Monday, September 10, 2018

John Byrne at FANEXPO 2018

The 2018 Toronto FANEXPO came and went last weekend -- August 30th to September 2nd -- and the BIG news this year was that John Byrne would be appearing, and that this would be Byrne's LAST convention appearance for the foreseeable future. This is especially enticing since I don't think Byrne has attended more than 8 comic conventions in the last 15 years. For an eighties comics fan site, this was a landmark moment indeed.

Unfortunately, our on-the-scene journalist was unable to get access to the John Byrne Q&A panels. Fortunately, Eric Anthony of the Cave of Solitude podcast was able to come through and provide audio for this event. When asked if we can transcribe the audio, Eric replied with "I figure all the comic fans should have a chance to hear Mr Byrne chat it up with the fans." Truly appreciated, Eric. The crew at the Cave of Solitude podcast are fan's fans and are based out of Toronto, ON. They do a lot of interviews with comic pros and discuss some very interesting comic book stuff -- go ahead and give them a listen.


This is transcribed audio from two different John Byrne Q&A Panels held at the at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on September 1st and September 2nd, 2018. It was an hour of Byrne opening up the floor to fan's questions. No question was refused.

True to our namesake, we only transcribed the questions and answers that had anything to do with DC comics and the eighties. We omitted questions and answers about Byrne's work on Marvel comics (ex: Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and X-Men) or Byrne's creative process -- unless it had something directly to do with DC comics.

(Please note: we have NO clue which attendees asked which questions. If we quoted one of your questions from the panel, feel free to take credit in the comments section of this article. Without further ado....)

Panel host Chis Ryall (on the left) and John Byrne (on the right). 2018.
Photo source: Eric Anthony of Cave of Solitude podcast

Q: "What were the circumstances in the 1990s that allowed for all the cross-overs between Marvel and DC? Do you think that it would happen again anytime soon? "

Byrne: "Well what happened was a lot of people were flowing back and forth, of course. Y'know... Marvel people were going to DC [comics], DC people were fleeing [Jim] Shooter and ending up at... y'know. I've often said -- and I'm going to go on a slight tangent here -- back in those days when you guys didn't know 3 months in advance what was coming, and the first time anybody found out about the Superman/Spider-Man book was when the house ads appeared in the comics, and I figure there was some kids who walked into the local drugstore and THERE IT WAS on the spinner rack... and they didn't know it was coming... and their heads must've exploded. THAT was, in many respects... the first Superman/Spider-Man... was the last gasp of old time comics. Because Ross Andru penciled it, except -- you may not know this -- it was given to Dick Giordano to ink, Dick took it up to the Continuity Offices where he worked with Neal [Adams], and Neal redrew all the Superman figures. Y'know? He erased Ross' and redrew it. He put it inside the profile that Ross had drawn it. But he redrew it. And then there was an editor who went in afterwards and put a white line around all the foreground figures to make them jump... all because people wanted it to be the best book that anybody had ever done. And today, well just what Neal did would make all the lawyers commit harakiri -- y'know... they'd just go out of their minds. And yet it produced this wonderful little moment of time."

cover of Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1976). Art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano

"Then, of course, they had to kind of run it into the ground. The moment that the cross-overs became an ongoing monthly series... what was that called... 'Amalgam'? Whatever that was. This is what we do in the business: we take something special and just run the wheels off it. So they kind of went away for a while. Luckily, in that span, I got to do Darkseid vs Galactus. That was fun, because  I was at a convention and George Perez was sitting next to me at our table, and this kid comes up and says "Why don't you do Darkseid versus Galactus?" and George and I just looked at each other and said "How come we don't think of stuff like that? Holy Crap" and of course I got to do one of my all-time all-time favorite jobs ever which was Batman/Captain America."

cover of Darkseid vs Galactus: The Hunger (1995). Art by John Byrne.

"Even as I was doing those, the whole thing was dying, and then just some nasty stuff between Marvel and DC. Politics. It's always about politics -- one of the reasons I left both of them was that there was just too much 'stuff'."

cover of The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.

Q: "How much creative freedom did you have when you reset Superman Man of Steel?"

Byrne: "When I was hired, or ASKED, to do Superman, they asked me to turn in a proposal. I turned in, I think it was, 20 points -- which I called 'my list of unreasonable demands'. Some of you may have seen the SYFY channel interview that I did, so you may have already heard this. Of all the things I wanted to do, the only thing that DC -- that Jenette Kahn -- pushed back on was...  well, as I tell it, I was sitting there going 'Well, Kryptonite can kill Superman. How do we know that? That's kind of a test of destruction, isn't it? How do we know Kryptonite can kill Superman? ' So I came up with the idea that it wasn't Kal-El who was sent from Krypton -- it was the pregnant Lara. (This was before I did the big change and all that stuff.) She arrives on Earth, the Kents find her and take her home. She has the baby, and then she finds a lump of Kryptonite and it kills her. So now we know Kryptonite can kill Kryptonians. Jenette didn't like that. She thought that, of all the stuff I wanted to do, that was too extreme."

"And she [Jenette] said "What if the pressure is in the core that are going to cause the planet to explode are already creating Kryptonite? So people are dying of Kryptonite radiation on Krypton before it blows up?" and I said "I'll steal that! That's good! I'll take it!" So we did THAT instead, and that's how I got my "Out of the Green Dawn" title and all that stuff. That persuaded me to do the cold, anti-septic Krypton instead of the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers Krypton."

panels from The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.

Q: "To take you back to Superman with your 20 points there, you took him down several paces. Was that your idea?"

Byrne: "Oh yeah! I went into Superman saying "y'know, it's the 'Man' that's important. Not the 'Super'". Denny O'Neil once said to me, long before I got anywhere NEAR Superman, he once said "It's hard to write interesting stories about a character who is so POWERFUL that he can destroy entire alien races by listening hard." And I said "yeah!" Y'know? The Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve, the first one, which I saw 127 times in the theater. That is not an exaggeration, that is the number of times I saw it. It struck me that every time I saw it, he's doing all this super stuff -- y'know? Pushing over mountains, and whatnot -- but the moment the audience cheered, every SINGLE time, was when he tore the car door off to get to Lois. And I said "That's relatable!" Who among us hasn't had THAT moment? That's something we can all comprehend. I said "That's why he needs to be Superman, but not Superman Who Can Push the Earth Around". As a kid, I used to have problems with that image too, because I always think 'well, they draw it sideways', but he's standing on his hands, isn't he, to push the earth? Why doesn't he just bore into the earth? Y'know?"

"So I said "Let's bring down and let's make him comprehensible" and I also tried to introduce some science, so that his x-ray vision, for example, was NOT him firing x-rays out of his eyes. I said "That's not how x-rays work! If he was doing that, he'd have to fly around to the other side to intercept it." I said "He can see the WHOLE spectrum. He can SEE x-rays. Y'know? That's how he can see through stuff. He can probably see radio waves." I thought about getting rid of heat vision, because that wasn't a natural extension of what people can do -- but I found it useful."

panels from The Man of Steel #4 (1986). Art by John Byrne.

[Another fan asked a similar question on Sunday. Byrne elaborated on his answer a little more...]

Byrne: "When I went off-contract at Marvel, Dick Giordano called me immediately. He said "Okay, you've been bitching about Superman for years... put your money where your mouth is." Let me add parenthetically that I wish I had said "no", but I said "yes" and got together with Dick and Jenette [Kahn] and Paul Levitz and talked about stuff, and I came up with, what I called, my 'list of unreasonable demands'. It was about 20 points, and they accepted most of them.  They said "yeah, you can do this." "

"Superman is, once again, the sole survivor of the doomed planet Krypton. That's kind of important, I think. I wanted to make Ma and Pa Kent younger, so it was more reasonable that he was THEIR kid and didn't have to pretend that they got him from their cousin in Milwaukee or something. I wanted to emphasis that it is the MAN that is important, not the SUPER. I also wanted to make Clark Kent more dynamic. My favorite Clark Kent is George Reeves. I've often said that when you watch that and show Lois will come in and go "Oh Clark! Oh, something horrible is happening!" and he'll go "Oh, get off my case, Lois. I'm working!" And then she leaves and he just goes. He was such a dynamic... He was a very dynamic Clark. He wasn't a wimpy Clark."

George Reeves as Clark Kent (circa early 1950s)
Photo source: unknown

"Although I've said many times: Christopher Reeve convinced me that that disguise works. That you can part your hair on the other side, slouch, wear a pair of glasses, and look like a different guy. I'm sure you all remember the scene where he comes to Lois' apartment (after Superman has flown her around and Clark comes to take her out on a date) and he's standing there -- and she's gone into the bedroom to change, and he looks at the bedroom door and he takes off the glasses and stands up like another 6 inches, and then she comes out and he puts the glasses back on. But, he really convinced me that you could do it if you sold it properly. You could do it. So that was a lot of what I brought to it."

Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent (circa late 70s/early 80s)
photo source: unknown

"I also wanted Lois to NOT be a bitch. Margot Kidder made me understand why Superman would be smitten with Lois, because up until then I was like "Why?". I remember the Superman parody I did in What The?... it was Park Bench and Nosy Dame were their names. I also wanted Lana Lang to be a more important character. I felt she got a short shift. When Superboy was created, the character/the comic, the Superman editorial office ignored it for, like, 10 years. They just pretended the Superboy comic didn't exist. This whole thing was going on with Lana, and if you were reading that independently you'd go "Oh obviously he's going to grow up and marry Lana, right?", but for years in Superman [it was] "Oh obviously he's going to marry Lois, right?". So the first time they brought Lana into a Superman story, she was this cold, hard sort-of baby Katharine Hepburn-like character. She's Lana Turner with red hair. So yeah, I wanted to get into the history and the background and build the characters from the ground up with a more realistic approach."

cover of Superboy #93 (1961). Art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

Q: Have you any Superman stories left? Or did you tell them all?

Byrne: "Oh, I could tell some more Superman stories probably, but I really feel it's a case of 'been there, done that'. Once you do Superman, you almost feel like your career is over once you've done Superman. "Well, nothing left here." So, yeah, I don't think I'd ever go back."

Q: "Back when you were doing Action Comics as a team-up book, is there anyone you didn't get to use that you wanted to use?"

Byrne: "Swamp Thing. They wouldn't let me. I went to the editor and said "I want to use Swamp Thing in Action Comics", and she said "No, no, we can't allow that to happen. Oh, by the way, we're using [Lex] Luthor." and I said "Well I don't want THAT to happen, because I haven't fully developed Luthor yet." She replied "Oh, it's already done." Oh, okay. That's how we're going to play THAT game, is it? Fine. So I didn't get to do Swamp Thing.

Spot Lex Luthor. panels from Swamp Thing #53 (1986). John Totleben art.

Q: "Any comments on the Superman/Big Barda sex tape?"

Byrne: "Are you familiar with an old story called 'The Lady or The Tiger'? Okay, the whole point of that story was this guy had fallen in love with a princess -- it's set in India --  and the King/Raja doesn't approve, so he condemns the man to be put into an arena... and there are two doors: behind one door is a beautiful lady -- a princess he will marry if he opens THAT door. And behind the other door is a tiger, and if he opens THAT door, he's dead. So the princess he's in love with is sitting above this, and she points at one of the doors. And that's where the story ends. So we don't know -- what did he choose? What did she tell him to choose? Did she tell him the lady... or the tiger? And that's what I wanted to do with Big Barda. Superman and Big Barda. We don't know. Did they have sex? I don't know. Let the reader think about that."

panels from Action Comics #593 (1987). Illustrated by John Byrne.

Q: "I have read somewhere that when you worked at DC you wanted to do something with Hawkman. but it never came about. I was wondering if that was true? And what your plans for Hawkman were?

Byrne: "Yeah. I've had a great love of Hawkman ever since the Joe Kubert days. I picked up the first Silver Age Hawkman [issue] from a magazine flat at the end of an aisle in a grocery store. The opening scene in the first Hawkman story with a little dog who turns into a bear scared the crap out of me. I was what? Nine, ten or eleven years old?"

panels from Brave and the Bold #34 (1961). Art by Joe Kubert.

"I've always wanted to do Hawkman. Hawkman was sooooo messed up when I was there and since. And I came up with this whole thing to 'fix' Hawkman. We were rolling along on it, and then DC said "No, we're going to have THIS guy do it." and I said "Ok. Fine. I can do something else." I kept asking for [Etrigan] The Demon, and it took them, like, 15 years to give me the Demon."

Blood of the Demon #1 (2005). Cover by John Byrne and Alex Bleyaert 

Q: "Mentioning [Jim] Shooter, how much control did you try to preserve on your part?"

Byrne: "All of it. Shooter had/has, what I call, the 'Whim of Iron'. It almost seemed, literally, like he'd come in on Monday morning with a new idea, and we all had to follow it until he forgot it next the week because he had ANOTHER new idea. I mean, one of the main reasons why Roger Stern and I quit Captain America was because Shooter came in one day and said "Everything has to be one issue stories." and we said "Okay. We're just starting a three-parter, but as soon as we're done, we'll do one-issue stories.", and he said "No. Now.". And I said "Well, I've drawn six pages of this first issue, we can't fit the next three issues into what's left of the book." So he got huffy and pulled it. And that was in the days when the fans still supported me when I quit. "He must've done it for a good reason", they said [about me]."

These panels from LEGENDS #5 (1987) inserted for NO REASON whatsoever. Art by John Byrne.

Q: "So for Fantastic Four, you came on five issues before the 20th anniversary, and then you left right before the 25th anniversary. What was the history there?"

Byrne: "Well, I was having fun working on the Fantastic Four. I was looking for a bit of a break. I'd been talking to John Romita Jr about drawing it while I wrote it. We were cruising towards that -- I think that would've been fun. And then I accepted the Superman gig, and in my innocence, I assumed that I would do Superman AND the Fantastic Four -- but as soon as Shooter found out about Superman, suddenly nothing I was doing on the Fantastic Four was any good... things kept getting changed and I had to do this and I had to do that. And I said to Mike Carlin, who was my editor then, "I'm gonna just leave. You shouldn't have to put up with the crap just because I'm going to do Superman." Mike Hobson, who was the publisher of Marvel in those days, he congratulated me on Superman and said "Anything that's good for DC will be good for Marvel -- it will be good for the whole industry." So I left, and then Shooter fired Carlin because it was 'his fault' I left.   "

[Editor's note: After Carlin was 'fired' by Marvel, he became an editor at DC comics and oversaw the Superman titles (among other things). He remained an editor at DC from 1986 to 2011. Not bad, not bad at all.]

Q:"You've done extensive work with both companies (Marvel and DC), what did you find were the differences in which you approach those characters and the rules you have to abide by with them?"

Byrne: "I'll tell you a funny story. When I left DC, and I went back to Marvel, and I was doing West Coast Avengers. I had an issue that opened with a scene of Hawkeye out on the practice range firing his arrows. I drew him standing there, firing his arrows, and I said "oh! come one!" and I put him on this whirligig machine that's throwing him around and he's firing and he's still getting bullseyes. That seemed more Marvel. I mentioned that to Walt Simonson and Walt said "That's what you should've been doing at DC!" "Yeah", I said. "There was a different mindset the minute I stepped through the door at DC -- everything went down a few hundred notches." Stan [Lee] used to say "In Marvel comics, people don't reach for the phone,... they REACH for the phone!" It's true. You don't 'come in' through the door, you COME IN through the door. So yeah, that was the biggest difference, it was mainly psychological. DC is.... calmer. As I often said, seriously now... setting aside which characters are your favorite and all that, which universe would you want to live in? Because the DC universe has Superman, and the Marvel universe has Galactus. I think I'd want to live in the DC universe, because it's SO much safer."

panels from Avengers West Coast #42 (1989). Art by John Byrne.

On his work with Jack Kirby's Fourth World series:

Byrne: "The first time I ever read New Gods (when it first came out), I had missed the first issue. So I started reading it at the second issue, and the second issue has that whole sequence "There came a time when the Old Gods died...", I read that and this double-page spread with armageddon and all that kinda crap, I read that and said "[expletive]! What was in the FIRST issue?!?". Which I ultimately tracked down, but that stuff just blew me away. That was one of those worlds that I just fell into and went 'wow'."

opening page from New Gods #2 (1971). Art by Jack Kirby and Vince Coletta.

"And then, how many years later, DC said "Do you want to do New Gods? We're going to do Fourth World and put all those books together." [And I replied] "So I can do the New Gods, and the Forever People, and Mister Miracle all in one book? I'm there! Present!" So that was a lot of fun, and y'know, Fourth World was a lot of fun, Wonder Woman was a lot of fun. I could've done a hundred issues of either one of those, but the editor told me one day that he was going to be leaving DC, and I was very close to the end of my contract. I said "Oh god, I could re-sign for a year and end up with some nazi as my new editor. Do I want to do that? Do I want to risk being trapped for a year on these books the I LOVE, but with some editor that doesn't 'get them'?" So I left, I left both the books. And then the editor DIDN'T leave DC. Thanks a lot. It was one of those things that I always felt that I'd still be doing the New Gods today if that hadn't happened."

panel from Jack Kirby's Fourth World #3 (1997). Illustrated by John Byrne.

It was revealed in Saturday's panel that Byrne's FAVORITE super villain costume design was Silver Banshee's.

Q: "Silver Banshee's costume... do you consider that to be actual flames?"

Byrne: "Yes. Silver flame. That was my attempt to do a Dave Cockrum costume. She's got the opera gloves and the thigh-high boots... which Dave did 500 times and every time he did it looked different. 'Oh! Storm has the SAME costume as Corsair!' "

Action Comics #595 (1987).  Cover by John Byrne.

