Ricki Barnes, Arana, Firestar, Gravity, and a new Toro. Who would have thought to make team out of this eclectic group of characters? Who could possibly make it work? Well, the man behind this is none other than former Teen Titans writer, and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane creator Sean McKeever, and I was fortunate enough to get a little bit of his time for a little question and answer session before San Diego happened.
McKeever, who won an Eisner in 2005 for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, has been in the industry since 1997 and known for his aptitude with teenage characters. Currently he’s writing Young Allies for Marvel, which has two issues already release, as well as writing Nomad (of the Young Allies) in back up stories for Ed Brubaker’s Captain America.
So without any further delay, here’s the brain picking.
Comics Nexus: How did you get started at Marvel?
Sean McKeever: I was working on my small-press series, THE WAITING PLACE, doing the convention circuit, sending letters of inquiry, pitching blind, and all that stuff you do to try to break in. My friend and mentor, Paul Jenkins, knew I wanted to work for Marvel and discovered that Tom Brevoort was actually one of the few people reading my series on a regular basis. Paul was able to convince Tom to let me help relieve Paul’s schedule on INCREDIBLE HULK by co-writing some issues with him.
Nexus: Gravity has a cult following. Why do you feel that character connects with fans, but hasn’t had a sustained push from Marvel?
McKeever: Any new character lives and dies by fan and writer interest, and it was both of those that led to Gravity showing up in other titles, from BEYOND! to FANTASTIC FOUR to AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE. Jeff Parker even gave him a prominent role defeating Ultron in an Avengers Christmas story.
I can’t speak for why other folks dig him, but I can tell you that his Midwestern, ground-floor POV of the Marvel U is my favorite aspect.
Nexus: Are you from the Midwest? Because it just seems unpopular to have a character that isn’t from one of the bigger cities…I mean, aside from the obvious Superman from Kansas. I’m from Missouri, and I think the closest thing we’ve had to a superhero was when Synch from Generation X was from here.
McKeever: Yep, guilty! I grew up in Wisconsin and currently live in Ohio. THE WAITING PLACE was about growing up in a small Wisconsin town, and I love to pepper WI into my Marvel work. SENTINEL and INHUMANS were both set in WI, and Gravity is from Sheboygan. I do think it’s important to have diversity, whether it be ethnic, gender, sexual ID, or even geographic.
Nexus: Are there any plans to return to Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane? That was one of your breakthrough titles before you left Marvel a few years ago, and I know that the Terry Moore miniseries didn’t seem to garner the same reception as your time on the book.
There are no plans, but never say never.
Nexus: How does it feel to be the only writer other than Tom DeFalco to write an issue of Spider-Girl?
McKeever: I kinda feel bad about it, like I broke Tom’s run. I mentioned that to him a few years back when I met him for the first time and he thought I was silly for feeling that way. After all, he was running the show and freelancing back in the day when inventory stories were very common, and that’s what my story was–inventory.
Nexus: What drew you to the character of Ricky Barnes? What plans do you have in store for her?
McKeever: Initially, it was that Tom Brevoort asked me to pitch Rikki Barnes being Nomad as a series after he’d read Ed Brubaker’s script to CAPTAIN AMERICA #600.
My memories of the character were limited to her look and a general “go get ’em” attitude, but once I delved into her more I could really see her as a fully-realized, flesh-and-blood person. I loved the idea of testing a strong-willed, positive young woman with the notion that the world has suddenly changed around her, and nothing feels quite right anymore. It’s a great analogy for the changes we go through from puberty to adulthood, and sometimes even beyond.
We’re still rolling on with Rikki in the back of CAP. This next story has her teaming up with Steve Rogers, and then we’re gonna have Black Widow get involved in her life.
Nexus: As a Spider-Girl fan I have to ask, is there truth to the rumor that Arana is being renamed Spider-Girl? If so, was it your idea or did someone present it to you? And does it mean that her powers are going to be more in line with Spider-Man?
McKeever: As has been revealed, Araña will be starring in a SPIDER-GIRL series in November. I’m not directly involved in it but I am excited about the writer. Anything beyond that I cannot tell you as it is not my place.
Nexus: What plans are in the works with Young Allies? I loved the first issue and have been saying since I read it that it’s exactly what I had wanted out of your Teen Titans run.
McKeever: Thanks, Graham. Once we get to the end of this first story arc in #5 I’m going to try and keep the stories limited to 1-3 issues with ongoing subplots, like back in the 80s–but don’t hold me to that 100% as it’s not my place to ultimately decide these things.
