Charles Soule talks his DCU stars Swamp Thing, Superman, Wonder Woman

May 29, 2014 | 4:33 p.m.

In just over a year, Charles Soule has become one of the comic book industry’s most prolific writers, and it’s all thanks to the law. If Soule hadn’t gone to Columbia University for law school, he would probably be touring with a band, or serving as an ambassador to China.

“I had always thought that I would do something that was connected to music as a career, or possibly Chinese, which was my major,” said Soule. “When I got into Columbia, which is such a fantastic school that it seemed idiotic not to go, it occurred to me while I was there that it would be difficult to be a practicing attorney and just tell the lawyers at the firm, ‘Oh, you know, I’m gonna bail. Go play a gig for half the hour.’ Any of the things that were associated with the typical musician’s lifestyle were not compatible with being a lawyer.”

Looking for a creative outlet, Soule worked on two novels over the course of five years, but eventually realized that novels require a lot of time while offering no guarantee that the story will ever make it out into the world. He struggled to find motivation in the solitary process, and began to explore the world of comic books, which he had read as a child growing up in Michigan before his family moved to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore in later years.

“The first comic I can remember ever reading was a ‘Fantastic Four’ issue that my dad bought out of the drugstore once,” said Soule. “The thing that struck me about it was that the ending wasn’t an ending. It was essentially a cliffhanger. It was the first time I had ever read anything like that, where you read a book, but the book isn’t the book. You have to come back next month to find out what happens next. And that mechanic of comics grabbed me immediately.”

As a user on Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld message board, Soule was able to make connections in the comics industry and began submitting scripts to anthologies. “I really enjoyed the experience of collaborating with an artist,” said Soule. “It seemed like a way of making short films without paying 10 grand a pop.”

He began attending conventions to further familiarize himself with the scene, a process he considers essential for any creator striving to break in to the industry. He pitched his graphic novel “Strongman” with artist Allen Gladfelter to Slave Labor Graphics founder Dan Vado at New York Comic Con, and once that title was published, Soule had the leverage to start pursuing projects at other publishers.

Soule’s rock ’n’ roll horror fantasy miniseries “27” landed at Image Comics’ partner studio Shadowline when Nick Spencer, writer of the Shadowline series “Morning Glories” and another user on the Jinxworld forums, showed it to the studio’s founder Jim Valentino at C2E2. Valentino picked it up on the convention floor. “[Jim] made me promise that whenever I tell this story I make it clear that he does not do that ever,” said Soule. “So don’t come at him with your pitches on the floor if you see him at a convention.”

In April 2013, Soule received his first ongoing superhero comic assignment when he took over DC Comics’ “Swamp Thing” from outgoing writer Scott Snyder, revitalizing the title and beginning a writing streak that continues to this day. Soule currently writes three ongoing DC titles (“Swamp Thing,” “Superman/Wonder Woman,” and “Red Lanterns”), three ongoing Marvel titles (“She-Hulk,” “Inhuman,” “Thunderbolts”) and his creator-owned science-fiction ongoing “Letter 44” at Oni Press. He’s also writing the weekly, four-issue “The Death of Wolverine” Marvel miniseries in September, his highest-profile project to date.

Hero Complex readers can see lettered previews of this week’s “Inhuman” No. 2, “Red Lanterns” No. 31 and “Thunderbolts,” Steve McNiven’s artwork from “The Death of Wolverine” No. 1, Tony Daniel’s artwork from “Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 6 and  No. 8, Javier Pulido’s artwork from “She-Hulk” Nos. 1-4, Jesus Saiz’s artwork from “Swamp Thing” No. 31, and exclusive preview pages from “Inhuman” No. 4, “Letter 44” No. 7, “She-Hulk” No. 5 and “Swamp Thing” No. 32 in the gallery above or in larger versions via the links below.

“Inhuman” No. 2: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4
“Red Lanterns” No. 31: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
“Thunderbolts”: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
“The Death of Wolverine” No. 1: Page 1 | Page 2
“Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 6: Cover | Page 19
“Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 8: Cover | Page 2 | Page 3-4 | Page 5
“She-Hulk” No. 1 -4: Pages from Issue 4 | Issue 3 | Issue 2 | Issue 1
“Swamp Thing” No. 31: Cover | Page 4 | Page 20

“Inhuman” No. 4 – exclusive preview: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
“Letter 44″ No. 7 – exclusive preview: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
“She-Hulk” No. 5 – exclusive preview: Page 1 | Page 2
“Swamp Thing” No. 32 – exclusive preview: Page 1

In a recent telephone interview, Soule discussed the eight titles, the difficulties and pleasures of each project, and what it’s like working with an all-star roster of artists. Check out the first installment of the two-part interview, with this portion focusing largely on Soule’s work for DC, below.

Hero Complex: “Swamp Thing” was your first superhero ongoing series. How did you end up getting that book? What did you pitch?

