MANHUNTER Back-Ups Play Key, Secret Role in JOHNS' New JLA

 

In February, DC fans will get a new espionage series in the back-up features for Justice League of America, as writers Matt Kindt and Geoff Johns debut "Manhunter."

Focusing on Martian Manhunter, the stories will be central to what's happening in the main feature, according to Johns.

"Martian Manhunter is the biggest secret, I think," Johns told Newsarama earlier this week. "He's the biggest secret, I think for the JLA as a team, and within the DC Universe. He has more ties to more things in the DC Universe than you could ever imagine, and those are going to be explored heavily within JLA and also within the back-up series he has.

"The reason that Martian Manhunter is in the back-up is because of the role he'll be playing," he added. "Just like Shazam will play an integral role to Justice League as that continues on, Martian Manhunter is central to Justice League of America and the bigger DC Universe."

Featuring art by Scott Clark, the back-up features will be Kindt's first new work since his Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. series ended in cancelation earlier this month. An up-and-coming writer/artist on series like Dark Horse's MIND MGMT, Kindt began working on Frankenstein last year when Jeff Lemire left the book.

But the mystery/espionage feel of "Manhunter" is more in line with Kindt's indie work (he even admitted the book's spy-centered feel is "pretty much like everything I've done"). As the series launches on February 20th, Newsarama talked to Kindt about what he and Johns hope to do with Martian Manhunter in the New 52.

Newsarama: How did the opportunity come about to work with Geoff Johns on the Martian Manhunter back-up stories?

Matt Kindt: Well, my schedule got freed up when Frankenstein got canceled and I'd been bugging Geoff to work on something else after, and he had me in mind for this. He'd been liking the stuff I'd done in the past and currently (MIND MGMT), and that sort of vibe I have in my stories seemed to be a good fit for what he wanted to do with Martian Manhunter — it was a good fit for both of us.

Nrama: What interested you about the opportunity to write this character in particular?

Kindt: Well, I always say this but it's true, there isn't a bad or uninteresting character in the DCU. I'd write any of them. The very nature of super heroes and the DCU in particular lends itself to some crazy story ideas and storytelling. Martian Manhunter in particular though has his own interesting angles — he's basically Superman without the human up-bringing. So while Superman is technically an alien, he was raised human. Well, Manhunter wasn't. And he's got mind-powers so he's kind of automatically more powerful than Superman and he's got his own non-human agenda and desires which makes him kind of scary.

Nrama: How familiar were you with Martian Manhunter before you got this gig? How did you get to know the character more?

Kindt: I grew up reading JLA and the "funny" Justice League was some of my favorite of that era. A friend of mine sent me one of those big Martian Manhunter "essentials" reprints so I looked at that a little bit to get some sense of the older history of the character.

 

But honestly, we're doing something new with Manhunter, so he should "feel" the same as the classic character but true to the sense of what DC has been doing with all the 52 titles. It's going to be new. It's the equivalent of what you see in movies really, when they bring comic characters to the big screen you end up getting writers and directors that hadn't read comics all their lives or hadn't read comics for a long time so you come back to these characters and you're thinking rationally as an adult now — and how do these powers really work? You end up getting surprised, like when Magneto first used his powers to bend Wolverines claws and throw him around. I hadn't seen that before but it made perfect sense! You end up getting some new and fun ideas to characters you thought had been completely explored and tapped out.

Nrama: Are there any Martian Manhunter stories from the past that you feel like you're pulling from as you write this new story?

Kindt: Honestly, no. I think there's way too much of that in comics — those stories are out there. I'm approaching this like I've done every story I've ever written — much like I did with Super Spy and MIND MGMT: I read every spy novel and comic I could get my hands on — not to pull ideas from, but so I could see as much as I could of what's already been done so I don't repeat it.

So I'm not ignoring everything that's happened before, but, if anything, what we end up doing will either be, hopefully, be something new that will get people that loved the old character excited but also bring something new to it all.

Nrama: What did you feel were the best parts of Martian Manhunter that you and Geoff want to not only keep, but highlight in this New 52 version?

Kindt: I think his powers and his natural "alien-ness" are the core of his character so I don't think those will really change — but the way we think about his powers and they way he uses them, those are the things we're going to explore. I don't think his mind-power abilities have really been though out or explored as much as they should be, and we'll be taking care of that!

Nrama: How would you describe the overall character of Martian Manhunter as you're writing him?

Kindt: Mysterious! And scary.

Nrama: Is the new continuity about him working in Stormwatch still part of his history?

Kindt: Sure. I mean, that stuff just happened and it's part of the 52 launch so it'd be silly to me to get rid of that — not even sure we could if we wanted to. Well, I guess we can do anything as the creators, but I think it wouldn't be fair to readers and the writers of those stories to just trample on what they'd just done.

Nrama: What's the style of these stories? And how is it different from other stories we've seen you write (or, how is it the same)?

Kindt: I think the style will be more espionage/mystery in theme and feel. Which is pretty much like everything I've done. So imagine that — a super spy with all the powers and abilities of Martian Manhunter!

Nrama: What other DC characters play a part in the story? Can you tell us anything about their role?

Kindt: When talking with Geoff, one of the things I though was important was that his stories should be integral to what's going on in the main JLA storyline. Not just a disconnected back-up story but something that will add some more meaning and dimension to the main storyline while still working on its own. So that said, it will be a JLA-centric storyline.

Nrama: How were you challenged by the size of these stories, and how are you working within those parameters?

Kindt: A friend of mine, Brian Hurtt, once told me he thought the eight-page story — the typical length of an anthology or back-ups story — was the hardest thing to write. I don't necessarily agree. I've done a lot of them. They just have different rules and a smaller space to get a good story into.

 

But I love doing them. I've done a lot of short stories — my earlier book, Super Spy, was basically 300 pages worth of eight-page stories, so I think that format works really well.

Being able to do a series of them is even better. You get a satisfying bite-size story but it all fits into something bigger and being able to play off of what Geoff is doing in the main part of the issue is going to make them even more fun. We're building these JLA issues a little differently than the back-ups, or "co-features," are usually done. I'm not coming up with some independent storyline that's ignoring what he's doing. It's going to be like music really — beautiful music! He's playing the melody and the Martian Manhunter story is going to be the harmony.

Nrama: How do these stories tie into the Justice League book and the DC Universe?

Kindt: Secrets. Lots of spy-style secrets and behind-the-scenes shenanigans courtesy of everyone's favorite Martian!

Nrama: How has it been working with Geoff?

Kindt: Geoff is great. We're about the same age and we came to comics in completely different ways but we grew up reading the same stuff. So it was fun sort of meeting him and comparing our own "origin" stories and figuring out the kinds of stuff we both liked and what we wanted to do.

 

I come from a background of not having to ever collaborate if I don't want to, so finding someone like him who I just like as a person and having fun spit-balling ideas is great. He's making me realize that collaboration can be a good thing — and he makes me want to do more of it! It's a lot like it was hashing out ideas with Jeff Lemire. It makes me feel like I'm in high school again with my friends, sitting at the kitchen table and coming up with crazy super hero ideas.

Nrama: As long as we're talking, is there anything you want to tell fans about the end of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which just took place this month?

Kindt: I loved writing that book and I'm going to miss it. It was genuinely unlike anything I'd done before and honestly, was completely different than anything else on the shelf. It was a crazy book in all the best ways. I had big plans for those characters and would love to get back to them some day. There were some days where I was writing that script and just laughing — some of my favorite days making comics ever. It was so much fun. Honestly! My wife can attest to that. I would be giddy on Frankenstein script-days! Buy up the TPB enough and maybe they'll bring it back.

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