Nancy Collins Talks To Mark Waid, Greg Pak, Frank Barbiere And Fred Van Lente On The Entire Gold Key Universe – Turok, Magnus, Solar, Dr. Spektor

imagesAcclaimed horror writer Nancy Collins, when she's not writing books or comics, spends her time talking to other folk who do. She talks to Mark Waid, Greg Pak, Frank Barbiere and Fred Van Lente about their Gold Key comics for Dynamite. The whos, the whys, the wherefores…. though she refrains from asking the how muches.

Nancy Collins: How did you end up tapped to write Magnus Robot Fighter?

Fred Van Lente: I was contacted by human freedom fighters from the future to prevent machines from taking over by warning humanity of the horrors to come. Also, that there was a relentless robot with an Austrian accent sent to kill m…

Wait, I may be confusing this with something else.

NC: Your scripts for the first two issues of Magnus Robot Fighter refer to plot elements from the Valiant version of the character. Did you ever read the original Gold Key series?

FVL: I actually never read the Valiant series; I am old enough to have bought the Gold Key series in reprints as a kid in the 70s. I recently reread the whole series to prep for this one, the Russ Manning stuff really still holds today, it's terrific sci-fi adventure for 12 year olds.

NC:  I noticed that Magnus' girlfriend Leeja is now a female version of Judge Dredd and the robot police chief H8 has been recast as H8r, Magnus' jive-talking aide-de-camp. What other changes will you be making to the series' supporting characters?

FVL: Leeja's father, Senator Clane, is considerably more sinister here than he was in the original series. Our North Am is a robot theocracy — the secrets of which will be exposed in our #0 issue later in the year — and Clane is a member of the Synod, the Church of Singularity's ruling body. He hates Magnus's father, the rebel robot 1A, but he's not entirely a villain — the readers will find some sympathy with what he wants and why he wants it, I think.

NC: I see that Magnus' first name is now "Russ"—is that in reference to his creator, artist Russ Manning? And speaking of art—do you have anything to say about Cory Smith's work on the title?

FVL: Yes, I am a huge fan of Russ Manning and Cory is a worthy successor to him. His designs emotions and actions — all are just superlative. I hope to keep working with him as long as I can!

NC: In the past, Magnus Robot Fighter featured several crossovers with other Gold key/Valiant characters. Is there a possibility we'll be seeing Turok (currently being handled by Greg Pak, your co-writer on Incredible Hercules and Alpha Flight) making a guest appearance in North Am?

FVL: "Keep reading" is all I can say, I'm afraid… anything else would be telling!

NC: The Three Codes of Humanities in Magnus Robot Fighter appear to be inversions of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, and there are also references to  a robot synod and "heretic" robots.  So—is there a Robot Pope?

FVL: The Synod is the main governing body of the Singularity Church, rather than a single person — though there are schisms and different factions and denominations separating all the various robots, which I look forward to exploring in Game of Thrones-esque fashion.

NC: Will readers be encouraged to send in drawings of robots they design, like they used to back in the 1960s?

FVL: That would be awesome! Did you know one of them was a young Walt Simonson. I took a jpeg of it — hopefully we can run it with this article…

NC: Do you have any other upcoming projects you want your fans to be aware of?

FVL: Other than Conan the Avenger, Brain Boy and Project Black Sky from Dark Horse, Archer & Armstrong from Valiant, HowToons from Image? No, I can't think of any.

NC: Before we get started, I'd like to thank you for sitting down and answering these questions. What with your work on Turok Dinosaur Hunter and your gigs on Batman/Superman and Action Comics, I know you must be a busy man…

Greg Pak: Thank you for reaching out! I'm always happy to flap my yap about the stuff I'm working on. ;-)

NC: How did you end up working on Turok Dinosaur Hunter?

