Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Elongated Man: Sword of Opal City

As part of DC’s “One Year Later” event, Scipio Garling and Devon Sanders will helm an all-new take on one of the mainstays of the DCU, and when the creators and DC say “all-new,” they mean it. We caught up with Garling for more information on the upcoming stories of the detective (?) of Opal City and just what might be going on in the months to come. First off, that more than a mouthful of a title...

“The new title was my suggestion,” revealed Garling, “and I wanted to do it to clearly signify, right from the logo on down, that this is a different approach, this is a break with what's been going on and a new direction, a new flavor. I'm glad to have seen so many people assuming that the title means more of a Hep & Hipster direction, because that means the title works -- that's exactly the impression we want to give."

The writer explained this new take on the Elongated Man will be more of a dark hipster adventure book … “with clove cigarettes, poets, murky coffee bars, jazz, beatniks, hepcats and more, all taking advantage of that Opal City setting that makes the “hipscape” practically an alien world, full of mystery and wonder,” Garling said.

”But it's not just Hep & Hipstery,” he continued. “There's also science, corporate skullduggery and the occasional superhero in the mix. Think of it as Hep & Hipster if the next city over is a fully-industrialized hi-tech planned community with gates and guards and worse ... schools of children.”

Before Garling goes too far, however, one thing he wanted to reveal upfront (“I should rip the rubber band off fast for longtime Ralph-fans), is that this Elongated Man stars a “new guy” … Jimmy Olsen.

”So in that sense, it's the start of something brand-new -- a new hero, setting out on new adventures. The sword is a metaphor for Jimmy’s pen, since he puts aside his camera and begins to cover the hip scene in Opal, stretching himself as a reporter – literally!” But Garling was also sure to point out at the same time, he and Sanders are not scrapping any of the past history of the Elongated Man, of Opal City, and of all the mythology that's built up around the stretchable sleuth’s world over the years.

”It all happened, it's all still out there,” Garling explained. “Sue’s charred corpse with the tiny footprints in its brain, Hamilton Drew, his brother Ken, Sonar, Catherine Colbert, Duke Donald ... we're not throwing anything away, even if we don't necessarily use it all right away. And we're not killing Ralph (the current Elongated Man), not making him a villain, not scrapping him -- in time, he'll turn up again, and his story is anything but over.”

As for the new series’ setting... ”Suffice it to say that Opal City is hit pretty hard in Infinite Crisis, and its status is anything but quo,” Garling revealed. “Huge upheavals on the Opal citycape, and a chaotic situation full of danger, opportunity, war, political maneuvering and more. Beatnik poets are coming out of the woodwork, the conceptual painters are on the march, performance artists have been disturbed, art theory abounds, and lots more.

”Into that, we drop our new Elongated Man -- an outsider to Opal City, a square from Metropolis, dropped into this rich and complex hipster setting. And he's going to have to figure out his path, find his place in this world as he goes. By the end of our first issue, he'll be traveling with two companions -- the Shoveler of the Scat, a mysterious and not-entirely-trustworthy bop musician who's essentially appointed himself our guy's guardian and guide on the hipster's path, and Knockout, the old Superboy villain -- a vicious lesbian who's the leader of the dyke avantgarde. Why the Shoveler is helping Jimmy, and why Knockout is partnered up with anybody are things we'll learn more about as time rolls on.”

In writing the series, Garling explained he’s using the kind of “zany hepcat muscles” he’s had fun with on the internet’s Absorbascon. ”It's hep-fantasy, but its own flavor,” he said of the new series. “But I do want this Elongated Man to be much more an adventuring coolcat, much less a conventional detective. But that's only part of it. The hipscape is rich in possibilities, rich in exploitable artists, and that means that corporate entertainment interests are looking the Opal’s way, too. The way I look at it, the hipscape is a fantasy realm in chaos, facing internal troubles, but also threats from both above and below -- from above in the form of corporate and other art-stifling interests like Warner Brothers that want to exploit or otherwise profit from recognizable commodities like say, Aquaman, and from below in the form of dark and dadaesque forces that have been confined to the coffee bars of Opal … until now.

