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Of Capes and Cloaks: John Ostrander Interview 10/16/1999

I'd like to extend a hearty thanks to John Ostrander, writer of the last Spectre ongoing series, for stopping by to share his thoughts. As someone who has written the JSA before (and indeed, it was Mr. Ostrander who brought the team back for the 1990s with Armageddon Inferno) as well as someone who is intimately familiar with the mind of the original Spectre, a Joe Siegel co-creation, I'm eager to hear his thoughts.

Mr. Ostrander, you seem to have a very "bare basics" approach to character, if you don't mind my saying so. It seems to me that your heavily influenced by pulp and that in general, you seem drawn towards the genuine "tough guy" archtype, embodied well by many of Siegel and Shuster's creations. Would you consider that accurate?

I guess that would be fair. Of course, pulp also covered some important writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and they certainly have had a great influence on me.

Before we get into the Man of Steel, I'm curious how you feel about the treatment of various Siegel and Shuster creations and how you, personally, would handle each of them:

Dr. Occult?

I like Dr. Occult but I'm not nuts about his also being the female character, Rose Psychic, at times. I think it would work better with both of them as separate entities. What I like about Dr. Occult is that he is this guy who wears a trenchcoat and a fedora and deals with magic. I'd make him more of an area that is "magic noir" -- not black magic but a noir style character who deals with magic and psychic problems -- a bit like a tough version of Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghost Hunter.

Slam Bradley?

Nothin' wrong with ol' Slam but ya gotta keep him back in the Thirties. Character of the times.

The Guardian?

Actually, not one of my faves although I like how Kirby brought him back as a clone of himself (before that became a dirty word). I like how they use him now in Superboy but, at heart, this should be a story of how one man, without super powers, helps a small section of town and some kids who are basically good kids but need some guidance. He shouldn't go off and fight big world menaces; his turf is small and personal. To my mind, anyway.

Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy?

Never really took to them then or now. Back in the forties, it might've seemed a LITTLE more possible. These days, the words "child endangerment" come to mind. Strangely, I liked the Kid better as Skyman and was sorry to see him killed.

Superman?

The best. The icon. To me, the secret of Superman is Clark Kent. Our response s based on "You may think I'm a nerd but if I opened my shirt (exposed my heart) you would see I'm really Superman." For me, Superman is the assumed identity. Clark Kent is who he IS -- it's how he was raised, it's the values that he has received. Kal-El is the legacy he has received but NOT who he is. As Superman, he is physically invulnerable but, as shown in the Christopher Reeve movies, emotionally very vulnerable. That said, it would be fun to play with a character that was like the very early Superman stories -- where he leaps over buildings but doesn't fly, is not invulnerable (an exploding bomb could hurt him) and was reckless, a "laughing adventurer" and regarded almost as a menace by the authorities. He saw something that needed doing, he did it. A very primal hero, IMO. The early stories are AMAZING to read.

Superman has been around for over sixty years now. To what do you attribute his longevity?

That he was the first of his breed and, in many ways, the best. He's grown and changed with the times but there is something at the heart of him that taps into the mythic.

Between your very original western comic books and your apparent preference for pulp, you seem to enjoy comics as a medium for historical fiction. I wonder if you feel that some untapped potential has been lost with the absence of the Golden-Age Superman in recent years. Do you? Or do you see his removal as a positive move which will help make DC more reader-friendly?

In one very key way, I feel that DC damages its myth. Superman must always be the first. He inspires all the other heroes. Hawkman doesn't serve that; Crimson Avenger doesn't serve that. Only Superman can. In that respect, I think there should be a GA Superman. Personally, I think the GA heroes should have their own Earth and it was a mistake to combine it all into one. Call it Earth Gold, Earth Silver, and so on. Whenever the DCU starts up again, Superman should always be the first.

The Golden-Age Superman was a founding member of the JSA and served in a largely honorary capacity for some time. While he was rarely involved in the team's Golden-Age adventures, he was a major influence on the team in the late 1960s on into the 70s and 80s. Now, no one in the DC Comics Universe remembers him. Continuity issues aside, is the JSA any the less for his absence?

Paul Levitz wrote a terrific origin for the JSA and Superman was a key part of that story. How do you reprint it without trying to explain it away? rewriting it doesn't help; Superman's entry is dramatic and climatic at the same time. That said, I don't think the JSA misses the GA Superman that much for the reason you cited above -- he wasn't really a part of it during the GA Years and I didn't find him that important during the later stories.

Roy Thomas worked feverishly researching to come up with Iron Munro who was intended to replace the Golden-Age Superman after the Crisis. The character has been largelt disregarded by later writers however. With no disrespect to Roy Thomas intended, how would you go about creating a replacement for the Golden-Age Superman if you were assigned the task?

If I had to, I'd go back to the early adventures of Superman, the ones I talked about earlier, and come up with a character based on THAT version of Superman and call him something different. And I'd kill him off early. And it's the memory of him and his struggle that continues to inspire the JSA.

Speaking of the Golden-Age Superman reappearing in some capacity, do you think that recent cameos courtesy of Hypertime and DC's Elseworlds books are an indicator that we'll start seeing new stories with yesteryear's Man of Tomorrow? Or are they simply nostalgiac nods that will never amount to anything?

So far as I understand Hypertime, it means that any story printed that you want to be "real" in DC's history now IS. Technically, it means you COULD go back there -- or to the Silver Age Superman. Will they? Maybe, if someone comes up with a great idea.

Do you have any upcoming JSA related projects in the works?

As a matter of fact, there will be a two parter in Martian Manhunter with the new JSA and part of it takes place on Apokolips. Issues 18 and 19, if I remember correctly.

Are there any stories you'd like to share from your experience writing The Spectre?

I'm not sure what you mean. I know that Tom and I were very clear about the character before we began although we certainly learned things along the way. We did NOT want to downgrade the Spectre's powers; what we did was change Corrigan's character to more of what he would've been as a 30's plainclothes cop. Oh, and we decided he had been dead since then, despite what others may have thought. Both very important. Strangely enough, I was probably most influenced in all this by the Roy Thomas, Michael Gilbert Secret Origins story of the Spectre.

There were a few times that you seemed to touch on aspects of the JSA in your Spectre run. Did you ever attempt to revive the team? If so, what kinds of ideas were you looking at and how do they compare or contrast with what's being done now?

I never made an active move to ressurect the JSA. certainly, I LIKED them. The whole purpose to Armageddeon Inferno was to pull them out of Limbo and back into the DCU. I feel they were more innocent heroes in a more innocent time. I was also a fan of the All Star Super Squad, which was essentially the JSA, and they also pulled new members into it. I think that IS the way to go and I'm enjoying the new JSA book a great deal.

What projects do you currently have on the horizon?

Well, aside from Martian Manhunter, I'm going to be doing a run in the STAR WARS monthly book and I have something cooking connected with the JLA which I may be able to talk about soon. Plus, I have a few proposals in and some other irons in the fire. 2000 should be a very big year. I'm going into the new Millenium with flags flying and guns blazing. We'll see if it is ready for me.

Thank you, Mr. Ostrander. Your insights and answers are greatly appreciated. I look forward to seeing your work in the future and urge readers to take a peak at Mr. Ostrander's upcoming projects.

 
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