'Something Readers Can't Get Anywhere Else.' Busiek Details 'The Power Company'

Sat, August 25th, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

[The Power Company]And now for something completely different.

Well, maybe not completely different. Kurt Busiek has already

carved out a name for himself as a writer of superhero teams on

href="http://www.Marvel.com/" target="_blank">Marvel Comics' "The

Avengers," "The Thunderbolts" and "The Defenders." And if the Avengers are

the standard superhero team in the Marvel Universe, Busiek's begun to shake

them up somewhat in recent months. At the same time he's been the co-writer

of the company's "Defenders" revival, featuring an unlikely (and

uncooperative) team of heroes. But he set a current high water mark for

unusual superhero teams with "The Thunderbolts," which had perhaps the

biggest surprise in modern comics when it was revealed at the end of the

first issue that the new team was actually a group of masquerading

supervillains.

So let's just say it's different, and leave it at that.

For one thing, Busiek's new superhero book, "The Power Company," is

published by Marvel's Distinguished Competition,

href="http://www.DCComics.com/" target="_blank">DC Comics, a first for

him. Although the book was first announced several months ago, Busiek is

revealing details of the series for the first time this weekend at the

href="http://www.hobbystar.com/comicexpo/" target="_Blank">Canadian

National Comic Book Expo in Toronto. For those who couldn't attend,

Busiek also opened up series artist Tom Grummett's sketchbooks and talked

about the series in depth to CBR News.

"The Power Company' will premiere in a special 16-page bonus section in

the December-shipping issue of JLA," Busiek said on Thursday. "I think

that's #61. It'll have a 'cover,' a 14-page Power Company adventure to give

JLA readers (and anyone else interested) a free taste of what the series

will be like, with an intro on the team itself, a look at the character

dynamics and some plot teasers for what's to come, and I think the 16th

page will be showcasing the DCU 'event' that follows in January.

"In January, we're doing a DCU event, oddly enough -- and just to

reassure anyone who's crossovered out at this point, I assure you all it's

not a crossover. It won't intrude into any of your favorite series, it

won't be a 36-part extravaganza, and it won't set you back a bundle.

"What it will be is seven one-shots, coming out throughout January. Each

of the one-shots is written by me, with art by a crack team of specialists

chosen for their appropriateness for the one-shot they're drawing and for

general niftiness. Each will star one of the members of the Power Company,

and will feature them teaming up with, clashing with or otherwise crossing

paths with established DC super-stars or teams, as a way both of

introducing the team members and of establishing their place in the DCU.

The one-shots are set at various points in DC history, because while most

of the characters are new, we're planting some of them into established DC

history so that they can have been around for a while by the time the

series debuts. Each of the one-shots is self-contained, but all seven of

them taken together will form a pretty rich introduction to the Power

Company cast -- and will let me get to have fun writing some of my favorite

DC heroes, after 20 years in the industry mostly writing for Marvel and

others.

"I'll get to what's in the one-shots in a moment, but just to wrap up

the launch schedule ... in February, the regular 'Power Company' series

begins, and will be monthly thereafter.

"It's a real thrill to see this project becoming a reality -- not only

has it been a dream book of mine since I first came up with the concept in

1983, but we've been working on it for quite a while now, since seven

one-shots all by the same writer takes a good bit of extra schedule time.

I'm plotting #3 of the regular series now, but that's my 11th story

for this book, so I've been living with these guys for quite a while.

[The Power Company]"And to reiterate the concept -- it's a professional superhero team

organized along the principles of a law firm. They have partners,

associates, billable hours, pro bono work, support staff and more, and a

big part of the book will come from the fact that the members aren't all

there for the same reason. One might be out to do good and save lives,

while another wants to make as much money as possible, and a third wants

glory and fame, and a fourth just wants a good steady job ... the contrast

and clash that comes from the heroes' different motivations will make for

some pretty lively character drama."

Eighteen years is a long time for a concept to germinate, and "The Power

Company" has evolved in that time.

"Originally, it was just a group of professional superheroes, more like

private detectives with super-powers than the law firm structure it

became," Busiek told CBR News. "Also, the characters have been developed

over the years -- I started with a completely different set, and tinkered

and changed them and swapped characters out for other ideas until I wound

up with a team close to what we've actually got. And then it got

re-tailored some more for the DC Universe, as we found DC characters to

play roles, and braided other characters into DC history."

