Wolfman Revisits Baron Winters & "Night Force"

Tue, March 6th, 2012 at 5:58am PST

Comic Books
Josie Campbell, Staff Writer

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Marv Wolfman, writer and creator of the 1982 DC Comics series "Night Force," returns to the dark and horrific world of Baron Winters along with artist Tom Mandrake as they bring readers a brand new seven-issue "Night Force" miniseries.

The original "Night Force" began in 1982 as a short-lived series written by Wolfman with art by Gene Colan. A stark departure from Wolfman's super hero work at the time, the story focused on the sorcerer Baron Winters who, from the depths of his expansive mansion Wintersgate Manor, gathered a team of strange characters to fight supernatural threats -- the titular Night Force. Past Night Force groups included Vanessa Van Helsing, granddaughter of the famous Dracula hunter, her husband Jack Gold, parapsychology professor Donovan Caine and ancient warrior Zadok Grimm. The original series ended after fourteen issues, and though it was revived in 1996 as part of DC's "Weirdoverse" titles, the second "Night Force" lasted just twelve issues before its end in 1997.

With DC releasing a trade paperback of the '80s "Night Force" in June and the new miniseries beginning March 7, Wolfman spoke with CBR News about this third version of "Night Force," Baron Winters, and the enduring legacy of the dark comic.

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CBR News: Let's start off with the most fundamental and basic question: what is the New "Night Force" miniseries about?

Marv Wolfman: Usually in "Night Force" stories Baron Winters assembles his cast and they become his Night Force to face the problem at hand. The idea is that each story features a different cast, which gives me the chance to explore new characters and to keep the concepts fresh. That happens here as well, but this time the Baron himself is a vital part of the story. And frankly, it could not have happened without him and his home, Wintersgate Manor. His story becomes as important as theirs.

Wolfman and Gene Colan told the initial "Night Force" tales in the early '80s before a short revival in the mid-'90s

As for this incarnation, it's a dark supernatural story that spans hundreds of years, from the seventeenth century until today. There is a personal story as we meet Zoe, a woman who not only doesn't remember giving birth to a daughter, but also doesn't remember ever being pregnant. It also features a Police Detective whose father, an FBI agent back in the '60s, had investigated Zoe's grandmother. We also meet a politician running for the Presidency who is not at all what he appears to be. Unfortunately for him, he also has no idea what he actually is.

The original "Night Force" debuted in 1982 -- what was the genesis of bringing the project back to DC as a miniseries now?

I always stated that "Night Force" may be my strongest creation and one I loved writing. I even had asked once about buying the idea back from DC, but the cost would have been prohibitive, at least for me. After two series I never thought I'd get a chance to do it again. But when Dan Didio, [Co-Publisher] of DC, called and asked if I'd be interested, I jumped at the chance.

How much background information do new readers need to know about the older iterations of "Night Force" to get into the new one?

None. If you know the old "Night Force" material some names mentioned will resonate with you. But even if you don't, you should be able to read it without any problem. I acknowledge the past but write in such a way that new readers will simply take it as part of the Baron's back story but presented for the first time. I want this read by new readers as well as older ones, but it has to work for first time readers in 2012, not just the fans of the 1980s or '90s versions. If I did that I'd be cutting off a good part of the potential readership.

Let's turn to the characters. To your mind how has Baron Winters changed from his original incarnation? Is the Baron in this "Night Force" miniseries still the same acerbic figure stuck in Wintersgate Manor fans have come to know?

The Baron is still as nasty and acerbic as ever, as unlikeable a character as ever, but I've given more of a "purpose" to Merlin than I had before. Much was hinted at but not nearly so clearly stated. We did give the Baron a bit of a cosmetic change but that was something I asked for. Tom Mandrake is drawing the book now and he's doing a magnificent job, but I wanted him to make it his so he wouldn't have to live in [original series artist] Gene Colan's shadow.

Will any of the old "Night Force" members appear alongside the brand new faces in the miniseries?

Donovan Caine makes an appearance as an expert in the subject matter, but the main featured stars are all brand-new. This is the kind of thing I was talking about when I said you didn't have to know the past to make these stories work. If you know Donovan, you have a complete back-story. If you don't, you are meeting someone for the first time and you learn everything you need to; you know he and the Baron don't get along. You know Donavan lost both an arm and a leg in service to him, but it's all revealed through character and not just in some "Previously in 'Night Force'" style. Someone wouldn't just give you his or her entire back story the first time you meet them. Here you learn everything you need to about Donavan but only the information that makes sense to give out in this story.

You've also mentioned that the bad guys in this are really four groups called the "Harvesters," "Gatherers," "Dormants" and "Nurses." What can you say about, or hint about, these villains?

They are all working together, but each one has a very specific chore to do in order for the supernatural plot to work. They are all individual cogs in the machine, so to speak. Other than that the names say what they do, but not how they fit in. For that you have to read the story.

Wolfman and Mandrake's new "Night Force" builds on the past but remains new reader-riendly

While the original series came out in 1982, in a lot of ways the subject and tone was ahead of its time and has a lot in common with the darker fare DC currently publishes. Do you feel the original "Night Force" was one of the comics that helped pave the way and open the door to darker, more serious fare in comics?

I know it did since several writers who pushed through the darker approach told me they liked "Night Force." Sadly, "Night Force" was several years ahead of its time and the readership (and the company) were not yet ready for that from the same guy who wrote "Teen Titans." They all forgot I had also written "Dracula" for Marvel. I love writing super-hero stuff but I also absolutely love writing horror. In fact, if you go back to my fanzine days you'll see I published several different fanzines. "Super Adventures" was a super-hero 'sine, "The Foob" was my comedy fanzine and "Stories of Suspense" was my horror 'sine. So I've always loved writing all different kinds of stories.

The problem was that by the time "Night Force" came out I was mostly known for "Titans" (which I also love, so it's not a put down). I think people were expecting another teen super-hero book. But I've never liked to keep doing the same thing only different.

Then how do you see "Night Force" as distinct from DC's other dark and horror-tinged comics like "Justice League Dark" or "Hellblazer?"

To me, "Night Force" is not in the DCU. It operates on its own terms. When you buy novels you don't assume every novel is connected. Maybe novels belonging to one series are, but Stephen King is not writing in the same universe as Michael Chabon or Charlene Harris. I want all "Night Force" stories to be on their own. As much as I absolutely love writing Superman, he isn't going to come down and save the Baron. I know the Baron has popped up elsewhere and I might have even thrown him into "Crisis [on Infinite Earths]," but "Night Force" stories operate with their own set of logics and assumptions. It allows a certain freedom one can't get when you have an overarching universe.

Let's end by talking about the art. What has it been like working with Tom Mandrake? Did you two talk a lot about Gene Cole's original designs and art coming into the project?

Tom is doing a great job. He's infusing it with a macabre darkness that I love. We did talk about Gene's designs and I was all for updating it. Gene was unique and Tom is unique and I believed he should be free to make the series his as Gene had done back in the '80s. I am extremely happy with what he's done and consider myself very lucky that my extremely good editor, Jim Chadwick, thought of approaching him.

"Night Force" issue #1 hits shelves March 7.

TAGS:  dc comics, night force, marv wolfman, tom mandrake, baron winters, gene colan

 
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