Kurt Busiek Makes His Marvel... Again!

Lowdown - Interview

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In 2002, after a career at Marvel that spanned writing Power Man & Iron Fist in the early '80s, all the way to his seminal work on Marvels, Thunderbolts, and Avengers in the '90s, Kurt Busiek departed the House of Ideas for their main competitor, DC Comics, where he worked on titles such as Justice League of America, Superman, and the weekly maxiseries Trinity. After so long away, many fans were happily surprised when two new Marvel projects, due out in May, were announced to be penned by Kurt. Broken Frontier caught up with Kurt to discuss his return to Marvel, what these new projects are all about, and what the future holds.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You've been away from Marvel for about 8 years (other than the recently completed Marvels: Eye of the Camera). How did your return come about? What made you want to, for that matter?

KURT BUSIEK: My DC exclusive was up late last year, so I wasn't tied down any more.  I'd actually expected to be busy, between ASTRO CITY and AMERICAN GOTHIC, but the AG deal has been coming together more slowly than we expected -- the new DC Entertainment arrangement and the executive changes that came with it have been time-consuming, as I'm sure anyone might imagine -- so I had some time, and there was some interest, so why not?  I like working with Tom Brevoort and Steve Wacker, I like the Marvel characters...it wasn't a very difficult decision.

The writer in me wishes there was more to the story than that, but really, there isn't.  Tom offered me a story, Steve offered me a story, and I said, "Yeah, sure!" both times.

BF: What have been the biggest changes at Marvel since you last worked for them? Does it feel any different?

KB: Well, I call them on a different phone now, but other than that it looks about the same.

More seriously -- there may be big changes up there, but I haven't been to the Marvel offices lately, I'm way over on the other side of the country, so it's mostly just the people on the other end of the phone line.  Working with Lauren Sankovitch, who's working with Tom on Age of Heroes, has been a real pleasure -- she's knowledgeable, encouraging and enthusiastic, which is always good in an editor.  And working with Wacker is different because we're talking about Spider-Man this time, instead of the Power Company.

Beyond that, there are minor differences -- their work-for-hire contract is more polite these days than the last one I saw was, and they no longer have a policy that discourages people from working plot-style -- but those are minor things.  To me, it's talk to the editor, do the work, get the feedback, and that's still pretty much the same.  I'm sure things are different at other levels, but I haven't run into much of that, at least not yet.

I'm being really boring, aren't I?  No drama, no big insights, nothing.

BF: Have you been reading any recent Marvel comics to catch up? Anything in particular you like?

KB: In order to write the Age of Heroes story, I had to be up on Siege, and some other stuff, so they sent me all of Siege, all the art that had been done and the scripts for what hadn't been drawn yet, at the time, plus some Spider-Man and other issues I needed for catchup.

I'm wary about what I can say about Siege without spoiling anything, so I'll just say it's a real rouser of a story and should be a crowd-pleaser.  And I liked the Spider-Man issues a lot, particularly the issues Mark Waid did with Paul Azaceta.

Beyond that, there's books I've been following all along, like the Straczynski run on Thor and just about anything Ed Brubaker writes, and various other stuff.  It's not like I've been boycotting Marvel, I just haven't been doing much there, just Marvels: Eye of the Camera.  And that was simply because I was exclusive elsewhere.

BF: May sees two new Marvel projects from you; the first is a story in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37 that reunites you with your Untold Tales of Spider-Man collaborator Pat Olliffe. What can you tell us about the story?

KB: We slipped right back in where we left off, pretty much -- it takes place shortly after the end of the Untold Tales series.  In our last issue, Peter was checking out ESU as he got ready to graduate from high school, and in this story, he's still not out of high school, but looking to line up a summer job.

And of course, there's supervillain trouble involved, and Spider-Man gets a very unusual offer, that makes a big splash and causes more trouble than Spidey thought it would.  And we've got a very unusual guest-star, who I don't want to name because it'll make a nice surprise, but what happens with the guest-star is really the heart of the story, so I have to stay vague.

But it's an Untold Tales story, all the way -- aside from being a bouncy, active Spider-Man story, it uses Marvel history, and even fills in a little gap in the history that no one but me would have even noticed was there.  If you know the history, it'll be fun, and if you don't, it'll still be fun -- it's more an occasion for some good jokes and character stuff, nothing that requires a degree in Silver Age 101.

It's been a lot of fun to do, and I think readers are going to like it.

BF: What's it like working with Pat again?

KB: It's like falling off a bicycle.  Or something.

