Writer Jeff Lemire began formulating the characters who would make up DC's new team book The Terrifics, he thought he was uniting an unusual band of heroes.
Partway into the process, however, he and the editorial team at DC realized the team resembles a classic line-up, with a few similarities to the Marvel's Fantastic Four. But they decided to embrace the idea.
After all, classic FF was just the type of book the formerly Marvel-exclusive writer Lemire was interested in creating - a fast-paced, fun, sci-fi-inspired book - although the writer wanted to use that platform to also more deeply explore the team's characters.
The team is made up of four characters: the super-intelligent businessman Mr. Terrific; the chemically-shifting Metamorpho; the stretchy, wisecracking Plastic Man; and the phasing-powered Phantom Girl, a new version of the character who is related to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes.
The team will also be interacting with Tom Strong, another character who has a classic sci-fi, adventurous feel, as the story spins out of DC's current Dark Nights: Metal event and sends the team on unusual adventures through the Multiverse.
Newsarama talked to Lemire about the title, how the team was put together, and what readers can expect from the tension inherent in joining such a diverse set of characters.
Newsarama: Jeff, I assume some of these characters were given to you by DC, but did you get to pick the team?
Jeff Lemire: I actually picked the team. It was weird, because the whole project came about in a very informal way. It wasn't something that I sat down and wrote a pitch and submitted or anything.
It was like, Dan [DiDio, DDc co-publisher] and I were just texting back and forth - I don't know how long ago; this was probably about a year ago - about different ideas, because I had been speaking to him about coming back and doing some work at DC.
So we were tossing ideas around about different characters, and one morning, for some reason, I got in my head that Metamorpho would be fun. It seemed like there was a lot of potential there to explore the pathos of this sort of man who's stuck in this freakish body.
So I became intrigued by him and texted Dan, saying "What about Metamorpho? And he responded saying, "Yeah, I love the character too, but he doesn't sell on his own; he needs to be part of a team."
And then he said something like, "I can give you Plastic Man too." And I was like, "Oh!"
So it was Metamorpho and Plastic Man.
And then from there, I tried to find someone who was a perfect foil for those two wacky characters, and Mr. Terrific seemed like the perfect straight man. And I always thought he was a character with a ton of potential. He's just such a rich character.
So you put him with those two and it creates a very interesting tension.
Then we searched around, and I created this new version of Phantom Girl, to fill up the team and provide another point of view.
Nrama: I've seen people say it's a new Fantastic Four, but it sounds like that wasn't exactly what you were going for – it just worked out to have some similar characters.
Lemire: Yeah, it kind of became a joke. That wasn't the intent. But I had Plastic Man and Metamorpho and Mr. Terrific, and then you start looking at that and you go, oh my God, that's like… "Mr. Fantastic" - you know, "Mr. Terrific" - and then the powers of Plastic Man are like Mr. Fantastic's.
It's kind of a stretch, but I guess Rex is kind of like a Ben Grimm sort of character.
And once we saw that, it became a kind of unintentional joke that we had made, so we just kind of had fun with it. Some of the earliest conversations were about trying to capture something in the spirit of early FF comics anyway.
So it's not an intentional - like, the whole comic isn't going to be a riff off the Fantastic Four or anything. But yeah, there are some fun kind of wink wink nods to the way the team resembled and stuff.
But really, they are their own characters, you know? Rex is not Ben Grimm, and Mr. Terrific is certainly not Mr. Fantastic. They all have their own personalities, their own histories, their own points of view that are unique from the FF. So it really does become its own thing after that initial sort of nod to the FF.
Nrama: You didn't talk much about the decision to add Phantom Girl. What does she bring to the team?
Lemire: This is kind of a tricky answer, because I don't want to spoil some of the stuff coming up in issues #2 and #3 with her, because her character history is kind of - there are some reveals there that kind of build the story.
I wanted a female perspective on the team, for sure. And I wanted a younger perspective on the team as well, because the other three characters are all sort of - none of them are teenagers or younger characters.
You want those perspectives on a team, because it provides a contrast to what we already had.
The Phantom Girl idea… I'm a huge Legion fan, to begin with. Dan knew that. And we started playing with the idea of certain Legion characters, but none of them really felt right.
We kept going back to Phantom Girl, and - you know, it's hard to remember; this is like, over a year ago when some of this stuff happened - but I think for me, we decided to not make it the same Phantom Girl from the Legion, but we made it her ancestor.
So it would be her modern-day sort of ancestor.
It would have this link to Legion lore, but it would be a unique character. And that seemed really fun.
So just putting this really innocent, really optimistic point of view that she has in the mix with people like Rex Mason, who's a lot more jaded and had a hard life, and Mr. Terrific, who's very intellectual and very driven by his work. You know? And you add her youthful optimism, and it really balances them out and kind of reminds them of how much fun it can be to do what they do.
That was what I really liked about her.
