In 2001, Joe Kelly wrote What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way, one of the greatest comics ever, period. At the time, the comic industry had been growing darker and darker; it seemed the market thirsted for heroes who bathed in blood and guts. It only took one issue, Action Comics #775, for Kelly to effectively show us why we need our heroes to stand for more… why we need Superman. In the issue, a new team named The Elite hits the scene, and the public falls in love with them because unlike old fashioned heroes like Superman, the Elite are charismatic cocky antiheroes who are willing to kill their enemies. It is up to Superman to prove that dignity, truth and justice are ideals to stand by. When Supes questions their methods, the Elite challenge him to a fight broadcast around the world. Eleven years later, in 2012, Kelly adapted the comic for the animated film’s screenplay, Superman vs. The Elite. It is still very relevant to today’s market. At this year’s inaugural Special Edition: NYC comic convention, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Joe Kelly about today’s comic market.
UTF: You wrote What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way and it served as a critique of the comic industry at the time. How do you feel about the industry right now?
On the positive side, I think there’s a lot of great stuff going on especially in independent comics, a lot of new voices coming out, really interesting stories, things that are breaking out of the broader confines of the superhero genre. We get to see a lot of stuff. Man of Action is publishing all our books through Image and we love what’s going on over there… there are a lot of places that are doing some cool stuff.
As far as superheroes at large, I find it a little dense to get into if you’re a new reader because I haven’t followed superheroes in a while. When I do pick them up, a lot of them are really dark and the characters just seem mean. I don’t quite understand who those books are for. I think those books are for guys my age to maybe 30. I don’t know that those books are for a generation that’s coming up that is wishing they had comics to read.
I can’t take a comic that has the Joker stapling his face on and give it to a 12-year-old. I’m a little conservative in that regard I guess. With that being said, there’s a ton of talent. The talent is not the question. There are great writers and there are great artists. I think there are some editorial choices that I don’t fully understand. That’s my snapshot of the industry. I definitely don’t mean that I want to bag on everybody’s work because I don’t think that’s the case. I just think that there are some broader choices that maybe people aren’t taking a long range view in the superhero genre.
I do. I let him choose the stuff that he wants to read. What did we just get? We have Bravest Warriors. He’s was reading Mini Marvels and G-Man which is great. What else? The Guardians of the Galaxy and then the other day I got him the trade of the Days of Future Past because we had just seen the film. There’s something else that we got too, but I don’t remember. Of the current books, I know he really liked Aquaman in the New 52. I want him to read the whole Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run because I really love the whole thing, the epic nature of the whole thing, but I haven’t collected them all yet. I have to really get a hold of them. That’s it.
UTF: What should a superhero encompass in a comic, a mainstream one certainly?
All the characters are different. They should all vary obviously widely. I’m very happy in a universe where you have Superman on the one side, who does embody the more quasi morals and that’s part of the DNA of their stories, and a universe where the Punisher is, where everybody’s a little bit darker and it’s for a more adult audience. I’m totally cool with that. I can’t … I don’t think that I would have one good blanket statement to cover them all, but I want to see a variety and instead what I’m seeing a lot of is everybody’s a jerk to each other. Everybody’s got a chip on their shoulder. It’s like everybody’s Batman all of a sudden. I want Batman to be Batman. I want Superman to be Superman. I don’t need Batman and Superman to both be jerks.
That’s what I like. I just like to see the variety. I want there to be real characterizations and make sure these guys actually care about something other than putting villains away and punching bad guys. I like to see a story that has a lot of supporting cast, a lot of back story. I love Slott on Spiderman. I think Dan really captures the spirit of what comics should be so I love Dan Slott’s Spiderman as an example. He cares deeply about those characters, but he’s not afraid to take risks so he gets Superior Spiderman which is really interesting and freaks everybody out and everybody gets upset and then comes back around and now Peter’s back.
It’s fun. It’s part of the soap opera of it all. I want my superhero comics to be fun. What that means for any age group will vary and what it means for any type of reader will vary. I like the heroes to sort of reflect that. If you want to do a Superman that’s really brutal and dark … One of my friends, Tom Taylor, does the Injustice book and that Injustice universe is dark and everybody is supposed to be dark. That’s cool. You know what you’re getting when you pick it up. It’s not like it’s a normal book where maybe it’s a little rough… Again, I’m painting with a really broad brush just some of the stuff that I see as a casual fringe observer of what’s going on.
UTF: And it’s funny ‘cause you’ve wrote so many diverse characters, anyway, with Deadpool on one hand and then Superman on the other.
No, I think it’s important. We’re putting up the trade for Bad Dog in July. My dedication is to my family, “Please never read this book.” They know it’s literally a comic they can’t read. But they’ve read I Kill Giants. I Kill Giants is appropriate. They can read any of my Superman stuff. Deadpool, they can read but I was explaining to my son the other day that because Deadpool is so popular now, if a kid read my Deadpool it would be really confusing. He’s not a nice guy. He’s not just funny all the time. He does some really mean things to people because that book was meant for a slightly older audience and he’s a more complicated character. Now he’s ubiquitous so everybody loves Deadpool and he’s a different creature right now.