On Tuesday, August 31, 2011, “Justice League” #1 dropped, officially beginning the experiment known as the New 52. DC Comics was not just relaunching all of its titles, it was doing so in a new, clean(er) continuity, in an attempt to revitalize and enthuse the fan base. It was an unprecedented move that bore good, bad, and mediocre comics.
Over the next year, we’ll be discussing each of the New 52 titles with a member of its creative team. We’re not taking any clear path through these books, but hopping from title to title, line to line, in an effort to spotlight the breadth of the initiative.
First up, we’ve got Ron Marz talking about “Voodoo.” Ron, currently writing “Almost American” for AfterShock, and best known in the Salvatore house as the co-creator of Kyle Rayner, launched the title in September 2011, but was gone by January’s #5, giving him a really interesting perspective on the earliest parts of the New 52 and just how chaotic it all was. Follow Ron on Twitter (@RonMarz) for comic discussion and New York Mets hot takes.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So how did you get involved with writing “Voodoo” in the New 52?
Ron Marz: It was one of the weirder instances in my career of going on to a book. I remember distinctly, I was sitting at a table outside of Starbucks, having a coffee. Brian Cunningham from DC called and said, “Hey, we’re doing [the New 52], would you be interested in taking on Voodoo?” And I was like, “Voodoo was getting a book?” It just seemed like an odd choice to me. But I get it, I understand that they’re gonna bring the Wildstorm Universe and the DC Universe and smush them all together. I understood the overall concept, but I was like, “why is Voodoo the one that’s going to get a book?” And Brian didn’t really have an answer. And I said, “Well, you guys looking for?”
At the time, I was writing “Witchblade;” I was in the midst of my 10 year run on the character. And I said, “What’s the take on the character?” And he said, the only thing that we’ve discussed internally is something like the TV show Alias where she’s kind of secret agent and doing espionage stuff on the run. And I said, “Is she a good guy? Is she working with DC heroes? Where do you want her positioned?,” and they didn’t have an answer. The only other thing that they said was that, she’s still she’s still a shapeshifter, and they wanted to retain the stripper aspect of her character.
What was your relationship with the character at this point? How familiar were you with her?
RM: Well, I had written some “Stormwatch” for Wildstorm, and I was actually supposed to write “WildCATS.” I was gonna switch up switch from “Stormwatch” to “WildCATS” because they needed a new writer on the book. And remember, the editor at the time, called me up and said, “Hey, would you know are you interested in WildCATS?” And I was like, “Yeah, totally.” The WildCATS were, you know, a different version of the X-Men, but I like the characters. They said, they said, “Well, we’ve offered the book to another writer, but there’s no way he’s ever going to do it. So as soon as he turns it down, it’s yours.”
It turns out Alan Moore didn’t turn down “WildCATS.” So, I got to be the bridesmaid to Alan Moore.
If you’re going to be a bridesmaid to somebody, it’s nice that it was Alan Moore, and he had a pretty good run with those characters.
RM: So yeah, I was queued up to write “WildCATS,” and then it didn’t happen. But as far as Voodoo, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually written the character other than like, one of that big “Wildstorm Rising” crossover. So, you know, I knew the character but I don’t think I had really written her besides that. And frankly, I said to Brian Cunningham I was like, “Why does this book exist? What do you guys want out of it?” And they didn’t really know, so what I ended up pitching them was what is the book that we ended up with, which was ultimately the book that they didn’t want. The pitch was that she was, you know, it was shades of grey stuff. She was neither the hero nor the villain of her own book, because I felt like in order for this book to have its own place among 52 other titles, it couldn’t just be another superhero book, because there were plenty of those, right? There was an entire DC universe of superhero books. So this needed to be something different than that. So what I pitched was that she’s on the run; it was sort of a take on The Fugitive in some ways, you know pursuing the one armed-man. And I distinctly remember that in the pitch, it said that, if we do our job correctly, half of the audience will think she’s a villain, and half of the audience will think she’s the hero. I wanted to put her right in the middle of those two things. So that depending on your standpoint, you are going to be you would feel like you were rooting for her, or you would feel like you were rooting against her, but she was going to be in between those two ends of the spectrum.Continued below
I think that that’s actually a really interesting way to pitch that character because like you said, if you just make Voodoo a superhero, it’s not Voodoo. And if you just made Voodoo a villain, I don’t know if folks want to read that book.
