And now, the conclusion!
GWEN: You have the ability to take characters and reintroduce them and do it successfully *Mark thanks us* as you did with Legion. How do you pull that off in the comic book world where no one wants anything to change?
MARK: It’s hard, it’s harder and harder in the comic world because more and more fans don’t want any change whatsoever. Fans want exactly what they have been reading since they were seven years old, which is killing me.
GWEN: I would think it would kill the industry.
MARK: It’s not helping the industry. It’s especially hard right now. I think super hero comics in particular go through cycles and I think that this is not by any stretch the most productive and original time to be doing super hero comics. I think more then ever right now, for whatever reason, super hero fans want exactly what they have been reading for the last 20 years and nothing different. It was different ten years ago and it will be different 10 years from now.
I hear a lot of people talking about how if the character’s changed and grew more that that would be more attractive to them. Which is, I understand that and I’ve certainly gone through periods in my life where I felt like I wish the characters would change and grow more. But the problem is that it’s so easy to make them change and grow away from what they should be. Like marrying Spiderman off to Mary Jane was a bone headed move 22 years ago. I’m not saying they undid it with any sort of grace or wit. I’m not saying, I’m not defending the story but I will defend the idea that whoever first thought hey Spiderman and Mary Jane should be married should be hit in the head with a ball beam hammer. I was a bad idea. It’s just so wrong for Spiderman.
What we have a tendency to forget is that these characters...we’re not the audience. We’re not the audience of these characters. We’ve kinda grown into being the audience because there are no kids reading comics. But 70 years ago these characters were not created for people who are in their 20s. They’re not created for people in their 30s. They were created for kids. And I understand that we want the characters to grow up with us to some degree. And some of the things that make The Legion very cool is The Legion was in their own pocket of its own world where the characters could grow up with us. But in terms of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, those character’s longevity, to me it’s like saying I want to see Bart Simpson grow up with me. Nobody wants to see Bart Simpson grow up them. Nobody wants to see Bart Simpson in college. You want see Bart Simpson be Bart Simpson. It’s like being upset because Curious George....it’s like no adult is going to the book store and go “Curious George is still sticking nickels in a light socket. What’s wrong with that. Why didn’t he grow up?” No, that’s what Curious George is. So what Superman is is very fundamental if you’re still reading Superman comics and you’re in you’re in your 20s and 30s, that’s okay because it should be appealing to the kid in you. It shouldn’t be deliberately designed to the adult in you at the detriment of the kid. But now the opposing statement…
GWEN: Aren’t you limiting the stories that can be told? Because if you bring in a new generation and even have them replace the older generation like what you did with Wally – well, he’s become the Flash now. For the majority of readers, as much as they still love Barry, Wally is the Flash.
GWEN: And that opened up a whole new realm of stories to be told that wouldn’t have been told with Barry.
MARK: It’s a slippery slope. I mean granted, that worked but the chances of that working are so slim. Remember they replaced Spiderman with Ben Riley a few years ago. And how well did that work? I’m not saying people shouldn’t try it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to progress the characters.
GWEN: You made it work with Wally.
MARK: I made it work with Wally. The Legion, kind of, although people didn’t respond as well as I had hoped. But Superman: Birthright? It kind of worked but nobody paid attention.
GWEN: What about Kingdom Come? There are so many fans out there who are obsessed with the Kingdom Come world over current continuity because things changed, characters changed.
MARK: I understand that but Kingdom Come was deliberately designed for people of an older generation. I’m thinking about characters that are fundamental though, you know Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, whatever. These are characters that lose something if they - Wonder Woman’s the worst example. Wonder Woman has changed completely since the 1940s and she’s not even remotely the same character.
GWEN: Yeah. Well, okay. Wonder Woman and Superman you can get away with.
GWEN: Superman’s an alien. You can get away with him not aging. Wonder Woman’s an immortal Amazon. Okay. But Batman’s human.
GWEN: They’re aging the rest of the universe around him...
MARK: Okay. You know these are not documentaries, right?
GWEN: I know. But I’m saying that, I mean unless you go with something like John Byrne’s Generations where Batman ends up being immortal thanks to the Lazarus Pit…
MARK: Right. The problem is selective aging. I agree. When Dick Grayson graduated high school, like that was the shot heard around the world. That was like boy you just screwed up everything in these universes at this point.
But the thing is - my contention is it shouldn’t the DC Universe. I HATE the idea of a DC Universe. Marvel Universe makes sense to me because it was created by the same 3 or 4 guys: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and couple of other guys. It was around the same time, with the same creative vision and the same basic approach. It all grew organically from several characters. The DC Universe is this weird hodge-podge of characters that were created over a 40 or 50 year span, and you can’t with a straight face tell me that Captain Marvel and Green Arrow should really be standing in the same panel with each other having an adventure. It’s the same as having Calvin and Hobbs and Mary Worth together in a comic strip. It would be interesting for a second, but nobody wants to read that.
GWEN: It’s hard with the big three and it’s hard with big characters in general. Probably one of the reasons that people could accept the Flash was because he wasn’t one of the huge, huge characters.
GWEN: And yet it didn’t work with Kyle.
