Interview: Tom Peyer on ‘The Flash’ and ‘Tek Jansen’
With this week’s release of Flash #238, writer Tom Peyer begins scripting the adventures of DC’s fastest man alive — and, appropriately enough, he plans to hit the ground running.
With his first six-part story, "Fast Money," Peyer begins his term as regular writer on the series, picking up where popular DCU author Mark Waid left off: with Bart Allen dead, Wally West back in the bright red suit along with his wife and rapidly aging children, and a brand new villain primed to join the hero’s rogues gallery.
Taking the reins from fan-favorite writers is nothing new for Peyer, however, who has taken critically praised turns on a variety of team titles, but could be best known for his popular run on the entirety of the 25-issue Hourman series published from 1999 to 2001 — a character spun-off from Grant Morrison’s run on JLA.
And, much like with Hourman, Peyer has also been tapped to script the first solo adventures of Tek Jansen, a character created by The Colbert Report‘s Stephen Colbert, for an upcoming series published by Oni Press.
In this interview, Peyer discusses his role as the new, ongoing writer on The Flash, as well as the status of Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen.
COMICMIX: Thanks for talking with me today, Tom. Flash #238 is out this week, so what’s the pitch for the new storyline, "Fast Money?"
TOM PEYER: Money is definitely a theme in this story. I think early on I put out an oversimplified description and gave people the idea that it’s really just about Flash having money troubles. Which it really isn’t. Although he is… Money’s the theme that holds together a whole bunch of events. We have a villain who, in the sort of great — or, if you prefer, corny — tradition of early Flash stories, commits a robbery. I don’t think we’ve seen that in a while — a villain who’s purely at it because he wants to steal a Faberge Egg. It’s a little old-fashioned, and I’m kind of nervous about it, but money is a theme that runs throughout the whole story.
Television news is also a big part of the story. TV news gets involved in the story in a big way, and we all know how they feel about money. They are totally willing to just wind us up and tie us into emotional knots so we’ll keep coming back and they can charge their advertisers more money. To me, that’s empirically how they see their job. I call them "freedom’s crazy girlfriend" because they keep winding things up emotionally. Of course, it could be "freedom’s crazy boyfriend," too – I don’t want to stereotype.
CMix: Previews of the story seem to indicate that Wally West is dealing with some questionable decisions regarding the use of his powers. This isn’t something we’ve seen from him in the past, so why is he faltering now?
TP: Well, the reason now is that if you have two children who are, in chronological terms, a year old, and in actual terms, they’re like 8 and 10, they could be college age tomorrow and you better have some money in the bank. He’s got dependents now, it’s not just about him. He’s not really going to be tempted to do anything improper for money, but the question is: what is improper? Is it improper for a superhero — a trusted, masked superhero — to enrich himself in any way? Even through legitimate means? Some people in this story think so.
CMix: So is it the family aspect that makes Wally uniquely suited for this story over any other Flash? Is it a story that wouldn’t work with any other Flash?
TP: Wally has bigger personal responsibilities than any other Flash. He has children now that are aging like crazy. For him, just when he’s able to exhale and get used to the situation the way it is, the situation changes. We’ve all known new parents who treat every situation like an emergency, and they’re really rattled by it. There’s something of that in Wally, for a really understandable reason.
No one’s ever been the Flash and a father at the same time, I think. Of all the people who have ever been The Flash, he has this whole other responsibility that the other ones didn’t have.
CMix: I re-read your Hourman run recently, and it really felt like everyone involved in that book was firing on all cylinders. What is the team dynamic like on Flash?
TP: It feels like Hourman in a way, because everyone is going in the same direction. It’s just a good fit. Freddie Williams II is our penciller and inker — he’s our artist. He’s the hardest working man alive. I’m not, so that’s a nice contrast there. He’s drawing whatever insane problem I thow at him beautifully, and he just solves everything in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time. He just brings so much energy to it.
