After having turned a former sidekick into a popular super hero spy, writer Tom King is now turning his attention to some colorful alien superheroes from DC Comics -- and transforming them into terroristic revolutionaries. And the early result is unsettling, and fresh.
King, a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer, and co-writer Tim Seeley, have been earning well-deserved accolades of late for their work on the Grayson comic, an action-packed title that sees the former Nightwing/Robin acting as a DCU 007. Just last week, the The New York Times wrote about the evolution of the character Dick Grayson, and commented heavily on his latest incarnation as a spy and comic book sex symbol (the first collected volume of Grayson, "Agents of Spyral," hits shelves today, and it's definitely worth a pick-up).
But apparently not one to rest on his laurels, King is also currently writing the relaunched The Omega Men series. But instead of simply being the alien superheroes of the Vegan system who battle the tyrannical Citadel, created by Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton in 1981, this incarnation is not a black-and-white good vs. evil, rebels vs. empire title. In fact, a stark contrast was drawn between the old and new in last month's 8-page preview that saw the titular protagonists execute a major DC Comics character, Kyle Ryner (who was serving as the White Lantern on a peace mission).
Carried out on camera, and accompanied by something of a mission statement, the execution had uncomfortably familiar imagery. Meanwhile, the first issue begins with the Citadel forces conducting an early morning raid on a religious facility to search for the Omega Men. As the soldiers repeat the phrases "We will not hurt you, we are your friends" in a foreign language, bodies of innocents drop.
Although set in a far-off planetary system, it is quickly evident that King's Omega Men is a story that could be told closer to home. It is compelling and morally ambiguous -- and King is aiming high here. So, are The Omega Men the good guys? King joined me to answer that question, and for a deep dive discussion on his run. In the following interview, beginning after this awesome Toby Cypress variant cover of issue #1, we explore how his previous life in the CIA informs his writing, and why killing Kyle was a necessary move -- and how it can feel permanent when the dead always get better in comics. Finally, King teases the future of Grayson, offers thoughts about a live-action TV show, and reveals how he and Seeley determine how much Grayson butt to show each issue.
You previewed The Omega Men with this sickeningly familiar scene of a terrorist presenting their viewpoint before an execution. What led to the decision to introduce The Omega Men this way, and what should the reader immediately learn about them from this?
The Omega Men is a series set in a far off world with strange rules, religions, and cultures. So are a lot of other stories people are going to be throwing at you. What will set Omega Men apart is the connection between that far away world and our own. The same fears and hopes that haunt us, haunt these stars. The purpose of this connection is to pull the readers into the story, let them feel the vibrations in the floor as the bomb goes off in the near distance. Once you have a reader there, once she can relate our fantastical world to the one she has to deal with every day, then the fun really begins.
Are The Omega Men the villains here, or is The Citadel tyranny? Are readers meant to find a lot of grey in the motives of both parties?
I'm not sure if the Omega Men are the good guys or the bad guys, and I don't want to be sure. It's my job to make the audience understand their decisions; but I don't feel it's my job to tell the audience how to judge those decisions. If I start the series by saying I'm rooting for these guys or those guys, and I want you to do the same, the whole thing just becomes a preachy or simple mess. I think it's better for people to read the series with that ambiguity. It's that thrill chill you get from Watchmen or the Dark Knight or even something like Starship Troopers: where you pump your fist in the air and say "hell, yeah," then you kind of think about it and wonder if you shouldn't put your hand down.
How are these Omega Men different than the ones we've known previously?
The basic cores of the main characters (Tigorr, Primus, Broot, and Doc) are pretty much intact, but each comes with a slight twist that is derived from origins that are radically different than the first series. For example, Tigorr remains the quick tempered strategic genius, but how he became that genius with that temper is tied to a new origin story that will play out through the series.
Also, Omega Men will have less emphasis on the "super powers" of each of the members. This is a world of guns and blades not telekinesis and magic. I want the reader to be in the room with these characters while their fighting and dying; I want the reader to feel the danger and the rush; guns and blades are a little easier to relate to.
What kind of tone are you trying to strike with this series, and why is this slice of the DC universe the right place to tell this story?
