An interview with
Richard 'rc' Caponetti
February 9, 2004
Richard Caponetti: Dan, we actually have a bit of history between us. About five years ago, you taught me how to write. I sent you a story of mine and you came back with critiques and guidelines for comic scripting . . . everything from panel-to-panel to using caps locks. And I just want to start off by saying, "Thank you very much."
DAN JURGENS: Oh, youíre welcome.
RC: Nowís a good time to talk to you because youíre nearing the end of your Reigning arc on Thor . . . and the [Web] boards are jumping over a lot of the things that youíve been doing in that comic lately and in anticipation of your storyís end.
DAN JURGENS: I donít know if thatís good or bad . . . but okay!
RC: The Reigning arc on Thor is coming to its end. Did you achieve all that you wanted to do in this story or do you have any regrets?
DAN JURGENS: Do I have any regrets on Thor? No. Itís been a good run so far and I think that in the time that Iíve been writing it, weíve gotten to do a lot of different things in terms of the style I used on the book.
Go back to the time when I started out [on Thor]. Thor had not had his own title for a while. The books had gone away to be done from Rob or Jim or whoever [Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee] at Image. I donít know that Thor was real successful at this point-I think that was Marvelís perception.
So, when I came in, the idea was to do basic Thor: Hereís Thor. Hereís who he is. Hereís how people react to him. Hereís a guy who calls himself a "god" and right from the very first issue I did, I played with the notion of how the common Joe on the streets of New York react to that. We touched on that in a very oblique way.
If you look at where we were then to where we are now, weíve obviously made quite a leap.
RC: Before your run, Thor was very much a traditional hero, in a way indistinguishable from most other heroes out there. When you came to the title, did you say, "Okay, weíre going to start with typical Thor and then take him into areas heís never been in before," or was it an unplanned to get to where you are today??
DAN JURGENS: Itís a little bit of both. Even when we were dealing with basic Thor, there was the notion in my mind that if anyone were to show up on Earth like Thor and do all these wonderful, heroic, benevolent acts; and then say, "By the way, Iím a god," it would throw everything out of whack. It would get the established religions of the world upset.
There was always that notion, even in the early story days, that that was something we would later delve into. What ended up happening was a more organic growth over time, with the basic idea being shaped by a couple years of storyline.
RC: When it came time to pitch the "By the way, Iím a god" idea, did you walk into the editorsí room and say, "Hi, Iím Dan Jurgens . . . one of the best superhero writers in the business. Iíd like to turn Thor into a comparative religions/Vertigo-type book"; and did the editors think you were crazy?
DAN JURGENS: No, nothing like that. That idea actually started out as a side project about a year and a half into my run on the book. By and large, the idea was we would do something called "The Reigning" in which weíd see Thor assume Asgardís throne and become the ruler of Earth. We started with that idea as a very broad parameter. As time floated by and various artists where discussed and the project fell apart a number of times, we decided to just pull [the "Reigning" arc] into the regular book.
RC: You moved Thor from the traditional hero genre to a philosophical fiction milieu with editorial approval. Were you ever afraid that the fans would disapprove of this?
DAN JURGENS: Yes, there was some concern about that. But the thing Iíve always believed is that if youíre going to break some preconceived notion about a character-if your going to do some radical things that might upset people-the trick is to tell good, entertaining stories. If you do that, I think youíll get most guys to come along for the ride.
RC: Has fan feedback or sales on Thor justified this belief?
DAN JURGENS: You know . . . you never know. Obviously, you can take a look at the sales charts and say, "Is Thor a top-10 book? No, itís not." At the same time, I do firmly believe that if we had continued to do "basic Thor," we would have been punished in sales.
If we had continued to do traditional hero stories-Absorbing Man stories; Wrecking Crew stories-I donít believe we would have done as well as we did.
I donít know if Thor ever going to be, or has ever been, a top-10 character. He had a blip when Walt [Simonson] took over for his run-very briefly and very quickly-but, it was still a market dominated by X-guys.
RC: You matured the title considerably-fifteen year olds can still read the book, but they have to be smart fifteen year olds to really get it. Why was your time on the book the right time to do this?
DAN JURGENS: The older market is now the only market. We, as an industry, have given up on the younger market. So, what we did in Thor was not unique-itís what the market is demanding right now. It is an older reader that we have right now.
I have a thirteen year-old son who does not necessarily enjoy Thor at present-and I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty that this medium has turned its back on the younger reader. I hope that weíll get that back, but I donít see anyone doing much to court the thirteen year-old reader.
RC: After years of working on titles like Superman, where you seemingly had to include silly jokes and had to write for a younger audience, were you itching for a more adult assignment?