RM: Right? Let’s make this something different. Let’s make it more of an espionage book, almost like The X-Files, with her being an alien shapeshifter and all the weird stuff out there, with a government agent pursuing her. So that was all baked into the pitch.
Do you remember what month you got the phone call? From what I’ve heard from other creators over the years, some of this stuff came together very quickly.
RM: Yeah, the turnaround was pretty quick. I believe I got the call from Brian on a Friday. And I had to give him a pitch on Monday.
RM: I had to come up with what we were going to do but, basically, the book was mine. But I had to give a sense of where we were headed by Monday.
And you estimate that was like the spring of 2011?
RM: I was sitting outside [at Starbucks] so it was warm enough for me to sit outside. Yeah.
The book was part of what was called ‘The Edge,’ was one of these lines within the New 52. That line had books like “Grifter,” “All-Star Western,” and “Stormwatch”. Was there ever a meeting or a phone call with other creators from that line? Was there a sense of trying to put together a unified sense of what ‘The Edge’ books were?
RM: I don’t think so. I don’t recall anything like that. I mean, I might have gotten some sense of what the Grifter book was going to be like, because obviously, both of them coming from WildCATS conceptually, we were kind of paying attention to where each of those books was going to end up. But other than that, I didn’t get any sense of what the other books were doing.
It was very much a sense of once the pitch was in and approved, you’ve got to hit the ground running. And which was fine. I had a very distinct notion of what I wanted issue one to be already, and that’s the issue when that came out.
I know oftentimes, writers have little to no input on who their artistic partner is, but Sami Basri was a relatively new name to comics. At that point, did you have any history with his work?
RM: Sami had actually drawn some “Witchblade: stuff for me! So I was familiar with his work and really liked it. And the “Witchblade” stuff we had done together was at least a year or two, maybe a few years before that. And he just kept getting better. So, when he was floated to me, I thought that’d be great. I’m totally happy to work with that team. So that was obviously another attraction to the whole thing.
So how many issues did you have plotted out in your mind? Obviously, books don’t last forever, someone last just a few issues. So in your initial prospectus for this title, did you have in mind eight issues, 12 issues?
RM: I think we had sort of figured out 12 because, frankly you know that “Superman” and “Batman” and “Justice League,” those books are gonna keep going, right? A lot of the rest, you just didn’t know. And I kind of felt like we would be fortunate to get 12 issues, tell the story, and then we fold up the tent. I just didn’t know that if there was an audience for a Voodoo book, enough of an audience to sustain that book long term, which is fine. I mean, you know, that going into any gig really, right? If they aren’t the iconic heroes, you’re probably fighting an uphill battle for an extended run, because extended runs just don’t happen that much anymore. So for 12 issues, we had a pretty good sense of where we were headed.
When did you realize that your vision and DC’s vision were not aligned on this title?Continued below
RM: The day that issue one came out.
What happened that day?
RM:I was on a train headed into the city to do a signing at Midtown Comics for “Voodoo” #1, and I got a call from the editor, Brian, and he’s like, “Hey, can you come into the office today?” And I’m like, “Well, no, I can’t because I’m, you know, on my way to the signing.” Previously, I had offered, “hey, do you want me to swing by the office to you know, kick around ideas and stuff. I can, you know, I can hop in earlier train and come in, and then go to the signing?” And they said, “no, we’ve got so much going on, we don’t really have time for that.”
So the day that the book came out, I got a call saying, “can you come into the office?” You know that’s not a good call to get, and now I can’t, because I would miss the signing. I said, “What’s going on?” And so it was relayed to me that [the book] went up the chain, and the Editor-in-chief [Bob Harras] doesn’t know who to root for in the book. And I was like, “Right? That’s exactly it!” And they’re like, “Yeah, but we don’t think that’s a good idea.”
And obviously, I’ve known Bob for years, and I have no no issues with Bob whatsoever. My suspicion is that my actual pitch never made it to Bob’s desk. So my whole intention of “I don’t know whether she’s a hero or a villain” never made it to the E-I-C. So when that book came out, and his reaction was, I don’t know if she’s a hero or a villain, everybody did their job, but the jobs were now suddenly diametrically opposed.
I do not work in comics. Is it surprising that the Editor-in-Chief of the line doesn’t read an issue until it’s on the stands?
RM: Um, no. I mean, when you’re launching 52 books at once, no. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on and the focal point is the Editor-in-Chief, that chair, and there’s a lot that that person has to do. So it’s not surprising that, you know, that the issue wasn’t read until literally the day it came out of boxes and went on the shelves in stores.