Regarding changes to his characters by different creative teams:

Byrne: "I've had to train myself not to care, because when we let go, we have to let go. A somewhat recent example is what they had done to Cassie Sandsmark in Wonder Woman once I had left. I'd done this 'all elbows and knees' fourteen year old girl, and they turned her into Britney Spears. And that's because there's an awful lot of artists out there, sadly, male, who can ONLY draw Britney Spears. They can't understand, and there's an awful lot of fans who won't accept anything else. There were a lot of males saying how 'ugly' Cassie was, and I'd say "She's not ugly, she's ordinary. You guys are just used to seeing these cookie-cutter whatnots.""

Cassie as seen on the cover of 1996's Wonder Woman #105...

...Cassie as seen on the cover of Teen Titans #3 (2003)

Q: "Was the LEGEND imprint within Dark Horse a response to the Image movement?"

Byrne: "In many ways. We looked at Image and said "That's a good idea.", and then we built LEGEND, and, as Jo Duffy so aptly put it, "It sure didn't take long for LEGEND to become MYTH." Yeah, that was unfortunate.What can I say? Jim Lee had actually asked me to join Image, and I had just signed with Dark Horse to do Next Men. He said "well, what does that matter? Come do it for us." and years later I thought "Y'know... if I had done that, I'd be a multi-multi-multi-millionaire, but I would have to have all the mirrors taken out of my house." 

introducing LEGEND comics!
gatefold cover from Wizard Magazine #31 (1994)

Another fan asked about future plans on bringing back The Next Men:

Byrne: "No, that's finished. It's done. Stick a pin in it."

John Byrne's Next Men #1 (1992). Cover by John Byrne

On other 'greats of the industry' he respected:

Byrne: "I used to be really good buddies with Frank Miller -- I don't know what happened -- but while we were both doing our stuff (I was doing Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, and he was doing Daredevil) we'd be talking to each other all the time, and being subversive in ways. Walt [Simonson] and I have always been good buddies."

A few other random factoids DC comics fans might be interested in:

-Byrne feels that his *best* technical comics work is 1991's OMAC: One Man Army Corps. I honestly cannot disagree with him on that one -- such a great mini-series.

-The comics work that he had the most fun with was 1997's Batman/Captain America. He'd like to go back and re-ink it.

-Laurie S. Sutton was once Frank Miller's girlfriend.


To hear John Byrne talk is much different that reading his words. Byrne will change his voice when he's quoting someone in a story, he uses a lot of inflection in his sentences, and he'll often stop a sentence in mid-stream and begin a new one. In short, we did the best we could to transcribe, but go ahead and listen to the ACTUAL audio if you get the chance.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Saturday Sept 1st 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Sunday Sept 2nd 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.


Eric Anthony (and by extension, the Cave of Solitude podcast) has our eternal gratitude for sharing this with us. In addition, we want to give shout outs to Martin Slam Duncan and the Fastball Special podcast, as well as Aaron Broverman and the Speech Bubble podcast  -- check 'em out for some great comic book coverage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wonder Woman in the 80s: the Dan Mishkin run

Wonder Woman is one of those titles I've always wanted to 'dive into' but never had the opportunity -- mainly because my early collection of DC comics contained a hodgepodge of Wonder Woman comics from different eras (i.e.,  a few pre-Crisis issues, a few post-Crisis issues, a few early 90s issues, a few post-Zero Hour issues, etc). Sure, I have a 'functional' knowledge of Wonder Woman -- from what I've picked up from Super Friends episodes and Justice League of America comics -- but it always seemed too daunting to read her books since I knew her history (and powers) had been retconned a few times too many. For this article, I'm going to ignore all that, just dive into it and simply accept it all at face value. This is where I actually sit down and read a whole run of consecutive Wonder Woman issues and give an honest-to-god review. This will be my FIRST time reading this, so I really have no preconceived opinions or biases here.

A bit of background:

Dan Mishkin took over as writer for Wonder Woman in mid-1982. Previously, it was Roy Thomas writing Wonder Woman, but he needed to drop the title due to his hectic schedule. Mishkin started scripting over Thomas's plots for issues #295 and #296, and by issue #297 he was THE writer on the title. Marv Wolfman became the editor of Wonder Woman just as Mishkin was becoming the main writer on the series.

You might recognize Mishkin as the co-creator (along with Gary Cohn) of Amethyst and Blue Devil -- and you'd be correct -- but these came AFTER Mishkin started on Wonder Woman. At this point, Mishkin had worked with Cohn on material for DC's mystery/horror/supernatural anthology titles (i.e., House of Mystery, Unexpected, Ghosts, Weird War Tales) and a few one-off stories for Flash, Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. It's safe to say that Mishkin was still an 'unknown' to comic fandom when he took over Wonder Woman.

When Mishkin took over the title, the Joey Cavalieri/Joe Staton Huntress back-ups were already in full swing -- you were only getting 16 to 18 pages of Wonder Woman per issue (which may been a bonus or a nuisance, depending on who you ask). A few readers had even speculated that Wonder Woman's sales would drop if the Huntress back-up feature had been taken away. Since this is a Wonder Woman review, the Huntress back-up features will be reviewed at another time.

When Mishkin picked up Wonder Woman, he was finishing up a story arc Thomas started about video games that were taking control of players and turning them into zombies for General Electric (a 1970s Sandman villain). Wonder Woman was at a good place by this point. Readers wrote in expressing excitement for the 'sensational new' Wonder Woman -- as of issue #288, the series had received an updated logo, a new writer who seemed to know his Wonder Woman history (Roy Thomas), a new penciller (Gene Colan), and her costume had gotten a slight update. According to fans, the book was definitely on an upswing. Issue #297 would be Mishkin's proving grounds.

Wonder Woman v1 #297 (1982). Dan Mishkin's first issue. Beautiful Mike Kaluta cover.

It's important to note that Gene Colan was the penciller on Mishkin's first eight issues. Colan's contribution to the book should NOT be overlooked -- Colan becoming penciller at issue #288 brought a surge of renewed interest to the book (if nothing else for the new readers who just wanted to check out his art).

Gene Colan art from Wonder Woman v1 #298 (1982)

Unfortunately, Mishkin's first story arc gets interrupted by a 16-page Masters of The Universe comic book preview insert. (I say 'unfortunately', but this may have actually encouraged more comic fans to pick up the issue due to the MOTU insert.) Regardless, we're introduced to a NEW Wonder Woman foe and a plot to destroy the Amazons on Paradise Island in a three-issue story arc. There's a bit of info about Themiscyra and we get a bit of a mythology lesson about Bellerophon and Pegasus. Mishkin also throws in some reminders that America was still in a cold war with Russia, and that Diana is still an accomplished fighter pilot. All in all, I enjoyed this story arc and quickly dove into the next issues. This leads us to the 300th issue of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman #300 v1 (1983) wrap-around cover by Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano

The 300th issue is a 72-page landmark issue -- with contributions from about a dozen different pencillers and inkers -- all written by Roy and Danette Thomas. Before he left, Thomas had already written Wonder Woman #300, and advanced solicitations dropped the big spoiler that Wonder Woman would accept Steve Trevor's marriage proposal. This was the first appearance of Lyta Trevor (who later becomes Fury from Infinity Inc.), and the Sandman (Garrett Sanford) plays a big supporting role in this story. Mishkin had no part in this issue. Thankfully, everything returns to status quo before we move onto Wonder Woman #301.

Issue #301 has Wonder Woman hanging out on Paradise Island with the rest of the Amazons. We're seeing a lot more of this under Mishkin's creative direction -- he's really bringing Wonder Woman back to her Greek roots. It's a set-up for a new story arc -- this time about the previous Amazon who held the title of 'Wonder Woman'. I found this story to be very well-written and intriguing. Mishkin knows how to set the pace to keep things mysterious. I'm enjoying this very much. (As it happens, Wonder Woman #301 is also around the same time when Mishkin and Gary Cohn debuted their Amethyst preview story in Legion of Super-Heroes #298.)

Gene Colan art from Wonder Woman #301 (1983)

Wonder Woman issues #303 and #304 features a super-villain who last appeared in a Green Lantern story written by Marv Wolfman. This is somewhat fitting, since Wolfman was the editor on Wonder Woman by this point. I always enjoy stories that have another hero's villain cross-over to another character's title, so Mishkin's run is batting 1000 as far as I'm concerned. Ernie Colon takes over as editor in issue #304.

Wonder Woman #303 (1983): In today's edition of 'Guess that Green Lantern villain'...
Art by Gene Colan

The next issue (#305) in this run has Wonder Woman battling Circe (one of her more 'classic' rogues) and reminds us that Wonder Woman has a four-decade-long legacy with her own rogues gallery. So far, it would appear that Mishkin is managing to keep Wonder Woman contemporary (and not campy) while still respecting her roots.

Starting with issue #306, Don Heck becomes the new penciller AND inker (replacing Gene Colan). Colan's art is very moody and atmospheric (see: Marvel's Tomb of Dracula), while Heck has very crisp lines and makes it feels like a bright and cheerful 'super hero' comic. Colan also had the tendency to use a lot of BIG panels in his stories -- making them feel a lot shorter than their allotted 18 pages.