DAN JURGENS: I donít think that it was that we had to write the four Superman books with those elements in it. I think that having four different writers and four different artists on four different books lends itself to that kind of fiction. What is very hard to do in that context is come up with a cohesive vision of the character. And if you donít have that as a building block, it is harder to do more mature types of stories. We tried to do that sometimes, but a level of compromise exists whenever you put too many cooks in the kitchen. Thatís why stand-alone books are better for [mature writing].
RC: By the end of your Superman run, when you were doing stand-alone books like Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey and The Doomsday Wars, did you prefer to write mature fiction?
DAN JURGENS: I wouldnít say I preferred it, but I certainly liked to do it. I certainly saw it as a chance to do some of the stuff that I ordinarily do not get to do-and that was important.
RC: Much of todayís mature writing is far more "post modern" than before. Morals and characters are not as "cookie cutter" as they were before. Do you think the emergence of bleaker characters and storylines has anything to do with the events of September 11?
DAN JURGENS: (Pauses). Without a doubt. I never felt more like I was wasting time in terms of doing comics as my profession than in the days during and after 9/11.
You realize that when youíre dealing with heroic fantasy-which is what comics is-when real tragedy intercedes in the world today, you canít do the sort of World War II stories that DC or Timely [Marvel] would have done back then. You realize just how empty comics is in a way. And thatís why I did the story I did for the DC 9/11 charity book. There is a connection between 9/11 and the comics we have now. If you look at the state of world politics and compare it to what happened in Thor during my run, there is a connection.
Dan Jurgens: I think weíre beginning to move away from the 9/11 environment these days. There was a time [after 9/11] when you would never see the hero in his costume, or even in a particular issue. Thatís a unique idea when itís used in one or two titles, but it becomes a problem when itís used everywhere.
RC: Are you talking about a book like the new Silver Surfer title-wherein the hero hardly appears?
DAN JURGENS: Thatís exactly what I mean. The flip response to that sort of writing, I think, is what Jeph Loeb did in the Batman "Hush" storyline. For the last few years, you had Batman just standing around with his cape hanging low, scraping the ground, and asking Barbara Gordon for help because he couldnít figure out anything on his own.
All of a sudden, here came Jeph and Jim [Lee, artist on Batman] with a dynamic Batman who moved across the page with color and excitement. Batman became more heroic. In comic history, sometimes a project will signal a true turning point in the industry. Thatís what I see "Hush" as. Batman was no longer a deep, brooding character only appearing on two pages out of 22 every month. Itís going to change [the industry].
RC: Prior to Thor, you tended to write in a conventional style. Did you ever reach a point during your run on Thor where you thought you had bitten off more than you could chew when you made the jump from conventional to post-modern fiction?
DAN JURGENS: Absolutely. Like the description of the Great White Shark-if you donít move forward, you die.
RC: You were on the Superman books for over ten years, during a period when all his titles were "interlinked" in that they all told one long story, soap-opera style. Would you ever be willing to work on an interlinked series of books again, given the administrative and creative pressures such a format carries?
DAN JURGENS: Probably not . . . though given the right circumstances with the right creators, I would try. But I donít know if thereís a place in the market for something like that again. That formula went on longer than it probably should have; and it got wearisome for the market place.
Go back to the time in primetime television where a show like Dallas was the number one show. Four or five years later, it feels tired. The tastes of the public change with respect to format and content, sometimes.
RC: Are there any Superman stories that really suffered under the interlinked format?
DAN JURGENS: The whole change-of-powers thing is one that just did not work out well for us. There is no denying that we became victims of our own success by that time-we were pressured into doing more and more "big stories" every year to pump sales. When you deal with interlinked titles, it gives you the opportunity to explore lesser-used supporting characters . . . but it also allows you to delved into "mega-fiction." And we definitely profited by that. [But] if you fail in that-if you do a story like the Electric Blue Superman that people just donít care for, itís brutal.
RC: In retrospect, do you feel that marrying Lois and Clark was a good thing?
DAN JURGENS: No, I think that was a mistake. When we did it at the time, in terms of the engagement, we thought, "Gee, Lois and Clark are engaged . . . and that can last 30 years. And in that time, they can break up and get together and break up and get together again." But when the marriage happened, which made Lois always there, we lost the flexibility of getting Clark interested in somebody else-which a 30 year engagement would have made possible.
RC: If you had to go back to the Superman titles, would you have Superman break up with Lois?
DAN JURGENS: Hereís the problem: the character parameters within which Superman exists. I just donít think divorce is in Supermanís lexicon. Itís sort of the same problem as when Peter Parker married Mary Jane-how do you get out of it? In many respects, the notion of a marriage not working out for Peter Parker is absolutely consistent with any notion of a Spider-Man series and of Peterís history.
