A Few Moments with ‘Misfter Terrific’ Writer Eric Wallace

I was fortunate enough to ask ‘Mister Terrific’ scribe Eric Wallace (also a writer on the most excellent ‘Eureka’) a few questions about the essentials of being Michael Holt, diversity in comics, and when/if Power Girl will make an appearance. And he answered them. Yes, I got a vague but definitive answer about Karen Star/Power Girl. Woot!

*************

Mister Terrific #2

What do you think are Michael’s most important qualities? Are there any aspects that you wanted to change that DC wouldn’t allow or vice-versa?

Because he is a man of science, Michael Holt’s most important quality is his curiosity. A desire to know everything there is to know about the universe and its scientific mysteries is what drives this guy. But outside the scientific sphere, Michael’s next most important quality is his ability to inspire others. This is especially true when it comes to Michael’s influence on Aleeka Okafur and Jamaal Mason.

Aleeka sees Michael as pretty much the perfect man, and that’s not just because of his money and success. Michael’s dedication to philanthropic causes (another quality)—as embodied by his creation and funding of the Conscientia Institute—is truly noble. It shows the kindness (a third quality) that lies inside Michael and it’s the reason she’s in love with this man.

In regards to Jamaal, Michael is going to become more and more of a mentor figure. This is because Michael sees the incredible potential within Jamaal to become an even greater scientific bellwether than himself. It’s this ability to see and inspire greatness in others that is yet another important quality Michael Holt possesses, one that might be his most important one – both as a man and as the hero, Mister Terrific.

It seems like we’re getting to know the New 52 version of Mr. Terrific by seeing his status quo destroyed as opposed to seeing a “norm” established. Is that a fair assessment and why take that route?

I think there’s a little of both going on, but that’s because I’ve already read issues 5 through 8! Seriously, though… yes, we saw Mister Terrific cut down to size in issue #3, and this was on purpose. It was done to further humanize the character. The creative team and I believe it was very important to show that being one of the smartest men on the planet can give you a false feeling of invincibility. This is what Mister Terrific possesses in the first two issues. But when Brainstorm reveals a hidden truth about our hero’s past, we see Mister Terrific’s smart veneer shatter. So yes, it’s here that we do see his “norm” destroyed.”

But the next three issues, #4, #5, and #6, are all about showing what Mister Terrific’s new norm will be. This is a man who, in these next issues, will begin to realize that it takes more than a genius intellect to be a well-rounded human being. That’s what Mister Terrific’s emotional journey throughout the course of this series is going to be. The destruction of his initial emotional state was necessary so that the audience would be able to experience Mister Terrific’s inner changes as they happen, hence the “destructive” nature of the first three issues, as well as the subsequent “restorative” nature of the next three issues.

As a result of these first six stories, a new Mister Terrific emerges in issue #7. He’s still a hero, but he’ll be a bit wiser and more prepared for the many difficult challenges and seismic events that will rock both his personal life and his heroic life as protector of Los Angeles.

The fact that the death of Michael’s wife and unborn child was a random occurrence is a major part of his backstory. Does Brainstorm’s revelation that he was responsible for the circumstances of the accident contradict that character-defining randomness? Or is Michael’s loss of control in the face of having someone to focus his rage on and the consequences of that the real life-altering event? And is it possible that Brainstorm simply made everything up after gleaning Michael’s identity to evoke that reaction (he took particular glee in those kids loosing faith in Mr. Terrific…)?

That’s just it – the deaths of Paula and Aaron Holt were not random. They were caused by the birth of a madman (Brainstorm). This is how evil works. It is born and the ripples it sends out cause untold, seeming random destruction.

Mister Terrific #4

But there is a definitive connectivity to Brainstorm’s birth and Paula/Aaron’s deaths. It’s the balance of the universe that reflects an eternal struggle between good and evil. Ironically, had Brainstorm not been born… and had both Paula and Aaron not died… Mister Terrific would not have gained the subsequent insight that he is a man “out of balance” with himself. This refers to the fact that Mister Terrific, up until the issue #3, has always believed that intelligence can solve any problem. Well, that’s not true. And when Brainstorm teaches him this (again, in issue #3), Mister Terrific can’t handle it. The very concept rocks his entire world. So what does he do? He loses it. But it’s something that needed to happen, in order for Mister Terrific to grow as both a hero and a human being. So I don’t see the events of issue #3 as a contradiction to Mister Terrific’s character. And Brainstorm did not make up what happened years earlier.

What happened to Mister Terrific—his loss of control—was inevitable, given his penchant for denying his emotional side. We see this in issue #2, during Michael’s conversation with his girlfriend, Karen Starr. Here’s a guy who is letting his intellect dictate his behavior in a romantic relationship. While that might have advantages at times, it’s going to be disastrous in the end. Romance is not about science. Attraction is about science, especially when you look at the notions of chemical attraction, pheromones, etc. But romance is an emotional conceit. Therefore, it needs to be nurtured with emotional responses, not intellectual discourses – which is how Michael reacts on several occasions. Needless to say, things aren’t going to go well for Michael and Karen from issue #6 onward.

This next arc has Mr. Terrific assisting some extra-terrestrial beings – will they factor into any bigger storylines in the future, both in this title and/or across the New 52?

