Cover to Secret Six #15
JOHN OSTRANDER TO WRITE SECRET SIX
Hello again, everyone!
For a couple weeks, I’ve been teasing that something really fun was going to happen in Secret Six #15, and somehow, I’ve managed to keep my big yap shut about exactly what that thing IS until now. Well, it’s time to reveal it, something I’m genuinely thrilled about…industry legend John Ostrander is writing a special return to the character he made awesome in the first place, DEADSHOT, in Secret Six #15!
More news about that and a special interview (special for me, anyway, John’s one of my heroes), below, where we discuss Floyd Lawton, the Secret Six, and John’s other work in more detail. It was a pleasure speaking with John, as always, and I can’t wait for people to read his issue. More in a bit, after a quick update.
JOHN OSTRANDER BENEFIT UPDATE:
As many Newsarama readers already know, John Ostrander has been struggling with glaucoma for some time now. He has expensive health insurance, but it did not cover the full cost of the surgeries needed to keep his vision, nor the related and devastating expenses involved. Two of John’s best friends, Mike Gold and Adriane Nash, have organized an art auction in association with the good folks at Wizard Entertainment, to raise money to help John with these past bills and the likely further operation he will have to have. Every dime goes straight to John’s medical expenses, and John has asked that any money raised over his bills goes directly to the Hero Initiative, to help other creators in need of a helping hand.
There is a website for this great cause, Comix 4 Sight, and they will also be maintaining a booth at the Chicago Comicon this very week. I wrote an article about what a tremendous response we have received here at Newsarama, which you can read by clicking here.
The response from the industry has been nothing short of remarkable. Aside from the incredible list of artists who have already donated, every day I get confirmation from more artists who want to help. As if the names already involved weren’t enough (Mack, Aragones, Chadwick, Lee, Quesada, Wagner, Adams, Sakai, Manapul, Roux, Scott, Dodson, Lopresti, Tucci, Moore, Kubert, Udon Studios, Lieber, Noto, Campbell, on and on and on), we’re still adding pieces every day from artists like Rags Morales and Drew Geraci, a Batman painting by Scott Morse, Colleen Coover, Alvin Lee, Groening, Morrison, Gene Ha, Joe Linsner, Eva Hopkins, Freddie E Williams II…again, I can’t even list them all right now).
I think it’s just an astounding reflection on the industry’s generosity. Collectors donated cherished pieces, readers sent cash and rare collectibles. Neil Gaiman signed an artist’s proof of the Miracle Man statue. Geoff Johns donated both a George Perez GL sketch and a considerable sum of cash, joining other greats like Kevin Smith and David Lloyd (David Lloyd who ALSO donated two pages of amazing art). It sounds almost like a laundry list, but each of these people donated to what is shaping up to be one of the all-time greatest comic art auctions. One of the most amazing pieces came from James Owen, who has donated or sold less than two dozen pieces of his beautiful original art in his entire career, but he still donated a gorgeous page for this good cause.
It’s breath-taking. Take a moment and check out the galleries at Comix 4 Sight (a small sample of which are also shown here). Those are just SOME of the pieces that have been donated thus far!
It’s also a reflection on the affection and regard people have for John Ostrander. In the few weeks of trying to raise donations, I couldn’t find a single person with a bad word to say about him. Over and over, I’d speak with artists who had worked with him, or who were inspired by him. It’s been very emotional for everyone concerned. I spoke with John by phone over the weekend and by email yesterday, and he again expressed that he was incredibly grateful and humbled by the response of pros and readers alike. I think he honestly had no idea how highly regarded he is in this industry. On behalf of John and the people at Comix 4 Sight, I cannot thank you all enough. It won’t be forgotten.
We are still accepting donations of both art and cash, in a couple different ways. First, Comix 4 Sight will have a booth at Chicago Comicon starting tonight, at Preview Night. Donations can be dropped right there, and every little bit is appreciated. Details for donations for those who can’t make it to the convention are again at Comix 4 Sight. If you haven’t donated yet, please take a moment to help John and other favorite creators like him.
