Noah Sharma: So, I’m here with David Walker who is the writer of Cyborg from DC, Power Man and Iron Fist and Nighthawk from Marvel, and Shaft from Dynamite. Am I forgetting anything?

David F. Walker: No, that’s good. That’s a fair amount of stuff. And anything more sounds like I’m bragging.

Athlete, scientist, teenager, superhero. Cyborg is a hero of many facets.

Alright, well, first I wanted to talk to you about Cyborg. Cyborg has kind of come into huge prominence over the last ten years or so. He’s hugely recognizable with young people thanks to Teen Titans, they made him a part of the Justice League. What do you think is the core of Cyborg? What makes him an icon to stand up with the rest of DC’s greats?

Well, I think a lot of it goes back to what Marv Wolfman and George Perez did when they created him back in the 80s with The New Teen Titans. And I think that that creation was just a really cool character that a lot of people got into. And then you throw in the animated shows, and there’s a level of exposure there. But when we get deeper into it, I think part of the popularity of that character, part of what they liked about him, is that he’s a character who’s dealing with quite a bit of alienation, quite a bit of, y’know, he’s broken. He’s literally broken. And we’re all broken a little bit. We’re all definitely alienated a little bit. But the problem that Vic Stone always had was that he couldn’t hide it. We all have our differences. Some of us wear our differences on the outside. Some of us have more of our differences on the inside. And it’s those things that make us feel separated from the rest of the world. But Vic is the ultimate embodiment of that. And yet, he’s also a very loyal person, he’s also very supportive to the people around him, and I think that that was always what was, at his core, what resonated with readers. 

So, you have actually been part of the comics world for a long time, but it has been an explosive last year and a bit.

Yes.

If you could. If you could kind of go back in time and send a message to yourself, is there something you would tell yourself about working in comics?

Uh… That’s a really good question. Y’know, I guess I would tell myself that it’s not going to be what you think it’s going to be. It’ll be different. It won’t be better, it won’t be worse. It’s just going to be really different. That’s what life is. Life is never what we think it’s going to be. But the one thing I would tell myself for sure is that it’s going to happen. Y’know, there was a lot of times where it’s like, “I don’t think this is gonna happen. Like, y’know, I’m ready to give up, I’m ready to throw in the towel.” And for whatever reasons I didn’t. And that’s the thing. That’s what keeps you going is that you have to tell yourself, “Okay, I might quit, but I’m not going to quit today. I might quit, but I’m not going to quit today. I might quit, but I’m not going to quit today.” And then there’s days where you go, “Okay, I’m quitting, but I’m gonna quit a little later today.” And then you go to sleep and you wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, yeah, quitting, that wasn’t a good idea.”

So, Nighthawk is coming out in May and it is set right here in Chicago. What does that setting bring to the book? What was it about Chicago where it was like, “nah, this shouldn’t be just part of the normal Marvel setting?”

Well, for one thing, when they came to me they said it’s gonna be set in Chicago, when Straczynski did Supreme Power back in the early 2000s, his Nighthawk was based in Chicago, so there was a little bit of history there.

I’m kind of a fan of it simply because so much of what happens in the Marvel Universe happens in New York City, it gets it away from that. But to be 100% honest – and I’m not saying this in a disparaging way, but Chicago’s kind of a messed up city. It’s got a lot of problems with race, it’s got a lot of problems with crime, it’s got a lot of problems with corruption. And it’s a city where the people that are supposed to be heroes are quite often villains and the people who are villains become heroes. And there’s a politic involved in this city that I find very, very fascinating. And it’s difficult to write a book that takes place in a city that you don’t live in and that you haven’t spent a lot of time in. It’s like Gotham City doesn’t exist in Batman, Metropolis doesn’t really exist so what you do is you create a personality. In real life Chicago has a personality. And, what I’m trying to do is incorporate some of the more questionable sides of that personality into this new book.

So, turning to Shaft for a second. I think, for a lot of people, especially a lot of people outside the black community, Shaft is kind of known best for the theme song.

Yeah. Yes.

And, y’know, that’s fun and it’s catchy, but your run with the character is obviously- it’s not campy. I mean, there’s fun, but it’s not campy at all. What elements of the original Tidyman character were most important for you to bring forward into this new story?

To me, the two most important elements were the fact that he was a vet of the Vietnam War who had amassed a pretty impressive kill record while he was in Vietnam and that he had joined the military when he was still seventeen because he’d been a warlord in a gang in Harlem and he’d been charged as an adult and it was prison or military. Those are the two most important things to me Tidyman brought to the mix. Because I think those are two very universal concepts that are part of aspects of the black experience for a lot of people. And so everything I did was driven by those two facts. This kid who was an orphan, never knew his father, barely knew his mother, was raised in foster care and in orphanages. And by the time he was seventeen he was facing prison as an adult.

