Creator Spotlight: Mark Waid

by GregFahlgren

Taking a look at one of the best comic creators in the world today.

In the great and wonderful world of comic books, there are some creators that are known for creating one famous story, and are then never heard from again. Others have a surge of success, only to taper off later on and fade away. But there are a few, a lucky, talented, amazing few, that stand the test of time, and create wonderful work after wonderful work, leaving a legacy of excellence behind them for others to aspire to. If you’re a comic book fan like me, the names like Grant Morrison, Gail Simone, Stan Lee, Brian Michael Bendis jump to mind when I talk about creators that have left a legacy of excellence in their careers. However, one name that should be included with those giants of the wonderful industry that is comic books is one and only Mark Waid.

Known best for writing such classics as Kingdom Come, and Superman: Birthright, as well as having successful runs with some of comic’s biggest characters, Waid has been a staple of the comic book world for two decades. Come with me while we take a walk through his career, studying his most famous works and getting to know why this man should be counted among the greats of his generation.

Breaking In

The Editor that Became a Writer

Before he was one of the best writers in the comic book industry at large, Waid broke in to the business way back in the 1980s, working for Fantagraphics Books on their Amazing Heroes title. In 1987, he came to work for DC full time as an editor, working on multiple titles as he began to make his name, co-creating the “Elseworlds” titles in the process.

He left editing in 1989, becoming a freelance writer, writing for DC’s short-lived Impact line on The Comet. He continued writing as a freelancer until 1992, when he landed his first series, and his career has never been the same since.

The Flash

Making Wally West the Fastest Man Alive

Starting in 1992, Waid’s run on the Flash is widely considered to be one of the best comic book runs of the 90s, as well as one of the greatest runs on the character period. Spanning 8 years, Waid’s run tackled Wally West’s Post-Crisis origins, the return of Barry Allen as his supposed death at the climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and even introducing the Speed Force, the power behind The Flash’s powers.

Throughout Waid’s run, the writer expanded upon Wally’s power set, increasing his speed to super-sonic levels, truly making him the fastest man alive, even faster than Barry ever was. He also restored some of his older powers such as his ability to vibrate through solid objects (seriously cool by the way). In addition to that, Waid further established Wally’s heroic nature, Flash needing to be a hero 24/7, wanting to save everyone no matter the cost to himself.

This approach sky-rocketed Wally’s status, many fans declaring Wally to be an even greater hero than Allen, mentioning him in the same breath as DC’s Trinity (Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman). This marked (no-pun intended) a rare occurrence of a former sidekick surpassing his mentor, an action that to this day is not lost on comic book fans everywhere.

Waid’s run on Flash ended in 2000, handing the reigns over to rising star and future collaborator Geoff Johns. This run, the first long-term run of Waid’s career, established Waid as one of comic’s best creators of the decade, but it was only the beginning of a magical career.

Impulse

Fastest Kid Alive

Written in conjunction on his run on The Flash, Impulse was a vehicle to introduce a new sidekick for the Flash, the future Grandson of Barry Allen, Bart. The book told the stories of the impulsive teenage hero, and was a welcome addition to the Flash mythos. Waid’s work with Bart established him as one of the major teenage superheroes, Impulse a new kind of sidekick. Impulse became an instant hit. Often crossing over into the Flash’s book, Bart Allen under Waid’s caring hand became a favourite among younger fans, the character’s book giving a younger audience a true hero to believe in at a time in comics were things were turning towards darker, and more mature storylines.

Waid left Impulse the same time he left The Flash, but the character didn’t disappear, Bart becoming the new Kid Flash and joining the Titans. However, much of Bart Allen’s defining characteristic’s were laid down by Waid, his influence felt in the character until the New 52 reboot (don’t get me started on what happened to Bart in that mess.)

Age of Apocaylpse and Onslaught

Rewriting the Rules

In 1996 and 1997, Waid was asked to come aboard the X-Men books for the two mega-events, Age of Apocalypse and Onslaught. More involved with the former than the latter, the pair of events, written primarily by Scott Lobdell, rewrote the rules for the X-Men, Onslaught especially rewriting the Marvel Universe and leading to the ill-fated Heroes Return storylines.

Waid’s work on these series is not spoken of too often, Lobdell baring most of the accolades, but his help in crafting these two massive storylines should not be ignored. Age of Apocalypse is widely regarded as one of the best X-Men stories in history, getting its own film adaptation later this year. Onslaught as well was a huge story, that even through the controversy is still considered to be one of the most important stories in Marvel history. Lobdell may have gotten the majority of the glory for these stories (well-deserved, don’t mean to discount his efforts), but Waid deserves some credit as well, helping reshape the Marvel Universe like never before.

