Comic Wire

Mon, April 2nd, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

POWER PLAY:
BUSIEK'S MONTHLY DC SUPERTEAM WITH A DIFFERENCE

[Kurt Busiek]
Kurt Busiek
If you've been thinking that it's been unusually quiet at DC Comics for the past few months, it wasn't your imagination: The company was keeping a lid on their plans for the rest of the year pending this past weekend's retailer event in Texas. Among the books announced there was Kurt Busiek's first ongoing series for DC Comics proper -- as opposed to "Kurt Busiek's Astro City," which is published by the Homage imprint of the WildStorm line -- a book called "Power Company."

"I describe it as a full-service professional superhero team, organized along the lines of a law firm, with partners, associates, clients, billable hours, pro bono work and more," Busiek told the Comic Wire on Sunday. "Think of it as 'JLA Law' -- these guys are very good at what they do, but they don't go into court and argue cases, they clash with super-villains and other menaces, save the world, and all that kinda good stuff. Plus character drama, cool gadgetry and a nifty headquarters ..."

While there have been many variations on the superhero team by this point -- with Busiek himself doing a memorable variant in the pages of Marvel Comics' "Thunderbolts" -- organizing one with the same structure as a legal office is a new spin on a decades-old idea.

"I've been playing around with the idea of a professional superhero team since my days writing 'Power Man & Iron Fist,' actually, and somewhere along the way, the idea of making it a law-firm-style partnership struck me, and I realized how well it works. Since then, I've been refining that concept, figuring out the repercussions of it, how it would play out ... and now I get a chance to get it all into print ...

"The thing I like best is that each of the Power Company members has a valid reason for joining the firm, whether it's to do pro bono work, to make a fortune, to have a secure job, or whatever -- but everyone's reason is different. That way, we get to have a lot of character clash, since everyone's not pulling in the same direction -- they've all got their own agendas, to one degree or another, despite their common context. That gives us the ability to make it unpredictable, similar to how 'Thunderbolts' had a you-never-know-what's-coming vibe, because the characters weren't committed superheroes."

Of course, Busiek also writes one of the most traditional of the superhero team books, in terms of structure at least, Marvel's "The Avengers." As to how this very different organizational structure will impact the stories told in "The Power Company," he's not saying exactly.

"I think that's best revealed by telling the stories, at this point ... but suffice it to say that we'll be able to showcase lots of different kinds of stories, from big sweeping epics to intimate character dramas (or even both at once!)."

Between supervillains-posing-as-superheroes in "Thunderbolts" and the law-office-as-superteam, Busiek is clearly trying to find new sorts of stories to tell with superhero books, something he clearly has a passion for.

"I really like superhero comics, as you say -- so I like playing with the idea, seeing what else you can do, what's distinctive and interesting and rich in possibility, but hasn't been done yet. I mean, we don't need another 'Avengers' or 'JLA' -- we've already got them. A new series, these days, should have something unique to it, something that makes it unlike anything else on the stands. T-Bolts had that. PowerCo will have it, too."

And while Busiek has written comics for DC before -- he was the last writer to write the original Wonder Woman in "The Legend of Wonder Woman" after DC redid their books' continuity in the 1980s -- when "The Power Company" makes its debut in February, it will be his first time doing a monthly ongoing series there, after a number of years at Marvel.

"Part of it's because I'd like to play around in the DC Universe, after so long playing mostly at Marvel. Part of it's that I think the idea fits the DCU better -- Marvel's got a really strongly-structured core to its universe, and it's very, very hard to fit another team onto that stage without them seeming like leftovers, like sidelights. We managed to find a distinctive spot for the T-Bolts to occupy, but without Onslaught [temporarily removing the Avengers and Fantastic Four from the Marvel Universe] it'd have been a lot harder. But the DCU is a lot looser, on that score -- they've got the JLA and the JSA and the Titans and Young Justice and a whole bunch of guys fighting the good fight, but it seems easier for something distinctive to come along and mark out its own territory. It's hard to explain, but I just see the PowerCo fitting the DCU better than the Marvel U."

And part of fitting into the DC Universe is using characters and settings readers are already familiar with.

