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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

28 years later: An interview with editor Michael Eury

It was only a few months ago that I came to the startling realization that Michael Eury, who edited several titles for DC comics in the late 80s/early 90s, was also the same Michael Eury who is the editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine (TwoMorrows Publishing) — one of the finest comic book journalism magazines covering the Bronze and Modern Age that you can currently purchase. I love chatting with DC comics editors; they are the unsung heroes of the comic book industry who often played a pivotal role in the overall direction of a series and were privy to business and marketing decisions that ran in the background. Mr Eury is a really cool cat, and agreed to chat with me about a few of the DC titles he oversaw.

Hawk & Dove v3 (1989 - 1991)

Justin: I just finished re-reading and reviewing the 1989 Hawk & Dove v3 ongoing series (in which you were the editor from issues #10 to issues #17). Before you became the solo editor of the series, you were assistant editor to Mike Carlin for several issues. Were you a fan of Hawk & Dove before you were assigned this book?

Eury: Absolutely! I was a child when Steve Ditko's Hawk and Dove premiered in Showcase #75 and remember reading it and a few issues of the short-lived Hawk and Dove series when they were first published. At the time I wasn't old enough to fully understand the political ramifications of the characters' names — I just "got" the concept of ideologically opposed teens arguing with each other... which was, in 1968, a pretty "Marvel"-like treatment for DC's usually harmonious, interchangeable characters.

Hawk and Dove premiered at a time when DC began experimenting with different types of characters and books, under Carmine Infantino's watch as editorial director. The Creeper, Bat Lash, Anthro, plus the one-off Dolphin story in Showcase, were books that excited me as a kid who had been lured to superhero comics because of Batmania engendered by the Adam West TV show.

Justin: How did you end up becoming editor of Hawk & Dove? (I noticed that New Gods was also being edited by Carlin before you took it over)

Eury: I was hired at DC as an associate editor, having been an editor previously at Comico the Comic Company, and worked under group editors Mike Carlin, Denny O'Neil, and Andy Helfer on their books, soon taking over some of them on my own. Hawk & Dove was the first one I got to solo-edit. Not only was I excited about having my own book to oversee, but I felt connected to the characters (although by then it was a different Dove) because of my childhood passions.

Justin: If I had to summarize Hawk & Dove v3, the first half of the series was them trying to establish themselves and learn the mystical secrets of their origins, and the last half of the series (#18 and onward) was them becoming a mainstream DCU book (with lots of interaction from other DCU characters). Between yourself and the Kesels, where there any conflicts about the direction of the book? Or were you both heading in the same direction?

Eury: Karl Kesel, Barbara Kesel, and I had a wonderful working relationship. Not long ago, Karl told me that I made him feel like Hawk & Dove was DC's most important book.

The guest stars were a way to anchor Hawk & Dove within the mainstream DC Universe — another example is a minor, blink-and-you'll-miss-it one, where Hawk & Dove #9 featured a bit tying in to that month's Superman vs. the Flash race occurring in another book.

Justin: Around issue #15, the book turns to a Sword & Sorcery genre for several issues. Were there ever discussions of changing the genre of the series (i.e. Sword of the Atom)? Or was this just a fun thing to deviate and keep the title interesting?

Eury: Hawk & Dove never stopped being a superhero book — it just evolved into a multi-layered one. From the get-go, the Kesels had intended for Hawk's and Dove's connections to the Lords of Chaos and Order to be part of their background... a connection that Don Hall and Dawn Granger were originally unaware of.

Eury: Incidentally, I've written a Hawk and Dove history — covering from the Ditko original and ending with the New 52 version, but focusing mainly on the '80s-'90s version — for my magazine, Back Issue #97, which ships June 14th, 2017:

Behind the Scenes at DC comics

Justin: You left Hawk & Dove after issue #17 and began working on other projects [ex: Who's Who v2, Eclipso: Darkness Within]...?

