Lucky Number Seven is a a brief interview with someone interesting in the public eye, chopped into easily consumed tidbits of data for your brain space.
There is exactly one Black person writing comics for either of the "big two" publishers, the comics companies that dominate the market, and his name is Eric Wallace. From being executive story editor for SyFy Network's Eureka to now penning Mister Terrific for DC Comics, Eric Wallace is a man on a mission, and he sat down with Komplicated to talk about it.
K: You've talked about how hard it is to write a character that is smarter than you, although doing Eureka must have been some help. What sorts of things have you been doing to write Mister Terrific and showcase his intellect, so far beyond our own? Can you give us some examples of how such an intelligence affects him in everyday life?
EW:Writing Mister Terrific is like going back to college. I'm so busy researching current physics and the other sciences, it's pretty intimidating at times. Fortunately, as a Eureka writer, I'm already reading magazines like Discover, Scientific American and Popular Science on a regular basis. As for how I try and show the character's intelligence, just watch how he solves problems. Mister Terrific is always searching for a non-violent, science-oriented solution first. Fortunately, when you know as much as Michael Holt does, there is almost always an intelligent option to every problem.
How does Michael's intelligence affect him in his everyday life? It means he's sometimes more concerned with a larger agenda — like saving the universe — than he is with normal social pleasantries. Which means sometimes he doesn't see what the people around him are thinking. It's not that he's being rude or that he doesn't care. It's just that here's a guy with a billion things on his mind at all times. Also, he expects a lot from himself. That means he also expects a lot from those around him, which can be very tough on Michael's closest friends. Because there is no way they can live up to Michael's high standards. It's just not possible. Hence, the friction in Michael's everyday and personal life. It's a set of emotional circumstances that Michael Holt is going to have to deal with or face the consequences.
K: You've also noted that being single will be a part of Michael Holt's experience. How do you approach the idea of a (we'd guess) sexually active superhero, and does the fact that he's a Black man change anything in your approach? In Michael Holt's original origin, the death of his wife played a large role in his beginnings, even though he was eventually able to find love while working with Checkmate. Is that widower element still a part of the character, and if so, how will that be manifested in the comics?
EW: Michael Holt is a handsome billionaire. Therefore, he's going to be a chick magnet. It has nothing to do with him being Black, which is why I don't approach writing his personal life in that manner. He is, without question, the kind of man that women are attracted to. And that's women of all races.
Being a widower is still a large part of Michael Holt's character. Readers will see this in Mister Terrific #1 (on sale now) in a flashback that shows this part of Michael's story. You'll also get to see later in this same issue how Paula's death affects the way Michael interacts emotionally with the women in his life. It's a bit convoluted, a bit "hot and cold," and very, very human.
K: Mister Terrific doesn't have, to note, a large or well-known rogues' gallery. Can you talk about some of the villains he'll be facing, and whether or not he'll face other types of non-costumed challenges?
EW: This series is introducing a whole new rogues' gallery for Mister Terrific. Up first is Brainstorm, a guy who literally eats intelligence in all forms. So as you can imagine, digesting a mind like Mister Terrific's will be quite the buffet. But there's another side to Brainstorm, an emotional one that's going to really screw with Mister Terrific. No spoilers here, but let me just say that after his encounter with Brainstorm … Mister Terrific will never be the same.
After Brainstorm, there are three or four other new villains that we'll meet during the first year of Mister Terrific stories. Some of these villains will be earthbound, while others will be cosmic in nature. Also, there will be one major villain who is already in Michael Holt's inner circle. Only Michael has no idea. And yes, some of the worst villains don't wear capes, they wear suits.
K: You are the only Black person writing a monthly title for either of the largest publishers in comics. Does knowing that factor into your work at all? Does being the only Black writer on a monthly title make you feel like you have a responsibility to stay employed, to keep your book afloat, for more than your own artistic and financial stability?