I'm not sure how to answer this one. I'm modeling my ambition for the series on my favorite DC works: Watchmen, the Dark Knight, The Killing Joke, and Year One. And let me be the first person to say it feels absurd and not just a little naively stupid to put that list together and say I'm going for that. But because the series wants to be as good as all that (I'm not saying it is, or that I can make it, but I'll be damned if I don't say I want to make it), I can't just say I'm going for the tone of those books; the reason being is that those books didn't try to go for the specific tone of a book before them. They set their own tone. Pushed the limits a bit farther.
Omega Men is something different in the DCU. It doesn't look like anything on the DC shelves and its tone is derived from combining and deconstructing and reconstructing elements of dozens cultural and real life influences. I have a story in mind, a story I want to tell - a story of a group of rebels pushed beyond their limits, a story that will take readers to another world, that will shock them, that will make them laugh, smile, and cry. The tone is whatever makes it easier for me to tell that story.
Although Grayson is more of the spy book, how is Omega Men reflective of your previous career of counterterrorism and global politics?
As ever, I caveat with saying that I don't write about the factual content of my CIA experience. Ever. People who are working hard to save lots of lives depend on me to keep my mouth shut. It's the d**n least I can do.
That said, I feel I'm a proud part of a generation that had to (and tragically still has to) go abroad to fight an ill defined enemy in a baffling part of the world. What we encountered over there, the clear ambiguity and the foggy justice, the modestly courageous and the righteously cowardly, the absurd and the even more absurd: all of that should be part of Omega Men, because it's part of who I am as I writer, how I see the world.
The Omega Men is a thrilling, action-filled story that derives its thrills from its connection to the modern day. This is not a story built on past nostalgia for a better world. This is a story about our world, our struggles, a story that looks forward not backward. As such I have to ground it any way I can ground it. I had that experience. I'll put it in the story.
After their murdering Kyle and presenting themselves as terrorists, how can readers sympathize with The Omega Men?
That's the whole game right there, the challenge at the center of the series. And it's a big one. Can we have our audience understand these characters after what they've done? It won't be easy, but you don't watch the dude walking the high wire when the wire's only six inches off the ground.
Talk about the behind-the-scenes decision to execute Kyle. Whose idea was it, and was there pushback? Why Kyle as opposed to another Lantern (or another character)?
Play by play! (As best as I can remember) I asked DC who I could use in the book. They said Kyle was free. I told them that he should die the death he died. Brian Azzarello suggested showing a video of Kyle being held captive (this might've been a joke, but I didn't get it). I said we should just do the death in the video. DC approved! I wrote it up. At a DC retreat, Azzarello told me I had real guts to do that, probably admitting it was a joke, but I ignored that probably and naively took it as a compliment to my gut having ability. Previews foretold of the death. The death happened. Find out what happens next in Omega Men #1!
Since there is no real permanence in comics, do you worry that the death of a major character in the opening pages may lose impact since, eventually, Kyle will likely return?
That's a great point. I actually wrote a whole novel that revolved around this theme (A Once Crowded Sky from Simon & Schuster. Buy it now! Buy it twice!). If death has no meaning, can life have meaning? I think it's the fundamental question in a medium that always has to tell the next story. What are the stakes if everything will be rebooted? Are there any stakes?
For Omega Men I'm trying to avoid this trap a bit by making it a very contained story, by focusing on the first 12 issues as almost a mini-series or a movie or a novel. If people like these first twelve, I have more stories to tell, but as far as far as I'm concerned, the last panel on issue twelve is the end of the world, is death. And as the series (or season) has an ending, then these moves at the beginning can and will have an impact.
Other writers and editors will come and play with these characters. That's the nature of the game. That's what makes it fun. But they won't be able to take away the pleasure of reading these 12 issues on their own. That, too, is what makes it fun.
Will we see more of Kyle in Omega Men, either in flashbacks or in another form?
Kyle's legacy will have an impact on this series and on the DCU at large. But...ah, h***, you probably should just read the thing and find out.