Panels from Wonder Woman #306 (1983). Art by Don Heck.

Issue #306 also begins to see Wonder Woman's support characters getting more exposure -- Etta Candy, Steve Trevor, Phillip Darnell, Keith Griggs, Lisa Abernathy  -- they're all in here taking part in one of the most confusing cold war espionage thrillers I've ever read. It would seem that Mishkin is trying to build on Wonder Woman's strong supporting cast and show readers more of Diana's personality. I'm seeing a strong trend towards realism and depth in Mishkin's work. While I couldn't understand the conclusion to the cold war spy thriller, I still thought this story arc had strong character development and I was interested enough to keep reading. 

So far, at this point into Mishkin's run, readers had written in asking to see: more about Diana's ties to her Amazon heritage, appearances from her old rogues, and more attention to her support characters. For anyone keeping score, Mishkin has delivered on all three.

Next up, there's a two-issue story arc (#308 - #309) in which she teams up with the Black Canary and Elongated Man (reinforcing her ties as a Justice Leaguer). I had trouble maintaining interest in this story arc -- partly because Mishkin put all of the interesting sub-plots he'd brewing up on hold, and partly because I was more interested in Wonder Woman's civilian life and interactions with her support characters (I wasn't kidding when I said his characterization was really really good). Additionally, issue #308 was when Ernie Colon left as editor on Wonder Woman to illustrate Amethyst v1 (also written by Mishkin and Cohn) and to work on his science fiction graphic novel (see: The Medusa Chain). Alan Gold becomes the new editor in issue #309.

Panels from Wonder Woman #308 (1983). Art by Don Heck.

Issue #310 features more Greek mythology. I'm feeling that Mishkin is taking some creative liberties with his recounting of Greek myths, but it's adding to the Wonder Woman lore and fills us in on the mysterious origin of the 'previous Wonder Woman' -- so hey, I'm enjoying this. Mark Beachum is the guest penciller on this issue and Pablo Marcus inks.

panels from Wonder Woman #310 (1983). Art by Mark Beachum and Pablo Marcus.

A major obstacle with writing Wonder Woman was deciding what to do with her love interest, Steve Trevor. Readers had polarized views on Trevor's role in the series -- some felt that he was crucial to Wonder Woman and her love for him was the only tie to man's world, while other readers felt he was boring as hell and should get killed off (again). Mishkin took the higher ground here and tried to turn Steve Trevor into a character fans would care about... demonstrated in issue #311 when Steve Trevor narrates the story. This two-issue story arc had Wonder Woman solving a sci-fi/supernatural mystery which I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did.

The supernatural force that is destroying jet fighters in mid-air is... [dramatic pause]... gremlins. That is correct, folks. Gremlins. Coincidentally, I was about to put the finishing touches on this review and publish it, when I discovered Brian Cronin of CBR posted an article of his own about this. Cronin points out that Mishkin added the whole 'gremlins' several months BEFORE the movie Gremlins was released, which just happens to be a HUGE coincidence. The Gremlins in Mishkin's story gave off a friendly, helpful Smurf-like vibe as opposed to the type of creatures that may or may not devour a human infant from the Gremlins film.

That's right. Gremlins.
panel from Wonder Woman #310 (1984). art by Don Heck.
As an added bonus, the long-running "Will she reveal her secret identity to Steve Trevor? Or won't she?" subplot that had been running *forever* finally gets resolved. By the end of it all, this sci-fi story ends with Wonder Woman getting a new side-kick/supporting character... who is a Gremlin.

Issues #313 and 314 have Wonder Woman battling Circe (again). In the background, the plot thickens as it is revealed that Wonder Woman had memories erased by her mother, Hippolyta. A new villain is introduced: Tezcatlipoca -- a chieftain of the Aztec Gods. Issues #315 and #316 are spent battling Tezcatlipoca. For anyone who's curious, Blue Devil #1 (created and written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn) was released around the same time as Wonder Woman #316 -- Mishkin is now the regular writer on three DC books (i.e., Wonder Woman, Amethyst and Blue Devil).
introducing... Tezcatlipoca!
panel from Wonder Woman #314 (1984). art by Don Heck.

I can appreciate Mishkin introducing a NEW god-like threat that isn't based on a Greek mythological figure, but once again, I'm eagerly waiting to find out what memories Diana's mother had stolen from her and I'm wondering if Mishkin is deliberately stalling because he hasn't written that far ahead in the plot, yet. (ha!) We are giving a few tidbits of info... like Steve Trevor had already died -- which makes me even more eager to discover who this current Steve Trevor is...

Issue #317 is filled with even more revisions to Amazon mythology -- we are introduced to a 'lost' tribe of South American Amazons:

panels from Wonder Woman #317 (1984). Art by Don Heck and Rick Magyer.

Wonder Woman #318 was a Kurt Busiek and Irv Novick fill-in issue -- so I'll be skipping over this one. Editor Alan Gold revealed that it was planned to occur out-of-continuity, and meant to give Mishkin and Heck a breather. It doesn't mean that we can't appreciate the cover, however:

Wonder Woman #318 (1984). Cover by Eduardo Barreto

And this brings us to issue #319. This... this is what I've been waiting for! Some answers at last! But first, we need to deal with the dramatic return of Dr Cyber -- a Wonder Woman villain I had little familiarity with but was always genuinely curious about. The next few issues deal with more Cold War intrigue as Dr Cyber steals the launch codes for America's nuclear warheads and Wonder Woman narrowly averts World War III.

Dr Cyber finally gets the drop on Wonder Woman.
panel from Wonder Woman #320. Art by Don Heck and Rick Magyar.

In issue #322, after a climactic battle with Dr Cyber, the entire 'missing memories and the mysterious death(s) of Steve Trevor' storyline wraps up. I wasn't aware at the time of reading this, but the mysterious return of Steve Trevor had been an unresolved plotline in Wonder Woman's continuity that had been running since 1980 -- and it wasn't even the first time the writers had killed Steve Trevor and brought him back to life! (Which is probably the most telling detail of how badly Wonder Woman's continuity was messed up.)

For the curious: the answer involves parallel earths, which gives us a bit of foreshadowing to the upcoming Crisis On Infinite Earths. The living and breathing Steve Trevor we see now accidentally came from a parallel reality and crash landed into this reality. After a lot of exposition and a fistfight, Steve Trevor is ultimately restored to his 'whole' self after merging with Aphrodite's son, Eros.

...yeah, I'm still kinda unclear on all of this.

What the hell? From Wonder Woman #322.

Issue #322 was the first issue in a long time with NO Huntress back-up, just 23 pages of Wonder Woman. This may have also been the kiss of death on this series, since Wonder Woman #322 was the last monthly issue and would be published bi-monthly starting with issue #323.

Issue #323 was quite possibly the funnest issue of Wonder Woman Mishkin had written in a while. There were a lot of Wonder Woman villains in this one (ex: Angle Man, Silver Swan, Cheetah, Dr Psycho), Etta gets Wonder Woman powers, the Monitor and Harbinger make an appearance (it was an unofficial Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in), and there's a bit of romantic tension building between Diana and Keith Griggs. According to editor Alan Gold, this story was originally pitched by Mishkin to be several issues long, but Gold asked Mishkin to keep it contained within one issue to give readers a break from long, complicated storylines.

panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck

According to editor Alan Gold, like all DC writers at the time, Mishkin was obliged to add Harbinger and the Monitor to Wonder Woman's regular continuity in issue #323, quite possibly without really knowing what the aftermath of Crisis On Infinite Earths would be or what the Monitor was all about. (I personally love reading about editorial curve-balls that were thrown at writers and how they dealt with them.) Hence, we get a Monitor who is more or less a power-broker for villains -- which is how he was introduced in the Teen Titans books:

panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck

To conclude Mishkin's run, issues #324 and #325 featured the return of the Atomic Knight -- a DC sci-fi character that first debuted in the sixties, ran in about twenty stories, took a twelve year hiatus, and re-appeared in 1983's DC Comics Presents #57 (also written by Mishkin and Cohn). After Mishkin left the title, the Atomic Knight no longer appeared in Wonder Woman... but that's okay because we'd see Atomic Knight reappear again in 1985's Outsiders v2.

re-introducing...the Atomic Knight! panels from Wonder Woman #324.

These were 'bridging issues' meant to bridge Mindy Newell as the new writer (much in the same way Roy Thomas had done for Mishkin). Mishkin's last issue of Wonder Woman would be #325. Mishkin was nice enough to write 'Glitch' (the gremlin sidekick that Steve Trevor befriends back in issue #311) out of the series, and Newell was freed up to take the series in the direction she chose to. Curiously, a new female supporting character, Lieutenant Lauren Haley, is added to the roster -- and I'm wondering if this was at Newell's request because it's kinda late in the game for Mishkin to be throwing in new characters...

introducing Lieutenant Lauren Haley. Wonder Woman #325.

This more or less concludes Dan Mishkin's run on Wonder Woman. It was announced in issue #324 that Mindy Newell would be succeeding Dan Mishkin.

