"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hey Kids, Comics! Crime Writin’ Comic Book Geeks

The subject of crime novelists who’ve been working in comics came up during a conversation I had with another writer last week. We agreed that it was cool thing. Charlie Huston found new readers with his work on Marvel’s Moon Knight. Denise Mina had a successful run on DC’s Hellblazer. Duane Swierczynski’s Cable is popular, and he’s now writing The Immortal Iron Fist as well. Victor Gischler recently gave us his take on The Punisher in the Little Black Book one-shot, and now he is writing issues 71 through 75 of the regular Punisher comic. Then there’s Greg Rucka, who has written Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman and Checkmate (my personal favorite of his comics work), among others. Rucka was also one of the co-writers of 52, which—love it or hate it—made big news.

I grew up on comics, and have long wanted to write for them (Dark Horse and DC take note). Realizing I’m not alone in that, I asked some other crime writers which comics characters they would most like to get their hands on. Here’s what they had to say…

Bill Crider (frighteningly prolific author of mysteries, including the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series and the Edgar Award-nominated/Derringer-winning short story “Cranked,” horror novels and westerns): Plastic Man. I'd go back to the original, but I'd never be able to do as well. Zany, stretchy crime-fighting goodness.

Scott Wolven (author of Controlled Burn: Stories of Prison, Crime and Men): The Winter Soldier. Almost assassinating Red Skull? That's badass. 'Nuff said.

Anthony Rainone (New York Editor, Crimespree Magazine; Contributing Editor, January Magazine; book reviewer, The Lincoln Journal Star; co-editor of The Lineup; novelist and short story writer): was/am a big comic book fan. I read more when I was younger than now, but I still keep up.

I read widely and admired so many comic book characters, but I am partial to Iron Man. Maybe it's because he has the same first name, maybe because he grew up on Long Island near my home, maybe it's because he was a military weapons genius and I was into war too, or maybe it was the cool metal armor. Yeah, I think it was the armor.

I liked the vulnerability of Tony Stark, the bad heart, but the good soul. The fact that he was rich was appealing in an altruistic way: the man could do anything and go anywhere, but he chose to help people. He was that white knight that patrolled the dark streets for those in need of help. He had his dark side, yeah. I liked that too. Getting back to that armor, it not only protected him, but shielded him from others. In a way, it made him an outsider.

If I were asked to write a comic, it'd be Tony Stark.

Victor Gischler (Edgar Award-nominated author of Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, Pistol Poets, Gun Monkeys and others): First, I'm grateful and glad to be writing some issues of Punisher. No complaints. But I'd love to take a crack at the old Weird War Tales or Sgt. Rock. Challengers of the Unknown and Doom Patrol would be cool too. These all had a great pulpy feel, and as a 10-15 year old I couldn't get enough.

Gerald So (fiction editor of Thrilling Detective, founding editor of The Lineup): If the question is really who I'd most like to write, I'd have to go with Superman/Clark Kent. Sure, he's been around forever, but I've always related best to the strange visitor believing in the core values of his new home such that he'd want to live the American Dream himself.My single- or six-issue run would have Clark either powerless or unable to change into the Superman outfit—lost at Metro Dry Cleaners?!!—because I like the idea of Clark working in secret, doing what he can without the swooping gesture that gathers a crowd. The storyline might be that Clark has sworn not to don the tights and cape in an effort to show Lois they can have some semblance of a "normal" relationship to together. And yet, do-gooder that he is, he can't resist helping people where he can.

Anthony Neil Smith (author of Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic; editor of Plots with Guns): I want to write Sgt. Rock. For some reason, I loved those when I was a kid, and have rediscovered him in the last few years. Solid war stories, but sometimes they'd throw in something weird--Sgt. Rock in the future, or an annual where he has to face down his evil brother. Plus, you always felt the violence meant something deeper than simple superhero stuff. You actually had drawings of dead soldiers on those pages. You grieved when someone from Easy Co. died (but the core of them remarkably survived, of course).

And in a related side note, would also love to re-launch The Unknown Soldier (he was a guy with his face all bandaged up fighting all over the place).