EW: Am I the only Black person writing for either of the big two? Hmm. I didn't know that, so I'm going to take your word for it. Does it affect me or factor into my work? No. My job is to write the best stories I possibly can. Not the best Black stories, but the best stories period. That's how I approach it. But as a diverse writer, I want to write stories that reflect the word I live in, and that's a diverse one. So yes, you'll see tons of diversity in Mister Terrific. I think that's important, especially for young readers who need to see themselves reflected in modern storytelling. Young people need heroes. Mister Terrific can hopefully be that hero for them.
As for feeling a responsibility to keep this series alive, yes I feel that – but not because of my skin color or because Mister Terrific is a Black superhero. Mister Terrific is a great character that deserves a long run in his own book. Some readers might not be so sure about that, so it's my job to convince them. And I can do that by writing great stories that show folks just how much untapped potential can blossom from this character. Because in my opinion, the sky is the limit for Mister Terrific.
K: Given how many characters of color have fallen to white characters — from Ronnie Raymond returning to the Firestorm matrix to Ryan Choi, Hector Ramirez killed by Killer Croc, Joshua Clay killed by Niles Caulder — you wouldn't be there if it were a clear racial agenda, but do you feel there's a problem in the organization, one you may be able to partially address with your work?
EW: If there was a problem — and I'm not sure there was in the way some readers thought — but if there was, then books like Mister Terrific, Blue Beetle, Batwing, and Static Shock are definitely the answer. Each one has a diverse hero in the spotlight, headlining their own book. And that's fantastic.
K: The news dropped that Eureka was going to have 13 episodes to close down shop instead of the expected 19. How did this you feel about hearing this? You told Mr. Media that you liked writing comedic moments for Salli Richardson-Whitfield, which people would recognize she could do from work like Black Dynamite and The Great White Hype. What sorts of things, in particular, do you think she does well comedically? What about Joe Morton's character Henry Deacon? When you're writing for his character, what sorts of things do you lean towards and what sorts of things do you avoid?
EW: Of course, I'm sorry to see Eureka come to an end. On the other hand, we'll have new episodes airing through Fall 2012, so there's still plenty of time to celebrate the show. Also, Season Five — our final season that airs in 2012 — is our best season. The show is really going to go out on a high note, so that's something I'm very proud to be a part of.
As for a wonderful talent like Salli, she can do anything and is just a joy to work with. No matter how much technobabble dialogue we give her, she's able to make it sound convincing. Then there are her comedic talents, which are a delight on a show like Eureka. Plus, Salli can also kick some butt in the action sequences, too. And then, in Season 4.5., she branched out into directing with "Omega Girls," and episode I co-wrote with show co-creator/executive producer Jaime Paglia. So it's not that there are particular things that Salli does well comedically. It's that she is simply good at everything!
Writing for Joe Morton and the character of Henry provide similar challenges I experience in writing for Mister Terrific. The character of Henry is the smartest guy in a town full of geniuses. Therefore, he has to come off as brilliant, but also be approachable as a human being. That's the exact balance I walk when writing Mister Terrific. So the big thing you want to avoid with both characters is making them dumb. Even when they screw up or do something that's all-too-human, it must be presented in a way that doesn't contradict their intelligence.
K: Finally, a quick round of "Who'd Win," a favorite geek pastime. We give you the characters, you tell us who'd win in a fight, one-on-one!
- Deathstroke vs. Batman
- Tattooed Man vs. Captain Cold
- Mr. Terrific vs. The Black Panther, T'Challa in a battle of wits
EW: Hmmm. It would be very, very close. But I'll say Batman, because he's smarter than Deathstroke. The next one's not even a competition. The Tattooed Man would kick Captain Cold's butt six ways to Sunday. That's not a fight. That's a slaughter! But, man … T'Challa vs. Michael Holt? Really? I have to decide this? Fine. I'll say Mister Terrific. But just barely. The Black Panther is awesome, brilliant, and one of the greatest superheroes ever. So it would be a close fight. But yeah, Mister Terrific by unanimous decision, not knockout.
Mister Terrific #1 is in stores now and you can find more from Eric Wallace on his Twitter feed.
[Image Source: Paula Yoo]