• Meltzer Merges War & Houdini in The Escape Artist, Preps Action #1000
    Mar 10, 2018

    The other cultural element that plays into this novel is this secret history between the U.S. government and the life and followers of escape artist Harry Houdini. He’s an endlessly fascinating figure on his own, and again we see that cultural influence in comics with the life of Steranko, but how does that world fold into the ideas of the war artist that you’re exploring?

    I can’t even tell you how often in my life I picture myself in a piece of Steranko art. We should all be so lucky to see the world like that. But Harry Houdini was absolutely a foundational piece of this story. The detail I started with which it says now on the first page of the book is, “In 1898 a man named John Elbert Wilke was put in charge of the Secret Service. He was a friend of Harry Houdini, and he loved to do his own magic tricks himself. It was the only time a magician has been in charge of the Secret Service.” And I just couldn’t shake that detail. I loved it. I’ve been carrying that around for the better part of a decade.

    It wasn’t until I figured out Nola, this woman who runs into disaster, and the other main character Zig, who works at Dover Air Force Base and puts to rest people on top-secret missions, that I finally found my connection to Harry Houdini. These were people who were around death always and obsessed with coming back to life. That’s what these three stories all have in common. The characters have all experienced tragedy, and they’re all trying to come back to life. I don’t mean that in a literal sense. It’s what happens when we experience abuse or a great loss. You’ve got to come back to life.

    Action Comics #1000 variant by Jim Steranko

    One of the elements of your books that I’ve connected to over the years is the “Meltzerverse” of your thrillers. Certain books have shared characters or secret organizations. This one feels slightly different from the previous in its subject matter, so did you look for a fresh start, or are those previous elements lurking on the edges?

    You can’t read as many comics as I have and not think of a universe, or a multiverse, even. This is a brand new series. You don’t have to read anything to understand it. They’re all-new characters, and you can jump right in. But of course, there are 50 Easter eggs in there for people who have read every book. And I’ve been doing that for 20 years, since the very beginning. The second book I ever wrote, if you look close enough there’s one sentence that lets you know what happened to the villain in the first book. And I can’t help that. It’s like after how many times I’ve noticed a sign that says “Kord Industries” in the background of a panel, it’s just ingrained into me. I love that stuff, and like all of us, it’s just built in to me.

    At 20 years into your career as a novelist, do this one feel like your milestone issue? Did you deliver Brad Meltzer #500 here?

    Oh man. That means it has a Gil Kane cover, or maybe Curt Swan inked by George Perez. [Laughs] But really, this feels like the one book where I can combine everything from my life. It has the television connection. It has the comic book connection. It comes from my thriller side, and it’s informed by one of the heroes I’ve done. I don’t know if it’s just me. I certainly didn’t try to say, “I’m going to bring it all together,” but it just was the one story that did. I wish I was smart enough to think of all these big pictures at the start, but I’m not. I got to the end of this book and realized that in a way it was my midlife crisis. I looked back over all the years before and asked, “Have I learned anything?”

    It’s very easy to write the next thriller, use the same characters you’ve used and call it a day. That’s so easy to get paid to do that. But I’m obsessed with the question of whether or not I can get better. I can tell you that after 20 years, I never got a so-called “starred review” in Publishers Weekly, and now it was The Escape Artist that finally did that. And then I got another one in The Library Journal. I love the fact that I can still work as hard as I can to learn things and get better.

    To wrap, where are you at as a comics reader and a fan? We have a lot of shuffle on the creative side of comics the past few weeks: Bendis on Superman, Coates on Captain America and Neil Gaiman launching new Sandman stuff. Are you hopeful that the malaise that’s been over comic sales is about to lift?

    Yeah. Why else would I be jumping into Action Comics #1000 for the story I’m doing with John Cassaday? There’s that feeling again that the preciousness which was around this stuff has started to subside. I believe in life that our greatest weaknesses are also our greatest strengths. That’s true for comics. The great strength of comics is that the readership is so amazing and so devoted and so loyal. I’ve always loved that, and it’s why I’ve also been so proud to be a part of that. But the great weakness of comics is that our readership can be so loyal and devoted that we look at everything with a fine eye and with this preciousness that things can’t be touched. If nothing can be touched and nothing can be changed, then you get nothing but stagnation. You can’t just do change for change’s sake. You have to do it for story’s sake. And I love that there’s this feeling coming back again of, “Let’s play with the toys and not just let them sit on the shelf.”

    RELATED: DC Releases King & Mann’s Full Action Comics #1000 Story

    Last time you came to DC for an anniversary issue, it was with Detective Comics #27 which was a very direct callback to the original appearance of Batman. Is this new short a similar take or more a love letter to the character?

    There was no backward in this one. It was, “Tell the best Superman story you can tell.” We had to ask ourselves what the heart of the character was and show why he gets to 1,000 issues. Plus, come on, it’s awesome to see John drawing Superman.

    The Escape Artist is on sale now. For more information, see BradMeltzer.com. Action Comics #1000 is scheduled for release on April 18 from DC Comics.

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