Jerry Ordway Interview

You may be familiar with Jerry Ordway from his work on DC’s Infinity, Inc. or Adventures of Superman, but for a graphic novel and 41 issues, he has chronicled the adventures of Captain Marvel in Power of Shazam! This month, for the first time since the graphic novel, he not only writes but also draws the continuing story of the Big Red Cheese. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Ordway about his work on Power of Shazam!

Westfield: For people who may be unfamiliar with Power of Shazam!, how would you describe the book?

Jerry Ordway: It’s an updating of the original Fawcett characters, encompassing the old Fawcett line of characters. Anyone who appeared in a Fawcett comic could pop up at any moment in Shazam. I think it fits comfortably with a book like Starman; not in the adult theme area, but it’s nostalgic and an all-ages book that’s also hopefully a fun read.

Westfield: You’ve been working on Power of Shazam! for quite a while now. What originally drew you to the character?

Ordway: I always thought that Captain Marvel was a very distinctive and cool looking character. I drew my initial inspiration from the old Republic movie serial. It stands today as one of the best of the cliffhanger serials - very exciting, good stunts and all that. Captain Marvel is also a character who’s been around on TV and in licensing in the past, but not much had been done with him more recently. I was given the opportunity to start from the ground floor and that was really attractive. Working on Superman for a number of years before that, you have to be a team player - you’re like a four-headed writing monster or something [laughter]. Each writer only gets to do either a beginning, a middle or an end to a story. It was nice to have a book where I was the only writer. I don’t think DC had any preconceived notions of what I was going to do with the book. It was just, "Here. Use these characters."

Westfield: As you mentioned, Captain Marvel and his supporting cast are classic characters. How do you strike a balance between the classic, some would say goofy, characters and modern sensibilities?

Ordway: I think that if I were trying to do something with modern sensibilities, it wouldn’t work with these characters. I think most everybody else is trying to do that; you can only do so many books in the same vein. Modern sensibilities translated into troubled, angry youth, or something like that, would never work with this character, for me.

The potential I saw in the character is what I enjoyed as a kid reading Spider-Man, to draw a Marvel Comics reference. I grew up on Marvel Comics. I’ve worked most of my career for DC, but I was a die-hard Marvel fan and I always found a real special quality to Spider-Man that had me feeling for the character of Peter Parker and his surrounding cast. That’s been my take on Shazam - to try and invest the kids, Billy Batson, his sister Mary and Freddy Freeman, with a special sort of life, and create an all-ages soap opera the way the Ditko/Lee Spider-Man comics did.

Westfield: How does your approach to writing Power of Shazam! differ from your work on Adventures of Superman, since they are both classic characters?

Ordway: Superman is a very different character from Captain Marvel. I know they all wear longjohns and fight crime, but I think what makes Cap really special and separate is that it’s a story about a kid who gets powers. You can draw a lot of parallels between Captain Marvel and Superman, but Clark Kent is certainly somebody who’s an adult, who has an adult life, who is married, so there’s a totally different sensibility; even to crime fighting. An adult looks at the world much differently than a kid. From Superman’s perspective, he can see the seriousness in most everything. He’s lived as an adult. He’s had responsibilities as an adult. A kid, even one with the wisdom of Solomon, is still going to look at things a little bit more naively. That’s the basic difference.

In writing Shazam, you can’t write too many stories where Captain Marvel comes out on top [laughter]. He’s got that confident smile and a kid’s optimism that, even if he was in a really terrible situation, he’d feel, "Hey. There’s no way I can lose! I’ve gotta win." Whereas Superman, as an adult, realizes things could go badly for him. He’s died already, for God’s sake [laughter].

Westfield: You begin penciling Power of Shazam! with issue #42. Why did you decide to take over on art?

Ordway: Pete Krause had put in a really good run and he did a really nice job with the book, but I’ve had that artistic nagging in the back of my head of, "Gee. I’d really like to take a crack at this." But the situation didn’t present itself.

Then, a lot of elements came into play. I had been away from drawing regular comics for a while and was getting the itch again. And it certainly is a crazy itch once you hop onto a monthly deadline [laughter]! It’s a lot of work, but I felt like I had something to prove. I turned 40 this past November and I felt like I wanted to see if I could still do it. I’m really hoping we can make the book viable and keep it around. If there’s anyone out there who enjoyed my work on Superman and who were hesitant to buy something that I wasn’t drawing, which I understand, I would hope they’d take a look at Shazam, so we’d pick up some new readers.

This is also the first time Dick Giordano’s inked me and I’ve been doing comics professionally for 17 years. We were both kind of amazed that our paths had never crossed. What I’ve seen so far looks pretty cool.

Westfield: What can people look forward to in upcoming issues?

Ordway: I’m taking a situation in Fawcett City and basically asking, "What would happen if someone stole Captain Marvel’s powers?" That’s certainly been done in the past, in the old continuity, but I wanted a situation where you’d have a Fawcett City where Billy and Mary and Freddy Freeman are unable to become Captain Marvel or CM3 - just play with the idea of how Fawcett City would react to a situation with some aberrant Captain Marvels taking over.

The hook is we have this character we’ve used in the past called Chain Lightning who has been plaguing Freddy Freeman. She’s a girl who has lightning powers - she’s like an electrical conduit. She winds up stealing the power of Shazam. Being a multiple-personality-disorder patient, what we’re seeing are very drastically different sides to the character. They’re not calling themselves Captain Marvel, but they’re super powered characters who really don’t get along with humanity too well. The sub-plot revolves around finding a way to get the kids’ powers back. There’s plenty of action. The first issue (#42) sets up the premise and by issue #43, we’ve introduced a new Bulletgirl, as well as use Bulletman too. It’s a little more action oriented than we’ve had in the past, but there’s still a lot of story going on.

Westfield: Since you mentioned Bulletman and Bulletgirl, are there any other old Fawcett characters you have plans for using?

Ordway: We’re using Ibis in here (we’ve used him before) and, while this isn’t a cutting edge idea, I’m having fun drawing Talky Tawny [a tiger] [laughter]. The only two allies that Billy and Mary have, in a sense, wind up being Mr. Dudley and Talky Tawny, because they both know their secret identities, so they know that if Captain Marvel is gone, then something’s happened to the kids. They wind up going through a series of adventures in an attempt to try to restore the kids powers. It’s fun. I’m drawing on all these different ideas that have been floating around in my head and also a lot of it is trying to recapture that cool feeling of reading comics when I was an early teen.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects you’d like to mention?

Ordway: I’m dialoging Adventures of Superman over Karl Kesel for a while. I guess Karl needed a breather, so I went from feeling like I was semi-retired to suddenly doing way too much work. But it’s kind of exciting too, at the same time. It’s a rush to see material come out on the stands again, and I’m as anxious as my fans are to see my new pencil art gracing a monthly comic again!