Charles Soule: Anyone trying to break into Big Two comics [Marvel and DC], the real way to do it is to make an indie book that gets noticed by somebody at the Big Two, and that’s basically what happened. An executive at DC saw “27” and really liked it, and grabbed an advance reader’s copy of “Strange Attractors” at San Diego Comic-Con and then asked if I’d ever want to do something for DC Comics. I think it was phrased more like, “Why haven’t you done something for DC Comics?” And I was like, “Well, you don’t just call them up and do something with DC Comics. You have to be invited.”

He put me in touch with Matt Idelson, who is the editor of “Swamp Thing” to this very day, and Matt asked me to pitch. The pitch that I gave him was a lot of the things that you see in the series. It was the idea of a globetrotting guy who could become a lot different things depending on his environment. It was very heavy into the mythological, dark fantasy elements of Swamp Thing — a lot of horror, and not crazy superhero, but not shying away from that either, and really delving into Swamp Thing as a character and the fact that he has this crazy job protecting all the plant life on Earth. So that’s what I pitched and that’s what they liked. Thank goodness I got that job.

The cover of "Swamp Thing" No. 32. (DC)

The cover of “Swamp Thing” No. 32. (DC)

HC: Have you had to do a lot of research for that title?

CS: It’s funny. The kinds of things you research for a book like “Swamp Thing”can be all kinds of different stuff. I took a trip to India last spring; a lot of that stuff showed up in the “Sureen” arc that just finished. The next issue coming out actually has Aquaman in it as a guest star and it’s set in a reef off the Philippines primarily, so I did a lot of research to try and figure that out. I did a lot of cool undersea research. I like learning things and I like that writing comics is an excuse to look into new stuff and research and learn new things and hopefully put them in books. But even if not, it’s not a bad use of my time.

HC: You’ve had some exceptional artists on “Swamp Thing” right off the bat: Kano, David Lapham, Jesus Saiz, Javi Pina. What has working with those collaborators taught you about the medium and the world of superhero ongoings?

CS: I knew these guys would have to be good, and I knew some of their work in the past — David Lapham and Kano, I knew — but you just hope for the best. You don’t have a creative relationship with these people yet. You turn in a script and see what comes back. And I have been so incredibly lucky on “Swamp Thing.” The art has just — think about how just any page of “Swamp Thing” is going to have about a million leaves on it, and these guys draw every leaf every time. And you have to bring Matt Wilson into it. Matt Wilson has been the colorist on every issue I’ve done, and I believe he did all the preceding issues as well, Scott Snyder’s run, so his contribution to the look of the book is absolutely essential. And we all just really like it. You have conversations with Jesus or Javi or Matt or any editorial, letterer, everyone really likes working on “Swamp Thing.” At least that’s what they tell me. And I think it shows in the finished product. It’s a book that, if people didn’t like it, you would feel it being half-assed. And I don’t think that is what is happening on that book.

HC: Swamp Thing is a character that straddles genres and has incredible power. How does that affect the way you approach a script?

CS: The interesting thing about a book like “Swamp Thing” is that it can take really dramatic turns very quickly. So you can have an issue, let’s take for example “Swamp Thing”No. 30, which starts off as a story about Alec Holland being kicked out of his body and he’s in this desperate race against time to get his body back before he dies, and he has to go to India to hopefully find a shaman magician guy that can get it back. But on the last page, you have a character introduced out of nowhere who suddenly starts growing ice stalks out of her — on the last page of the book you get the weirdest, creepiest image imaginable, and the credit for that again goes to Jesus Saiz and Matt Wilson.

I can’t think of many books where the readership, and the editorial or anybody, would let me take these crazy left turns all the time. It can be surreal, it can be philosophical, it can be action. The “Arcane” Villains Month issue I did was just a straight-up horror story, and it still creeps me out. That’s probably the creepiest thing I’ve done so far on “Swamp Thing.” There’s some contenders, but that one’s definitely up there. Actually, the two-parter that’s going to start right after the Aquaman issue, No. 33 and No. 34, it’s called “The Wolf and the Lady” and it involves two new characters I’ve been building up, the Wolf and Lady Weeds, and those are both very horror-focused stories. I just like that if I have a horror story in my head, “Swamp Thing” is where I can put it. If I have an environmental action story, I can do that too. “Swamp Thing” is a very versatile title and I love it.

HC: How important is it to you to keep “Swamp Thing” connected to the larger DC Universe with guest stars like Superman, Constantine, Vandal Savage, and now Aquaman? Any interesting guest stars coming up?

CS: First of all, yes, we will be having some cool guest stars coming up, particularly in the arc that begins after the “Five Years Later” bit. There’s a very interesting arc starting then. I feel like DC Universe guest stars are an incredibly powerful tool I can use. The nice thing about any shared universe is that if I put Superman in an issue, I don’t have to do anything else. Superman has 75 years of publishing history behind him, 76 now, and so all of those other writers and artists have put so much work into making him what he is that I don’t have to. I can just have Superman show up, and he will have an impact. It’s an immensely useful tool in the writer’s arsenal and I don’t use it all the time because I think that would seem like a parade of guest stars, but when I need it, it can create some fun stuff. Having Swamp Thing play off Aquaman in issue No. 32 is a blast. Swamp Thing under water was in my first pitch for the series, and now finally getting to see it drawn, why not put Aquaman in it? It’s cool.

