Tony Bedard is applying his team-book magic to a group that has some mysticism of its own: The Great Ten.
A limited series that is, fittingly, 10 issues long, The Great Ten starts in November, giving Bedard what he calls a "terrific opportunity as a writer" – shaping a team of 10 Chinese superheroes originally conceived by Grant Morrison.
Before starting his comic series R.E.B.E.L.S. earlier this year, Bedard felt like he hadn't had the chance to reach his potential at DC, so he wanted to make something uniquely his own for DC comics readers.
"R.E.B.E.L.S. is where I'm planting my flag," Bedard told Newsarama when the series began. "Now I'm let loose in the DC Universe."
Now that the ongoing has become a critical darling, Bedard is hoping to apply some of that magnetism to The Great Ten, the 10 Chinese government-sanctioned superheroes who first appeared in the weekly comic 52.
Newsarama talked with the writer about why the concept attracted him as a writer – and why he thinks it holds so much promise for readers.
Newsarama: Tony, what was it about the Great Ten that made you want to be the writer on this series?
Tony Bedard: To begin with, the Great Ten are Grant Morrison characters, and having edited Grant on JLA, I know what great stuff he can come up with. His original write-up of the Ten is just 8 pages long, but there’s enough wild ideas packed in there to yield 800 stories. What’s more, they just look totally cool. J.G. Jones’ designs for these guys are outstanding, incorporating traditional motifs in a very modern way. You can tell what most of them are about on sight.
But the most attractive thing about them is that their potential is still untapped. They appeared in 52 and in Checkmate, but they still need to be fleshed out, and when Dan DiDio called to ask me if I’d like to take a crack at a Great Ten limited series, I didn’t have to think twice. I’ve always been interested in Chinese history and culture, I’m very much into global politics, and I knew I’d have something to entertaining to say if I could handle these characters.
Nrama: As you've started to explore these characters, what's been one of the most interesting things you've discovered about them?
Bedard: It’s something I sensed when I first saw them: that each member of the Ten has their own point of view, their own feel, their own genre. A 10-part Great Ten series is a chance to write 10 very different tales that add up to one cohesive epic. An issue about Ghost Fox Killer is a supernatural pulp story. An issue about August General in Iron is more like a classic Captain America tale. An issue about Celestial Archer is more of a mythological story, like the Mighty Thor. This is a terrific opportunity as a writer.
Nrama: If someone has never heard of the Great Ten, how would you describe the team and how you're portraying them?
Bedard: They are the “Justice League of China.” They are the official government-sanctioned superheroes of the People’s Republic, which is good for them, because any un-sanctioned vigilante in China would quickly find himself on the wrong end of the People’s Liberation Army. The Great Ten are known as “super-functionaries,” not superheroes. The emphasis is on their role in society, not on their personal glorification. And while they are held up as inspiring examples for the common man, they are firmly under the thumb of the Politburo. For now.
Nrama: When we join the Great Ten in your first issue, where do we pick up things with the group? What's the premise of the story as it's set up in this series?
Bedard: The overarching premise of the 10-part mini-series is that the gods of ancient China have returned and they’re pissed off. They don’t like what the communist government has done with China, and they want to overthrow the current leadership and restore the nation’s traditional values. But there’s a deeper mystery behind this divine comeback, which will be revealed as we go along.
Nrama: Who are the main players on the team?
Bedard: The leader is August General In Iron, China’s official super-soldier. The team’s main voice of dissent is Accomplished Perfect Physician, our “Dr Strange” character. Ghost Fox Killer is a sort of supernatural Wonder Woman character with a pulp femme fatale sensibility. Celestial Archer is our link to the world of Chinese mythology, and the most conflicted about the gods’ return. Thundermind is a Buddhist Superman figure, the most beloved of the Ten. Seven Deadly Brothers can split into seven different martial artists, each a master of a different style.
Mother of Champions can birth armies of super-soldiers who age and die at an accelerated rate. It’s a weird, creepy power, but her attitude about it isn’t at all what you might expect. Immortal Man-in-Darkness is a technological hero who flies the most advanced warplane on Earth. Red Socialist Guardian is a radioactive man, forever shut away in his containment suit and bitter over his fate. And Shaolin Robot is an ancient android whose operating system is based on the I-Ching.
Nrama: Is there a villain in the series?
Bedard: The “villain” is actually part of the mystery behind the gods’ return. Is it one of the gods? One of the Ten? Someone in the Chinese government? Someone outside China? We’ll find out eventually what the truth is, and we’ll have fun getting there.
