With the first volume of Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye hitting stores on June 28, I’d like to draw your attention to the Super Powers comics I did that are included in their own section in the back of the book. There wasn’t room for the “director’s commentary” that usually accompanies my work, so I’d like to do that right here, right now.

After flying high from my experience working on Transformers vs. G.I.Joe with John Barber, I wanted to do something along those lines for Marvel and DC, to reinvent their universes in a self-contained series, like I did with the Hasbro-verse.  I contacted Gerard Way about the possibility of me doing Super Powers for his new line of books at DC. Gerard pitched the idea and got the green light for a 4-page backup in Doom Patrol, the flagship book of his Young Animal line. As things progressed, the 4 pages were reduced to 3 and it went from Doom Patrol to Cave Carson. Being part of Cave Carson was fine with me, but the limitation of 3 pages is a tough challenge. 4 pages is doable, but it’s difficult to get any kind of momentum going in just 3 pages. The solution I came up with was to do hyper-compressed panel layouts. The limitations of the assignment gave me an interesting puzzle to solve.

Me and Gerard would text stuff back and forth. I’d send my sketches and story ideas, he’d comment and make suggestions. I had so much fun working on this series, but that was by far the most enjoyable phase: the raw creativity.

During the writing process I needed to SEE what I was doing so I drew this proof-of-concept page:

This gathering of the troops sequence would precede an all-out invasion of the planet Apokolips. They’d do a Death Star run across the planet, and blow up the whole place in a fiery Hellikost. I like how Batgirl calls Martian Manhunter “Marsha” and the way her personality manifests itself in this sequence. After showing DC this, I was told that most of the characters on this page wouldn’t be available to me. If you’re doing something called Super Powers, it should feature the Justice League and the New Gods, like Jack Kirby’s original Super Powers comics. I set about the new challenge of figuring out different ways to interpret the Super Powers concept within these new parameters. After some negotiation, I was given some wiggle room to include some of these characters, but to keep my focus on the D-listers, like Squirrel Green Lantern.

I wrote several concepts involving various characters. I had to dig deep. The DC catalogue of characters has been mined to depletion. I found a trio of characters I thought could be the core of it, pictured in the center of the composition below. Arin the Armored Man and Flipper Dipper were obscure Kirby creations and Komac, the Kryptonian One Man Army Corps, was my riff on Jack Kirby’s Omac, with some of Superman’s DnA spliced in. Composite Superman, Warden Frye, from Jack Kirby’s In the Days of the Mob, Kamara and a Legion of Four-Armed Terrors would be led by the evil Sphinx, a character I dug up and dusted off from an old Kirby Sci-fi comic from the 50’s. Gerard told me his favorite character in this was my bmx-riding Batgirl, and his wife’s favorite was Virgin Mary Marvel (who unfortunately never made it into the series). I put together this image for the announcement of the series at New York Comicon last year. It would’ve also served as the wraparound cover for a proposed oversized collection of Super Powers.
As the writing process went on, the Wonder Twins started having a greater and greater role in the script. I thought maybe the best thing would be to just focus on them. They are iconic characters thanks to their role on the Super Friends cartoon series, to the point that even non-comics fans have some awareness of them, and nobody’s really done anything with them. It was a great creative opportunity. I wrote an elaborate bildungsroman for them that would take them on a journey across the universe to the distant semi-mythical planet Earth. The series would end right where their first Super Friends TV appearance begins.

Gerard requested that BMX Batgirl appear in the first installment, and I gladly obliged. I wove her into the tale and tested the A-list waters by including cameos by Superman and Batman, too. After that script got approved I thought that since I was given the green light to use Superman and Batman, maybe I should save them for something juicier than the comic relief dudes-in-distress I’d originally cast them as. I continued rewriting. I saw a way I could slowly roll out my original vision of a massive re-invention of the DC Universe created in my image, 3 pages at a time. These stories take place on Earth 5C10L1 in the DC Multiverse. I wrote 3 years worth of stories for Super Powers and a New Gods OGN, just in case I ever got the opportunity.

