|Somehow, I think Jeff is older now...|
Many writers have looked at the various super-heroes that have entertained them throughout th years and desired to make something of them. For the majority of people who have this desire, the path leads to fanfiction. Some people actually get entrance into the hallowed halls of Marvel or DC and get to guide the lives of present day heroes. Some, like myself, Van Plexico, Lee Houston Jr. and others who have graced The Agency, have created their own super-heroic universes to play with.
And then there’s Aurora, Colorado’s Jeff Deischer.
In Deischer’s new novel The Golden Age, now available from Van’s White Rocket Books, Jeff has taken the entire Standard/Bettor/Nedor stable of super-heroes that battled evil from 1939 to 1956 and built an entire super-hero universe from the ground up in an adventure with WWII as the backdrop. Jeff finds ways to connect such disparate characters as Major Wonder, The Sphinx, The Crusader, The Black Terror, The American Eagle, and Pyroman to create a coherent world that was anathema in the Golden Age of comics. This results in a super-hero novel that is true to the Golden Age while also having the feel of a modern continuity-heavy super-hero comic universe.
So let’s take a few minutes to learn about Jeff Deischer and The Golden Age!
Jeff, welcome to The Agency!
Thanks for having me!
So tell us about how you got into comics, and what led you to write THE GOLDEN AGE....
I started reading comics about 1970, though I have a very few from before that. I was exclusively a Marvel fan, reading a combination of new stuff and Lee-Kirby reprints.
I'd being done mostly pulp stuff, both fiction and non-fiction for a few years and really wanted to do something with superheroes. After a couple of false starts, I decided the best way to market a superhero prose novel might be do use public domain characters. So after making a survey of 1940s defunct comics companies, I decided that Nedor would be best, mostly due to the large number of characters they had.
Why do you think more writers don't plumb the depths of public domain characters? There's literally hundreds, maybe thousands of characters a writer can make something out of lying around for the asking!
I don't know. It hadn't seriously occurred to me until I'd read Dynamite's Project Superpowers series, which I thought was the most interesting comics idea in some years. The current trend of comics mostly turns me off. It seems like it's all about a new idea and a quick buck, rather than good, old-fashioned storytelling.
The thing I loved about your mining of Nedor is the sheer width and bredth of the characters you unearthed--I mean, who could believe that there was a character as oddball as The Reaper running around in the Golden Age of Comics?
Yeah, thanks. From the start, my intent was to introduce and entire universe of characters, not just one and then explore his milieu through only his eyes. I think that's what intrigued me about Project Superpowers, to some degree -- there's all these different characters, from diverse companies and background. It was like opening a present every issue! I didn't really think of this on a practical level, but one advantage is that there must be some character that a reader will like, with all the variety.
Yeah, and I liked how you made some connections between them-particularly how you kind of put Major Wonder. Pyroman and The Crusader together as one branch of the Nedor family tree.
Given that so many of the characters you were working with were tabula rasas--being in some cases a costume, a power set and a secret identity--how much did you add to the way the characters were presented to flesh them out?
To begin with, I started with very few preconceived notions. Originally, I knew very little about any of the characters. I found a few online sources (Wikipedia being one of them, and maybe International Heroes), which gave only names, maybe a civilian name, maybe a photo of a costume and maybe a foe. So I basically filled in everything else in most cases. Then, when I was about 3/4 of the way through the manuscript, I found Comic Books Plus website, which has many, many issues of the old Nedor comics. I spot-checked some stories, and made a few changes based on when I found, but not many -- I liked what I'd developed and didn't want to rewrite the manuscript from the start. And because the Golden Age stories what they were -- long on plot and short on characterization I really didn't have to change much. Introducing so many characters didn't allow me to get into supporting cast, which is really what the comics turned up more than anything.
Speaking of your cast--it is MASSIVE! How did you keep track of everybody while advancing the plot of the Gold Dragon Society's creation of Project: Sakura?
I used 22 characters, not counting 2 sidekicks. I started with the overall progression of the Dragon Society's scheme, and then plugged heroes in as I felt they could fit. For example, having the villains arrive on the Wesrt Coast (as might be expected), allowed me to use West Coast heroes. Ditto the Africa and European locales. With most of my heroes in NYC, that's where things got a bit tricker. But I had a master list of characters I wanted to use, so had something to work with there. You might notice that Doc Marvel gets a chapter and half that has nothing to do with Sakura -- but I wanted to include him in the book, so found a way to tie him in. It was easier than you think, probably. Characterization was just as important as plot to me.
Was there any character who 'broke out' as you wrote him or her, someone who ended up with a larger part to play in the story?
Until I got to plotting the finale, I didn't who it would star. In the first draft of the plot, it was just "some heroes". But as I got to outlining the ending -- the outline containing specifics of who does what, for those who don't know the difference between a plot and an outline -- I saw that I could keep using Major Wonder and Pyroman, who'd starred in the previous two chapters, and then logically tie them to the Crusader -- thereby giving symmetry by ending the story with the hero who had begun it. But the breakout "star" to me is the Reaper, whom several people have told is their favorite character. He's mine, too, if I had to choose one.
He's just so....weird, although I suppose he falls into the tradition of The Psychic Detective that includes Dr. Occult on one side and Kolchak and John Constantine on the other....
