For 35 years, Paul Levitz was associated with DC Comics. Whether it was as a writer on books like Legion of Super-Heroes or co-creating characters like the Huntress (soon to be seen in next years’s Birds of Prey movie!), Levitz was a reliable company man who rose through the ranks as an editor and executive, eventually becoming president of DC from 2002 to 2009.
Now, Levitz is venturing into new territory, specifically the Valiant Universe, with his new book The Visitor, although he’s still remaining in somewhat familiar territory, that of New York City. Drawn by M.J. Kim, The Visitor involves a mysterious stranger coming to the Valiant Universe, and if that premise sounds familiar, it might be since there was a limited series in the ‘90s literally called “The Visitor vs. the Valiant Universe,” written by Kevin Van Hook and drawn by Bryan Hitch and Dick Giordano (the latter who worked very closely with Levitz at DC). This is a different character, just as the Valiant Universe is now every different than it was 24 years ago, but it gives Levitz a chance to play with some new toys.
The Beathad a chance to chat with Mr. Levitz at last month’s New York Comic-Con where there still wasn’t a lot known about The Visitor, and we didn’t learn that much more in this interview. Ironically, this interview is being posted on the same day that DC Comics releases its first Legion of Super-Heroes#1 in quite a few years.
Paul Levitz: I don’t know about that. It’s pretty far removed from that… but okay.
THE BEAT: This is set in the Valiant Universe, but it’s a brand-new character in an established universe. Have you done anything like that anywhere besides at DC Comics?
Levitz: Not other than at DC. I’ve written 500 comic stories, probably 495 of them for DC, 490? The stuff that I’ve written for outside DC has almost all been original material. This is the first time that I’m playing in another significant universe. It was a new and interesting challenge that way.
THE BEAT: Was that the appeal of coming to Valiant, or did it just start with you going them and saying, “I’d like to do something” or vice versa?
Levitz: Most of it is that I’ve been friendly with Fred Pierce, who is the publisher, for a couple of decades through several of his jobs. We’d have lunch a few times a year. He said, “Hey, I’m responsible for editorial now. Would you be interested in writing for us?” I said, “Sure, I’ll write for anybody.” I don’t know the Valiant Universe well. I’ve read a little bit of it at the very beginning when Jim [Shooter] was creating it. Jim was an old poker buddy, and Bob Layton had inked a lot of my early stories, so we were friendly. Don Perlin, peculiarly, his daughter was in my bridal party. I had a lot of old friends connected with original Valiant, and then Fred said, “Okay, we have a couple of these old series that we’re not doing anything with that are interesting names. You can do anything you want with them. Give it a read, and see which one appeals to you.” And The Visitor struck my fancy.
THE BEAT: Did you have to go back and read a lot of the more recent Valiant Universe books?
Levitz: A little bit, to get saturated in it. I have a half-dozen or a dozen trade paperbacks to get a feel for what made a good Valiant. I had to rely very heavily on the editors for the mythology ‘cause there have been a lot of issues. Legion of Super-Heroes, I could recite all the home planets and all the powers and the issue numbers. There isn’t room in the brain to do that all over again anymore.
THE BEAT: This comic book is set in New York as well…
Levitz: Very much so.
THE BEAT: I don’t remember too much of the Valiant Universe going back since its inception being set in New York, so are there a lot of characters based here?
Levitz: I’m not sure, not having read enough. One of the things that struck me about the original Visitor series was that it had a very strong sense of place in Los Angeles, and not a lot of superhero comics use the cities they’re in very powerfully these days. To me, that was an appealing thing, and I said, “Let me do this very much as a New York story.”
THE BEAT: You have an artist in M.J. Kim, and is this more or less the first superhero comics she’s done?
Levitz: Hm… I think it’s the longest superhero thing she’s done. She’s done some work on Faith before this.
THE BEAT: Has she been to New York or spent any time here?
Levitz: She’s a New Yorker, and she’s climbing on buildings to get views, and we’re doing site visits together for places where we might set episodes. It reminds me very much of when Ross Andru was drawing Spider-Man. In a simpler era, Ross would be able to talk himself into getting access to the roofs of buildings and go up there with a Polaroid camera and take photographs of the angles that he wanted to use for Spidey. She has that same kind of dedication, which is fabulous.
THE BEAT: It’s so uncommon for a writer to actually be in the same city as their artist, but to be able to go anywhere with them. I know in the old days…
Levitz: In the old days, it was common.
THE BEAT: This is coming out as a six-issue mini-series, but you mentioned “episodes,” so are you already talking about other stuff?
Levitz: I’ve finished the first three scripts. I’m playing in the middle of #4. We’ll see what happens. If enough people buy it, they’ll ask me to do more.
THE BEAT: How much of this crosses over with the Valiant Universe in this first series?
Levitz: If I’ve done my job right, if you know nothing about the Valiant Universe, you can have a very entertaining ride. If you know something about the Valiant Universe, you will probably solve some of the mysteries a little faster than the other readers. It’s unlikely that you’ll spot all of the Easter egg stuff that’s in it until well into it.
THE BEAT: That’s a good tease.
Levitz: It’s a goal. You’ll tell me if it works.
THE BEAT: I actually stopped reading comics last November, but the only reason I’m back is cause DC brought the Legion back. Yes, I’m one of those crazy Legion fans.
Levitz: Bless you. Then you definitely contributed to my mortgage.
THE BEAT: Since I haven’t actually spoken to you since sometime in the ‘90s, I was curious if you have some insights into the long-lasting fanbase that surrounds the “Legion of Super-Heroes”? I still remember it from when I used to hang out in the AOL chatrooms, and it continues to this day with a ton of Facebook groups dedicated to the Legion.
Levitz: It was always a strip that people were passionate about, long before I was writing it. I was one of the passionate readers of it, back in the day. I’m thrilled that people still care about my work decades later. If you had asked me when I was doing it, would this stuff be in print forty years later, I’d have said, “What are you drinking?” Some of it is, and it’s delightful.
THE BEAT: I bet if Beethoven came back to life, he’d be shocked that those four notes he wrote in a couple minutes is now this famous symphony.
THE BEAT: Do you think DC might try to reprint more of your Legion run now? Have they talked to you about it at all?
Levitz: When they schedule something, sometimes they’ll call me up and ask me to do an introduction or “Do you have any of the original scripts or something we can put in as bonus material?” but basically, I find out pretty much the same time the rest of the world does what they’re planning to do with the reprints. Unless it’s a reprint book I’m editing, I don’t have any insight knowledge.
THE BEAT: Have you had the desire to go in and tinker when they do reprint stuff?
Levitz: No, part of me would like to fix my mistakes, but mostly, I think it is what it is of the time, and it was the best that I could do that today, and it was good enough that somebody is still paying attention.
The Visitor #1 will hit comic shops on December 18.