A Stern Talking To
by Will Allred (2/27/1998)
I've been reading comics for as long as I can remember, which works out to nearly two decades. During this time, I have read some truly great stories as well as some...well, not so great ones. However, it wasn't until recently, within the last seven to eight years, that I started noticing the names of the creators on stories that I enjoyed. Here lately, I've started going back to some of those comics that I remembered fondly from my younger years and re-reading them to see if they are still as good to a 26-year-old father of twins as they were to a much younger me. Some stood the test of time better than others. However, I noticed a name again and again on those stories that had aged well...Roger Stern. Roger has been working in comics for over twenty years and is responsible for stories that many fans recognize by name. For instance, "The Kid Who Collected Spider-man" in Amazing Spider-man, The Mansion Siege and Assault On Olympus in the Avengers, The Death of Superman, The Hobgoblin Mystery...and quite a few more were all penned by him. Besides those, he has also written many, many other titles and stories during his career; most of which kept this reader entertained and amazed for a good many years. Roger took a few moments out of his busy schedule for a quick conversation about his past, present, and the future history of the Marvel Universe.
Allred: Could you tell us a little about yourself? For instance, are you married?
Stern: I've been married for over 15 years to Carmela Merlo.
Allred: That name sounds familiar...
Stern: Carmela is my writing assistant on Legionnaires. That's what her "Adult Legionnaire" title means; although, I'm trying to get DC to make a more formal acknowledgment of her contributions. She's also a lifelong comics reader, like myself. In fact, we first met at a comics convention in Ottawa.
Allred: OK, fanboy question time. Who's your favorite character?
Stern: No such animal. I have dozens of favorites.
Allred: And, I bet that you've probably got to write most of them over the course of your career. Speaking of...how did you get your start?
Stern: I passed a test for a low level staff job at Marvel in December of '75. I started out proofreading letters pages and reprint books, and eventually picked up some freelance writing on the side.
Allred: Once you got in, you've obviously stayed in. What are some of the titles that you have written?
Stern: Okay, here goes... I've written Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Amazing Spider-man, Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, Hulk, Iron Man, Legionnaires, Legion of Super-heroes, Power of the Atom, Spider-man: Hobgoblin Lives, Spectacular Spider-man, Supergirl, Superman, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, West Coast Avengers, and X-Men vs. the Avengers to name a few. I also penned one book, a novelization -- The Death and Life of Superman. I was also an Editor for Marvel Comics, circa 1978-79, working on ...Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight, Marvel Tales, Marvel Two-In-One, Master Of Kung Fu, Ms. Marvel, Power Man & Iron Fist, X-Men My current assignments are Legionnaires and Marvel Universe, which begins in April of 1998.
Allred: You mentioned your current work...Legionnaires and Marvel Universe. We'll come back to Marvel Universe in a minute, but can you tell us what's on the horizon for my favorite group of 30th-century teenage super-heroes?
Stern: Secret stuff.
Allred: I hate secrets! Working on the Legion of Super-Heroes, you've come into contact with its devoted fan following, which is a ...umm...somewhat dedicated lot. Do you catch any flak from fans of the preboot (the continuity before Zero Hour restarted the Legion, much like John Byrne's restart of Superman) for not following the now erased history?
Stern: It would be ridiculous to expect us to follow pre-Zero Hour stories. I didn't care for them, didn't read them, and am not about to go back and try to make sense of them. Despite this, I occasionally see complaints from people that we're writing their favorite character "wrong." My response is to ignore such complaints and concentrate on new Legionnaires who have no antecedents in the old continuity.
Allred: In your past credits, you mentioned the Avengers. As a long-time Avengers fan myself, I would love to hear about the genesis of the Mansion Siege (soon to be released as a trade paperback since it features many of the current Thunderbolts) and Assault On Olympus storylines. I will never forget Cap kneeling down in the rubble of Avengers Mansion after the siege holding the fragments of the only picture of his mother, and the Black Knight taking Zeus down a peg or two after he had kidnapped them. I read and re-read those stories well over a decade ago, but I still remember them, especially those scenes. What was the impetus behind these stories?
Stern: Thanks. It all grew out of trying to come up with adversaries who could truly give the Avengers a credible fight. I always loved the idea of the Masters of Evil, and I just tried to make them live up to their name...mainly by having them fight dirty.
Allred: I've been going over some old interviews with you, it looked to me like you had long term plans in mind. Plans that were unfortunately cut short before you left the title.
Stern: I didn't leave. I was fired for disagreeing with my editor. But yes, I had a number of plans for stories up through issue #300, at least. I don't remember much of them now, of course.
Allred: You recently got to finish your Hobgoblin story, one that began back in 1983 with his introduction, by finally revealing the true face behind the mask. Will you be doing anything more with Spidey and supporting cast?
Stern: I'm working with Glenn Greenberg on a couple of issues of Spectacular Spider-man slated for this summer. The Hobgoblin will be prominently featured.
Allred: All right, more Hobgoblin! Jumping from the coming summer to the recent past, you teamed with Kurt Busiek a few months back on a Thunderbolts fill-in issue that featured the second Avengers team (Cap's Kooky Quartet). It really seemed like you and Kurt had a ball with that issue.
Stern: We did. In fact, Thunderbolts #9 and Untold Tales Of Spider-Man #-1 could be looked upon as a sort of pilot for my new book, Marvel Universe.
Allred: See, I told you we'd get back to that. What can you tell us about it?
Stern: Marvel Universe is a new, on-going monthly series, featuring story arcs of up to four issues exploring the secret corners of Marvel's past. The stories presented in Marvel Universe will not be "retcons," as the term is currently used (i.e., "everything you know is wrong and here's what really happened"). Rather, these stories will serve to illuminate little-known legends, to support and reinforce stories which have come before, and to reveal heretofore untold secrets of the Marvel Universe.
The art teams will change with each succeeding story arc, with an effort made to best match the strengths of the artists to the stories they are telling. (As an added benefit, this will hopefully allow artists who are otherwise unable or reluctant to commit to a regular Marvel series a chance to contribute to MU.) Steve Epting and Al Williamson have been lined up for the first arc -- which features Captain America, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner allied against the Hordes of Hydra -- with covers by Carlos Pacheco, John Byrne, and Dave Gibbons. Mike Manley is penciling the second arc which will deal with an intrepid pre-FF quartet of Monster Hunters.
The first issue will be solicited soon, and I'd encourage anyone who's ever enjoyed my stories to pick up a copy. Better yet, make sure the comic shop in your area knows the title is coming out and that you want it. Talk it up amongst your friends. If you can afford it, buy an extra copy and pass it along to someone whom you think would like it. I'd really like to write this title for several years, but selling any comic in the current market is an uphill battle ... so any help would be appreciated!
Allred: One last question. This is the obligatory "breaking-in" one. Any tips or hints for aspiring creators?
Stern: Don't quit your day jobs!