"While we'll be seeing a whole bunch of DC heroes in the 'event' that launches the series, I find I'm far more interested in DC villains and settings and things like that -- I want to use STAR Labs and Kobra and Metropolis and LexCorp more than I want to guest-star heroes on a regular basis; I want to use the DCU as a grand stage set that I can play my stories out against. And, of course, I've got a bunch of villains and other characters in mind that I want to dust off and polish up, and get readers excited about them.

"But as to who and where -- well, wait and see ..."

For those who can't wait to see Busiek's newest riff on the superhero concept, his new "Superstar" special from Gorilla just hit the stands, featuring a superhero who requires the goodwill of his fans to function.

"The reaction, from those who've read it, is extremely enthusiastic -- readers seem to love it, and universally want more. I'll be eager to see what reorders are like, and see if retailers are getting more copies of it for those readers who've missed it, or been unable to pick it up."

As for the future of Superstar, readers will have to wait and see, as Busiek has no concrete plans for future installments.

"Not at present, no. But it's a character and a book I'm very proud of, and I definitely want to do more with Superstar. A lot more."

DEAN MOTTER GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE IN 'ELECTROPOLIS'

[Electropolis]One thing's for sure: Dean Motter doesn't do books that fit into ready-made niches. Take "Electropolis," his new book from Image Comics, for example.

"It is a continuation of my look at the retro-future of 2001 as envisioned in 1939," Motter told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "This time it is a pastiche of the classic, hard-boiled noir, done-to-death, Chandler/Hamett genre, but I think I've brought a new angle to it. Though it begins as a burlesque of 'The Maltese Falcon' it quickly abandons that conceit for its own intrigues."

Fans of Motter's previous work may be nodding at this point, thinking they know what to expect, but the artist says "Electropolis" isn't quite what his fans have seen from him in the past.

"'Mister X' was more gothic. More akin to 'Nosferatu' and 'Caligari.' 'Terminal City' and 'Aerial Graffiti' were more like the Thin Man movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. This is actually more sci-fi. More about technology. It doesn't have a real film model other then the obvious. I can't think of a vintage film that combined 'Metropolis' with 'My Favorite Brunette.'

"This antique futurist approach has been a rich territory of exploration for me. It allows an interesting commentary on today's world in that many predictions can almost be seen as caricatures of current technology. It also has a charm that invites a somewhat less cynical approach to the characters involved. It is not the dystopian post-apocalyptic vision that has become the norm for futuristic stories since 'Blade Runner' and 'Road Warrior.' It's also a junkyard that is still ripe for plunder -- very few have ventured into it with anything other than slapstick on their minds.

"Dealing with history -- even bogus, revisionist, or inaccurate history -- has always been more challenging for me than making a world up from whole cloth. I think I share that penchant with few of my contemporaries like Chaykin, or Mignola."

Few other comics creators cite works like "Metropolis" or "The Thin Man" as influences on their work. Motter finds the appeal of the black and white film era a simple one, literally.

"There was a great economy of means in those films. The back story was easy to grasp -- requiring little 'homework' or 'brain-work' and thus they tended to be pure entertainment. Not to diminish the more baroque, cerebral story lines that are the convention today -- its just that I find this refreshing. Mind you if this became more common it would make for a very stagnant milieu. I enjoy the fact that, for the time being, it is a franchise claimed by only a handful of storytellers."

And while Motter didn't illustrate the interiors of DC Comics' "Terminal City" miniseries himself, his design sensibility is all over that book and its sequel, "Aerial Graffiti." Thus it's not a surprise that he doesn't characterize himself as simply an artist or a writer.

"A Designer, artist AND writer. During the last couple years I illustrated 'Superman's First Flight' for Scholastic Books while writing stories for 'Flinch,' 'Star Wars Tales' and 'Superman Adventures.' At the same time I was designing covers for a variety of paperback and hardcover books including Heavy Metal Fakk2, T-Rex, X-Men Legends.