I don’t care what anyone says, this industry has HEART.
Enough about that, let’s talk about John’s work.
If you’re not familiar with John’s work, you’re missing a treat. John created the GRIMJACK book, one of the keystones of the independent comics movement. He did character- defining runs on the Spectre, Manhunter, Hawkman, Firestorm, and a dozen other characters for all major companies. He wrote my personal favorite horror comic, WASTELAND, with improve legend Del Close. And most importantly to this article, he created what is likely the best superhero/villain espionage book of all time, the one against all others are judged, SUICIDE SQUAD.
His impact is enormous. An entire wave of writers, including myself, Greg Rucka, Christos Gage, and Geoff Johns, learned how to write morally twisty characters at least partially from John long before any of us had ever met him. During this push for donations, I have again and again heard that John’s work is a big reason for a lot of new creators to even be in this industry at all, and I’ve gotten to hear everyone from Geoff Johns to Patton Oswalt rave about John’s unique voice.
Christos Gage put it very well in a recent email about John: “I broke into comics by pitching Dan DiDio a Deadshot miniseries that was inspired by John Ostrander's take on the character. (A lot of people think John created Deadshot, but he didn't--he just made him awesome.) So you could say John Ostrander is the reason I'm in comics--but don't hold that against him. My first exposure to John's work was his brilliant run on Suicide Squad, which influences everything I do. He showed me that a good writer can take characters conbsidered B-list or worse and make them more interesting than the A-listers...if you have the chops. I'm still trying every day to come close to John's work. I doubt I'll succeed. There's only one John Ostrander...and he's as good as he ever was. He could use a hand with some medical bills now, so if you've ever derived any enjoyment from his work--and if you like my work, or Gail's, or Geoff Johns', or that of a slew of other creators who came after him, you have, even if you've never read one of John's books--please consider helping out in any way you can. I know times are tough, but that's when it counts the most.”
When I first wrote Villains United, I was eager to have my chance to write one of the coolest characters in the DCU, Deadshot. I knew full well, like a lot of writers before me, that John was THE Deadshot writer, and I knew if I had the chance, I would do whatever I could to see him write the character again, even if it makes my version look horrid in comparison. In issue fifteen, we get to see John prove once again that HIS Deadshot is THE Deadshot.
GAIL SIMONE: What made you choose Deadshot, a character you refined and re-invented, as the subject for this story?
JOHN OSTRANDER: I’ve been wanting to re-look at his origin, to update and re-tell it since we (Kim Yale and I) redefined the character in the SUICIDE SQUAD and his first miniseries. Bring it more up to date and maybe throw a few new wrinkles into the guy.
GS: Well, let’s be honest, I think every writer who has done a half-decent job with the character is essentially writing your version of it. Mine varies a LITTLE bit, because his motivation for staying with the Six is different from his motivation for staying with the Squad. But yeah, Ostrander and Deadshot is one of those creator/character combinations that you can't improve on, the best you can hope to do is not embarrass yourself trying. But if I may, what is it about Floyd that you think makes him so fascinating?
JO: I think it’s his detachment. It makes him cool but also makes him dangerous. Yes, he’s willing to shoot you. He’s also willing to die. That’s not to say that he’s a sociopath. He DOES have feelings but he is DETACHED from them. It’s his survival mechanism. He had a terrible childhood and he wound up accidentally killing his own brother, whom he loved. How does he cope? He detaches from his feelings about it. It’s e-enforced by he fact that every time he DOES admit a feeling for someone or something, he gets hurt again. And I think it’s on that level that we CAN relate to him and why readers do – we’ve all had that sort of feeling at some time or another. Not to Lawton’s extent but to some degree. We relate and we identify. And the fact that he’s so cool at other times helps as well.