Following Wonder Woman #325, Mindy Newell took over writing chores for the title. The letters column hinted that Newell had big plans for Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman, and a few great storylines of her own dealing with Hippolyta and her son... but alas, these never saw print. The series ended four issues later at issue #329. Curiously, Newell decided to finish up the Tezcatlipoca storyline after Mishkin left, which built up to and was immediately followed up by an official Crisis On Infinite Earths tie-in. The last issue of this series (a Crisis tie-in) was written by Gerry Conway.

Following the last issue of the series, Trina Robbins wrote a four-part Wonder Woman mini-series meant to satiate Wonder Woman fans while they tried to figure out their next move -- because, really, I don't think THEY even knew what was happening next:

(from Wonder Woman #325)

By issue #323 (after the title went bi-monthly), it was pretty much known by fans that the Wonder Woman series was in trouble.  I'm wondering if Mishkin knew that the writing was on the wall for this series by this point? In issue #327, readers KNEW that sales on Wonder Woman were really poor. From this point on, every Tom, Dick & Harry wrote in to suggest how to save the series or who to blame for faltering sales. Many readers felt that nothing, short of killing her off and starting all over again, could resolve Wonder Woman's messy continuity. A recurring suggestion was that there weren't enough *good* guest stars and why couldn't Wonder Woman make an appearance in [insert title of best selling comic here]? Finally, a lot of readers complained that Don Heck's sub-par art was responsible for bringing the series down (ouch!).

As hard as editor Alan Gold tried, Wonder Woman just didn't have enough of a readership to justify a Wonder Woman Special.

A recurring theme in Mishkin's run is that the readers were hard to please; some absolutely adored the supporting cast, some wanted them all killed off. Some readers wanted Wonder Woman fighting more super-villains and to feature less mythological characters, while other readers wanted more mythology and Amazons in Wonder Woman's title. Some long-time readers just didn't like the way Mishkin was handling the book, in general. Most notably, Mishkin "gets into it" with Wonder Woman super-fan, Carol Strickland, in the letter column of Wonder Woman #321 with a two-page letter that editor Alan Gold felt was worth printing in it's entirety.

To break it down, Strickland wasn't satisfied with:

1) The sexism in Mishkin's Wonder Woman stories,
2) Mishkin's treatment of Queen Hippolyta,
3) Mishkin's Artermis sub-plot,
4) A few details about Wonder Woman's powers, history and abilities that Mishkin may or may not have gotten wrong, and
5) Wonder Woman's new gremlin sidekick, "Glitch"

I don't necessarily believe that Strickland spoke for ALL die-hard Wonder Woman fans, but she DID reiterate a few points that had come up in the letter column before. She was also coming at this from the perspective of a fan who lived and breathed Wonder Woman, and had a much better grasp on her history than I did. (I mean, had I been reading Wonder Woman since the seventies, I probably would've felt as strongly as Strickland did.) To his credit, Mishkin replied gracefully to Strickland's feedback and handled it like a pro -- while he did agree with her on a lot of her points, he also did remind her that Wonder Woman's continuity is rife with inconsistencies and that he's doing the best he possibly can with the assignment he was given.

[By the way, Carol Strickland is still very much alive and active online, and we hope to grab an interview with her someday soon.]

Ultimately, it was editor Alan Gold who blamed Wonder Woman's disappointing sales on "a bad rep because of lackluster fabulation over the years. That bad rep is what we're up against, I think." (Wonder Woman #324, letter column)


As someone who already knew the basics of Wonder Woman (i.e., daughter of Hippolyta, came from Paradise Island, lived among Amazons, had a love interest with Steve Trevor, a good friend named Etta Candy, lasso of truth, her alter ego was Diana Prince) this wasn't the worst jumping on point and I was able to pick up the story pretty quickly.

Due to the luxury of owning all twenty-something issues of Mishkin's run, I had no trouble keeping track of what was going on. While these were really good story arcs, if you missed a few issues, you were kinda lost. With the exception of Wonder Woman #323, none of the stories were 'one-and-dones'. (Which is probably why I don't think I've EVER seen a Mishkin Wonder Woman story appear in a Wonder Woman anthology.)

Ed Hannigan and Dick Giordano cover

I really really enjoyed the ex-Wonder Woman story line Mishkin wove up. Same with the 'missing memories about Steve Trevor' thing. There were lots of things happening with the support characters, too -- even Etta is included in a subplot. I saw some strong character development, and at some points I was more interested in the subplots involving the supporting characters more so than the main story at hand.

The entire 'Etta getting Wonder Woman powers' reminded me of the crazy days of the Silver Age of DC when just about anything could happen thanks to 'imaginary stories'. Wonder Woman #323 is probably the most memorable issue among Wonder Woman fans, just for the sake of Etta getting to play the 'superhero' of the story for once.

Wonder Woman is a larger-than-life figure, a Greek goddess (sorta) who has immense power. Almost like a DC comics counterpart to Marvel's Thor, perhaps. So, she SHOULD be in big EPIC stories and not battling street crime.

Another distinct thing about Wonder Woman... well, what is she? Is she an adventurer? A soldier? A mythological hero? A fighter pilot? An Amazon trying to understand man's world? A superhero? An emissary sent to protect mankind from itself? Well, she's all of these things. You can more or less fit Wonder Woman into any type of story you want. While Roy Thomas' prior run saw Wonder Woman having a lot of adventures with other super-heroes, it seemed like Mishkin wanted to explore her mythological ties. Also, I don't remember ever seeing as many skeletons as I have in Mishkin's run -- maybe a nod to the supernatural/horror stories he'd been writing in House Of Mystery?

Frank Miller and Dick Giordano cover

I felt that Mishkin wrote a 'very strong' Wonder Woman -- a 'woman of the eighties'. No-nonsense. Knows what she wants, what she's fighting for, has principles and values, upholds the American ideals. Characterization is key, and Mishkin's characters had loads of it.


Two subplots that never saw resolution:

Why does Sofia look like Diana Prince? Sofia was introduced WAY BACK in Wonder Woman #297 (Mishkin's first solo issue) as a terrorist that Wonder Woman rescues and "reforms" to become an Amazon. Over the course of Mishkin's run, Sofia becomes more ingrained in Amazon culture and even discovers Hippolyta's cover up to keep memories from Diana.

panels from Wonder Woman #322. Sophia is the woman in the green blouse. Compare to Wonder Woman. Hmmm...
Sofia last appears in the series at issue #322 (just before the Atomic Knight team-up) and decides to 'stay' on Paradise Island. My guess was that Sofia was originally introduced to somehow play into the post-Crisis Wonder Woman pitch Mishkin had been rumored to have proposed, but was written out of the story when Mishkin's proposal was refused.

A second unresolved subplot involved Diana Prince (Wonder Woman's alter ego) and Major Keith Griggs becoming an "item". The storyline was cut short due to the series only lasting four more issues after Mishkin left:
panels from Wonder Woman #323 (1985). Art by Don Heck

This concludes my review of Dan Mishkin's Wonder Woman run. I don't believe it's been reprinted as a TPB yet, so if you want to seek it out, you'll need to pick up the back issues like I did.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Talking comics with indie comix creator and actor Tony Wolf

Tony Wolf first came to our attention via twitter -- or rather -- a few panels from Tony's brilliant autobiographal comic detailing his experiences with 1989's Batmania caught our attention on twitter:

Written and illustrated by Tony Wolf.

After a bit of internet sleuthing (hey, we wanted to see more) we discovered that: Tony grew up collecting and reading 80s comics, Tony has written and illustrated a few indie comics for various publications, and Tony is currently working on a new 'secret' project. He's also an accomplished actor (NBC's The Blacklist: Redemption) now living in Hoboken, NJ. (He spent 22 years in the same apartment in Brooklyn and just recently moved to Hoboken.)

We reached out to him and, thankfully, he agreed to an interview. 

There were a few ways we could approach this interview -- interview him as Tony the Actor? Interview him as Tony the Creator? Interview him as Tony the Comics Fan? Ultimately, we opted for the latter. (I mean, we ARE a site about DC comics from the eighties, and if the shoe fits...)


Justin: Emma Vince of gave a really fantastic interview about your transition from being a comic book illustrator to becoming an actor and then coming back to being a comic book illustrator again. You also give some great advice to aspiring comic book creators. What I really find inspiring about your story is that you were forty-something the first time one of your indie comics appeared in The New York Times (which is pretty much one of the highest achievements an indie comics creator could strive for) -- I think this is particularly encouraging because it reaffirms that new doors can open in the comic biz even after your mid-thirties (I realize it's a bit different since you had the skills growing up and never stopped working on them) -- but it shows that there's no 'plateau age' that prevents you from breaking new grounds.

