Mike Baron on Nexus, Badger, Deadman, The Punisher…
♦ Mike Baron has written some of the most iconic characters in comic books – Nexus, The Punisher, Badger, Deadman, Star Wars; the list goes on.
As Mike is currently back writing Nexus for the Nexus newspaper – as well as pursuing numerous other projects – I wanted to talk to him about his 30-years-plus collaboration with Steve Rude, his career as a writer for Marvel and DC comics, and his writing career outside of comics. As well as writing for comics, Mike is a prolific novelist, and I’ve listed a whole bunch of stuff you ought to take a look at at the end of this interview.
Nexus is one of the longest runs in comics by the same creative team. I guess you must like each other?
We do, when we’re not fighting over the story.
If we take you all the way back to those first black-and-white issues by Capital Comics, did you have any idea Nexus would run this long?
Did you see Nexus as your “calling card” – obviously something you wanted to do, who was the thought it might open the way for you to work in the mainstream?
Not really. It was a story we wanted to tell. Naturally, I was very pleased with the industry response.
You were lucky (in some ways) to come along around the time the independents were starting up and moved to First Comics for the first colour Nexus. What did the industry feel like at the time?
Brave new world. Anything could happen. I remember my first trip to San Diego. I used Tim Truman’s ticket when Tim couldn’t go!
When you worked on those first few issues of Nexus, did you have any idea of the level of world building that Nexus would encompass?
It just sort of grew organically. I’d add a little bit, Dude would add a little bit and all of a sudden we had six different alien races. The story takes on a life of its own and charts its own path.
The current focus on making comics that interest women seems to tie into the early 80s. My wife loved Nexus, The Badger, Love and Rockets and quite a lot of other titles that around in the early 80s. I wondered if you had any thoughts about that?
The writer’s first duty is to entertain. It’s also the writer’s responsibility to imagine different points of view and be an honest broker. Every decent writer goes against stereotyping.
The Badger: “Vietnam vet suffering from multiple personality disorder” seems like a hard pitch for a comic. Out of that, you constructed a long-running and consistently entertaining series. How did the idea first come to you?
Well, the boys said, “give us a costumed crime fighter” and my first response was, why would anybody put on a costume and fight crime? They’d have to be crazy! I had just read The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes and everything snapped into place. I was walking down State Street past Badger Liquors, the Badger Pub, Badger Posters…it was beating me over the head!
Badger has already returned in the new Nexus newspaper, but right now I’m concentrating on new Badger material for First Comics. Badger just finished a five issue run for First. The TPB just came out. Art by Jim Fern, Tony Akins, Val Mayerik, and Bill Reinhold. http://parttimefanboy.com/?p=3374
You are responsible for relaunching The Flash in 1987, after Barry Allen had died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, meaning that Wally West inherited the mantle. You’re probably aware of the fact that the absence of Wally West from DC’s New 52 relaunch became one of the most criticised aspects of it. Over 20-plus years, for many people Wally was “their Flash.” Any comments about this, or the reintroduction of Wally to whatever the hell universe Rebirth is set in?
Pete, I have no idea what’s going on with DC or Marvel these days. It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that there is so much on my plate.
Your initial run on The Flash tried to deal with issues like Wally’s metabolic requirements – the need to eat large amounts of food for example. Is it part of your approach to characters to follow the logic of their creation in a relatively “real” context? I’m not talking about “grim and gritty” real here; I’m talking about there being a logic that means characters conform to the “rules” of the universe in which they exist.
The more credibility you can build into your story, the more successful it will be. Of course, you have to accept the reality of super-heroes before you ask questions like, how does Superman fly? How does Reed Richards stretch? What happens to his veins and capillaries? With Wally, I just applied the fundamental rules of thermodynamics and energy.
In Action Comics Weekly, which was a 52-page anthology title, you were in very good company with artists like Dave Gibbons, Curt Swan, and Gil Kane as well as writers like Max Allan Collins. You were responsible for the Deadman feature. Did you enjoy working at DC comics at that time?
Was Deadman a favourite character of yours prior to writing him?
No. I had the Neal Adams/Arnold Drake issues, of course, but I tried to reimagine him in more of a horror vein.
