Veteran writer Ron Marz, the co-creator of characters like Kyle Rayner for DC and Shinku, a currently-running creator-owned book at Image with collaborator Lee Moder, recently left a remarkable run on Witchblade for Top Cow and found himself working less for mainstream publishers than he had in years.
With DC’s Voodoo off his plate after only six issues and Magdalena plagued by delays, Marz was working only on Shinku and Artifacts by the time the first issue of his new Dynamite Entertainment crossover series, Prophecy, hit stores last week. Marz joined us to talk about the series.
Prophecy is one of those books I’ve only seen a limited amount of press for. Can you give the basic premise for the fans reading? It’s Dynamite’s public domain heroes and licensed coming together in a wild orgy of a team-up, right?
It’s kind of a motley crew, in terms of the characters involved. For me one of the things that made it really attractive was, “Okay, this is the collection of characters I’ve got. Can I find a way to put all of these into a story and have the thing make sense?” The diversity of the characters was actually an attraction for me; sometimes these things creatively are like putting together a puzzle and that’s something that–look, I’ve done enough of these things where it could become a very sort of rote exercise but with this diversity of characters I don’t think that’s a problem, here.
I remember the first time I ever interviewed you, like fifteen years ago, we talked about Day of Judgment at DC, which crossed over into your Green Lantern book for like a page and a half, and I remember you saying that these stories are big fun for the writer of the main line story, but a drag for the writers of the regular-universe books that get dragged into it. Is it fun writing one that doesn’t really cross over into other books?
That’s actually something we talked about early on in the process and the decision from every corner was that we would keep this self-contained to just this series, more like a traditional crossover series where you didn’t have to go out and buy fourteen different tie-in stories; this is an event series and all you have to do is buy the issues of the series. Everything takes place within those pages and we’re not going to pull a fast one and tell you that you need to buy a bunch of tie-ins in order to “fully appreciate the story” or whatever the phrase of the day is.
Well, and if I had to pick a name out of a hat I would have guessed Grant Morrison would be the guy doing a big 2012 crossover this year. The fact that Dynamite got there first and is the only major publisher working on a 2012 book, which of course has a huge amount of cultural cache outside of comics, is a bit surprising.
I am kind of surprised that there’s not more of a push in this direction, to embrace the Mayan prophecy, although obviously if you’re going to go down that road you’ve got to make damn sure the [book] comes out in 2012. You can’t do a story about the end of the world in 2012 and have the last chapter come out in 2013. We’d better get the whole thing wrapped up this year, before the end of the world.
For those who haven’t yet read the press, can you give us a nutshell of the series?
It’s essentially the first Dynamite crossover series that brings together a number of the characters that are published under the Dynamite banner, including Vampirella and Red Sonja, Pantha, a few others that will appear as we go.
The basic conceit of the story is that Kulan Gath, who is a Red Sonja villain–in fact was the Red Sonja villain that appeared way back in the Marvel Team-Up issue that brought Red Sonja to the present day and had her interact with Spider-Man–that villain is the one at the core of this story as Sonja pursues him through time and he stumbles upon the Mayan doomsday prophecy about the world coming to and end at the end of 2012. Because of that, he takes advantage of that situation and we’re left with an array of…I hesitate to say even “heroes” because we’re talking about characters like Vampirella and Dracula. An array of characters come together to try to stop him.
It’s literally the end of the world and we’re trying to approach this as–we’re trying to have some fun with it. We’re trying to have a comic book series that is actually fun. I know that tends to be a dirty word in comics these days, but early on we talked about embracing the “comic-booky” nature of these kinds of stories in this story so that’s definitely what we’re doing. If you want to see Vampirella and Red Sonja fight each other because that’s what happens in crossovers, well, dammit that’s what we’re going to give ya!
And you talk about the idea that not all of these characters are inherently heroes. That element of it dovetails nicely into what you’ve already been doing in Artifacts. A lot of characters who are working at odds end up working together for a common goal.
I guess for better or worse I’ve kind of got the tag of the crossover guy right now. I don’t know whether that means I’m good at it or that means everybody else is too smart to take the jobs. I guess there’s a certain skill to putting together these things so that they make sense in and of themselves, everybody knows who all the characters are and what’s at stake.
I think too often the kind of crossovers that the Big Two do assume a certain amount of familiarity with the material on the part of the readers and I generally think that’s an aspect of just preaching to the converted. All you’re doing is playing to the audience that you already have, rather than writing a story that’s accessible to everybody.
