how I'm writing "The Great Ten," how I'm trying to give each character his own worldview, and how in the end they are a team that's greater than the sum of its parts.

What is it about Eastern philosophy that fascinates you?

I just remember reading up on Taoism and Buddhism and thinking, "Wow. This stuff really makes sense!" It's not take-it-or-leave-it dogma, but a very practical way to approach life and to look at the world, and it directly addressed a lot of the anxiety and discord in my personal life. In a way, Taoism and Buddhism are more psychological systems than religions in the sense that we're used to. Taoism is about living in tune with the way of the world. Buddhism is about letting go of frustrated desires and materialism to achieve inner peace. They are systems for living a calm, happy life. But I should point out that I don't find them incompatible with Christianity. Like the old saying goes, "There are many paths to the mountain top. The differences disappear at the summit." After lapsing for 20-odd years, I'm back to Catholicism and even teach Sunday school, but Taoism and Buddhism still color my view of the world.

Do you think your obvious passion for the subject matter will translate through to comic readers?

Well, it may help me to flesh out these characters and understand the mythologies behind them, but "The Great Ten" is not going to read like a comparative religions class, nor will it be a political treatise. It's a fast-moving adventure story, and any cultural or philosophical stuff is just there to service the story and give depth to the characters. As with anything I work on, my main intent is to make this a fun read.

Have you ever traveled to China?

No. My folks went to Hong Kong and Taipei while we lived in the Philippines, but I didn't get to go on those trips. This was back in the early seventies, which I suspect was an era when visiting China was a little tougher than it is now. I'd love to go some day, though.

Scott McDaniel was one of the artists tasked with illustrating the co-features in "Trinity" so he's no stranger to big, epic tales. What do you feel he brings to the series?

Oh, I can't say enough good things about Scott. I first fell in love with his work back when he was on "Nightwing." The way he bends and twists perspective to imbue every panel with movement and life is incredible. More recently, I was lucky enough to do a "JSA Classified" two-parter and an issue of "Birds of Prey" with him, and I would jump at the chance to work with him again. So when "Great Ten" editor Mike Siglain told me Scott might be available, I was more than ready to team up. But Scott had some reservations of his own before taking the job. He wasn't that familiar with the characters, his Chinese reference was sparse, and he wanted to be sure I wasn't going in a direction thematically that he might not be comfortable with. So we got on the phone to talk it over, ended up talking for nearly two hours about ourselves, our religious and political differences, and though we certainly don't share the same views, it was a terrific conversation.

I really think we came away from that with mutual respect, and a feeling that our differences will actually yield a more interesting story. Anyhow, Scott signed on, and I couldn't be more pleased with what he's doing. This is a different sort of project for him, but in a good way. If you think you know his work, think again. This is new territory for both of us, and we're really having a ball with it. The way he's updated the look of the traditional Chinese gods is brilliant - it's like how Kirby remade the Norse gods, but it's all McDaniel. Despite his initial reservations, this project has turned out to be a great fit for him, and I can't imagine doing it with anyone else.

"The Great Ten"#1 hits shelves on November 4 featuring art by Scott McDaniel and covers by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau.

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