Sturges is New Warden for "Salvation Run"

Tue, January 29th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Salvation Run" #4 on sale February 13

When Eisner Award-winning writer Bill Willingham ("Fables") left "Salvation Run" due to personal reasons, one of DC Comics' key titles heading into "Final Crisis" was left without its scribe.

Enter Matthew Sturges, the rising star from the Lone Star State, who has worked closely with Willingham since he met the veteran writer nearly a decade ago in Austin, Texas, in a writers' group.

The 37 year-old Sturges penned the novel "Midwinter" and a book of short horror stories entitled "Beneath the Skin and Other Stories" before landing in comics. Sturges inherited "Shadowpact" from Willingham at issue #17 and currently co-writes "Jack of Fables" with him, too. Sturges also writes the Eclipso back-up stories in the "Countdown to Mystery" miniseries for DC.

While not solicited as such, Sturges wrote "Salvation Run" #3, which was released on January 9. Sturges told CBR News he's picked up the proverbial ball and run with it as the new writer on the title. "I've done a couple of things slightly differently from what Bill was doing, but my primary concern was making sure that the series works when seen as a whole," he said. "In that respect, I'm 'doing' Willingham to the extent that I want the book to have a consistent tone. I think that's a good challenge for a writer – especially when the writer is someone who is a gifted storyteller. That said, there is an intentional speeding-up of the story's pace, but that's where it's going anyway."

One thing Sturges definitely won't be changing is Willingham's take on the man who laughs most on the prison planet.  "I liked Bill's take on the Joker, and I've tried to continue with his somewhat over-the-top portrayal," Sturges confirmed. "As someone who enjoys lacing my stories with comedy, it's hard for me to avoid putting a lot of jokes in the Joker's mouth. When you see issue #4, however, you'll see that he's by no means all fun and games, and certainly not all sweetness and light.

"I also like the idea of having Lex Luthor and the Joker as competing protagonists, in a way. It's not quite clear who the 'star' of this book is, and I think that the process of working out who ultimately will make the decisions is a big part of what the series is."

Sturges teased that while Joker and Lex Luthor battle it out for top spot, readers should keep their eyes on a potential threat coming up the middle. "There's a major player that you'll see at the end of issue #4 who I don't believe we've encountered yet," Sturges revealed. "And we'll see some real heroes emerge from within the ranks of those villains – we come to see that not everyone who ended up on the planet really deserved to be there, and that will become an issue as the story goes on."

"Salvation Run" #5 on sale in March
Asked if he could share anything else about what's coming, Sturges said simply, "Giant gorillas, fighting tooth and nail, to the death. If that's not enough to hook you, nothing else I could possibly add would entice you more."

Sturges says writing a book with moustache-twirling bad guys as central figures in his storytelling has become his go-to-move. "I have a special affinity for villains and rogues, as anyone who's read 'Jack of Fables' can attest. 'Salvation Run' is an odd book in that it's a superhero book with an alarming dearth of superheroes. But making it work and be a fun read that people care about is a worthy thing to attempt. The trick is that you have to get the reader to root for bad guys, which is hard to do in general, but characters like Joker and Luthor and Deadshot and Bane are characters that readers already have a certain vested interest in, so it makes the job a little easier. Nobody wants to the see the Joker die, regardless of what a destructive psychopath he is – just one of the many strange differences between fiction and real life."

"Of course" was Sturges' answer when CBR News asked him if he was at all excited to be writing a book so important to current DCU continuity, as well as leading into "Final Crisis." "But I can illustrate the thrill of that with a story about something else. Last year, when my first issue of 'Shadowpact' came out, it struck me that what happened in that issue was actual, honest to God DCU continuity. For better or worse, it had actually happened, so to speak. In the same universe where the icons of my childhood exist, I got to make the Shadowpact fight zombies.

"It's my own contribution, however humble, and nobody can ever take it away. Likewise, getting to write Lex Luthor and the Joker and the Rogues is really amazing, but at the same time I feel a huge and very real responsibility to do right by those characters and the DCU as a whole."

Sturges left the reasons why Willingham moved off "Salvation Run" for him to explain, but did share the story how the two met and why he feels they work so well together. "I met Bill ten years ago, when he was starting a writing group here in Austin, Texas. At that point, he was already a veteran comic writer and he taught me nearly everything I know on the subject," explained Sturges. "We've always worked well together, mostly because we have similar tastes and similar senses of humor. And after writing 'Jack of Fables' for three years, we've gotten pretty skilled at working both with and around each other. So, I'm happy to keep working with Bill for as long as there are opportunities to do so, though I'm just as eager to write things that'll stand or fall on their own merit.

"Salvation Run" #6 on sale in April
"Typically, the way that Bill and I work together on a story is that we'll get on the phone and brainstorm ideas for a few hours. Bill lives in Nevada and I live in Texas, so we don't actually get together all that often. Whatever sticks from those conversations is generally what will make it into the book – that's primarily how 'Jack of Fables' works. The other books where I've worked with Bill, like 'Shadowpact' and 'Salvation Run,' I've pretty much just taken the ball and run with it, though I did have several conversations with Bill about the direction of 'Shadowpact' and the resolutions of ongoing plot threads in that book, that sort of thing."

And while "Salvation Run" is arguably Sturges' biggest project at the moment, his other titles are also forum fodder as all three are reaching critical times in their mythos. "'Jack of Fables' is really starting to heat up, leading up to a cataclysmic storyline that starts later this year. 'Shadowpact,' likewise, is building up to a big battle that's been simmering since the first issue of the book. 'Countdown to Mystery' is getting to my favorite part with this past issue, where we re-introduce the character of Bruce Gordon, who is Eclipso's original host, and he begins a strange new life, both as a physicist and as a hero. If you haven't been reading that series, #4 is a good jumping on point, though you'd certainly be well-served to go back and read all of them."

As 'Salvation Run' and 'Countdown to Mystery' are winding down, Sturges' name appears on yet another book come May as Vertigo is set to re-launch "House of Mystery" with Sturges as the writer. "It's a new ongoing series based on the title that DC published for quite a few years from the 1960s through the 1980s, and which reappeared at times in 'Sandman,'" said Sturges. "It's not an anthology – it's a book with its own ongoing story, about a group of people who are trapped in the House of Mystery with no idea of who's imprisoned them, or why. So they do the obvious thing, which is to turn the house into a bar, so that the many people who can both come and go, will stop by and tell their stories.

"The stories that they tell will be written by Bill Willingham for the first five issues, and illustrated by a number of comics luminaries and legends, including Jill Thompson and Bernie Wrightson even. I'm pretty excited about that one."

Now discuss this story in CBR's Countdown to Final Crisis forum.

Related
EXCLUSIVE: WILLINGHAM EXPLAINS "SALVATION RUN" DEPARTURE

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