"Jerry Ordway Interview"

April, 1998

 

You may be familiar with Jerry Ordway from his work on DCís 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: Itís 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 itís nostalgic and an all-ages book thatís also hopefully a fun read.

Westfield: Youíve 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 whoís 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 - youíre 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 donít 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 wouldnít 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. Iíve 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. Thatís 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 itís 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 whoís an adult, who has an adult life, who is married, so thereís a totally different sensibility; even to crime fighting. An adult looks at the world much differently than a kid. From Supermanís perspective, he can see the seriousness in most everything. Heís lived as an adult. Heís 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. Thatís the basic difference.

In writing Shazam, you canít write too many stories where Captain Marvel comes out on top [laughter]. Heís got that confident smile and a kidís optimism that, even if he was in a really terrible situation, heíd feel, "Hey. Thereís no way I can lose! Iíve gotta win." Whereas Superman, as an adult, realizes things could go badly for him. Heís died already, for Godís 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 Iíve had that artistic nagging in the back of my head of, "Gee. Iíd really like to take a crack at this." But the situation didnít 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]! Itís 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. Iím really hoping we can make the book viable and keep it around. If thereís anyone out there who enjoyed my work on Superman and who were hesitant to buy something that I wasnít drawing, which I understand, I would hope theyíd take a look at Shazam, so weíd pick up some new readers.

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

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

Ordway: Iím taking a situation in Fawcett City and basically asking, "What would happen if someone stole Captain Marvelís powers?" Thatís certainly been done in the past, in the old continuity, but I wanted a situation where youíd 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 weíve used in the past called Chain Lightning who has been plaguing Freddy Freeman. Sheís a girl who has lightning powers - sheís like an electrical conduit. She winds up stealing the power of Shazam. Being a multiple-personality-disorder patient, what weíre seeing are very drastically different sides to the character. Theyíre not calling themselves Captain Marvel, but theyíre super powered characters who really donít get along with humanity too well. The sub-plot revolves around finding a way to get the kidsí powers back. Thereís plenty of action. The first issue (#42) sets up the premise and by issue #43, weíve introduced a new Bulletgirl, as well as use Bulletman too. Itís a little more action oriented than weíve had in the past, but thereís 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: Weíre using Ibis in here (weíve used him before) and, while this isnít a cutting edge idea, Iím 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 somethingís happened to the kids. They wind up going through a series of adventures in an attempt to try to restore the kids powers. Itís fun. Iím 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 youíd like to mention?

Ordway: Iím 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 itís kind of exciting too, at the same time. Itís a rush to see material come out on the stands again, and Iím as anxious as my fans are to see my new pencil art gracing a monthly comic again!