When you got that call, was there an attempt at ‘ok, here’s how we can write this ship?’ Or did you feel like ‘that’s my pitch, if this isn’t gonna work, you’re better off finding somebody else?’
RM: If you’re going to be a big baby like that, you’re not going to work in a shared universe very long. So like after I did the signing, the next day or something like that, we, you know, I got on the phone with the editor again and said, like, “what do you guys want?”
You know what this ship is, it is steered in this direction. And if you want something different, and you know, at this point, like issues two and three are written, issue two is drawn, issue three is being drawn. You know, so the, so the idea of, well, you know, we’ll just fix it next next issue, that’s not something you can do. Because once the pages are drawn, it’s not like you’re going to throw out 15 of them and then start over again, because we’re gonna make the ship date. I said, like, “Alright, what do you want? I’m playing with your toys. What do you want?” And there wasn’t really a definitive answer. There wasn’t the answer of, of, ultimately, you know, she should be a hero, she should be a villain.
I think ultimately, the decision was, well, she killed the dude in issue one, so she has to be a villain. And I was kind of like, “yeah…but that dude deserved it.” He’s a much worse person. But, since that occurred, the notion was that she, we really have to play her as more of a villain now. Which, okay.
So, if you look back at the issues, there’s no first person narration in issue one, it’s just told more cinematically. But starting with issue two, there’s a first person narration, which was the edict that came down from editorial. It was sort of narration for this for the purpose of narration, which was odd to me, because like, once you start a book in a certain narrative fashion, I think you should continue that. So that was an odd thing to me. But you know, it did it because, you know, team player, everybody’s trying to pull in the same direction. So I think I had four issues come out, is that right? I had written five issues, or maybe even six. I think I had written the fifth issue, and the sixth issue had been outlined. Those obviously never saw print. So in the four issues, I had three different editors on the book, because people kept leaving staff, while the book kept getting shuffled around, which, again, obviously, that’s nobody’s fault that, that’s just what happens. And particularly when, you know, I think there’s probably when DC was starting to gear up to move to the west coast, and there were a lot of real world factors involved, too.Continued below
Each of the four editors all had sort of been thrown into this thing at the last minute to try to sort out what it was. So, you know, so they printed four of my issues, the fifth one never got done. And the sixth one, I think I was halfway through writing it, I think, and to their credit, DC actually paid me for the six issue. Obviously, a decision had been made that they wanted somebody else. They wanted a fresh take on the book. And you know, that’s their prerogative. I felt bad just because it was, you know, I was pretty upfront with this is the kind of book I’m thinking we’re doing. “This is what it is.” But ultimately that notion never got to at least the Editor-in-Chief level. So when the book came out, there was surprise there.
Also, a week or two before [“Voodoo” #1 came out], [“Red Hood and the Outlaws” #1] came out, and Starfire’s portrayal in that book was seen as sort of sexually exploitative, Frankly, I don’t think I ever read the issue, but enough people objected that I’m sure that criticism was deserved. But the fact that that book came out and quite a bunch of grief for being misogynistic, there was now a lot of focus on “Voodoo,” because of the stripper aspect. Which, again, was the one aspect they said you have to do.
So there was a focus on the book because of that, too. In my pitch, she starts out as a stripper. Because of her alien powers, she could read minds if she’s touching somebody, and the strip club that she was working at was next to a military base. So she was getting military secrets from the dudes who were from the base. And I believe that was the only time we’re going to see the strip club before the Fugitive aspect of the storyline came out. But you know, when there’s a great outcry over Starfire, and then a week or two later, a book comes out in which the main character is a stripper, obviously, that’s going to get a lot of a lot of notice, and probably not a lot of good notice.
Looking back on the New 52 as a, as an overall concept, 10 years later, it seems like an idea that was too late to be properly executed by the date it was supposed to debut, and it seems like it was probably an overcorrection in a lot of ways. But well, what are some of your overall impressions of the New 52 looking back on it now?
