Comic legend Mark Waid is already keeping busy with two flagship runs spun out of Marvel’s Secret Wars event (not to mention an Archie reboot), but he’s also found room for a passion project he’s been kicking around for years: Captain Kid.
The logline is simple: A 40-something guy gains powers that allow him to turn back into a superpowered teenager. But, if you were able to shake off your love handles and reclaim your youth, would you ever actually want to go back to real life? That’s the question Captain Kid aims to answer, with more than a few twists and turns along the way. The series, which will be published at indie studio AfterShock Comics and hits shelves in July, is a collaboration between Waid and Tom Peyer, with art by Wilfredo Torres.
We caught up with Waid to talk all about Captain Kid, diversity in his run of All New, All Different Avengers, his white-knuckle new Black Widow series, what comics he’s reading, and what he thinks of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (he’s diplomatic, for the most part).
Looking at the logline for Captain Kid, that’s certainly an interesting jumping-off point. Can you talk about what type of story you want to tell?
This is about a guy who works at a music magazine, so he’s plugged into pop culture. It’s less of a wishful thought of a comic fan, more wish fulfillment of anyone in their mid-40s, with a bad knee and wanting to relive the glory days. What I’ve found over the years working on various projects is, you can have a clever book or clever tagline, but there has to be a story to go along with it that leads to something bigger. Something with a little more texture to it. You need some depth to that, or it's just a one-off. Basically, the idea came from my co-writer (Tom Peyer). He shared the idea years ago, and I was all for it, wanting desperately to do it, because I thought the name Captain Kid was a slam-dunk name [laughs]. But where do you go with that?
What we ended up with, sort of focusing in and drilling down on the question of: If you could do that, turn back the hands of time, why would you ever change back? What is it about adult life that is so compelling you’d be willing to live both identities and not sync into one? From there, it’s building out the character’s world, seeing what grounds him, and why he wants to be a hero some of the time and normal at other times.
The pitch is almost like a reverse take on Shazam, in a sense, just keying in on the middle-aged desire to be young again. But, you know, taken to super-heroic proportions. How do you plan on exploring that angle? How far is the story mapped out?
We have it mapped out firmly for the first six, and certainly pretty generally mapped out for the first year, since the idea is to make it an ongoing. Really, the other wrinkle to it, is it’s not just that he turns into a teenage hero. There’s a bit more of a wrinkle to it. He gets electromagnetic powers, in nature ... but what he finds out is, his powers were designed for a superhero in the mid-1980s. They would’ve been the perfect powers in 1986, because of what they allow him to do. He can still be super strong and fly, and has enhanced senses, and all that stuff.
But his powers were designed specifically to read electronic media, like zip drives and floppy disks, stuff that clearly doesn’t have much application anymore. He’s able to see electromagnetic radiation, which would’ve been useful in the '80s, but now everyone has cell phones and the air is filled with signals. So there’s a bit of a drawback to the powers. The reason for that becomes apparent in the first couple of issues. What we will learn is ... how do I say this without giving too much away? He was supposed to have received these powers 30 years ago, when he was that age. That’s why they were designed for someone in 1986, but now it's 2016, and the powers are finally catching up to him. But it’s been 30 years too long.
'It's the idea of wish fulfillment but with a cost'
You’ve done just about everything over the years, so what is it about Captain Kid that gets you excited as a storyteller?
It’s the idea of wish fulfillment, but with a cost. I think comics are really, superhero comics are at their best and most primal when they’re about joy and flying, and about escaping the gravity of the world. But, at the same time, that’s not to say all stories should be happy. What appeals to me with the superhero angle is, you’re able to be a little more joyful with the approach, while the angle of him as a grown-up, as an adult, is very much set in the now. And there’s certainly a lot of tragedy that goes along with that.
Can you talk about the differences in telling an original story like Captain Kid at an indie publisher like AfterShock, as opposed to something with a more-established property somewhere like Marvel or DC? How does the creative process change?
It does change the process, and it’s a double-edged sword. There is less history to draw on, less mythology to pull from, which means you have to make a lot more things up. But, on the plus side, you get to make a lot more things up [laughs]. It’s your world to build. As much as I like working in other sandboxes and sharing the toys, there’s a lot of fun in making it all up on your own. For me and Tom, it’s nice knowing we don’t have to worry about a crossover in six months that’s going to throw us off.
Shifting gears a bit, you’re also writing the All New, All Different Avengers ‘book over at Marvel, which was spun out of the end of Secret Wars. Can you talk a bit about what it’s like to take on a roster of so many young, diverse (and in many cases, new) heroes in a flagship book like this?
It’s a blast. I mean, the intent of being so diverse in the roster was half purposeful and half accidental. I knew I wanted Captain America, Thor , Iron Man, and The Vision, without a thought to who is in the suit at the time. So, you plug those in, then start realizing Thor is Jane Foster, Captain America is Sam Wilson, and realizing the diversity right there. It’s not just a bunch of white guys on the Avengers. Then, pulling in some younger characters like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan, and you start realizing, holy smokes, we’ve accidentally backed into a very diverse group of Avengers. So, how do we push that forward? Lets lean into that. That’s how we ended up with Miles, and Sam as Nova, and Ms. Marvel. The fact that we’ve got an Avengers team with just one adult white guy, it wasn’t an agenda specifically. But once we leaned in and saw the potential with that, it means there’s a lot more kids who can pick this book up and see themselves in it.