Tony: Yeah, it's a crazy world out there ... the world of the arts! I always tell people that it's a world where anything goes, to a large degree. I drew and wrote my own comics for fun as a kid and as a teen, and back then I thought I'd become a professional comic book artist. Then I got more & more into acting, and found that I preferred acting since it was collaborative and social, whereas drawing means you sitting alone in a room for 8 hours a day, working at a desk. I needed that social component. But during a quiet year when there wasn't much going on with my acting career, I said to myself, "Well, I have a lot of free time (and I was not in a relationship at the time), so maybe now I can give myself the project of making my own comics and giving that a real go."

Three years of doing autobio comics (inspired by those of Harvey Pekar) for fun and for free, as passion projects and creative experiment, led to me getting some press for my comics, which then led to friendships which later led to a potential for my comics to be carried by the New York Times -- which I was extremely thankful for. But I also knew that there was just as much chance that the creative experiments and passion projects could not have gone anywhere substantive at all. The arts -- acting, comics, writing, a LOT of the arts --  are a world where you make things, you do projects you are passionate about, you have a lot of ambition and drive and hustle and networking, and you put your creations out there. You put yourself 'out there' continually, time and time again -- and you hope that the seeds you plant eventually bear some fruit that *might* lead to some success. Just like the scene in True Romance where Patricia Arquette gets relentlessly beat up by James Gandolfini and he gives her the compliment: "You got a lot of heart, kid." The arts will often require that kind of dogged determination from us -- that kind of relentless persistence, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

Tony's second published indie comic as it appears in a Feb 2018 edition of the New York Times.
Photo source: Tony Wolf

Tony: I have seen comics creators, actors, and artists go from obscure / producing very small indie stuff, to becoming very, VERY successful, over the course of about 6 years. You never know. You really never know. I have seen people rise to great heights and achieve great things because they just NEVER STOPPED making work and putting themselves out there, as creatives. That is very inspiring. When you see peers and friends and acquaintances "make it," that also reminds you that YOU can make it too. It is do-able. It is possible. It is not some unrealistic fantasy. It can actually happen if you put the consistent blood, sweat, and tears in. This usually means YEARS of effort -- during which no apparent results may be evident; certainly not any big results. But things add up over time.... and you never know who is watching & who might be keeping an eye on your work and development, especially in this social media age. That, to me, is inspiring.

Justin: We were browsing through your Instagram trying to find those aforementioned 1989 Batmania panels, and we found a lot of other neat DC sketches and illustrations instead. Based on the things we saw, I'm going to assume that Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing was particularly important to your formative years of comic reading? Same with Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns? Care to talk about what that was like -- growing up and seeing these for the first time on newsstands?

Tony: Yeah, I was an 80s kid .... the 80s were a HUGE era for comics. Lots of dynamic, fresh new voices coming in. I started buying Alan Moore's Swamp Thing around issue 46 (since the earlier issues somehow came off as a bit scary or overly dark / ponderous to my junior high school brain -- like I wasn't quite ready for them yet). But I'd heard so often from comics journalists (reading The Comics Journal, Amazing Heroes, and the weekly newsprint paper The Comics Buyers Guide) that Alan Moore was doing something incredible in the pages of Swamp Thing, so I gave it a try. This was just a few issues before Swamp Thing #50 where Moore makes this deep philosophical point about anger and Evil with a capital E .... plus, it had Batman and The Phantom Stranger guest-starring! I was fascinated. The art in Swamp Thing was also unlike anything I'd ever seen before. So then I went back and started buying the back issues, and made sure I eventually acquired everything back to and including Alan Moore's first issue on the title.

Tony Wolf sketches inspired by Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.

Tony: I was buying comics on a regular basis -- every week -- a few years before Frank Miller debuted the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns. It's hard to describe the feeling of what it felt like to buy that as a fresh new product on the stands -- it was something groundbreaking, fascinating, mind-blowing. Visually and in terms of the writing. It packed a visceral impact that we had rarely seen or felt in comics. I also remember the gut-punch of the ending of the first issue of Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again story. I remember telling my friends: "So the Kingpin ACTUALLY FINDS OUT Daredevil's secret identity, and frames him, empties his bank accounts, and then BLOWS UP HIS APARTMENT BUILDING?!? And the end of the first issue where all this happens is Matt Murdock standing in the rubble and realizing it has to be the Kingpin that did this to him?!? "It was a nice piece of work, Kingpin... you shouldn't have SIGNED it." " We all completely lost our minds reading that issue for the first time! The sheer guts in doing a story like that. Also, the fact that Marvel even approved a story like that. This was a new level of take-no-prisoners kind of comics storytelling. And Mazzuccelli's art was just sublime, and got even better as that story arc went on. Both creators were in their prime and firing on all cylinders.

Funny enough: I was one of those fans who, when I first started reading & collecting comics, I thought DC was "square" (ex: stories weren't that good, heroes (other than Batman) were too powerful, etc). The Trial of the Flash was happening (Barry Allen) and it looked somber and too depressing. Superman books were lame other than Alan Moore's Last Superman Story. But Crisis On Infinite Earths had exactly the effect on me that DC wanted -- it was really interesting to me, very moving, and cleaned up DC continuity. I immediately started reading George Perez's Wonder Woman, John Byrne's Superman, and Frank Miller's Batman: Year One -- and of course, they were all phenomenal.

Lightray of the New Gods illustrated by Tony Wolf

Other 80s comics that blew my mind: Walt Simonson's Thor run.... Claremont and a host of artists on X-Men -- Paul Smith, Rick Leonardi, and then the newcomer John Romita Jr. (who I took a while to warm up to, at first). John Byrne writing and drawing both X-Men and Alpha Flight -- I was obsessed with Byrne's output for Marvel at the time. Then Byrne went to DC and did Legends and then took over the Superman titles -- those were fantastic! Plus the burst of indie titles like Nexus, Mage, Concrete .... and I got the first issue (3rd printing, although it was still brand-new at the time) of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved that it was such a loving (and detailed) parody of the Frank Miller martial arts style of comics storytelling. So much love went into TMNT. Then you could watch as the creators, Eastman & Laird, realized they had to continue the story of these characters, and they start to experiment and branch out of the ninja stuff to wild wacky stuff like ... Fugitoid!! And alien monsters. haha.

A few DKR-influenced pieces illustrated by Tony Wolf. DKR Grover colored by SirGryphon.

Justin: So, some of the comics that you've published so far are kind of an auto-biographical account of your experiences growing up with comics. You've got an 8-page comic about your memories of the whole 'Call this number to vote if Jason Todd lives or dies' thing, a memoir about your experiences with 1989 Batmania, and a new upcoming project recounting your experiences with collecting and reading comics in the eighties and nineties. I think a lot of us can relate, because comicdom was something we grew up reading and being excited for during the 80s -- while many of our other teen-aged peers may not have shared our interest. It's a bit like "wow, someone else out there who is just like me". You even went the extra step and participated -- especially going so far as to vote on the life or death of a character. What were the other 'big' moments of your comic-loving life?

Panels from "1-800-Dead-Robin". Illustrated by Tony Wolf, colored by Sirgryphon.

Tony: Ah, interesting question. Watching comics come out in the 80s that continually redefined what "comics" could be was just endlessly exciting. You thought you'd seen it all ... and then, here comes this wonderful oddball book called Nexus. THEN you thought you'd seen it all, and here comes the insane Monty Python-style comedy of ... Ambush Bug! Then you see crazy stuff like Boris The Bear from the then-brand new company Dark Horse .... which was a loving parody of all the indie black & white comics coming out back then, skewering and satirizing trends at the time.

I picked up issues 1 and 2 of Matt Wagner's Mage at a Long Island comic book convention. I think the two issues were actually sitting on a 'take these comics for free' table -- that's how NEW they were; they were so small and SO "indie" that they had to give them away for free, as samplers, because no one really knew or cared about Comico Comics (the then-tiny publisher) or who this Matt Wagner guy was. Mage made a HUGE impression on me. Another instance of incredibly bold, creative, innovative, and very personal storytelling, and presented in such a unique way. It grabbed me immediately, and I wrote in to the letters page, and got a signed postcard from Matt Wagner in the early 80s, where he drew Kevin Matchstick on it. I saved it, of course... I still have that postcard.

In the early / mid 80s, when the first Mage series started up from Comico Comics, Matt Wagner ran a really fun letters page. Once it had become clear that the lead character, Kevin Matchstick, was the reincarnation of some iconic hero, I wrote a letter in (an actual handwritten letter, of course! this was the 80s!) joking that maybe Kevin was the reincarnated Alice in Wonderland, since a few of the arcane fantasy and literary references Mirth made sounded (to me) vaguely like Wonderland characters.
Mage postcard from Matt Wagner. Posted with Tony Wolf's permission.

I also wrote a fan letter to Eastman & Laird right after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 came out - - and they wrote me a HAND-WRITTEN letter back! They wrote to me right around the time when TMNT #2 had just been published and #3 was on the way to comics stores. I wrote to them when the comic had just debuted, and I'm sure they were just thrilled that anyone at all was writing to them. I think I lost that letter, and I'm pissed about not having it anymore!! haha.  They drew a sketch of Raphael for me and enclosed it with the letter. I may still be able to find it among old papers; but I think I may have to admit that it's lost at this point. Still, getting a personal handwritten letter from them was so cool -- both then and now. Even if I can't freakin' find it anymore in my possessions! haha.