With Superman, itís a different deal. If you sculpted a new reality or existence for who the DC characters might be [in which he could still be unmarried], I think Superman would benefit from that.
RC: Speaking of different realities . . . when you look back at Zero Hour, which revamped the entire DC Universe, how do you feel about it?
DAN JURGENS: When I did Zero Hour, we all knew that someday, someone would come along and change some of this, change some of that, about the series. I had no problem with that whatsoever.
RC: How would you describe your current relationship with DC Comics?
DAN JURGENS: Itís very good. I am currently drawing a JLA arc that is written by Dan Slott, who just did an Arkham mini-series for DC. I am also drawing another project that we are not going to announce right now. (Laughs)
Iíve had no problem with DC following my departure from the Superman books. When it came time to go, it came time to go; Iíve always confessed to that and had no problem [with leaving]. In such circumstances, there are better ways to [leave] and worse ways to [leave], but nothing ever got real tense.
You have to remember that after I left Superman, I continued to do a lot of work for DC. I wrote Aquaman; I did the Titans/Legion crossover, so itís not like after Superman I said, "You guys suck and Iím outta here!"
RC: Years back, in Wizard Magazine, you spoke of someday pursuing a title for DCís Vertigo [mature readers] line. Now that youíve gotten your feet wet with mature writing at Marvel, will you be pursuing work at DCís adult imprint?
DAN JURGENS: I donít know if the allure of Vertigo is still there, because the kind of stories that we used to think of as being confined to Vertigo can now be told in many different places.
RC: Now we get into the fun section of the interview. Itís very fanboyish in terms of Who beats up who? And Why did you do this and that which really ticked me off? So Iíll understand if you want to pass. Interested?
DAN JURGENS: Sure. But let me just say that I donít set out to tick people off. (Laughs)
RC: Take the recent Thor fight against Hulk, Wolverine, Thing and other Marvel characters-wherein Thor absolutely dominates his competition. People want to know . . . how the hell did Thor pull that off? Did he have the Odin-power at the time?
DAN JURGENS: It was still an Odin-powered Thor. It had to be.
With Superman or Thor, you introduce the threat on page one, and itís a big threat. And then itís over by page two. It happens even more with Batman. Have you ever seen Batman meet some crook in an alley and take five pages to beat the crook up? No frigginí way! In Batmanís world, it doesnít end that way. Itís ends with one shot to the back of the head. One blow to knock the wind out of you and drop you to your knees. That establishes the supremacy of Batman. Same thing with Thor. If you take an Odin-powered Thor . . . no one is going to stand up to him. Thatís what I set out to show with the latest fight.
RC: Nevertheless, some fans believe that you still didnít give due credit to the Odin-power. Thor was exhausted to the point of unconsciousness after he put the exploded Moon back together; Thor relied on Captain Americaís shield to block an attack by the In-Betweener. Were you being too modest in your depictions of the Odin-powered Thor here, or did you survey his continuity and decide that your interpretation of the Odin-powerís limits jibed with the bulk of continuity?
DAN JURGENS: If there was one thing out of all this that Tom [Brevoort, Thor editor] and I wrestled with most . . . it is the Odin-power. We kind of knew that we were setting up a potential trap for ourselves when we gave Thor the Odin-power.
Hereís the problem with the Odin-power, in a nutshell: It has never been portrayed in comics in consistent terms, as far as Iím concerned. If you go back and think, "What is the Odin-power; what did it mean for Odin," youíll see that it was always talked about in this great, huge, reverential tone. But when it came down to exactly what it can do; what did it enable Odin to do, it would be touched on in places and then somewhat refuted later.
One of the things that I always said was that if Odin was as all-wise and all-knowing as he was always supposed to be-you know, how Baldur used to always walk in [saying], "O, great Odin! All-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing High Father . . . blah, blah, blah,"-then Loki should have never been able to pull the wool over his eyes.
RC: Most comic book godly character never live up to their hype?
DAN JURGENS: No, they donít. And I will say that it has been something of a surprise that when I do con appearances, people say to me about the Odin-power, "Well, gee . . . you screwed it up." And I say, "Well, what was it before?" And when you get into that conversation you realize that-you know what? If I talk to ten different people, I get ten different opinions on what is the potential of the Odin-power.
So, letís go back to the story where Thor put the Moon back together. We deliberately wrote it in such a way as we did not necessarily state exactly what happened there. It was definitely written with the idea in mind that . . . here is an Asgardian talking to a kid, almost telling [the story] in terms of a legend, or a fable. And what might have been the reality is that . . . yeah, maybe Thor took the atomized Moon and put it back together. Or, it could have been . . . a big freakiní chunk blew off the Moon and Thor put it back, which is still pretty damn big.
RC: Which interpretation do you lean towards?
