As Justice, Inc. moves into the second half of the mini-series, Kevin Pearl checks in with series writer Michael Uslan about the Dynamite series and where things are going for pulp icons the Shadow, the Avenger and Doc Savage.
MICHAEL USLAN: I am having so much fun there is no way I could ever consider this to be "work." I am playing in a sandbox every day with some of my favorite toys. I still cannot comprehend that no one at Street & Smith in 75 years thought to team up their trinity of heroes! It really boggles the mind!
39 years ago, I was fortunate to have written the one and only cross-over of The Shadow and The Avenger in DC Comics' "The Shadow" #11 (cover by Mike Kaluta). Now, almost four decades later, I get to do it again, and this time with Doc Savage! It doesn't get better than this.
Making a "team" out of three very very different characters with contrary ideologies and methodologies ia a huge challenge. So rather than try to cover up or ignore those differences, I emnraced them, and what we have is, at best, a shaky alliance that had to come together to face a world threat from very powerful foes.
MU: Well, we know I had the opportunity to writwe The Avenger 39 years ago. Score a point for The Avenger. My older brother, Paul, bought every single Bantam paperback of Doc Savage when each was published starting in 1964, then three days later, passed each one off to me to read. Paul was my guide into the world of Doc Savage. I had him read my script for "Justice, Inc. #1" to make sure it passed his stringent Doc Savage test. He then wound up writing a key panel in that issue and was then satisfied it was pure Doc. Score a point for Doc Savage. But I knew and worked with Walter Gibson, the driving creative force behind The Shadow. Every time I write a Shadow story, I imagine Walter looking over my shoulder and I need to please him. Additionally, the first comic book I ever wrote was DC Comics' "The Shadow" #9 (cover by Joe Kubert). So score two points for The Shadow.
When Dynamite's Nick Barrucci offered me the chance to write the first meeting of The Shadow and The Green Hornet, I couldn't resist. When he obtained the rights to all three Street & Smith heroes, I couldn't resist writing "Justice, Inc." There are two more Shadow cross-overs I will not be able to resist, either. And, it looks like we may be able to announce something tres cool in the next couple of months!
MU: There had to be a major, major, major threat in order to bring together three such diametrically opposed heroes. To me, it was Dr. Rodil Mocquino, The Voodoo Master, who on three occasions in the pulps, came the closest to wiping out The Shadow and his organization. He pierced the veil of the Sanctum and his mind-controlling powers were enormous. Thinking about that, I realized that a villain who controls minds, entrances, hypnotizes, or mesmerizes people was a concept used quite often in the pulps. That was then the springboard for the villains selected for this graphic novel (and I do write this as a graphic novel structured in three acts like the screenplay of a movie. I then find climaxes where I can do mini-breaks to break it up into six issues of a comic book mini-series). I love science and try to stay abreast of the latest developments, and the Hadron Super-Collider opened up great possibilities, especially when Dynamite told me they would prefer a period Shadow, a period Avenger, but a contemporary Doc. Time travel was my only answer, thus turning to the Super-Collider and to "The Twilight Zone.
MU: I knew what I was facing with the origin of The Avenger. It's one of the most famous, iconic airline flights in the history of pulps and comics. Yet, a while back, it had been purloined by a certain movie. I didn't want to change that origin, so the snswer lied in expanding it. That became my opening to insert Doc and The Shadow in an organic way that would make sense. All three men had ties to the frozen north. But if I was gonna write about a legendary plane ride, there were three of my all-time favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes that dealt with airplanes. I had to do an homage to them. And what was really weird was my story is largely set in 1939, which just so happened to be the same year that Twilight Zone plane was lost in time! Eerie!
KP: A lot of writers forget the great mind behind the biceps of Doc Savage, but here one of his time inventions is involved. Will this cause any permanent changes in the lives of these three heroes, especially Doc?
MU: Well, imagine the shock, as witnessed in issue #2, of a man trapped in time meeting himself as a much younger man! And FINALLY, we get to explain and lay to rest all the questions and rumors about Doc Savage's hair! In 1939, he has a Clark Gable hair-style. By 1964 he had a bronze pointed skull cap of hair. Some fans prefer the former, some prefer the latter, but none have known about the why, when and how the change took place! We remedy that in this story.
KP: Would you be willing to helm a Justice Inc. ongoing should the opportunity arise?
MU: Since writing is what I do between midnight and 3am or on the endless string of airplanes I find myself on all the time, I don't have the time to both produce movies/TV/animation and write an on-going series. I like to think that I'm setting things up for The Avenger to set up his own, controlled Justice, Inc. emulating Doc and The Shadow by pulling together a great team of agents. But perhaps there is still another great threat out there that will force the three super-stars to join together once more. I don't know. I DO know that there are a few more graphic novel/mini-series I want to do! And they would be historic! Stay tuned…
MU: Giovanni and I are full partners on this and despite the huge time zone difference, we communicate about everything. He always has many questions and fresh ideas and has picked up a plot hole we were able to fix quickly and with fun. His graphic story-telling is wonderfully cinematic! Just wait until you see the non-stop action in "Justice, Inc." #4! He's amazing! We are having a blast and are both dedicated to making this the best possible reading and thinking experience for comic book and graphic novel readers.
KP: Michael, what is it about these great iconic characters that seems to bring out the creativity and enthusiasm in a lot of comic book scribes like yourself?
MU: Doc Savage… Clark Savage… The Man of Bronze… called in the 1933 pulp ads, "Superman"…who has a Fortress of Solitude in the frozen north,,, is a mental marvel but is also the epitome of the greatest physical speciman of man and is known as a champion of the oppressed. He is the primary direct influence on Siegel and Shuster in their creation of Superman… Clark Kent… The Man of Steel…who has a Fortress of Solitude in the frozen north… is a mental marvel and strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
The Shadow not only was the primary direct influence on Kane and Finger in their creation of Batman, but it has been proven that the first Batman tale from "Detective Comics" #27 was specifically borrowed from The Shadow's November 1936 pulp story, "Partners of Peril."
And The Avenger inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Emma Peel and John Steed, and many other masked or cloaked Avengers.
So if as a writer, you are not excited about writing the three characters who not only prededed the great comic book super-heroes, but sparked their creation, then you should be shoveling Blue Coal for a living and not be in this glorious Business!
For more on Dynamite's Justice, Inc. – click here.