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Mark Waid - Of Rising Empires and Supermen By Ed Mathews
Mark Waid is a seasoned veteran comic book writer who has worked for most of the major comic book companies in the industry. Former writer of JLA, he has worked on CAPTAIN AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR, redefined the FLASH, and helped put an ending to the DC Universe in KINGDOM COME. Through the “banana trust”, he helped launch the Gorilla Comics imprint with his creator-owned book EMPIRE, which has been given a second life at DC COMICS. He is also writing the series that will redefine the origin of the most well-known comic book icon in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT. Join us as we talk about EMPIRE and SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT.
Ed Mathews: It's been a long time since you've had the chance to revisit the world of EMPIRE. Has the time away from the project made it more difficult to get back into the groove, or has it allowed you to take a step back and look at the project with fresh eyes?
Mark Waid: Very fresh eyes. As Americans, I think a lot of our ideas about villainy have changed a little since 9/11. I was concerned that no one would want to read any longer about a madman dictator as the star of his own series--which forced me to get even deeper into Golgoth's head to avoid any trace of "evil for evil's sake." I think he's a much more fleshed out character than he was four years ago. But he's just as wicked.
EM: Golgoth's dilema appears to be in the vein of a "be careful what you wish for because it may come true" situation. The title is called EMPIRE and not GOLGOTH. Does this open up the book to more possibilities?
MW: Absolutely. That was always part of our intent - to not limit ourselves to Golgoth should he become disposable to our future plans. Plus, it is an ensemble book, and though it was created before both THE WEST WING and THE SOPRANOS, I've begun thinking of it as a cross of both. (Actually, in my less politically correct moments, I used to refer to it as "THE WEST WING with Republicans," but now that it's apparently no longer morally acceptable in this country to question our administration, I've backed off.)
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EM: Was the name Golgoth chosen to summon up biblical connections to the place where Christ died?
MW: Somewhat, but don't bend over backward making too much of that. The more accurate truth is that naming characters is, to put it kindly, not one of my strengths. At all. So I tend to keep fishing in the same two wells: the King James Bible and Bullfinch's Mythology.
EM: Well, the tone of the book is pretty dark, and I can't picture anything darker than Golgotha in Judeo-Christian terms short of Revelation (which you've already tackled). The art has been some of the darkest work I've seen out of Barry Kitson since the days of L.E.G.I.O.N. When you write your scripts, do they have that level of detail or does Barry Kitson already know what Mark Waid wants without needing as much written detail as another artist?
MW: We collaborate pretty closely on this, and in fact, it's now the only work I still do plot/dialogue rather than full-script, because Barry (a writer himself) is free to add little bits as he goes and/or interpret my panel descriptions as he sees fit, toning them down or tarting them up, as the case may be. By now, having done probably fifty comics together, we know what to expect from one another and can play to one another's strengths. I think as a rule, of the two of us, Barry's a little less dark, oddly enough.
EM: The champion of Earth in EMPIRE doesn't do as well as he could have, does he? Do you think that scene would have played out the same way if you had already been writing SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT or do you feel you would have the same creative ammunition to write that counter-point?
MW: Endymion? It would have gone the same way. He would have fallen regardless. It's actually important to the overall plot and future of EMPIRE that he has.
EM: Do you think it is more challenging to write an ongoing series with a villain as the main character?
MW: The pat answer is "yes," but to be truthful, I think that the freedom of not having your character hamstrung by any sort of moral code - nor any expectation from the reader that he'll live even one more page - evens out the alleged challenge.
EM: On the flipside, how does it feel to be writing Superman again for the first time?
MW: Like he's been standing there on The Daily Planet rooftop for twenty-five years tapping his booted foot and muttering, "What is TAKING him so long...?"
Writing Superman - even a unique incarnation like this one, full of trepidation and unaware of his boundaries as of yet - comes as easily as breathing or drinking through a straw.
EM: What is it that appeals to you the most about the character? (I ask this as SMALLVILLE plays in the background.)
MW: In this case - specifically, with his BIRTHRIGHT incarnation - that I'm able to accomplish what I believe is the necessary act of all writers, and that is to find that part of my personality and/or personal quest that intersects with Kal-El's. In this case, it's this feeling of disconnect from the human race - this sense that I could and should be contributing more to the world community, but I'm not sure how to best go about it. Young Clark Kent's in that same boat, though only one of us, sadly, has heat vision - trying to answer those questions of "Why am I here?" and "How am I supposed to be best applying my abilities?"
In a larger sense, what appeals to me most about the character is that his actions are a continual validation of a basic, childlike moral code that, right or wrong, wise or naive, I hold dear: that doing the right thing is its own reward.
EM: Did you personally pick Leinil Yu for this project? Now that the first issue has hit the stands, how do you feel?
MW: Yeah. I've been trying to fit into his work schedule for years now, ever since I saw his first work on WOLVERINE and fell in love with it. And his inker Gerry Alanguilan and the colorist Dave McCaig are doing stunning work with him. After having written something like 500 comics, I'm pretty numb to the thrill of going to the shop on a Wednesday and buying and reading a book with my name on it - but with BIRTHRIGHT, I honestly, truly got that buzz for the first time in a while.
EM: Let's assume that someone will be reading this interview as a casual reader who have never heard of Mark Waid. What would you say to those readers to convince them to try these two books (EMPIRE and SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT)?
MW: Besides "I'm dancing as fast as I can"? That both are books about people first, not costumes, and that I think they're about surprisingly interesting people at that? That they're both well-drawn and well-crafted? Ed, you know I'm no good at this self-promotion stuff. All I can say about EMPIRE is that it's genuinely, utterly unpredictable - and I know I can say this with conviction given that I've just finished plotting the last issue of the first six-issue mini, and it's not AT ALL where Barry Kitson and I thought we'd be at this point. Even Barry was shocked at the Big Reveal in issue five, and he's been working on this book as long as I have.
EM: I'm intrigued. I'm going to bet it has nothing to do with Princess Diana, does it? Well in any case, I hope EMPIRE manages to do what SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT did; apparently it has sold out. Aside from the obvious economic benefit of having one of your books sell well, do prospective sales affect the way you envision a project or do you consider that a side benefit that should not enter the equation when writing a book?
MW: It shouldn't, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't sometimes factor in. Not in the sense that I'd ever intentionally WRITE something "to sell" as opposed to "to my own personal taste," but it's nice to always have some high-profile work out there to balance out the "vanity projects," and sometimes I feel the need to make sure there's enough of each, since the former buys more freedom to pursue the latter.
On the other hand, the only time in my career I ever did a book strictly for the sales and the money - SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP #1 - I helped produce one of the most unreadable, awful comic books of all time, so no more of THAT. Work for the love, and the money will follow. It's true.