DAN JURGENS: I think itís somewhere in the middle, myself. I think there was a cosmic event that involved the Moon that could have had calamitous impact on Earth. The Moon was not totally and utterly destroyed. But legend, and the way people talk about Thor and his use of the Odin-power, and the way they would deal with it with children is . . . "Thor put it back together."
You know, itís like how we talk about Daniel Boone, or Davy Crocket, or George Washington and the cherry tree. So, did something happen there? Yeah. Is it as itís portrayed in the comic? Not necessarily. Thatís why we used splash pages [in the Moon issue] and different artists for each one-we wanted that inconsistent look so that people got the idea that, just as you had fifteen different artists imagining that story, so would you have kids imagining it in different ways.
RC: So you did not write Odin as a character capable of, say, killing galaxies?
DAN JURGENS: Odin? No.
RC: Then what were the limits of his power . . . planetary-level?
DAN JURGENS: They had to be . . . and I will say that consistently because we have seen Odin defeated so many times. The idea we were trying to get across is that the Odin-power made him among the most powerful of gods-certainly the most powerful Asgardian. But if we look at either Odin or Zeus, we see fallibility and we see a limit.
RC: Thereís a good amount of silence in your run on Thor. The character is much more taciturn than ever before. Do you feel that Thorís tendency to be over-loquacious ever hurt his chances of garnering mass appeal? Did he talk so much and so silly that he became a phony character?
DAN JURGENS: I gotta tell ya . . . that stuff is fun to write! (Laughs)
RC: Why are no new characters popping up in the books these days, in general? "Core characters" seem to rule.
DAN JURGENS: But, there again, thatís the problem with Marvel or DC right now. Every resource they have is going into the new Superman thing, the new X-Men thing, the new Spider-Man thing . . . all of which takes away from the opportunity to see new characters and concepts.
The biggest void we have is that there are no new characters from Marvel or DC . . . [or] certainly none that seem to work. They come out with a new Superman [idea] or overhaul the FF, and they know what their minimum sales expectations can be. Whereas, with a new character they know itís going to go out at, probably, somewhere between 15,000 [sales] at the low end and 30,000 at the high. And that it will still go down from there. And that they need to stick with it for a year just to develop it. So itís understandable that they shy away from it.
But Iíd like to see both [DC and Marvel] search out more new properties. You know . . . back in the [early] 1970s, itís not like Wolverine existed. Itís not like any [of the modern] X-men existed. These companies are in the business of intellectual property, so Iíd like to see them trying to acquire and develop more intellectual property while continuing to overhaul their current cast at the same time.
RC: Speaking of DC and Marvel characters . . . any thoughts on the differences between Marvel charactersí power levels and DC charactersí power levels?
DAN JURGENS: If you go back to the various Whoís Who type of projects that Marvel and DC did, DC was always more general about the power levels of its characters and Marvel was always much more willing to pin powers down to a level of X.
RC: What do you think of the idea of Superman defeating Thor, which we recently saw in JLA/Avengers?
DAN JURGENS: No . . . not even possible. Even if you bring back Thor to his basic self, the Thor of issue one of my run, he would beat Superman.
RC: Whyís that?
DAN JURGENS: Magic.
RC: The "magic weakness" idea for Superman?
DAN JURGENS: Yep.
RC: In the books these days, the "magic weakness" is almost never there.
DAN JURGENS: I know. I know. Straight up? Superman is more powerful, but because of the magic weakness . . . but because of the magic component, Thor wins.
RC: In your opinion, is Superman is a lot more powerful than Thor?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah.
RC: Wow. When you worked on DC Vs. Marvel and pitted Quicksilver against Flash, you guys had boosted Quicksilver up to the speed of sound while Flash was running at multiples of the speed of light or whatever . . . would you say that Superman is as many times more powerful than Thor or the Hulk as Flash is as many times faster than Quicksilver?
DAN JURGENS: Yes.
RC: Wouldnít that make Superman, like, millions of times more powerful than Thor?
DAN JURGENS: Yes.
Editor's Note: Since publishing of the interview, Dan Jurgens has further expanded on his answer, contradicting the transcript of the interview. ComicBoards has listened to the tape and finds no indication of humor, sarcasm, irony or sardonic whit in Jurgens' statements or Richard Caponetti's questions. While we can't know what Mr. Jurgens was thinking, or if he silently laughed to himself or in a manner that could not be heard by the tape or by the interviewer, by all apperarences, Jurgens' comments here are genuine. ComicBoards stands by the interviewer in his assesments.
