REFLECTIONS: Kurt Busiek, Part II

Wed, July 23rd, 2008 at 12:57pm PDT | Updated: August 5th, 2008 at 2:39pm

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

"Trinity" #8 on sale this week

Kurt Busiek’s “trinity” of interviews with “Reflections” is continuing this week, and if you missed last week’s premiere interview about reaction to his new weekly series “Trinity” then, please, click here.

A major selling point for “Trinity” has been that it is centered around DC’s big three: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Busiek has worked with all three characters before: he just finished a critically lauded run on “Superman” several months before “Trinity” began, and wrote Bats and Diana in “JLA” stories and as part of “JLA/Avengers.”

This week Busiek goes into detail about his feelings on all three characters. How did he feel about DC’s past choice to make Diana a pacifist? How is Batman DC’s Hulk? And, of course, is Kal really Clark or really Superman?

Busiek sat down with CBR news to talk about all that and more for this week’s “Reflections.” Come back next week for even more about “Trinity,” as well as discussion of “Astro City” and his run on “Superman.”

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"Trinity" #7
Let’s begin our discussion of the Trinity in “Trinity” with Wonder Woman.

I always viewed Wonder Woman as, at least potentially, DC’s Thor -- keeping in mind that she was around first, of course. But she's operating in the same kind of arena -- dealing with gods, in a big mythologically-oriented setting. I thought she could have the same dynamism and scope that Kirby's Thor did, but she rarely did. But she's got everything it would take to do that -- she's the best warrior on earth, she deals with gods and monsters as much as she deals with bank robbers and supervillains, the potential is all there.

I thought it was a terrible move, back when, to decide that Wonder Woman was suddenly a pacifist. She's peaceable, but not a pacifist -- it doesn't make sense to have a warrior Amazon who doesn't want to hit anything. That basically cripples the character; she's an Amazon. She's not supposed to be a pacifist.

She's bringing me a message of peace, but not through nonviolence. It’s peace through strength. It’s “You're going to be peaceful with us because we could kick your asses. And, for fun, we shoot bullets and arrows at our children and let them deflect them with their bracelets!” (laughs)

My view of Wonder Woman as a pacifist is that she doesn't want to hurt people, but she's going to get the job done, fast, skillful and as hard as necessary. Her particular challenge is to do whatever she does and do it better this time than the last time she did it. She's an athlete trying for a personal best every time, and is very competitive with herself. The object of the exercise isn't to have a winner and a loser; it's to use physical challenge to make herself better. So if she stops a bank robbery, she wants to do it faster and safer than she's ever done it before. The fact that there are guys with guns there is incidental. The person she's competing against is herself, not the bank robbers. They're the dumbbells and pole vault and such that she'll use in the course of proving herself.

Wonder Woman as a warrior is always ready to fight but not looking for a fight, but there's a difference between having the olive branch of peace always offered but being ready for war, and being a pacifist and whining about how rotten violence is. To her, violence is a tool -- a tool to bring about peace, and there's a nice little contradiction in there. That, at heart, is what I often saw as what was wrong with Wonder Woman interpretations in the past.

I was delighted, when I was handed “Trinity,” that Gail Simone was getting underway with her “Wonder Woman” run and had a lot of the same ideas. I’m sure she wouldn't express it quite the same way, and I’m sure there are ways we disagree, but she begins from the view that Wonder Woman is a badass, and I couldn't agree more.

Busiek: "Wonder Woman is a badass."

If there are nine million tanks coming at you over the hill, and Wonder Woman's standing there between you and the tanks, you can still feel safe because she's Wonder Woman, she can rip them to bits. That's much stronger than her choosing that moment to preach about nonviolence -- she's going to show the bad guys that violence isn't going to work for them, not try to reason it out with them on the battlefield.

There's certainly more to Wonder Woman than that, of course. Another thing that's gotten lost over the years is that she's supposed to be an ambassador of peace. She wants to change the world, to show us a better way -- and honestly, beating up Angle Man every month isn't showing us that way. She has all these strong conceptual underpinnings for being in this world that have often gotten lost over the years -- they get trotted out to explain why she's here in Man's World, and once that's done, the writers treat her as just another superhero who they can play identity games with and build a stable of supervillains for and figure out if she wants to marry Steve Trevor. Basically everything Superman does, but as a woman. The idea that she was here to show us that there's a better way to live than our warlike society got kicked to the wayside -- and since that's her reason for being here, you'd think it would come up.

