Brad Meltzer gets to write about Batman and Superman and visit with ex-presidents to research his novels. Is it luck or Fate?
Brad Meltzer hasn't been an unknown in literary circles since his first novel, The Tenth Justice, was published in 1997; his books have more than six million copies in print. But that's the position the author found himself in when he was signed to take over the reins of DC Comics' Green Arrow in 2002. Of course, his anonymity didn't last long: After a well-regarded run on Green Arrow and the commercial and critical success of his seven-issue murder-mystery miniseries, Identity Crisis, Meltzer became a star on the comics circuit as well.
Both of those worlds are colliding this month. Meltzer releases his sixth thriller, The Book of Fate, which follows Wes Holloway, who is trying to glue together the shards of his broken life and unravel the mystery that caused it to break in the first place, all while in the employ of former president Leland "the Lion" Manning. (He's a fictional president but feels real, thanks to Meltzer's visits to the offices of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.) Meltzer also happens to be two issues deep into a 13-issue run on one of DC's prize books, Justice League of America. Though the mediums are seemingly dissimilar, Meltzer's unique gift for detail is present throughout both. In other words: If you are a fan of Meltzer's novels, you should check out his comics, and vice versa. And if you haven't checked out either, well, you're missing out.
Given his résumé, it should come as no surprise that Meltzer is a busy, busy man. I caught up with him over a crackling cell-phone connection between appointments. But he's happy to be busy, especially with his comics work: "I've been wanting to write the Justice League - and Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman - since I was seven years old."
In Identity Crisis, you kind of shined the spotlight back on Ralph Dibny, better known, I guess, as Elongated Man. Even hard-core fans probably weren't too familiar with him. Is the plan to include more characters like that in your Justice League run? I love to play with unknown characters. That's what I do as a novelist. I have to take a character, and I have to make you love that character, even though you've just met him. That's what I have to do as a novelist. You don't know my characters in The Book of Fate. You don't know who Wes Holloway is. But I have to make you love him by page one. That, for me, is what I love about the comic books, taking those characters that no one loves and seeing if I can do the exact same thing. It's almost easier with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, because the backstory is there. But to really stretch your muscles, the most stretching can take place in the character who's undeveloped. I really believe there's no such thing as a bad character. There's just bad writing. I really do believe you can make just about anything interesting.
Do you think the medium has been sort of reenergized by writers, like you, who don't just write comics? Writers who approach it from the mind-set of a screenwriter or a novelist? The interesting thing, for me, is I don't think it's so much coming from a different discipline. I think it's actually coming from a different life experience. I think comic books, for a while, could have easily been written by and for people who simply love comic books. That's not a bad thing; I'm absolutely a fan, first and foremost. But I'm going to bring a lawyer's and a thriller writer's eyes to it. I always say the best thing I did for myself as a writer was to go to law school, even though I really had no intention of practicing law. Listen, that was a very expensive way to spend three years. I was $60,000 in debt when I came out of it. But I now had a world to write about, a world that would have been informed just by my high school experience. In fact, to tell you more about myself, my first novel wasn't The Tenth Justice; there was a novel before that, and that novel was solely about my college experience. That's what I knew; that's what I experienced; that's what I wrote about. The book got 24 rejection letters. There were only 20 publishers at the time, which means some people were writing me twice to make sure I got the point. It really was law school that gave me a setting, a place, an importance that I just did not have before, because I didn't have the life experience.