Kingdom Come

Gods Among Us

In 1996, Waid collaborated with now legendary comic artist Alex Ross to create the most beloved Elseworld’s titles DC ever released: Kingdom Come. Ross pitched the idea to DC, and once Waid came on board, the two set to work creating one of the most harrowing stories in comic book history.

The story centres on a world where the heroes of today have grown old, many retiring or fading into a obscurity, while a new, more violent generation of heroes step forward to take their place. These young heroes don’t about the safety of the people they are charged to protect, turning to more violent methods, forcing the older generation, lead by Superman and Wonder Woman, to come out of retirement and form a new Justice League. Their old enemies come out of hiding as well, planning to destroy the heroes and take over the world (naturally... they really don’t have anything to do, do they?). Meanwhile, Batman works from the shadows with group a group of his own, trying to stop the coming conflict before it erupts.

Kingdom Come takes a look at heroes, what they are, how we perceive them, and what role they have in today’s society. Superheroes are viewed almost as gods in Kingdom Come, and sometimes by our own pop culture as well, both terrible and wonderful. Waid and Ross draw an incredibly fine line ion their story, forcing us to see how it easy it is for someone that powerful to cross it.

Among the best work for both Waid and Ross, Kingdom Come further established Waid’s reputation as a thought-provoking, cerebral writer, able to make us question the true meaning of good and evil when the lines are decidedly blurred. The book even inspired a follow-up series, entitled The Kingdom, and the world he and Alex created even came back into prominence during DC's massive Convergence event last year.

Bottom line, Kingdom Come is considered among the greatest graphic novels of all time, and Waid’s reputation as one of comic’s best was all but cemented by it.

Captain America

Shining Star-Bangled Comic in a Dark Time

There is one sad fact that every comic book fans know: the 90s, especially the latter half of the decade, was the darkest time in the history of the industry. Creatively, many books just weren’t cutting the mustard anymore. One of the few shining stars among the multitude of darkness however was Mark Waid’s Captain America run, one of the most critically acclaimed runs on the character since Steve Rogers first burst onto the scene in the 1940s.

His first big project for Marvel, Waid’s work was met with near instant praise, the direction of the character a welcome breath of fresh air for the character. The series lost a little momentum with the Heroes Reborn fiasco, but Waid stuck through it, staying on with Cap until the end of the decade. Waid would return to the character with Man out of Time in 2011 to coincide with the first Captain America film being released. His first major work for Marvel, it would not be his last, his mark on the company made forever onward.

JLA

Rebuilding a Team

For years, the Justice League of America had been DC’s flagship team. In the 1990s however, things weren’t exactly going well for the super team (or hardly anyone sales wise like I’ve stated before). With the Justice League being one of DC’s premiere properties, they needed a turn around, and to that end that put Mark Waid on the book along with living legend Grant Morrison among others. This all-star creator line-up saved the book, bringing the JLA into a new golden age with some of its most memorable stories, Waid himself writing such classics as Tower of Babel, Heaven’s Ladder  and Year One. More than that, Waid and Morrison, Waid helped create the idea of Hypertime to explain the continuity issues that had arisen within DC in their Post-Crisis continuity.

JLA was a massive hit for DC, its collected editions still selling today after multiple reprints. The run for Waid and company is widely regarded as one of the best runs on DC’s super-team, expanding the team to new heights, and creating a true super-team that fans could rally towards. Waid left the book only after a few years, but his impact on the franchise and the DC universe will be felt for years to come.

Empire

What if the Heroes Fail?

Like most comic creators, Waid has written several creator owned work over his storied career. The first and possibly most famous of these is Empire, a story in which Waid asks the question, what happens when the villain wins?

In Empire, the supervillain Golgoth has defeated that world’s heroes, and appointed himself ruler of the entire Earth Dr Doom style. With the heroes dead, the story focuses on the internal power struggles in the new world-wide Empire, a unique story unlike anything that comics was publishing at the time. A sequel was written last year entitled Uprising, continuing the story of Golgoth much to fans' collective delight.

Interesting fact about Empire was that the first two issues were published by Gorilla Comics, a company that Waid had helped found. However, the company folded before the rest of the series could be released. Thankfully, Waid was able to publish the rest of the story under DC’s name, and Empire went on to become a huge success for Waid, a success that would only further cement his legacy as one of comic’s best creators.

