Iconic Comic Book Writer Mark Waid Talks Shop

What if the most powerful superhero in the world, emotionally unequipped to handle the responsibility that comes with such power, decides to become the world's greatest supervillain? And what if a powerful supervillain uses this event to seek redemption as the newest superhero?

Mark Waid, the iconic writer behind such comic book series as Kingdom Come and Empire, explores these themes in his two latest comic series for BOOM! Studios: Irredeemable, which launched in April and Incorruptible, set to launch in December.

The two latest entries in Waid's nearly 25-year-long resume in the industry, both clever in their construction and even profound in their exploration of the superhero ethos, come as no surprise to his legions of fans. Waid is one of the stellar lights of the move in comics over the past decade to a focus on more sophisticated writing.

In fact, Waid, who has worked with just about every leading talent in the industry, was one of the foundational players in the shift from the grittiness and darkness that had seemed to subsume comic storytelling in the late 1980s and early 1990s to a more intelligent look at the minds behind the capes and cowls.

“In superhero comics, pretty much everyone who’s called upon to put on a cape is, at heart, emotionally equipped for the job. I reject that premise,” said Waid, who is also BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief. “Irredeemable is, in a way, my third and most complex chapter on the cost of superheroics - a pulp adventure tale of horror exploring how the lessons we learn about right and wrong as children can become warped and twisted when challenged by the realities of the adult world."

While building a solid fan base over the years with popular runs on Flash, Fantastic Four and Captain America to name just a few, the 47-year-old Waid's first treatise on the "cost of superheroics" was the 1996 collaboration with artist Alex Ross on the Kingdom Come series. The series, which Waid has described as an exploration of the "ethical price of heroism," explored a possible future of the DC Comics universe ten years after the major heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have retired, only to be called to duty again to combat the next generation of superpowered individuals who have grown irresponsible and destructive without the guidance of the original heroes.

In the 2003 series Empire, Waid explores the ultimate failure of superheroics in a universe where a powerful supervillain actually defeats the world's heroes and struggles to keep his conquered world together.

Incorruptible, Waid's fourth major exploration of the psychology of heroics, takes place in the same world as Irredeemable, a world facing a void left by its major hero's decision to become a villain. In Incorruptible, Waid offers a counterpoint tale to Irredeemable, following the epiphany and ultimate conversion of a major supervillain to a the side of good.

Waid sat down with LBPOST.com columnist Keith Higginbotham at the Long Beach Comic Con to talk about the business and philosophy of writing comics.

KH: There is no denying that you are one of the group of writers that have brought a certain level of sophistication to the writing in comics over the past decade. Do you enjoy filling this role?

Waid: "It is nice, but mainly because I am still able to straddle both worlds. I am able to write stuff that is more sophisticated for an older audience, which I really appreciate, and at the same time I can still write things like The Incredibles and other Pixar stuff at BOOM! specifically for kids. I think there is room for both. If we have erred in any direction in the last ten years, we have perhaps erred too much on the side of sophistication and perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that there is another readership out there that needs to be served too.

KH: Do you think that in the case of some series the writing has become a little too adult? It seems you might have a hard time getting a 12-year-old to read some of these more adult superhero comics.

Waid: Nor should you. It pains me that I can't hand a random Batman comic to a 12-year-old. Today, you have to be more careful about that stuff. However, overall, I think it is good because it evens out in the long run and it certainly makes for the longevity of the medium and we are able to reach as broad an audience as possible--adults and kids.

KH: When I began reading comics 30-plus years ago, the focus was really on the artists. People like Jack Kirby, John Buscema and John Romita, Sr. were the icons. How do you feel as a writer in what appears for the moment to be a writer-centric medium?

Waid: As a writer I like it. It's always going to be a collaborative medium and it always should be. The good writers are the ones that who work with their artists, understand their artists' strengths and weaknesses and play to whatever they do best. It’s fun for the Alan Moore's and Neil Gaiman's and Grant Morrison's to get that attention, but at the same time the smart guys like those realize that it is nice to have the spotlight but overall it is about the art as well as the stories--it is always going to be a visual medium.

KH: Do you think that the rise of sophistication in the writing has led to an increased level of sophistication in the artwork, for example, with artists like Alex Ross?

Waid: It really has. The artists have more than stepped up to meet the challenge of more sophisticated work, because, again, it is the same idea that just like with the writers who have been reading comics there whole lives and they want to bring something new to the table, the same seems to be true with the artists. They have seen all the good art that they loved when they were a kid and they don't just want to replicate what has gone before, they want to try to find new ways of expressing themselves.

KH: Does it excite you to think that you, through your work, might be inspiring young people to not just be involved in comics but to want to be writers?

Waid: I couldn't be happier about that. Because if I do say so, it's a pretty noble profession. It has its pitfalls and stuff, but by and large, its a pretty good profession to have. And I like the fact that we're reminding kids about the power of imagination and of story and to get them involved in that is great.

In addition to his own BOOM! Studios series, Irredeemable and Incorruptible, Waid is also working on The Amazing Spider-Man, with a new Electro story arc out in six to eight weeks as well as a Dr. Strange mini-series out in November or December. Waid can be found today at the BOOM! Studio booth at the Long Beach Comic Con which runs through Sunday evening at the Long Beach Convention Center.

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