Who's Who in the DC Universe v2 #9 (1991)

Eury: Actually, my trajectory at DC was a little more involved than that. The looseleaf Who's Who in the DC Universe, which I co-developed, started while I was still editing Hawk & Dove, New Gods, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Huntress. I was promoted to be Dick Giordano's aide in a newly created position called "assistant to the editorial director," forcing me to give up my books. After a year in that role, I wanted to be more hands-on in the editorial bullpen and returned to the editor's desk. That's when I returned to Legion of Super-Heroes, developed its spin-offs Legionnaires, Valor, and Timber Wolf, plus Eclipso. I had a goal of developing more titles set in the the 30th century — really building a bit of a future franchise — but didn't stay at DC long enough to realize them.

Justin: So... I'm placing you as Giordano's aide somewhere between late 1990 and mid 1992?

Eury: I don't recall the exact date, but it was in the early spring of 1990 that I became assistant to the editorial director, a title I held until mid-1991, at which time I went back into the editorial pool.

Justin: Those first few years of the 1990s were a particularly crazy time for comics — the peak of the nineties comic book craze was somewhere around 1993 — and DC had a glut of competition on the market. Most notably were Marvel with it's X-titles and Spider-man, but there were other up-and-coming comic companies like Valiant (who started by publishing Nintendo and WCW comics), Malibu (with it's few indie titles) and Dark Horse (who held licenses for the Star Wars, Aliens, Predator and Terminator franchises). How was head DC editorial dealing with all of this new competition?

Eury: The early '90s were indeed a crazy time, with cover gimmicks and variant covers luring readers to buy multiple copies (of course, we've seen a resurgence in that during the past few years). It was disheartening for some of the DC editors when Marvel's rebooted Spider-Man and X-Men books sold so many copies (I remember at San Diego Comic-Con '91, I presented Keith Giffen with an Inkpot Award and introduced him as someone who has "more ideas per minute than Marvel has covers of Spider-Man #1. That remark earned a "look" from Carol Kalish, who at the time was Marvel's marketing chief.) We even joked around the office that DC was "number two with a bullet," the "bullet" being a gag about DC's logo, the DC bullet.

Justin: During all this, DC remained steadfast in printing it's TSR titles (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Spelljammer, Forgotten Realms, etc), which, I hate to say, didn't really leave a lasting impact on comicdom in general. Would you know why DC didn't discontinue the whole line? Were the sales on these books that great? Or was there a demographic DC was really trying to reach with these books?

Eury: I wasn't directly involved with any TSR books so I can't answer those questions. I do know that DC had its eye on producing comics connected to emerging popular media for some time... remember, in the early '80s DC published a number of Atari mini-comics, followed by the Atari Force ongoing series.

Justin: As an aide to Giordano, were you instrumental in working on any big DC editorial "plans" that never saw realization? Coincidentally, do you have any amusing anecdotes of working with Giordano? (I understand he got very upset when someone leaked the 'secret' ending to Armageddon 2001 and DC had to make a swap at the last minute)

Eury: Dick was a sweetheart of a guy. You might be aware that I wrote his biography, Dick Giordano: Changing Comics, One Day At a Time, published in 2003 by TwoMorrows Publishing (it's now out of print).

Thankfully, copies of Eury's book are still available in digital format.
Dick was fond of telling people during meetings that "Michael keeps me honest." He said that jokingly, and it meant that I was there to help him keep track of discussions (and, I suspect, be his backup "ears," since Dick had a severe hearing loss).

Speaking of Dick's hearing loss, one had to speak loudly and clearly when communicating with him. I began to realize that at time our "private" conversations in his office sometimes attracted eavesdroppers outside of his office door. So when we needed to discuss something confidential, we'd often take an elevator ride!

I don't recall Dick's specific reaction to the Armageddon 2001 leak, but a lot of people were ticked off by that. Unfortunately, the fix (substituting Hawk for Captain Atom as the good guy-turned-bad) wounded the story... but sometimes, you've gotta do what you've gotta do!