GS: Yeah, I’ve often said what makes the character fun for me is that he doesn’t care which end of the gun he’s facing. But speaking of multiple writers, I sometimes find it's hard to read other writers' versions of characters after I've worked with them for a long time. It's nothing against the writers or the work they do, it's just like seeing someone else dance with your ex-spouse. Had you been familiar at all with the Secret Six books, and were you aware of the obvious Suicide Squad connections?
JO: Oh yeah. I like it a lot. My basic feeling is that I had a free hand to do with the characters like DEADSHOT what I wanted and others should have the same right. It’s nice to see what I did incorporated into somebody else’s version but, unless I own the character, I always assume somebody else will write it the way THEY want. Especially if I’ve done my job right! I’ve always tried to get to the essence of the characters, as I saw it. I think that the only thing I ask is that while I’m working in a character that, if somebody else uses it in another book, they stay consistent to what we’re doing. Other than that – if DC owns the character, for example, they can do what they want. I’m just happy to have had a shot at playing with the character as I wanted.
GS: I'm just glad you haven't shot me. One benefit I had with Deadshot and Bane and even Harley Quinn's brief appearance was the ability to talk to the people who made those characters great. So again, thank you for the support. But Deadshot's still your guy. I told Dan DiDio that if a Suicide Squad book ever made the line-up again, I would find a way to remove Floyd from the Six immediately, not out of professional courtesy, I just want to read more Ostrander Deadshot.
JO: Well, thanks, Gail. But he IS your character right now and you have things to bring to him that only you can because only you are Gail Simone. Writing a franchise character is like running a relay race; you take the baton as far as you can but then you pass it on and root for the next one to go as far and fast as they can. I respect Steve Engleheart a lot as a writer but, when I started writing Deadshot, I wasn’t writing HIS Deadshot; I wrote mine. What you’re doing with the relationship between Deadshot and Catman is all your own and very important in the development of the character. I want to read more Gail Simone Deadshot!
GS: That just proves that you might be nuts. But while we’re at it, one of my dream projects is to do either a mini, or a story arc with the Six vs. the Squad, like the old-fashioned DC vs. Marvel crossovers, where both teams are given equal spotlight. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but...okay, yes, I do mean to put you on the spot. Would you consider working on something like that?
JO: Oh, in a heartbeat! Are you kidding me? How much fun would that be?
GS: How much fun indeed! Just to see what the Wall would have to say to Ragdoll, it'd be worth it.
JO: And she and Flag have to answer to Deadshot for what Flag did during SALVATION RUN. Oooh, that could get tense!
GS: I can see we have to harass the powers that be to make this happen. Do you have a proudest moment or most memorable moment from your Suicide Squad run?
JO: Oh, there were plenty. I remember the first time the Squad went to Russia – I think it was our second major storyline – and it all went into the toilet for the Squad. But perhaps the biggest story I think we told was when we killed off Rick Flag (even though he got better later). That put the readers on notice – nobody was safe. When we shot Amanda Waller at one point, the readers took that seriously because we had already killed Rick Flag.
GS: Those stories really stick in my head, and in a lot of readers’ heads, even all this time later. In a way, your comics foretold the current state of superhero storytelling. I remember quite clearly being shocked at some of the concepts in your comics, most of which were told under the full flower of the Comics Code Authority. Do you feel at all responsible for the general darkening of the DC and Marvel universes?
JO: Actually, I blame Dennis O’Neil who influenced ME. Denny, especially with his Green Lantern/Green Arrow series, really showed how you could work modern tropes into the superhero genre – deal with actual issues. He did it again with THE QUESTION.
GS: Another great writer, absolutely, but I think you're not giving your influence nearly enough credit, John. On another note, if someone isn't familiar with your classic work, do you have a couple recommendations for them to try, and why you think they might enjoy them?
