The old movie and TV system may have seemed to trust the writers, directors and cast with the creativity, with the producers on hand to keep it all running smoothly - but that's all changed. Movie/TV/comic book writer and producer Marc Guggenheim joined forces with a few colleagues to make The CW's Arrow a reality back in 2012, spawning The Flash and the upcoming DC's Legends of Tomorrow spinoff, and triggering a wave of other DC Comics properties on other networks.
Now, Guggenheim is turning his talents back to the printed page. Having already written superheroes like The Flash, Spider-Man and the X-Men, his next creation is an entirely original one. Pairing with Legendary Comics and artist Freddie Williams II, "The Adventures of Jonas Quantum" introduces a new character shaped by classic movie, TV and comic book heroes now missing from the spotlight.
We had the chance to discuss "Jonas Quantum" with Guggenheim ahead of the comic series' debut in September 2015, and hear firsthand about his influences, the future of Arrow and DC's TV universe, and how live-action crossovers have become the most hotly-demanded twist among fans - but run the risk of doing more harm than good.
So aside from Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, you're now working with artist Freddie Williams on "The Adventures of Jonas Quantum," which, from the sound of it, isn't your typical punch-you-in-the-face superhero. How did you come up with the idea? Because it sounds like it's been brewing for a while, and isn’t the type of hero your fans are used to.
Marc Guggenheim: Well, thanks. I think your read, actually, is pretty spot on. This is an idea that I’ve had for about 10 years now, and it’s just something that’s been going around and around in my head for the longest time. I think it sort of started with a desire on my part to really try to create a new kind of character. I grew up with not just comic books, but like James Bond and Indiana Jones. When I think about sort of new characters, they are just so few and far between. In part, it’s so difficult to come up with something original, to come up with a character nowadays. If you created a globetrotting adventurer, he’d be compared to Indiana Jones. If you created a super spy, he’d be compared to James Bond. And, no doubt Jonas, like both of those characters, has his inspirations and origins in other properties. Like they said in the Bible, there’s nothing new under the sun.
So it’s completely impossible to create something 100% original, but I really wanted to try to craft a character who existed in a different space. That did make it incumbent upon the idea to avoid, like you said, just punching people. The traditional superhero has some kind of superpower or special abilities. I was kind of interested in the notion of a superhero whose superpower really was his intellect.
I think comic books are definitely not lacking for geniuses. You’ve got Reed Richards. You’ve got Tony Stark. You’ve got Lex Luthor over on the DC side of things. But none of these characters I’m mentioning, with the exception of Lex Luth0r, who is clearly not a good guy, their intellect is not their primary quality or characteristic. Their intellect is not their superpower. And I was very interested in that. I like the idea of an adventurer in the vein of Indiana Jones whose intellect takes him to all these places, but instead of just taking him to different places on the globe like Indiana Jones, it takes him to different times. It takes him to different dimensions. It takes him to different parallel universes.
Once I started thinking about the character in those terms, the sky really became the limit. And that was something I really wanted to achieve, which I wanted not just a fun character, but really a series that could go anywhere and do anything where each issue would be sort of one self-contained story. And like in the comic books of old, particularly like the early issues of Fantastic Four, you just had no idea where it was going to go. You would get the latest issue and it was impossible to predict what was going to be contained within those pages, I think in the best possible way.
I’m curious to hear how different the experience is for you… obviously the past few years we’ve seen you working to adapt existing superheroes, now you're creating one from the ground up. Is there less pressure knowing fans won’t be screaming at you online, or is there more pressure because you're where the buck stops, in a lot of ways?
Marc Guggenheim: Gosh. That’s a good question. I’m going to give an honest but probably unsatisfying answer, which is that I kind of feel like I try not to think in terms of the pressure. To the extent I do, honestly, I’m neurotic enough to find reasons to find both scenarios pressure inducing.
At the end of the day, I think the only way to do the kind of job a writer does is push everything aside and just ultimately sit down and do the work. Certainly with an established character, like let’s say Green Arrow, there’s expectations, and I think that’s both good and bad. There are pros and cons. The pro is that you've got this very firm foundation to build off of. The con is that that foundation probably comes with some expectations. And the reverse is true when it comes to creating your own character. So each one brings to it its own set of challenges.
Beyond the new comic, it feels like the average moviegoer or TV fan sees a producer as the guy in the suit screaming at the director and the talent. But the last few years have seen yourself, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg appear as clearly storytellers first, or at least clearly possessing that creative bug. You've also seen how Marvel and DC work firsthand, so I’m curious to know if your time spent in comics has helped you, or if these TV superheroes are a completely different animal?
Marc Guggenheim: Truth be told, I’m a very big believer that the reason you've seen this huge surge in superheroes both on television and in film is…part of it of course is zeitgeist. There’s no denying that right now there’s a huge appetite on the part of the audience in both TV and film for these kind of adventures.
At the same time, that’s coincided with the incredible advances in technology. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s being done these days, both in TV and film, that you couldn't do even five years ago, given the state of visual effects. For example, like Flash, there’s just no way five years ago to do Flash as a TV series with the level of production value that Flash is being done with.