I certainly hope so. Without revealing any spoilers, I’ll confirm that, yes, there are plans to bring back the Kryl. Readers will know the reason why by the end of issue #5. And I do have a pretty big story in mind with the Kryl, one that will team up Mister Terrific with a certain super team already active in the DCnU. But that story is still in the works, so I can’t talk about it. Let’s just say that there may be some very cool guest stars in Mister Terrific’s near future!

How important is it to see Mr. Terrific tackle problems outside of Los Angeles and not just keep him confined to his home city?

It’s very important to show that Mister Terrific is LA’s protector, so most of his stories in the first twelve issues do take place in Los Angeles. However, it’s important to show the wide variety of stories this character can support, hence the decision to feature an outer space adventure early on in the series.

The fact of the matter is, many mainstream readers are not very familiar with the character, Mister Terrific, if at all. So the creative team and myself are trying to do a lot in these first twelve issues, in order to show the scope of adventures Mister Terrific can have. Sure, he can be your standard “protector of the city” like Superman is towards Metropolis. But imagine if every Superman story took place in Metropolis. Think about how limiting this would be for a character with such limitless potential. This is exactly how DC feels about Mister Terrific. That’s why you’ll see him participating in his first outer space adventure in issues #4 and #5. You’ll also see Mister Terrific tackling his first case outside of the United States in issue #6, which is also a special Valentine’s Day story (out February 2012).

I have to ask even if I don’t expect a straight answer: Does Karen Starr have powers and will we be seeing Power Girl anytime soon?

Ha! Yes, this question does have a tendency to pop up on occasion. All kidding aside, no, you’re not going to get a straight answer from me right now. However, everyone is going to get a straight answer to this question in 2012. And the answer is pretty awesome. Honestly, I think readers are going to be pleasantly surprised by what DC and this series has in store for Karen Starr. It’s a shocker and it’s really fantastic.

Not to imply that all the Black superheroes or heroes of color know each other (even though there are so few, it’s statistically plausible), but are there any plans to include any of the unused Milestone characters in the book? I’d love to see a team-up with Icon and Rocket or Xombi…

There are currently no plans to use any of the Milestone characters in MISTER TERRIFIC. However, I absolutely love Hardware, who just appeared in STATIC SHOCK. So who knows what could happen somewhere down the line? Anything’s possible.

Mister Terrific #5

Speaking of diversity, while comics are more representative then they’ve been in the past, there are still a lot of people who have a difficult time finding characters that look like them or they can relate to in books and have been very vocal about it. Why is it still so hard to increase diversity in the comics landscape?

Diversity in the comics landscape will increase when there are more diverse creators making mainstream, high-profile comic books. The reading audiences are already diverse. Now what we need is for the creative pool to catch up with this diversity. Fortunately, I think we’re seeing the beginnings of this happening in mainstream comics.

For example, DC Comics’ New 52 is doing a good job at facilitating this change. Not only do you have me writing MISTER TERRIFIC, but they’ve also just announced that writer Marc Bernardin will be taking over STATIC SHOCK with issue #7. Plus, you already have Tony Bedard doing a fantastic job presenting diverse characters in BLUE BEETLE, another book I love. So again, I think progress is being made. Is it happening as quickly as we’d all like? Probably not. But it is happening. And it will get better as more and more diverse creators learn their craft and make their presence known.

As for diverse talents looking to break in, I have two pieces of advice. The first is this: a great way for a diverse creator to get hired at a major company is for you to do you own, brilliant indie book first. The major companies are always looking for great, new talents. And if you can make an impression—either with 1) a creator-owned book at a small press or 2) an innovative project on the internet—you will get noticed, and more likely than not… the major companies will eventually come calling.

And now, I’m going to contradict myself with my second piece of advice: don’t wait for that call. Do your own thing. And do it right now. The Internet is still mostly a wild, untamed frontier. Go ahead and make your own comic book project, then get it out there where people can see it. Who knows? Maybe you are the next George Lucas, and a digital comic is the next STAR WARS of the 21st Century. The point is, sometimes it’s best not to wait for a door to open. Sometimes it’s better to make your own doorway and walk through it on your own terms.

Ultimately, what would you like Mr. Terrific’s legacy to be?

Most people, even die hard comic book fans, still haven’t heard of Mister Terrific. If this series can change that in a positive way—and create some devoted fans of the character, too—then this series will be a success. That’s enough of a “legacy,” in my opinion. Honestly, I don’t want to think about it too much beyond that. Sure, I hope people enjoy the stories we’re telling. That’s a given. But again, let’s hold off on discussing this “legacy” aspect for a few more years, okay?

‘Mister Terrific’ #5 goes on sale January 11, 2012 – don’t forget to add it to your pull list! Meanwhile, issues #1-#4 are available for your purchasing pleasure at your Local Comic Shop.

About Tamara Brooks

A few things I wondered about as a kid: Why didn't Wonder Woman punch more bad guys in the face on the tv show?; How does Superman flying around the Earth turn back time?; Could someone really catch bullets with their teeth?; Why didn't the liquid bits of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man cause 3rd degree burns on whoever it landed on? Because melted marshmallow is up there with molten hot lava.