RC: And now we come to another "god issue" that sometimes angers people: Darkseid, Doomsday and Superman in Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey. Darkseid really seemed to get bludgeoned by Doomsday, like he had no chance against Doomsday. In the Doomsday: Year One annual, however, it seemed like Darkseid would have had somewhat of an equality with Doomsday. Was it your intention to show Doomsday as, like, orders above Darkseid in Hunter/Prey?
DAN JURGENS: Itís funny, but somebody emailed me about this not too long ago.
RC: I saw that email on the Web.
DAN JURGENS: The idea that we were trying to portray is the natural immunity that Doomsday would develop toward whoever he was fighting. In such case, it becomes very hard for Darkseid to defeat him.
My answer to that question in general is that . . . you take Doomsday, you take Darkseid, you put them in a pit and have them fight it out to death. If you do that ten times, youíre looking at a five-five or six-four split.
RC: Some people got the impression from Hunter/Prey that Darkseid could never win against Doomsday.
DAN JURGENS: I think that on that one given time [in Hunter/Prey] . . . yes, but I also think that Darkseid is a smart guy. (Laughs).
RC: What if you threw Darkseid in that pit with no preparation or anything like that?
DAN JURGENS: Because of brute power and the natural immunity that Doomsday genetically develops, Doomsday has the advantage. But my theory is that the next time they fight, Darkseid knows that heís been defeated and takes countermeasures.
RC: So, in your opinion, if Darkseid fought Doomsday without employing technology and strategy, Doomsday would win every time?
DAN JURGENS: Yes. Right.
RC: Now, regarding Superman in Hunter/Prey, how do you account for Supermanís abysmal performance against Doomsday?
DAN JURGENS: I always said that when it came down to a knock-down, drag-out, kick-ass fight, that Superman was always limited by his upbringing. In other words, if you take Superman and his upbringing, his moral code-the "governors" that put him in place to make him the decent human being that he is-and you take someone else who is raised, letís say on Apokolips, and they are one nasty, mean-ass sonuva . . . even if they only have 95 percent of Supermanís power, they have the advantage in a drag-out fight to the death.
How many Superman stories did we read where he would be in a battle and it was presumed that he was going to die or lose or whatever, but somehow he outwits the opponent? It was never necessarily that he went absolutely nuts and beat him; and I think thatís what Superman needs in those moments.
RC: With that in mind, the question is begged . . . if Superman didnít have to worry about other people and if he had cut loose in his first fight against Doomsday, would Superman have done better?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah.
RC: Which raises another question . . . were Superman and Doomsday roughly equivalent in terms of power in Hunter/Prey?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah. Yeah.
Hereís a secret: I use competitive athletics as logic for how superhero fights and battles take place. You see this all the time . . . take a very-well established team. A new team, that supposedly has no chance to win, comes into town and beats their [butt]. And why does it happen? Itís because the supposed stronger, better team takes it for granted that they are going to win and [underestimates] the tactics that their opponent is using. It happens all the time.
I apply that to superheroes, as well. I think that with the first contact with Doomsday, the entire Justice League, and certainly Superman, were slow to realize exactly what they were dealing with. First [Doomsday] was just a guy marching through the wilderness. We called him a force of nature, and thatís really how we saw him at the time-but there was that slowness to react.
Add to that that Superman has side concerns at the same time-heís going to save this block of the city, heís going to save this kid from falling out the window, this kid from dying in the fire-and it makes [beating Doomsday] difficult.
RC: All right . . . another Darkseid/Superman question: If Superman got hit with the Omega Effect like Doomsday did in Hunter/Prey, would he have survived it like Doomsday did?
DAN JURGENS: Yes. Yeah. Iíve always had the pretty profound conviction that if Superman got hit by the Omega Effect, that he would survive.
RC: Do you believe, then, that Darkseid is far less powerful than Superman-that it is Darkseidís political machinations and his dangerous mind that makes him a threat to Superman, not his power?
DAN JURGENS: Exactly.
RC: But you did write in the preface to the Hunter/Prey trade paperback that Doomsday defeating Superman is one thing . . . but Doomsday defeating Darkseid takes Doomsday to a whole other level.
DAN JURGENS: We needed Doomsday to defeat Darkseid for people to understand that Doomsday was a multi-dimensional threat.
RC: Then was is that Doomsday defeating Apokolips took Doomsday to a whole other level?
DAN JURGENS: Well, I say itís more like that. You know, if you go back to the Kirby Darkseid stories, Darkseid was never set up to be the all-powerful type of being. To me, Highfather was always set up to be the more powerful, omnipotent sort of being than was Darkseid. Darkseid had power in that he was able to control people around him. People were terrified of him.