Why the wait, though? Surely Busiek could have found a receptive

audience at DC in the wake of his acclaimed "Astro City" and "Thunderbolts."

"I've been pretty busy since 'Thunderbolts' #1 -- and before it, for

that matter," Busiek told CBR News. "This wasn't something I could have

done the last few years, not with my schedule the way it's been. But when

[editor] Bob Schreck joined DC, I started talking to him, and thinking

about creating something at DC, and time and opportunity came together the

right way for the Power Company to finally happen."

In characteristic fashion, Busiek is digging in deep in the sandbox of

the DC Universe for the new series.

"The book is set in the heart of the DCU -- right from the start. Some

of the characters are pre-existing heroes, and some of the new heroes have

backgrounds that tie them in to DC history. We've got a mixture of both

new and established villains right from the start, and will be using DCU

concepts and settings as varied as STAR Labs, LexCorp, Dinosaur Island and

more. I've had a blast cruising around the DCU finding cool stuff to use,

whether it's stuff familiar to any DC reader or obscure stuff that'll be

virtually new to most of the audience. Plus, I keep making Peter Tomasi

nervous by threatening to use the Silver Twist ..."

To long-time readers of his work, Busiek is probably best-known for his

encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe, not the DC Universe.

"Oh, I hope I'm best known for my writing...! But no, I'm nowhere near

as familiar with DC history as I am with Marvel history, and I'm getting a

lot of help from people who are," Busiek told CBR News. "There's stuff I

know and love, and there's stuff I'm completely unfamiliar with, so I'm

having a great time getting to use characters I've liked for years -and-

getting to discover new things, and use them, too.

"But my using DC history is turning out very differently than my using

Marvel history. With Marvel history, I often picked up a character with a

long history and told 'the next chapter,' which some readers found

off-putting, because they weren't familiar with the history and even though

we recapped or reintroduced it, they didn't feel the same kind of

attachment. With 'Power Company,' I've got a new series, with new stories

to tell that start at ground zero, or close to it. And so when I go out to

find DCU characters to use beyond the ones in the main team, it's more in

the service of telling these new stories than in the service of continuing

existing storylines -- it's very much a fresh start, and the characters I'm

digging up and brushing off or borrowing or refurbishing or whatever are

playing a role in 'Power Company' stories, rather than the Power Company

being a stage on which they can play out their previous continuing dramas.

I don't know if that makes sense, but it feels far more to me like the

start of a brand-new thing than the continuation of something readers might

not be familiar with, and I think that'll make the stories feel more

accessible, more welcoming to readers not steeped in the history of it all.

In some ways, I feel like Stephen Bochco, bringing in Randolph Mantooth for

a role on 'L.A. Law' -- if the viewer remembers 'Emergency!,' it's nice to

see Mantooth again, but if they don't, it doesn't matter, since he's

playing a part on this new show, not reliving the old one.

"So on the one hand, I get to use characters with as rich and powerful a

backstory as Kobra or Manhunter -- but I can also dig up obscurities like

Carapax or the Mineral Master or the Underlord or some one-shot wonder from

1965, and they'll function like completely new characters; the reader

doesn't have to be familiar with them, doesn't have to know where they

appeared before. As long as they play an entertaining role in the story I'm

telling, it won't matter if they made an appearance in two issues of

'Detective Comics' back in 1973.

"To pick an example, Deadshot was a long-forgotten obscurity when

Englehart and Rogers picked him up, reworked him, gave him a new look and

reintroduced him in 'Detective.' Nobody needed to have read his first

appearance -- he came off as a fresh, exciting character in a new story.

And he went on to be a popular villain and a mainstay character in 'Suicide

Squad,' and it's hard to remember now that there was a time he was a

preexisting nobody that someone came along and salvaged.

"So we'll see some of that in 'Power Company,' but never so much that it

gets in the way of telling good, involving, forward-moving stories."

