A lot of artists know what it’s like to return a character to greatness after a long absence, but few have had the opportunity to do so in such a grand way as Ethan Van Sciver. Making his mark indelibly on the DC Universe of the 21st century, Van Sciver has the unique pedigree of rebirthing not just Green Lantern Hal Jordan to an entirely new audience of fans, but also returning Barry Allen to his red and yellow togs as the Flash. Van Sciver was recently guest of honor at Wizard World Chicago, where he graciously sat down to talk to Comicosity about his work on those two projects, his thoughts on illustrating two Batmans, and his lifelong love affair with all things DC Comics.
EVS: Thank you! I’m doing at least two more issues on Dark Knight, but after that… I heard through the grapevine about a project and I thought, “Oh, I want that gig.” And I wrote to Dan DiDio and said, “Please think of me.” And sure enough, a couple weeks ago, he called me and said, “Yeah, you start in October.” So, yeah, something else is coming!
MSG: You’ve had a chance to take on the Dark Knight in small doses in the past, as in Green Lantern: Rebirth, but these two projects mark the first real time you’ve focused on this character in an extended fashion. What are some of the things you’re focusing on with the character to make his appearance and physical motivation stand out, not just from other heroes, but also from each other?
EVS: They are two different Batmans, obviously. With Earth 2 Batman, I’m being told to draw him bulky, a lot more bulky than the New 52 Batman. I’m looking at the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns Batman and really drawing influence from that. He’s already been established and Nicola has drawn him a few times, I believe. I’m catching up on Earth 2 now that I have this gig.
Whereas with my Batman [in The Dark Knight], he’s the same as he’s always been. My feeling about Bruce is that his primary weapon isn’t his physique, but his ability to intimidate. If you look at the very early Detective issues with the origin of Batman, he says, “Father, I shall become a bat.” And he meant that literally in the sense that he wants to appear to look like a bat at night. In fact, we see this in movies and comics where people who have just had their asses kicked by Batman in an alley say, “A giant bat swooped down!” They have descriptions of him that look like Man-Bat and it’s a running joke.
I really think that it’s important that when you draw his cowl and cape that it should be done in such a way that — under certain circumstances of light and shadow — he’ll look like a bat. If you were drunk and got beaten up by this thing, you might think you’d been beaten by a bat. I have made a couple of alterations to the way his cape works. It does look like bat-wings, and functions that way as a glider, with a skeleton and bat-fingers. And I’ve kept his ears long. I don’t like these shorter ears. I know that’s the current look, but bats have big ears, don’t they?
MSG: Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern is marked indelibly by your involvement in several key moments across the course of nine years, from the initial Rebirth story to The Sinestro Corps War and the final annual where Hal temporarily dies. How was it to usher that character from obscurity back to greatness, and having to share that job with other artists?
EVS: You know, when it was happening, it really felt intimate and small between Geoff and I. Geoff had already worked with Dan DiDio and Pete Tomasi to figure out Hal’s backstory — how he came back from being Parallax, how to undo that stuff and make him a hero again. It was no easy trick. Geoff had already done that, so by the time he and I were working together, it was a lot about aesthetics. Green Lantern felt like he was ours. Sinestro felt like he was ours. It was as though DC was willing to let us do whatever we wanted. And I felt free.
I’ve said this before and I really can’t stress it enough. Geoff Johns is magnificent to work for — uniquely wonderful in the sense that he’s an awful lot like the captain of a high school football team, and you’re on the team. He says all the right things to you. In a way, he sort of a combination, because he’s a stand-in coach who says all the right things to encourage you, to get you involved, to pump you up, and to make you feel like you’re part of this team… and that we’re going to win the game. So, when I would make little changes and tiptoe around Green Lantern’s energy signature and making the signal on his chest pop out, Geoff would go, “DUDE, that is huge! Let’s do that but go BIGGER.” And it felt great.
Now, how did it feel to hand it off to other artists? Sad, you know? Like sending your kid off to school. But at the same time, seeing that I got to be a part of reestablishing a character that everyone loves — and Green Lantern’s fandom is as wide and as rabid as Star Trek’s — is something that I will always carry in my heart. I’m really proud of it.