Justin: I was there and living it, so you don't need to explain it to me -- but to everyone who was too young and totally missed out on 89 Batmania and the 'revival of Batman' to a mainstream audience -- what was that like? what was the long-lasting impact of that?

Tony Wolf as 'Jack Nicholson' Joker for Halloween. Circa 1994.

Tony: The announcement of the Batman movie directed by Tim Burton was really, really incredible --  when we started to see the preview photos coming out in magazine articles, we were all so thankful and stunned: it looked like they were REALLY doing a dramatic, dark version of Batman in live-action, FINALLY! It seemed like Burton and his chosen Batman, Michael Keaton, were pretty serious about the tone.

I remember when the very first trailer came out for the first Burton / Keaton Batman movie. We had a VCR, and I found out when the trailer would be airing (on something like Entertainment Tonight) and I taped it. I watched that trailer obsessively, repeatedly.... using slow-motion to see every scene in detail. I remember being struck by the edit / transition of Keaton saying (as Bruce): "Alfred... let's go shopping." and then it cuts to the wild new design of the Batmobile roaring through the streets. Also, I recall watching that trailer's introduction of Nicholson as the Joker many times... it just showed Nicholson emerging from the shadows with those famous lines, "Jack? Jack ... is DEAD, my friend. You can call me ... Joker!" I loved it. My anticipation for the movie was immense.

Illustrated by Tony Wolf

Tony: I noticed that the movie was opening on June 23, 1989 -- which was a Friday. My graduation ceremony from high school was that exact same date. So I wrote & drew a short comic for my high school newspaper, about me tearing off my graduation robe and running straight from graduation to the movie theater in my home town of Rockville Centre, NY (on Long Island) to see the Batman movie. I made up invitations (as if it was a wedding invitation or something; my high school version of what a fancy invitation might look like) and invited a bunch of friends to go see the movie with me on opening night. Everyone agreed and accepted -- we would all see it on Friday night, together! All my nerdy friends.

The night before the opening of the movie, Thursday night, my friend Jason and I are walking around the small town ... and we pass by the movie theater. We see a sign that is advertising a special EARLY PREVIEW SCREENING of Batman -- this was almost unheard of back then! There was no internet to tell you about an advance screening. We had just stumbled onto it by walking past the theater. It didn't look mobbed, either... so I was severely tempted to just go in and watch it right then. (We walked past about an hour before this special advance screening was about to start.) Jason, ever the level-headed one, said: "Tony, you invited everyone to a big thing tomorrow night where we'll all see the movie *together* for the first time. People might be offended that you saw it a night before without telling anyone. They think we're all going to experience it for the first time together. Maybe you should wait." I saw his point -- but my impatience and sometimes-impulsive nature was too intense. I thought it over and I was like, "I've waited years for this kind of movie. Let's just go in and see it. I'll see it again with everyone tomorrow. I just have to see it now, since we have the opportunity to see it." I couldn't wait. Jason said: "Well, it's your call. I'll go in with you, since I want to see it too - but I want it clear that this was your decision, to go in and see it the night before we're seeing it with everyone. You're the impatient one here; this is on your head." haha. It was like "Let it be known through the ages that it was your impatience and inability to wait; not mine." And so we went in.

Tony Wolf illustration of classic Batman costume. Circa 1994.

Tony: I loved the movie; Jason was pretty entertained by it too.... but I was the far-more-comics-obsessed person, out of the two of us, so I went on a lot about how much I loved it. So the next night, we see it with the group, and as we walked into the official opening night showing, I fessed up and admitted that I had made the decision to see it the previous night. My friend Mark was like "What? You said you'd wait for us! Noooo!!" -- exactly what Jason had predicted the reaction would be. I was like "I'm happy to see it again; it's really good!" But my friends felt at least a little annoyed that I broke the 'code' by seeing it early and only telling them as we walked into the Graduation Day screening.

Years go by, and the same old friends -- Jason and Mark and I -- are going to see the opening night of the first Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale Batman movie, Batman Begins. We're talking and waiting on line at the Manhattan movie theater. Mark gets a gleam in his eye, looks at me, "You know what I love about Batman, as a character? It's about vengeance." We're looking at him, and I'm not sure where he's going with this. He said "It's about vengeance for a wrong that happened many years ago." I'm still not getting where he's going with this. Jason is just watching and sort of smiling. Mark then says: "Hey, remember how you saw the first Batman movie a night early, and how annoyed I was for years about that?" And I, sheepishly said, "Yeah." He says "Well, VENGEANCE is MINE!! Because I saw it last week at an advance screening! It took me 16 years, but I finally got you back!!" We all laughed - he was right. He got me good .... Vengeance was indeed his. A friend of his who I knew was in the entertainment industry, and had invited him to an early preview screening. "That was the longest grudge I ever held," Mark said. The circle was now complete.

Etrigan the Demon illustrated by Tony Wolf

Justin: I'm also seeing the influence of the Death of Superman in your instagram art. How did the Death of Superman impact you?

Tony: I totally loved the Superman stories of the 80s (post-Crisis), and once John Byrne left the books, I didn't follow them much. However, during college I picked up what was one of Dan Jurgens & Art Thibert's first issues of Adventures of Superman (where Hank Henshaw debuts), and I was hooked again. Over the next few years, I watched Dan Jurgens shape the Superman books --- along with Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Butch Guide, Jon Bogdanove, Jerry Ordway, Marv Wolfman, and more talented creators -- into something truly special again.

illustrated by Tony Wolfcolored by SirGryphon

Tony: The Death of Superman storyline was handled so well -- I was buying every issue as they hit the stands. At first I was very leery about this whole "now there are 4 Supermen; which one - if any - is the real one?" storyline, but they handled it exceptionally. I always say that the actual death -- Doomsday showing up and bludgeoning Superman to death -- is actually the least interesting part, for me. The two months of comics *after* his death, where the writers got a chance to show how the death of The Man of Steel affected everyone in the entire world, and his supporting cast, were real magic. Quiet, reflective, truly sad books with not a lot of super-villainy or slugfests.

Cyborg Superman illustrated by Tony Wolf

Tony: I remember one of Roger Stern's issues was especially moving and very simple / poignant. The funeral of Superman being patterned after the funeral of JFK was genius. And young people like me saw the title of the story arc: "Funeral For A Friend" -- and may been inspired, as I was, to seek out the very cool Elton Song the arc was named after. :) It wasn't an easy thing to dangle the "Which of these 4 Supermen is our Clark?" storyline and pull it off / make it work, but they really did. And once the real Superman *did* come back, it felt like a truly satisfying ending. Satisfying endings are NOT easy to pull off, especially when you've built your story up so much.

Superman illustrated by Tony Wolf

Tony: Also, speaking as an artist, for a long time, it felt like the art team of Dan Jurgens penciling and Brett Breeding inking was an amazing art team comparable to John Byrne and Terry Austin. Just perfectly matched. It was amazing to see their work come in each month.

As Superman Red / Superman Blue, it was a silly story idea that DC and the team did their best to do a more "legitimate" version of. You've probably heard the jokes (all true) that the colorist used to say at each annual creators' summit meeting "Let's do Superman Red / Superman Blue!" and they would all laugh and say to him "Maybe next year." Then they eventually felt they should actually do it -- based on the absurd 1950s storyline. Starting off with the now-infamous Electric Blue Superman was a good move -- and I find myself still not sure whether I hate or love Electric Blue Supes. But one thing is for sure: they did their best to tell a strong story with that version of Superman, and one of my writing heroes, Grant Morrison, managed to make him work really feel in his JLA run.

Superman Blue by Tony Wolf

Tony: I remember thinking at the time, "I see that they're kind of writing Superman Red as the more impulsive one, and Superman Blue as the more logical / cool-headed one" (once he split into 2), but they didn't really take that far enough in the writing. Anyone remember the Millenium Giants storyline, which ended with Superman Red & Blue being fused back into one Superman? Not many people remember it or talk about it, because it was a mostly forgettable popcorn-movie storyline which had, as its sole focus, the goal of getting us back to Regular-Flavor- (Classic) Superman.

Justin: I saw a few LoSH commissions in your instagram. Every DC fan I've ever met either loves the LoSH or hates em. Where do you stand?

Andromeda and Triplicate Girl illustrations by Tony Wolf, colored by SirGryphon.

Tony: I do love The Legion of Super-Heroes .... I really dug the Legion comics of the mid-80s, especially the ones that introduced us to the art of Chris Sprouse, Jeff Moy, and the amazing Stuart Immonen! Steve Lightle also had some terrific art, as well as Greg LaRocque. John Byrne's Superman / Superboy Legion story when he first took over the Superman titles helped ease me into it, although I certainly knew who the Legion characters were. I also really enjoyed Mark Waid & Barry Kitson's Legion reboot in the 90s, until it ran out of steam.

