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Brad Meltzer : RevolutionSF Interview
© Jayme Lynn Blaschke

A graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School, Brad Meltzer is the author of four consecutive New York Times bestsellers: The Tenth Justice, Dead Even, The First Counsel and The Millionaires. Meltzer has written for President Clinton's national service program, USA Weekend, London's Sunday Times and Details magazine, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, from Hebrew to Bulgarian. Recently, DC Comics announced that Meltzer would be following Kevin Smith as writer on the wildly successful Green Arrow comic book. Raised in Brooklyn and Miami, Meltzer currently makes his home in Maryland with his wife Cori.

Jayme Blaschke How did you land the Green Arrow job? There were a lot of names floating around, but yours wasn't even close to being on the radar screen.

Brad Meltzer No. And it shouldn't have been. I don't write comics for a living. I got this one because of the fluke of the name Ollie. That's the best way I can say it. I had known Bob Schreck because we have a very good friend in common. I met him a number of times and he knows that I'm obsessed with DC -- the DC Universe and continuity. I've written four novels, they're all thrillers, and every single one of them has comic references hidden inside them. In The Tenth Justice, the justices of the Supreme Court, except for one of them, were the Watchmen. In The First Counsel, the senior staff of the White House were the original members of the JSA. There are plenty more. They're hidden in every single book, including The Millionaires. When The Millionaires was published, we sent out the first chapter, and someone forwarded it to Bob. We just did a mailing to our friends and said "Listen, the book goes on sale today, here's the first chapter if you want to read it or pass it on to your friends."

Bob got the chapter, and the main character of The Millionaires is named Oliver. Bob read the first chapter, read my Ollie and I guess thought of his Ollie. He made a couple of quick phone calls and said, "You know, Brad and I have talked about comics for so long that maybe this is a meant-to-be thing." We started talking about the character. That was never the goal two years ago when I picked the name Ollie -- that Bob Schreck would actually get it, but clearly naming the character Ollie always came from my love of Oliver Queen.

JB What kind of time frame did this take place over?

BM In the past month. The Millionaires came out January 8. But obviously we did a lot of talking and I told him I don't want to do it unless I can tell a good story, and unless I have a good story to tell. Following Kevin Smith is like following a 500 pound gorilla. You're talking about someone who took a character who's been quite literally dead for years, that wasn't around and turned him back into the fantastic character that he always was. And made him be the most popular title in the DC universe and arguably the comics universe . . . besides, of course, those people called the X-Men. So you're following that, and clearly there's going to be a huge dropoff when I take over, but Bob said, "At least we're better off with you because you know you're the mystery meat. You can tell a good story. If you have a good Ollie story to tell, that's more important than anything else. If you have one let me know." So I spent half the book tour -- while I should have been focusing on Millionaires -- wondering what Oliver Queen had to say, and should we deal with it?

JB What was your first exposure to Green Arrow? How familiar are you with him?

BM I'm now 31, and I've been reading Green Arrow since I was 12 years old. I would say my first exposure to him was probably the old Green Arrow / Green Lantern team-ups. I mean, I've read all of those -- they were the first things I had. The Denny O'Neil / Neal Adams ones. I think the liberal in me always loved them and kept them close. The bottom line is that I was always a fan of the characters who didn't have super-powers. I mean, I was a Batman rather than Superman person. Green Arrow rather than Green Lantern. And even though it came later, you had to love the beard. It was the greatest beard of all time.

The first comic that I read, that I remember, was the original Justice League of America, number 150, I think. My first comic ever was actually the Joker fish -- Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers' "The Laughing Fish" in Detective Comics 475. That was what got me into comics. I remember my first team book was JLA 150. The Key was the villain. He had all of the JLA locked in these different key holes. They had to vibrate the Flash and the Elongated Man became a human treadmill, and then somehow they got out by vibrating at different frequencies, which, to a 13-year-old kid -- I just about lost my mind.

After that, I go back to the Seven Soldiers of Victory days. I remember being blown away by that. When I bought JLA 150, I started buying back issues and found the old Seven Soldiers of Victory stuff, the old digest they used to do. So I go back with the Green Arrow character a long time. I've probably read every single thing that's been written that he's been in. I've got all the Trevor Von Eeden run where Count Vertigo is the master villain, you know what I mean?

JB You mentioned Green Arrow appealing to the liberal in you. Are Oliver Queen's politics something that attracted you to writing Green Arrow? Or his Don Quixote-style crusades?

BM The Don Quixote element, yes. The liberal . . . maybe. It is much easier, I will say, to write a character that I identify with. I have always understood Ollie. I certainly didn't always agree with him, but like everyone else out there, I would pay good money to see him and Hawkman get it on. That was my favorite. If I knew they were going to be together, and there was going to be some fighting and feathers flying, I was going to be there. So certainly that was a part of it that made it easy.