And if that doesn't establish Busiek's DC Comics fan bonafides, here's a

few of his favorite DC Comics over the years:

"What pulled me over to DC from Marvel was Steve Englehart's 'Justice

League' and 'Detective' and Cary Bates' 'Flash' and 'Superboy,'" Busiek

told CBR News. "Though as it happens, I don't actually plan to use anyone

from any of those runs. (But now that you mention it, there's

Sabre-Tooth...) I've also been a big fan of Mark Waid's 'Flash,' Len Wein

and Steve Englehart's 'Green Lantern,' Kirby's 'OMAC' and 'Kamandi,' Karl

Kesel and Tom Grummett's 'Superboy,' Chuck Dixon's 'Nightwing' and 'Birds

of Prey,' Paul Levitz's early ['Legion of Super-Heroes'] and 'All-Star'

comics, Evanier and Spiegle's 'Blackhawk,' Roy Thomas's 'All-Star

Squadron,' Mike Barr's 'Detective' and 'Batman & the Outsiders,' and lots

more stuff that isn't leaping to mind right now. Ostrander and Mandrake's

'Spectre.' Roger Stern and Kerry Gammill's 'Superman.' The Simonson run of

'Metal Men.' And more, more ..."

January's Power Company event looks like this:

"JOSIAH POWER -- the founder and managing partner of the Power Company,

he's a successful African-American lawyer who gained super-powers as a

result of the 'Invasion' crossover a few years back -- powers that wound up

ruining his legal career, and forcing him to find something else to do with

his life. The one-shot takes place shortly after the 'Invasion' crossover

ended, and features Superman and the then-current Justice League, along

with Power himself. The art will be by Keith Giffen (the writer of the new

'Suicide Squad' series, the architect of 'Invasion' in the first place, and

the longtime plotter/layout artist of 'Justice League') and Al Milgrom

(noted inker of just about everything at Marvel, and co-creator of

Firestorm, who'll pop up in a cameo at least, just for Al ...)."

"WITCHFIRE -- a media celebrity par excellence, she's a famous singer,

model, actress in generally-awful movies and even a daredevil

stunt-cyclist. If it gets her name in the news, she's usually up for it.

She also dabbles in the occult, which has given her some powerful (and

dangerous) mystic abilities. Her one-shot is set back around the time of

the early days of the current 'Wonder Woman' series, back when George Pérez

was writing and drawing it, and guest-stars ... Wonder Woman! The art is

by Matt Haley (of 'Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl,' 'Tangent:

The Joker' and more) and Karl Kesel (inker extraordinaire and writer of

'Harley Quinn').

[Skyrocket]"SKYROCKET -- the team's most dedicated hero, she's an intensely

patriotic African-American woman and an ex-Navy aviator who uses a hi-tech

power harness, capable of transforming energy from one form to another --

heat to light, electric to kinetic, etc. -- as the local superhero of St.

Louis. She's been around in the DCU for a while, though she's been mostly a

regional hero and hasn't turned up for any of the big crossovers (or if she

has, she wasn't front and center, and missed her exploits being chronicled

in the published books). Her one-shot takes place at the time of her

origin, about seven years ago DCU time, and features Hal Jordan as Green

Lantern, at the height of his heroism and fame. It's drawn by classic

'Green Lantern' artist Joe Staton, inked by Christian Alamy, who inked the

recent 'Enemy Ace: War in Heaven.'

[Manhunter]"MANHUNTER -- he's Manhunter. Exactly what that means, who he is, where

he comes from and what relationship he has to Paul Kirk, still the

best-known of DC's many Manhunters and the last to wear this costume, we're

not saying. People will have to read the book to find out. But we will say

this much -- when we came up with the idea, we ran it past Walt Simonson,

to make sure we weren't doing anything with the Manhunter legacy that he

wouldn't object to, and he gave us his blessing. His one-shot is set in

Africa, and begins during the events of the classic Goodwin/Simonson

Manhunter epic, and ends about two years ago (DCU time), with a

meeting/clash between Manhunter and Nightwing. Art for the one-shot is by

Dan Jurgens ('Superman,' 'Zero Hour,' 'Captain America' and many more) and

ace inker Bob Layton ('Iron Man,' 'Avengers,' 'Captain America')."

Beyond talking to Simonson about the idea, Busiek didn't run the concept

past any other previous Manhunter creators.

