It's a common concern from comic book fans and retailers: The lack of new concepts and new characters being given a chance in comics.
But with the Red Circle books from DC Comics, a group of old characters were dusted off and given new lives, with updated concepts that bring them into modern times. Guided by writer J. Michael Straczynski, the characters that were once published by Archie Comics were molded into a new set of heroes to inject some fresh, unique characters into the DCU.
Beginning in February, one of those new characters is getting a new writer as the ongoing comic The Web is taken over by JSA All-Stars writer Matthew Sturges with Issue #6.
And the writer comes on board just as the Red Circle books begin to cross over with one another and touch more of the DC Universe. In fact, The Shield, The Inferno, The Hangman and The Web will have subplots even now that will begin to grow into a bigger story that is being coordinated between the writers on all four characters.
"We have a master plan," Sturges told Newsarama. "We've communicated extensively on this. And one of our goals is to make the Red Circle a really viable part of the DC Universe that has connections and tells stories that interact with each other. Although it's not going to be the type of thing where you have to read every issue to have it make sense."
Well known for his innovative work on the Vertigo comics House of Mystery and Jack of Fables, Sturges has a knack for infusing even the most dramatic, dead serious-comic with a quirky cleverness and subtle humor. As fans of his run on Blue Beetle or his mini-series Run! know, his take on superheroes is hard for even his more enthusiastic critics to label, beyond simply calling it fresh and different.
So combining Sturges with The Web looks to be a move toward the "fresh" and "new" that comic fans seem to be craving, seeing as the character is about as modern and new as a character in the DCU can be. After all, this guy's entire crime-fighting plan comes from the internet.
And not unexpectedly, Oracle is interested in this fresh, new character, as well as some other characters in the DCU.
Newsarama talked to Sturges about his new gig on The Web, and we found out why he thinks it's so difficult to get new concepts like the Red Circle characters off the ground -- but how he's hoping to breathe some new life into the character in a way that only a tech-nerd can.
Matt Sturges: I got a call from editor, Rachel Gluckstern, and we had worked togeter before when I was on Blue Beetle. And we had a great time working on that book together. And when I first heard about it, I knew JMS was doing the Red Circle books. And I knew they were coming out. And that's really all I knew
I had a passing aquaintance with the characters, but not much. I hadn't really read much about them. So it was a very new project for me.
Fortunately, the books are a complete reimagining of these characters. Typically, if it was something I wasn't that familiar with, I'd be hesitant to take something on. But the Red Circle books are something new.
It all sounded very exciting, getting the chance to come in and help define what these characters are, and help bring them into the DCU.
Nrama: For fans of Matt Sturges who may not have been reading The Web but will pick it up with Issue #6, who is The Web?
Sturges: The Web is John Raymond, who is a billionaire playboy, but he's nothing like Bruce Wayne. He's kind of the anti-Bruce Wayne. You know, when I think about Batman, I think of Batman as the character and Bruce Wayne as the disguise. But when you think about The Web, John Raymond is a guy who is almost playing at being a superhero. He has a strong motivation for doing what he's doing. He wants to make good on his aptitude and his promise as a human being. And he starts out trying to avenge his brother's murder.
He's a guy who's always been successful at everything he's ever touched. He's been in the Olympics. He blew through college. And he's had, you know, tons of success with women, and he loves to party and ski in the Alps and do all that stuff. But at some point, he realizes that's not enough. And he's got to prove himself. The way he decides to do that is by purchasing a lot of very expensive equipment, including a hi-tech super-suit, and going out and fighting crime. Because that's what you do when you live in the DCU.
Nrama: And this character has a very unique modern twist, because he utilizes the internet to find crime, right?
Sturges: What he decided to do was use the internet to get the most efficient high-tech solution possible. He's all about doing things the smart way, whether or not that's the right way or the most moral way.
He set up a website called SummonTheWeb.com. And people who are in trouble can visit this website and fill out a form, and if their tale of woe moves him, then he or one of his 99 surrogates can take on the job and help solve it.
That's one of the things that I'm really having fun with, is exploring the sort of tech-nerd aspect of it. My history is as a tech-nerd. Before I was a comic book writer, I was a web developer. So I've lived in nerdom for quite some time, and I actually know quite a bit about technology. One of the things that I've always been annoyed with, when technology plays a part, is how incredibly unrealistic the technology is. And that's something that I aim to change.
This comic should actually really entertain those people who are really into technology. That's one group I'm trying to appeal to, as well as others.
Nrama: For people who have been reading The Web, how will it change when you come on board?
Sturges: I'm not making major changes. The set-up Straczynski did was a solid one, and Angela Robinson did some really interesting things in the book. For instance, she had the whole notion of the Web outsourcing his costume and his information technology to 99 other people who also call themselves the Web and fight for justice -- again, because it's more efficient. Now, does that come back to bite him in the ass? Yes. Yes, it does. He doesn't have complete control over that situation. And so those are all balls that Angela put into the air that are interesting things to juggle. And I'll keep that.
He has a very complicated relationship with a woman named April who was his first love, and who ended up with his brother. Now that his brother's gone, his relationship with her is even more complicated.
So all of these things, as well as this very crafty villain Deuces Wild, are all going to play major roles going forward. But my take on it is a little different.
Nrama: What are the differences?
