Mark Waid: The Wrong Lessons Were Learned From ‘Kingdom Come’ [Awesome Con]

Few modern comic writers have the superstar pedigree of Mark Waid. The Eisner award-winning writer has written just about every major superhero you can name, with a number of character-defining runs under his belt on books like The Flash, Captain America, and Daredevil. He and artist Alex Ross also penned one of the medium’s most influential graphic novels for DC, 1996’s Kingdom Come, a cautionary tale juxtaposing the superheroes of old and a group of morally ambiguous and irresponsible younger vigilantes.

We recently caught up with Waid at Awesome Con in Washington, DC, to talk the legacy of that now-20-year-old story, as well as his current work on Archie, Black Widow, and All-New, All-Different Avengers.

MONKEYS FIGHTING ROBOTS: You all were just talking about the DC Rebirth one-shot. What do you think about the return of Wally West?

WAID: I am thrilled about the return of Wally West. I’m curious to what they do with him, but he was always the symbol of that generational aspect of DC Comics that I thought was a very important part of it that we’ve lost over the years — the idea that he was the first sidekick in comics that actually fulfilled the role, right? I’m glad to see him back. I’m glad that his voice is back in the DC Universe.

I like a lot of stuff about Rebirth. I like the idea that Oliver Queen is much more of a left-wing political animal. I like the idea that Superman is back. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I really like.

The Flash, Vol. 2 #63

One of the things that really stuck out to me, and I guess a lot of other people, is that one-shot kind of critiqued the sort of cynical and grim direction a lot of DC stuff had gone in. It’s particularly interesting in the wake of Batman v. Superman.

WAID: [Chuckles] Yeah. That I appreciated as much as anything else — the shift in tone. The idea that not everything has to be grim and dark and ugly. It doesn’t mean that all superhero comics have to be light and breezy and swashbuckling. There should be a wide range — the range is the important part. There should be a little variation, so not everything is dark and gloomy and evil and arms ripping off all the time because then nothing means anything. Nothing has any impact if that’s all it is.

Do you think Kingdom Come potentially had some impact on influencing that direction?

WAID: I hope not. Alex and I talk about this all the time. The perplexing thing is Kingdom Come was supposed to be a cautionary fable. It was supposed to be like, “This is what happens when you go down a very dark road. It ends up very badly.” It seems like a lot of people only took the first part of that message, which is, “Oh, look at the cool stuff in Kingdom Come.” No! No, no! Lois Lane is not supposed to die. Superman and Wonder Woman are not supposed to be a couple.

It’s kind of fascinating to me to see some of the wrong lessons learned, but some of the right lessons, too. I love the fact that Kingdom Come managed to elevate Wonder Woman to the “Trinity” level. It wasn’t just Superman and Batman anymore. I’m proud of what we accomplished, but every once in a while I think, “Oh, you learned the wrong lesson there.”

So now you’re working on All-New, All-Different Avengers. There’s a lot of characters on the team now that are younger, new superheroes. How do you feel about having the opportunity to sort of shape the direction of these younger characters?

WAID: It’s great. We didn’t set out to create a super-diverse Avengers deliberately. I just knew I wanted Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man regardless of who was in those suits, because that’s who the Avengers are to me. And once we realized who we were looking at there, we thought Ms. Marvel would be a great character. I love her. She’s like the best new comic book superhero created in 15 years.

We sort of realized, “Well, that’s interesting. What else can we do along those lines? Who else do we have in the Marvel Universe?” We got halfway there and realized, “Let’s just follow this out,” to the point where Iron Man is the only white guy on the team. I like that. Everything else fit together nicely, and those characters — especially the younger ones — just mesh together so beautifully. I love writing them.

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1

You’re also doing Archie right now. What’s the contrast between working on that property and doing superhero comics?

WAID: You know, here’s the thing. It’s still storytelling. I thought it would be a harder thing to shift gears myself, but it’s not really. It’s still about getting in and thinking about what the characters want, what’s important to them, what they’re afraid of, and really taking them apart.

The beauty about the Archie characters is, even though they’ve been very simplistic over the years, if you drill down, they’re pretty interesting characters. All you have to do is really think about what it was like when you were in high school, and think about the things that stay constant. I don’t care what generation you’re in; everybody knows what it’s like to have your first kiss. Everybody knows what it’s like to be afraid of making an idiot of yourself in front of your classmates. Everybody knows what it’s like to flunk a grade. Everybody knows what it’s like to skip school.

Those are bad examples, but you know what I’m saying. Everybody remembers certain things about being that age, so tapping into that is the fun part.

Tell me about the Black Widow book you’ve been working on.

WAID: Black Widow was a dream job because Chris [Samnee, who worked with Waid on Daredevil] is doing all the heavy lifting. We talk about it on the phone, I do a quick one-page outline for the editor, I sit back and 20 pages of artwork roll in, and I add dialog. It’s the easiest money I’ve ever made in comics, because it’s Chris. He’s such a genius!

Are you excited that they’re finally giving Natasha a movie, or at least talking about it?

WAID: Yeah, I heard about that. She’s prime for a movie like that, and I really hope that comes to fruition because she’s such a terrific character.

Roger Riddell
Roger Riddell
Essentially Peter Parker with all the charm of Wolverine, he's a DC-based B2B journalist who occasionally writes about music and pop culture in his free time. His love for comics, metal, and videogames has also landed him gigs writing for the A.V. Club, Comic Book Resources, and Louisville Magazine. Keep him away from the whiskey, and don't ask him how much he hates the Spider-Man movies unless you're ready to hear about his overarching plot for a six-film series that would put the Dark Knight trilogy to shame.