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Monday, June 20, 2011

Aquaman Shrine Interview with Sholly Fisch - 2011

As I have mentioned numerous times on the Shrine, I really love the All-New Batman: Brave and the Bold series. Its combination of light-hearted fun, action, sharp characterization, and dynamic visuals makes it one of my favorite monthly reads.

The issue the Shrine covered on Saturday--#8--featured Batman teaming-up with Aquaman, so I figured it'd be fun to talk to regular ANBBATB (whew!) writer Sholly Fisch again, to talk about that issue in specific and the series in general:

The Aquaman Shrine: an you take us through your process for writing an issue of Brave and the Bold? Do you have a general idea for a story, or does it start with "Okay, this month I have Batman and Aquaman…"

Sholly Fisch: Well, usually, it starts with looking at my bills and thinking, "Hmm… I'd better write some more comics…"

Actually, it works both ways; sometimes, it starts with the story and sometimes with the characters. For example, there's a story coming up in issue #10 that began with the idea of telling a story through the eyes of one of the anonymous henchmen whom we always see backing up the super-villains. This one is a guy who really only wants to support his wife and kid, but the only thing he's qualified for is being a henchman, so he constantly winds up fighting super heroes. Once I had that basic idea in place, then I thought about which heroes might work well in the story--and, yes, one of them will be Aquaman.

At other times, it starts with the characters. For this month's issue (#8), for example, I knew I wanted to do a story with Aquaman, since he had made a couple of cameo appearances in the new series, but we hadn't featured him as the main guest star yet. At first, I had no idea what the story would be. But since the previous couple of issues were set in Gotham City, I figured it was about time for a change of pace. That led to the idea of sending Batman and Aquaman on an undersea quest (and to sending Batman into deep space with Hawkman next issue).

Whether it starts from the stories or characters, though, once the basic ideas are in place, I send a handful of springboard story ideas to our "Brave" editor, Jim Chadwick, and "Bold" assistant editor, Chynna Clugston-Flores. Jim lets me know which ones they like best, and then we're off and running.

TAS: I loved your working in of Captain Fear in this issue! Similar to the previous question, how do you come to working a (very) obscure character into the story like that? Do you have an idea for a ghost in the story, then go searching through the DC archives to see if there's a character that would fit?
SF: As anyone who's read my work for more than about five minutes probably realizes, I have a deep and abiding soft spot for obscure old characters that hardly anyone else remembers--and, fortunately, DC has plenty of them to choose from. So, whenever I need something like a giant alien gorilla, I'd much rather dig back through my comic book collection--or the dusty recesses of my memory--and pull somebody out of the existing DC pantheon instead of just pulling someone new out of a hat. I think that's more fun for the handful of readers out there who also remember these guys, and it's certainly more fun for me. Besides, most of the time, it's the same approach that the Brave and Bold TV show takes--I mean, they brought back Zebra Man and Mister Camera, for Pete's sake--so it's a good fit to the comic book series too.

In this particular case, once I decided to build the heroes' quest around a pirate's ghost, I started thinking about old DC pirate characters whom I might use. The first one who came to mind was actually a Golden Age character called the Black Pirate, but James Robinson brought the Black Pirate's ghost back in a terrific Starman story a few years ago, so I didn't see any point to doing essentially the same thing again. After a little more thought, I remembered Captain Fear and figured he'd work well. In fact, it occurred to me that he's probably even a more fitting choice for an Aquaman story than the Black Pirate, because Aquaman and Captain Fear both had ongoing features in Adventure Comics back in the 1970s. As you said, it was probably just a team-up waiting to happen...even if it did take 35 years or so.

TAS: The Brave and the Bold version of Aquaman seems, at times, like a big doofus. A courageous one, but a doofus nonetheless. But in this issue, Aquaman hatches what almost seems like a Batman-esque "plan" to help Captain Fear get what he needs. As someone who has written the character, what's your take on this version of Aquaman? Is he kind of a big doofus, or is he merely playing the part of a headstrong, act-first-think-later kind of guy?

SF: I love the Brave and Bold version of Aquaman because he's just so over the top that he's a lot of fun to write. It's interesting, though--in the TV show, his degree of "doofus-ness" seems to vary somewhat from one episode to another. He comes across as more of a doofus when, for instance, he teams up with a scientific genius like the Atom. On the other hand, the first Ocean Master episode ends with him "cluelessly" reading his memoirs to the imprisoned Ocean Master...but the context makes it clear that Aquaman knows full well that it's the worst punishment he can inflict on his jealous half-brother. So it's really kind of an open question as to just how much of a doofus he really is.