Seriously, I was just writing dialogue for some of his pages today, and it was like we never stopped working together.  Getting his pages in has been a joy -- there's so much energy to them, and the pages are clean and clear and a pleasure to script, it's like the dialogue just falls out of my fingers.  The big change is that I got the pages by e-mail rather than fax.  Other than that, it's like we haven't missed a beat.

BF: The other project is a story in the Age of Heroes anthology book. We've heard that it takes the viewpoint of J. Jonah Jameson, looking at this new Age of Heroes. How does taking the viewpoint of someone as biased as him affect the story?

KB: It's not so much that he's biased as that he's crafty.  Jonah may be a blowhard, but he's not stupid -- he thinks about what he's doing, and how to frame things just right to get what he wants.  So seeing things from inside his head gives the reader a look at what makes him tick -- and _how_ he ticks, which I think is even more fun.

BF: As I recall, you've often been a proponent of the view that the Marvel Universe is a place that reflects more of the flawed side of human nature, with an attitude towards heroes that could be described as distrustful. How does the Heroic Age fit into this, in your view?

KB: I think it fits just fine.  I think the Marvel Universe is a very human place, full of flaws and foibles, which means the heroes have to work hard, to get their victories -- but the victories are all the sweeter because they're hard.  Nothing that's been said about the Heroic Age has said it's going to suddenly be easier for the heroes -- but just because things are  tough doesn't mean they can't be upbeat.  Marvel's heroes have been showing that for decades.

BF: Marko Djurdjevic is your collaborator here; what artistic strengths does he bring to the story?

KB: This one, unlike the Untold Tales story, I wrote full-script, so I haven't seen the art yet.  But Marko's big strengths are ideal for the story, I think -- he does big spectacle wonderfully, and he does human-level character drama very well, too.  The story'll draw on both of those aspects of his work.  I'm eager to see it.

BF: Your editor here, as with the bulk of your Marvel work before your departure, is Tom Brevoort. You guys seem to have a relationship that goes beyond simply editor and writer; you genuinely seem to be good friends, even when you were working for the competition. What makes Tom the kind of guy you enjoy working and associating with?

KB: Well, Tom's a good guy, and it doesn't hurt that we like a lot of the same comics.  But as an editor, Tom's great at isolating what the creator's aiming for, and then doing his best to get the creator to do that better, to do the best job he can at achieving his own vision, rather than imposing his own vision on the work and dragging the creative team off in a direction they're not as passionate about.

So whether it's a matter of talking through a character arc you need to come out just right, or trying to figure out the best way to bring back Ixar and the Ultroids, he's knowledgeable and supportive, and a great sounding board.  And he loves comics -- and just about everything else in pop culture too, it sometimes seems -- which makes him a great guy to sit around and talk with.  Most of that talking's been done over the phone, but I do think of Tom as a good friend, and I'm always glad to talk with him, whether we're working together at the moment or not.

Steve Wacker's a lot like that, too, except he doesn't know who Ixar and the Ultroids are.

BF: What else is on your plate these days?

KB: Still working on Astro City, and hopefully we'll have American Gothic squared away soon.  Plus, I'm working on Batman: Creature of the Night, a thematic sequel to SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY -- it's a similar idea, but it's a standalone, not part of the same "world" -- and I've got this and that else to do. 

I'm working with IDW to get SUPERSTAR and SHOCKROCKETS back into print, am working on some prose writing...I'm not short of ways to fill my time, that's for sure.

BF: Lastly, I hear tell you've got a thing for Woodgod. What's the appeal?

KB: Tom and I were talking about other stuff I could do at Marvel, ranging from central characters like Thor and Iron Man to fringe stuff like Skull the Slayer and Weirdworld.  And I realized I had a pretty cool spin on Woodgod that would be pretty interesting to write, a very mythology-rich urban fantasy approach.  Or maybe not "urban," because it's not set in cities, much.

I've been joking about it, here and there. But I've always thought Woodgod was a pretty good idea -- a decent, striking visual, and a great name.  He hasn't always been in the most exciting stories, but that doesn't mean he can't be.

So I like Woodgod.  I don't know if we'll do anything with the idea, but I like knowing I've got this really compelling set-up for a character most people probably think of as a third-rater.  A nice idea to have in your pocket, just in case...

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37 goes on sale from Marvel on May 26th priced $3.99.

Age of Heroes #1 goes on sale from Marvel on May 19th priced $3.99.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Apr 23, 2010 at 3:31am

    Busiek never felt truely at home at DC it seems ... at least not for his superheroes work. The best thing he has written there was the Superman : Secret Identity graphic novel he did with Stuart Immonen. Free from all continuity restraints, this was an amazing and very human tale about a superhuman character. right on par with his Astro City work.

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