On Technoterror and Superheroes

Over the last few months, I've been asked about the JSA Vs. Kobra miniseries I wrote, and so, I thought I'd cull some of those responses down to  a kind of "behind the scenes" post as the inaugural scribblings on my new blog. 


To start, I'd been asked to take what Ivan Brandon had done in Faces of Evil: Kobra, and up the stakes, really pushing Jason Burr, the new head of Kobra, into places we'd not seen before. Kobra was always kind of a silly group -- in a delightful way -- but had become pretty spooky under Greg Rucka's handling (on Checkmate), and then Ivan's work made it even spookier. 


So that was the primary mission: take what had come before, and push it into an even scarier, bleeding-edge, twenty-first century threat. 


Hopefully, the series succeeded on that score. 


It's been a few months since I finished writing chores on JSA Vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith, and there's been a few lingering aftereffects.  Notably, I do still find myself -- watching the news, reading the paper, listening to the radio -- to filter whatever stories I encounter through Jason Burr's eyes. Find a science news story about a bombing, or a crash, or a sniper attack, or a dead star encased in diamonds? What would Jason do with that bit of news. 


It's a bit unnerving.


On the other hand, the series did let me scratch a couple of storytelling itches I've had for a while. The supertanker sequence in issue 4 (possibly my favorite issue of the series) was directly influenced by a fan-damn-tastic book, "The Outlaw Sea." Langeweishe's book is a tense, terse look at the world of modern maritime piracy and I commend it to your attention.


Obviously, the bit in issue two with the "strangelet generator" had some inspiration in contemporary science.


The only holdout from my aborted Checkmate run survived in Ariadne's "exfil" plan, using Checkmate procedures against the heroes. I'd wanted to do a scene like that for a long time, so it was a ton of fun to be able to finally execute on it.


(Also fun to model the Kobra traitor, the pilot of the plane, on my good friend Larry White. He really does grin like that, but the snake eyes don't typically manifest.)


I've always had a soft spot for the good Dr. Erdel, ever since I read the first appearance of the Martian Manhunter in an old, old Fireside edition of reprinted DC sci-fi stories from the 1950s. (This was also my first exposure to Adam Strange, a character I'd kill for a chance to work with.)


The Code Zoo material had an interesting genesis; originally, it had been included in Checkmate 17 as something cool, and a way to justify the eventual re-emergence of the GI ROBOT (in issues 23-25). At some point during the writing of Checkmate 17, I was asked to provide a rationale for the "escape" of Brother Eye code (at the time, it was reportedly something to do with Countdown).


Over time, whatever the reason for that "escape" was, it changed. So, scenes in Checkmate 17, in which there are odd "power fluctuations" in The Castle's defense generators, were part of an elaborate scheme I'd concocted, simply to provide whoever was writing whatever with an excuse for Brother Eye to escape back into the wild, were no longer needed. 


(I did actually have a whole methodology planned out, something about Brother Eye managing to manipulate power flow in a tiny circuit in such a way as to create a crude wireless "modem" of sorts, allowing the code to transmit itself into Checkmate's systems, and from there, back into the world.) 


That was a happy sequence of events, as The Code Zoo played a critical role in the pages of FInal Crisis: Resist, but that left many of those rogue sentient and semi-sentient A.I.'s out in the DCU, running wild. 


It was during the construction of the original outline (in a chapter that was completely revised; issue 3 was to be set in Keystone City, originally, not Opal City) that I hit on the idea of the Code Zoo as a weapon for Jason Burr. Who better to locate them, and who better to turn them into a serious terrorist weapon?


But that also gave me a great way for Sasha Bordeaux to be restored to health, and that was ultimately the moment I was driving the whole series toward: if there are two people in the DCU who deserve a happy ending, it's Michael and Sasha. 


That's sort of the tip-of-the-iceberg process for several of the storytelling decisions I made in writing the series, generally down to "I always wanted to write a scene like that, how do I make it work?".


Others were more organic; the key moment in issue 4, in which we see several of the tools Jason had acquired being put to use in the subway tunnels under Fawcett; the Code Zoo (which had sifted the necessary arcane knowledge from paranormal databases around the world, to give him the power word, "Shazam!"; and to find the necessary confluence of ley lines that let him enter the subway tunnels themselves); the Erdel Gate, to make his getaway with a shard of the "Anger" statue; and so on. 


That all came from a conversation with artist Don Kramer, who mentioned in passing that he really liked drawing Jakeem Thunder. Add a boy with a pet Thunderbolt to the subway tunnel that produced Captain Marvel? Let's just say it hit like a bolt of lightning, that scene. 


Hope you enjoyed the series as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Comments: 5 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Dwight Williams (Sunday, 27 December 2009 13:50)

    A cool way of tying so many strands of DCU history together there!

  • #2

    Eric Trautmann (Sunday, 27 December 2009 13:54)

    That's sorta my "thing." I'm all about obscure/Silver Age stuff. :)

    Plus, I figure no one ELSE is gonna notice things like the Code Zoo, so if they're gonna get used, it'll be me that uses 'em. Heh.

  • #3

    Dwight Williams (Sunday, 27 December 2009 15:47)

    Thus explaining the usages of Fawcett and the Opal as well! *cheered smile*

  • #4

    Eric Trautmann (Sunday, 27 December 2009 15:50)

    A lot of that stemmed from my original concept for the series, back when it was a Kobra vs. The DCU kind of book.

    I was quite honestly stealing a page from Rucka's Crime Bible series; I wanted, initially, six semi-stand-alone books, with Kobra in a different city around the DCU doing Dastardly Things™, and interacting with various superteams in the process.

    The addition of the JSA to the mix mandated a more focused approach than that, but the "let's move around the DCU a bit" idea lingered, happily.

  • #5

    Nick H (Wednesday, 27 January 2010 22:55)

    Eric, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your work on Checkmate with Greg and also your work on JSA vs Kobra. It was great to get a chance to see some of the behind the scenes stuff on the book. I also was a big fan of the Code Zoo stuff and liked to see it used in the book. The Shield stuff is really getting good right now. I can't wait to see what the future holds for your work. You will always hold a soft spot in my heart for offering to send me a copy of Checkmate 25 when my shop didn't order one for me. I loved the use of the 'bloc pawns. Sadly, I didn't make the cut in the book but it is something that still brings a smile to my face. I also thought the work you put into the Crime Bible pages are great. You have no idea how much time I spent trying to solve it but it is something I will treasure for a lifetime. Great stuff from the past few years and I have no doubts that you will only get better as the years pass on.

    Thanks for everything,

    Nick H. (holiday)