Troy Brownfield has come back to Newsarama a few times since retiring from the journalism gig to pursue more creative writing. Usually, it’s to talk about a new project, like his brand-new ongoing series at Dynamite Entertainment, Blood Queen .
But today, he returns to us once more as an interviewer in a special feature put together by that same publisher, as he interviews not one, not two, but all four writers involved in the Gold Key relaunch for Dynamite.
Greg Pak, writer of Turok, Frank Barbiere, writer of Solar, Mark Waid, writer of Doctor Spektor, and Fred Van Lente, writer of Magnus, all sat down with Brownfield for a look at the line as a whole. The writers also reveal some secrets behind their series, and even tell readers why their series is better than their three compatriots’ books.
Troy Brownfield: Gentlemen, how did you each first encounter the Gold Key characters? What were your impressions of these characters, and whom among them did you count as your favorites (and why)?
Greg Pak: I'm too young to have caught the Gold Key characters when they first came out and wasn't collecting a ton of monthly comics during the Valiant reboot. But I had a couple of issues of Magnus and Turok from the 90's and always thought the central concepts were crazy and fun.
Frank Barbiere: I first saw these characters in ads in comics in the 90’s. I quite vividly remember the MAGNUS: ROBOT FIGHTER ads which were painted and had Magnus beheading a robot--it certainly made an impression when I was a kid!
I also played the Turok videogame for Nintendo 64, and that was my real intro. I was getting more into comics at the time and remember reading a lot of the rebooted “young, modern” Turok and enjoying it. It was definitely different from anything I was reading at the time and had me interested. Solar was always like Magnus to me--I’d see ads for him in books and be intrigued, but I wasn’t much of a Valiant reader in the 90’s.
Mark Waid: I've been familiar with these characters since I was a child and they debuted. I dug Solar, but Magnus was a big favorite because RUSS MANNING.
Fred Van Lente: I bought MAGNUS, SOLAR and SPEKTOR from the drug store in big collections -- proto graphic novels, I guess you could call them -- the Western Publishing did back in the 70s. The Russ Manning Magnus stuff was the real standout for me, crazy future action/adventure that still holds up today.
Brownfield: These characters have had an intense cycle of rebirth and reinvention for the past couple of decades. Speaking for “your” particular character, what do you think is the most intriguing aspect of these iconic characters for the audience?
Pak: I jumped on the chance to work on TUROK because dinosaurs, duh. But I'm a huge believer in diversity in casting. So when I got that one-in-a-million call to write a Native American lead in a mainstream comic book, I could not say no. We live in a world of ever-increasing diversity. Audiences of all backgrounds are ready and hungry for it and that's where I want to be.
Barbiere: Doctor Solar is a character that can literally do anything. It’s always been a great parable about what a character would do if they were given godlike abilities--I think we saw a brilliant take on that in WATCHMEN, where Alan Moore used a similar template for Doctor Manhattan. There we saw a man who became detached from humanity, separate from us. Over the years there have been many takes on this transformation, and I’m thrilled to say in our new version of Solar we have a very new interpretation thanks to having a brand new Solar, as well as a more traditional Solar, in our story.
Waid: Hopefully, it's the way we're addressing what it means to be a hero in a celebrity/paparazzi culture.
Van Lente: Robots are such a powerful trope because they challenge our ideas of who we are. What happens when the copy thinks of itself as superior to the original? Appropriation of identity, the replication of social hierarchies, the hegemony of a particular race, gender, sexual orientation -- any one group over another, really -- this is what Magnus Robot Fighter is about.
That, and karate chopping robots until they explode.
Brownfield: Similarly, how challenging is it to create a new universe and continuity around a character while trying to remain true to the spirit of the original idea? What are some of the considerations that you have to confront or pitfalls that you need to avoid?
Pak: There's tons of hugely fun stuff in the different incarnations of the character that have appeared over the years, and I've tipped my hat here and there to some of them. But I wasn't hired to be safe and do what's been done before. I was hired to take the concept of a Native American hunting dinosaurs and make it as thrilling and emotionally compelling as I can. Editor Nate Cosby encouraged me to go big and bold and do something new and personal. So we've got a Native American in 1210 AD taking on crusaders who have unleashed dinosaurs as weapons of war against the New World.
Barbiere: I really tried to absorb a lot of the spirit and aesthetic from the older incarnations while very much making this my own. I thought a lot about what this situation--gaining practically god-like powers on a nuclear level--would do to a person, and I built my own characters to throw into that. I really wanted the emphasis here to be on the people getting these powers. It’s very easy to fall in the trap of becoming excited by the power set and the superheroics and abandoning character--we certainly didn’t want to do that! I think we’ve created a really exciting new entry point into the Solar mythos that has something new to say about the property.
Waid: The biggest pitfall, of course, is staying too safe and too quaint. I'm the last guy to preach against getting Back to Basics, but my concern is that so many comics characters have since followed in the Gold Key heroes' footsteps since their debut that we need to find new things about them, create new interpretations, that keep them exciting and contemporary. In my case, it meant letting Dr. Spektor wear something besides a leisure suit and a puffy shirt.
Van Lente: World-building is a particular mania of mind. Really, the world of North Am and Magnus himself are inseparable. When I tried to imagine a robot-dominated world that also included humans, this is what I came up with.
