Jay Faeber: I’m sitting here with Brian Joines, the esteemed author of such comics as Krampus!, from Image Comics, and I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Agents, from Boom! Studios. Brian and I are co-writing the new Image Comics series Secret Identities. Brian, I’m gonna hit you with a real hardball question right out of the gate. I’m not pulling any punches here. Ready? I have it on good authority that your middle initial is “M.” So tell us, Brian — what does the “M” stand for?
Brian Joines: The “M” stands for “Michael.” So I’m Brian Michael Joines. Just me and Bendis duking it out for “Brian Michael” supremacy. And your last name is Faerber. I’ve heard it pronounced about twelve different ways, having committed to six of them myself. Want to go on the record for the proper pronunciation?
JF: Basically, the “A” is silent. It’s pronounced “Ferber.” But there are differing opinions on that even within my own family. So I answer to just about anything. But let’s talk about Secret Identities. This is the book we’re co-writing that debuts in February from Image Comics. It’s about a team of super-heroes called The Front Line, whose new member is a traitor who intends to learn all their secrets and bring them down from within. You and I have known each other for quite awhile and have always bounced ideas around on our respective books. But is this the first time you’ve truly co-written with someone? I’ve co-written stuff in the past with Devin Grayson and a few other pals, but it’s been awhile. What about you?
BJ: This is my first real bout of co-writing in comics. I co-wrote a few things in different mediums a while ago, but for comics this is a new thing for me. And it’s nice to have another voice in the room to bounce ideas off of. You and I have a number of similar interests but different enough voices as writers that I think the combination of the two will be pretty unique and very strong.
This is also my first super-hero book with Image, but you’ve certainly been here before, with Noble Causes and Dynamo 5 and Firebirds. What is it about Secret Identities that makes it stand out from the others, in your mind? And why do a new book with new characters rather than bring back one of your established titles with a built-in audience?
JF: I think with Secret Identities, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s not a commentary on, or a deconstruction of, super-hero books. It IS a super-hero book. I think what makes it stand out from my other books is the way the characters interact with each other. Noble Causes, Dynamo 5, and Firebirds were all about families, to varying degrees. Secret Identities isn’t. This new book is my favorite kind of super-team — the team made up of a diverse group of characters with very different origins and backgrounds. We’ve got aliens, scientists, freaks, etc. And I wanted to do a new title, as opposed to bringing back one of my other ones, for a few reasons. For one thing, I’m always more excited by what’s ahead than what came before. I like thinking about the next idea, rather than returning to an old one. But for purely practical reasons, re-launching an old title automatically limits your audience to the people who bought it before. Sure, we might get lucky and get some new eyeballs. But that’s a big risk. Secret Identities is something everyone can enjoy, whether they’ve read prior works from us, or not.
Now earlier, you said we had some similar interests. Let’s talk about that for a second — what are some of your favorite super-team books?
BJ: Well, if we’re talking similar interests, I know you and I have a big love for Alpha Flight. That’s one of the top ones, in my book. And my earliest work definitely shows an affinity for the Giffen-era JLA. I’m also a fan of the Fantastic Four, Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, the absolute randomness of Marvel’s old Champions book, and most recently, Ellis’s Nextwave. But I think at the top will always be the Doom Patrol… that is probably the dream book of mine to write someday. How about you?
JF: Alpha Flight‘s definitely up there (in particular the John Byrne run), as is the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans and the Claremont/Byrne (and then Paul Smith) Uncanny X-Men. And it’s interesting to me that we both love Alpha Flight and we ended up writing a book set in Canada. But that wasn’t always the plan. I distinctly remember you and I (and Ilias, our artist — more about him in a minute) discussing where the team should be based. We felt New York was overdone, so was Los Angeles. Maybe Chicago? Then one of us — I forget who — suggested Toronto, and we all latched onto the idea. But unlike Alpha Flight, our team isn’t a Canadian super-team, per se. It’s a team that happens to be based in Toronto. But their leader is the daughter of the President of the United States. So there’s a strong American presence, as well.
BJ: Of course, no matter what our influences are, it’s all moot without the brilliant work of the book’s artist, Ilias Kyriazis.
JF: Yeah, Ilias brings so much more to the book than just drawing. Here’s one example I can think of. I mentioned The New Teen Titans before, and most people are familiar with that classic arc, “The Judas Contract.” It’s about the Titans being infiltrated by Terra, who pretends to be a super-hero but is really a mole who wants to destroy the team. Obviously, that’s pretty similar to the premise of our book. And in the wrong hands, Secret Identities could come off like some second generation knock-off of that story. But that’s where Ilias comes in. He does such a great job of providing a counter-balance to some of our more… fanboyish instincts. He helps reel us in if we go too far down the rabbit hole trying to emulate the feel of some old comic we both love. Ilias is younger than both of us, and he’s Greek, so he brings a very different perspective, and a very different set of influences, to the table. He loves super-hero books, of course, but he’s always very quick to find a new spin on something that we suggest. That’s such a vital component to this partnership, y’know?