GP: Editor Nate Cosby roped me in. Nate and I had worked together for many years at Marvel on various Hulk and Hercules books, and I love the guy, so chances were excellent I was going to work on whatever he had to pitch. But when I found out he wanted me to write about a Native American hunting dinosaurs, I couldn't say no. Because dinosaurs, natch. And because I've spent my entire career in film and comics talking about the need for diversity, and here I am getting offered the chance to write a Native American lead character for a mainstream comic book? That's very possibly a once-in-a-lifetime call. So I jumped.

NC: Were you familiar with the original Gold Key version of the character? How about the Valiant/Acclaim reboots?

GP: I had a few issues of the Valiant reboot, and I loved the idea of the character, but I'd never read a lot of the comics. When I got the gig, I read a bunch of the original Gold Key books, which are a blast — a huge, ongoing emphasis on sheer survival. Killing and eating prehistoric animals. That kind of outdoor adventure was right up my alley, and I figured it would be a blast to combine that with some alternate history and an exploration of a young Native American facing European invaders for the first time.

NC: I see you've retained the character of Andar from the original series—but in a completely different role. What inspired you take Turok's younger brother and turn him into his childhood tormentor?

GP: As a writer, I'm a big fan of heroes as underdogs. From the beginning, I saw Turok as an outsider, an exile from his own tribe. So starting the story with Andar as a bully rather than a sidekick was a way to establish Turok's status quo at the beginning of the story and set up some big twists and surprises.

NC: You have made numerous changes to the Turok mythos, the most noticeable being that Turok no longer stumbles across the dinosaurs of Lost Valley, but instead the dinosaurs come to him, albeit as semi-domesticated slaves of English Crusaders. Can you go into the differences between your interpretation of Turok and the previous incarnations of the character?

GP: Our story begins in 1210 AD, and Turok is a young Native American living alone in the woods at the margins of his tribe's territory. As we gradually learn, Turok's parents were chased out of the tribe years ago, accused of murder, and since their deaths, Turok has grown up tormented by bullies and fighting for survival.

So when dinosaurs attack — released by invading English crusaders — Turok, with years of fighting for survival under his belt, is uniquely prepared to meet the threat. The question is how far he's willing to stick out his neck for the folks who persecuted him.

NC: The original Turok was a Mandan—what Native American tribe does your version belong to?

GP: Our story is set in 1210 in the island of Manhattan, which is predates any written histories we have of Native Americans in the area. But I've done a lot of reading about the Lenape, who lived in the area a few hundred years later after our time period. So the idea is that Turok's tribe is made up of people who eventually became the Lenape. But there's also a hint that Turok's parents came to the area from the West — from the Serpent Mound of Ohio. We'll explore that in later issues.

NC: What kind of dinosaurs and megafauna can we look forward to seeing in upcoming issues of Turok Dinosaur Hunter?

GP: A T-Rex and some ichthyosaurs play a huge role in issue #4. And we're starting a new storyline with issue #5 that features the pteranodon-riding female sky scouts of Genghis Khan. And no, I'm not kidding.

NC: In closing, Do you have any other upcoming projects fans should we aware of?

GP: I'm working on a huge Superman crossover right now called Doomed — please check out the Doomed one-shot and Action Comics #31 in May. And stay tuned — should be announcing some new stuff in the next month or so!

NC: Working on Dynamite's reboot of the classic Gold Key characters is far removed from your Kickstarter campaign for your indie project, Five Ghosts. How did you end up landing the writing gig for Doctor Solar: Man Of The Atom?

Frank Barbiere: Dynamite CEO Nick Barrucci picked up the first issue of Five Ghosts and really enjoyed it.  Following that, Nick gave me a call and we got to talking–we had a great talk just about comics, the current landscape of the industry, and projects we thought were exciting.  It was great to have a non-business call!  Later, when the Gold Key stuff came to light, the line editor Nate Cosby got in touch (without knowing I had been talking to Nick) and everything just came together.

NC: Your version of Dr. Solar appears to be based on the Valiant Comic's reboot. Have you ever seen any of the original Gold Key issues featuring the character?