As for Grayson, congrats on your write-up in the New York Times! Is there a little nerd vindication when a joked-about character (like the former Boy Wonder) and lesser-known character (in his Nightwing alias) gets mainstream attention — and not for just being in a new movie?
Thanks! But I'm not sure "vindication" is the right word. I felt ridiculously proud of the team that put this together and humbled to be part of it and all that. And I felt excited that my in-laws could show people that the fool their daughter married can make a living off of his foolishness. But vindicated...
I feel vindication implies two things I have trouble with. First, I that I as a comic fan need to somehow justify being a comic fan by being embraced by a bigger audience. No way. Not any more. Those days are gone. I'm a Dick Grayson fan, and I don't care if the New York Times cares or not. And second, that the process we're going through with Grayson has ended. Our goal was for Dick Grayson to become a hero as big as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and we're not there yet. If we rest on our laurels and start writing lazy, then we'll never get there. But this was a cool step in the right direction.
As is this interview.
With that said, how would a Grayson TV show fare in the current hero-crazed climate? Would you want your and Seeley's stories to make the leap to live-action?
C'mon, a former super hero sidekick who's now an undercover James Bond? I can't speak for the world exactly, but I'd watch the crap out of that.
I personally would love to see the leap, but I don't really see that as a goal of the series. I love comics for comic's sake. Always have. Always will. My goal is to make great comics. If other stuff comes from that, all the better.
(Also, I think Seeley, Mikel, and I would make an excellent cameo, though they'd probably Spyral our faces when we wouldn't stop giggling.)
How is Grayson a better hero (or better man) since he left Bats, the JL, and became a super spy?
I wouldn't at all say he's a better hero now than when he was Nightwing, just as I wouldn't say he was a better hero as Nightwing than he was when he was Robin. To choose to fight for good as Robin when you're just a kid is insanely heroic. To choose to become your own man as Nightwing and continue that fight is equally amazing. When he then chooses to sacrifice his own comfort and happiness to discover Spyral's true intentions, to become agent 37, he's following the selfless path he set off on all those years ago.
I will say though that what makes Grayson a unique hero, an amazingly cool character, is his ability to evolve without losing himself in the evolution. You and I are not the same people we were 10 or 20 years ago. And yet we feel a fundamental connection to those old selves; we know we've changed, we had to change, but we know we're still us. Grayson's transformation over the years reflect this contradictory truism. He's not exactly who he was as Robin, and he's not exactly who he was as Nightwing. But he's still Dick Grayson. I like that.
We know Grayson will get pulled back into the world of Batman soon. Will this open the door to a Grayson who starts to yearn for his old life outside of Spyral (A espionage-fatigued soldier who wants to return to the home front)? And are you concerned that pulling him back into that old life might cost some of the book its freewheeling independent mojo?
At this point, I've actually written two full of issues of Grayson that I ended up throwing in the trash bin: the first drafts to issues nine and 12. In both cases, I started writing introspective, sad sack Dick Grayson who was doing all sorts of "heavy are the pants that carry this ass" BS. I love that kind of stuff. I love when Daredevil does it and Batman does it and Spider-Man does it; but when Dick Grayson does it, it just plain doesn't work.
Dick Grayson is a fun character and his book needs to be fun. That's not to say his life isn't full of tragedy and drama. It is. Largely. But it's Dick's reaction to this tragedy and drama, his ability to continue to embrace humor and hope in spite of the shadows that embrace him that are part of who he is, part of his place in the DCU.
As Grayson is reintroduced into the DCU, we don't want to lose that part of the book, the swing from the trapeze, because if we do, we lose Grayson. I don't think we will. And I've got a trash bin full of weepy scripts to prove it.
What can you tease that's coming up in the Snowden/James Bond/super hero comic?
In no particular order!
--Guess the spies in the shadows
--An excessive amount of skulls
--An excessive amount of kissing
--Big bikes and big bombs
--A well placed bow tie
--Me starting a panel description "this may set the internet on fire…"
--Boxers or Briefs
What is the unstated rule about how much shirtless Grayson and butt shots you guys put into each issue?
More than everyone thinks they want, less than everyone actually needs. C**p, I stated it! Shhhh. Don't tell.