It’s interesting because you haven’t been the guy to go in and do Marvel’s next big summer thing, but it almost seems to me that it’s more challenging to do the sorts of stories that you’re doing because you can’t assume any familiarity on the part of the audience, and also you’ve got to in a lot of these cases invent the relationships between the characters out of whole cloth instead of relying on what was laid down forty years ago. It seems to me that there are basically newbies, and then the hardest of the hardcore fans who have been following these kind of nomadic characters around from publisher to publisher.
Well, hopefully we get both of them. I think that one of the challenges of this kind of project is that you’ve got to speak to both of those audiences. You need to make sure that the purists are happy and you need to make sure the newbies are not confused or put off by the depictions of the characters. That’s job one.
I think a good bit of it is just trying to walk that line and make sure that the stuff doesn’t become too didactic at the same time as making sure that you’re not just doing continuity porn for the hardcore fans.
I remember that it used to be that when you introduced a new character in a story, and it seems that the big superhero stories just don’t do that anymore because they feel like the only readers are the ones who already know. It seems like it’s even more important in a story like this, to make sure you spend that one word balloon on who Dorian Gray is or something.
I never assume that the readers are familiar with any overall aspect other than Dracula’s a vampire, Red Sonja has a sword and a metal bikini. The job in front of you is to deliver that information in a way that doesn’t seem like you’re just delivering a lot of information to the reader. There are plenty of stories that grind to a halt for four pages while the information download takes place and then everyone goes about their business. I think you can be a little more stylish about it than that, and try to make sure that you’re not becoming a Wikipedia entry.
When you were approached for this, what were the boundaries of this? There are a lot of licensed properties at Dynamite and while many of them appear to be on the board for this, some of them don’t seem to be.
That was actually an ongoing process. The initial discussions for this began at the Baltimore Comic-Con last year, when Joe and Nick from Dynamite approached me and said, “Hey, we’re doing this, would you be interested?” And truthfully the discussions went on for a couple of months both in terms of the scope of the project and particularly in respect to the characters that were going to be involved, the ones we were going to have access to, and that list changed from stage to stage during the project as different characters were in and out depending on licensor approval and the scope of the book.
I had agreed to it in principle even before we had narrowed down the exact specifics of who was going to be involved. We knew the broad brushes of who was going to be involved and that we were going to base the story at least initially around Red Sonja and one of her villains. You have to keep these things malleable until you actually sit down and start to write it because the playing field changes and the rosters change. Once we knew exactly who we could have and who we couldn’t have, then we had to hit the ground running.
Is that kind of new for you? There aren’t very many stories in mainstream comics where that’s such a concern, and especially having so many property owners involved has to be a bit daunting.
It’s an extra layer, but obviously there was a certain eye toward which characters and licensors are easier to deal with than others. Overall I have to tell you in terms of the first script that we didn’t have any difficulty whatsoever. Also, you do enough of these things and you get a sense of what you can do and what you can’t do with the characters. You’re going to cut off somebody’s legs permanently in something like this because obviously the licensor is going to have a problem with it, so you have the more serious changes affect the characters who you know aren’t going to be a problem and then the other ones stay a little more sacrosanct.
Is there any particular character who stands out to you, having done the first bit of the story, as being particularly fun to write?
I’ve written Red Sonja before, and it’s a character that’s always appealed to me. Obviously I grew up a huge Conan fan as a kid and so gravitated to the Red Sonja material when that started coming out from Marvel way back when. She’s a character I get and very much the one I used as the central character for at least the first chunk of the story.
But there are other characters that I wanted to get in there–the opening sequence has a character that I’ve always wanted to write and I talked Joe and Nick at Dynamite into letting me do it. That character will also play into the series as a whole, it wasn’t just a one-time, “Well, here, Ron wanted to write the world’s greatest detective.”
How tricky is it to come up with a take on some of these characters that’s true to everyone’s expectations without them just being an archetype rather than a character?
That’s all down to how I put the story together and if I’m doing my job properly. I’m probably not the best judge of that; those are judgments that are probably better made by the audience than me, once it passes through my hands. All I can do is try to present what I think the core of the character is and hopefully the audience responds to that.
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Walter Geovani, who is the artist on the series and he’s doing just some really great stuff. He’s the regular artist on Red Sonja, or at least he was before he started doing this book with me, and I think what he’s doing here is still a notch above even the great work he was doing month in and month out. It’s really great stuff and I’m happy to be working with him.