I always say with guys like Darkseid and Lex Luthor . . . how come everybody fears these guys? They never do anything bad. You know, you go back to the Kirby stories and everybody talked about how bad Darkseid was and see that, yeah, Apokolips was always a terrible place to live, but . . . gee, I donít know if we ever saw him do terrible, evil, awful things on a frequent basis. And so I think Darkseid, because he wields the tremendous army and power of Apokolips . . . he is powerful, in a galactic sense.
RC: So in your opinion, in terms of sheer power, itís clear that Superman and Doomsday are both above Darkseid?
DAN JURGENS: Right.
RC: It sounds like you really have a solid grasp of the New Gods, which raises the question, would you ever consider working on the New Gods?
DAN JURGENS: Ooohh, boy . . . Iíd have to give that a lot of thought. Iím doing Thor, and there obviously are a lot of similarities there, but there have been so many versions of the New Gods done-many of which didnít succeed-that Iíd have to think long and hard about that.
RC: Itís like . . . how many stories can you possibly write about Orion fighting Darkseid and whatís happening in Armagetto, yeah?
DAN JURGENS: Youíre right. The basic conflict of Darkseid, Orion, Lightray, Highfather, etc., etc., has been told many, many times and over and over again. How do you put those characters in a new context without telling that story again? I think it can be done; I think it is a real tough act, though.
Kirbyís work on that stuff was brilliant . . . and I think remarkably interesting. The problem has been that since all of that, whenever DC has needed a galactic threat of some sort, it has come down to Darkseid. Itís amazing how bare the cosmic shelves at DC are.
RC: Years back, I spoke to John Ostrander at a comic convention and he expressed his disappointment over what you did with Spectre in Zero Hour. Perhaps he was just speaking in the moment, but I got the idea that you having Spectre lose to Parallax was sacrilege to Ostrander. What do you think about that?
DAN JURGENS: Well . . . first, I wish John would have called me to work it out. (Laughs) His editor, and presumably John as wellÖ would have seen the script before I started drawing it. Everyone saw everything we did in terms of their own characters and were very respectful about following their wishes.
You know, Zero Hour-and particularly its end-was something that had to pass muster with all the creators and all the editors involved at the time. And I think the nature of what the Spectre is and was in the DC Universe . . . is something like the Odin problem, which is that it has changed wildly over time based on who you talk to.
I always found it interesting . . . gee, on the one hand the Spectre is supposed to be a guy who will travel around your neighborhood to find a murderer and cut him apart with a scissor. But then, later, [heíll] float up into outer space and push two planets apart. Itís pretty hard for me to reconcile those two extremes, because I think if you were capable of pushing two planets apart, at that point . . . youíre going to be off doing other things than cutting people apart with a pair of giant scissors.
The whole end of Zero Hour, as with many elements of Zero Hour, were argued over, and fought over, and hacked out on a multitude of levels by any number of people. And by that I mean, other creators on the [related] books and their editors. Certainly, the end of Zero Hour, with the whole Spectre-Parallax-Oliver Queen conclusion was one that . . . very much [became] less the child of the creator and more the child of the committee.
For example, in Zero Hour, it was my wish to create another planet to put the Justice Society on-which would be termed 1942 Earth. In other words, bring back Earth II. I wouldnít have called it "Earth II," it would have [maybe] been "Earth Justice Society." It would have preserved them in what I thought was their strongest environment.
RC: Did you actually pitch this idea?
DAN JURGENS: Oh, yeah.
RC: And DC shot it down?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah, but I understand why; and it wasnít anything I was upset or angry about. Lots of ideas were shot down, some good, some undoubtedly bad. What Zero Hour was, in my mind, supposed to do was to get people interested in DC Comics. I thought the best part of Zero Hour was the "Zero issue" that each character got in his own book.
I told the guys involved [in Zero Hour]: "Hereís what you got. You got one issue to explain within 22 pages why your character does what he does, who he is, who his supporting cast is, who is villain is, etc. This is 22 pages to tell the reader why your book exists and why they should buy it the next month." With a lot of the DC Zero Hour issues, I think thatís where [the creative teams] failed. They did not provide [those elements] in issue zero.
RC: Do you feel that you succeeded with the "Zero issue" books of the Superman titles?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah, I thought we did. With my case . . . we had the Krypton-on-Earth story, with Lara and Jor-El and how [they] relate to Superman. With Man of Steel, they did the great stories with all the different versions of Batman.
RC: I love the art on that one.
DAN JURGENS: Oh, yes, itís like "Oh! Thereís the Carmine [Infantino] version . . . ," and Bog [then Man of Steel artist Jon Bogdanove] did a great job . . . and I think those guys [on the Superman team] were able to do those great jobs because they knew me and I had more opportunity to sit down and explain [Zero Hour] to them, perhaps.
RC: Okay . . . now here we go: Ben Riley. First off, your art looked very different from what you had previously done in superhero comics. Did you make a conscious effort to adapt your style on that book?