Maybe this is the Don Quixote aspect, but I loved that "take on the world" attitude that Ollie had. I also loved that he wasn't the perfect hero. In the later years, obviously he was different from the early years, where he was just another version of Batman and Green Lantern. In many ways, he's evolved over time to become one of the most complex heroes -- or anti-hero -- in the DC Universe. In the later run in the book, with Eddie Fyres -- I never can pronounce his name right -- you know, he was pretty dark. He got pretty dark there for a while.

JB What kind of approach do you see yourself taking with Green Arrow?

BM I don't want to give anything away and ruin the fun of it, but I think my approach is the next logical approach. And that is to answer "What's next?" I hope I wasn't brought on to do creature of the week, who's the new villain of the week and where's the big battle of the week. That's fine . . . people do it, and they do it well. But with me, I hope, it will always be about the character.

Oliver Queen just came back from the dead, so there are a lot of big questions in terms of "What does a character who's done that, who is smart, who is intelligent? What has he done, and what is he going to do now?" I think Ollie is a bit like Bruce Wayne. He's very, very prepared. He's not stupid. I come from a background of understanding the character, and that's what I really want to explore. I'm the kind of person who -- I don't like reading the book where it's just an excuse for the fight. I like the fight any day, especially a good one. And Ollie is obviously in need of some good villains. I think Kevin is doing a great job of doing that again with Onomatopoeia, but I think for me it's always going to be trying to get to what makes the character tick.

JB Why do you think Green Arrow has never had a well-developed rogues gallery?

BM Part of it is that they always save the best villains for the big shots. That's the reality of comics. That's not the 15-year-old talking. Back then I would've just said "Count Vertigo is the best villain! Count Vertigo has a bull's-eye on his chest! Isn't that great?" I mean, I really do think it's always hard to develop a rogues gallery for someone who doesn't have super-powers. The moment you give someone super-powers, now Ollie's got to beat that person with arrows. That's the heart of it. So now you have to tone it down a little bit, and you have a lame villain. I have a couple that I have in mind that I think are going to be fun. I don't think they have to be lame. They shouldn't be lame. Ollie can hold his own with just about anyone.

JB You're a New York Times best-selling author. Hollywood makes movies out of your kinds of books. Why get into comics now?

BM That's a good question. In fact, as soon as Bob made the offer, I said, "I know I should not do this." I know that I'm on deadline for the next book, and I'm not going to make deadline. I know I should be writing scripts for the movies. And my wife looked at me, and she said, "Brad, if you don't do this, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. This is what you love." That's the bottom line. I love it. It's my favorite medium of all. It's not about exposure. It's not about taking a chance. It's not about anything else except the fact that I love it. Period.

Why did it take me until now? Because no one asked. When Bob Schreck asked, it took about two minutes to make that decision, telling myself I shouldn't do it when of course I was waiting my whole life to do this. I have a Mark Waidian sense of comic book knowledge that's been floating in my head for 20 years, so I ought to be able to use it every once in a while.

JB Do you have any concerns that writing comics will taint your reputation as a mainstream author?

BM Gosh, anyone who doesn't take comics seriously, I don't really care about their opinion. It has, by far, always been the medium that is one step ahead of Hollywood. Comics can be produced quickly, and they don't take two years of production. I have always found it to be the case that comics lead the trends in what's on TV and the movies. You'll always see it. When there was a run of disaster movies that hit, you saw a run in disaster comics with big story arcs that ran first. You will always find the trend in comics first.

At every book signing I go to, people ask me what novels do I read. And at every book signing I say, "I don't." I read comic books. I read graphic novels. And that's all I read. I don't read my own genre, because it makes me crazy.

JB Your career started with three legal thrillers, so John Grisham comparisons are inevitable. How have you dealt with that? Have you found it frustrating?

BM John Grisham, God bless him, created the genre. I wouldn't be here without John Grisham, and to be fair to him, we are very different writers. But I will take that compliment any day. One of the first articles I ever saw on my writing compared me to John Grisham, Scott Turow, Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis. Okay? Clearly, every single one of those is wrong. Every writer is different, but I will take those compliments any day. I think people like neat little boxes. John Grisham is the shorthand way of saying "Legal Thriller." That's fine.

JB You're a graduate of Columbia Law School. Do you practice?

BM No, I don't. The truth is, I had to pay off my college debt, and law school seemed like the best choice for me. It offered a way out. I come from a very normal background, not a wealthy one, so law school was a logical way for me to pay off all that debt. It just so happens that I also worked at a job before law school. A guy said to me "Come work here for a year. If you love it, you'll stay. If you hate it, it'll put some money in your pocket." It seemed like a good deal, so I moved myself to Boston, where I knew almost no one. The funny part was, once I got there, my boss left the job. Now I was alone in Boston, and I was like, "Oh my god, my life is over. I've ruined it. I can't go to law school yet, it's just September, and I've already been burned." Here I am with this job. What am I going to do? I had no idea what I was going to do for a year. I could either watch a lot of television -- which isn't a bad option -- or I could actually try and do something. And so I said I'm going to write a novel. It's just so much a lark as that.

I would've written comics, but I'd have had to know someone to do that. So that was the one thing I could control -- I could write my own novel, and I don't need anyone to do it with me. I wrote my first novel, and fell in love with the process of writing.