Nrama: It's been revealed in early solicitations that they're trapped in the Dark Multiverse. I don't know how long they're trapped in the Dark Multiverse. Does this become more than just one adventure?
Lemire: Yeah, one thing I really wanted this book to do was to have a good pace. So I didn't want any six-issue story arcs where we're drawing things out for a long time. You know? I wanted the book to keep moving fast, the way that - if you read an old FF comic from the '60s, in any given issue of FF, there are enough ideas and plot lines thrown out that could fill six volumes of comics the way we decompress stuff now.
So I really wanted things to move quick.
While they are in the Dark Multiverse in issues #1 and #2, it's not like an extended epic saga. They move to the next thing pretty quick.
The whole plot of the book kind of is a domino effect. So one thing leads to the next, to the next, to the next. And in each of those stages, you get a new adventure, a new threat, a new sort of flavor to the book, keeping it really fresh.
So the Dark Multiverse thing is sort of where the adventure begins, but from there it goes all over the place.
Nrama: Does this spoil Dark Nights: Metal at all? It takes place after Metal, obviously.
Lemire: No, not at all. When I wrote it, I didn't know the end of Metal, so obviously, it's not going to spoil it. I mean, because I wrote it a long time ago.
It does spin out of Metal and takes place after Metal, but there's nothing in the The Terrifics that would spoil any plotlines for what Scott Snyder is doing at all. It's more just a jumping off point for us to kind of do what we're doing. There's nothing that specifically tied to what Scott and Greg Capullo are doing, so there's no worries there.
Nrama: We've seen a preview, and its mostly Mr. Terrific. Would you say with a name like "The Terrifics," is he the leader?
Lemire: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, the book is named after him. And the team will be named after him.
I find him to be a really fascinating character. He's got a ton of potential. He's one of the smartest characters in the DC Universe. He's been around for quite a while. He's accomplished a lot. I think he's a really interesting character to explore, for me - his past and what drives him.
His life and his work is what brings this team together.
I don't want to spoil too much, but a lot of the plotlines will come directly from things he's done, work he's been doing, adventures he's had, so he really is the leader of the book.
Nrama: I expect Plastic Man will bring a lot of humor. How has it been writing him?
Lemire: It's great. And you know, it's really tempting to have him be constant comic relief, but again, I feel like there's a lot of depth there. He is a funny character. And he does do a lot of funny things. And there's always these sight gags going on with him that are a lot of fun for the artist to draw.
But there's also depth there. He's a former criminal. He's had a checkered past. So he's a complicated guy.
It's fun to balance the humor and the wackiness of him with a little more depth.
The real fun I've had - one of my favorite parts of writing the book so far - is this relationship that begins to form between him and Phantom Girl, and how they kind of become really good friends and are support for one another. And through that, it's a good way to reveal some of Plastic Man's past and get into some different layers to him.
Nrama: Rex Mason was mentioned in Doomsday Clock, but only as part of this "Supermen Theory" that has appeared. Does this relate to that at all?
Lemire: No. I wrote this quite a while ago, so I didn't even know about that. I've been going off the classic version of the character.
Nrama: Can you talk about what Rex brings to the team?
Lemire: I've really loved that character for a long time. I'm a huge fan of Keith Giffen and the Justice League comics from the late '80s/early '90s, where Metamorpho was a big part of the Justice League Europe team. I was a huge, huge fan of that book when I was younger. So I've always had a soft spot for him.
And then kind of getting into more of his Silver Age adventures, I love those sort of bizarre, science fiction-based characters that DC had in the '60s and '70s. And he's such a perfect one. He's such a weird character.
But there is a humanity to him. He's this guy who's sort of trapped in this ever-changing body, but he can never really be human again. Yet he has this woman, Sapphire Stagg, that kind of keeps him going.
That relationship with him and Sapphire is what really intrigued me. It's kind of sad and kind of beautiful. It felt like something really fun and interesting to explore with him.
So that will be a central part of the book too - the relationship between Rex and Sapphire.
Nrama: We need to talk about Ivan Reis's art on this. He's so good at drawing these kind of team books.
Lemire: Yeah, it's been great to work with Ivan Reis. He's an artist I've admired for a long time. I remember seeing his stuff on the Rann-Thanagar War, I don't know how long ago that was. But right away, I was attracted to his artwork, and I've never had a chance to work with him.
It's really great to see how he works. The energy he brings to the book is pretty crazy. That's been really fun for me, and hopefully for the readers as well.
Nrama: And we're heard that Tom Strong is going to be part of this story. Is his role just in the first first storyline?
Lemire: He's not the first storyline, although he appears in the first storyline. I don't want to spoil that. He's a big part of the book.
The adventure with Tom Strong and his family will be something we build toward and something I'm really looking forward to. That's a character I love, and I have a lot of affection for. And tonally, it's a perfect match for the Terrifics as well. So yeah, that's going to be fun.