Fourteen years ago this month, Chase #1 debuted from DC Comics, written by Dan Curtis Johnson (billed as "D. Curtis Johnson") and illustrated by J.H. Williams III.
The series introduced two new elements to the DC Universe: lead character Cameron Chase and her employers, the Department of Extranormal Operations. It only lasted for 10 issues, counting the "One Million" issue that tied into the 1998 Grant Morrison-written event DC One Million, but was critically acclaimed in its time and fondly remembered today, helping launch Williams to stardom on books like Promethea.The series was lauded for presenting a grounded female character in a mainstream comic book, one that carried a series without being an unrealistically proportioned spandex superhero. Both Chase and the DEO are still showing up in DC books, as recently as the current Batwoman series, co-written and illustrated by Williams.
Johnson, now a software engineer with Apple, has since stepped away from the comic book world, though he's making a comeback of sorts this week. Both a Chase collected edition, reprinting the series in full, and the Elseworlds 80-Page Giant, pulped upon printing back in 1999 due to concerns over controversial content but resurrected more than a decade later, are now in stores from DC.
Newsrama talked via email with Johnson about both releases, why readers haven't seen more comic book work from him in recent years, and whether there's a chance he'll return to the industry in the future.
Newsarama: Dan, it looks like your last published new comic book work was a Legends of the Dark Knight story back in 2005 (which I believe was written some time before that). So here's the obvious question that I'm sure you're sick of hearing, but I feel compelled to ask anyway — why haven't we seen any new stuff from you in the past six years? Is it simply a (obviously understandable) matter of your day job not allowing it, time-wise?
Dan Curtis Johnson: A combination of promotion at my day job and the birth of my first daughter — between family and Apple, unfortunately writing comes in third.
I'm trying to find ways to keep scratching the writing itch — last year, in 2010, I wrote short content every single day, all 365 days, on my LiveJournal — but I don't feel like it would be a good idea to try and commit myself to a major professional gig that has deadlines. I'm sure DC would love to have me back in the game if I could do it, but the industry already has plenty of talent that runs late and drops out of sight for days and weeks at a time.Nrama: That said, with both Chase and the Elseworlds 80-Page Giant out now, how surreal is it to see two of your works on shelves on the same week?
Johnson: I somehow missed that the Elseworlds Spectacular was coming out! I literally had no idea until I walked into my local shop today and saw it alongside the Chase trade.
Nrama: Chase is probably if not definitely the comic work you're best known for — how do you look back and view it now, a dozen or so years later?
Johnson: It's funny — flipping through the collection, there are parts of it (especially in the main issues of the monthly book) that still feel like I wrote them just yesterday. Some of the follow-up stories, though, feel completely alien — I can't even recognize the words as my own, and the plots refer to other events happening in the DCU at the time that I literally cannot recall. But at the time, I was really intently plugged into them, you know? "Oh, hey, we can make a reference to this thing here and to that event there, and if we're going to show those characters then we should probably mention that this other thing is going on..."
The blessing and the bane, both, of a big shared universe is that there are a million intertwined connections to think about, but the majority of them are not fundamentally significant or particularly immutable or even long-lived. They exist for the purpose of a story or two, then either get changed or simply allowed to fade into forgotten history.
Nrama: The series, though relatively short-lived, definitely left a legacy, with several creators subsequently citing its influence and the title character still appearing in comics today. Have you kept up with Chase's appearances in comics like Manhunter and Batwoman? And how proud are you to see the character live on?
Johnson: I love that Cam and the DEO are still going strong. I keep half an eye on what folks are doing with her, but even when Jim and I were doing the original series, I knew there was a day coming where we'd have to let her go — like parents sending a daughter off to college, you know? Can't get too wrapped up in worrying about every little thing in her life. We did our best to raise her as quick as we could with our stories, the ones that are in this collection, and after that she was a big girl, off to live her own life. Now Jim has her back, with [co-writer W. Hayden Blackman] , in Batwoman — a somewhat harder take on her, I think, which is perhaps unsurprising as the whole tone of the DCU has darkened considerably in the past fifteen years.
Nrama: Let's turn to the infamously pulped Elseworlds 80-Page Giant — how happy/surprised are you that your story is finally seeing print? And what can you tell us about your segment of the book — it's a Lovecraftian Batman story, right?
Johnson: I thought that story was gone forever, that literally no one would ever see it who hadn't managed to score one of the few original 80-Page Giants that escaped the pulper and shipped to the UK. It's possibly my favorite high-concept I ever pitched to DC, just a great gag concept done in a classic tone. Let's just say you'll never look at the stretching superpower quite the same way again.
Nrama: And let's end with the inevitable final question — any chance we'll see some more comic book work from you in the future? Maybe a collaboration with Chase co-creator JH Williams III? And what's the status of your Moon Shine graphic novel, which was in the works as of 2004?
Johnson: I would say the odds are very good that you'll see more comics work from me at some point, but what sort of comics and where they'll come from is pretty hard to predict. I'd be surprised if DC would let me near Jim again though! They've got an exclusive with an A-List artist, they gotta keep him on A-List projects. And mostly, what I feel like writing isn't really DC's cup of tea.
With the barrier to entry coming down for production, especially on the digital side, I suspect if anything the direction I should be going is self-publishing. I bet Moon Shine would look awful nice on an iPad...Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!