Welcome to SUPER-BUDDIES, an interview series at Comicosity looking at those enduring friendships that comic books have brought us over the years — how they came to be and where they are now!
And you can’t start a series like this with any other characters than Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Blossoming out of the late 1980s rendition of the Justice League, the best friendship between techo-geek Ted Kord and future footballer Michael Carter is one of the most epic in comics history, and one of the most missed by fans as well. Fear not! For Blue Beetle and Booster Gold return in mere days to the forefront, as they awaken in the future of Justice League 3000!
Bringing them into this brand new adventure are the two guys who brought them together in the first place: writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. I had the enormous pleasure of chatting with these gentlemen about how Beetle and Booster came to be the team we all know them to be, and where they will go next! But first…
Where did it all begin?
Names: Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and Booster Gold (Michael Jon Carter)
Nickname: The Blue and the Gold
Published by: DC Comics
First meeting: Justice League #3 (1987)
Currently appearing in: Justice League 3000
The Justice League had reformed in the wake of defeating another plot by Darkseid to control the Earth. This wasn’t exactly the collection of super-humans the world was expecting, made up of brand new heroes who had never worked together before that moment: Batman, Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Mister Miracle, Martian Manhunter, and a very particular Green Lantern by the name of Guy Gardner. The team barely got out of the gate, however, before a mysterious benefactor arrived to introduce them to their newest member. One of the few heroes to make his public debut after the epic Crisis event that nearly destroyed the world, Booster Gold would become a lynchpin to the Justice League (International, as it came to be known) for many years to come.
What the League didn’t know at that first moment was how important (and sometimes frustrating) Booster Gold would become to the future of at least one member of the team. Quickly becoming fast friends amid a fast-paced race to international legitimacy, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were the heart of the team — and the brothers neither one had ever had before — through thick and thin. When Beetle got fat, Booster was there. When Booster lost his power suit (and an arm), Beetle was there to devise the replacement. When Booster struck out with the ladies, Beetle laughed and laughed and laughed. But at the end of the day, they always came back together. Whether it was to defeat the bad guys, or to run a resort on the island of Kooey Kooey Kooey, Booster and Beetle were an inseparable pair.
Ultimately, the League moved on, leaving Blue Beetle and Booster Gold at the wayside as greater titans returned to take up the mantles of World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. But the team of the Blue and Gold didn’t fall apart so easily. Ultimately coming back together to form an impromptu heroes for hire endeavor with some of their old teammates, Beetle and Booster fell into the employ of the Justice League’s benefactor, Maxwell Lord.
And here’s the tricky part.
In one timeline, the next we meet Beetle and Booster is on the last page of November’s Justice League 3000 #11. But in another, time marched on.
Blue Beetle was murdered by Maxwell Lord for discovering his former friend’s complicity in a plot to control the world’s governments. And it sobered Booster Gold up significantly. Now the greatest hero no one would believe, Booster Gold embarked on a crusade to solve Beetle’s murder, and eventually became a Time Master in the process. With all of time at his fingertips, Booster teamed up with his best friend not once, but twice, by retreating into the past and encountering Ted’s younger self.
But all of that… is history, as the original Blue Beetle and Booster Gold — never having encountered a murderous Maxwell Lord or left each other’s sides — have now been discovered in cryogenic containers underneath the ground in the year 3000, on the planet Takron-Galtos (once known as Earth). Let the Bwah-ha-ha-ing recommence! The Blue and Gold are back!
Why are these guys friends?
Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis share their thoughts…
Matt Santori: Before we start, can you guys do me a favor and identify your voices so I can split them apart when I transcribe?
Keith Giffen: Sure, sure. This is my voice.
MSG: [laughs] Yep. That would be Keith then.
J.M. DeMatteis: Yes! This is J.M. over here.
KG: J.M. has the weightier voice. The one with more gravitas.
MSG: [laughs] Awesome!
So, you guys have been writing Blue Beetle and Booster Gold for a long time. Going all the way back to when they first met in Justice League, when do you feel they first started to click as a friendship for you?
KG: I know when I felt it. It was the sequence when they first met Catherine Cobert. One of them made a fool of himself and the other just wouldn’t stop laughing.
JMD: Was that “Moving Day”?
KG: I’m thinking it was. That was the issue where everything clicked.
JMD: Yeah. That also, if I’m not mistaken, was the first “Bwah-ha-ha.”
KG: Yeah. It kinda was. And the funny thing is, the first “Bwah-ha-ha” wasn’t a “Bwah-ha-ha.” It was a “Mwah-ha-ha.”
JMD: Was it really?
