With the ‘New Age of Heroes,’ DC used “Dark Nights: Metal” to spin out a number of new series and characters into the DC Universe. So, it only makes sense that Scott Snyder, writer of “Metal,” would be behind one of the series. “New Challengers,” co-written with Aaron Gillespie (“Purgatori,” “Bionic Man,” recent DC Writers Workshop alum) and illustrated by Andy Kubert (“Batman,” “X-Men”), is a refresh of the Challengers of the Unknown team. Challengers, a Jack Kirby creation that dates back to the mid-1950s, has been a property that comes and goes in the DC Universe, but has an incredibly strong devotion among comics fans, Snyder included.
So, with the first issue of “New Challengers” dropping today, we sat down with Snyder and Gillespie to discuss the new series, why ‘ordinary’ heroism is so important right now, and why Kubert shouldn’t go to Vegas anytime soon.
Let’s start with the big question here. With all these ‘New Age of Heroes’ properties, for the most part, it’s new characters. Only folks like me who have every “Zero Hour” tie-in remember Damage. But Challenges of the Unknown, that’s a big deal. So what kind of pressure do you guys feel bringing a new generation of Challengers to the forefront?
Scott Snyder: I feel a huge pressure with it. What I’d say is– you know, “Dark Nights: Metal” begins with the Challengers of the Unknown and so the spirit of that book was very much wrapped up in [Jack] Kirby. And what Challengers has always been about, which is sort of pushing past the limits of what we thought we were capable of exploring or reaching. So, Challengers was almost like my spirit animal. “Metal,” you know, that’s why the mountain was one of the first inciting incident and returning.
So, in a lot of ways, as intimidating as it is, because Challengers to me represents the height of comic book lunacy and daring and imagination. It also is really inspiring and exciting to be able to do a series under that banner. So we wanted to make something here that kind of completely honored the past. We didn’t revamp it and do something that sort of veered left, or made it sort of a completely modern take that negated what had happened before. But instead said, “What that series, that original series, was about is extremely important for this moment, you know?” The need to be brave and explore to solve problems that seem unfixable. The need to go past the limits of what you thought you were able to reach, you know, feels very, very poignant and resonant right now.
So we wanted to do something that kind of had the old characters in it. So this series does bring back the original Challengers as well, but we wanted to be able to create characters right now that new readers can commit and follow and say, “This is my generation of Challengers. Why were they picked, who are they, what’s the importance of each one”, and then have that be a gateway, to all of the kind of wonderful mythology of the Challengers past, while opening it up to humongous new story.
And it’s very tied to what we’re doing in ‘No Justice,’ and tied to “Justice League,” and all that kind of stuff. The short answer is it was really scary because Challengers has always been awesome, but it also felt very, very right, because Challengers is a book that speaks very much to the heart of a lot of what we’re doing at DC right now, post-“Metal.”
Aaron Gillespie: Well, no. I think that covers it. I would agree that I felt tremendous pressure, but I think the original Challengers was, and all of Jack Kirby’s creations, were about exploration and pushing forward and trying something new. So I feel like the pressure is there, but I also feel like that is a property that is unique in that it does lend itself to this idea that new, creative teams will take it and push the ball forward. And I think it’s important to honor that as well.Continued below
SS: That’s the fun thing about things like taking on Jack Kirby creations, or taking on even like Swamp Thing, or those things when you take them on. And part of the legacy of those things is that they demand that you go past what they did– it’s a great feeling. You know, you take a character, you take a franchise, or you take a property by a creator who by his or her own nature was always saying, “Knock the wall down and go past what’s possible.” It demands that you do that, so as intimidating as it is, it’s also really exciting because you’re like, “I can do any crazy-ass thing I want in this thing as long as it honors the core concept because if I don’t people will actually be angry!” Because that’s what it’s about. So it opens up this tremendous freedom, you know?
Readers aren’t going to be aware of all these new players in the game, so why don’t each of you talk about the one character that’s resonated with as you’ve written the book?
SS: Sure, I mean I like everything we’ve done with it. Trina, everybody. For me, I think the reason that we started here with Trina was that it felt like she’s somebody who’s very, very much about being a protector, a caregiver for her sort of comfort zone, her area. So for me, I love starting with characters that feel like they’re used to their own surroundings, and they’re a hero in their own neighborhood. Like Batman is in “Metal,” and then all of a sudden you open a door where they realize that their mission is so much bigger than what they thought. That ultimately, they’re a tiny thing in the machinations of this huge plot. I am very glad that Aaron started with her, and then we decided to do it because I feel that she’s a great gateway drug to everything that we’re trying to do with this crazy series.
AG: Yeah, and I fell in love with a different character each issue as we explored their backstory. One of my favorite things as well to do in writing is to take a character and put them against their limitations, right up next to them and see how they handle it, how they react, how they push through their limitations or if they push their limitations and so I thought that was something that was really important to these characters since they’re literally getting a second chance.
When I read the first issue I was struck by a few things, but I guess the first thing I was struck by was just how– I feel like a lot of times in comics there is this false sense of heroism that’s put through everything. Like every person you meet is a hero of some kind, right? The hero of the grocery store, or whatever. But these characters seem to be legitimately good people in their communities, and legitimately important people in their communities. So I want to talk about that for a second. How important for you was it to make these characters not just your stereotypical, boilerplate superhero. But to make them legitimately good people, true people, and why is that so important today in this comic?