Early Lightning Lad origin illustrated by Tony Wolf and colored by Tom Gryphon.

Tony: I was asked to do some Legion commission art by a friend a few years ago, and had a blast doing it. I even ended up doing a bonus free gift where I did an homage to the Curt Swan origin of Lightning Lad. And a few years before that, I did a drawing for the late Seth Kushner which was an homage to the first appearance of the Legion (the cover where they are evaluating Superboy, as to whether they let him into the Legion), for his autobio collection of stories about his dating life, called SCHMUCK. That was a lot of fun to do.

illustrated by Tony Wolf, colored by the late Seth Kushner

Tony: LONG LIVE THE LEGION! Also, as a kid, I read a lot of the 1970s DC digests reprinting a bunch of old 60s and 70s Legion stories, which were fun (and often bizarre). And it was fun when Geoff Johns wrote a Legion episode for the Smallville TV show a while back.

Justin: What kind of impact did Vertigo comics have on your formative comics reading years?

Tony: Vertigo was a big deal for me in the 80s; at first I was a little wary of it and didn't quite understand the concept. I remember seeing early Grant Morrison Invisibles covers by Brian Bolland and thinking "those are really well-drawn, but it seems like they're just trying to be so weird and avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde." It was too much for my junior high school brain to comprehend at that point, haha. But I kept hearing how great The Invisibles was -- I just felt innately that I wasn't ready for it yet. The first Vertigo series that hooked me in was Neil Gaiman's Sandman -- I'd been hearing for months about how great this new Sandman series was, but again, the weird Dave McKean covers just seemed to bizarre to Young Tony. Eventually, DC was touting issue 8 of Sandman as a convenient jumping-on point for new readers, and I tried it out. It was indeed very good. It had a special insert section about Death of The Endless teaching you how to use a condom. haha. I was a pretty geeky / square kid, but at the same time I wasn't really in need of sex ed at that point. Still, I remember thinking "This Dave McKean guy (he drew the condom / sex ed insert) can really draw well! He doesn't just do weird photo collage covers!" haha. Once Sandman hooked me into that story tone and sensibility, I then started looking into other fare that was either literally Vertigo or DC Comics that were effectively Vertigo, like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison's Animal Man. Eventually they made Swamp Thing into a Vertigo title -- same thing with Doom Patrol, I believe.

Neil Gaiman illustrated by Tony Wolf.
Tony: I got into Animal Man by Grant Morrison and that was another HUGE gateway for me into another kind of comics storytelling. I then scooped up every single Grant Morrison Doom Patrol that existed -- this was when I was in college, and I loved it. It was crazy, but yet it worked. It was so experimental, and yet actually formed coherent, truly entertaining stories. Grant Morrison became my favorite comics writer, and I got to interview him at Midtown Comics in NYC for a podcast I co-hosted years ago, called The Action Room. Here's that video -- it was great to meet him.

I also remember being really impressed with the art of Duncan Fegredo, in early Vertigo titles, and I still follow his work. Ditto John Paul Leon.

Note Negative Spirit/Rebus on the drawing board.
Self portrait (à la Jack Kirby) illustrated by Tony Wolf, colored by George Folz

Justin: Did you or are you currently writing a comic about dealing with anxiety? How did comics help with coping with anxiety (if at all)?

Tony: Yes, I was asked a few years ago by some indie creators I admire & respect to do a short story comic for an all-autobio anthology called Sweaty Palms --  I have (as many creatives do) a history of some clinical depression and anxiety, and at first I was nervous or hesitant about doing a story about it. But I realized it was life giving me an opportunity to express myself and it was a good creative / writing challenge.... so I decided to take on the challenge. I figured a short 6-page story should be a good length. I went through a few drafts in terms of how to tell it, and the editors of Sweaty Palms were helpful in guiding me through it. I decided to try to tell it like 'the bullet points of the experience', like a Powerpoint presentation, but not nearly as boring as that, hopefully. haha. I'd certainly read a ton of auto-bio comics about depression and anxiety, and one of my goals was to not tread the same ground as many creators had done already. It was a good challenge and I feel happy with the result. The comic was also run online by Heidi MacDonald at The Beat.

illustrated by Tony Wolf

Tony: As clich√© as it sounds, I figured if my comic can help one person feel a little less alone, it's worth it. I didn't get into the methods and means I used to get better in the comic, because that's a lot more personal and it would take another several pages to do that justice. (The short answer to that is: many years of therapy, and some medication to help me through the worst of it.) In the comic itself, I played a bit with the idea of using certain comic book moments as metaphor for what I was going through: Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange exploring the magical realms, Matt Murdock spending "Endless stolen hours at the bag" from the MillerMazzuccelli's Born Again Daredevil story, and Neal Adams' 70s Superman cover of Superman breaking through Kryptonite chains on his chest. And the final page of my story is a tribute of sorts to the iconic Norman Rockwell portrait of himself drawing, with the 'camera' at his back, as we see him at his drawing table. I drew the Greenpoint apartment I was living in at the time I did the story.

illustrated by Tony Wolf

Justin: What are you allowed to tell us about your new auto-bio indie comic on your memories of growing up with eighties and nineties comics?

Tony: This new comic is due to debut (hopefully) by November 2018. My buddy and frequent collaborator Tom Gryphon aka SirGryphon will be coloring it, and I'm so excited to work with him again. He colored my 1-800-DEAD-ROBIN comic about my voting to kill Jason Todd, and he's done cover colors for my 'Greenpoint of View' comics (and also colored my New York Times comic about squab earlier this year , as well as the 4-page comic history I did about The Secret Origin of Midtown Comics).

panels from Tony's upcoming 'secret' project, illustrated by Tony Wolf and colored by SirGryphon

Tony: This comic is set to be 16 pages, and I'm on page 11 right now. I'm keeping the contents of this story very secret, but we can say that it is in the tradition of 1-800-DEAD-ROBIN in that it's part autobio, part comics history, about iconic and historic moments in 80s comics, with some 90s stuff thrown in there as well. It's also told through the lens of me being a comics fan in junior high school and high school.

I've had this story in mind for years -- ever since I did "Dead Robin" -- and it's very personal / a crazy labor of love. I've got a topic to cover that I have never really seen written about much, outside of geeky blogs, and as with "Dead Robin," I am writing it like a documentary: geeks will hopefully appreciate it, but I am writing it in such a way that even if you don't give a crap about comics, you will find this interesting and educational. I like writing about how specific moments in pop culture are indicative of social change or somehow mark trends in society. Maybe I was a little too into how Adrian Veidt (in Watchmen) felt he could predict and analyze social trends by watching all those televisions at once. haha. The other goal with this comic is inform a wider audience about key moments and design elements in comics I feel are underappreciated and never discussed outside of our geeky world.

illustrated by Tony Wolf

Tony: One thing I have learned from my 5 years making comics in earnest attempting to be a pro: Do your weird passion project and then trust that it will find a home. Don't wait for a publisher, or a book deal, or for someone to buy your art -- make the art that you are passionate about, and trust that it will find a home. I did a weird, random comic about my favorite ice cream, and was lucky enough that -- as a result of my doing my autobio Harvey Pekar-esque comics for free, for fun, as a passion project and a creative experiment, for 2 1/2 years -- my comics up til that point had gotten enough press and ended up leading to relationships, connections, and geek friendships, that this oddball comic about my favorite ice cream dessert was published by The New York Times. Here it is -- free to read online: about the Italian ice cream dessert the tartufo.  (This piece was colored by Jeremy Nguyen, who I met when I was starting to do comics, and who is now a regular New Yorker cartoonist.)

I'm also working on another short story comic -- a 7-page history comic (with only a tiny element of auto-bio in it) about an underappreciated, unsung moment in New York City history, which also doesn't have a home yet, but which I spent months researching and which I think could find a home somewhere like The Atlantic or The New Yorker. I plan on having it water-colored by a terrific New Jersey / Hoboken painter named Morgan McCue.

Justin: Tony, I absolutely adore your work and your 'auto-bio indie comix' vibe really resonates with me. (I was always a Harvey Pekar fan, and fans reminiscing about comic book memories is my kryptonite.) I noticed some mock-up covers for a Tales from the Wolf collected edition. Is that happening? I'd totally buy into that...

illustrated by Tony Wolf, colored by SirGryphon

Tony: This is the cover for a planned eventual paperback collection of all my comics thus far. There is no publisher yet, and no kickstarter - - I did the cover because it's something I'd like to manifest / materialize, either through one of the indie publishers I've worked with, or a larger publisher. I trust that a collection of my work will happen in it's due time; in its right time, when the stars align. Tom Gryphon (aka SirGryphon) did an excellent job on the colors for this cover. I had the idea to do the homage to the famous Tales From The Crypt cover layouts, and had a blast drawing it.

Justin: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Tony.

Do you want to see more of Tony's work? Does he sound familiar to you? Maybe you recognized his name from a film? Or maybe you just want to find out when his next project is seeing publication? Find more of Tony Wolf at  

Superman and E.T. illustrated by Tony Wolf