Fantastic Four

First Family

By the start of the new millennium, Waid had been asked to take over writing duties for Fantastic Four, a book that was suffering badly under the strain of the early 2000s comic market. Waid’s work rejuvenated the First Family of Comic Books, and became a major success.

However, his run on F4 was not without controversy. One of Marvel’s chief publishers, Bill Jemas, tried to get Waid to abandon his high adventure approach to writing Marvel’s First Family, an approach that Waid has described “as a wacky suburban dramedy where Reed's a nutty professor who creates amazing but impractical inventions, Sue's the office-temp breadwinner, the cranky neighbor is their new 'arch-enemy,' etc." Waid felt that this was too much of a departure from what he had been hired to do, and declined. Not wanting to leave the book however, Waid sat down with Tom Breevort and found a way to make the changes, but by then the decision had already been made to take Waid and artist Mike Wieringo off the book.

This move was met with a massive amount of fan outcry, resulting in both artist and writer being reinstated to the book. From there, Waid and Wieringo went on to continue their work for a number of years. Today, the run is considered to be one of the best runs in Fantastic Four history. Waid left the book after a few more years, but his impact on the title cannot be denied, his legacy of great work being laid with every issue.

Superman Birthright

Origins of Steel

In 2003, Waid was chosen to write a mini-series depicting the Post-Crisis origin of Superman, a task that he leapt at with the greatest enthusiasm, being a life-long fan of DC’s greatest hero. Waid approached the work with great care, depicting a somewhat unsure Clark Kent trying to figure out what he was to do with his power, an approach that was both fresh and familiar to the character. Waid examines everything about the character he possibly could: Clark’s insecurity and loneliness, how the secret identity as the bumbling Kent was developed, how his job as a reporter came to be, his complicated relationship with Lex Luthor, and how he first met Lois Lane. More than that, Waid examined the very idea of Superman, and the public’s perception of the Man of Steel. Though beloved now, people didn’t trust Big Blue for a while, someone with that kind of power terrifying to the common man. Luthor’s systematic efforts to discredit Superman didn’t help, the villain determined to gain power from Krypton no matter the cost (including his hair as it turns out).

Waid’s direction worked to perfection, creating maybe the greatest Superman graphic novel ever written, and the standard for his origin story by a long stretch. The 2013 film Man of Steel and the upcoming sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice both pulled elements from Birthright, using the foundation Waid laid to tell their own version of the story (though very different as Waid will tell you).

Waid accomplished something truly great with Birthright, making him one of the best writers Superman ever had the good fortune to have. He often sites it as his favourite work, which having read and been blown away by it, I can completely understand.

Legion of Super-Heroes

Bringing Back the Glory

In 2004, DC was going through a transition phase (to be fair when are they not?). Part of this transition was rebooting or revamping long standing titles with new creators. Mark Waid was one such creator, asked to reboot the Legion of Super Heroes for a new audience. Waid to the task with his usual quality, bringing back the Kid/Lass/Girl/Boy codenames of the post-Zero Hour series (of which Waid had written for a short time), and taking the Legion back to their original themes. He also gave the characters divergent origins, adding to their mystique as well as diversifying the cast, making more characters with minority backgrounds than most creators were at the time. The book was a big success, revitalizing the book and even bringing on board Supergirl, who travelled with the Legion in the Pre-Crisis continuities.

Though not his most critically acclaimed run, it is still note-worthy that it was one of the last full-time projects Waid did for DC.

52

Whatever happened to DC's Trinity?

One of the largest projects Waid had been a part of during his time at DC, 52 was the follow up to the mega-event Infinite Crisis. Written alongside friends and colleagues Grant Morrison, Keith Giffen, Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns, the book tells what happened in the year after Infinite Crisis, and how the world dealt with a year without Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.

The story focused on the rest of the superhero community, focusing on characters like Batwoman, Booster Gold, Steel, and a host of other heroes that were either being reintroduced to the readers or needed a boost in status. 52 was well received by fans and critics, much more so than One Year Later (let’s not talk about that shall we?), becoming a fun story about the 2nd tier superheroes of DC. It would be Waid’s last major project for DC, but it was a hell of way to finish up there, 52 one of the best limited series DC’s ever produced.

