Thursday, August 4, 2011
1999 Fanzing Interview With John Ostrander
Fanzing was an online DC fan "magazine" from 1997-2003.
by Michael Hutchison
Fanzing: First of all, John, thanks for the interview! Let's start off with questions about your current project, Martian Manhunter. What made you want to handle the green guy as your next commitment after your run on Spectre?
John Ostrander: The fact that he was green helped. Tom and I seem to have decided to only work on characters that are green. Okay, I'll get serious. Well, a LITTLE more serious. Tom and I wanted to do something completely different from the Spectre; we didn't want readers thinking we were just a one-trick pony. We also wanted to do a superhero; we hadn't done a straight forward superhero in a while. J'Onn was intriguing because he was a major player in the JLA yet, at the same time, seemed undefined in many ways. Not everything was cut and dried about his continuity. We felt we had room to add something to the character. And he is one of the most powerful beings in the DCU. So we lobbied for him and got him.
Fanzing: Martian Manhunter is rather unique in that, so far, there is NO supporting cast, just guest stars like the JLA and Agent Cameron Chase. Is that intentional (in keeping with the solitary nature of the hero) or are you planning to bring in some characters in the future?
John Ostrander: No, we definitely plan to have a supporting cast for him in the not too distant future. It's been a little tough because he has all these alter-egos. Do you build a supporting cast for each one? Do you focus only on a few? We've had the JLA really be J'Onn's supporting cast for awhile but it's time we got him one of his own.
Fanzing: JLA's Rock of Ages featured the new Injustice Gang which seemed to unintentionally highlight the fact that J'onn has never had an arch-enemy. One of the remarkable aspects of your series is the introduction of a Martian Manhunter Rogue's Gallery. Is this a priority for you in developing the book?
John Ostrander: Absolutely. To me, it's been one of the flaws of the character over the years -- his lack of his own Rogues' Gallery. Good villains define the hero and J'Onn needs his -- especially an archenemy. I think Malefic came pretty close to this.
Fanzing: Is J'onn immortal?
John Ostrander: Complicated question. Certainly, we've seen him merge with the planet and he seems to be long lived, probably part of being a shapechanger. Is his merging with the planet Mars a result of his contact with the Source? I would say yes. J'Onn is certainly long lived but that doesn't mean he couldn't be killed, in my opinion.
Fanzing: For once and for all…can J'onn breathe in space or can't he?
John Ostrander:does J'Onn need to breathe?
Fanzing: Good point…and in thinking about it, probably a moot one. I was thinking of J'onn's old origins in which he was trapped on Earth without a way back to Mars, which was thriving at the time. At that time, IF he could fly and survive in space, it's odd that he wouldn't have just flown home. And he has been shown wearing a spacesuit in the past. But none of that really gibes with the current series.
John Ostrander: The real question then would be not can J'Onn BREATHE in sapce but can he FLY in space without a spaceship? We have seen him use a spaceship to get to Mars. The answer would seem to be -- he can't or not far. Actually, Tom and I have postulated that his ability to fly is based more on manipulation of a planet's magnetic fields but that hasn't appeared in the book yet so you could say it isn't canonical. Yet.
Fanzing: By the way, Dr. Erdel (and he was John Erdel and Saul Erdel…I don't remember his current name) was revealed to have survived in the first MM mini-series and reunited with J'onn. The current version collapsed; did he die or will he be showing up?
John Ostrander: I like him. Expect him back.
Fanzing: What do you have planned for this next year of Martian Manhunter?
John Ostrander: Well, following two fill-in stories in issues 10 and 11 (fill in artists; I'm still writing), issue 12 ties in with the Day of Judgment crossover, and then we launch on a four part story called THE RINGS OF SATURN. Very space opera type stuff and featuring Jemm, Son of Saturn. Then we'll resolve the whole DEO storyline. Beyond that I can't really say without giving other things away.
Fanzing: On the one hand, you've delved into a lot of DC history such as Argent, Suicide Squad, Mark Shaw, etc. On the other hand, you told me in an earlier e-mail that you felt free to contradict Martian Manhunter's earlier mini-series because it was published in 1987. How important to you is a comic character's history?
John Ostrander: It's always important to a certain degree but I don't want it to be stifling. I like to weave ELEMENTS of a character's history into my stories; in so doing, I think I play fair with the old readers. However, I also insist on re-interpreting some of the old data, see what new light it can shed on the character. I'm more interested in a character making sense than in a slavish devotion to past continuity. They told their stories; I'm telling mine.
Fanzing: Like the Zo'ok, a plant which makes up J'onn's costume, but is obviously an homage to Zook, his old pal in the Detective Comics?
John Ostrander: Essentially, that's as much Zook as you're going to get in this series but -- yes, it's a homage.
Fanzing: But don't you think this is something of a disservice to the readers who have stuck with a character for longer than a year or two as well as to the writers who came before you, whether the subject is Hawkman or Spectre or Martian Manhunter or Firestorm? Couldn't you more or less do your "take" without wiping out what's gone before? I can appreciate that it is sometimes necessary if the previous history is wildly inconsistent, but this isn't always the case.
John Ostrander: My first obligation to the reader is a good story and sometimes that means breaking with past continuity. I don't HATE continuity; actually, I've been very good with it overall. Better than many other writers have been or are willing to be. I try to keep faith with past continuity without letting it tie my hands. Slavish devotion to continuity is like cultivating kudzu; it's going to strangle everything ele you do. With SPECTRE, which continuity do I keep with? The Fleischer/Aparo one? The Moench/Whoever one? Keep in mind that they all got canceled. What I tried to do was use ELEMENTS of each while making a cohesive whole. With Firestorm, I kept to continuity but developed the storyline. With Hawkman -- well, that was an editorial decision that was out of my hands and a given before I came on the book. I later tried to reconcile the continuity as best I could. So I'm respectful of it and past fans but I don't worship it and I won't be hung by it and I think that's playing fair. I was a fan before I was a writer and I go way back so I appreciate the old fan and their concerns but sacrificing new readers to satisfy continuity is, I feel, a big mistake. So I choose a middle path as best I can.