EVS: He’s the first Silver Age DC hero. I just love Barry Allen as the Flash. I was the guy who was really pushing to bring him back. When I would be in a cab with Dan DiDio, I would talk to him about the Flash. The series was having a lot of trouble and suffered through three relaunches that failed at the time. I said, “If you’d only let us bring back Barry Allen and let us do Flash: Rebirth, I’m sure we could get that franchise back on track again.” He would reply, “Oh no. He died a hero.” But I think we wore him down after some time, and he began to think it was a good idea. And indeed it was.
[Somebody yells from the con floor, “No, it wasn’t!”]
Ha ha ha! Must be a Wally West fan! But it’s led to Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s amazing Flash series, so all in all, it was a good idea. The Flash is working again.
And I wanted to be the guy who brought back Barry AND Hal. I wanted that just to be me. I gave up Blackest Night to do it. You have to remember, I had co-created that story with Geoff and I was supposed to do that, and suddenly the opportunity to do Flash: Rebirth came up. I had a choice and I had to think about that long and hard. I chose to do Flash just because of that, to be able to bring back both Hal and Barry. I figured that would mean more to me long term, even though I watched Blackest Night happening with my teeth grinding — thinking, “This is so cool! Why am I not drawing this?!?!” But I got to design all that stuff.
MSG: And you had an enormous amount of input into the development of all the new Lantern Corps as well, correct?
EVS: Yeah, that was my idea. It was one of those things where Geoff and I would talk together late at night. I used to be really timid with him — and I think I still am when I have an idea I’m afraid of — and I said, “Isn’t it really weird that there’s a yellow ring and there’s also this pink energy with Star Sapphire?” And that yellow is next to green on the ROYGBIV spectrum. And he loved it. We just started assigning the emotional — although I always thought it was motivational — spectrum to these colors. Like, the opposite of fear is hope, and it just grew from there. It was one of those feverish late night conversations, until three in the morning. It was so cool.
MSG: And it’s added this entirely new mythology to something people already truly loved.
EVS: I’m so glad. You’re going to make me want to cry here because I have loved DC super-heroes since I was three years old. I can’t even tell you how much these characters mean to me. I posted on my Facebook page a beautiful José Garcia-Lopez drawing of the Super-Friends, and I’d never seen it before but it should have been my pillowcase when I was five. They’re in my heart so deeply and have been there my entire life in different ways.
I want to work for DC Comics until I die. I hope I’m able to. I know not everyone has that kind of longevity. George Perez is someone I look at because he’s been able to do this for so many years, and I hope I’m like him in that way. I hope I have that.
I just keep trying to add to it as best as I can, make the lines stronger and give DC some more characters that have staying power. Geoff and I gave them Atrocitus together, and Saint Walker and Larfleeze. And I think they’re here to stay.
MSG: Plus, you get to work on one of DC’s newest super-stars this month — Bat-Cow!
EVS: Yes! That was fun! So much fun! It was a joke that Dan DiDio came up with one day, just a gag strip made into a six page silent story with a single word at the end. And I said I’d love to draw that IF I can draw it super-realistically. Because I think everyone else would have drawn it as a cartoon. It’s the kind of story that a more cartoony artist would have done, but I thought it would be fun to actually draw, you know, a cow. You just want to give her a kiss! What’s surprising about Bat-Cow is that even though she’s this cult, funny character, there seems to be an audience for her!
MSG: Any last thoughts or special teases for the Comicosity audience?
EVS: I’m doing variant covers for almost every book next month, which is crazy! I’m doing six variants for Forever Evil, which is super cool because I love villains more than anything. Also, Superman Unchained, Teen Titans, Batman, Justice League of America — I’m just getting around doing lots of variants before starting my next project! Be on the lookout for those!
Ethan Van Sciver will be illustrating a short story in this month’s Batman Incorporated Special #1, starring Bat-Cow, from DC Comics, as well as taking the role of regular cover artist for Earth 2, starting with issue #17 in November. For a special preview of Van Sciver’s Bat-Cow story pages, check out DC Comics’ Facebook page.