Sturges: Well, if you've read other things I've done, like Blue Beetle, for instance, I like to inject a lot of humor into my books alongside the drama. So I think you'll see that John Raymond's personality will be a little brighter, although certainly not less serious. It's not going to be a comedy book by any stretch of the imagination. But he's an over-confident guy who was born with a silver spoon, and that is going to cause him a lot of trouble going forward. Sometimes he is his worst enemy.
Nrama: We've heard that the various Red Circle books will be interacting. Is that going to be touching The Web anytime soon?
Sturges: That begins to happen right at the beginning of my run, although you might not notice it at first. It will only be when you go back and trace what's been going on and trace some of the subplots I'm doing, and what Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa are doing in The Shield and The Inferno, as well as John Rozum on Hangman.
We have a master plan. We've communicated extensively on this. And one of our goals is to make the Red Circle a really viable part of the DC Universe that has connections and tells stories that interact with each other. Although it's not going to be the type of thing where you have to read every issue to have it make sense. But for readers who do pick up all the books, and any of the annuals or specials that we manage to get approved along the way, they are going to have a lot of fun with it.
Nrama: Do you have any guest stars soon from the DC Universe?
Sturges: I don't want to say! We've got Batgirl showing up soon. So I think it's a very safe bet that, because the Web is a guy who uses and abuses technology, that he'll be hearing from Oracle in the very near future. She's one of my favorite characters in the DCU, so any time I can use her, I'll jump at the chance.
But one of the goals we have is to integrate these characters into the DCU and make it feel like they belong there. So there's every probability that you'll be seeing some folks you recognize in these books.
Nrama: You mentioned a villain earlier. Does the Web have a rogues gallery yet? Or is that something you're working on?
Sturges: We'll be building that up. What Angela was doing, and what Eric and Brandon and John are doing in the other books, is updating the Red Circle villains, of which there are many. And I'll continue that. Some of them really need a revamp, since they were created in the 1940s. They have very silly names and powers. But this is a reimagining, so we can take those and use them as a springboard to do fun and interesting new things.
It's a great challenge to take these older things and treat them like diamonds in the rough. They're unworkable as they are. They were created for a different time and a different readership. But they are a creative challenge. And anytime you have a challenge like that, you're always more likely to come up with something interesting.
The first villain we're going to encounter in my run is an update of the Stunner. I don't want to say too much about her. But we've also got some of the other big name villains like the Black Hood, and we have a character called Doctor Archer, who was an evil mastermind in the original comics.
And we have Deuces Wild, who is the Web's current nemesis. He's sort of a gambling impresario who also has an evil drug ring. And that's going to play into it. There's a big Machiavellian conspiracy that runs through The Web and some of the other Red Circle books. It has many facets. It's a many-headed beast.
It may or may not tie into some of the other many-headed beasts we know and love in the DCU, such as H.I.V.E. or Kobra or things like that.
Nrama: And the artist is staying the same when you take over?
Sturges: Yes, Roger Robinson is staying on board. And he's doing just a bang-up job. One of the things that we've talked about is giving The Web more of a noir-ish feel. I think the combination of a noir style with all the chiaroscuro and the drama mixed with the very ultra-modern, technological vibe that could look very cool and make the book much more visually exciting.
Nrama: What will your first story be?
Sturges: One of the things that's interesting to me is that the Web is someone who starts out as a crusader for the common man. That's really his goal in life. But the tension he's going to find as he works and starts to see connections among the problems that he's facing for individuals is that there are larger concerns at work that are making life difficult for people who have little to no power of their own.
Its something we see in the real world, and it's something I've always wanted to address in comics, about how the operations of the very powerful affect people who have little to no power. I don't want to inject politics into the comic, mind you. It's more sociology. For instance, just looking at this economic crisis we've been facing, the actions of a few powerful people have enormous effects on regular people.
So that's the tension that the Web faces. He himself coming from a world that has all the power, and now trying to be an advocate for people, is going to provide a lot for his internal conflict. I think it's going to be really cool.
Nrama: People talk all the time about wanting fresh, new characters, and that's certainly what the Red Circle characters represent. I even just recently talked to retailers, and they said comics needs new stories with new characters and concepts. Yet it seems like it's tough to get people to try those out.
Sturges: Here's why I think that is. Comics are expensive. When people walk into a comic book store, they know that they only have so much money to spend on them. For what it takes to buy a couple comic books, you can go to a movie and be dazzled for two and a half hours. Or you can buy two or three comics and have what I think is a more rewarding experience, but you can have maybe 45 minutes at home on your couch. So the economy of it makes it such that it's a challenge to get people to try new things.
Everybody wants to see things that are new and fresh. But what is hard is knowing what new and fresh things there are that are going to be worth their money. I think the best way to do that is to put really talented and well-known creators -- creators that people will want to follow, like Straczynski, or get folks like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison -- on these books and see what happens. Because you're absolutely right -- retailers and readers want fresh, new things. But they need to be given the assurance that what they're going to get is worth that $2.99 or $3.99 they have to pay.
And what I would say to those creators is that the benefit of working on a book like The Web or The Shield is that you have an enormous amount of creative freedom that you don't always get working on the more established characters. It's so rewarding to be able to do that, and it makes it worth the effort.
Nrama: Any final word for people about Red Circle as you start your run on The Web?
Sturges: The last word would be that you really need to check out these Red Circle books if you haven't given them the chance yet. Eric Trautmann is doing an amazing job on The Shield. He's really someone that people should be reading more. His JSA vs. Cobra mini-series was just utterly fantastic. And if you're not reading him, you're really missing out. And we're trying to do something really unique and different with these books as we begin to integrate these characters into the DCU.