Published: January 5, 2011
Despite his Detroit beginnings, Starlin doesn't believe that his hometown informs the majority of his work to any great degree, aside from the very grim Gotham City backdrop in the Batman books. "Very little," Starlin says, "other than Elmore Leonard's crime writing inspiring me on my Batman run. Most of my work is science fiction, with many a spaceship but few cars."
O'Barr's The Crow was published by Detroit's Caliber Comics, a company with an international cult following started by writer and artist Gary Reed. "Around '89, I had had comic book stores for about 10 years," Reed recalls. "Arrow Comics was a local publisher who published books called Deadworld and The Realm, and then all the black-and-white companies went under. Arrow had hired these two teenagers to draw Deadworld and The Realm, Vince Locke and Guy Davis, respectively, and they turned over the rights to the comics to them. Vince and Guy asked me to look into new publishers for them and, after a while, I said that I'd do it myself, so I started Caliber. Another customer of mine was Jim O'Barr, who was selling T-shirts at my store. He said that he had an idea. He had about 16 pages of something that ended up being The Crow."
O'Barr, now living in Texas, isn't happy that his original vision has been bastardized so brutally by Hollywood. "The only film I was actively involved in was the first one," he says. "It wasn't built to be a Star Trek franchise. It had a definite ending. The only reason there were other movies and a TV show, ultimately, was for greed. I'm proud of the first film, that it stayed as true as it was. Nothing like that had come out at the time. I thought it was one in a million that it would even get past the script stage, but within two years it was in production. Even now, every time they make one of those piece-of-shit movies, they have to pay me because I own that character."
O'Barr looks at locals like Starlin with a mixture of respect and trepidation. "Jim Starlin was one of the very first professionals that I met at a little comic show at a mall when I was about 13," O'Barr says. "I showed him some of my drawings and he was really encouraging. He's one of the reasons I stayed in it. It was hard to get feedback, so just to be able to meet these professionals and have them encourage me was instrumental in me keeping at it. I see Jim Starlin at shows now, and it's kind of like his generation has passed and all those guys are struggling, and I wonder if that's my future."
Like O'Barr, 61-year-old New Yorker Rich Buckler is a Detroit native who created a character deeply rooted in the Motor City, a Marvel Comics cyborg called Deathlok the Demolisher. Here's the backstory: When Colonel Luther Manning, a Detroiter, got fatally injured fighting for his country, he was reanimated as Deathlok. From that point on, he'd battle all manner of corporate villains, robots, zombies and the computer that controls his head. Not your typical night on Woodward Avenue then. Buckler's beginnings are far less exciting.
"I was 10 years old when I moved to Detroit from upstate Michigan, and I discovered comic books for the first time," Buckler says with a smile. "As I grew older and figured out that there were specific writers and artists who were paid to produce those stories for the comics, I realized that it was something I wanted to do. I worked on the staff of the first few annual Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic conventions [the first U.S. convention of its type, once organized by Detroiter Shel Dorf, who went on to create the San Diego Comic Con, the world's largest comics convention] and then later I became co-chairman of one of them. I was thoroughly immersed in comics and comic fandom. The dream of becoming a professional artist and writer for the comics just grew out of that."
Buckler, who also co-created DC superhero team the All-Star Squadron, is understandably proud of Deathlok. "He was born in Detroit because I was," Buckler says, grinning. "I guess that shows how closely I related to that character. Deathlok seemed to just spring to life on his own. He was both alive and dead, human and monster. The theme of technology robbing him of his humanity was an important part of it. I think that concept was very relevant back then, and probably is even more so today. He was an experimental 'super soldier' created by the military and programmed for violence and destruction. Not exactly a superhero, more of a modern-day rebel who was a victim of a 'Frankenstein technology.'"
Deathlok, the JLA and Eric Draven aren't the only characters to have been born or based in Detroit. John "Green Lantern" Stewart was an architect from Detroit before being picked for bigger things by aliens. Another Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, played football for the University of Michigan. Highwayman, a nemesis of the fiery-skulled Ghost Rider, is a Detroit native, as is Jason Rusch, aka the DC hero Firestorm. X-Factor Investigations, a branch of the X-Men, had a base in Detroit for a while, and the Marvel characters Nuke, Firebrand and Demolition Man all came from here.
Most recently, Marvel's Iron Man has had to face a new foe called — get ready for this — Detroit Steel.
Back in the real world, indie comics are doing fairly well in metro Detroit thanks to such people as Jeremy Bastian, Dave Petersen and Katie Cook, who are attracting the attention of new fans every week with their artful styles and ideas. Petersen writes a story called Mouse Guard. "The premise is about mice being fairly low on the food chain," Petersen says dryly. "They have to build their cities deep and hidden away. For me, Mouse Guard is in part my love letter to Michigan. It has Michigan-based landscapes; there are Michigan references with city names, so I try to do my best. I'm proud of my Michigan heritage."
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