”Think of it as a world trapped between the forces of Duchamps and Arp on one side, and Madonna and Will Smith on the other, with a few superheroes and supervillains thrown in for good measure. And Jimmy Olsen, the new Elongated Man -- a new hipster, unsure of his role and of just who the good and bad guys are in all this -- is stuck in the middle.”

Garling explained that it was a mixture of factors that led him to use Jimmy Olsen as opposed to continuing the adventures of Ralph. ”Mostly, it's to have a fresh start,” he responded, “and not to constantly be dealing with some of the narrative problems that have plagued Ralph over the years.”

”I think there's an inherent problem with detectives who are broken widowers,” Garling went on to explain. “Not an insurmountable problem, but it's there, and it's got to be dealt with. Widowers aren't supposed to go and have adventures -- they're supposed to stay home and talk to their dead wives’ pillows. The thing is, killing the wife is usually the end of the story -- the hero's punishment, at which point it's time for ‘sadly ever after’. But in serial adventure, you gotta keep going. And I don't think it's any coincidence that the Elongated Man, as a character, appeared regularly until the series that set him up as the widower of Opal, had him lose a beautiful wife,and start talking to himself, in general accomplished all the stuff a widower gets to do at the end of the story. That's not to say that it's impossible to write the adventures of a widower well. Some people have managed it nicely, like Geoff John’s run on Mr. Terrific. But I don't want to just do what they already did, so I want to try solving that problem a different way -- by starting out fresh, with a guy who hasn't already lost it all. The new Elongated Man gets to start out on top, and anything he loses will be an accomplishment, a new tragedies, new defeats-- not gaining something he enver used to have or fighting to improve the old status quo. Or at least, it'll work that way as long as the Shoveler doesn't -- ah, but that'd be telling. And hey, I haven't mentioned Viagra, or the Nights of the Rented Porno Flick, or the suburb of Coral City, or...”

Asked to explain how the idea of a new Elongated Man came together (did DC force Jimmy Olsen on him, like they did Jack Kirby?), Garling explained the secret origin of The Elongated Man: Sword of Opal City. Garling explained how he’s been “intrigued” how the Elongated has "slowly, slowly" been changed over time, until becoming what the writer feels is almost a “complete reversal” of the original idea. ”The original Elongated Man, back in the Silver Age, was a self-promoting dork, a human being chemically-augmented to be stretchable,” Garling explained. “I thought it'd be an interesting exploration to start with something more like that original idea, and plunge him into the world that's built up around the other guy over all these years, and see what happens. Jimmy Olsen was the obvious choice.”

”We start One Year Later, of course,” continued Garling. “And we start at the very moment our new Elongated Man is dropped into the hipster world. So you'll get to see his rise to prominence as it happens. As for Ralph, well, you'll see some hints of what's coming, but we won't tell you instantly where he is and what's going on with him. He will turn up in time, though, and we'll learn what happened, what it means and how it'll affect the book, the character and the hipscape over time. More than that, I cannot say.”


Anonymous said...

I'd read it.

Walaka said...

I just used "A Modest Proposal" in my 101 class, and I passed on to the students a quote I came across that the essay is "widely believed to be the greatest example of sustained irony in the history of the English language."

That should be amended to "one of the greatest" now.


Amy said...

I've got to find a way to work "hipscape" into my everyday speech.

Anonymous said...

You should write for Newsarama.

Captain Infinity said...

Don't be giving DC any ideas...

Scipio said...

Cap: Apparently they could use some.

Blender: That's cruel and unusual!

Amy: Start with "Welcome to my hipscape!". You'll become immediately popular.

Walaka: Gosh, thanks! Guess I'm swifter than I thought.

Eyeball: So would twice as many people as will read "Sword of Atlantis".

Anonymous said...

Are you going to make it a regullar feature of the absorbascon? Next you could do sword of (whoever wins the poll).

Bully said...

But this IS the DC character who's going to be pregnant one year later, right?

Ragnell said...

bully -- given that it's Jimmy Olsen, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the big deal is.