I’m very proud of this page. It was a new direction for me, a 7×7 panel grid, which I’d never seen in a comic before. BMX Batgirl was inspired by a fusion of 60’s Batgirl on her motorcycle, and the 80’s aesthetic which I think is a big ingredient in the original Super Powers. There’s also probably a little of Jim Rugg’s skateboard-riding superhero Street Angel in there, too. I thought it would be interesting to bring the Joker in without showing his face, even though his face is all over this comic as the grill of the Joke Machine. The Joker doesn’t talk, either. His sentient mallet, a gift from Darkseid based on a derivative of the dentient Motherbox technology, does the talking for him. I envisioned the Joker living in a dark Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Syd and Marty Kroft world of talking mallets and talking couches that eat people who sit on them. By including this Batgirl page, it changed the rhythm of the series, where it would alternate between the Wonder Twin’s pampered life on planet Exxor and the doings of the superheroes of Earth, whose adventures the twins watched via a time and space spanning crystal. Flipper Dipper was no longer a central character in the story, but I still had a role for him. Captain Marvel Junior makes his appearance here. Shazam’s Marvel Family always had a Picture Stories From the Bible feel to it. Maybe its the inclusion of Solomon and the seven deadly sins. Part of the puzzle I was putting together was trying to fit as much as I could into a limited space and try to keep it legible. The Thaddeus Brown Mister Miracle sequence at the bottom fits an entire miniseries into one panel. “Who’s Who” is the sound effect from the train whistle.

Arin the Armored Man appeared in a two-page backup story by Jack Kirby. To the best of my knowledge that was his only appearance, but I could be wrong. There are a lot of DC comics I haven’t read. In Kirby’s story, Arin heads into space carrying a backpack holding Superman’s DnA. I wondered what form that might take. A blood sample in a cylinder? The story didn’t specify. What if the DnA sample was the corpse of a Superman clone? And by not directly stating that it’s a clone, it makes the reader wonder if that’s actually Superman’s dismembered corpse in that backpack. Superman never makes an appearance in the series so maybe that IS Superman.

This Green Arrow origin is maybe the most popular page in the whole series. I wrote similar one-page origins for Red Tornado and The Green Lantern which remain unpublished. I fused elements of Jack Kirby’s classic origin story for Oliver Queen and some other elements from his brief run on the character.

Incorporating Xeen Arrow into Green Arrow’s origin was inspired by the role of Guntag Borghelm and his “key harmonic” from Alan Moore’s Miracleman.

Gerard told me that early on in the curation of the Young Animal line, he wanted me to do a Demon series, but that the character was unavailable. I remembered Alan Moore and Joe Orlando’s Phantom Stranger origin story that featured Etrigan the Angel. It’s one of those things that seems simple and makes total sense, but it takes a genius like Moore to point it out: like all demons, Kirby’s Demon began life as an angel. I wrote a superhero action adventure for the character. But what does a superhero fight at a time when even Satan is an angel? I figured it would have to be something Lovecraftian.  I was weaving an elaborate Bayeaux tapestry of the DC Universe.

Wonder Woman and Lassie the Lasso make their entrance. I like this whole invisible jet sequence. The Green Lantern Corps take control of Earth. I thought it would be interesting to play up the horror in the appearance of this colonialist army of space monsters. That’s not IG-88, it’s Stel of Grenda.

This was a turning point for the series and maybe its best page. Harley Quinn has confiscated Wonder Woman’s clothes whom the Joker’s army has tied up with her own lasso. The Green Lanterns and The Joketroopers have their turf war. Solomon Grundy is an albino Incredible Hulk. I wanted to have a scene where after the fight, the Oans offer Batman a power ring and he tells them “Get the fuck off my planet” but there just wasn’t enough room.

I didn’t get to continue this story, where Brainiac nurses a wheelchair-bound Supergirl back to health. They fall in love, but when Supergirl’s Superfriends show up to “rescue” her, they kill Brainiac.

Captain Marvel Junior has come down from his crucifiction, bearing the stigmata. Friends from Supertown, Super Friends, descend from the sky. It was the thrill of a lifetime to finally officially draw my favorite characters, Jack Kirby’s New Gods.

I tweaked the designs of The Forever People, except for Mark Moonrider, whose design is pretty much perfect already. I gave Serifan Tom Baker’s scarf. I’m particularly proud of how Beautiful Dreamer turned out.

The Wonder Twins are en route to Earth and their first appearance in the Superfriends. The story of Super Powers has ended, for now. I hope to return to it one day, like Kirby with New Gods.