We've seen issue #2 of DC's Trinity hit, and things are starting to get rolling. Once again, we turn to writer Kurt Busiek for a handful of questions about how things work backstage.
Newsarama: Let's dial back just a bit. When you sit down to plot a weekly series that will run a year, what's the first thing that you do? Does it feel a bit like a code to be cracked?
Kurt Busiek: First thing? Panic.
Actually, I never had to sit down with a totally blank pad of paper, because Trinity was originally pitched as an ongoing series, albeit in a very different form, and I had a bunch of stories already worked out for it. Some of them weren't possible any more, some I'd already used elsewhere when it became clear that Trinity was going to come out in '08 rather than '07, but I still had a mess of stuff planned, that would have worked in an ongoing series that didn't have to tell one big story, but wouldn't necessarily work in a limited-run series, no matter how long that limited-run was.
So I had a bunch of story pieces I could work with, and I knew we had to deal with our three leads in some way that would give us a big, sprawling story that'd take a year to tell and would be worth telling, something that would really get into who these characters are and why they're important -- to readers, to the DCU, to each other. So I started messing with that, and talking with Dan and with Mike Carlin, and looking for the through-line for the overarching story. Once I had that, I could figure out which pieces of plot I had that I could use, which I had to throw out, and which needed to be transformed somehow. For the record, Konvikt was there from the beginning, Tarot got roped in from a different project Dan and I had talked about a while back, the Crime Syndicate were in my original plans but in a very different way, and the big bad underlying the whole thing and the John Stewart storyline were part of the original plans but also in different ways. Everything else I had already worked out got ditched.
It was a lot of work, but it's not that different from writing a novel, I expect. You've got to work out the whole overarching story at the same time as you're working out important building blocks, and once you go back and forth between those two enough, you have a sense of structure and can start fitting other building blocks into place. The first few building blocks give you a foundation to build the story skeleton from, and the story skeleton lets you work out what shape the other building blocks need to be.
This probably sounds like complete nonsense, doesn't it? That's how it sounds to my wife, when I'm in the middle of plotting something big and she asks if there's anything we need from the store. I'm not all that articulate about it...
NRAMA: It would seem crazy enough to the average person to take on one large narrative. You and the team are essentially doing a narrative and a counter-narrative with echoing themes. At what point did the "second story"/"back-ups" come into play?
KB: It's not two narratives. It's one big story, really. The back-chapters aren't a parallel narrative -- as you've already seen, the backup to #1 fed into the lead to #2, not the backup, and the backup to #2 feeds into the lead to #3. The backups to #3-5 are a three-parter, but they lead in to the leads in #6-7, as well as the backup to #6, and so on. So it's not a counter-story, it's all braided together.
Think of it like a Tom Clancy novel. The lead chapters are the stuff the features Jack Ryan, while the back chapters are the parts where the story deals with everyone who isn't Ryan. Or a Charles de Lint novel -- he does lots of braided, multi-protagonist structures, too. Even in something like Lord of the Rings, the Frodo plot goes one way after the first volume, and the other characters go in the own direction, and have their own adventures, addin to the whole.
In comics, it's pretty common to have A-plots and B-plots, and building sub-plots and more, so what we're doing is structurally a little different, but at heart not that odd. It's just that instead of cutting away in the middle of the story to see what else is going on, we put that "cut away" stuff in the backups.
But all that babbling aside, you asked when the back chapters became part of the mix. And again, it's something that evolved out of the original proposal. I'd originally pitched a much shorter book, that would have 11 pages for a buck, plus lots of promo features, and when it became clear we were going to expand it to a full-length comic, we knew we couldn't get an artist who could draw 22 pages a week (and even if we could, we knew I couldn't write 22 pages a week), so that meant some other people would have to be involved. At first, the idea was that there'd be backups, but they wouldn't be as strongly connected -- they'd have shown readers what else was going on in the DCU, whether it was a Nightwing backup that tied in to “Batman R.I.P.,” or a Kyle Rayner backup that led into “Blackest Night”, or whatever. But I tend to be grabby about pages -- I want all the pages I can get to tell a story, so I started thinking of ways the backups could serve the Trinity story, rather than linking up to other people's stories, and there was a building sense that books that tied in to too much other stuff were something the audience might well be getting tired of, so I started conceptually tying the backups more and more in to the main story, and nobody up at DC tried to stop me.
And then we started actually turning in plots, and Mike and Dan were surprised at just how tightly they were connecting up, but they liked how it was working, so we just kept rolling with it.
NRAMA: What one quality about Fabian makes him the right guy to be the "other writer"?
KB: He takes my calls.
No, seriously, the one quality would have to be that he and I have similar storytelling sensibilities. We work well together -- we've worked with him as editor and me as writer, we've worked as collaborators -- heck, we've even worked together on promo and advertising, back when he was in Marvel Promotion and I was in Direct Sales. We get a long, we like a lot of the same stuff, and we work together well.
I'd pulled in Fabian a few times over the last couple of years when I needed help with an emergency fill-in arc on Action Comics, or something, and it had always gone smoothly and the results were good. So Fabes was the obvious choice to backstop me and help me out on Trinity. And he brings a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy to the job, and is having a blast getting to write some of his favorite DC heroes -- notably Nightwing and Hawkman, but there are others -- so it's working out very well.
NRAMA: Okay, back to the present issue . . . I couldn't help but notice the bit with the title being echoed in a line of dialogue again. Is that a little touch to expect going forward?