You claim to love this character so much, and yet you're actually upset that DC has hired one of the best writers in the business to revamp him? As I understand it, he's been wallowing in second-tierdom for some time. Shouldn't you be glad that he's getting a much-needed boost?

I actually read two of the most recent issues, and the current writer is quite clearly phoning in a lot of corporate shit. You'd really prefer that over the guy responsible for Astro City?

Perhaps the real problem is Angry Possessive Fanboy Syndrome; you're upset at the thought of all these new people reading about your character.

And next time? You might want to play to your strengths and go for the short and fast comedy.

Anonymous said...

Are you all sure this is Scipio being ironic and not an actual DC press realese?

Scipio said...

"My character"?

Well, um, no. This book isn't about "my character" at all, although I'm told he might crop up eventually as a bit player in the comic book that has his name on it.

"You'd really prefer that over the guy responsible for Astro City?"

Yes. Astro City is flimsy, hollow superhero parody as social commentary, and the only thing I ever actually returned to the store to request a refund for.

"And next time? You might want to play to your strengths and go for the short and fast comedy."

Next time, you might want to play to your own strengths -- raving about videogames, superheroes, the state of the Australian film industry, Grant Morrison’s brain and the weather -- instead of commenting here.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

"Beatnik poets are coming out of the woodwork..."

We had that problem in my old apartment building a few years back. You can spray for 'em, clears 'em right out.

It's creepy to wake up in the night and hear them skitter around, getting into the cabinets, whispering "daddy-o," and saying that they're with me in Rockland. Yeeg.

Anonymous said...

Good reply. Copy-pasting the first line of my blog must have taken a lot of thought.

Actually, I felt the need to comment here because I really like your blog. You're clearly witty and smart, and I enjoy reading your stuff.

Admittedly, I'm relatively new to comics fandom. But the way I see it, there's only about five or six really excellent writers working in the whole damn medium. You'd think most readers would want to support those creators, lest they move on to a medium that pays better.

It seems a little suspicious that you tend to single those few writers out to complain about. It feels like playing the underdog; pointing out the tiny flaws in the big names while ignoring the morass of shit writers out there.

'Pseudo-science' in a Grant Morrison book? Comics should be based on reality! Also, he has too many ideas!

Kurt Busiek changed a character's direction and added 'sword' to the title? It's the end of the world! Man, I hate that Kurt Busiek. What was that award-winning book he did - the one everyone loves? Astro City? Yeah, I hate that too!

I could be wrong, of course. I just find it hard to understand a superhero fan not enjoying Astro City or All-Star Superman.

But you seem to prefer Silver Age stuff over just about anything coming out right now. What DO you like?

And are all new comics readers doomed to become cynical and nostalgic after ten years in the hobby? Just wondering. I'll have to prepare myself for it.

Scipio said...

"Copy-pasting the first line of my blog must have taken a lot of thought."

More than went into your original comment, it seems.

" I'm not sure what the big deal is." =
"Admittedly, I'm relatively new to comics fandom."

When you are NOT relatively new to comics, you may realize that writers DIE. Bob Kane does not matter; Batman matters (well, as much as any comic book matters).

I'm confident that if DC (or Marvel) looked for good writers who wanted to write the characters they have instead of altering their characters to fit that year's hot writer, they could find them.

Eventually, the characters themselves might actually become stars rather than just the writers. And some new writers would become famous through their association with the characters, instead of vice versa.

"You'd think most readers would want to support those creators, lest they move on to a medium that pays better."

Oh, dear. Without our "great writers", comic books will have no credibility and then will have to be embarrassed about reading them again! We must support them even when they write stuff we hate.

You do that. I'll be right here.

"But you seem to prefer Silver Age stuff over just about anything coming out right now."

Okay, THAT just made me laugh. No, I don't prefer it; perhaps the irony in my Silver Age commentary isn't obvious enough. Probably because I stick too much to my strengths by writing "short and funny".

But those who do not remember the Silver Age are condemned to repeat it.

Which, come to think of it, explains All-Star Superman.

Scipio said...

"It's creepy to wake up in the night and hear them skitter around, getting into the cabinets, whispering "daddy-o"

Daddy-o-legs; the stuff of nightmares.