DAN JURGENS: I did. I do that on everything I do. Whenever I draw something, I think, "Whatís the best way to portray it?"
RC: The art seemed more sketchy than normal for you.
DAN JURGENS: When I went on the [Spider-Man] book, I wanted New York to appear a certain way and have a certain grit to it.
RC: Was replacing Peter Parker with Ben Riley as Spider-Man your idea?
DAN JURGENS: No, I had nothing to do with the creation of Ben Riley. That was there when I got there. It basically started this way: Marvel started courting me to do Spider-Man, and they said, "If you come on board, weíll give you your own book; it will be a new series; youíll get the number one [issue], and all that good stuff."
No one walks away from that! No one! And so, I said, "Well, all right! Iím there!" And then, once I got involved, I started hearing the name "Ben Riley" being thrown around. Because of the Spider-clone [plot], they were well into the [Ben Riley] storyline.
When I set foot on the book for the very first time, the general goal was this: Ben Riley was going to replace Peter Parker because they [Marvel editorial] wanted a Spider-Man who was younger, and more hip, and not married. Remember, too, that when I came in, there were already a group of guys on the Spider-Man books who were working in that direction.
I came in . . . and I just wanted to do Spider-Man stories, you know? And so, it was never a good fit. It never worked out.
RC: If it wasnít Ben Riley whom you had to write for, would you have written the Spider-Man character any differently?
DAN JURGENS: Probably, because the minute I got there, I go, "Well, if you want a younger, more hip Peter Parker, why donít you just write a younger, more hip Peter Parker?" I even remember saying, "Maybe Mary Jane should just move away for a while" and, well, just look where theyíre at right now. (Laughs)
When I started, there was the profound conviction that Ben Riley was going to be the Spider-Man and that Ben Riley would later change his name back to Peter Parker. Well . . . the readers hated it! And I always thought, "The readers are gonna hate this!"
By issue four, I wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. I said, "Letís end this. Letís end it now. Letís dump this. I just want to do Spider-Man."
RC: Your art was solid throughout your run on Spider-Man; however, some fans feel that your art was better in issues one, two and three than on your later issues.
DAN JURGENS: The life was gone. Your ability to be creatively enthused disappears when you are [disagreeing with] exactly what the story was going to be. You become convinced that, in the grand scheme of things . . . youíre doing something wrong for the character. And I was at that point. For whatever the reasonÖ and some of the fault is probably mineÖit didnít work out.
RC: Did you feel similar to this when you worked on the "Energy Superman" arc at DC?
DAN JURGENS: I never felt comfortable with the electric Superman. I think . . . if youíre going to change the powers, then they have to be logical. To me, [the change to the energy powers] just wasnít logical. I never understood what his power was. Iíd be plotting an issue and Iíd have to call somebody up to say, "Can he do this? Can he not do this? What is this?!?"
As a unified whole, I donít think we [the Superman team] ever felt comfortable with it. It went for so long and the explanation for how [Supermanís powers] were turned back was so convoluted proves that. I donít think we all agreed on what he could/couldnít do, etc.
Growing Supermanís powers is always real tough. When you ask people what they donít like about the Superman movies, the answer is always going to be, "What was that power that showed up out of nowhere? What was that?"
RC: Rebuild-the-Great-Wall-of-China-vision . . .
DAN JURGENS: . . . for example, yeah. Thatís the sort of thing that [causes] people to lose their understanding [of the character]. I also think that [in changing Supermanís powers], there is the potential to start to move Superman too far away from the mortal world.
RC: Okay . . . letís talk about the Web. There was a rumor on the Internet that you hate Grant Morrison and canít stand his work. Is this true?
DAN JURGENS: Oh, God . . . no. There is absolutely no truth to that at all. Iím a huge fan of his!
I donít go to [Web] boards. I donít spend time with that stuff at all.
RC: You used to, back in the days of the old AOL/DC Comics boards. I remember one of the earliest times I came across you was when a fan asked your opinion on who would win in a fight between Superman and the Silver Surfer-and you said, "Superman . . . 99 out of 100 times; Surfer . . . once, because Iím being generous." The fan went nuts over that!
DAN JURGENS: Right. And at that time, when DC had the AOL boards set up . . . there was an innocence that was there [but] that has gone now and has been replaced by a mean spiritedness, sense of aggression and cynicism that I just donít have time for.
At that time, too, we were encouraged as creators to have our own message boards on DCís official AOL site, which I always was willing to do. I was always willing to answer those types of questions; later, as it became more and more, "You suck! Why did you do this?" . . . and those were the nicer guys . . . I just didnít have time for it.
You talk about the controversial guys [in comics]. There are guys who make a living do that [responding to nasty fans], and really court doing that . . . itís just that I really donít have time for that.
