Writer Paul Kupperberg has had a long career in the world of comics, magazines, novels, and even served as the editor for The Weekly World News! Kupperberg has written hundreds of stories for DC Comics, working on almost all of the most well-characters in the DC pantheon.
However, those looking for the grittier characters that the late 1980s were known for fondly remember Kupperberg’s work on Vigilante and Peacemaker, and will be happy to hear that many aspects of his take on the Peacemaker also have a fan in Suicide Squad director James Gunn. In May, the director of the upcoming Suicide Squad and the Peacemaker TV series assured fans and Kupperberg that his “…fingerprints are all over the Peacemaker show, and the history of you work with the Charlton characters is a part of us.”
We got a chance to speak to Kupperberg about the early start to his career writing novels for Marvel and his two unhinged crime fighting characters, the aforementioned Vigilante and Peacemaker, at this year’s Terrificon.
One of your first jobs in comics was actually writing two comics-inspired novels for Marvel. How did you get involved in writing two of Pocket Books Marvel novels?
Paul Kupperberg: I don’t know really. I was working at Marvel, as I recall, in 1978 and I was writing for Larry Hama on their comedy magazine, Crazy. I think it was Len (Wein) who came up to me one day and said “Do you want to write a novel?” I had never written anything of that length before, and now I was writing a 50,000 word novel.
I was given a short outline and they had short deadlines. I had been writing professionally for about three years at the time, but it was a challenge. I ended up writing the eight book in the series, The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime Campaign, and the eleventh, The Hulk and Spider-Man: Murdermoon, which was the last book in the series. There were supposed to be an even twelve, which was a Silver Surfer book, but at the last minute, it wasn’t released because it came down from above that only Stan (Lee) was allowed to write the Surfer.
You’ve worked on dozens of characters for DC, but many remember your time on Vigilante, and in particular, the way that you handled the character’s downward spiral and eventual demise. What do you recall about your time on the series?
Kupperberg: I wrote a fill-in issue, number 16, for Marv Wolfman and I was helping Marv with dialogue on another issue, and then I started my run on Vigilante on number 21. Once I started, I mean, it was clear from the very beginning that the characters was nuts. Here was a character who was a sitting judge, and if he didn’t like the way that his rulings turned out, would go out and correct them in the streets. His obsession kept growing and his ill-conceived plans began to weigh on him , and when he eventually pulled the trigger on a cop, that was it; there was no coming back from that for him. There was no opportunity for redemption at that point.
Did you face any pushback over the suicide of the character in the final issue?
Kupperberg: No. We knew the book was going to be cancelled, so we wanted to handle the end on our terms. It was a natural progression for the character and we didn’t glamorize it. It was similar to the way comics dealt with drugs at the time; if you tell the truth, you can’t go wrong.
You were also the first person to bring Peacemaker over from Charlton Comics into the DC Universe in Vigilante, and then wrote 1988’s Peacemaker mini-series.
Kupperberg: Yes, the Charlton characters had been floating around for a while after DC acquired them and I was actually writing a Captain Atom serial for a proposed anthology starring all of the Charlton heroes and Superman called Comics Cavalcade Weekly. Keith Giffen was working on a Peacemaker story for that as well, but the comic was never released.
After the anthology was shelved, I used him in Vigilante and it grew out of that time period in the 1980s when “down and dirty” characters were popular. His original tagline was that he loved peace so much, that he was willing to fight for it. So we changed it to he loves peace so much, he is willing to kill for it, which showed the character to be insane, even hearing voices when he put his helmet on. There was a lot of buzz about the character and it was a challenge to see how far I could take him in an unrestrained fashion.
How do you think he will work on the screen in James Gunn’s new Suicide Squad and the upcoming HBO Max series?
Kupperberg: I think he will work fine. James Gunn has been very generous in acknowledging the part I played in molding the character, and has said that a lot of my work on the character is represented in the way that he was written. I was invited to the premiere in Los Angeles and I am excited to see something that I had a hand in on the screen.