Comic Book Biography: MARV WOLFMAN
Speaking from a large-picture perspective, Crisis on Infinite Earths was the most important comic series for DC Comics in the last 20 years. It had real and lasting impacts, forever changing the DCU, and affecting everything that came after. In fact, for any DC fan under 30, the post Crisis DCU is their DCU. Obviously, the original Crisis is still having effects, as seen in Infinite Crisis #1, and a handful of other titles recently released that tie directly back to the storyline created by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez.
We caught up with Wolfman for a quick catchup on all things Crisis, as well as his upcoming Infinite Crisis work.
First Comics News: In 1985, Marvel was outselling DC every month, with many people at the time claiming that DC’s continuity was keeping fans out. Was this a viewpoint with which you agreed?
Marv Wolfman: I think that was only one of many reasons, but it gave a good excuse for the Marvel Zombies who didn’t want to try DCs. The main reason I think was the DCs at the time were not very good on the whole. But I do know a lot of people told me when I was at Marvel that they didn’t buy DC because of the weird multiverse and they didn’t care enough to find out who was who. Therefore something really big had to be done. As I said, it may have been more of an excuse than truth, but it was one part of an overall problem and the multiverse at the time defined DC and for Marvel collectors who were following a more or less consistent universe, DC’s universe was chaotic and confusing. For us DC fans there was never any problem.
1st: How was it decided to combine the DCU mulitverse instead of deciding all the comics would now focus on Earth-YXZ instead of Earth-1?
Marv: I decided it because I felt since all modern DC characters were on Earth-1, then all of them should be. It made no sense to create yet another Earth.
1st: In hindsght, do you think that Crisis achieved its editorial purpose of making the DCU more reader friendly?
Marv: It gave Marvel fans an excuse to try DC. It allowed them to realize DC had really good characters and it allowed them to start “at the beginning” so to speak. When you’ve been publishing the same titles seemingly forever, the idea of having to read 500 issues of Action Comics is a bit daunting. It also told all readers that DC was no longer going to be the stogy company of old and to expect surprises. It was also the first shot in the DC triple play of Crisis, Dark Knight and Watchman that told readers that this was not your father’s DC Comics… So yes, I think it did what it was supposed to.
1st: Crisis gave new life to series like the Flash that went from cancellation to 20 years of strong sales, but seemed to damage series like Legion of Super-Heroes, which was set in the future, and originally at least, tied to the original continuity of the DCU. Do you think this was a fair trade or should more care have been taken in fitting Legion of Super-Heroes into the new DCU?
Marv: I think the Legion fit in fine. The only question was where Superboy fit into the Legion and that came about only after the decision was made to revamp Superman and that the new version would not have a Superboy, so that was not Crisis related but an offshoot of Man of Steel. The fact that perhaps the Legion stories weren’t great for awhile may have hurt the book more than anything we ever did in Crisis itself. Until the current run by Mark Waid – which I love, the only other time – in my mind – that the Legionwas good was Paul Levitz’s run and before that when the Legion occasionally appeared in Superboy – before they became a feature in Adventure. But then, I’ve never been aLegion fan. Anyway, as I say, I believe all the Legion problems happened after the Crisis was over.
1st: You had worked at both DC and Marvel as both a writer and an editor. To illustrate the differences between DC and Marvel; if you created a new character, how would that same character be different in the DCU and at Marvel?
Marv: Marvel stories at that time were very action and character driven. DC characters were story driven. Titans came in and because of George and my DC and Marvel backgrounds, was a Marvel style action and character with DC emphasis on having an actual story. Things at the companies are different today.
1st: After Crisis ended, DC brought back the Crime Syndicate of America, introduced “Hyper Time”, purchased the WildStorm Universe and kept it separate form the DCU. They entered the Marvel Universe and created the Amalgam Universe. Do you think DC lost sight of what Crisis was all about in regards of the streamlinigng and simplification?
Marv: I think the Crisis was simply about starting new. If they wanted to bring back Bernie the Brain from Sugar and Spike and pit him against, say, the Spectre, that was their prerogative. The only idea was to start over. I do feel they made a lot of mistakes along the way – thought thankfully not on the level of Bernie Versus Spectre, but comics, fortunately, are fiction and you can correct mistakes in a way you could never correct real life. Also, in 1986 the readers were still in their late teens. In 2005 they are in their mid ’20s to mid ’30s. You need to do different kinds of material for that age group than for teens and not everything you do is going to please the die hards. But you’ve got to keep adapting or you go away. What I’d love to see are comics for all ages, but that is increasingly hard to sell.
1st: A few years ago you did an extra Crisis story for Legends of the DC Universe, how did that come about?
