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Friday, September 19, 2008

Wired's Interview with Comic Icon Ed Brubaker


Comics writer Ed Brubaker has penned iconic titles like Batman, Daredevil, Catwoman, X-Men and more for Marvel and DC Comics alike. Hell, he even tried to kill off Captain America.

He's also mashed noir and superheroes in more than a few works on his extensive comics resume. The Seattle-based writer says he's been into crime and fiction since he was a young punk making life difficult for himself and others.

"I was a juvenile delinquent, basically," Brubaker told "That's where I think it started."

But it looks like his career turnaround is doing just fine, thanks. The Eisner and Ignatz winner's Sleeper series is going wide-screen, with Tom Cruise and Sam Raimi currently attached. Meanwhile, his latest Marvel series, Incognito (pictured), on newsstands Dec. 10, throws a supervillain into the Witness Protection Program.

Brubaker spoke with about Incognito, why Batman kicks much ass (and Captain America doesn't) and why noir and comics go together like peanut butter and chocolate. From slacker detectives to crazy supervillains, where did you get your taste for noir and violence?

Ed Brubaker: I was a juvenile delinquent, basically. That's where I think it started. Although I grew up around old noir films, because my uncle John Paxton was a famous film noir screenwriter, so his movies were always around when I was a kid. But I got in some serious trouble as a kid, and decided to clean up my act. And when I started doing comics, noir always really appealed to me. Reading stories about criminals, I could always see some little part of myself in there, in that desperation that makes you willing to take stupid risks. Thankfully, that guy is a long, long time ago, and far from who I am now. Any favorite noir flicks or books you always come back to?

Brubaker: I love my uncle's movie, Crossfire, a lot. And Out of the Past and DOA are always great. Are you a fan of hard-boiled crime writer Jim Thompson?

Brubaker: Yeah, I'm a huge Jim Thompson fan. He was a major influence on my work when I first started. The way he gets into the heads of his main characters, and lets you come along for that ride as they make bad decision after bad decision. The current arc of Criminal "Bad Night" is in some ways a tip of the hat to Thompson and David Goodis, and my friend Jason Starr, who is one of their modern heirs, I think. Any thoughts on the Batman iteration hitting the malls today?

Brubaker: I think The Dark Knight is one of the best superhero movies ever, honestly. Although, it was about 20 minutes too long. But I couldn't pick the 20 minutes to cut, so what are you going to do? What did you learn of the character during your time with him, and why do you think he's still such an iconic figure in the 21st century?

Brubaker: Batman is just so primal. He's a revenge fantasy with a cool costume. He's the Shadow with personal grief to overcome. Sometimes I think all good characters can be equated to either Hamlet or Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth even more. And in some ways, Batman is the ultimate Hamlet. My analogy probably doesn't really work, but it's amazing how often you can see it in melodramatic stuff, especially. And I mean that as a compliment. How about Captain America? What are your thoughts on his transition to the 21st century? Do you think he's an accurate symbol of where America's head is at today?

Brubaker: I think what makes Captain America work in the modern age isn't so much him reflecting where America's at, but in showing where it should be. In my series, I've had Cap quote Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine and Dwight Eisenhower, because Captain America isn't some partisan tool. His history as a character since the mid-'60s shows that. He can call a lie a lie, and he doesn't care which side the liar is on. I think the United States really needs an icon without those partisan blinders on right now, more than ever. But you know, with Cap what we've also done is make it feel more like a modern high-tech espionage comic, in many ways. Cap's military/government background is part of what keeps him relevant, too. Any thoughts on changing his color if Obama wins? It's been done before.

Brubaker: I'll be so happy when Obama wins that you never know what I'll do.

Incognito_01_teaser1 Let's rap about Incognito. It seems like an antiheroic narrative.

Brubaker: I agree and disagree, actually. Incognito is about a bad guy forced to pretend to be good, forced to take pills that make him feel normal, and to live in the world of the people who were like ants to him before. And while it begins very antihero, the arc of our main character is something very different. It's about identity and morality on a few levels, as well as this twisted noir supervillain explodo fantasy. I described it earlier as a dark exploration into the nature of good. I think it explores some things about heroes and villains that we've never seen before in comics. Noir and comics go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Brubaker: I think noir and comics really do go together, yeah. I think the use of close-ups and angles and shadows in noir is really influential to modern comics in general. They taught guys like Eisner and Toth and Johnny Craig how to establish mood on the page. But villains have been the heroes for awhile now, so how do you keep it fresh?

Brubaker: I think it's always about finding the right angle into any character. Incognito began with me wanting to try something I hadn't seen -- the story of a bad man who begins doing good things, but for the wrong reason -- and to see how that would affect his life and his view of himself. A huge supervillain revenge story unfolded around that, and this character began growing in my mind, and telling me who he was and why he was in Witness Protection. I think as long as you have a strong central character, that's really the most important thing. It seems like the first thing you do is admit that originality is impossible.

Brubaker: A long time ago, the great comics writer and editor Archie Goodwin told me there are only five or six stories in the world. Originality is overrated. It's how you tell those stories that makes yours different. That's always stuck with me.


Images courtesy Marvel Comics