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Bill Messner-Loebs: A Career Retrospective (Part IV)

By Darren Schroeder

Darren Schroeder and Bill Messner-Loebs return after a week's hiatus to provide us with the pen-ultimate chapter of their discussion. This week they provide us with an insight into Bill's Wonder Woman, touching on both the regular titile and the Elseworld's Amazonia.

Darren Schroeder: You portrayed Wonder Woman as having an unwavering concern for other women, even her avowed enemies. How did you keep this from becoming trite sentimentalism on her part?

William Messner-Loebs:I guess we're assuming that I did. Well, if I did, part of it was that I played Diana as being her real age, which was about 17, I think. I think idealism is pretty real at that age. Also, There is a difference between concern for someone and not even noticing their faults. Diana usually noticed; she just overlooked things she saw as relatively minor. In much the same way, frontiers people would overlook a lot of really eccentric behavior, because other humans were at such a premium in the wilderness.

DS: Gosh, 17 seems quite young for her but I can see how that works in her behavior. Seems a bit tough on a 17 year old to go out into the patriarchy and try to make a difference.
BML: Yep. I always thought the Amazons were kind of hard graders.

DS: What was the intention behind sending Diana off on a journey to the stars?
BML:The intention was of showing her being self-reliant and a leader, if she was stripped of all the supportive infrastructure George had so carefully built up. Also I didn't want to have to learn the voices and juggle all the rather extensive supporting cast while I was trying to find Diana's voice. Mark Waid ignored most of my supporting cast on Flash for the same (excellent) reason.

DS: The quote at the start of each issue, did you have a collection of them in advance of writing or did you search them out as you needed them?
BML: Umm... I made them up. All of them. It was SO much easier then doing research.

DS: Wow, that's so naughty :-) Did your editors know that?
BML: Yep, again. They asked me the same thing after the first six months. They thought it was a hoot.

DS: Issue 75 had a very moving sequence where the junky sacrifices his life in an effort to save the life of the police woman, and in the same issue Wonder Woman suffers injury while trying to help someone. Do you believe that redemption always comes at a cost?
BML: Well, I think by definition. If you're "redeeming" something, even yourself, you're paying for it WITH something. Or somebody is. Thus the Christian notion of Christ's death as payment for the sis of the world.

DS: So doing good in itself isn't enough?
BML: Not for redemption; let me hasten to add tho - it IS good enough for me, personally. We're talking strict definition here.

DS: You blew up Themyscira!!! Wasn't that just asking for all the fan-boys to burn your effigy from the tallest tree?
BML: Oh, yes. I've been pretty much punished for all my better ideas in comics, either by my readers, or by my editors. Seriously, though, you have to blow up your written world one way or the other, at some point or nothing will ever really grow in it. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is a series that uses change brilliantly, to advance character.

DS: How important is this sort of thing to the fans, did masses drop the title or write nasty letters?
BML: No, not to me. Paul K. said he always got letters praising the last writer and damning the current one. But the readership went up under me and Mike, I think.

DS: In Bewitched, who was the best Darin, Dick York or Dick Sargent?
BML: Jeez, Dick York. No contest. He was great in Inherit the Wind, too, tho I kept expecting Endora to turn Clarence Darrow into a goat or something! "Saaaammm! You've gotta turn him back, or this town won't have religious freedom!""Gee, I'd love to, Sweetie, but Serina just made H.L. Mencken NICE, and if I don't change him back, American Journalism will lose it's most acerbic voice. "

DS: None of your police officers are portrayed as the cliched "dirty cop", instead you show them as every bit as much heroes as the super-heroes. Why is that?
BML: In general it seemed to me that the only way to reduce the inherant fascism in super-heroes is to show regular humans solving problems and behaving heroically on a regular basis. It's one reason I've always had large supporting casts. Also I think that showing individual "dirty cops" as if the occasional flawed individual is the problem, let's everyone off the hook too easily. When police corruption is endemic, there are always systemic causes, that require something more than hitting a guy over the head to solve. One of my frustrations with Wonder Woman was that we never seemed to have the space to deal with really complex problems.

DS: Does the mainstream comic format even allow for that?
BML: Reasonable complex, I think, depending always on your definition of "complex" and your definition of "mainstream." There seems to be less room in the present day, with so much concern for sales and a real fear that a book stay in its "niche" superhero, or horror or whatever.

DS: Lots of people talk about the "more realistic" tone of comic books as opposed to the "less realistic" older style comics. Is this a real difference in your opinion or are they sucked in by a bit more violence?
BML: I would argue that Watchmen and the work of people like Frank Miller, and Denny O'Neal and Len Wein was a real watershed of difference, between the earlier, goofy, surreal and sometimes condescending gold and silver age stories which were aimed exclusively (if inaccurately) at children, and more modern stories which tried to deal honestly with some kind of reality. I obvious make an exception here for The Spirit and Plastic Man and a very few others. I do think that young writers in particular tend to think that the harsher and more explicit a story is, the more realistic it is. And not just younger writers.

Look at the way movies and TV shows pimp crime stories: making it seem that crime is going up, when it is actually going down, and encouraging people to long for a police state. In those cases, more violence and crime isn't reality, it's fantasy.

DS: The appearance of Artemis and the artwork of Mike Deodato Jr gave the book a very different tone, all bad girl posses and lots more fight scenes. Was this a conscious change on your part to the title?
BML: I tried to give Mike more action to draw, and to show things happening, rather than to talk about it. This is actually what I should do anyway. I can be awfully talky. But I also tried to start books in mid-fight, to maximize the action. There's no point in going against your artist's long suit. However, for good or ill, the bad girl poses were all Mike. He loves them, that's the way he draws, and they are just part of the package.

DS: Your Elseworlds take on Wonder Woman, Amazonia portrayed some very disturbing male treatment of women. Was that your intention?
BML: Well, Duh. With Jack the Ripper as King of England, I should hope it would be disturbing. Actually, the hardest thing was to find a way to make the already appalling Victorian treatment of women even worse.

DS: You said before that you didn't enjoy doing dialogue for someone else's writing. Was this true of your work on The Maxx?
BML: No, I loved that. Just another instance of my emotional inconsistency. The Maxx was one of my very favorite books. Sam and I were sympathico and he gave me an astonishing amount of freedom.

DS: Hawkman was the other character you said that you lobbied for. What made you want to write it?
BML: I had grown up reading it, and I thought it had a totally different tone than the other books of the time: the historical angle, the use of a married couple, the SF-alien edge. And Tim Truman and John Ostrander had given it a really interesting spin. Also it was a harder edged, more combat oriented book than I was known for writing. I thought it would make a nice stretch for me. Just shows you what I know.