Marv: I was asked by Mike Carlin if I’d be interested in doing a follow up story. I had one idea I had never explored in the Crisis – namely showing our heroes trying to save a world and failing before the Anti-Monitor targeted our Earth. I didn’t have characters or a plot, but I realized quickly I had no room for that idea in the original run. When Mike asked if I’d like to do a Crisis follow up I thought about the rough concept I had, came up with the ethnic version of DC characters and their world as well as the story and went from there. I had a ball with it and think it fit into the Crisis perfectly. Paul Ryan also did an incredible job with it.
1st: What was the point of adding a story that long after the original series?
Marv: Basically I was asked to do it. But it did tell a story that hadn’t been told before and it let us see the Barry Allen Flash one last time.
1st: That was a culturally diverse DC Universe that you showed in the special, what was the thinking in destroying a culturally diverse DC Universe, and leaving them with the DCU?
Marv: I actually wanted to do follow-up stories but they were never approved. I really do think comic heroes should be more ethnically diverse.
1st: Earlier this year you revisited Crisis again with a novel of Crisis, how did that come about?
Marv: Once again I was asked to, this time by John Nee. I agreed before I had an idea, but then I realized I could tell the story from Flash’s point of view and it would give an entirely new spin on the tale. I didn’t feel I was adapting the Crisis but creating something special within the framework. I really loved writing that one.
1st: What was it like re-visiting that story 20 years later?
Marv: Daunting and great. I found it difficult to understand the Crisis when I read it in order to write the novel. I had completely dropped all the continuity from my head and I had to go over some things several times before I understood what I had written 20 years before. But I loved revisiting that time period and I loved writing the Flash which I had never really done before to any degree. Also, I really loved writing the original Superman and Lois. That early Superman is my absolute favorite character of all time.
1st: What type of changes did you have to make to the story when changing it form a comic to a novel?
Marv: I took it from Barry’s point of view so everything is skewed to his perspective. I tried to change nothing that had happened but to show it – when I actually did show the comic book Crisis events – in a way you had never seen before. I decided long before I started that I could not change anything I had done because that would be a slap in the face of the readers who enjoyed the original. The novel had to add to the Crisis, not take from it.
1st: Currently you have a tie in story with Infinite Crisis, how did this come about?
Marv: Once again I was asked. The idea that was pitched to me sounded like a lot of fun and they presented me with an intricate puzzle I had to solve and make sense of. I love doing that sort of thing; indeed, plotting and structuring the original Crisis was so heavily a problem solving situation.
1st: Without giving too much away, what is the story about?
Marv: It’s about 44 pages. No, it’s exactly 44 pages.
Other than that all I’ll say is it answers nearly all the questions that have been asked about DC continuity for the past 20 years and more. So it’s somewhat crucial to the entireInfinite Crisis series. And it provides a link between George and my story and this one. Let me say that Dan Didio, Geoff Johns and Eddie Berganza have been wonderful to work with, especially Geoff who not only was great and helpful in many, many ways to numerous to fully detail, but he also very patiently had to keep explaining things to me so I didn’t screw up some of the very carefully worked ideas they had come up with.
1st: Has the DCU changed much since you left DC?
Marv: Greatly so. By the way I never left DC. I have always done work for them but maybe not as much as I had before. I always wanted to continue to do regular work for them but for one reason or another that never happened.
1st: How did you reacquaint your self with the charters since your time away?
Marv: I had to read the material. Lots of material. Fortunately, although I don’t read as much or as thoroughly as I used to I always go through the DC comics to see what they’re doing. Also, the story I did required very focused research rather than knowing everything about everyone.
1st: Was this a one time only event for you, or can we expect to see more DC Comics from you, touchiong on what you mentioned earlier?
Marv: I would love to continue working with DC. They have some of my favorite characters, I like the people there, and I could write about some of the characters for the rest of my life if allowed to. But it’s up to them. I hope they like what I did enough to ask for more.
1st: That said, with comics taking a back burner in your workload, what has been filling your time lately?
Marv: Again, I have never been away from comics and working in Hollywood in the way you mean. I’ve always been writing comics and have never missed a single year where I’ve done several new stories or series. I just wrote less than I used to. Also, I do a lot of comic type material that no one in fandom ever sees. For example, I’m currently producing 900 pages of educational comics for a big educational book company. I came up with all the stories and then have been assigning them to some of the best writers in comics to script them. When I’m allowed to say who, you’ll be amazed by line up I was able to get. I’m also writing a 96 page graphic history of Israel to be published next year. I just did an animated direct to video movie for POW Entertainment and an working on a video game project as well as a few other things. Unfortunately, most comics fans will never see some of them, but they will be out there. And, of course, every so often I write an episode of the Teen Titans TV show which is really cool to do.
To keep up with what Marv is doing visit his website at MarvWolfman.com