Scipio said...

"Actually, I felt the need to comment here because I really like your blog. You're clearly witty and smart, and I enjoy reading your stuff."

Thank you -- seriously. That's nice of you to say, and nice for me to hear.

I'm sorry. I was so eager to snap at you, I forgot to say 'thank you', which was rude and wrong of me.

Anonymous said...

No problem.

And for what it's worth: Sorry about the 'play to your strengths' line in my original post. That was a bit un-called-for. Your post was actually funny.

I think we just have very different viewpoints on writer vs. character. There's really no other medium I can think of that holds the creations in higher regard than the creators (TV perhaps, with rotating writers? Although showrunners like Sorkin, Abrams and Whedon are pretty popular in their own right).

You seem to be suggesting that DC and Marvel keep their writers tied down a lot more; have them stick to a predefined 'Bible' version of the character they're writing. Like you said: alter the writer instead of having the writer altering the character. Surely that would be a step backwards for the industry?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth - and it's worth precious little - I agree with Scipio on the issue of writing for the character. A good writer can use the character as is, and write a story for the character they have, rather than bucking everything that's gone before and reworking it. I think Aquaman in particular is a classic example of being constantly reworked to fit this year's hot new writer.
Not that Kurt Busiek is this year's hot new writer, but you get what I'm saying. What you see with Aquaman, and also pretty consistently with, say, Wonder Woman, is a character that writers aren't afraid to rework.

At the moment, we have an Aquaman who is actually starting to read like a superhero and a functional part of the DC universe, regardless of what people think of Will Pfeifer or whatever, for the first time in years. I can read Aquaman at the moment and say, "yes, I can see why he's involved with aspects of the larger DC universe and isn't just basically a blond, less annoying version of Namor". The character now feels more centred, more whole, and in Sub Diego has an area he has more of a concrete sense of responsibility for than he did for any of the numerous reworkings of Atlantis that, over the years, he's technically ruled or been exiled from or had usurped from him or whatever. At the moment he feels responsible for people, rather than for a plot device. I don't think I've read much else of Pfeifer's work, but his Aquaman is a solid piece that incorporates the backstory of the character while at the same time making it a unique take on the superhero genre.
Disclaimer: My favourite writer is Geoff Johns.

naladahc said...

It looks like we'll be getting Sword of Nightwing too.

Scipio said...

"You seem to be suggesting that DC and Marvel keep their writers tied down a lot more; have them stick to a predefined 'Bible' version of the character they're writing. Like you said: alter the writer instead of having the writer altering the character. Surely that would be a step backwards for the industry?"


But, you know...

they used to sell a lot more comics that way.


Scipio said...

"At the moment, we have an Aquaman who is actually starting to read like a superhero and a functional part of the DC universe etc....."

Martin; thank you for saying what I meant to say, but much much better that I have. That is exactly the point (of one of them) that I have been trying to convey.

Scipio said...


Jesus. H. Christ. You're not kidding.

That really IS "Nightwing: Sword of Bludhaven".

Thank goodness for the new "less dark" DCU!

Anonymous said...

"It looks like we'll be getting Sword of Nightwing too."

That's it, I'm reading Marvel

Haute Corbeille said...

This might be just me, but it seems to me that the way it used to be, when a new writer wanted to come on board and bring some new ideas to a character, they would do it in the form of a supporting cast member or a new villain, and basically leave the title character alone. That way they were free to address whatever concepts they wanted without mucking up the main property. And it worked, because when a new writer would come on board, they could keep what they liked and get rid of the rest, while still not messing up the original character. I don't feel like I see that happening as much today, when writers are more free to change the core concepts, and no one wants to create new characters that they don't have an ownership stake in (which I completely understand and agree with, I just wish the companies were willing to share the wealth a bit).

Scipio said...

Kyle, you are KILLING me, LOL!

Anonymous said...

I like the new idea ok enough and I like KB, but I liked Aquaman long before either of those.

Anonymous said...

Four words:

Vibe: Sword of Detroit

Greatest. Book. Evah.

Bill Reed said...

I am the world's #2 Elongated Man fan!

And I'd still read this.

Take that.