The Gold Exchange: Justin Gray on All-Star Western #19

GoldExchange-LogoA little history: Back in 2005, shortly after Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund launched a new series of Booster Gold comics, this writer began interviewing anywhere from one to three of them in any given month, shortly after the release of Booster Gold, for an ongoing commentary track-style column that came to be called The Gold Exchange.

All-Star Western #19 Gatefold coverThe Exchange moved from site to site along with me, as my employers and the creative team behind the comic changed. In its time, I spoke with Katz, Johns, Jurgens, Rapmund, Chuck Dixon, Rick Remender, J.M. DeMatteis and a number of others about Booster's time-traveling exploits, concluding the column only when Flashpoint wiped out the then-current DC Universe and brought Booster Gold to a conclusion in August of 2011.

With Booster featured in the next three issues of All-Star Western, series co-writer and Booster fan Justin Gray has agreed to discuss them with me, continuing the years-long tradition. Thanks to Justin and to DC Comics for allowing it to go on.

That said, The Gold Exchange is a spoiler-filled column, which is meant for those who have already read the issue in question. We analyze, contextualize and discuss...and along the way plot points tend to come out. So if you don't already own it, why not go buy one and read along with us?

All-Star Western #19 Preview PagesComicBook.com: Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the single issue - whose idea was it to bring Booster to All-Star Western? I mean, when he last crossed over with Jonah (in Booster Gold Vol. 2 #3 back in 2005), it was a bit of an oddity but not hugely surprising since it was premised as a time-travel book. Bringing him into a Western is a whole different thing.

Justin Gray: Truthfully Jimmy and I have been trying to think of ways to keep the book fresh and interesting, while at least incorporating as much of the DCU into it. This has always been a difficult sell. We want as many eyes on the book as possible because we love writing Jonah and we love the freedom that comes with this project. We continued to run into problems with our ideas on how to make people feel this is an important book to fans of the overall DC Universe. Booster was the only logical choice for what we wanted to do moving forward.

ComicBook.com: You guys have cultivated a particular look and feel for the series; did you worry at any point that the shiny, flying guy might throw that off a bit?

Gray: Booster presented a challenge from a visual standpoint but not from a character standpoint. His appearance in All-Star had to at least have some semblance of grounded reality. The only logical thing was to drop him into the flowing stream of a story. The good thing about Jonah Hex is that nothing really seems to take him by surprise.

ComicBook.com: There's obviously been time travel since Flashpoint, but it's been pretty limited in scope and effect. This story, though, has received a fair amount of attention, so one could argue you guys are doing the first big time-travel story in the New 52. Did you set out with that in mind or did it just kind of fall together that way?

Gray: Our plan is always the same to tell the best stories we can with the tools at our disposal. We want All-Star to sell as many copies as possible and continue to tell the kinds of stories that appeal to us. In many respects Jonah Hex affords us a certain freedom in subject matter that few books can. The inclusion of Booster had to respect the character and the fans as well as the fans of All-Star Western. There are rules with Booster that we are working with and around moving forward.

ComicBook.com: Jimmy said that you're the guy to talk to about Booster Gold. Are you a fan in particular or is it just that you're the more expert of the pair of you on this particular character?

Gray: Yeah I’m a fan of the character. He’s got a great angle on the superhero genre, he’s an interesting character who actually has a sense of humor. We tried to keep that humor, but a much darker tone to it. I did tell Dan Jurgens it was intimidating to work with his character. I think it is important to respect the creation as much as possible in any given situation. Jimmy and I took great care to make sure we respected John Albano and Tony DeZuniga with our approach to Jonah Hex.

ComicBook.com: Okay--so from a practical point of view, where does Booster hold his gun when he's not using it? Was he really that concerned that a gun belt would throw off his whole look?

Gray: Don't get me started. I agonize over “real world” logistics, but sometimes you have to step back and say FICTION at the top of your lungs.

ComicBook.com: I feel like I've read the rodeo clown thing before--is that because it's just there to be said, or did you get that from Booster Gold #3 or somewhere?

Gray: We’ve been using the rodeo clown line for ages. There’s an issue of Jonah Hex where we introduce an outlaw wearing tiger striped chaps that Hex calls a rodeo clown. Basically it is the default when Hex encounters someone dressed in an eccentric manner. He’s politically incorrect.

ComicBook.com: What's your approach to writing Booster? Obviously there are different interpretations of the character. Certainly there's some humor here (and Moritat has a few facial expressions that feel Maguire-inspired), but it's not quite that simple.

Gray: The approach was, taking into account that there are things going on behind the scenes I cannot speak to, Booster is a hero from a different time and perspective. Witnessing the world that Hex operates in both disgusts and fascinates him. This is Booster Gold in a Jonah Hex story and I think that’s what makes it interesting.

ComicBook.com: I like the fact that you guys note the language difference; obviously All-Star Western is written in an accessible way, but the difference between the language now and 150 years ago is not insignificant.

...And Booster really is from Gotham, in his way. Keeping his story easier to follow in case he needs to repeat it?

Gray: We’re dealing with a 2D medium without the benefit of motion or soundtrack so any technique we can incorporate to build the world around these characters has to be used. You can nod to things that long time fans pick up, but anyone can read this without having that knowledge. You don't always have to drop a house worth of caption boxes on a reader to keep them interested or let them know who someone is.

ComicBook.com: Booster's seen the destruction of Coast City and more in his day. Do you think the "analog" nature of the brutality in All-Star Western is likely to challenge him more than a bomb or a villain who can teleport cities into space to die or somesuch thing?

Gray: I like to think so. And remember we’re approaching this from a New 52 standpoint so there has to be some leeway in how the character’s experiences shape his reactions.

ComicBook.com: Is it a safe assumption that Booster's sudden, unexplained displacement to the past has to do with the future version of himself he saw int he Justice League International annual last year?

Gray: Yes. Maybe. I’m not sure.

ComicBook.com: How much has he really forgotten? I mean, he remembers Blazing Saddles!

Gray: I was so worried that Blazing Saddles might be too dated, but it is a classic.

ComicBook.com: That tattoo on Hootkins is a bit Charles Manson, isn't it? Is the whole idea of putting together a freakshow of villains something akin to an early iteration of a supervillain team?

Gray: It was more a nod to the Wild Bunch and the ensemble Spaghetti Westerns only in reverse. They had to be over the top identifiable villains and to be honest they’re not even the nastiest ones in the story.

ComicBook.com: Jonah is certainly a bad influence on Booster. The latter has gotten very drunk the last two times they got together, and then ran off to do superheroing.

Gray: Its kind of the running joke that Hex is a bad influence on everyone he meets. That theme continues as we move forward this summer. You don't get many opportunities to do the drunk superhero thing.

ComicBook.com: There are few characters more entwined with the DC Universe than Booster, at least as he's been depicted in the recent past. His future is totally dependent on the "history" that unfolds in our titles every month. Hex is at the other end of the spectrum; his life would be only minimally impacted if Superman never had his coming-out party. Do you think that makes an exploration through time with these two particular characters even more interesting than the average mismatched duo?

Gray: Hex takes everything as it comes with an angry scowl and hand on his gun approach. I think any time you put characters together that are dissimilar, with very pronounced view points, methods and ideologies that you’re going to have a good time.

A lot of times you have such similarities in characters that they become swappable costumes. I believe Booster being around Hex actually makes him more heroic in ways that would be overlooked and sometimes overshadowed by standing in a crowd with other heroes. He is essentially the only pure hero in the book at this time.