During the recent Awesome Con in Washington DC, I had the opportunity to talk with rising comics writer Tom King as well as hear him speak at a Q&A. King as the author of series such as Grayson, Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon and The Vision, King has made a name for himself among readers. In the matter of only a couple years he has gone from “one to watch” to being entrusted with rewriting Batman, arguably DC’s highest profile series.
Others might have let such rapid success go to their head, yet one of the most appealing aspects of King is how casual, even self-deprecating he is. At the Q&A he interjected that “meteoric” was not an apt description of his career as it would describe the worst, slow-moving meteor ever. Later when asked why Omega Men did not sell better, he replied “the crappy writing.” (His more serious answer cited the non-conventional cover art and his mistaken assumption that everyone would have read the 8 page preview before picking up the first issue). In addition, though, he explained how overconfidence is detrimental. Having an assignment which scares you is a good thing, as it pushes you outside your comfort zone. At the end of the day, King stated that he loves superheroes as much as any fan and simply wants to see them done right.
In King’s mind, there is a close connection between creators and fans, which is unique to the medium of comic books. He pointed to convention panels such as the one he was presently sitting on, allowing fans closer access to the talent than they would ever have to the writer or director of their favorite movies or television programs, let alone the actors involved. In his mind, this allows for comic creators to process critiques and respond to them quicker than in television where often an entire season of a cable show is filmed and finished before an episode airs. This creates an almost improvisational nature to comic creation. This is even more so today, where the internet allows publishers to gage readers’ reaction not long after the stores open on Wednesday.
Again, King views this deep commitment from fans as something to be encouraged. He spoke of how as a writer he wants to give his readers more than a 10 minute experience from a comic. The same $3.99 spent on one chapter of Vision or Sheriff could instead buy a few hours of entertainment from iTunes. Instead, Kings hopes to give readers something deeper which might spark hours of discussion among friends. His goal is not some fleeting one-off but a story which engages the larger comic book community.
Which is not to say that all comics must be full of tortured anti-heroes trying to select between shades of grey. Asked about his take on Batman, King was unequivocal in his belief that Batman is a good guy, someone who punches back bullies. While plenty of his other work explores the ambiguity of violence that is not a theme he sees fit for The Caped Crusader. Batman always wins. Batman may be tough (the hardest puncher as King described him) but he is firmly on the side of right. As for the opposing side? Asked if he had any plans for The Joker, King said he was not ready for him yet. King explained that The Joker is such a towering figure that he needs to let a story for him develop naturally. It needs to be at the right time. He compared The Joker to an atom bomb, not something that is deployed haphazardly as its impact is devastating. The Joker is the one menace Batman cannot defeat.
As for other adversaries, King was mostly tight-lipped on account of spoilers. When asked about modernizing classic villains, he offered that he was not a fan of such efforts. In his mind, there is a danger in losing the essence of what made these characters special in the first place. Writers should be respectful of not only the history of previous stories, but also the affections of fans. Once again, King highlighted the importance of community. To toss that out simply because, for instance, someone thought it was a neat idea for Captain Cold to shoot actual cold blasts from his hands is a little shortsighted. In King’s mind there is no such thing as an uninteresting character. All the writer needs to do is look in themselves and find a way to relate some aspect of their own personality to the one on the page. He also admitted, of course, that this type of revisionism is part of what he and Tim Seely were doing on Grayson.
Asked about how much his time in the CIA influences his work, King replied that it is present in everything he writes. For example, it informs his concept of Batman as a figure who faces down the darkness without becoming it, while Vision keeps trying to do good deeds, but failing, which King offered up as more or less the mission statement of the CIA.
In Artists Alley I had the chance to speak one-on-one with King. He told me that he viewed Omega Men/Sheriff/Vision as a trilogy, perhaps entitled Lost Innocence. Each series tackles in its own way the idea of good intentions producing bad results. Violence has consequences which are often quite different than what was expected. This can been seen in how Omega Men and Sheriff present mirrored images of the idea of armed resistance. Meanwhile, there is Lady Vision failing to contain the fallout from The Reaper’s death. These aftereffects can never be completely contained. At the same time, attempts at empathy, while laudable, can only go so far, as King explored in Sheriff #5, which he described as possibly his favorite issue he has written. (Bonus trivia: Omega Men #8 is his favorite chapter of the series).
Hearing King speak reconfirms why he has gained such prominence recently and why readers are looking forward to more of his work.
Batman #1, Tom King’s first issue as solo writer, will be released Wednesday, June 15th.