JO: Hmmm. Let’s see. I’d start with GRIMJACK because that is probably the cornerstone of my comic book writing career. GrimJack was “grim and gritty” before it was fashionable to be so. We pre-dated Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. (For clarity’s sake, I’m not saying GJ influenced Mr. Miller at all; I have no idea if he even knew about it. Just stating what I believe is a fact – we came out before TDKR did. Although I could be wrong.) GrimJack still works today. Tim Truman – my artist and partner in crime on GJ – and I were trying all sorts of things. We did a western, we did time travel, we did noir detective, fantasy, SciFi. And lots and lots of dark humor along with lots of violence.
THE SPECTRE. I had lots of people tell me that you couldn’t write a continuing series about the Spectre because he was just too danged powerful. You’d either have to water him down or mess with it some other way. Tom Mandrake (my artistic partner in crime on this one) and I felt we knew how to make it work. The key was the Spectre’s HUMAN host, Jim Corrigan. He was a hard nosed plainclothes detective back in the Thirties; I re-read some of the EARLY Dick Tracy strips to get a feel for that type of character, as well as old movies. And then we also worked in some theological notions of God, sin, punishment, redemption and so on along with some really eye-popping visuals. And we were allowed to end the run the way we wanted which made the whole run into one narrative. I’m very grateful for that and very proud of what we did.
WASTELAND. A really twisted horror anthology that Mike Gold (our editor) wanted me to do along with Del Close (the teacher and director at Second City for decades who had also written some MINDEN’S BAR stories in the back of GrimJack – which are also worth looking up; some people used to tell me that they actually bought GJ for the MUNDEN’S BAR stories. I didn’t mind so long as they bought the book.) I cut my comic book writing teeth on the eight page form and it’s a great discipline. WASTELAND wasn’t your usual comic book horror comic, which owed a lot to CREEPY and EERIE and so on. Those were great stories, don’t get me wrong, but we wanted to break away from that. We were more interested in PSYCHOLOGICAL horror. Take you into a dark place inside yourself and then LEAVE you there. We also used a lot of humor as well; Mike used to call it “black hole humor” in that sometimes the humor was SO dark very few laughs emerged from its event horizon.
The story that defines the run? “Dissecting Mister Fleming”, IMO. >>>>>> That was one of my favorite books ever. I really felt you guys had reinvented the horror comic, and very few books have touched it, since. A cult classic that should be read again and again! Thanks. I have a few WASTELAND type stories in me again, I think, but that was a VERY demanding book to write. Outside of THE DEAD DETECTIVE and Del’s autobiographical bits, there were no continuing characters or settings. Every eight pages it was a new concept, a new setting, a new protagonist. And we worked on not repeating ourselves or falling into a formula. Hard work.
MARTIAN MANHUNTER. Tom and I followed up our run on SPECTRE with a take on J’Onn J’Onzz. The Martian Manhunter. While THE SPECTRE had a flow through narrative line, Martian Manhunter was different. I wanted to define him as something other than the green version of Superman. He was TRULY alien in a way that Clark Kent wasn’t; J’Onn came to earth as an adult, completely formed with values from his own society. We wanted to explore and define that society. Some people said it was a very SciFi book and I think it was.
THE KENTS. My historical western detailing how the Kents, Superman’s adoptive family, came to be in Kansas and how the values that made Clark who he was came to be part of the family system. My essential take was that Superman’s POWERS came from Krypton but the things that truly made him SUPERMAN, made him hero, were the values that he learned in Kansas. It’s really an epic, going from pre-Civil War to the cow towns in the 1870s. I managed to work a lot of actual history into the story and I’m very proud of it.
And if someone tries THE KENTS and likes it, I’d also recommend BLAZE OF GLORY and APACHE SKIES, the two westerns I did at Marvel. More “Movie westerns” than “historical westerns” but I think they’re great reads as well.
SUICIDE SQUAD, of course. Espionage, villains being REALLY bad but in (forced) service to their country and Amanda Waller. There was nobody like The Wall before I created her for the Squad and I don’t think there’s been anyone like her since. And, of course, this is where Barbara Gordon first turned up as ORACLE who you’ve used so well in BIRDS OF PREY. And, of course, DEADSHOT who we’ve already talked about.