Stephen Blackmoore (author of “Come to Jesus,” “Sumo” and other ass-kicking noir stories): Buster Brown. Only instead of some moralizing little punk I'd make him a 40-year-old, ether-binging, psycho midget with a thing for straight razors and little boy's outfits. Feeds the carved up scraps of his victims to his dog, Tige. So far gone he thinks it's Tige who plans the killings, Tige who tells him to cut off a nose, slit a throat. Hell, maybe he's right.

Buster takes orders from William Randolph Hearst. Assassinations, random murders. Gives the old man fodder for his papers, takes out his enemies. Fucking with Buster's head with these twisted, psycho-sexual mind games. Hearst would be like this fucked up Charlie giving Buster orders recorded on wax cylinders delivered to his Brooklyn brownstone by a prostitute named Mary Jane. Sometimes Buster calls her his sister and sometimes his mother. Sometimes he just screams at her and calls her whore.

I mean, seriously, have you seen this fucker's face? Straight out of a gothic nightmare, those Marty Feldman eyes burning holes right through you. Imagine seeing that sitting on your chest and flashing a straight razor at your eyeballs in the middle of the night. I'd shit myself right there.

"Good evening, Buster." Hearst's voice scratchy and distant through the phonograph's horn, the words ones that Buster has learned to dread. "I have a job for you."

Buster puts the ether soaked rag to his face. Lets the fumes drift him away.

"Better?" Hearst's voice says, thick and slow like molasses. Like he's in the room. Watching him. Fucker knows Buster too well. And Buster doesn't like it.

"The fuck d'you want," Buster slurs. Knows it's a recording. Knows it can't hear him.

"Ignore it," Tige says from the floor, gnawing at a tick on his balls. "He's just using you. Using us."

"I need something done, Buster," Hearst says. "A little thing. Just light a match. Nothing more. On a boat. In Cuba. Do you think you can do that, Buster? Can you do that for me, son?"

Tige perks up. "Fire?" he says. "We can do fire."

"And cutting," Buster says, hands clenched tight, licking his lips. "Can't forget the cutting."

Patti Abbott (Derringer Award-winning author of "My Hero"): I'll choose Lana Lang in her incarnation as Insect Girl. Always found the Superboy/Lana Lang romance a sweet one.

Stephen D. Rogers (poet and short story writer): I'd have to go with Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. Besides the name thing, I'm a World War II buff, so Captain America's a great fit. I'm no artist, however, so you'll have to find someone else to do the illustrations. How soon do you need a storyline?

Sandra Ruttan (author of Suspicious Circumstances, What Burns Within and the forthcoming The Frailty of Flesh; editor of Spinetingler Magazine): Snowbird. With the news that Wolverine has been robbed of his Canadian heritage in the new Wolverine movie, I found myself wondering what I, as a Canadian, could offer to Wolverine that perhaps a non-Canadian couldn't. This led me in the direction of Alpha Flight, a rare Canadian superhero team that originally contributed to Wolverine's back story.

Snowbird is one of the Alpha Flight characters. Alpha Flight drew heavily on Canadian Aboriginal myths and legends, which I find fascinating, and that's one of the reasons I have a Native protagonist as part of my series. I've also had a long-standing love affair with the north, which is part of the reason I find Snowbird particularly interesting. Any creature that can become a white wolf is one that has my interest.

In truth, I find it more interesting to consider characters that aren't as popular or overdone. I'm a fan of Batman and The Dark Knight, but I feel that with characters that are already well established you have less leeway with them, more confinement in how you write them. The thing that would be most fun about going back to original Alpha Flight members is the fact that they're not as well known, which allows you to put more of your creative stamp on them and redefine them for a new audience.

Daniel Hatadi (founder of Crimespace, poet, author of “Buddha Behind Bars” and other stories): Back when I was young enough to be doing a morning paper delivery run, I used every single one of the thirteen dollars I earned each week to buy a handful of comics. Although dark and alternative stories had started coming out from the smaller presses around this time (1985-1990), I was exclusively a Marvel fan. Spiderman, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four and DC's Batman, Superman, The Green Lantern were also something I avoided. I'd watched enough of those on Saturday morning television.