52 Omnibus
$150.00  $88.99

Irredeemable

A Hero's Fall

Continuing his work on examining and dissecting the idea of superheroes, Irredeemable was Waid’s third and most complicated work on the subject. When talking about the project, Waid described, “...superhero comics, pretty much everyone who’s called upon to put on a cape is, at heart, emotionally equipped for the job.

“The beauty of Superman is that he can deal with that level of adulation without it going to his head, without it warping him, but he's a very special individual. We presume, whenever we write superheroes and we come up with superhero origins, that anybody who gets the powers of a superhero — even if they are like Spider-Man and they've got things they've got to work out that issue and responsibility and power and responsibility — we assume that they eventually have the emotional makeup it takes to overcome these things. Well, what if you gave that level of power to someone who, at heart, didn't have that emotional capability?”

This idea drove the story of Irredeemable, as the Plutonian, once the world’s greatest superhero, turns to evil and becomes the world’s greatest villain. Much like the people of Metropolis in Birthright, the citizens Plutonian is trying to protect don’t trust him, but unlike Superman, he can’t handle it. After a disaster leaves thousands dead, Plutonian is blamed for it. This event causes him to snap, murdering millions out of rage and becoming the most dangerous supervillain in the world. The rest of the story is dedicated to the world’s other heroes and villains as they react to this, and their search for a way to stop him.

One of Waid’s favourite projects he ever worked on, Irredeemable has been lauded as a modern classic. It even spawned a spin-off series, Incorruptible, both series finishing up in 2012.

Indestructible Hulk

Hulk... Agent of SHIELD?

After Avengers vs X-Men, many new books were started for Marvel’s flagship characters with new writers. The Incredible Hulk was given to Waid, his capable hands crafting a new story for one of Marvel’s oldest and most popular characters. Unlike previous runs on the character, Waid took a different approach to the Hulk/Bruce Banner relationship. By this point, Bruce Banner had fully accepted that he would never be rid of the Hulk, and the time had arrived for him to do so good both as the Jade Giant and as Bruce Banner. So, he contacts SHIELD, and offers to work with them in exchange for his own lab and science team so that he may re-establish himself as one of the world’s leading scientific minds. At the same time, he would use the Hulk as a weapon to combat the threats SHIELD couldn’t handle alone.

The arrangement, Banner calling it “Hulks destroys, Banner builds,” actually worked out for the most part, Waid weaving a new kind of Hulk story focusing on Bruce’s scientific prowess instead of rehashing the old story device of setting Hulk loose and watching chaos reign. Not that Hulk wasn’t turned loose more than once, he is the Hulk, but Banner’s journey to find a new balance between him and the Jade Giant was one of the most interesting takes on the character. Personally I found the book highly engaging, funny, and endearing, making me appreciate Bruce Banner in a way that I had never expected. Waid’s run ended a few years after it had begun, but as is usual with Mark, his impact on the character and how people will perceive him will be felt for years to come.

Spider-Man: Family Business

Spidey vs Spy

Waid’s first graphic novel under the Marvel banner, Family Business is not your typical Spider-Man story. The book details how Spider-Man discovers a woman claiming to be his sister, and must go on an international spy adventure to uncover the truth. The book deals with his parents secret work for the CIA, and brings back one of Spidey’s oldest enemies and most dangerous enemies, the Kingpin.

The book received positive reviews, many praising Waid’s writing of the Wall-Crawler as he took Peter out of his element and threw him into a world that he knows so little about. Though risky, this idea made for an awesome adventure, creating some hilarious moments for Peter as he navigates a strange and dangerous world. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we see Waid writing Peter, Family Business proving how much good he could do for Our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.

Daredevil

Writer Without Fear

With his career at a definite high, Waid’s next big project was to take over writing duties for Daredevil. Waid’s run definitely shook things up, taking Matt Murdock to places that no writer had done before. By 2014, Waid had revealed Daredevil’s secret identity, costing him his legal licence in New York and forcing him to move out to the West Coast. Like many writers on a new project, Waid seemed determined to change the game for the Man Without Fear, bringing him back to his roots while presenting new challenges for him to overcome. He also delved deep into Daredevil’s past, examining his relationship with his parents, as well as his friendships with Foggy Nelson and Karen Page more closely than anyone had done in years.

To say his run was successful would be an understatement, Waid becoming the longest term writer on Daredevil in history, as well as earning him several Eisner Awards. Recently, he handed over his duties to Charles Soule, but Waid’s impact on the book will definitely be felt for years to come, many considering him one of the best writers Daredevil had, a sentiment that I heartily agree with.