Superman/WonderWoman" #8 (DC Comics)

Page 5 of
“Superman/Wonder Woman” No. 8. (DC Comics)

HC: With “Superman/Wonder Woman,” was there any pressure in writing a book starring two of DC’s flagship characters so soon in your mainstream comics career?

CS: No doubt about it. When I got that phone call, it was almost too much to process. I couldn’t believe they would trust me with something like that. I knew that I could do it, but it was nerve-racking. I think to this day, “Superman/Wonder Woman” is probably one of the trickiest things I’ve been working on. It’s like being asked to write a “Star Wars” movie or something like that. You don’t know how you’re going to handle it, you don’t know if you can. You don’t know if you should be the guy. But then you get into it, and just like anything else, you start to get through the story problems and it works itself out. I will say that it is arguably one of the most difficult books I write every month just because the balance between the action heroic side and relationship romantic side is complicated to handle, but I think it’s worked out very well. I’m very proud of that.

HC: What interests you most about Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship?

CS: It’s a really nice angle into them as human beings … as opposed to these godlike characters who have basically infinite power. So it’s a way to make them relatable and it’s a way to put them in new situations that we may not have necessarily seen them in before. Those are really the things that attracted me to the project in the beginning, and I’ve tried to bear that out in the scripts.

HC: You’re working with Greg Pak and Scott Lobdell on the “Doomed” crossover. What is that experience like?

CS: We started working on “Doomed” officially last fall at New York Comic Con. We had a Superman group summit. It was me, Greg Pak and Scott Lobdell, and we have been working nonstop ever since. It’s a very gigantic project. It’s the largest crossover I’ve ever really worked on, and Scott helped a great deal in the planning stages and he did the first couple issues of “Superman” before Geoff Johns takes that book over any minute now. Me and Greg are seeing it through, and it’s been amazing to play with a story line that was very meaningful to me when I was reading comics, the death and return of Superman, but it’s also a chance to do it in its own way. This is not the death and return of Superman, it’s something very different because it’s using some of the biggest characters in the Superman universe, which have become some of the biggest characters in the DC Universe. We can play with anyone we want to. We have the entire toy box at our disposal, which is great.

HC: What does artist Tony Daniel bring to “Superman/Wonder Woman”?

CS: Tony is able to nail huge superhero action like nobody you’ve ever seen. I think he draws a really cool-looking Clark and Diana — Superman and Wonder Woman for those few people that don’t know their secret identities. That was one of the things that was most interesting about the project for me. Working with Tony has been a relationship that has developed over time. At the beginning we didn’t know each other at all, and Tony’s worked on some extremely high-profile projects. He was one of the first superstar artists I’d worked with, and he had his expectations of what he wanted the project to be and I had mine and we had to find a way — I’m making this sound much more contentious than it was, but it was definitely a learning about each other process. Learning how to be a team, and I think we got there and I think it shows in the book.

HC: You’re also working on “Red Lanterns” for DC. Sick of Christmas colors yet?

CS: “Red Lanterns” is probably not what people expected it to be, and that’s a cool thing, to be able to reinvent a book a little bit, but you’re also dealing with getting over the hurdle of people who have expectations of what it was. Not that it was bad, it was just very different before I took it over. I came up with this big biker gang thing, which I’m sure you know.

HC: What inspired the biker gang angle? Was DC looking to put Guy Gardner with the Red Lanterns or was that something you pitched?

CS: I think Guy was a little bit in the mix as a possibility when I was asked to pitch on it, but I put my stamp on it very firmly that that’s one of the things — if Guy wasn’t on it, I don’t think I would have been as interested in doing the book. Guy was always the key for me because I think he’s a very relatable, cool character, and when you’ve got a book that’s about weird red alien rage monsters, you want to give an audience surrogate somewhere. And I thought that Guy Gardner has always been relatable and he’s always been a hot head, so why not put him on the book? That was part of it, and then figuring out a way to give the Reds an identity that would make them appealing and cool, kind of the counterculture badasses I think they should be. And then the biker gang thing just popped into my head and I thought that would work and DC agreed and here we are however many issues later.

HC: Supergirl recently joined the team. How did that decision come about, and is she sticking around for the long haul?

CS: The idea was mine, it actually happened at the Superman summit last fall, and it came out of a general discussion about things to do with Supergirl and places her character might fit. I knew that she had been very angry teenager in her portrayal, so she seemed like a good fit for the Reds, and it’s essentially a new angle, a way of shaking things up a bit. I think it’s worked out pretty well. People came into it with negative expectations, as they sometimes do these days with the Internet, but I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised. She will be on for a little while yet, not on forever because she has lots of exciting things to do in other parts of the DC Universe, but she has a very cool story yet to be told in “Red Lanterns.”

– Oliver Sava

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