All Time Comics is maybe the most unexpected comic in the game right now. It’s a new shared superhero universe from the minds of Josh and Sam Bayer, and from the printing presses of Fantagraphics, noted publishers of…not…superhero…comics. Its very existence is a contradiction, and contradictions reverberate through the project. It’s superhero stuff from legends like Al Milgrom and Herb Trimpe, but also from indie darlings like Noah Van Sciver and Ben Marra.
These are contradictions that Josh Bayer, in an exclusive interview with Den of Geek, owned. “All Time Comics is…a square with round edges,” he told us. “It has combinations of sincere earnestness in this endeavor, some attempts to be straight, some touches of satire, and a few other things as well.”
“Think of these as the weird superhero comics from 1979 that you never read.”
The project “evolved organically,” says Bayer. He and his brother Sam, a legendary music video director behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” have been collaborating off and on for 20 years. He brought the ideas, characters and a budget to Josh (“Every Velvet Underground needs an Andy Warhol behind it,” he said), who has been making underground comics for almost 30 years, and Josh reached out to a colleague from Fantagraphics who helped them put the entire project together. Having a budget available allowed them to reach out to Trimpe and Milgrom “legend[s] in comics” who get left behind by the industry all too frequently.
But having them on board for ATC is a joy because their generation is where the roots of this universe firmly lie: “Steve Gerber’s Defenders and Omega the Unknown, Al Milgrom’s art from Secret Wars 2, ROM [Spaceknight]” are all comics from where he drew inspiration. “I think a perfect comic is Daredevil 219 by Frank Miller, John Buscema, and the great inker Gary Talaoc.”
Nowhere is that influence of mid period Marvel more evident than in the structure of the universe and its heroes. The shared universe aspect will make the reader feel as if she has been dropped into a bustling super-hero world mid-story: one comic issue “that’s got 170 other issues [surrounding] it,” but that make the story feel lived in rather than heavy.
As for the characters, Blind Justice is Batman filtered through Raymond Chandler and Death Wish, “a mentally imbalanced crime fighting zealot” who “lives in a broken down trauma ward…pretending to be catatonic.” The bandaged crime fighter is the street-level hero of the ATC universe.
Atlas is the character with the most traditional superhero trappings. He works as a mild-mannered city planning employee by day, “an agency we picked because it sounds so ‘comic books,’” (something sure to tickle the nerds over in city planning) who discovered massive alien machines beneath Optic City that transformed him into Atlas. He was granted super strength, flight, and Ultra Matter Vision, but fear can cripple his powers.
Atlas is the most super powered character. He can fly and lift mountains and has special Ultra Matter Vision. He discovered these massive alien machines in tunnels under Optic City while working as a city planning employee – which is an agency we picked because it sounds so ‘comic books,’ like it’s full of important business that reader doesn’t have to quite understand it to get it, the same way a wall of machinery in a superheroes headquarters is accepted as evidence of functioning high tech science. He was transformed into Atlas, and his powers are dependent on him not becoming afraid. Fear can kill his abilities, so if he becomes afraid in the middle of a mission he can die. It’s a potent idea and goes back to the idea of a superhero with fatal flaws of who operates under magical principles that can get erased with a single thought.
Stem DeFrieze is Crime Destroyer, a riff on classic ‘70s anti-heroes.
“My brother loves the film Rolling Thunder, and my favorite 70s post-war revenge film is Johnny Thundercloud,” said Bayer. DeFrieze watches his family murdered before his very eyes, so to get his revenge on the criminal filth who did that to him, he puts on a battle suit with shoulder pads shaped like fists, grabs an enormous gun, kits out a Trans Am with LMGs and goes to town on crime. Readers will note from the attached graphic that this description significantly undersells the banananess of his costume.
Bullwhip is the lone woman hero in the lineup, and the biggest surprise to Bayer to write. He was concerned because “writing a female character was a new thing” for him, but he was so full of ideas for her world that she was a blast. She is mission-oriented, has no life outside of her work as a superhero, and has a full Rogues Gallery that keep her busy.
And, of course, no comic universe would be complete without a handbook guide to accompany it, which Bayer and company have produced in painstaking, glorious detail. All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1 is in comic shops this March. Stay with Den of Geek for more news about this and other more predictable comics.