KG: Yeah. It was “Mwah-ha-ha.” And then, later on in the book, when Beetle was telling someone how Booster had struck out trying to pick up Catherine Cobert, then it was “Bwah-ha-ha.”
JMD: Huh. I didn’t even remember that!
JMD: You know, I say this all the time and it’s really true: the thing with these characters is, they lead the way. We have no clue. Keith came up with the idea to put these guys together. On my end of it, I just don’t know until I start to write the dialogue how these characters are going to play it off. We could have put these two characters together and it would have become evident really quickly that they had no chemistry. We would have had to spin them off with different characters. But something happened with the two of them on the page.
And something happened between the characters and the readers. The readers react a certain way. Chemistry between characters is like chemistry between people. You can’t predict it. You just never know.
KG: If you just go out and try to do it, nine times out of ten, you’ll fail.
JMD: If we would have sat down and said, “We’re going to take these two characters to become the centerpiece of the book. And the audience is going to love them.” it never would have happened. The audience has to love them spontaneously. There’s just so much control we have over this. If it’s working right, the rest just sort of happens on its own.
MSG: And to that point, they didn’t just develop as friends. Beetle and Booster developed into the comedic center of the book. Did that happen organically as well, or were you looking for that sort of role to be filled?
KG: We did not go out and plan to do a humor book. That wasn’t the original plan.
The original plan was just to do a Justice League book. We were given characters. Justice League Detroit was gone and we were just starting up the Justice League again. It was just one of those things that happened organically. Like I said earlier, it wasn’t until “Moving Day” that I realized, “Oh! We have a book with a sense of humor here. Let’s capitalize on it.” That’s when it became sort of deliberate on my part.
JMD: Keith and Andy Helfer (our editor) were the ones who mapped this out in the beginning, and then they roped me in. There was a lightness of tone. It wasn’t hysterically funny, but there was definitely a light banter and a lighter tone than what was going on in a lot of other books in that day. I know I reacted to that in Keith’s plot. But we weren’t thinking, “Let’s do a super-hero book with a lot of humor, and it’s going to revolutionize the approach to super-hero comics.” It wasn’t like that.
On my end, the humor came out in writing the dialogue. These guys started talking to each other. And then they started joking. I think given the way Keith set up the plots, the tone of the book was far more real than any super-hero comic, because they felt like real people.
Keith always said that the best parts of the story happen when they’re not fighting, when they’re just hanging around headquarters. And when you’re doing that, you’re like real people: you’re sitting, talking, and goofing around. That tone just sort of naturally developed. And then we picked up on what the characters did. And it developed from there. Sometimes the humor superseded the adventure, but that was just fine with me.
KG: Keep in mind that we’ve always been more interested in who the characters are, and not what they are. It didn’t matter to us if someone had x-ray vision, or that Fire could burst into flames. Or that Ice was an ice goddess. It was who they were and how they reacted to the other people.
Marc is right. The best part of the book is when they were were all sitting around, bored out of their minds, and getting into different kinds of trouble. You got to know who the characters were. Even Max and Oberon, who could easily have fallen into cliche, became quite the buddy team in the book.
JMD: Yeah. There were all these little subsets that came about: Fire and Ice, Max and Oberon, Beetle and Booster. It’s interesting. We had a certain amount of control over it, but it was really the characters that did it. Once you get that feedback from the page, and you see how they spark together, then you follow that.
KG: Sometimes in plots, I would try to shoehorn some character into a sequence. It just didn’t work and I’d have to switch tactics, because Fire and Ice, for instance, just didn’t work in that particular sequence. When we had Ice dating Guy Gardner, believe me when I say there was not another Justice League member I could see her dating — or that worked for the character. And that wasn’t a decision I made. It was a decision that came out of who the character was.
MSG: So, what does Beetle do for Booster, and vice versa?
KG/JMD: [simultaneously] They annoy each other.
KG: [laughs] They do what friends do.
JMD: [laughs] Yeah. They do what friends do. I don’t know if I could possibly analyze it that way. If you really want to think about it, I think Booster always felt like an outsider, because he was a guy from the future who didn’t really belong in this entire time. Underneath it all, he was always really uncertain about himself.
As you’re talking about who the characters are, versus what they are, I realize I was so uninterested in Blue Beetle the super-hero, that I don’t know what the hell that he ever really did. [laughs] So, yeah, Beetle himself was something of an outsider too. Here are all these other characters with all these other powers, and what does Blue Beetle do? He runs around and flies around in this bug. On some level, in terms of fighting the bad guys, he really did not contribute tremendously to the team. His real contribution was his personality.
