Bringing Back the Golden Age: An Interview with Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig

Archie Comics is pairing a new look and new writers with some of their best-known titles in their new Dark Circle superhero imprint. The Black Hood, The Shield, and The Fox are all scheduled for a reboot in early 2015. The Shield in particular is looking at some major changes, including a gender-swapped cast of characters that will introduce a female Shield in “Daughter of the Revolution.” 

Adam Christopher (The Burning Dark, Hang Wire) and Chuck Wendig (The Blue Blazes, Mockingbird) are pooling their experience with novels, film, comics, television, and everything in between to co-write The Shield. They recently answered a few questions about gender, the Golden Age, and the inspiration behind the new series. We’ve got their thoughts, along with a heaping pile of heroism and justice, below the cut! 

As novelists, what excites you about jumping into comics? What series and creators will you look to for inspiration, if you’re already comics fans?

Chuck Wendig: I’ve done a lot of work across a variety of storytelling forms: film, games, novels (obviously), so working on a comic is an opportunity to look at story from another angle—I mean, comics are like if TV had a squalling story-baby with a novel. It’s got that internal and intellectual dimension of fiction, but the visual dimension of film and television.

As for what creators? Anything Gail Simone has ever written (BatgirlWonder Woman, and dang, have you read Leaving Megalopolis?). Also: James Robinson’s Starman, or Golden Age. Actually, Starman in particular is a pretty useful example—because it’s a love letter to superheroes, is generational, and is an update on an old character.

Adam Christopher: To be honest, writing comics is a dream come true—the form is unparalleled and is home to some of the most original and innovative storytelling around. I was actually a bit of a latecomer to comics—although I had a couple of issues of Batman and Iron Man when I was about 7, picked up from the grocery store by my dad on the way to a summer vacation (no doubt to keep me quiet in the car!), it wasn’t until I was about 22 that I feel in love with the format. Remembering those old issues I had, on a whim I picked up the current Iron Man and Batman and… SHAZAM! It was like a switch flipped in my brain. 

Comics were MY THING—and it was superheroes that did it. Since then, I’ve been a dedicated fan and reader. In fact, a couple of my early novels, Empire State and especially Seven Wonders, were very heavily influenced by my love of superhero comics.

So yeah. This is exciting!

As for inspiration, while I love specific heroes, I also follow creators around—give me anything by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Kurt Busiek, Kieron Gillen and I’ll lap it up. It’s a really great time for comics— there are so many great writers and artists working in both mainstream and indie comics. And not just in the superhero genre. 

 

The Shield Archie ComicsWhat were your reasons for gender-flipping The Shield, and what possibilities do you see in that change?

Chuck Wendig: I’m sure someone will complain there’s too much “gender-flipping” going on, but until we see a wider diversity represented across the comic book page, I think we can keep going in that direction.

Listen, it’s like this.

I’m well-represented in comics. Straight white dudes have had a pretty good run. I don’t need more representation. I’m not searching the comic book racks saying, but where’s my story? So, given an opportunity to go a different way here—and seeing a chance to tell the story of a flawed, complex character who happens to be a woman? Deal me in.

Plus, I enjoy writing women. Miriam Black and Atlanta Burns are two of my favorite characters to write and seem to be fairly popular, to boot. I look at a comic like Rat Queens and I gnash my teeth and desperately wish I’d written it. (It’s good that I didn’t; it wouldn’t be one-tenth as awesome.)

Adam Christopher: Gender-flipping the Shield I think really shows Archie and Dark Circle’s commitment to push the envelope. Historically, diversity has been a real issue for superhero comics—so we need to do something about it, crafting strong, modern heroes for a modern audience. As a superhero fan myself, most of my favourite heroes are women—Hawkgirl, Captain Marvel, Power Girl, Stargirl, Black Widow, Rogue, to name just a small handful, so being given the opportunity to recast a hero who has been male for the past 73 years is a tremendous opportunity. Chuck and I have been given free reign to do something completely new with the character, while still keeping the essence of what makes the Shield the Shield. It’s not often you get to do that!

But the key for us is to craft a strong, interesting, relatable new character. That’s the most amazing thing about writing, whether it’s in prose or comics, that you can create something from nothing and suddenly they come to life, like they’ve always been there. That’s what we’ve done with the new Shield. She’s awesome and she’ll kick your ass five ways to Sunday.

 

Why is it time to bring back a Golden Age hero like The Shield?

Chuck Wendig: Here’s why bringing back a character from the Golden Age is really exciting for me, at least: because the Golden Age put forth the vibe of untarnished, uncomplicated heroism, right? Like, the villains are well-known, and they must be punched. Back then the heroes could—with a straight face and to the cheers of the crowd—stand up for patriotism and liberty and high-kick a robot Hitler right in his tiny robot mustache.

But we live in what is, for us, a more complicated age. Any sense of white hat / black hat simplicity we had with WWII was lost with Vietnam—sure, we thought we maybe had a glimmer of it with 9/11, and then promptly attacked the wrong country and toppled a dictator which… maybe didn’t make things better? And being a patriot becomes muddy, too—are you a patriot to your countrymen? To a flag? To a political party? What happens when your own government, under the auspices of protection, spies on you? Or violates your rights by changing them just as you need them?

So, bringing back The Shield is a chance to take some of that idealism and heroism and put it through the wringer—how does a character like that survive a tumultuous time? This is a character who has her origin story in the Revolutionary War—what does she see now, when she’s reborn again to protect the United States (and ultimately, the world) from evil? She was there at the dawn of our country and now she appears at a time when malevolent forces conspire to end this country. The great challenge for us as writers and for the character on the page is her still finding and maintaining that heroism in what she might view as a very strange, dark time for the nation she considers her protectorate.

Adam Christopher: The appeal of the Golden Age heroes for me is their simplicity, even their naivety—they represent the fundamental building blocks of the whole superhero genre, whether it’s a “super” man able to lift cars, or a vigilante who terrorises criminals at night like Batman. The Shield was actually the first patriotic, flag-wearing superhero, appearing more than a year before Captain America. As we developed our new version, we looked back at how The Shield has been portrayed over the years, breaking the character down to figure out what makes him tick. So while the new Shield is a different person, she still embodies what the original stood for—although, as we shall discover, her origins go much, much further back than 1941!

But as Chuck says, the world is very different now to how it was when The Shield, and all these other classic heroes, first appeared. How the character deals with this—not just in terms of the threats she will face and protect the world against, but how the public at large react to her—is something we’ll be exploring.

 

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