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DF Interview: Michael Uslan brings three iconic heroes together in one trade
By Byron Brewer
An historic crossover 75 years in the making! The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Avenger, the three iconic crime fighters first introduced in the pulp magazines of Street & Smith Publications, came together for the time EVER in a celebrated Dynamite Entertainment miniseries.
On Wednesday, writer Michael Uslan along with artist Giovanni Timpano bring you that saga of surprises, derring-do and an origin story unlike any other in trade paperback form.
To learn more about Justice Inc. as a whole, writer Uslan spoke to Dynamic Forces.
DYNAMIC FORCES: Michael, first off, many and sincere congratulations! I understand – and I am sure your many fans would love to know – that your son and his wife just gifted you with your very FIRST grandchild! How does that feel and how is everyone doing?
MICHAEL USLAN: She's a true game-changer for all of us and has already worn her first Bat-Girl suit! Her name is Harlie, a variation on one of our most popular Batman characters. Mother and daughter are doing super!
DF: Like myself, you are a fan of the many great pulp characters of yesterday that Dynamite Entertainment has in its wondrous library. What led to a teaming of The Shadow, Doc Savage and, oddman out almost, The Avenger?
MU: It's truly inconceivable to me that in the 75 year history of Street and Smith/Condé Nast, that no one ever thought to team up their trinity of super-heroes. Way back in the 1970's, I was privileged to write the first ever team-up of The Shadow and The Avenger in DC Comics’ The Shadow #11. I was thrilled with the positive response we received to that story, but was chagrined by the paltry number of pages we had to work with back then… under 20. When Dynamite announced it had acquired comic book and graphic novel rights in and to The Shadow and was working to acquire the rights to Doc Savage as well, I told Nick Barrucci that if he got the rights to all three Street and Smith characters, I would give my left ________ to write a graphic novel finally teaming them all up. Nick gave me the quick green-light when he did, and we were off to the races... some 40 years after I last wrote The Shadow and The Avenger.
DF: I've seen you mention how the series re-presented in the trade paperback, Justice Inc., ties together with your Shadow/Green Hornet series and MAY lead to a third series. Can you explain and then tease anything about that?
MU: The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights series was my return to writing The Shadow after a break of nearly 40 years. One of my first exposures to The Shadow was via reruns of the dramatic radio show on the radio station in Newark, New Jersey when I was growing up. It was played back to back with reruns of The Green Hornet radio show. So I have always linked these two characters together. In my original vast comic book collection, I had issues of The Shadow going back to number two from 1940 and had issues of The Green Hornet comics from Harvey Comics back in the Golden Age. I later also enjoyed The Green Hornet TV series, especially Bruce Lee and Al Hirt's amazing opening theme song.
For me, the bottom line was there was no way I would write two graphic novels back-to-back for Dynamite without their continuity linking up. So while you can read Justice Inc. as a stand-alone graphic novel, you can also enhance your reading experience of it by also having read The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights. As for a clue to what might be coming in any third graphic novel in a Shadow trilogy for me, it would be premature for me to spill it at this time. Just note that I have planted said clue in there and we shall see if it takes root.
DF: Was it difficult finding individual voices for all these characters that are interacting together? Of course, The Shadow is very prominent and sometimes tends to dominate, even in the presence of Doc Savage. But for the three, plus all the supporters, was it a challenge to find those voices and, if so, how did you meet that challenge?
MU: I have read so many Shadow pulp novels as well as my two favorite Shadow comic book series… Denny O'Neil's DC Comics run in the mid-1970s and Gerry Jones’ run at DC a number of years later. Adding to that the many radio shows I have heard (my favorites featuring Brett Morrison), I have always distinctly heard his voice in my head. I also knew and worked with Walter Gibson, creative force behind The Shadow, and had been able to get great insights right from The Man himself! Plus, because of the link between The Shadow and Batman, and the fact that I have also written Batman comics and a graphic novel, I've always felt comfortable with this voice.