So, I can see how these two guys could be drawn to each other. But we certainly never analyzed it that way. When you meet the person who is going to be your best friend, it just sort of happens. And with these guys, it just sort of happened. They needed each other. And happily, they still do.
KG: When you really think about it, there’s no reason for Blue Beetle to even be in the Justice League. If you take this as being the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, there’s no reason for him to be there. And that always resonated with me.
The thing that struck me about Blue Beetle and Booster Gold is they never fell into the traditional “humorous buddy” situation, because there really wasn’t a straight man. It’s not like Laurel and Hardy, where Booster is the straight man and Beetle is the buffoon. They switched off. They were flexible. For me, at least, it was something unique. I’d never been involved with characters like that who were based on people I knew and friendships I’d had.
They were just fun characters to do.
JMD: For me, it always reminded me of what it was like when I was in my late teens or early twenties, with this group of guys I grew up with in Brooklyn. Hanging out on a Saturday night, it was the kind of banter that went on, and the love that was expressed through that banter. That’s what those guys always felt like to me: a real group of friends. Far more authentic than the angst-driven super-hero model we’re used to — and that I certainly traffic in plenty.
MSG: So, you’ve personally brought these guys back together several times over the years, in Formerly Known as the Justice League and the Booster Gold series. Looking toward the future, what’s their dynamic going to bring to the book?
KG: They’re Beetle and Booster, man.
By the way, the last time we saw these characters was “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League.” I look at Justice League 3000 as being the direct follow up to that. Blue Beetle never got shot. Booster never developed to become the guardian of the timeline. This is not that Beetle and Booster.
I figured, if we’re going to bring back these characters, we’re going to bring back the versions that we’re comfortable with. And to DC’s credit, they said to go for it and see what happens. It’s just Booster and Beetle. You know them. You love them. Here’s more of the same.
JMD: Right. It’s always interesting to me that when we came back to do Formerly Known as the Justice League, we hadn’t worked together in something like ten years. It was a little scary to sit down and work on these characters again. And then suddenly, they each open their big mouths and won’t shut up.
It’s the same thing with the next issue of Justice League 3000 (#12). It’s basically a Beetle and Booster solo story, where they wake up in the future. There’s always this moment of wondering whether it’s going to work, but then they start talking and it’s off we go! And it’s the same feeling as when you get together with an old friend that you haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years, and you pick up right where you left off.
The way they pick up with each other is the way we pick up with them.
God knows how many times we’ve said that we’re never touching these characters again. We always say, “Yeah, we’re done.” and then Keith calls up and says he wants to bring Beetle and Booster in. And I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do that!”
MSG: One last question: Is Kooey Kooey Kooey still somewhere on Takron-Galtos?
KG: No. No.
We’ve got Beetle and Booster. We’ve got Fire and Ice. They’ll mention their past, but this is not turning into a stealth Justice League International book. These characters are there, but I’d rather look forward than backwards.
JMD: Yeah, it’s really Booster Gold and Blue Beetle as Buck Rogers, because they’re waking up in a world they don’t know or understand. And even when they meet the other characters, it’s not the Superman or Wonder Woman they knew. These characters are the same, but totally different. It’s going to be interesting when they begin to bounce off the group. Their relationship is so different. It’s sort of like throwing a bomb into the middle of the book.
KG: In a way, Beetle and Booster are our eyes. They’ll be the ones who are commenting on the future, like “You mean most of the clothes are holographic?” They’ll be the ones we can use to get across certain concepts, because the other characters understand the 30th century. They can teleport. It’s normal to them. At least with Beetle and Booster, we can get a sense of awe for the technology.
JMD: They’re us. They’re really us. They’re the characters I relate to, certainly more than any of our Justice League characters. They just feel like us.
“Booster Gold is my favourite character ever and there are times that Blue Beetle feels kind of like a friend-of-a-friend. Both characters were very different in their solo titles prior to JLI and it’s amazing how much these two characters have been defined by their JLI partnership.
– Keith Callbeck, Comicosity
– Alison Berry, Comicosity
Where can I read more?
- Justice League International #8-25 (1988-89)
- Justice League America #26-60 (1989-92)
- Mister Miracle #7-8 (1989)
- Extreme Justice #0-18 (1995-96)
- Formerly Known as the Justice League #1-6 (2003-4)
- JLA Classified #4-9 (2005): I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League
- Booster Gold #0, 7-10 (2008): Blue & Gold
- Booster Gold #32-39 (2010-11): Past Imperfect
- Justice League 3000 #11- (2014)
Stay tuned to Comicosity for future editions of Super-Buddies, including a return visit from Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis to talk all about their other famous pair of best friends — Fire and Ice!