The Golden Age of comics might be over, but that's not preventing the characters from that era from resurfacing thanks to "The Next Issue Project," a series of one-shots published by Image Comics and spearheaded by "Savage Dragon" creator Erik Larsen. The series highlights a number of Golden Age heroes that have fallen into the public domain, allowing contemporary comic book creators to tell new tales with these characters. Each issue continues the numbering from where the last issue left off, hence the newest effort's title, "The Next Issue Project: Silver Streak Comics" #24, which brings characters like Silver Streak, Captain Battle, The Claw and the Golden Age Daredevil back into the forefront. CBR News spoke with Larsen about the upcoming issue and what readers can expect from the "Silver Streak" heroes.
"Silver Streak Comics" #24 is the second installment of "The Next Issue Project," the first being 2008's "Fantastic Comics" #24. "Initially, 'Crack Comics' was to be the next one up, but a couple features in that [issue] just didn't come together as quickly as they needed to," Larsen told CBR. "Since I decided that 'Silver Streak Comics' would be a 32-pager, which it was when the book last appeared, there ended up being fewer pieces to put together."
"'Silver Streak Comics' itself is a bit of an oddball as far as comics go," Larsen said of "The Next Issue Project's" current focus. "It was named after publisher Arthur Bernhard's car, a Pontiac Silver Streak, but it didn't initially feature a character called Silver Streak. That was just a title for this anthology book. Its initial 'star' was The Claw by 'Plastic Man' creator Jack Cole. It wasn't until issue #3 that [Silver Streak] started appearing in the book and even then, he wasn't silver. He was initially blue and green and then that was changed to red and yellow with subsequent issues. Silver Streak wasn't even the lead feature in 'Silver Streak Comics' most of the time, as various characters shuffled in and out of the front spot."
Larsen admitted that "Silver Streak Comics," despite yielding some worthwhile material, wasn't always the best of comic books during its run. "There was a lot of floundering trying to come up with a successful lineup," he said. "Its contents varied a great deal from issue to issue, and even the logo changed from issue to issue. Much of what appeared in 'Silver Streak Comics' was there to fill pages. Initially, the book was 64 pages, and when you're doing a book of that length, you go through a lot of features, and in the case of 'Silver Streak Comics,' a lot of those weren't especially strong. When all was said and done, 'Silver Streak Comics' really had just four legitimately cool characters. Those four included The Claw, Silver Streak, the Golden Age Daredevil and Captain Battle. That would have been an excellent lineup of any book, but there were only a couple issues that features all four."
It's no coincidence, then, that all four of those characters are given prominent roles in "The Next Issue Project: Silver Streak Comics" #24. The issue consists of a Silver Streak story written and illustrated by Paul Grist and colored by Larsen; a story focusing on The Claw, written and illustrated by Michael T. Gilbert; a Captain Battle tale, written by Steve Horton, drawn by Alan Weiss, colored by Derek Muthart and lettered by Johnny Lowe; and, of course, Larsen's own adventure with the Golden Age Daredevil, a character that has also had an important role in recent issues of "Savage Dragon."
"The Golden Age Daredevil just has a great visual," Larsen said of his affinity for the character. "His costume was incredibly influential, and there have been countless imitators over the years. The character himself, at least how he was presented then, was pretty bland. There aren't a of personality quirks to hang your hat on. As with a lot of characters from that time, the hero was pretty straight and noble and the emphasis was on the drama that was unfolding. I put a lot of my own spin on the character in 'Savage Dragon.'"
Larsen's story picks up from where Daredevil left off in the last issue of his own title, meaning that the Little Wise Guys - a quartet of wise-cracking, information-savvy youngsters that have also appeared in "Savage Dragon" - have a role to play. "Although they never appeared in 'Silver Streak Comics' before, they were a big part of the Golden Age Daredevil's life, so it made sense to include them here," said Larsen. "Artistically, I was shooting for something of a Miller/Janson vibe [rather] than a Golden Age art vibe. We're not trying to give readers a strict Golden Age reading experience. The idea is more to showcase these characters in a cool way - to make them awesome."
In fact, Larsen anticipates that many of the people purchasing "The Next Issue Project" won't be terribly knowledgeable of the Golden Age of comics, but that unfamiliarity shouldn't preclude readers from enjoying the issue. "My drive is to really introduce readers to [these characters] as though they're seeing them for the first time," said Larsen. "We're not trying to change, alter or reinvent characters from the Golden Age, but to present them as they were, to take the ball handed to us and run with it for a while. These characters appear as they did back in their final days in the Golden Age of comics."
The greatest challenge facing "The Next Issue Project's" creators doesn't lie in the characters, according to Larsen, but the format of the stories themselves. "The stories are all pretty short, so the biggest challenge is finding a cool story to tell in a few pages which both introduces the characters and tells a complete and compelling tale," he said. "It's a fun challenge, actually. I've been part of anthologies before where the concept has been so open that it's hard to come up with what to do. Having very specific and confining parameters helps focus your thoughts more."
One example of "The Next Issue Project's" confining parameters is Joe Keatinge's "Kelly the Cop" strip, which he wrote and illustrated with colors from Larsen. The one-page story focuses on Kelly, a rotund and seemingly jolly police officer with advice aplenty for the neighborhood youth. "As I understand it, Kelly the Cop only appeared one other time, and even the better one-page humor strips appearing in comics of the era were dopey and not always well thought out - Kelly the Cop was certainly not one of the better strips," Keatinge told CBR of the character. "In fact, one of the things that attracted me to the character was due to there being very little to him. It made it more fun to play around with, while still being true to the original comics."
Given the dearth of background material for Kelly the Cop, not to mention the strict page restrictions associated with the character, Keatinge was forced to think outside of the box for his "Next Issue Project" contribution - or, more accurately, outside of the panel. "Like the original Kelly the Cop strip, it's a one-pager, but it explores what happens between his appearances," said Keatinge. "The idea came about from his one appearance I read and getting almost obsessive about what this cop did in his spare time. While the plot and character development of the original strip was paper thin, I felt there was a lot going on between panels. So I decided to focus on that."
Ultimately, spinning successful stories out of relatively lackluster characters such as Kelly the Cop is one of the most satisfying components of "The Next Issue Project" for Larsen and his collaborators. "It's awesome when it works, and it's great to pump new life into something long dormant," said Larsen. "These were characters enjoyed by millions of readers and it's really rewarding to be able to bring them back."
"We've all heard about how great these books were, how the creators were blazing trails and inventing the comic book language," he continued. "But the promise of a Golden Age, where creators were making up the rules as they went along and going off in wild and wacky directions, was a lot more compelling than the reality of Golden Age comics, where bland characters faced blander villains in formulaic stories that did little more than fill pages in comics pumped out at a frantic pace. We're trying to realize the promise as opposed to duplicating the reality."
"The Next Issue Project: Silver Streak Comics" #24 goes on sale December 16, 2009, courtesy of Image Comics.