As revealed in Monday’s Solicitations list, one of the new ongoing titles debuting from DC Comics in September is The Shield. Not only is this one of two books premiering that month that features Red Circle characters, but it is also the latest book to include a co-feature, that being another Red Circle character, Inferno. Joe caught up with the writers on the book, Eric S. Trautmann (The Shield) and Brandon Jerwa (Inferno) to talk about their respective parts of the series.
PCZ: Let’s start with Brandon. Who is Inferno and what is he about?
Brandon: THAT is an excellent question. In fact, that question is really the heart of the matter in this story, because even Inferno himself doesn’t have the answers when we first meet him. All he really knows is that everything is (almost literally) going to Hell around him, and there are definitely some forces at play that want him taken out of the game. What do you do then? In this case, you run for cover and hope you can put the puzzle back together again before it’s too late. That’s especially hard to do when you don’t know what the puzzle’s supposed to look like, and you’re not even sure you have all the pieces.
PCZ: The first issue solicitation mentions Green Arrow and Black Canary having questions for Inferno. How closely enmeshed in the DC Universe is Inferno and who will he be crossing paths with in the future?
Brandon: One of the goals put forth to me (and to all of the Red Circle writers, I’m assuming) was to integrate these characters into the DCU. No one said “you have to have a guest star” or anything like that, but once you read JMS’ Inferno story, you’ll see why the appearance of Green Arrow and Black Canary in my first issue is totally logical.
And speaking as a guy who’s written about 80 comics in the last 6 years but not ONE with a superhero in it…writing Ollie and Dinah in my first issue was an absolute thrill. I was happy enough having Inferno to play with, but this is just icing on the cake. Green Arrow’s especially fun, because I love him…and all I really have to think about is, “what would I say in this situation?”
All that being said, this won’t be a “guest star of the week” book. I’ll use them when and if they’re logical and serve the story, but I definitely want Inferno to have his own mythology as well.
PCZ: What about the character made you say “Yeah, I want to write that.”?
Brandon: Let’s not kid ourselves, Joe – they could’ve offered me a three-page co-feature of “Comet, Streaky and G’Nort” and I would have said yes, just because I was dying to play in the DCU! Once my editor, Rachel Gluckstern, explained it to me as “Jason Bourne on fire, on the run with no real supporting cast,” I started seeing the angles right away. Oh, and to be fair, Rachel wants me to give credit to assistant editor Chris Conroy for that brilliant description. You have to admit, it’s hilariously clarifying.
I’ve always tried to psychologically deconstruct my characters, be it Snake-Eyes or Bill Adama or Connor MacLeod, and this was a unique opportunity to take a leading man who’s learning things about himself at the same time the audience is, which is always fun.
PCZ: The co-features run ten pages. How does that affect the process of writing and the pacing of your scripts each month?
Brandon: At a convention last year, a fan came up to me sand said with great enthusiasm that an issue of Battlestar Galactica had taken him almost half-an-hour to read, and I was just thrilled. We live in the age of the five-minute comic, and it drives me nuts sometimes. I remember poring over books for at least 20-30 minutes when I was a kid, and it’s largely a lost art anymore.
I was terrified of the page count, because I didn’t want to lose that immersion effect, but it’s coming along nicely. I can do more in 10 pages than I thought possible, but for insurance reasons I must recommend you wear a helmet while reading – it’s a ridiculously fast-paced book, but in a very good way. No time to catch your breath.
PCZ: Of course the obvious question is what other DC characters are you interested in writing?
Brandon: Find one I’m NOT interested in writing! Seriously! Of course, I especially love the Bat-family, the Justice League in all its varied glory, and some of the second-and-third tier characters like Firestorm, Rocket Red, Etrigan…and my god, do I love Doctor Fate and Hawkman. The All-Star Squadron would be a hoot. If I were lucky enough to continue working in the DCU, though, I’d literally be up for anything. It would be a lot of fun to take an obscure character or group and make them shine, too. At the end of the day, though, the DCU is like a big playground, and I’ll gladly run to the first available toys
PCZ: Thanks, Brandon. So, Eric, The Shield is described as a “patriotic character.” What sets him apart from the other patriotic heroes out there?
Eric: He’s still an active-duty Army officer, for one thing. He’s a U.S. military strategic asset, which makes him a bit different than some of the more obvious parallels. Without giving too much away, he’s going to find that, at various points in the chain of command, there will be soldiers who are pleased he’s in field, and soldiers who will be decidedly unthrilled.
PCZ: Have you read any of the previous Shield comics previously or in research for this book?
Eric: Sadly, I’ve only read a small fragment of the original material (though I adored much of the Impact comics line from a while back, and have read that incarnation of the character pretty thoroughly). The original stuff is a little tough to find, but I’ve managed to read a few stories.