"Not really," Busiek told CBR News. "For the most part, the other

Manhunters have been either something new or reworkings and updatings of

the Kirby Manhunter, and it'd be hard to say that John Ostrander should

have more say than Steve Englehart, or whomever; they were already building

on what Jack created. But what Archie and Walt did was some serious kind

of magic -- a character that amounts to something almost totally new, even

though they built in a connection to the Golden Age Manhunter -- and has

resulted in a legacy that's endured and won enormous respect, something

that seems to require more than just careful handling, but should be left

alone if the people who had that original vision don't approve of what

might be done. Paul Kirk seems to have become, along with Barry Allen, one

of the departed saints of the DCU, while Mark Shaw (and perhaps even Chase

Lawler) has devoted fans but not quite the same majesty. Archie, sadly,

isn't around to give his opinion, but Walt is -- and when I first called

Walt, I said, 'Look, I have this idea, but if you don't like it or don't

want it done, I'll do something else.' He pointed out that DC owns

Manhunter, and doesn't need his permission, but I said that wasn't what was

important. Just like I wouldn't do anything with Mantis or Howard the Duck

over at Marvel without Englehart or Gerber's blessing, I'd rather not touch

the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter legacy if Walt wasn't going to like it. And

the idea I had was ... well, it's different. To my delight, Walt

thought it over for a week, then made one small request and said go ahead.

"But I felt like, if I was going to work that territory at all, I had to

go to the godfather first and get his permission. A cheerful, bearded,

Scandinavian godfather, to be sure, but still ..."

Predictably, fans have gone nuts over the news that Manhunter -- one

dressed in a costume like the Paul Kirk Manhunter once wore -- will be in

the series. But Busiek and Grummett aren't worried the character will

overshadow the rest of the book.

"No," Busiek told CBR News. "Tom and I know how he fits in, and we're

confident he'll be a good addition to the ensemble. It seems he'll bring a

lot of fan interest (and dread) to the book, but I think those fans who

come to the book to see what we're doing with the Manhunter legacy will

stick around and become interested

in the rest of the cast."

Busiek's the kind of writer who puts every character into a book for a

reason, and Manhunter's no exception. Of course, Busiek's also the kind of

writer who keeps the really big surprises to himself.

"That's something readers will have to discover in the book itself. Not how most people would think -- I'll say that much."

[Striker]"STRIKER Z -- a former Hong Kong action-movie stuntman who accidentally

gained super-powers, he's now an up-and-coming twenty-something superhero

with an agent, a PR rep, and only the vaguest idea of what he wants to do

with his 'career.' He's a living battery, generating astounding internal

energies that he uses to power various clip-on gadgets, from a 'flight

jacket' to blast cannons, force-field generators and more. He's got a good

heart and means well, but he's easily tempted by fame and fortune, and just

who he'll ultimately be is up in the air. His one-shot is set in Hong

Kong, after the handover from the British to the Chinese and amid the

turmoil of the HK film industry of the time. It guest-stars Superboy, back

in the days he was based out of Hawaii, and features art by Ramon Bachs and

Raul Fernandez, relatively new artists who've done sterling work on 'Star

Wars' projects for Dark

Horse, and on the 'Joker/Mask' crossover.

"BORK -- our other pre-existing DCU character, along with Manhunter, is

Bork, who has only appeared once before, in a well-remember Neal

Adams-drawn 'Brave & Bold' Batman & Flash team-up called '...But Bork Can Hurt You!' He was an

invulnerable merchant seaman and dock-walloper who set out to become the

king of the Gotham docks, but all he got for his trouble is a sore jaw and

a long jail sentence. The power that gave him his invulnerability is still

within him, though, and he's mutated during his jail term, becoming a

massive, super-strong man-monster. His one-shot is set during the years

between his defeat and his ultimate release from prison, during a breakout

that brings him face to face with Batman and the Barry Allen Flash again,

and gives him reason to rethink his entire life. Art is by Kieron Dwyer

('Superman: The Dark Side,' 'Action Comics' and an upcoming 'Avengers' run)

with the able aid of his studio-mate Rick Remender.