Regarding Doc Savage, he was the direct forerunner to Superman and I keep Superman's voice in my head, especially as it has related to Batman, as an influence on my Doc Savage voice, especially vis-à-vis The Shadow. I balance this with my having read many of the Doc Savage pulp novels.
I did make one change and that was by tinkering a bit with Doc's speech patterns and reactions to people and events in an attempt to try to make him a bit more contemporary feeling for younger readers who may have found Doc to be a bit inaccessible over the huge generation gap created by so many years.
DF: What inspired you to revise the origin story of Richard Benson, aka The Avenger?
MU: Again, there was an attempt on my part to try to make The Avenger feel a little bit more contemporary, although still a period piece. The Avenger historically has never achieved the success of Doc Savage or The Shadow, whether in the pulps, in radio, in movies, or in the comic books themselves. He was always either just a back-up feature or his book did not last long. I thought his costume was a bit drab compared to other heroes and to the sensibilities of younger readers, so we tried to spruce it up while still doing being true to its original form. His origin story is classic and I like to think that we did not change it so much as expand it and expand the backstory and, yet again, make an attempt to have it feel a bit more contemporary while still being that period piece. And then, there was that Jodie Foster movie which blatantly ripped off the origin of the Avenger. I knew that would be in people’s minds and younger audiences might not realize that the Avenger came first. So I was looking for ways to add more to it than what had brazenly more recently appeared in film.
DF: Elephant in the room: Your favorite pulp character (in Justice Inc. or not) and why.
MU: Well, the fact that my first ever professional comic book writing was for The Shadow, and the fact that I knew his creator and still to this very day cannot write a Shadow story without imagining Walter Gibson standing over my chair looking at what I'm writing, and the fact that not only is The Shadow linked to Batman, but I am also ... leads to the incontrovertible conclusion that he remains one of my favorite characters of all time.
And ... if you look at the comic book characters I have written over the years, most of them have been fedora-clad, including: The Shadow; The Green Hornet; The Question; Detective #27; and The Spirit.
DF: Potential SPOILERS here, but I’ll risk it. Be warned! You have some epic moments in this adventure, Michael: A smashing together of the past and future amid the present as our villains seize control of time itself and The Avenger learning the true fate of his wife and daughter, not to mention what happens to Doc on The Shadow’s auto-gyro over Manhattan AND what happens to The Shadow at the hands of one of his own! That’s a lot of bang for your buck! Any more you can recall in a non-spoilery way?
MU: When you have three seminal, iconic characters that you are bringing together in one adventure, you, by definition, must have a threat of great significance. The problem here is that Doc Savage, to me, had only one great super villain; The Shadow, to me, only had two or three great super villains; and The Avenger had none. This then required some special strategizing.
The other big problem for me to tackle was Dynamite’s request that The Shadow and The Avenger be [period] but Doc Savage be contemporary. This meant to me that I had to do a time travel story. That first led me to my three favorite Twilight Zone episodes for inspiration. But I was excited because it would give me the opportunity to finally explain what happened to Doc Savage's hair between the 1930s through 50s Doc and to the 1960s and onward Doc.
DF: How closely did you collaborate with your artist, Giovanni Timpano?
MU: Giovanni and I were full creative partners on this. We communicated regularly through email, and he knew I was totally flexible on the script and the way I was breaking down the panels, and I knew he would be flexible when he came back with a new concept for how to break down the story. We worked great together and it was a wonderful experience from start to finish!
DF: You've been tied to the pulps for some time now. What keeps you coming back?
MU: The fedoras! And my love of history. In all my graphic novels that are not about Archie, I try to incorporate historical fiction, as I did in Batman: Detective #27, as well as in The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights, and Justice Inc.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Michael Uslan for taking time from his busy schedule AND new grandchild to answer our questions. The Justice Inc. TPB from Dynamite Entertainment goes on sale this Wednesday, June 3rd!
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