That's something George Perez got, and Greg Rucka got, and Gail gets -- but for much of Wonder Woman's history, it's been an afterthought when it came up at all.

How interesting is it to be exploring these heretofore fairly unexplored aspects to the character?

It’s probably more interesting for Gail, since she gets the “Wonder Woman” stage. I get to do Wonder Woman as part of the trinity -- which means that I don't get to concentrate solely on who she is as a character, I have to address it in terms of what her relationship is to the other characters and where her place in things is. Not that that's a complaint -- it's the concept of the series. But I don't have a solo spotlight on Wonder Woman, my focus is on the Trinity as a group.

Also, I don’t have a completely free hand because I need to stay consistent with other portrayals -- I work with what other people establish. If whoever was writing "Wonder Woman" monthly was writing her as being a complete and utter pacifist, well, I might not like it, but that's the character I'd need to write. Another reason I'm glad Gail's on her solo book. So I’m working with my ideas, and they're resonating well with what Gail's doing -- but I’m also working with Wonder Woman’s part in the Trinity and the Trinity’s place in the DCU. My question to answer isn't simply "Who is Wonder Woman," but “Who is Wonder Woman, in this particular context?”

Busiek's approach to Batman in "Trinity" is a bit different than most other writers.
Let’s move onto Batman. Now aside from team books, you’ve never really tackled him, right?

Right.

I’ve written him in team books, and here he is in a team book again. But at least this time he's one of the three members as opposed to one of the nine members of the team or 3,600 characters in the team. (laughs) Even when the JLA's in the story, they're supporting cast -- I still get to make the book about the three leads and how they connect.

So no, I don’t think I’ve ever written a solo Batman story. But I'm having an enormous amount of fun writing him because he has such a strong personality and such a strong attitude. That comes through in every scene he's in.

And what are your views on the character that might be different from other creators who have played with him?

Overall, my view of Batman is one I don’t see other people use all that much. Typically, the superhero is seen as an adolescent power fantasy -- an adolescent fantasy, essentially about a child dreaming of being an adult. And the two classic superheroes who aren’t like that, to my mind, are Batman and the Hulk.

The Hulk, at heart, is every little kid and why he likes dinosaurs. He gets mad, he breaks things. He's powerless and wishes he could be big and strong. This has gotten muted over the years, as they play the character as more savage or less so, but the classic version isn't an adolescent anything -- he's still a child who doesn’t understand how the world works.

Batman, similarly, is conceptually, emotionally preadolescent. His inner self is kind of an eight to ten year old. That's the age Bruce was when his parents were shot, and he's emotionally stuck at that level, with this core emotional cry of “The world is not fair. If I was big, I could make it fair.” So Batman’s essential drive comes from that anguished kid -- he got big, and now he's enforcing fairness, making things better so the same thing that happened to him doesn't happen to other kids. All of the scariness and vengeance and coldness builds on the basic idea that he's the guy who's going to make things fair, to take on every bully and mugger and crook, and tell them, in essence, what he wishes was true: "You can't do that."

The thing is, that's an impossible job.

But it doesn't seem impossible to an eight year old. And the poor, grieving eight-year-old Bruce inside will never give up on that.

Of all the characters in "Trinity," Superman is the one Busiek has the most experience writing.
And then, of course, there is Superman. Is your “Trinity” Superman essentially the same character from your run on his title, or has he changed?

Yes.

When I was writing "Superman," I was writing my version of who Superman is, and in “Trinity” I'm writing the same guy. He's the one I’ve had the most experience with.

Superman has that adolescent fantasy going on. Clark Kent is the weak, unimpressive adolescent, and every now and then his voice breaks and he's a grown-up and men respect him and he is powerful and can change the course of mighty rivers. And then he goes back to being Clark, and he's nobody again. The adolescent conundrum.

But, to my mind, the core of the character, and what makes him human, is that he's an alien. Some writer or philosopher whose name I don't recall right now said that “The common state of mankind is alienation.” And that makes a lot of sense. What makes us human is that we're trapped in our own heads and can never fully communicate with other people, never bridge that unbridgeable gap between us. We can take our thoughts and imperfectly translate them to other people, who can process them imperfectly and respond imperfectly, but we're still alone with our thoughts.