In my mind, it's less that the Brave and Bold Aquaman is a doofus, and more that he's a prototypic, over-the-top hero, who easily could have just stepped out of Camelot or an old swashbuckler movie. He lives for adventure, and is only happy when he's battling a dastardly villain or off on an epic quest. That enthusiasm and thirst for adventure gets in the way of his common sense sometimes, and it can make the people around him roll their eyes a bit. But he's got a good, courageous heart, and he's not an idiot by any means. After all, the guy's king of an entire underwater kingdom, and protector of the seven seas. He must have something on the ball.

TAS: How do the B&B team-ups get decided? Do you pitch certain ideas, or does DC have a list of characters they'd like to see featured? Could you ever do a, say, Batman and B'Wana Beast issue?

SF: One of the main differences between the current, All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold and the previous series is that the roster of guest stars in the current series sticks to big name, A-list heroes, whereas the old series was more of a mix. So I probably couldn't get away with a whole issue about Batman and B'wana Beast (alas), but it's hard to complain about "only" getting to write Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash.

But, as I said, I have a deep soft spot for the lesser-known characters, so I can still occasionally find ways to slip one of them in too. Usually, it's by including a cameo by a more obscure hero in an issue that features someone better-known, like pairing up Captain Fear with Aquaman. So it's always possible that B'wana Beast may yet show his face someday, unless Jim and Chynna read this interview and slap me silly first. We'll see...

TAS: The art team of Burchett and Davis seems a perfect match for your stories--not too cartoony or silly, but not too dark. Since a lot of moments in the stories involve specific facial expressions or gestures, do you indicate any of that for them or do they capture these moments instinctively?
SF: I'm a big fan of Rick and Dan's work, and I agree that they've been doing a great job on Brave and Bold. Some of the facial expressions and visual touches are things that I've specified in the script, especially if it's something related to a story point (like Aquaman's raised eyebrow in the current issue, at the moment when we start to realize that there may have been more to his plan than we suspected all along). Others are little enhancements that Rick and Dan add on their own. I'm just grateful that it all works together, and that they make me look so good.

TAS: What are some of your favorite issues so far?
SF: So far, I have two favorites from the current series, but for very different reasons. I love the wedding of Batman and Wonder Woman (issue #4), because the whole issue is just such over-the-top fun and jam-packed with goofy old characters. On the other hand, the flashback tale of Batman's first meeting with the Golden Age Green Lantern (issue #7) is a more serious story that I've wanted to write for years, ever since GL was retconned as Gotham City's first masked protector. Considering that the original GL's whole oath was about casting light on "dark evil," I always figured he wouldn't be too happy about a dark vigilante moving into town.
I also still love a couple of the issues that Robert Pope and I did before the relaunch. In fact, Robert's and my "Night of the Batmen" story from Batman: Brave and Bold #13--in which a bunch of heroes (including Aquaman) try to fill in for an ailing Batman--was even adapted to become an episode of the TV series. They adapted it pretty loosely, but even so, seeing it up on the screen (not to mention seeing our screen credit) was pretty darn cool.

TAS: Can you give us an idea of some team-ups that are coming up?

SF: Sure. Throughout the series, I've been trying very hard to give readers a variety of different kinds of stories, and to make them stories that we haven't seen before. Next month, Batman and Hawkman have to extradite a super-villain back to the planet Thanagar, but the villain's gang is determined to make sure they don't make it there alive. Number 10 is the story I mentioned before, that's told through the eyes of a henchman (complete with another appearance by everyone's favorite Sea King). Number 11 is a time travel story in which Batman and Jonah Hex join forces to defend 19th century Gotham against an unexpected foe. And number 12 is our Halloween issue, with Batman and Zatanna teaming up to solve a mysterious break-in...at the House of Mystery.

Right now, I'm in the middle of writing #13. We're celebrating our first anniversary with what a 1980s TV commercial would probably call a "very special issue of Brave and Bold." Batman is hovering between life and death, so the Phantom Stranger pulls together the only ones who can help him: half a dozen Robins from the past, present, and future.

Yes, your favorite Robin is probably in there.

As you can probably tell, I've been having a whole lot of fun with The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I just hope our readers--young and old--are having fun too.

TAS: This reader sure is! Thanks Sholly!

Since our first interview, Sholly has been a great friend to both the Shrine and me personally. I really love the work he did in DC Super Friends, and am thrilled he's now on Brave and the Bold--and doing such a great job on top of it. The Shrine looks forward to each and every new issue, whether Aquaman is in it or not!


Joseph Brian Scott said...

Fun interview! It's reassuring and gratifying to know that there are writers out there working in comics who have a memory that goes back beyond 1980.
I'm really looking forward to ANBBATB #12. Sounds like a hoot.

Joe Slab said...

Great piece! It's nice that Sholly can speak so freely with the Shrine and not be bound by those pesky non-disclosure agreements!

Definitely looking forward to #13!