Kelley Jones, Inked by Tony DeZuniga – which seems an odd pairing at first – worked on your second run on Deadman in ACW. You later worked on two Deadman miniseries (very “mini” at two issues each) with Kelley Jones. How did you find working with Kelley?
I enjoyed it so much we have been trying to get back together since then. Graphitti will republish our Deadman books in their new giant format.
You wrote one of the longest runs on The Punisher at Marvel, during the time when he became one of the most popular characters at Marvel – almost the Deadpool of the day. What do you think is the appeal of the character – still running after first being introduced in 1974?
The Punisher appeals to so many American traits—the vigilante, the Old West, the loner, the doer, the man of action. I expect his appeal will only grow as civilisation crumbles around us. Characters like Punisher, or Paul Kersey from Death Wish, appeal to people who perceive that the criminal justice system is failing. They see the ultra wealthy, the politically connected, committing multiple felonies while the Department of Justice says, “We know she’s guilty, but we don’t want to die.” At the other end of the spectrum, the breakdown of the nuclear family has given rise to hordes of unmanageable misfits, rendering many neighbourhoods’ unsafe. This is only going to get worse. When people feel aggrieved, or perceive themselves as victims, they are less likely to behave in a civilised manner. Civilisation has to work for everyone, not just the people at the top.
Working at Marvel and DC – compare and contrast?
Oh, I don’t know. Both have their plusses and minuses. DC has always been more generous with gifts and outings, but I think that’s just the Warner Brothers way. I got no complaints with either.
In the 90s, you brought both Nexus and the Badger back at Dark Horse Comics. While you were there, you also worked extensively on their Star Wars licensed comic line – did you enjoy working on that?
Working on Timothy Zahn’s limpid prose was a pleasure.
Your Wikipedia entry lists two of your influences as being Carl Barks and Philip José Farmer. As I’m a fan of both as well, could you tell me what you like about them, and who else has influenced you?
Number one is John D. MacDonald, whose Travis McGee character I’ve tried to honour with my upcoming Josh Pratt series. Josh Pratt is a reformed motorcycle hoodlum turned detective. Liberty Island will publish Biker on August 30, to be followed by three more Josh Pratt novels next year. MacDonald put his finger on the pulse of evil, and the evanescence of life like no other author before or since.
Uncle Scrooge was the first comic I grokked. Carl Barks was a genius and a master of pacing, comedy, and story. Right up there with Will Eisner, Hal Foster and the others. Carl Barks taught kids more about economics than they learned in high school. Here is the sketch Carl Barks sent me when I was twelve years old:
Philip Jose Farmer had a unique imagination. He may not have been the greatest at characterization or dialogue, but man, those stories are unforgettable. I’m thinking mainly of his World of Tiers series, but also To Your Scattered Bodies Go and Traitor to the Living.
You’ve worked with many artists over the course of your career. I’m assuming that Steve Rude is at the top of the list, but who else have you particularly enjoyed working with?
Bill Reinhold, Neil Hansen, Kelley Jones, Whilce Portacio, Paul Smith, Val Mayerik, Andie Tong, Jeff Butler, Steve Butler, Rhett Butler.
I’m assuming that you’ve worked outside of comics during the past 30 plus years, and I’m interested to know what you’ve worked on whether as a writer or in another capacity.
Oh honey, don’t let me commence!
Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead.
Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Whack Job is about spontaneous human combustion.
Helmet Head. He was just a rumor to the rough and dangerous “one-percenters”—a monstrous motorcyclist dressed all in black who rode the back roads of Little Egypt cutting off the heads of other bikers with a samurai sword. But on one terrible stormy night, Deputy Pete Fagan discovers that Helmet Head is all too real—and consumed with a fury that won’t be satisfied until his demonic sword drinks its fill.
The Architect: Full-color graphic novel from Mike and hot new artist Andie Tong. Includes 70 pages of story art, plus a 7-page bonus prose short story “Dream House Turns To Nightmare” by Baron.
Whack Job: When world leaders burst into flame like a string of firecrackers, the President calls on a renegade former agent with a history of mental problems. Otto “Aardvark” White possesses a unique quality. He’s lucky. What Otto discovers in the mountains of Colorado will blow your mind and change the way you look at the world.
All of Mike’s books on Amazon are on his author page: You will be amazed by how much stuff Mike has written.