New Gods v3 (1989 - 1991)

Justin: As I read over New Gods, I'm realizing that it was very self-contained and more or less focused on Orion and New Genesis/Apocalypse. Let's face it, the series could've been called 'Orion' and nobody would've realized the difference. After the Bloodline Saga concluded (New Gods v3 #13), you became the primary editor. The book had Orion and Lightray in the city, interacting with common day people, and we started to see more interaction with other DC characters (Mr Miracle, Superman, Thanagarians, Mon-El), as well as more attention to Lightray and other tertiary New Gods (Fastbak, Metron), and the introduction of Yuga Khan. What caused that direction change? Was it because the title's sales were slowing down and you decided to make it more integrated? Or was it just something you felt would benefit the series? (I believe the theme you were exploring was 'how Gods compare to humans on earth')

Eury: Those of us in group editor Mike Carlin's camp were trying to better consolidate the DC Universe through crossovers and guest-shots. The direction of the series was really at the discretion of its writer, Mark Evanier — Mark was one of Jack Kirby's assistants back in the early '70s when Kirby was originally producing his Fourth World books, and really, no one was better suited at the time to write those characters than Evanier (with the possible exception of Kirby himself).

As New Gods editor, I did briefly entertain offering the book to Neil Gaiman as writer. This grew out of a pitch Neil made to me, when I was editor of Secret Origins during the end of its run, for a Darkseid origin. I had to tell Neil that Secret Origins was being canceled, but later realized how perfect Neil would be for the Fourth World mythology. Then I got promoted to being Dick's assistant and I regrettably never pursued that.

I must mention that in May 2018, Back Issue #104 will feature a "Fourth World After Kirby" theme, exploring all of the post-Kirby incarnations of the New Gods characters.

Justin: What were DC's plans with the Fourth World characters going into the 90s? There was Cosmic Odyssey, and both Mister Miracle and the New Gods had an ongoing series, the Forever People had a mini-series, the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion had been appearing in Superman titles, and the Female Furies had been appearing in Suicide Squad. Was there any resistance from the Jack Kirby estate on the use of the characters?

Eury: Kirby was still alive during most of what you mentioned, and the characters were DC's property. You could argue that the New Gods, et al., make better supporting characters than headliners. That still holds true today. And Darkseid, in particular, has been elevated to — arguably — DC's number one super villain.

Darkseid pin-up from Who's Who in the DC Universe v2 #1 (1990). Illustrated by Mark Badger.

Justin: The New Gods (as a comic book series) have never experienced that much longevity, I think the New Gods series you edited (which concluded at issue #28) had the longest run. Would you have any hypothesis as to why that would be?

Eury: I never considered its longevity until you mentioned it. Perhaps it was because the characters better interfaced with the rest of the DCU. Other than Superman and Jimmy Olsen, Kirby kept his Fourth World at arm's length from DC's other characters (although before long, other creators started using Kirby's characters, such as the Batman/Mr. Miracle team-up in Brave and the Bold #112 (1974)).

Legion of Super-Heroes

Justin: I'm also going to to point out that Mon-El appeared in a lot of Legion of Super-Heroes titles you edited, was one of Eclipso's main henchman in Eclipso: The Darkness Within, appeared in New Gods during your editorial run, and you were instrumental in launching his first ongoing series in 1992. Is Mon-El (aka Valor) a character you were fond of reading about while growing up?

Eury: When I was a kid reading the Legion in Adventure Comics and then the Cockrum/Grell era in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, Mon-El was one of my two favorite Legionnaires (the other being Ultra Boy). Funny how I zeroed in on the two Superboy knock-offs... Mon-El fascinated me, from his original status as Superboy's "brother" to his cool costume to his tragic banishment to the Phantom Zone (I wrote The Brave & The Bold editor Murray Boltinoff back in the '70s asking for a Batman/Mon-El team-up, temporarily liberating Mon from the Zone for a Bat-adventure; sorry that never happened... would've love to have seen Mon-El drawn by Jim Aparo).

Justin: You were the editor for Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #31 (1992) — in which it is revealed that Shvaughn Erin was actually a man the whole time. Was there any complications in running that story? Did Legion fans react poorly or amicably to that 'twist in the plot'?

Eury: Well, it was shocking, especially for the time! Reaction was mixed, as I recall, but today it turns out that the story was revolutionary for its time.

...and that wraps up our interview with Michael Eury. We wanted to thank Mr Eury for being particularly generous with his time. 

We also wanted to spotlight that not only is Mr Eury the editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine, but he's also authored a few DC comics companion books. A few that you may recognize:

Special thanks to contributing editor, Rob Perry, for help compiling the questions.

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