FB: I've actually taken a pretty new approach to Solar, and we have a brand new character taking the mantle later in the opening arc, so I wouldn't say I drew influence from any one place particularly.  We took the name Phil Seleski from the Valiant stuff as I wasn't too keen on naming him Phil Solar, haha, but I've been reading a lot of the classic stuff.  I've definitely found a lot of cool stuff in there I'll be giving a nod too, as well as maintaining that fun sense of discovery and sprit of "the new."

NC: Without giving too much away, could you tell us what your plans are for the Man of the Atom, and how your version differs from previous interpretations?

FB: Clearly the biggest difference is having a new, female character take the mantle of Solar.  We start with Phil, but things spin into a whole new story pretty quickly–we've really focused on building our characters, building Phil's family, and really just raising the emotional stakes of the whole story.  I feel like Solar has always been a fairly disconnected character, and we play with that in Phil's character, but our new Solar is so full of life and excitement that she really opens the book up to a whole new place (and hopefully audience)!

NC: It's widely known (within comic fan circles, at least) that Dr. Solar is the template from which Dr. Manhattan was struck. How do you plan on handling this particular (blue, nude) elephant in the room?

FB: I'm a huge fan of Watchmen (aren't we all?) so I certainly looked at a lot of thematic and character implications from the wonderful Mr. Moore's take on the character.  I really didn't want to have the distant, brooding "space god" in our book–which again brings us to introducing a whole new character.  If Phil is on the path to be Doctor Manhattan, our new Solar is certainly the opposite of that in almost every way!

NC: Do you have anything else waiting in the wings that your fans should be on the look-out for?

FB: Certainly keep an eye out for our all-new Solar to take the mantle in this opening arc!  Other than that, I'm working on my Image book Five Ghosts and have a lot of exciting announcements for new projects that will be turning up online soon!

NC: Did you ever read the original Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor, when it was first published by Gold Key back in the 1970s?

Mark Waid: Congratulations, Nancy. You've somehow found the one comic I didn't read growing up, and that's not an easy task. But I gleefully went back and did my homework!

NC: To my knowledge, this marks the first attempt to reboot Dr. Spektor. How did you end up landing the job?

MW: Nick approached me last year at C2E2 about it, asking what I'd do if I were to try to tie a new universe of heroes together. And the offer intrigued me. We both saw a way for the least-known of the four Gold Key heroes to be the linchpin of their reality.

NC: I hope I'm not revealing too much, but in your script for the first issue of The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor you portray the title character as a cross between a Ghost Hunter-style reality show star and Steve Jobs/Bill Gates. Could you tell us more about your version of the character and what elements of the original series you're keeping, and which ones you're tossing out?

MW: The big get from the original series is the way that Spektor would often defeat his foes–by using his vast financial and research resources against them. I like a hero who uses his checkbook as a weapon. And sharp-eyed readers will see more than one Easter egg to the Spektor of the 1970s. That said, we were all agreed that in this day and age, he could use a visual makeover; no slight to the original character, but so many have followed in those design footsteps since that we tried for a more contemporary look.

NC: What sorts of monsters can readers look forward to seeing Dr. Spektor deal with in upcoming issues?

MW: Just in the first issue? Ghosts, vampires, succubi…and by issue four, the entire gamut of the weird.

NC: Will we be seeing any of the supporting characters from the original Gold Key run?

MW: We will see his assistant, Lakota–and before older readers worry that she's not as she was, we implore you to keep reading.

NC: Have you seen any artwork yet?

MW: The artwork is terrific. It's a perfect blend between the science and the supernatural of Spektor and his world.

NC: Dr. Spektor was well known for featuring cross-overs with other Gold Key characters, such as Dr. Solar and Dagar the Invincible. Can we expect to see similar guest appearances?

MW: Sooner than you might realize.

NC: Do you have any other upcoming projects your fans should be aware of?

MW: Me? Seriously?

Nancy Collins: 

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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