[Sapphire]
 
All character colors by by Alex Sinclair. Colors are not final. Power Company logo by John Roshell/Comicraft.

"SAPPHIRE -- a teenage runaway trying to survive, who managed to get

bonded to a super-weapon -- an artificial gem she can manipulate mentally,

forming it into skintight body armor, shields, weapons and more.

Unfortunately, before she was bonded to it, the gem belonged to Kobra, one

of the DCU's most dangerous villains -- and he wants it back, and the thief

who stole it from him dead. Just by waking up each morning and drawing

breath, she's on a collision course with Kobra, and he'll go through the

entire Power Company if he has to to get his revenge. Her one-shot is set

shortly before the 'Power Company' series begins (and after the recent

Kobra epic in 'Robin'), and features not only Kobra but the present-day

JLA. The art is by Mark Bagley ('Ultimate Spider-Man,' 'Thunderbolts') and

Mark Farmer ('Avengers,' 'JLA: The Nail,' 'Incredible Hulk' and many more)."

Some of the artists Busiek is collaborating with are fairly big names,

bigger than sometimes do these sorts of projects.

"We just figured out who we thought would do the best job and started

making phone calls," Busiek told CBR News. "I made most of the suggestions,

and I was delighted to find out how many people out there seem receptive to

the idea of working with me, and liked the characters and the concepts. So

we wound up with a terrific group of artists, and I couldn't be happier.

"I'm hoping we can do more with them, if the Power Company members get

solo stories or specials or whatever ...

"After the one-shots, the regular series will pick up with the formation

of the team, a clash with Dr. Cyber, a mysterious menace from beyond our

reality and a full-press 'grand opening' of the company that'll build to a

major threat to all life on Earth, with only the Power Company between

humanity and total disaster. And then we do some more stuff!

"Because the Power Company is a firm rather than a team, they won't

regularly all go on the same missions -- we can use the whole roster as

needed (and will be, in the opening and climax of the first arc), but can

also tell stories of solo missions, two- or three-man jobs, and even

multiple assignments at once, as the Company faces danger around the world.

"The series is based in San Francisco, but will range around the globe

and beyond, from outer space to the future to other dimensions ... anywhere

that'll give the heroes of the Company a challenge and a grand adventure."

In addition to their unorthodox structure, the Power Company is also the

least white superhero team published by a major publisher today. Busiek

said he didn't set out to create a more diverse team.

"Just a matter of how the characters developed," Busiek told CBR News.

"Skyrocket was a black woman right from the start, and somewhere in the

process of developing him, Josiah Power seemed to work well as a black man.

Striker Z was a white kid for a long time, but as I started working out his

origin and backstory, it just seemed like it would add an interesting

context to have him come out of the Hong Kong action-movie field -- and

once I fastened on that, it made sense for him to be Chinese.

"So I didn't set out to make the team ethnically diverse, but I can't

say I resisted it for a second when it started happening. I think a large

part of the reason superheroes are so overwhelmingly white and male is that

so many of them were created when white and male was the default setting,

and they've been around ever since. Well, there's no reason for that to be

the default any more, so why do it? The Power Company are mostly new

characters (and indeed, the only two white men on the team are the

pre-existing ones), so they should reflect the world and the culture in

which they were created, rather than conforming to expectations built up in

previous decades."

For a guy whose love of comics throughout the decades is well-known,

Busiek is building up something of a track record for convention-busting

superhero teams. That's the sort of thinking that usually marks a creator

who's discontented with superhero comic norms. That description doesn't

apply to Busiek in this case, though.

"No discontent, not really -- merely a recognition that every series has

to have something unique, something that sets it apart from the other stuff

out there," Busiek told CBR News. "The [Fantastic Four] are a family. The

X-Men are (or at least were) a school. The Metal Men are robots, the Doom

Patrol are freaks. And we already have a JLA and an Avengers, so those

slots are taken. The Thunderbolts were something else because we need books

with their own identity, not books that are offering something you can

already get elsewhere. The Power Company are another idea. If they

weren't, then they wouldn't have a reason to exist -- we already have

classic-styled super-teams, and they're doing just fine.

"We'll be offering something else, something readers can't get anywhere else. I think all books should do that."

CBR News

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