Writing Superheroes With A Twist
Portsmouth Comic Con 2019 is only three months away and here’s a spotlight post on one of the show’s US guests, Steve Englehart…
Arriving at Marvel Comics in the early 1970s, Steve Englehart worked for Roy Thomas on various secondary titles before co-creating the Defenders while also taking over the Avengers in 1972, where he immediately had an impact, his cutting edge storytelling elevating both titles.
Further fan-favourite series that followed were Doctor Strange and Master of Kung Fu, co-created with Jim Starlin. Englehart’s writing chimed with Marvel’s readership as well as critics, capturing the spirit of an age that differed considerably from the previous decade. His best work for Marvel was on Captain America, which focused on a conflicted Steve Rogers, who no longer understood his place in the America he was meant to represent. His key storylines included the resolution of the 1950s iteration of the character with continuity, along with Rogers creating a new persona for himself in the form of the Nomad.
Englehart played a major role in revamping Captain America and his dramatis personae as he explained in an interview with Newsarama in 2017:”I had no idea when I came up with the reinvention concept that I was defining the character for the next half-century. As far as Nomad goes, it was a combination of everything I’d been doing in my run. After he watches this villain kill himself in the White House, I asked myself if he could just go back to being Captain America, and the answer I came up with is “No, not really. Not right away.” It was very much a situation where the characters are telling me where the story is gonna go.
So the only thing I could think of is that he’d give up being Captain America. When he became Cap, Steve signed up for something that is no longer true. Jumping back to when I first got the book, one of the big complaints at the time was that he was a guy draped in the flag, and audiences were not into that. So I thought “OK, here he is with this flag still on his chest, but the president killed himself.”
His move to DC in the late 70s proved to be another high point for the writer, his eight issue run in Detective Comics a superbly noirish, retro work that both recalled and transcended the Golden Age Batman tales of Kane, Finger and Robinson. It was easily as crucial to the Batman canon as the Adams, Miller and Bolland versions. Like Thomas, Englehart was and remains a fan of the medium who went on to push it forward and is as celebrated a figure as his colleague.
Englehart talked about how his seminal run on Detective Comics came to fruition from 13th Dimension Comics back in 2013: “I had left Marvel and was planning to go travel in Europe for a year, when DC’s new publisher, Jenette Kahn, called and asked me to come have lunch. She had inherited a company which had lost almost all of its stars to Marvel and needed to play catch up big time, so she went after me. Work-wise, she wanted me to fix all of their heroes, by way of Justice League. I told her I could only give her a year before I went to Europe, and yeah, I’d see what I could do with the JLA crew, but I also wanted to write the Batman in his own series because he’d been a favourite since I was a kid, seeing Dick Sprang’s dazzling art.
“I did not meet Marshall, or Terry Austin, or (letterer) John Workman until I got back from Europe nine months later. I had to get all my scripts done before I left (both the ones I’d planned, and the various others DC kept asking me to slip in, like Mister Miracle), so I was diligent about my work. I was also in California.
“So I wrote my scripts not knowing who was going to draw them. The odds were, it would be two journeymen, because as I say, the big names had mostly moved across town. So, I tried to make my scripts as bullet-proof as possible, and hoped for the best. I even asked that the panel borders be thicker than normal, to add more black to the page. That’s how into it I was.
“But then I dropped those scripts into the void, as far as I was concerned. Six months later, in a small village in Majorca, Spain, I got a package with the first printed books from editor Julie Schwartz, and opened them up, and I honestly said, ‘Thank you, God.’
Englehart has not been over to a UK convention in a number of years.
We are pleased to welcome him to Portsmouth for the first time. Tickets for the Portsmouth Comic Con are available online here