You will be seeing some guest stars beyond #5, plus a little bit of crossing over with another title or two. As for actual plots, I don’t like to give too much away, but you will learn more about Toro’s past, and how his origin isn’t quite what it seemed. We’ll get back into Gravity’s personal life once more, and we’ll explore how these very different characters come to view and interact with one another. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that this isn’t a “team” book but rather an “ensemble” book, so if you’re looking for something outside the norm, this is it.
Oh, also–I just found out last night that #6 will have a Firestar variant cover by Art Adams, which is wonderfully appropriate since the issue and guest star hearken back to Firestar’s limited series, for which Mr. Adams drew an excellent cover.
Nexus: Moving over to DC, what was it like to work on Countdown? What were your thoughts on the series at the time?
McKeever: We all went into it with the best of intentions and we were all very excited. It started out fun, and a neat challenge, but it became more and more trying as the series went on. As with Bedard, Palmiotti, Gray and Beechen, I had very little say. As time passed, we were promised a more prominent role, but the reality was we wound up having less and less to do with it.
There are some highlights for me–the CRIME SOCIETY special with Jamal Igle and the Ray Palmer story with Scott Kolins in #18, especially–but it’s mostly a blur now.
Nexus: Your Teen Titans run felt out of tone with your other work with young heroes. Do you feel that’s accurate? And if so, why?
McKeever: I feel that a lot of people feel that way, but no, I don’t particularly agree. It was visually more intense than I’d envisioned or scripted, but I suppose that’s how DC wanted it to look. The only death I ever recall suggesting myself was of one of my own creations, at the end of TERROR TITANS. There were a couple deaths I was unhappy with, and one I kept from happening altogether, but these characters aren’t mine to control, so I never got too worked up over it. Plus, it’s comics–characters come back all the time–and there are times when a character’s death can be effectively horrific and/or moving.
And as for the moral outrage, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that other than to shrug. I never wrote anything that I felt was out of line with characters of that age in a series that isn’t intended for all ages but yet isn’t a mature-readers title. It’s my job to explore these characters in ways that I feel are interesting and that are sanctioned by the characters’ caretakers, not to cater to the morally righteous.
Bottom line, while I can’t say that I got to go where I wanted much of the time, that series had heart throughout, even when it wasn’t apparent. I poured my heart into those characters the same as with SMLMJ or SENTINEL or currently with YOUNG ALLIES.
Looking back, I’m especially happy with issue #s 55-65 and the Ravager co-feature.
Nexus: What caused your Birds of Prey run to end so suddenly? Was it anything to do with R.I.P. and the restructuring of the Bat line of books, or did you leave before that?
McKeever: The simple answer is that I did not see eye to eye with editorial, and the frustrations involved were making TEEN TITANS that much more difficult to keep apace with. I’m pretty happy with that arc, though. Great working with Nicola Scott, and a nice mix of menace and mirth.
Nexus: Did Terror Titans get to run the way you had hoped and expected, or did the Final Crisis tie-in status disrupt what you were doing at all?
McKeever: The FINAL CRISIS stuff made the story a bit more cumbersome than I would have liked in the first issue, and I wasn’t happy with having to kill Fever (who I’d been grooming for a place on the Teen Titans). Learning a week before the final issue of INFINITY INC. was released that it contained a “To be continued in TERROR TITANS” tagline was an annoying setback. But beyond all that, getting to focus on the teen sociopaths themselves and seeing Joe Bennett go to town, it was a great time.
Nexus: You do great work with teenage characters, what’s your trick to finding their voices?
McKeever: I get this question a lot, and I bet each answer is different. The honest truth is I really don’t know, and that it’s always been an innate quality in my work.
Nexus: What kinds of differences are there between Marvel and DC editorial? You’ve worked with both, which one did you find to be more supportive?
McKeever: Each is supportive and difficult in different ways, and the end result is fairly even. I know that’s a political answer, but it’s true.
The main thing to keep in mind through it all is that you’re getting paid to write stories about characters that aren’t yours. You won’t get to write them forever, and you most likely won’t have any say in their futures or ultimate fates. Just push yourself to do your best work and enjoy the living hell out of what is a most awesome job!
Grey Scherl is the Head Editor at www.ComicsNexus.com, as well as a Staff Writer for www.PulseWrestling.com. You can follow him on http://twitter.com/GreyScherl for updates on all of his News and Columns, or e-mail email@example.com with any questions or comments.
Tags: Arana, Birds of Prey, Countdown, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Sean McKeever, spider-girl, Teen Titans, Young Allies