Nrama: What do you think of the choice to put Scott McDaniel on this series? What does his art add to the tone of the series?
Bedard: I’ve been a huge McDaniel fan since his days on Nightwing. I’m in awe of his mutant ability to make a page explode with action, even if there’s no movement on it at all! His use of forced perspective and foreshortening is unmatched in the business. And the deceptive simplicity of his style is the mark of a master cartoonist. Seriously, no one has done such dynamic art since the King himself.
Having worked with Scott before, both as a writer and an editor, I know that another of his strong suits is his sense of design. And since this book needs to capture the unique look and flavor of several different Chinese locales, I knew he’d handle this book really well. You have to see his designs for the Chinese gods, which update them in a way comparable to what Kirby did with the Norse gods, but with a flavor that’s McDaniel’s own. He also set up some design-y borders for flashback pages that made me want to cheer when he sent me copies. And the page he did showing the Accomplished Perfect Physician’s origin was something that would do Ditko proud.
It’s funny, because Scott warned me in the beginning, “I have a rather polarizing style.” His way of saying that there are some vocal people out there who don’t care for his stuff. Well, they’re entitled to their opinion. I just don’t share it at all. I think Scott is Hall of Fame material, and I think what he’s doing on The Great Ten will turn heads – especially those who might wonder if he’s a good fit for this book.
Nrama: When the Great Ten was introduced, there was a stated motivation on both Grant Morrison and DC's part to add diversity to the DCU. Do you agree with that reason for shaping new characters? And do you think there's still a need for that in the DCU?
Bedard: I think it’s good to be mindful of diversity, but if that’s the only reason to create a character, it’s probably not enough to make it succeed. What’s good about Grant’s creation is that he was already interested in this culture and worldview before the mandate ever came down. I remember back in 1997 or ’98 when I was associate editor on JLA and Grant came to town. We discussed the rise of Asian economic powers like Singapore and the future global influence of Far Eastern markets. I also learned about Grant’s extensive travels in Asia. I don’t think these were characters he dreamed up purely for the sake of affirmative action. They draw on a long fascination with Eastern thought, Asian archetypes and Chinese mythology. As for the DCU needing that sort of thing, I think all comics universes tend to reflect changes in society at large. As we become more racially diverse as a culture, we’ll see that in our pop culture too.
Nrama: How have you approached trying to both make the Great Ten authentic representatives of Eastern culture yet fitting them into a comic aimed at Western culture?
Bedard: This actually gets to a trouble spot for me. I fully realize that no matter how hard I try, no matter how much research I do, nor how pure my intentions, I cannot write the insider’s view of Chinese superheroes. I’m not Chinese. As it happens, I’m Puerto Rican by birth, spent a big part of my childhood in the Philippines, and didn’t live in the U.S. until I was 10. But you’d never know any of that just by looking at me or hearing me talk. Nevertheless, I’ve experienced a lot of different cultures firsthand. I know what it’s like to have to learn a new language just to make friends. And I know what it’s like to move from one culture to a completely different one and then try to fit in.
I’ve also studied fairly extensively the history of China, and the fundamentals of Taoism, Buddhism, Zen (yeah, I know that’s Buddhism, too, but it’s a thing unto itself). I’ve studied the Tao Te Ching, The Art of War – all of this long before I got a job in comics. So I’m bringing a lifetime of experience and passion for the subject matter to this book.
And I’m also recognizing that China isn’t one monolithic culture. It’s cobbled together from disparate territories and ethnicities. It’s a melting pot of sorts. And China is greater than the sum of its parts. I think that aspect is something Americans understand, even if the Chinese national character is different from the American way. We were born in a war for independence, and we’re geared toward individuality. China is rooted in a history of Warring States, and it values stability and the needs of the many.
But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be politics comics, and it’s not a travelogue, either. It’s a series about 10 really cool individuals in a massive crisis. It’s a fun story, given depth by all the background cultural stuff.
Nrama: Since this is a limited series, are you aware of any plans for the Great Ten when it's finished? Are you setting anything up?
Bedard: It’s still early going, so we don’t have plans beyond the 10 issues. But if I do my job right – and I know McDaniel will hold up his end – people will want more Great Ten. At the very least, this series will change the status quo in China forever. It will have consequences all its own.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about The Great Ten?
Bedard: I only ask that you give this book a chance. The Great Ten is going to be fun, fresh, and whatever you’re expecting, be prepared to be surprised!