KB: Yeah, that's how we're going to proceed, at least until we hit a silent chapter, or a chapter with no lines at all that work as titles. I'm not expecting either of those to happen, though. It's a fun way to approach it, and we need 104 story titles, so why not?
NRAMA: As far as that goes, the title (and its context) were pretty funny. That's really who Diana is, isn't it? The classic overachiever, refracted through a prism of combat?
KB: I'm not sure that's quite the way I'd put it. It's not so much "overachiever" as it is "striving for perfection." Which is close, but not the same thing.
Anyway, it's something I've wanted to do with Wonder Woman for a few years now. I was thinking about how she's an Amazon, she's this uber-warrior, but people keep writing her as a pacifist, which didn't feel right to me. She's not someone who seeks out combat, but she's not someone who shies away from it when needed, either. So I figured that when she's in a fight, what she's doing is competing -- not against the bad guy, or against her fellow heroes, but against herself. Each time she stops a bank robbery, she's out to stop it faster, cleaner and more efficiently that she ever has before. Each time she faces down a monster, she wants to do better than the last time. She wants to take all her experience and apply it to doing what she does just that fraction better, because to her, you're either always improving, or you're starting to fail.
So yeah, if there were people in danger, she'd gladly have Superman help, but as long as they're not, why not test herself?
NRAMA: The challenges that the three faced also seemed to turn on character. Each was confronted with something that was somewhat specifically tailored to them (Superman's seemed to require great strength, Batman's was a riddle of sorts, Diana vs. the robots). Is that type of thing conscious at this early stage? Reinforcing the identity of the three as individuals?
KB: Partly. Some of it was a matter of establishing who the characters are and what their solo-styles are like, to set the groundwork for the long haul, and some of it was just wanting a variety of different cool visual stuff for them to do, so the chapter has variety. It didn't hurt that Superman got to be Mister Science Hero, Batman got to be Shadowy Intensity Guy and Wonder Woman got to be the Warrior Par Excellence, mind you -- that gives us some really basic grounding to the characters, that we can riff off of and expand on as the series goes on.
NRAMA: At the end of the first half, we briefly glimpse John Stewart, but he's the star of Part Two. During your run on JLA, Stewart was your resident GL. In a universe packed with GLs, what about him stands out for you?
KB: I like his professionalism. He's a really good team guy, a responsible, experienced hero who knows how to focus on the job at hand. We don't see John at home all that often -- usually, he's in action as GL -- but even so, I think I've got a good sense of who he is, what makes him tick.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that John was the GL I had a story arc already planned for, so he couldn't have been swapped out for just any guy with a ring. I'd come up with some character stuff for him back when I was going to be the regular writer on JLA, and they'd asked me to use John because Hal was going to be the lead in Green Lantern and Kyle was getting his own mini. And then I didn't get to use it, so when Trinity came around, I realized it would fit well here, and he became one of our main sub-plot characters.
NRAMA: Konvikt and Graak: what do we need to know?
KB: Not a thing. This is their first appearance, so everything we want to tell you is there on the page. I'd resist the urge to think, "Hmm, big strong alien, that must be all there is to him," and pay attention to what he says and does and why -- and to what Graak says and does and why, which don't always match up. These two guys have been thrown together by circumstance, but they don't want the same things out of life. Still, they need each other.
They are going to be important, and there's a lot going on inside Konvikt's head that he can't really express because he doesn't speak English, and Graak can't explain because he doesn't know it himself. We'll be getting deeper into him as the series rolls on, though.
NRAMA: Derenick and Faucher handled the "second story" art this time. Derenick's done a lot with the League in JLA:Classified, if I recall correctly, and the flow between the two parts was pretty smooth. Are you trying to build a schedule of rotating artists for the back-ups so that you know, for example, that Derenick could be available say, here, here, and here, while another artist could do connecting back-ups at another time?
KB: It's not so much a strict rotation as it is trying to make sure we're far enough ahead to juggle the backup guys appropriately for the material. Tom's great at straight-ahead superhero action, as shown in this chapter, and he's good at cosmic stuff, too, so if we can throw those chapters his way, all the better. Scott's wonderful at moody stuff, whether it's mystic mystery or street-vigilante crimestalking, so he's the top choice for anything that leans that way. And Mike Norton has a light, clean approach that's perfect for real-world-type stuff, anything that's got a lot of normal people interacting. Plus, each of these guys is no slouch at the other stuff too, so if we have to mix things up it's no problem. But it's good to be able to lean to each artist's strengths, and mix them up as needed.
NRAMA: All right . . . wind up the readership for this week.
KB: Agh! You're not gonna do this to me every week, are you? I hate giving stuff away! I'd almost always rather let people find out by reading the story! Plus, you're doing advance previews of every issue (so far, at least) and that already gives away stuff! Gimme a Reader Question of the Week™ or something!
Okay, okay. Next issue, the JLA respond to John Stewart's distress call, but just because John looked like he had a shot at putting Konvikt down before he went all freaky and digital and disrupted his concentration (and what was that all about?), it's not going to be that easy. We get to see a little about how the Trinity and the rest of the League work together, and we get to see just what it was that Morgaine set in motion in Los Angeles, as we introduce Tarot, another key player in our drama -- and we see Jose (Gangbuster) Delgado for the first time in years. And GB's co-creator, Jerry Ordway, does the finishes over Mike Norton! Plus yelling and hurtling tanks and street gangs and dripping blood and someone else having breakfast, which I swear is not going to be a running gag.
At least not until Fabian reads this and decides to make a liar outta me...