Comics aren’t for kids any more – or so the cliché goes. But in an industry where Bone and Princeless are anomalies, and Armageddon occurs every Wednesday in the pages of the latest superhero epic, it’s easy to remember where that cliché comes from. Comic book readers have gotten older – and it was that fact that led to the creation of Captain Kid, a new series from AfterShock Comics. Co-written by Mark Waid and Tom Peyer, and illustrated by Wilfredo Torres with colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick, Captain Kid follows the adventures of Chris Vargas, a middle-aged man with the ability to transform into a teenaged hero at will. The first issue hit comic shops today, and I spoke with Tom Peyer (Hourman, Legion of Super-Heroes) about the new series.
Nikolai Fomich: Tom, what’s the secret origin of this project? Where did the idea for Captain Kid come from?
Tom Peyer: Back around 2002 or so, I was thinking about how superhero comics had changed from their early days. The biggest difference was the audience. It had gotten a lot older. When kids ruled comics, there was a lot of wish fulfillment; young readers could imagine themselves as Batman’s sidekick, Superman’s cousin, Billy Batson’s alter ego, Superman’s pal. It seemed the older readers weren’t having their wishes fulfilled but rather their fears confirmed in the form of dead loved ones, bloody vendettas and mini-apocalypses. What if a middle-aged reader could transform into (I thought then) a teenaged mutant? Wouldn’t it feel good?
I mentioned this idea to my friend Mark Waid, and he urged me on. But being me, I did nothing until late last year when he said he’d write it with me. That was the push I needed after 13 years of sloth.
Tell us more about Captain Kid’s alter ego Chris Vargas. Who is he and why will readers resonate with him?
He’s a nice guy, 45, single, in a media job that’s hanging by a thread. His mother died recently and he lives with his dad, who’s deep in mourning. He likes to consume pop culture and hang with his friends, like a college kid. His teeth are starting to go, his knee hurts, and his chest feels the brunt of all the cigarettes he used to smoke. And he can turn into a 15-year-old kid with super-powers, which makes up for a lot.
Writers such as John Broome, Gardner Fox, Otto Binder, and the great Edmund Hamilton used the Flash, Superman, and other characters to reflect very adult concerns in stories told for children – concerns such as aging, weight gain, marital problems, and becoming a lion (well, OK, maybe not that last one). How have these authors influenced your work, both in general and on Captain Kid?
That’s like asking how the alphabet has influenced my writing. I was exposed to those writers at such an early age, and I read so much of them, I’ll probably never know what they did to me. I remember that when I was around six years old I read a couple of Superman stories that were pretty heavy: Jerry Siegel’s “The Two Faces of Superman,” in which a duplicate of our hero is raised by criminal parents who secretly hate him, and “The Son of Bizarro,” in which the Bizarros have a child, give him up, and want him back. An upsetting amount of parent-child tragedy in those two stories.
You’ve worked with Mark “Brainiac 6” Waid many times before, on comics like The Flash and Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Legion of Super-Heroes. What’s your collaboration process with Mark, and what do you think makes it so successful?
We’ve been talking on the phone several times a week for more than two decades. If I write a story, we talk it over. If he writes a story, we talk it over. We fell into this shorthand based on old comics. “It’s like when the teens of Midville help defeat the Astounding Separated Man.” “Right, but what if we added Kid Flash beatniks?” “As long as it doesn’t get too Hank-McCoy-with-his-feet-
I understand that you and Mark have a difference of opinion regarding whether or not you would stay teenaged and super-powered forever. How do you and Mark differ on this, and how has that difference affected your collaboration?
If I could turn into a super-powered 15-year-old, I’d check back into my own life now and then just to see how my friends and family are doing. If Mark could turn into a super-powered 15-year-old, I’d never hear from him again. I should probably be offended, but I can’t blame him for being honest.
Beyond generic super-strength and flight, Captain Kid has a very unique power – he can read electromagnetic media. Why did you and Mark choose this power for your co-creation?
That’s a Waid contribution. To me, science is the branch of knowledge that deals with rays that turn people into gorillas. That’s because I learned everything I know from Silver Age comics. Waid, on the other hand, has read books. So he can come up with things like “electromagnetic powers.” I don’t know what he’s talking about.
Wilfredo Torres (The Shadow: Year One, Jupiter’s Circle) will be drawing and inking the series. How did Wilfredo get involved and what has working with him been like?
Wilfredo’s art is just what Captain Kid needs. It’s a humanist approach, with none of the hyper-detailed macho posturing of so much comic art. And it’s very fluid, clear, and appealing to look at.
You’re also working with colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, whose work I enjoyed on Batman ’66. Talk a bit about what Kelly’s brought to Captain Kid.
Like Wilfredo’s art, Kelly’s color brings story clarity and is a pleasure to look at. And colorists, like letterers, are at the back of the production line, which means there’s never enough time left for them to do the job because we at the front took too big a bite. And I’m pretty sure there are times when Kelly has to sacrifice sleep and a normal life to keep us going, but you’d never know it to look at the work. And this applies as well to our lettering team, A Larger World.
Probably the biggest difference is, we can just tell our own story without worrying about the other titles. We don’t have to truncate or alter plans because Scranton, PA has been made radioactive in Second Sight (to use an example I just made up). I’m not suggesting that we’re definitely not in a shared universe – I don’t know if that conversation has happened – but AfterShock allows us to focus on our own plans. I think that makes for better stories.
Finally, what other upcoming projects are you working on? Anything else for AfterShock?
I have another idea, so check back in 13 years.