The End? Gerry Conway on The Last Days of Animal Man

Conway on The Last days of Animal Man

The Last days of Animal Man #1 cover by Brian Bolland, after himself

Gerry Conway has been called a "legend" in the industry, and after 15 years away from comics, the legend has returned.

In The Last Days of Animal Man, a six-issue mini-series beginning in May, Conway and penciler Chris Batista will tell a story set in the future of the DC Universe as an aging Animal Man begins to lose his powers.

Known best as the man who wrote the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man, Conway has spent the last two decades working on a variety of television on series such as Matlock and Law & Order. Now the writer's returning to comics to explore what it's like for a superhero to feel his powers going away with age -- while also giving readers a peek at some new characters in the future of the DCU. Newsarama talked to Conway to find out more about this mini-series, what got him interested in writing comics again, and why he chose a story about aging for his triumphant return.

Newsarama: You've been gone from comics for awhile, Gerry. Why return to comics now?

Gerry Conway: Well, I've been out of comics for, I guess, almost 20 years. It's been about 15 years since I actually wrote something, and closer to 20 since I had a regular series. Since then, I've been writing for film and television and enjoying that work, but finding myself kind of strained by the medium and by the process that one goes through, getting stories approved, getting scripts written and produced, and all the extraneous input.

Since then, I've been looking for something else I'd like to do. And I'd been reading comics more frequently recently, so I thought it would be interesting to try this out again.

NRAMA: You said you'd just recently been reading comics more frequently. What got you interested in reading comics again, just out of curiosity?

GC: Well, curiosity, to start. [laughs] Actually, I'll tell you what really prompted it was that two years ago, I was invited to a convention in Spain to receive an award for a mini-series I wrote called Cinder and Ashe. And apparently, they'd been looking for me for some time and hadn't been able to find me, so it was a somewhat belated award. But you know, it was better late than never.

So I went to this convention, and I ran into Geoff Johns, whom I'd never met. And he and I talked a bit, and he was apparently a fan of my stuff, which is always very flattering. So I started looking at what he was doing. I was curious about his writing and what was being done in comics in general.

NRAMA: About when was this? What was Geoff doing?

GC: I think he had just started making an impact with Hawkman.

NRAMA: Ah, so you've been reading for awhile. Were you reading Geoff's work with the team on 52 when Animal Man was in it?

GC: I actually read 52. I picked it up about midway through. I won't say I've been a fanatic about catching up. Most of what I've read by Geoff is Green Lantern and some of his Justice Society stuff, and now I'm reading his Superman work. And I've been reading other people's work. And it sort of resparked my interest in the field.

But you asked about 52, and you know, I did not pitch this as an Animal Man story, actually.

NRAMA: You pitched it as just a premise?

GC: Right. And the basic premise is that a character has had superpowers for many years and is now discovering that his powers are slowly disappearing. It's not that he wakes up one morning and suddenly doesn't have his powers. He's just not as capable as he used to be and his powers are slowly, slowly going away. And how does he deal with that?

This is something that was provoked somewhat by my own maturity, now that I'm in my 50s and looking at life from a different perspective. I'm thinking, well, what would be interesting to me? What would be interesting possibly to any reader? What is it like if you've always been Superman and slowly, you start to lose that?

So I came up with that notion, and I was talking to Joey Cavalieri, who's been in and out of touch with me, asking me if I had any ideas for comics. And I said, well, how about something like this? And I pitched him the basic premise. And I said, you know, I'd like it to be a hero we've known for awhile. I don't just want to pick someone at random and say, hey, how about if the Flash were to lose his powers?

NRAMA: Why did Animal Man end up being the right character for this?

GC: He's a character who's had a long enough history, and he has fans and some interest. And at the same time, he's not central to the DC Universe in the way that some of the other characters were. Then we came up with the idea to do this in the future so it would be more relevant to his age, rather than to some change that occurs for genetic reasons.