Robot-dominated North Am is a theocracy that believes that humans are their creators and need to be carefully preserved. But their idea of preservation is a bit different than ours.
When I'm trying to explain to people the way robots think about humans in Magnus I say, it's like you know for a fact there is a God, but you can keep Him as a pet.
Brownfield: The Million Dollar Question: it’s generally understood from earlier interviews that there IS a connective tissue at work in the separate series, even though they stand on their own. How closely are you coordinating your work, if it all? Is it an overall cooperative effort, is it just general information sharing, or is it the communal glee of forcing editorial to keep track of all of it?
Pak: All will be revealed in the fulness of time. In the meantime, you probably should just go ahead and buy all the books. ;-)
Barbiere: Our universe is shared and we are certainly in touch with each other constantly. We’ve got really cool stuff coming down the pipe, but right now we’ve been given the space and time to develop our own characters without being weighed down by a shared continuity. That being said, we are plotting some fun stuff and attentive readers will start seeing connective tissue!
Waid: It skews toward the middle, at least from my perspective; Nate Cosby's doing a great job of coordinating, but that involves sharing information, and I find a lot of inspiration in my fellow writers' ideas!
Van Lente: That would be telling. They are connected, but how is yet to come. Stay tuned...
Brownfield: The slightly-less expensive question: do you find it all daunting to be working in a shared universe format? You’re all experienced enough with doing that kind of work, participating in tie-ins and crossovers, etc. but do you feel the need to plot differently in that environment?
Pak: At this point, I'm not worrying about it at all. Nate has encouraged us all to tell the best stories we can to establish our characters. We'll take care of the rest of it when the time comes.
Barbiere: We’re given our own space so it’s actually really great. It’s fun to know there’s a bigger universe to dip into, but for now we’re each in our own little pocket with the freedom to do what we want. It’s very low key for now.
Waid: Not really, particularly not with Spektor in that his not realizing that he's IN a shared universe became the engine that drove the series. Keep reading.
Van Lente: One of the joys a series set in the far future is that my imagination is pretty much unleashed on the poor, unsuspected reader unencumbered by what my fellow writers are doing. Be afraid, be very afraid!
Brownfield: What is one misconception that the audience may have about your character, and what is one thing about the book that is guaranteed to surprise them?
Pak: Misconception: The real, true monsters in the story may not be the dinosaurs.
Surprise: Crusaders, yo.
Barbiere: I think a lot of readers are expecting the same old brooding, detached Solar. We made a big change by giving him a family and having a brand new Solar take the mantle--a female, at that! This new Solar allowed us to add a completely fresh take on the series, as well as serve as a foil to the traditional archetype of Solar (which we still have as well). It’s been an amazing experience and I’m excited for people to finally see what we’ve been doing--it’s a great character piece.
Waid: The misconception may be that Doctor Spektor’s Dr. Strange lite. The surprise, guaranteed, is what his goal is--what he wants and what he's willing to sacrifice to obtain it.
Van Lente: Magnus may be in the wrong.
Brownfield: There were hints that other Gold Key characters might have been a part of the deal that brought these characters to Dynamite. IF you had the chance to do another Gold Key character, who would it be and why? Sub-question: Would any of you have to fight Waid for Mighty Samson? Sub-note: I would totally pick Tragg and the Sky Gods myself.
Pak: Tragg and the Sky Gods. I'd make 'em a 1960s rock band with alien superpowers. I'm guessing I don't get that gig.
Barbiere: Haha, I’m very happy with Solar for now. The other stuff is still a little oblique to me. I had a very silly Turok pitch that would’ve been fun, though!
Waid: Seriously? Honestly? Truthfully? O.G. Whiz.
Van Lente: Not really. Turok might be fun. Who doesn't like dinosaurs?
Brownfield: With all due respect to the various versions of the characters and their creators from the past, what would you say is the primary quality that makes what you’re all doing new, vital, and attractive to the modern audience?
Pak: With Turok, I'm embracing the chance to explore the cultural and racial conflicts at the heart of the European "discovery" of the Americas. We're also taking the chance to work real-world history into this insane alternative history tale set in the 1210 AD.
Barbiere: The fact we have an all-new, female Solar taking center stage with a new set of values, beliefs, and goals is changing the game in a crazy way for SOLAR. I think we took a huge risk and it’s paying off. I hope to see a lot of new readers joining us, because quite honestly it’s a whole new world!
Waid: With Spektor, it's that it's about facing the fears of the 21st century. Realizing that the scariest stuff out there isn't ghouls and goblins and fantasy, but being voiceless and powerless.
Van Lente: Robotics and cybernetics have advanced radically even since Valiant brought Magnus back in the 90s. We've tried to incorporate that into our world of North Am, and conceive of an exciting world that Magnus and the readers can explore.
Brownfield: Last one, fellas. Free for all: what makes your character/title more awesome than the other three?
Pak: Who else do you know who'd take on a T-Rex by himself?
Barbiere: Solar can do anything! No one else stands a chance.
Waid: My guy has the best weapon of all: a fat checkbook.
Van Lente: You will find 85% more robots exploding in Magnus than in any other Gold Key title.