BJ: Oh, absolutely. You and I are officially listed as the writers of the book, but make no mistake, this is a partnership of three putting this book together. Ilias has such a great, different worldview and sensibility to storytelling than either of us do and he’s been instrumental in not only designing the look of the book and characters (which are amazing), but contributing to the line-up of the team, adding elements to the story, and really challenging us to defend certain ideas/positions (in the best way possible) when it comes to taking our script and translating it into a flowing, active comic book page.
And speaking of influences, this is your first super-hero title in a while. You’ve been keeping yourself busy with books like Near Death, Copperhead (which is my favorite thing you’ve written so far), and Graveyard Shift, which just debuted back in December. All of these titles have a strong presence of crime drama to them, alongside science fiction and horror in some cases. Given all of that, as well as your love of crime dramas and detective shows, do you feel like any of those influences are playing a role in Secret Identities?
JF: Yeah, there’s certainly some crime element in Secret Identities. Take the character Gaijin — an alien creature raised by a family of Japanese mobsters. And of course, Crosswind, our mole. He comes across to our heroes as a squeaky clean rookie, but the readers quickly learn he’s a bad-ass. So that whole “undercover” thing is right up my alley, and is yet another spin on the whole “secret identities” theme we’ve got running through the book.
When we started creating the lineup for this book, we each came to the table with ideas for characters. Vesuvius and The Recluse are two of yours. I know they’ve both been kicking around in your head for awhile, but by now you’ve seen them on the printed page. How’d they turn out? Are they how you imagined they’d look? Or did they change in the development process, once Ilias contributed his own ideas to the designs?
BJ: The Recluse is fairly close to how I imagined him, which was somewhere between Spider-Man and Moon Knight with the appropriate coloring to suggest a brown recluse spider. But there are certain elements to the character that Ilias put in, like the revolver he has strapped to his side and the button-over uniform, that I hadn’t considered until I mentioned the character having a pulp-hero-type origin and Ilias just ran with that. Vesuvius I always imagined as a character closer to Plasmus from the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans book, or a character called Magma that was on the Batman Beyond cartoon. But I knew I wanted him associated with the destruction of Pompeii and I loved how Ilias made him into a “Ben Grimm as Roman Centurion” lava creature. The rocky beard he has is ridiculously awesome to me.
So you mentioned Gaijin, already. Who are some of the other characters you brought to the team? What was your inspiration for them and how do you feel they turned out in Ilias’s hands?
JF: Yeah, Gaijin was my idea, and Ilias knocked it out of the park with her design. The perfect combination of alien and beautiful, yet also totally original. Punchline was my idea. It’s name I’ve wanted to use for years — I almost used it for one of the main characters in Dynamo 5. But it didn’t quite work there. The idea of a wisecracking super-strong character just felt fun. And this was one of the characters that was tough to crack from a visual standpoint. Ilias had the brilliant idea to model her look after some female bodybuilder he came across online, I think. But it took awhile to nail the costume, and we finally settled on her wearing a hoodie, which just looks great. I think Rundown, our speedster, was my suggestion too. And again, Ilias thought outside the box and came up with a sort of liquid costume that covers him head-to-toe, kind of like Mr. Miracle — so you can see his facial features through his costume. And then Ilias himself brought Luminary and Helot to the table, at least on a conceptual level, and then you and I fleshed out their backstories and personalities. But in addition to Ilias, there are two other members of this creative team. Well, three, really. Colorists Charlie Kirchoff and Ron Riley, and letterer Ed Dukeshire. How awesome are they?
BJ: They’re all fantastic. Charlie did a great job on the first issue and set the tone for the coloring of the series but, sadly, other obligations reared their heads and he had to step away. Fortunately, Ron was up for stepping in and he’s knocking it out of the park. I know we’ve both worked with Ron before, most recently on Copperhead and Krampus!, and just looking at his work between those two projects and this one shows off how truly talented he really is and what good hands we’re in.
And Ed…he’s just a lettering rock star. He’s an industry staple and it shows in all the books he works on. We’re lucky to get someone of his caliber on our team, don’t you think?
JF: We should probably wrap this up. Before we go, give the readers the hard sell on this book. Why should they check it out? Because let’s face it — Marvel and DC have plenty of super-hero books to choose from. What makes ours different?
BJ: I think the biggest thing that makes our book different from Marvel or DC’s books, aside from the obvious things like the writers’ style and the art, is that this is a story where events can happen… huge events, deadly events… with serious consequences and the reader won’t know what’s coming or what the fallout will be. These are our characters, the three of us, and we dictate their fates… we don’t have a cinematic universe to keep in mind to attract new readers, we don’t have a licensing deal with Kraft that ensures Character X must always have Secret ID X because the public expects that. Anything can happen here, as long as the three of us are good with it. And as a reader, that “flying without a net” is exciting to me. This is ultimately a book about the choices people make and the secrets they keep, and then dealing with the fallout of those secrets. In my opinion, to do a book like that right, you can’t have people assuming the consequences will be rectified in time for the next multimedia roll out.
JF: Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Secret Identities #1 is on sale February 18 from Image Comics.