Our editor is Joan Hilty, who’s just been great to work with. She’s a real contributor, not just with feedback, but also with ideas. I think a lot of her personality is in Flash, too, and I think it’s a lot better for it.
CMix: So tell me about this new villain you’ve cooked up for the story, "Mr. Spin"…
TP: "Spin," yeah. His superpower is that he’s able to take mass anxiety and manifest it in the real world. To put it better, if TV news is hitting shark attacks really hard, and every day there are 10 stories about shark attacks and people start to get rattled about shark attacks, than he can make sharks appear, because people are already afraid of them.
CMix: Sounds like a lot of fun to write. How’d you come up with the character?
TP: I’ve watched a lot of TV news in my life. When you work in comics, you work at home, and there’s always something on in the background on the TV. I think there’s an interesting story to be written about this type of thing. I think people are tired of being told what to be afraid of every hour.
Wow. You can probably see the audience for this story shrinking significantly, can’t you? [Laughs]
CMix: Writers always seem to include a bit of their perspective — a bit of themselves, even — in the stories and characters they create. Your perspective on media and ethics have come up quite a bit in our conversation here. What other parts of you, as a creator, are readers going to find in this story?
TP: I think if you’re writing well, something of you really goes into everything you create. There’s going to be certain responses the characters have that would be your responses to that situation — or the responses that seem right to you. These responses might not seem right to everyone, though — as the fans will certainly let me know.
You know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot these days, because we just lost Steve Gerber, which is so terrible. I think, in all of mainstream comics, he was absolutely the pioneer of inserting his real personality into his writing. If you read enough Steve Gerber comics and you didn’t know what he looked like, and then you were in a restaurant and heard him talking, you would know it was Steve Gerber just by what he was saying.
It would be nice to have some of that in my work, too. It’s something I really try for, because I admire the hell out of that.
CMix:∫ You’ve been all around the DCU and handled a heap of characters. Is there anyone you haven’t worked on yet who you’d like to? Anyone you want another shot at?
TP: That’s a really good question. I’ve been really lucky because most of the ones I really love I’ve had a shot at. One of my happiest experiences in comics was the time I had to do a Batman story, and not just have him in Justice League. That was several years ago. I just loved that job.
You know who I really like an awful lot, though?…
Oh, wait, you know what? I’ve written them! I was going to say I really loved the Metal Men and would like to write them, but I put them in a Legion of Superheroes story. I don’t think there’s anyone I really love and haven’t used, because I’ve written so many team books. You can fit a lot of characters into a team book.
There was a story called DC 2000 in 2000 that had the whole JLA and the whole JSA in it, so that took care of a lot of it right there.
CMix: Is there anyone you want another shot at?
TP: I would love to write every one of my stories again. I can give you another draft of anything I’ve ever written. I’m not yearning for anyone else right now, though, because I’m staying focused on Flash. I’m not cheating on him in my heart yet.
CMix: What about Tek Jansen? I haven’t heard anything about that project in a while…
TP: Well, I don’t know what would be discrete for me to say publicly. Everyone’s fine and we all get along. And you will see more Tek soon.
The problems we’ve had won’t last much longer, and you should hear an announcement about more Tek coming out this year at some time.
CMix: ‘Nuff said. Can you tell me about Stephen Colbert’s input on the project, though? How much did you communicate with him while putting Tek Jansen together?
TP: He was very involved, particularly in the first issue. We got notes on the first story from him, and we had a conference call with him about it. He was really interested in it, and he was very helpful — and well, we all know how funny he is.
CMix: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to it, Tom. And best of luck with The Flash.
The Flash #238 hits shelves tomorrow, Mar. 19, with a script by Tom Peyer and art by Freddie Williams II. Release dates for Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen have not been announced, with Oni Press providing an approximate release date of Summer 2008.
For an audio excerpt of this interview, check out today’s episode of ComicMix Radio.