So part of it is a technological thing. Part of it is a zeitgeist thing. I think Greg, Andrew, and myself, we were television producers long before we produced Arrow. I think when it comes to television as opposed to film, the producers really are the writers. We work with people who are purely financial producers. But television is run by the showrunners who are writer/producers, people who got into writing, as you said, because they got bit by the writing bug, and then they found themselves - and I’m one of them - just continuing to get promoted up the ranks.
In television the way it works is the more seniority you have and the more control you have, the more responsibility you have to produce your work. When I write a film, the film gets handed off to a producer and a director and I go my merry way. With television, I am expected and contracted to stick around and actually produce what I've written.
So I think… I wouldn't draw a really tight line between the rise of this television genre and the rise of television. I don’t necessarily see those things connected. But, certainly what has become possible to do on a TV schedule, on a TV budget has grown significantly. And I think comic book properties are definitely benefiting from this new world order.
Now that you've not gotten a reminder of how much time and energy goes into creating even one superhero, much of the talk surrounding Flash, Arrow, and like you said, superhero films is now centering on 'the crossover.' I tend to push back on that out of concern that individual properties may be watered down as a result. As somebody who creates these properties, is there a part of you that wishes people would appreciate the one hero that they have, and not demand any and all possible crossovers?
Marc Guggenheim: That’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t necessarily think that they are mutually exclusive. To take Arrow as an example, the vast majority of Arrow Season 3 has been just telling the story of this group of people led by Oliver Queen. I don’t even mean just Team Arrow, I mean the entire ensemble of characters.
At the same time, it’s fun to occasionally get a visit from Central City. And it’s occasionally fun to send people from Arrow onto Flash. I feel like the crossovers are additive in the sense that… I grew up with The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman as my TV shows. I love the fact that they would cross-pollinate the shows; that Oscar Goldman would show up on both shows and that they would occasionally crossover the two shows.
I think really the trick, and this goes for anything you might talk about in life, is that it’s all about balance. If you start to feel like, 'Well, God: every episode is either a crossover or building up to a crossover,' then probably the cart has started to drag the horse. But if you strike the right balance, it could just be this wonderful thing that builds out the universe.
It’s actually a problem that comic books have been dealing with for decades. And people still debate the inter-company crossovers, or the intra-company crossovers I should say, where there’ll be a big event and, 'Well, OK. That’s fine, but what about the monthly books that don’t tie into that event?' Again, to me the balance is when you can’t get any story momentum because you have to keep working towards these crossovers, that’s when you start to run into a problem.
But I think with respect to, Arrow and Flash, and now with the new show, Legends of Tomorrow, you’ll see we’re not going crazy and crossing over every week, because then I think it does water down the properties. But if you do it sort of judiciously and a couple of times a year as we've been doing, then it’s a value add. You don’t have to watch the other show in order to appreciate that given 'crossover' episode.
You buy into the theory that fans are willing to kind of forget about the questions of: 'Well, why doesn't Flash come in and just rescue Arrow? Why doesn't Arrow jump in and help Flash all the time…?' That it's only when such a story makes sense?
Marc Guggenheim: Yeah. That’s a buy that, you know, ever since The Avengers movie, the Marvel movies have been faced with as well: Why doesn't Steve Rogers give Tony Stark a call? I think part of it’s a buy and part of it is you've got to be clever about your writing. I know in the Arrow season finale, Barry shows up to help out Oliver. I think there’s a suggested answer to that question. Maybe it’s sub-textual, but I feel like we were sort of acknowledging the fact that having Barry as part of the year-end game plan would be very helpful for Team Arrow.
But yes, I mean as a general rule, you’re right—there needs to be a buy on the part of the audience. But, again, these are questions that the comic book… I don’t even want to say the comic book industry, I mean the comic book medium has been facing for literally decades.
There has been a lot of speculation about Legends of Tomorrow, and I know many fans (ourselves included) felt that Robbie Amell and Victor Garber’s Firestorm was presented well enough to earn support for his own spinoff. But the character's involvement in the universe has been kept quiet; I won’t say Robbie specifically, but would you like to see a future for the superhero Firestorm…?
Marc Guggenheim: It’s a good question. I will say Victor Garber, who plays Martin Stein, is a part of the spinoff... and we wouldn't have Martin Stein on the show if there wasn't going to be some Firestorm.
That’s the kind of cryptic we love.
Yes. By the way, it’s designed not to get me in trouble with Warner Brothers publicity. [Laughs]
Legendary Comics presents The Adventures of Jonas Quantum, an original sci-fi odyssey coming this September from two of the most exciting voices in superhero storytelling: Marc Guggenheim and visionary artist Freddie Williams II (Justice League America, The Flash, Robin).
Meet Jonas Quantum: a maverick hyper-genius with the power to cure death in the morning, time travel in the afternoon and unlock transdimensional wormholes at night. And what have you done with your day? Blessed with the curse of infinite intelligence, there’s only one thing Jonas Quantum can’t do: play well with others. This thrilling action-adventure spans cosmic voyages, history-changing inventions, and delusions of grandeur.