RM: Anytime you basically stop your line and relaunch 52 new titles, there’s never enough time. Now, DC started late on it, because anything like this is like turning a battleship, trying to get everything aligned. And, when there are a lot of different voices in the room, rather than one person, or one or two people saying, this is what we’re doing, go execute it, when there’s a lot of back and forth. It takes a lot longer to get things moving. So, I mean, overall, I think it was a pretty, you know, obviously, very bold initiative. I think bold initiatives are generally good for comics. And, you know, if nothing else, they sold a shitload of issues that month. When those number ones came out, it was a huge deal. You know, just, just from, from my personal perspective of going into Midtown comics, and signing for a few hours. I mean, there was a line outside the building down the alley, and I signed stacks of “Voodoo” #1. Now, was that because of me, personally? I don’t think so. Is that because of Voodoo, the character? I don’t think so. Is it because DC had a really big initiative that they promoted the hell out of that people were interested in? Absolutely. You know, it fired people’s imaginations. And, and obviously, some really wonderful books came out of that whole experience. Some of that line is where we still are, you know, the seeds that were planted.
So, overall, I think it was a cool idea. Generally, most cool ideas are not always executed as gracefully as you want them to be. But, you know, when you do 52 new titles, you know, some of them are going to be gems, and some of them are going to be stinkers, and a lot of them are going to be somewhere in between on that spectrum.Continued below
Before we started recording, you were talking about books that you get brought to signings a lot. How often are you signing “Voodoo” #1 these days?
RM: Not infrequently. I mean, people show up with it. people show up with it. And I know they do, because there’s like a really cool spot on the cover design where I usually put a word balloon and then put my signature in it. Because it’s a you know, it’s kind of a cool cover. So yeah, I mean, it does not show up frequently. And particularly the number one, like a lot of people will bring the number one, I guess, because it’s a number one, not so much the two, three and four. In some ways, issue one is exactly what I wanted it to be. Two, three, and four are all sort of compromised versions of what I was trying to do. And I don’t say compromise to denigrate it in any way. It’s not where we were initially headed. In fact, we had to make a lot of editorial changes to issue two, in both the art and in the text that were done very fast.
That’s amazing to me, that if the notes were given to you, even on the day after number one came out, it’s kind of incredible that number 2 came out on time. And at that point DC was refusing to ship anything late, so the fact that you guys were able to get that actually fixed and out there on time is sort of a miraculous thing.
RM:I think we had about a week for art and color corrections. And, you know, this is not like the entire pages were being redrawn. It was, you know, well, this, you know, this panel shows too much, this panel’s too graphic. So, a lot of the tweaks are art wise, where, you know, like bits of panels that were, you know, redrawn and dropped in. Because the, you know, the second issue actually starts with a fairly graphic sexy, that turns out to be Voodoo impersonating the guy that she killed, because she’s a shapeshifter. And, if there had been time, that entire scene would have been taken out, because they were very uncomfortable with that. But, I thought it was cool.
I know, this is how comics work. And I know that when you’re working for a company that is worth quite literally billions of dollars, stuff gets overlooked by the people up top. It’s just so insane to me that nobody with veto power read your script, saw the pages as they were coming in, maybe even saw your pitch. And, you know, it just kind of blows my mind.
RM: All of that stuff ascended to a certain level; I got feedback from, like, senior editor level. And all the feedback was “this is really cool. We love it!” But it obviously didn’t progress beyond that.
Look, there was surprise on both sides. When the issue came out, and it got read, there was surprise on the DC editorial side. And on my side, there was the surprise of, well, I told you what I was gonna do. And you said, Yes. So how did we get here?
Did anybody apologize about this? Like, “I’m sorry, this didn’t work out?”
RM: This is a very personal business; it’s still a small business. So you tend to end up knowing everybody. So yes, there was an apology. There was an apology from the last editor I worked with, on the book, who was Bobbie Chase, who I knew from years ago at Marvel. And she was the one that actually had to call up and say, yeah, “we’re gonna let you go for the book. We don’t know what we don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t know where we want it to go. And we’re trying to figure it out.” I mean, what that really meant was that there was another writer working on the book already. And that was, you know, that soon became apparent, which I thought was kind of dirty and uncool. But Bobbie was the third editor in four issues so she was just thrown into the middle of it. She’s very apologetic about it, and basically said, “Look, it’s not your fault. It’s just how the situation transpired. And, and we’re sorry, and, you know, we’ll pay you for, you know, pay for the issues that you wrote that we’re not going to use.”Continued below
I think that’s the only book that’s ever been taken away from me.
Really? Yeah. With a career as long as yours that’s an impressive statistic.
RM: I mean, look, sometimes books just end, but I’ve never left a book not of my own choosing that continued, except “Voodoo.” So that’s a thing that happened. That’s an experience everybody should have.