Boy, I’m going on at great length here. I know I’m leaving out books that others love a lot but I think I’ll stop here. As folks can see, I’ve deforested small sections of the planet with my output. Yes, you can blame climate change in part on me.
GS: That is an Inconvenient Truth. What else are you working on now, and do you have a dream project at DC or Marvel that you'd most like to do so that I can pester Dan and Joe and whine endlessly until it happens?
JO:STAR WARS LEGACY is my current book done with my artistic partner-in-crime, Jan Duursema. We drop kicked the SW Universe about a hundred years or so down the timeline, created a new Skywalker, a new Empire, new Sith (a LOT of them), and lots of twists and turns. Even if all you know are the movies, you can pick up the first trade paper back – BROKEN – and everything you need to know will be in there.
One of things that we wanted to do was to create a Star Wars where you DIDN’T know how it was going to end. OUR Skywalker, Cade, Luke’s descendent, is NOT a role model – he’s a rogue, a smuggler, a former pirate a bounty hunter, and he DOESN’T want to save the galaxy. I’m real proud of this series. And of our former work together on STAR WARS – STAR WARS REPUBLIC.
Jan and I have been doing Star Wars now for about ten years and I think we know how to deliver a real Star Wars feeling story that also takes you to new places.
GS: Yeah, I have to say, holy mackerel, the fans of your Star Wars comics are hardcore. I sat at the table next to you at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, a few weeks ago, and it was insane how dedicated those people were. I think it's a big comics success that a lot of the superhero readers don't know about. But the books look fantastic and really pack a big punch.
JO: Thanks. It really does have everything I think a good action orientated comic should have – great characters, intense plots, twists, political intrigue, humor, action, great art – but a lot of folks won’t touch it because they perceive it as a STAR WARS book and because it’s a license it must be inferior. I’ve actually had MORE freedom doing SW than some franchise characters. I tell you one of the fun things is getting copies of the books translated into other languages. I’ve got a tpb copy of one translated into, I think, Polish. It really HAS traveled world wide.
And, yes, the fans ARE hardcore. Metropolis is NOTHING compared to going to STAR WARS CELEBRATION IV. It’s amazing. Especially the fans who get into costume. Your head explodes when you see your characters walking around in front of you “in the flesh”, as it were. You had that experience at Metropolis, as I recall.
I also have to do a special shout-out to my buds in the Memphis Star Wars Fan Force. We met online, they took good care of me at a Memphis Con earlier this year and then again at Metropolis. Great folks. I love the fans.
As for dream projects or things I’d like to do... I have some original projects that I’d like to get up and going and there’s some possibilities there. I think that’s important and I haven’t always balanced that well in my writing career.
At DC, in terms of dream projects...I’ve always wanted to do a follow-up to THE KENTS. And I’d love to do another DEADSHOT miniseries – I’ve got some ideas on that. Of course, I always love writing SUICIDE SQUAD.
As for something I haven’t done before – I’ve always loved the title CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN. That’s just one of the great title in comics. I’d love a shot at modernizing THE BLACKHAWKS. Believe it or not, I’ve done some individual issues on AQUAMAN and I think I have some ideas that would make him really interesting.
At Marvel, I’d like to do a BLACK KNIGHT series. Or another western.
I always love writing BATMAN but these days, for some reason, I’m really drawn to SUPERMAN. Maybe it’s a result of THE KENTS. Of course, those books have really top-notch people on them right now. Grant Morrison did an absolutely killer run on ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. I don’t think I could touch that. There’s a LOT of great talent out there right now – folks like YOU, for example -- and I want to read what THEY’RE doing.
GS: You are too nice. I appreciate it, but really, I just want my Ostrander fix, like a lot of us do. So get to it, mister!
JO: Yes, Ma’am!
Donations and more information about the benefit for John Ostrander can be found at Comix 4 Sight.