Completing the Red Circle: Talking to JMS

JMS on Completing the Red Circle

Red Circle: The Shield

Last week, DC Comics began revealing the designs and cover images for the upcoming J. Michael Straczynski Red Circle miniseries, which will introduce the Red Circle characters from Archie into the DC Universe. Last week we spoke with artist J.G. Jones, who has been working in conjunction with artist Jesus Saiz on redesigns of the classic characters.

The upcoming Red Circle miniseries brings the superheroes created by Archie Comics. The characters date all the way back to the 1940s with the flagship character the Shield, and they’ve appeared in various titles including a previous stint at DC under the “Impact” imprint. .”Red Circle” was the name of the imprint Archie used for the heroes, which is carried over as the title of this new miniseries.

But now, the Red Circle heroes join the expansive DC Universe in a miniseries that promises to revitalize the classic heroes in a modern world with contemporary designs and structure. Today we speak to the writer behind it all, J. Michael Straczynski, to get inside the Red Circle.

Newsarama: DC has gone on record to say that the main heroes for the Red Circle miniseries are the Shield, the Web, Inferno and Hangman. Would you say they’re a team, or it is just a collection of characters that have something in common?

J. Michael Straczynski: I'm doing something kind of unusual (big surprise there). It's almost the six-degrees-of-separation thing...we start with the origin of the Hangman in the first issue, and track that from start to finish, covering the period from the Civil War to the present, then the last page brings him into an event that sets up the origin of Inferno, which we explore in more detail in Inferno's book...the last page of which has brings him into an event that links it to the origin of the Web...and so on. They're linked by event and circumstance in a way that sets the foundation for further connections. To add to the kind of experimental nature of the book, the last page of each book will be drawn by the artist of the next book (so page 22 of the Hangman is drawn by the artist doing Inferno, and so on). The last page of the last book is drawn by artist of the first book, and brings us back to where we started. So in storytelling terms, we create a circle, which reinforces the Red Circle title.

On re-reading that paragraph, sometimes I think I think too much.

Red Circle: Inferno

NRAMA: No no, dear sir. Keep thinking and people will keep reading.

What do you think made this characters memorable enough to bring back?

JMS: Their visual style, their backstories (maintained here but transmuted a bit, as I did with The Twelve which is going to be finished now that Chris Weston and I are back on the same grid at the same time for a change), and there's a certain dynamic nature to going back to the mouth of the river, so to speak. There was a purity of purpose to the Golden Age characters and their brethren, and that comes across here.

NRAMA: This relaunch of the Red Circle characters has gone under quite an evolution publication-wise – from guest starring in Brave & The Bold to being in some one-shots and now they’re going to be debuting in their own new miniseries. What led to this change-up?

JMS: Initially, we'd planned to introduce these characters in the pages of Brave & The Bold, as you note. And I wrote a couple of issues doing just that...only to discover that I wasn't serving either master very well. The Brave & The Bold stories were being sublimated into the Red Circle origin stories, and the RC stories were being given short-shrift in order to fit in with a story that has to be centered around two major DC characters. Instead of doing one thing well, I was doing two things poorly, which is kind of a record for me, to suck in two directions at the same time. So I told DC to shred the scripts, don't even pay me for them, and to bill me for any artwork commissioned based on those scripts. That seemed fair since, after all, it was my responsibility to have seen that mistake before things got that far. I then checked with Dan, and said "why don't we take four of these characters and give them each a one-shot showing their origins, so we can spend the proper amount of time with them, and link them in a broader, almost existential sort of way?" Dan said yes, and we were off to the races.

NRAMA: It’s easy for people to draw some comparison between Red Circle and your work on the Marvel series The Twelve, with the common theme of revitalizing older characters that have been out of the public eye for some time. Do these projects scratch the same kind of itch for you as a writer?

Red Circle: Hangman

JMS: Well, generally speaking, I find a salve works better for that sort of thing, but in terms of revitalizing dormant characters, yeah, I get a kick out of it. That was also the impetus behind taking on Thor, a character who'd been off the grid for some time, and who had never really been a top seller in his own book. Since the relaunch, he's been in the top ten for every issue but one. Sometimes in the top five. And there's something profoundly satisfying about that.

NRAMA: Going back to the beginning – how’d you end up coming into writing the Red Circle characters for DC?

JMS: When I announced that I was no longer exclusive to Marvel, there were a lot of folks suddenly coming around and offering work. What I didn't want was to get into a situation where I'd have to be fighting continuity or Big Event Books. That, for me, was a lot of the problem I'd run into previously. You'd be working on a book, it would start to find its direction, then suddenly it's pulled off into this Big Event, and now the book you're writing isn't the book you're writing anymore. It's a subset of the Big Event. And sometimes that requires doing things to characters that may be counter-intuitive.

See, it's my view that a Big Event should be in service to the individual titles, not the other way around. In other words, the BE serves as something of a sampler platter for characters who you might not otherwise read. You read the BE, find Character X interesting, then go and check out his or her book. Now it seems like the tide flows the other way, with the titles bent in service to the Big Event in ways that may actually reduce accessibility to or interest in that character for new readers.

So to those who came along with work, I said "just keep me out of that stuff." Dan said he'd do that, and that's why I got B&B, which consists of stand-alones that aren't part of an event and which are kind of in and out of continuity, as well as the Red Circle books, which are again off on their own, and another project that I'm not at liberty to discuss right now, but which will also be kept clear of such things for a year or two.

For me, fundamentally, that was what made Thor as much of a success as it was. You didn't have to read ten thousand other books to follow what was going on in Thor. It was self-contained, self-sufficient and self-directing. And people responded to that in a big way, judging from the sales and the emails and the blogs. I mean, if you look at Thor objectively, the book had very little action, and in some issues the title character wasn't even there. But it worked, and it worked gangbusters.

Red Circle: Web

Of course, now that the Siege of Asgard Big Crossover Event is looming before me, I have to do some serious and hard thinking about the future.

NRAMA: That’s a talk for another time – but one we’ll surely get to. Turning back to Red Circle, we’ve got some die-hard Red Circle fans in our readership, so I’ve got to ask – will any of the other Red Circle characters or plot points be referenced in this miniseries?

JMS: We've got a few villains making cameos, and there may be some others as well. I'm still tweaking the final bits and pieces.

NRAMA: How are you approaching writing these characters for a modern audience without changing who the characters are to begin with?

JMS: In some cases, as with the Inferno, there wasn't a lot there to begin with, so I have a clean slate on which to play. In the case of the Shield, who has a more defined origin, it's a matter of updating it and adding elements of mystery to the story. So instead of working for the FBI as an agent before getting the powers of the Shield, I have him as a soldier in Iraq, and we play out a mystery that involves his father and the tech he invented to create the Shield.

NRAMA: Where are you at in terms of writing this miniseries?

JMS: Just about done, actually. We may do a second one a little bit further down the road to bring in four more Red Circle characters, and if so I'll likely write it. There's also some talk of giving some of the RC characters introduced in this first cycle their own miniseries and, potentially, full-scale series, which would likely be written by others.

NRAMA: And if it does well, would you sign up for a continuation of what you started in The Red Circle miniseries?

JMS: I serve at the pleasure of my editors. As long as they keep me the heck away from these freaking Big Crossover Events.

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