You’ve written a lot of Captain America stories over the years, as well as several Spider-Man stories. What’s it like for you to tackle these different versions of these iconic heroes, in Miles Morales and Sam Wilson, compared to the Cap and Spidey you previously wrote?
It’s really interesting to be able to tell different kinds of stories than what you already could. Sam Wilson is the best example. A Captain America in a very divided United States, we get some mileage out of the idea, because there are plenty of people who, sadly, will look at a black man in that costume and say ‘He’s not my Captain America.’ It’s sad, but it is the reality of 2016 America. Being able to write a Captain America who doesn’t have that universal, decades-long earned goodwill, who still has to represent a very divided country, that’s plenty of story fodder.
Can you talk about the challenges in trying to find a fresh way to tell an Avengers story, since we’ve had these team-ups for decades now?
It is tough, because you don’t want to just regurgitate stories from the '70s and '80s. I think the advantage here is we can lean into the diversity of the cast. The best stories, the most-fun Avengers stories, explore the relationships between the characters. It’s less about who are we punching this month, but more about if Captain America and Thor have a relationship? Do Nova and Ms. Marvel hate each other? That’s the soap opera of it, with that diverse a cast, you really get a lot to work from.”
You’re also writing Marvel’s new Black Widow solo ‘book, which started off with some white-knuckle action that really set it apart from the rest of the current catalog. What do you hope to accomplish with this run?
The long-term goal is to tell kick-ass fight stories, and that’s me and the rest of the Daredevil team coming over all as a team, to Black Widow. When we sat down to block out the story, we said, ‘Let’s do it different this time. Let’s lay out the story to greater length.’ I encouraged (artist) Chris (Samnee) to have a lot more say in how the story goes. Everything you liked, that was all Chris. He said, ‘Should we open with a big, 20-page action sequence?’ I said, ‘If you think you can pull it off, be my guest.’ That’s not my job as a writer, and it’s a pretty easy gig [laughs]. Then, for subsequent issues, we talk about the story over the phone for a few hours, and I write up a synopsis, and Chris just goes to town on it.
We’re almost in a renaissance for female comic heroes (i.e. Captain Marvel, Batgirl, Spider-Gwen, Ms. Marvel, etc.). Of course, Black Widow is already a big-name hero on the film side, but in the comics, she’s often been a supporting player in bigger stories. Can you talk about the challenges in trying to crack a story that puts this classic character on that upper-echelon in the comic medium?
I think that, we talk about this all the time, and it’s really being in the right place at the right time with a new character. Whether or not that character is good and interesting, and enough to latch onto. The X-factor - if you knew what it was, you’d do it every month. I think the thing that’s lost with some other new character, be it Marvel or other companies, is that people are creating these characters with clever plots, interesting styles of storytelling, but you lose sight of the single most important thing that goes along with creating a character you want to be ongoing: You have to create a character people want to spend time with. It’s not necessarily a character you want everyone to like, but your main character has to be a character you want to spend time with. Whatever they want, you need to be invested in that. That’s the biggest success of Ms. Marvel, and Jane Foster as Thor. These are people from Page 1 of their stories, we decided, readers decided, they’re interested in that character and want to spend time with that character. That’s what it takes.”
'Create a character people want to spend time with'
When you’re not writing, what’s on your pull list these days? Which comics are you enjoying?
A bunch of stuff [laughs]. I own a comic store in Indiana, so there’s a million comics out all the time, and when everything is in your face its hard to remember. I know I like Ms. Marvel. I love that character and love that book. I love what Max Landis is doing with Superman: American Alien. That’s a really good book. I really like Neal Adams’ Superman miniseries. It’s not terribly sophisticated, but it’s good to look at and just crazy. Then, of course, the obvious suspects, Saga, and Paper Girls. Those are probably the top of my reading list.
Looking at how comic books have pretty much taken over TV and film these days, and you’ve written just about all of those heroes at some point down the line, I’m curious: What are some of your current comic favorites on TV and film? Anything you really think is doing a good job of making the jump in medium?
The Flash. That’s my very best example. It’s doing the best job of bridging the medium. They project the source material, and it’s not just that it’s fun, but it’s clearly unashamed of being a superhero property. That’s the stuff that works best. Arrow is good, a lot of the DC stuff is good on TV. Even the more oddball stuff, like iZombie. That’s another good example of understanding the spirit of what that comic is.
With books like Kingdom Come, and your Justice League runs, you had a hand in helping craft what the Justice League means in the modern comic landscape, so what’s your take on what Warner Bros. is doing with Batman v Superman and the direction of that franchise?
I think the most diplomatic thing to say is, I’m not the audience. I tend to think characters and heroes service us best when they are optimistic and not cynical. I think there’s a real cynicism to the DC movies that almost feels like its embarrassed of the source material. It’s so super-serious and super-dark. There’s certainly an audience for that, but it’s not me.”
At an existential level in regards to the process of making comics, and looking at the medium itself, what is the most challenging thing about trying to tell a story in the comic book format?
Hmm, good question. I think finding the right artist, the right colorist, and the right team to work with, so everyone is telling the same story and going in the same direction as a true collaboration, and it’s not just people working together.