JB That was your first novel, The Tenth Justice?

BM No, no, no. Actually, that first novel is still unpublished. It wasn't Tenth Justice. That novel made me fall in love with the process, but it also got me 24 rejection letters. I said if they don't like that one, I'll write another, and if they don't like that one, I'll write another. The week after I got my 23rd and 24th rejection letters, I started Tenth Justice. So Tenth Justice is my first published book, but it's actually the second one I wrote. The first one is still on my book shelf, published by Kinko's. That's the way it goes.

JB With The Millionaires, are you making a break from the legal thrillers? The Millionaires is more of a high-finance heist thriller.

BM You know, it's funny. I've had people read it. They look at the blurb and they say, "Oh, it's a finacial thriller." And then they read it and they say, "It's not different from any of your other books." I write thrillers. In The First Counsel, the main character is a White House lawyer and he's dating the President's daughter, but there's no law in that book. He just happens to be a lawyer. My goal has always been to write thrillers.

I think genres are attractive to some people. Some people will say it's a financial thriller or legal thriller, but I think when you read it, and people do reviews on it, they'll see it's a thriller like any of these others. I always try to write them differently. I don't want to be the guy who regurgitates, you know? Pump them out every year. It takes me two years to write a book, because I do lots of research. I don't put out anything that I wouldn't be proud of. I mean, I could do a book a year, but they would be garbage.

JB So, what's the response been thus far with The Millionaires?

BM On The Millionaires, we've been very lucky. The book is number five this week on the New York Times bestseller list, and next week, we actually just found out, it goes up to number three. So trust me, we were blown away by that. You don't know what you're going to get -- it's number one on the Barnes & Noble list, number two on Publisher's Weekly and I think number three on the Wall Street Journal.

As for the fans . . . You know, I leave it on the website. Everyone has their favorite. You always get these, "It's my favorite -- it's the best one yet," and then you get people who go "The Tenth Justice or The First Counsel or Dead Even is my favorite." But as long as people have the three of them, that's fine! After four books being reviewed in every place from Vanity Fair to my grandmother's condominium newsletter -- which is true -- I realized that good reviews don't mean you're great and bad reviews don't mean you stink. The proof is in the pudding, and the proof is in what the fans say. It's going to be like that on Green Arrow. People have their expectations, and that group will be in the right. Period.

JB What is your writing process?

BM Get into my character's head first. You can come up with the greatest, most outrageous plot you can, but if you do not have the character down, the reader will not follow it for 10 pages. If you know the character, if it's a great character, the reader will follow them for a thousand pages doing the most boring thing of all time.

JB How does scripting comics compare to writing novels?

BM I'm still figuring it out, to be completely honest. It's a different media, and it's going to take me a while to figure that part out of it. I still will write it like a novel. Brian Bendis can write it like a screenplay. I will not be writing it as a screenplay, just because it's not the format I do. I'll probably write it more like a novel, putting in the description instead of using that space for the plot. Otherwise, it's the same. The dialogue is the dialogue. Dialogue is the one thing I care most about. Read the first chapter of any of the first chapters on my website. Look at The Tenth Justice, my first one, and you'll see the dialogue is the number one thing I care about.

JB What are your current projects? You have a book on deadline -- can you work while on a book tour?

BM No, I can't. What I've been doing is plotting Ollie. I pitched Bob a whole story arc, and that was what I gave him. I said, "Here is the story I have to tell, and I don't know if it's going to take four issues or six issues, because that's in the telling." I said I didn't want to pitch one issue and then see where it goes. I like to know where I'm going, that it has purpose, has an ending. From the moment it starts, it has to have an ending. I've just been plotting that, instead of waiting and twisting and turning.

JB Are you planning on doing just one story arc, or are you going to stay on the title beyond that?

BM Bob and I are still discussing that part. That's also probably going to be a function of how long it takes me to write the issues.

JB How about your next novel?

BM Ah, I'm working on this new one, just barely starting to research it. I'm one of those crazy people who doesn't talk about anything while I'm working on it.

JB What other comic characters appeal to you, that you might like to write someday?

BM Something like Animal Man would be great. I definitely like the characters who have character. If I could write anything, I would probably write the Justice League. That's my top choice of all.

JB Which League lineup would you want?

BM Oh, gosh. I would take . . . I would probably take the good old team, when George Perez was doing the Justice League in issue 200. You know, where you had the Big Seven, and you had Zatanna, Red Tornado, Hawkman and Elongated Man. You know, the old-school, 1980s Justice League. That was it for me. Knowing what I know now, the Big Seven is a better group to write. It's a better way to go. It's easier to handle. But boy, could you get a splash page out of the others! There was nothing like it.


Writer Jayme Lynn Blaschke is the curator of The Green Arrow Unnofficial Fansite, where this interview was first published. His work has appeared at SFSite, The Green Man Review, Rambles, The Leading Edge, and the anthology The Ant-Men of Tibet and Other Stories.

The Brad Meltzer photo is by Lisa Blaschke.


 
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