RC: What is your feeling toward reading and critiquing fan scripts these days? Do fans still come to you naively and innocently . . . and say, "Please read this"?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah, they do. And I read less and less [of them]. Itís . . . difficult if Iím writing Superman and someone comes to me with a Superman idea. This has happened before when someone has said, "I think you should have Superman go to the Ice Planet and stick a diamond in the center of the Ice Planet to warm it up"; and you could be doing something close enough to [that idea] and [after publication] they just flip out.
RC: Would it end in a lawsuit?
DAN JURGENS: It will one day. There have been lawsuits and you do get letters from attorneys. It hasnít happened to me, but it has happened to friends of mine. All of a sudden they go to the mailbox and thereís a letter there from a lawyer . . . and everyone freaks out.
RC: Any words on the state of the comics industry as a whole?
DAN JURGENS: In this business right now, the greatest untold story is the economic decline of the last ten years or more. If you think back to when Malibu was there and all these other [independent comic] companies were there-those companies have disappeared. Marvelís out-put went from 150 books a month to, at one point, down to thirty. DC cut production.
The amount of jobs that have disappeared in this business is just unbelievable. You had guys who used to draw two books a month, used to write four books a month . . . left without work.
There is a great level of economic stagnation in this business. Rates have declined.
RC: Even for top-tier artists like you?
DAN JURGENS: There is always going to be ten percent that are exempt of a lot of the rules of economics in any business. I guess Iím talking more in a whole sense. For example, if you worked in this business at all, it used to be that you got health insurance.
RC: As a freelancer?
DAN JURGENS: As a freelancer, yeah . . . for either Marvel of DC. No ones does [this] anymore. The working conditions for the creators of this industry have declined steadily over the last ten years.
Economically, this business is still a struggle. We think itís [getting] better because Marvelís corporate situation is improving. Marvelís certainly looking better as a corporation, thereís no doubt about it and theyíre selling a lot more books. But as an industry, we still arenít healthy. We capitalize on the tricks of publishing more and more versions of what already works. [Jocularly] Pretty soon, thereís going to be about 18 Banana Man books coming out-but if they each have [an issue] number one, thatís going to do okay.
RC: But thatís not sustainable growth.
DAN JURGENS: Exactly right.
If you start to say, "Who am I writing for?" the answer is: Probably a very jaded comic book fan who has bought a couple thousand comic books. Theyíve read everything. Thatís what we have left.
I talked earlier about how we have abandoned the kids market, which breaks my heart. We all started as kids. I have kids . . . who donít know a single kid in their entire school who reads comic books. And I can see why they donít: Because we donít give them a product!
Too much is written from an adult point of view for adults and is very cynical.
RC: Youíre a fan of Grant Morrison . . . but he certainly has a cynicistís edge to him, donít you think so?
DAN JURGENS: Grant has a bigger view that he is able to bring to his work.
But if we take the whole Nick Fury thing, where Marvel had a movie that was coming together and all of a sudden you got Nick Fury hiring hookers, because thatís the only way he can get any . . . did you read that?
RC: (Absolute laughter) No!
DAN JURGENS: That is totally, exactly what Iím thinking of: Letís find an American heroic icon and see what we can do with it . . . [mess with it] to the point that heís this bitter, old, twisted guy. It was just totally alien. And we do see this [kind of thing] time and time again with comic characters.
Certainly, what appealed to me in terms of Nick Fury was the James Bond aspect-the super-sleek spy, the guy who could do whatever he wanted, get whatever woman he wanted. Give him the worldís most impossible mission and he will pull it off. You want to find Osama Bin Ladin? Nick Fury will have it done by three oíclock.
RC: The Jim Steranko Nick Fury.
DAN JURGENS: Exactly. I always talk about the parameters of the character . . . well, those are the guts of what Nick Fury happens to be. And so thatís what his book should be, even now. Sure, today weíre removed from the Ď60s spy fad-but you know what? That doesnít mean you have to crash everything [about it].
RC: What does the future hold for Dan Jurgens?
DAN JURGENS: In the immediate sense, Thor, a JLA project, something more at DC and something at Top Cow.
RC: Last words?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah . . . read Thor! Weíve got the ending and a lot of surprises coming up that are really cool.
RC: Maybe you should take this time to get back in good with all of the Thor fans you ticked off with your take on Superman and Thorís powers? Superman vs. the Odin-Powered Thor . . . who wins?
DAN JURGENS: The Odin-powered Thor.
RC: By a big margin?
DAN JURGENS: Yeah.
RC: Dan, thanks for your time. This has been really great. I hope that we get to do this again with your next project.
DAN JURGENS: Okay, very good. So long!
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