The reason I like Animal Man so much for this story is that Buddy is the average man. I've always been drawn to the ordinary hero. Peter Parker was an ordinary guy. Ronnie Raymond was an ordinary kid. Buddy is the mature version of that. I'm getting the chance to imagine what Ronnie Raymond would be like if he'd stuck around into his 50s. What would an average guy do? How would he deal with life? And Buddy was so perfect in that regard because he's not an extraordinary person. He's not super-smart or super-sophisticated. He has no special take on this whole thing. He's a father. He's a husband. He's an average guy in every single way -- except that he can take on the abilities of animals. And how does that change you? And what happens when you lose it? And what do you do for an encore?

We've basically broken the issues down to where the first five are the five stages of grief and how he responds to it. And the final issue is, what do you do for an encore?

NRAMA: With this being called "final days," are we going to see the end of Animal Man? Or is it more open-ended?

GC: Well, Animal Man will be gone at the end of this series. But will Buddy Baker be gone? That's a good question.

NRAMA: But surely he's running into a few other people who make this more than a story about a guy growing old, right?

GC: [laughs] Obviously. There's obviously conflict. There are some new villains that we're introducing who are looking to gain their place in the sun. And we're also extrapolating some interesting twists about the DC Universe in the future, some of which I'd like not to reveal because that's part of the surprise. But I can tell you we have a new Green Lantern who is not something you would expect. And we have some heroes who have taken on new roles in the future. And the United States of the future is somewhat different. We're not going 50 years into the future and doing the Dark Knight Returns. But it will be 15 years in the future, and things will hopefully have changed in 15 years. Hopefully we'll have seen some changes and some interesting variations.

And one thing I've found interesting about DC over the years is that the teams change and diverge. So we're going to do something about that too.

NRAMA: You mentioned some new villains. Can you tell us anything about them?

GC: Sure. We've got two. The first is a character called Blood Rage who draws his powers literally from drawing blood from other people, giving him super-strength. You could describe him as Id personified. The other character is a woman called Prismatik, and she is the illegitimate daughter of Evan McCulloch, the Mirror Master. So she has her own axe to grind, both as a person and against Buddy. Those are our two villains.

NRAMA: Did you do a lot of research on Animal Man? And will this series refer to his past?

GC: I read just about everything that has been published. I read Grant Morrison's series and read 52 again. I went back to the original series and the Carmine Infantino stories. He's been a bit of a patchwork over the years. Grant, in his series, sort of did a meta-version of a superhero comic, which is a comic book about a comic book. [laughs] And I don't know whether that was his intention as he started out or he just found that Buddy, as a character, was more interesting if he took a step back and examined the entire idea of superhero characters. But I did try to draw on the elements of those stories that were specifically reality-based, with quote marks around "reality." Not the issues where Buddy turns around and sees the reader, you know?

NRAMA: So you're keeping Buddy in his universe and not bringing him to ours.

GC: Exactly.

NRAMA: Since this is in the future, what's the visual style? Does this have any certain tone to it? Or is it just a straight-forward comic story?

GC: My hope is that Chris Batista is making it as much of an extrapolation of the present as possible. His visualization of the future should be interesting. I've seen some of his sketches of the characters, and they're wonderful. But I haven't seen pages yet. I've been writing it full script.

NRAMA: Is that a little different for you? Did you used to write full script?

GC: When I was at DC, I wrote full script for the most part. At Marvel I wrote "Marvel" style, but I wrote almost all my Justice Leagues full script. I went back and forth at DC, so my Firestorm work was done Marvel style, and most of my Batman was done full script. So it sort of went back and forth.

NRAMA: You've mentioned Ronnie Raymond more than once in this interview. Is there any chance we can get you to bring back Ronnie for your fans?

GC: I'd be willing! But it's not up to me. The powers that be have their own plan for that character, although I'm always happy to see what they're doing. I've been very tickled by the fact that so many of my characters have come back in the last few years in big ways.

NRAMA: After you come back to comics with this Animal Man story, is there anything else that you're working on that you want to tell people about?

GC: Not at the moment, but this is sort of like getting my feet wet, just coming back in the business to see how it's responded to. The reaction of the readers will tell me what the next step should be, so we'll see.

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