Culture, society, marriage, family and art are all ways to bridge the gap of alienation and feel less alone, but they're all imperfect, and that sense of isolation within ourselves is what we have in common. And Superman's got it too, but he's got it at a super level, just like his strength. Superman feels alienation because he's an alien. Where a kid in junior high is thinking “There is no one else around here like me,” Superman's thinking “There is no one else in the universe like me.” And that very fact, that he's not homo sapien is ironically what makes him most human. He feels what we feel, only magnified.

Busiek will be exploring various aspects of the characters' personalities throughout the course of the series.

There is this huge debate that goes on among Superman fans, asking “Is he really Clark or really Superman?” Is he Superman and Clark is an act, or is he Clark and Superman is a job? I think it leans toward "He's really Superman," but it's not quite that simple. The guy I think of as the real person is Kal. The guy he is when he is alone. He's the guy Ma and Pa and Lois know -- the guy, pre-Crisis, that Batman knew. Pre-Crisis Superman and Batman were pals, the only guys they could let their guard down around and just be people. Bruce going out as Batman was putting on an act, but he was also doing it if he went out as Bruce. But if he's alone in the Fortress of Solitude with Superman he doesn't have to put on an act. Post-Crisis we haven’t gotten so much of that, though they're moving more toward that -- though hopefully never quite that far -- in “Superman/Batman” these days. But Superman's got a few more people he can relax with, since Ma and Pa are alive post-Crisis, and Lois knows the truth. But even there, Batman and Wonder Woman are probably the people he's closest to who understand most fully the rigors of their particular chosen missions.

Anyway. Clark Kent is a facet of Kal’s personality that is slanted toward how he wants people to perceive Clark. Superman's a facet of Kal’s personality slanted toward what he wants the public to think of him and see him as -- the responsibilities he feels as a hero and role model.

The real guy, though, is the guy who's alone at night when no one else is around.

The fact is, everybody shows different faces to the world in different situations. The person we are at work is not the same person we are with friends and not the same person we are at Thanksgiving with family and not the same person we are when we're alone. Different contexts bring out different sides of things. One of the screwiest experiences I’ve ever had was attending a Worldcon in Boston back in the Eighties. There were people there I’d gone to high school with because I grew up twenty minutes away. There were people I went to college with because they were science fiction fans, and made a pilgrimage out to Worldcon every year. There were people I knew from my life as a comic book writer, and people I knew from my life as a literary agent -- I was working as a literary agent at the time. I couldn't walk ten feet without bumping into someone who knew me from a different setting, who was expecting me to be someone else. It was astoundingly confusing -- I could not settle into one role. And that must be what Superman’s days are like. Though he handles it much better than I did, being much more used to it.

That's how I see Superman -- a guy with very strongly defined public roles, and very few people get to see the real guy within. So he feels alienated in both roles. For good reason, but it affects him nonetheless.

Each of the three main "Trinity" characters will have two supporting characters featured in the series.
Which supporting cast members from the books are you going to use?

We're going to use some. But I don't want to just give you a list.

There are going to be six supporting cast members, two from each of the hero’s world, who will play extremely important roles. And when I say two from each, you can probably guess who with reasonable accuracy.

I mean, who would you say are the two supporting characters from Batman?

Alfred and Robin.

Which Robin?

Uh, Tim?

Is it Tim? Or is Dick Grayson more key? You'll see both, as it happens, but only one of them is one of the six.

With Superman you can assume one would be Lois. Who would you assume the other would be?

Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy does show up in the story, but maybe not in that role.

Does he have to die again? Like in “Countdown”?

There were a lot of people reading “Countdown” who would have been happy if he had. (laughs)

I’ve always liked Jimmy, and he does turn up, in a way. But I’m dancing around the point, which is that we're going to see a number of supporting characters, and I’m not telling you specifically who because it's a major part of act two.

So I want to you to find out by reading the book.

Come back to CBR and REFLECTIONS next week for more with Kurt Busiek.

Now discuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.

TAGS:  dc comics, kurt busiek, trinity, reflections

 
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