PCZ: Are you free to use any supporting characters or villains from those previous series and, if so, any plans to?
Eric: There have been some suggestions along those lines, yes. I also have some well-known DC “guest stars” waiting in the wings, as well – something that will be fairly apparent by the end of issue 1.
PCZ: How does the slightly lesser page count affect the approach you take to the writing of each issue?
Eric: Not hugely, frankly. From the start, I’d intended to fairly significantly alter the way I construct the pages and scenes, so the 20-page length wasn’t a huge distraction amidst all that. On other books, I’ve tended toward more dense page constructions, and for this one, I’m loosening up a bit to give Marco Rudy a bit more room to breathe—more of a “widescreen” aesthetic.
PCZ: Will The Shield catch the eye of Checkmate or do you intend to keep him solo for the time being?
Eric: As much as I love Checkmate, there’s not a huge push to link The Shield to the organization. Obviously, Checkmate will be aware of The Shield. For the time being, I’m really more interested in keeping the focus on The Shield; to my mind, it is critically important to establish him in the DCU as firmly as possible, so if Checkmate shows up, it’ll likely be in the background.
PCZ: Now some questions for the both of you. Did J. Michael Straczynski pass along a “bible” as it were about the Red Circle characters or did you guys inherit them as blank slates?
Eric: Joe developed a series of character “springboards” for the various Red Circle heroes, which gave a general overview, but which was open enough to invite a lot of extrapolation. And of course, I received scripts as they became available, and they’re pretty effective as a “bible,” for sure.
Brandon: I think Joe did a real service to the writers following him, in that he told a good introduction story but left a lot of things tantalizingly open-ended to allow us the chance to put our unique stamp on the story. The bibles clarify what he had in mind while writing the mini-series, but also don’t force every detail on us. Inferno’s overview definitely had some things I didn’t expect, in a very good way.
PCZ: How has it been working with each of your respective artists?
Brandon: Greg Scott is just starting on the art as I write this, but we’ve spoken and he seems like a super-cool guy. When Rachel told me he’d be doing the art, I was so happy. He’s got a perfect style for what we’re trying to do here, and his pages for Joe’s story look fantastic. I couldn’t be happier.
Eric: I don’t think Marco has turned in pages yet, but based on my working experience with him in the past, I’m anticipating a great looking book. Marco’s contributions to FINAL CRISIS: RESIST were substantial, and I’m pleased to be working with him again on THE SHIELD.
PCZ: Will there be any elements that crossover between the two co-features?
Eric: What, like I don’t have to spend ENOUGH of my time manacled to Jerwa?
Brandon: Yeah,. he says that now, but I think we all know how he really feels. Sure, it’s hard being the Oates / Garfunkel in this partnership, but those guys were just as important as Hall and Simon. Really. I mean that. Eric’s a good kid.
What was the question again? Oh, right – a crossover. I think it’s safe to say that any readers who might feel like they’re being roped into reading two completely different stories will find some nice surprises in our book along the way.
PCZ: Since you are both located in the Pacific Northwest is there any chance that either of these characters might be based in or at least visit places that are familiar to those of us who also live there?
Brandon: Inferno’s going to be a little too busy RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE to pay a proper visit to Seattle, but I guess he will eventually need a base of operations. Hmmm….maybe the second year of the book can just be the same gag every month: Inferno ignites his flame-power and rushes into action, only to be snuffed out by our famously endless rain. Demoralized, he goes back home and calls the police, to see if they can stop the bad guys. He eventually buys some Birkenstocks and changes his name to Nonferno. Brilliant! It’s like a license to print money!
Eric: The focus in THE SHIELD is fairly international, so he’ll be moving around the globe quite a bit. Currently, I don’t have any plans to set a story in Seattle any time soon, though I can see him spending some time on post at Ft. Lewis.
PCZ: You two also have Wide Awake and an upcoming Vertigo book to be named later that you are already co-writing and now this collaboration of sorts. Is this one more step in the “Jerwa-Trautmann World Domination Plan?”
Eric: That and the orbital death rays. Remember that: soon we will be the homecoming royalty of the comics business, so you should start sending us snacks and cash ASAP.
Brandon: Homecoming royalty? I’m sure as hell not wearing the dress…this time.
Seriously, this is all part of the Big Plan, folks. Sure, Eric and I might do a literary solo album once in a while, but we’re like some unstoppable force when you put us together. It’s probably best to swear obedience now, because we’re taking over anyway. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t even try.
Many thanks to both Brandon Jerwa and Eric S. Trautmann, as well as DC Comics, for finding some time to answer my questions. You can find out how to send snacks, cash and other bribes to the imminent New World Order at www.eric-trautmann.com and brandonjerwa.com. My lawyer, and a stern look from DC Comics, just informed me that I’m legally obligated to tell you I was just joking about the cash and bribes.