So since you wanted to give these characters actual character...how did you approach making each of your Terrific Two Dozen distinctive for the readers?
To answer your other question, what I tried to do with each and every character was to figure out what I thought made them who they were, that is, unique as a character, then build upon that. I tried to make them more realistic, more logical. So a lot of the minor changes I made I'd probably have made even if I'd had access to all the stories before I started the project -- maybe they'd be different, as I try to use as much of the original material as possible for inspiration (in later volumes that I've been working on), but I'd still discard or rearrange bits that I feel don't fit. Readers are more mature today than they were 60 years ago, and they expect characterization and realism.
How realistic did you want the WWII backdrop of the story, given that some of these characters have real life events like Pearl Harbor as part of their origin?
I'm no expert on the period, but I'm knowledgeable. I used what I knew, then did research to fill in the blanks for what I didn't know. I used a lot of real-life material in small ways.
I'm assuming the Hood and the Golden Dragon were two separate personages in the original stories--what made you fuse these two villains into one?
Neither appeared in the original stories. I hadn't read any of the original stories until the first draft was 3/4 finished. So all of the villains with the exception of the Tankonaut, are my own creation.
And the Hood was a Black Dragon, not the Gold Dragon.
And I would have thought the Tankonaut was the original one...he seemed like a take-off on the Juggernaut!
"He" started off as a flying tank in the original story, and I wanted an honest-to-god supervillain, so I spruced him up a bit.
The Tankonaut does provide a moment of comic relief during a period where the book is getting kind of grim...
That was on purpose, of course.
Now at the end of this novel, you have an entire, coherent super-hero universe. Did you do this with the idea of taking your characters further down their timeline, maybe even past the 1956 date when Nedor ceased publication?
Yeah, there will be many, many future volumes. I have about 30 planned, some which will take raeders to other times and other worlds, but most will occur in the "golden age" -- 1939-56.
I know that a rare handful of the Nedor characters have had previous revivals--I'm reminded of the Beau Smith Black Terror, for example. What do you hope readers coming to your novel will get from your versions that others haven't provided?
Well, it's both authentic pulp and authentic superheroes. I haven't read the BT you mention: I read the Chuck Dixon version and liked it -- but he wasn't a superhero. So the book should appeal to anyone who likes pulp adventure or superheroes.
That's the great thing about the novel--the way it successful straddles both genres--and both the 'golden age' and silver age' sensibilities--while seeming thoroughly authentic.
Thanks. I started with the idea of comics coming out of the pulp era, and wrote it like it was being told in the Silver Age, (as far as plot and characterization) when I read comics, but with a pulp narrative.
And it does come off as very silver age--sort of like reading an issue of THE INVADERS did back in the 70's.
Give the massive cast you've fleshed out, have you thought about letting other writers play in your toybox, writing stories of some of the characters who were more in the background of this story?
I have, particularly the other worlds stories, so that they will have a different feel from "my" Earth. Also possibly the other time period books, so that I can concentrate on the golden age. I'd have no objection of stories by other writers, if there was an interest for it, and Van [Plexico, publisher] wanted to ride herd on such a project.
Speaking of Van--he has his own little super-hero universe...have you talked about, somewhere down the line, a...ahem...Crisis on Two Earths?
Nope. I think we're both much too busy to think about that now. But I do have the history of the Auric Universe worked out from millions of years ago to 500 years in the future.
You say you've got thirty new stories to tell--want to give the readers of The Agency some hints as to what lies in the future of the Auric Universe?
Future volume will focus on characters who either didn't get much space in TGA, or who are popular. I know that the Black Terror is popular and he's set to star in at least two novels set in 1949. The second volume, Mystico, should be out next month, and starts the AU's mystic heroes, who team up to fight Nazis looking for a mystical object in the US in 1940. Volume 3 (Dark of the Moon) stars fringe characters who weren't seen in TGA; these are civilian heroes and has very strong ties to earlier popular fiction. It is connected to Lost World, First Men in the Moon, Frankenstein, and others.
I'm working on volume 4 now, Crusader, which covers the first year of the Crusader's career
So we'll be seeing more of The Sphinx, The Scarab and the other mystic characters we meet in the second act of THE GOLDEN AGE? Dare I hope for a Reaper solo book somewhere?
The Scarab debuted after the events of Mystico. It stars Haldor, the Sphinx, the Reaper, Theseus, the Oracle, the Ghost and Spectro the Mind Reader. And one of the enemies ... super Heydrich! It starts in ancient Spain, with Percival encountering Klingsor, from "Parzifal".
A Reaper novel? No plans at this time.
That's okay...the idea of The Reaper interacting with Theseus, who is...odd...should be fun enough!
Each character gets their origin told. It also covers the Knights Templar and there's a lot of weird, true stuff in it. It's sort of the AU verion of The Da Vinci Code.
Jeff, is there anything else you'd like to alert the denizens of The Agency to?
In addition to future volumes of The Golden Age series, I'm working on two other superhero books this year, one set in the present and the other using more public domain characters. I'm acting as editor and plotter of that book, which will be three parallel, concurrent comic book series in prose form.
Cool. hopefully when these new projects reach fruition, you can return to our humble abode....
Be glad to. I'm glad you liked the book and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about it.
You’re welcome, Jeff, and thank you so much for stopping by The Agency! THE GOLDEN AGE is available through Amazon, and White Rocket Books.