SS: I would just say that one of the great things that I think Aaron pushed for with it that I saw and was like, “You’re completely right.” Is that Challengers of the Unknown is about regular people stepping up to face these incredible sort of obstacles, and then winding up saying, “Even if my life is tiny, even if I’m living on borrowed time now because of this, I’m still going to be brave.” So, like you were saying, I think it’s extremely important for the world we live in right now when we face challenges that create tremendously divisive climate that seem entrenched and impossible to solve. That seem systemic and humongous and overwhelming. That we say we are each individually going to be brave and go into this together in a way where we’re not relying on huge, powered superheroes or larger than life characters or myths in that way.Continued below
But that the heroes in this book are everyday people that belong to communities, have flawed pasts, all of that that feel like you and me. So we wanted characters that felt very approachable. It was a very deliberate act having the DCU be up in the sky, very high above in that first issue in that way where you don’t feel up there with the superheroes. You’re down on the ground with regular people, because Challengers of the Unknown is about people like you and me daring to go beyond the limits of what they think is possible. Out of bravery and out of a sense of hope that by doing so they can make the world better than it is right now.
AG: Yeah, I would agree. I think that this is a very timely subject that we’re tackling. You know, we all live with a lot of uncertainty right now, and I think the important thing is to be there for our community and push forward. I think that’s why it was so important to have characters that are deeply rooted to their community in a way that, like Scott said, the superheroes are there, but they are way up in the sky. These characters might live in Gotham, they might live in Metropolis, but they’re kind of out of the purview of these heroes and they have to just push forth and face the unknown by themselves. And look out for themselves and their community.
I feel like when I read this comic that’s the feeling I took from it was just that not only was it a story about heroes, and Scott said, “Average people becoming heroes.” But it was also an invitation to look at the world around you and spot those heroes sort of in the world. And so I was really moved by it, so thank you guys for that.
SS: I was going to say too, that I think the book was initially created in that spirit. I mean the original book, and that’s very much a product of Kirby being somebody in World War 2. That whole sense of average people, regular people stepping up to these tremendous challenges. These things that are overwhelmingly terrifying, and then just showing up and being brave. And being good to each other, you know? And I think whether you’re not in a moment of tremendous conflict like that that’s material, like World War 2, or right now when you’re facing things that feel like the world is a scary place in many ways.
I feel like the book– the reason it felt good to bring it back now, but also the reason why it’s so attractive I think to so many creators. Because over the years at DC, every time that I’m talking to a young creator coming in through teaching or just in general sometimes when people are at Marvel. And I’m like, “What would you like to write if you came over?” Challengers pops up a lot lately! And I think that’s the reason, was that it finds heroism and bravery in everyday people. It depicts people that are chosen for a mission that feels completely bigger than what they thought their life was about. But then it’s about recognizing the fact that the heroism in everyday acts that they do throughout their daily routine, are the precursor or have a kind of crazy comic book extension in these missions to go to Skartaris or go to the ends of the universe.
It’s not very different, you know what I mean? And that’s what I think is wonderful about so much of Kirby’s work. You feel like you’re getting escapism, but you’re not. You’re getting lessons about how to live your life.
Let’s talk for a second about your artist on this book, the amazing Andy Kubert. Scott, I believe you’ve worked with Andy before, correct?
SS: I have, and we’re good friends outside of comics so it was a pleasure. I was saying before to Aaron, I had the pleasure of teaching Andy how to play craps very badly. And we’re quite close, so I was very excited and grateful that he signed up to do it.Continued below
As a fellow New Jersey native, like Andy, I always feel a sense of pride when I see a Jersey boy done good. So, what particularly did Andy bring to this book? What was the page in the first issue that you saw and just thought, “Oh, thank God he’s the artist on this book.”
AG: I don’t think there is one page. Getting Andy’s pages in my inbox– I cannot form words to talk about how important that is and how amazing of a feeling that is. Every page he turned in was just more jaw-dropping than the last, and so I don’t there is a single page. I’ll tell you my favorite page. It’s a pretty low-key page, but it’s from issue 3. It’s the very first page of issue 3, and that’s all I can say, but that’s my favorite page.
SS: For me, it was he last pages of this issue, because it gives the scope of what he’s capable of after such intimate character work too. That what I love about Andy, and I was saying this before to Aaron, is just that he’s capable of changing his style dramatically. You know, which is why he was so good on things like ‘Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?’ And how he changed it for “Dark Knight III”. All that stuff! He adapts to fit the story, while still keeping certain core qualities that make him immediately identifiable as Andy Kubert. So for this, we had a long talk at the beginning, and he was like, “I want it to be big and electric and bombastic. And recall that really fun, over-the-top sort of, ‘You’ll never get away with this lightning crash.'” You know, kind of Kirby-esque like high-drama storytelling.
And I just think he hit that mark and then some with it. He was great, and there’s no nicer guy. Him and Jock have to be the two nicest guys in comics. I want them to have a battle where it’s like, what can you do to make one of them do anything that isn’t so kind. Like so kind and nice, there has to be some pressure point you can hit to be like, “You have to do something that makes you a tiny bit of an asshole in some way. Cause you’re too nice!
I think you’ve been writing supervillans for too long, Scott.
SS: It’s so much easier to hit a nerve with me and turn me into the Legion of Doom. Very quickly. So I’m always like, “Come on, there has to be a button.” I actually know it, for Jock is soccer/football. He hates– I’m so off the mark, we don’t have to talk about this. But he hates like the super-macho, offensive soccer culture– football culture. That’s it, I found it. I have not found it with Andy yet. Andy is– I know, even losing terribly at craps drunkenly he’s very kind. He’s like, “Oh! You can have the money, House!”