SHIELD

Agents Assemble!

With the success of the television program Agents of SHIELD, Marvel decided to publish new SHIELD book in 2014. The new book would spotlight the show’s characters as they enter into the Marvel U, many for first time, making Mark the perfect man to helm the project.

The book was met with immediate success, integrating the television program’s characters into the world of Marvel, allowing Phil Coulson to take centre stage as he leads his rag tag team into the complicated world of spies and superheroes. Still going strong now, SHIELD is just another feather in the very large cap that Waid has donned over his storied career, and one can only assume that as his work continues, SHIELD will become another classic title for comic’s largest publisher.

Current Work

Building on a Legacy

As of this writing, Waid is still writing SHIELD, but has also been given writing duties for both Black Widow, and All New All Different Avengers. With Avengers, Waid is taking over for Jonathan Hickman as this new team of Avengers, Iron Man being the only original member, forges into the new future for Marvel, and I can think of no one better to follow up on the tapestry laid out by Hickman (and Bendis for that matter) that Waid, his love and vision for the character he writers shining through at every turn.

With Black Widow, Waid continues on with the work of the previous writers, stating to me on, “...all props to #TeamWidow. I'm just hanging onto their coattails.” Waid’s humble attitude does him justice, but I fully expect Widow to become an even more fantastic book with his expertise.

Conclusion

Legend of Comic Books

I asked some of Mr Waid’s colleagues if they had any kind words for him, and here’s what they had to say:

“Mark Waid is one of the best writers in the business. He’s why The Flash is my favourite character.” – Geoff Johns

“Mark’s a terrific writer, a terrific person and a terrific scholar, and he’s devoted to comics. His love for the medium and the characters shows in everything he does.” – Kurt Busiek

“...he is straight-up one of my favourite people in comics.” – Matt Fraction

“Master of the medium.” – Greg Rucka

“Mark’s the guy you want to have dinner with. He’s got all the best stories.” – Jonathan Hickman

“Mark is a major talent – hard to sum up – just read him!” – Gerry Conway

“I think Mark Waid is the best DC writer of the last 25 years. His Flash run is the best run at the company since their 1980s heyday. I've read most DC Comics from the 60s on and I'd rank Kingdom Come as the best ever. My all-time personal favourite comic.” – Mark Millar

“There’s a whole cottage industry in comics built on favors people owe Mark Waid.  He’s done something kind and generous for virtually everyone I know, and he never talks about it, never mentions it. He’s that guy, that one guy that the industry spins around and most people aren’t even aware of it.

With me, he helped a hairdresser with no writing experience take the leap from fan to pro, just because he’s that guy. When my 8 year old son’s dog was poisoned (he survived!), Mark tracked down a guy selling a complete collection of every DC Heroclix, because he knew my son loved the game. He bought the entire collection and sent it to my son, so he wouldn’t grow up thinking all strangers are mean.

But beyond that, holy hell, what a writer. When a towering achievement like KINGDOM COME is actually not the high point of your career, that’s amazing to me. He puts heart in every story he writes, whether it’s Archie or Daredevil or Fantastic Four or one of his terrifyingly brilliant original creations. 

He makes characters better for having written them. He’s the one we all envy, for his immaculate craftsmanship and peerless ability to charm, surprise and delight. He just writes the best comics ever.

Because he’s that guy.” – Gail Simone

As for myself, if there is one word I can use to define Waid’s career on my own, it would be consistency. Waid has had many projects over the years as we’ve seen throughout this article and all of them have been well received and lauded as high examples of the craft that is writing comics. This is a rare thing indeed for any writer to consistently put out great work after great work, especially in the comic book medium. I’ve seen great writers have AMAZING pieces of work, but over the years the quality drops drastically, to the point where I’m amazed that they are the same person that wrote the classics I read yesteryear.

Waid doesn’t have that problem, his work so consistently amazing that it boggles the mind why he is not mentioned in the same breath as such greats as Brian Michael Bendis, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison more often. He is truly one of a kind in the comic book industry, and will continue to be so as long as he decides to grace us with his work.

I asked the man himself what he thought of his career, and I’ll let him tell us about his career with these inspiring words, “Nothing that hasn’t already been said by thousands of angry message board posters.”

Thank you Mark, and may we continue to read such amazing stories by an amazing writer. Cheers all.

Check out My Other Spotlights!!

The Life and Career of the Wonder Woman of Comic Book Writers
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Updated: 03/08/2016, GregFahlgren
 
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