So I found myself going for the fringe dwellers of the Marvel universe. Lines like Wolverine (in his own stories), The New Mutants, Doctor Strange and Hellstorm were more to my thirteen-year-old taste, but it was a little known and not hugely successful series that brings back my fondest memories: Cloak & Dagger.

Cloak and Dagger were both teenage runaways who hooked up on the streets of New York. Like most new super heroes around the time, they were both mutants, although their latent abilities were brought out by criminals who used them as guinea pigs for experimental drugs.

Dagger's power was the ability to generate light, which could be used as an offensive weapon, or a tool for removing drugs from a person's system. A polar opposite to Dagger, Cloak wielded an extra-dimensional cloak that sucked all the light out of its surroundings or people trapped within it, who would quickly end up catatonic from fear and despair.

Yeah, a little like the Harry Potter universe's Dementors.

Unlike these inexplicable beings, Cloak and Dagger both had a fairly fleshed out back story, with Dagger being an uptown girl whose parents never paid her any attention; and Cloak, whose speech impediment led to the death of his best friend. What also makes them special is their somewhat symbiotic relationship. Cloak's darkness was always held at bay by Dagger's light, in a very literal sense, as both became self-styled vigilantes who punished the criminals that experimented on them, before moving on to take down other criminals.

Seeing how I have such an interest in the crossover of horror and crime as genres, Cloak and Dagger would be something I'd jump at in a second. First thing I'd do would be to get rid of Dagger, just to see how I could handle Cloak's inevitable spiral into doom and gloom, with maybe a little redemption thrown in just before it all gets too much. Maybe.

What I learned just now while looking up these old faves is that Marvel is working on some new stories for these two, albeit in a limited series. I'm looking forward to seeing how they tackle it, and that means I'll be buying my first Marvel comics in almost two decades.

And what about me? I’d love to write a story for Eric Powell’s The Goon. Or better yet, a one-shot about Willie Nagel, one of Goon’s supporting cast; he’s a small-time grifter who just happens to be a zombie. Or Frankie. The scary thing about Frankie is that Goon is his moral compass. Think about that shit.

I also want to write Jonah Hex because Hex is such a badass and he’s one of the few comic book heroes uglier than me. The Suicide Squad would be dark and nasty fun, too. Maybe some odd/obscure DC characters like Baron Winter, The Creeper, The Losers or Creature Commandos. And Batman, of course. He’s been my favorite character since I was just a little bastard. I want to replace Grant Morrison on Batman. That’s not asking for much, is it? Give me Batman.

Mucho thanks to all the writers who played along. It was fun reading your answers. Except for Blackmoore’s. I feel dirty for liking his Buster Brown idea.


Neil said...

It looks like someone already is relaunching UNKNOWN SOLDIER after all: http://www.newsarama.com/php/multimedia/album.php?aid=19701

Who knew?

Sandra said...

My SO works for DC Comics. I'm getting a whole new education from what he exposes me to.

Scott Parker said...

Cool question. I got your link via Bill Crider's webpage. I put my answer on my blog (http://scottdparker.blogspot.com) but I'm also going to post it here.

For me, I'm into realism. But, I'm also an historian. Thus, I'd like to write an espionage story set in World War II and starring Batman who needs the help of the Justice Society to foil the bad guys. And, given the war, I'd have Batman's foes (Two-Face, for example) actually help Batman against the Nazis or the Japanese.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ooops. Not DC. Typing one thing while thinking of another... he works for the other comic company.

And that's all I'm saying.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Neil: There's always the Haunted Tank.

Sandra: The proper phrase is 'nuff said.

Scott: There was a Batman/Sgt. Rock team-up in The Brave and the Bold, but it wasn't any good (aside from the Neal Adams art). Your idea sounds like a good one.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

If I could get the rights I'd totally do that Buster Brown thing. I think the Brown Shoe Company might have a problem with it, though.


Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Cool post.

however... :)

You forgot Gregg Hurwitz writing Fool Killer, Gary Phillips has been writing comics, and DC Vertigo is launching Vertigo Crime which will bring some more familiar face to comics. Rankin is doing a Hellblazer.
Max Allan Collins also did Batman and Ms Tree and WILDDOG!

Going the other way, Brian Azzarello is writing a short story for Jen Jordan's next anthology.