MARK: I actually think it did work with Kyle.
GWEN: They brought Hal back.
MARK: Which I’m not sure I would have done. I think it would have been... and again I love Geoff and I like Hal -
GWEN: Geoff did an amazing job with it.
MARK: Yes he did.
GWEN: Considering what they had to work with.
GWEN: But also, I mean look at Ollie with Green Arrow. Conner was a great story.
MARK: Conner was a really good story. The difference is with Hal you didn’t lose as much by replacing him with Kyle. With Barry you really didn’t lose as much with replacing him with Wally. Replacing Ollie with anybody was a bad move because Ollie...one of Ollie’s functions in the big DC pantheon is that he had a voice. He had a unique voice unlike anybody else’s that of a knee jerk liberal activist. Which whether you like him or not, or you agree with him or not, makes him an interesting character. His voice stands out. And to replace him with anybody like you replaced Barry....I like Barry....
GWEN: Barry had his story, and his ending was also –
MARK: Yeah. It was very poignant. But he also had no personality. I mean I like Barry and I say this as a HUGE fan of Barry Allen. But there was nothing so interesting about Barry Allen the person that you couldn’t improve upon it by replacing him with - it’s kind of a dangerous thing. And Hal, I love Hal, but I’m not sure Hal was that intrinsically interesting. Ollie, boy Ollie added something. I don’t think Barry Allen added anything unique to the DC Universe. I don’t think Hal Jordan necessarily added anything unique to the DC Universe. The Green Lantern did. But Oliver Queen added something, in and of itself, something unique.
GWEN: Well, to wrap things up, I recently reread Kingdom Come and I was reading some of your comments. One that really interested me was the comment about having an ending to your story. I personally think that one of the things that makes a good story is whether or not there’s an ending.
GWEN: If you just keep going eventually you end up beating a dead horse.
MARK: Well it’s not a story at that point.
GWEN: Right. So I’d just kind of like to get your thoughts on endings. I mean you said that you had an image in your head of Clark putting his glasses on.
GWEN: Which you know I always like the Superman stories where Superman was Clark Kent because I think that his humanity defines him.
MARK: Oh you’re so wrong, but okay.
GWEN: We’ll save that....
MARK: We’ll save it for another interview.
GWEN: What is it about endings that appeals to you in the story telling process?
MARK: We keep saying that comic books are modern myths, like super hero comics, and that’s bologna. You know that, being an anthropology major, because here’s the thing, myths have an ending. Robin Hood shot the arrow up in the air. You know. King Arthur came to his doom. Every great myth has a beginning, middle and an end. And that’s what makes the myths I think.
GWEN: Yes and no. You have to also think that myths are....there’s something that resonates with a society and a culture and helps you to tell your own story.
GWEN: So with mythology you have icons like Superman where....it was on the news when they did the Death of Superman. But it’s the idea that people knew and people cared that Superman died. And people tell stories about Superman. Children wear Superman shirts because they want to be like Superman. Superman doesn’t exist. He’s an imaginary figure. That is what a myth is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be something that can tell your story to tell you how to be a better human being, how to achieve something greater.
GWEN: I think super heroes can work as modern mythology because they do have stories that end. But you can always tell more stories with a myth as much as you can with a super hero. Hercules, there are so many stories about him. And he’s a mythical figure.
GWEN: And you actually have quite a lot of mythical figures where there’s story after story after story about them. And they always change and they always grow. But it changes and grows with the society.
MARK: I stand corrected. Yeah. Point taken. So let me ask you this. Help me define the parameters. Santa Claus, myth or not?
GWEN: It’s more like a folk type of myth. There are different types of mythology. Santa Claus is like a common household type of make believe fiction, such as the Easter Bunny and things with holidays. When you’re talking about mythology as being something that appeals to a deeper cultural level, that speaks to a culture, you’re talking about something that people identify with themselves. You’re not usually gonna find someone who’s like I want to grow up like Santa Claus.
GWEN: Whereas saying that I want to be like Superman, I want to be a hero, I want to do the right thing. I’m going to be a better person because I read how Barry Allen sacrificed himself to save the world.
GWEN: Like you know, I like how Green Lantern and Green Arrow went on a trip together and tried to figure out how to be better heroes. It makes people who read these stories want to be a better person, to want to be more like those characters. That’s when you get a cultural myth.
MARK: Okay. Alright. I got nothing else. I can’t add anything to that. That’s good.
GWEN: Just a quick wrap up question. I just wanted to ask you about with Kingdom Come being taught at UCLA. Comic books as literature, how do you feel about that?
MARK: They are. They’re not always the most sophisticated literature in the world. But really as somebody who is sort of at the tail end of the generation of readers who were looked upon as complete retards because they read comics past the age of 8, it’s so cool to finally really see us being embraced as a genuine American art form and a genuine American literary form. That’s great. I can’t hold up a lot of what I - this is not just false humility - I can’t hold up a lot of what I’ve written as genuine literature, but there’s a couple of things that brush up close to it. And I enjoy that.
Again, thanks to Mark for taking time out for this interview, thanks to Chip for setting it up, and thanks to Karen for transcribing the second half :)