"Writing and drawing the same project is very labor intensive, I find that my interests and energies need distraction -- renewal of some kind. Plus, I truly enjoy collaborating with other artists. I've spent so many years as an art director working with a variety of artists and photographers that it is part of my creative process. Michael Lark brought so much life to the citizens of 'Terminal City,' a feat which I don't think I could have pulled off -- especially in the amount of time involved. He is one of those illustrators who have a native facility for drawing. I'm not one of them. I struggle with each panel. I celebrate when a drawing does not display all the shortfalls in my abilities."

But Motter will be both writing and illustrating "Electropolis," however.

"To be honest, this was intended for Michael Lark -- but we had already begun our Batman noir tour-de-force 'Nine Lives' and it would have meant pulling him off that commitment. No one would have cared for that. I didn't have any other candidates available with whom I felt I could develop a common visual design vocabulary in a timely fashion. So it really became a matter of necessity. D.I.Y.

"Additionally, there were a number of people, especially Shelly, my Terminal City editrix, who had been encouraging me to get back to it for years. (She did manage to get three covers and a poster out of me). So the time was right. I just hope I have it in me."

"Electropolis" will hit comic shop stands -- and computer screens -- this May.

"This is a bi-monthly book. The first story arc is six issues. Beyond that -- we'll see how it sells. It is also an animated web-series from Banook.com. Same cast, different story line. I provided sketches and art from the comic to RDA Studio in Halifax which they used to generate the images. That also debuts in May."

"THE RED STAR" RETURNS WITH PAPERBACK-EXCLUSIVE WEB CONTENT

[TPB Cover]
TPB Cover
Say you've decided to retell recent Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russian history in a military fantasy comic from Image Comics called "The Red Star."

Now, while most readers will be able to fill in the gaps using real world knowledge of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the turmoil in the former Soviet Union once the Berlin Wall fell, there's still a lot left unsaid in the pages of the ongoing comic as to who Kar Dathra is, why the United Republics of the Red Star invaded Al'Istan and so on.

Never fear. "Red Star" creator Christian Gossett has a plan.

Gossett hosted a media event-cum-cocktail party at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, where he debuted the "Red Star" trade paperback coming later this month, and previewed the exclusive Web content that will go along with it. URLs will be placed subtly into the paperback before and after the stories that made up the individual issues, serving as "librettos" for the story.

[Page #133]
Page #133 in the TPB, part of the sketch book
"There's a battle out there for the attention of those who read comics," Gossett said Saturday. "We decided, all of us, that if you give us your attention, we'll give you the most fleshed-out world we can create."

Putting in the URL found on page 12 of the paperback, for instance, takes one to a Flash animation map of Al'Istan, which allows readers to read about the locations on the map, drag it around the screen to look at its boundaries, and even drag it far enough to find "Easter egg" entries for more information on the world of the Red Star.

Other exclusives include a short Web comic featuring freedom fighter Makita -- introduced on the last page of issue 4 -- and her boyfriend, foreshadowing the next storyline in the comic.

"We tried to make this, as much as possible, an online comic and not make the mistake of Stan Lee Media, god rest their souls," and do animated cartoons instead. "From the trade onward ... we'd like to include URLs in the comics."

Look for more details at TheRedStar.com later this month to coincide with the release of the oversized paperback.

NORTH DALLAS COMIC BRIEF

Here's the heaping handful of what's news and press releases in CBR's Comic Brief since the last edition of the Comic Wire:

  • PREVIEW: Out There #1

  • PREVIEW: American Splendor: Portrait of the Artist in His Declining Years

  • Spider-Man Leaps Up The Charts

  • CrossGen adds Paul Pelletier to artistic staff

  • Lugibihl and Shaw take on Avengelyne/Shi

  • UncommonCon: Three days of imagination stimulation

  • Bongo Comics solicitations for product shipping July, 2001

  • First Wave: The Invasion heats up!

  • Humanoids Publishing Sells Movie Rights of The Nikopol Trilogy

  • Usagi Yojimbo/Mid-Ohio-Con T-Shirt benefits CBLDF

  • Insight Studios presents "Gray Morrow - Visionary"

As for last time in the Comic Wire:

  • Ostrander on the State of the Comic Book Nation

  • Corben, Azzarello Team on Hulk Project

  • Just Imagine ... Byrne and Stan Lee Redo Robin

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