I spent time talking to Vietnam vets about their experience. Y’know, the Vietnam War was a very unfortunate part of American history and what happened to the vets was even more unfortunate. What happened to the Vietnamese was even more unfortunate. And it’s interesting that you have all these young men going off to war, y’know, 70% are 18, 19 years old, coming home by the time they’re 20, 21 and they- they’ve killed. And, y’know, I interviewed on vet who he got out of the Army just before he turned 21. He had 31 confirmed kills to his name; he wasn’t even 21. What does that do to a person? Y’know? And that was part of what I wanted to explore.

Damn Right!

This was absolutely one of my favorite pages in Walker’s first Shaft series.

It occurs to me, Nighthawk is kind of the very opposite of that in many ways. What is it like kind of balancing  those two sides of it in having this character who really believes in what he’s doing, but is just incredibly brutal about it?

I’m writing him in such a way that, he’s incredibly conflicted over- within his brutality. In the Nighthawk lore, we also know he’s an orphan -y’know what character isn’t- in contemporary mythology – but he’s an orphan whose parents were civil rights attorneys and activists who were very much the nonviolence sort of mindset. Then they were murdered by white supremacists. And so he spent his youth being instilled with, y’know, nonviolence is the key, all that sort of stuff and then it’s like his parents are taken.

It fails him.

Yeah. And so he’s fighting for justice and he’s also fighting against his very nature, which is to kill the bad guys.

So Shaft– the movie Shaft came out forty-five years ago now and the book is actually a year older.

Yeah.

In terms of how we view and how we deal with people of color in media, what do you think has gotten better and what do you think has gotten worse since the blaxploitation era?

Well, I don’t necessarily know if anything’s gotten better, per se. It’s morphed into other things- you’ve got more professional sports stars, you’ve got hip hop. So there’s more of a presence within popular culture. Has it gotten any better? I don’t think so. I mean, I think that those characters like Shaft, who were this sort of uber male, this sort of overt masculinity – to a fault, for sure but… that’s been replaced a lot with more comedy. So it’s pretty rare that you see a black action hero that isn’t comedic. I mean, the ultimate realization of that is Black Dynamite. And I love Black Dynamite, it’s a great series. The animated show’s amazing. But it’s treated as comedy. Y’know? And so that’s one of the biggest changes is that we can’t even take him seriously as a hero.

Pay attention

Pay attention to everything.

So, besides obviously just voting with your dollar what can fans do to help make a better and more full world for people of color in comics and in media?

Ah, well, definitely voting with your dollar, but it’s also, at your comic shop, let them know that you want them to carry this. Like, “I think it’s a great book.” Tell your friends that you think it’s a great book. Let the retailers know. Maybe let ‘em know why. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, y’know, take a picture of yourself holding the comic, the book that you like. Say, “Hey, I love this comic. Check it out.” Tweet about it. “I love this comic. Check it out.” Leave a review on Amazon. If, y’know, if it’s a trade paperback or graphic novel, you go onto Amazon and leave a review because those reviews impact how other people buy stuff. Y’know, you buy something and they’ll say, “Other people who bought this bought this.” And that’s it, it’s understanding the power that you have as a consumer.

Alright, so finally we’re going to look at Power Man and Iron Fist.

You’ve talked a lot about how much you love having seen the development of Danny and Luke’s friendship. What do you think makes them such good friends? What makes them work as a duo?

Power Man and Iron Fist

There’s a true evolution and a true history to that relationship between Luke and Danny. And I think that’s part of what it is and I think it speaks to the fact that the friendship is something that exists in the core of our being.

I think it’s a couple things. One is that when you look at them on the surface, it’s a friendship that to a lot of people doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t make sense because the media doesn’t portray friendships like that. And that’s a huge part of it.

I think that, especially for old school fans like myself, part of the reason the friendship means so much is because you can see the birth of it. In comic books, a lot of friendships [pre-]exist and just happen. Ben Grimm and Reed Richards are best friends when you meet them for the first time, that first issue of Fantastic Four. But there’s a true evolution and a true history to that relationship between Luke and Danny. And I think that’s part of what it is and I think it speaks to the fact that the friendship is something that exists in the core of our being. It’s not just friendship because we like the same sports team. There’s more to it than that.

Black Mariah is a real classic Luke Cage villain, the first issue had both of them facing off with Tombstone. And there were a bunch of C and D list guys in issue #2, just kind of either voicing concerns or trying to get the Supersoul Stone back. What role do villains play in your vision of the world of Power Man and Iron Fist?

They’re a huge part of it. Because I think that a hero is only as interesting as their villains. But I think that especially in the street level of the comic book world, just like in the street level in the real world, there’s a fine line sometimes between a hero and a villain. And  Luke Cage and Power Man and Iron Fist have the craziest rogues gallery and I just want to play with some of them and sort of get into the complexities of who they are. So, yeah, we’re gonna play with it. There’s more you’re going to see.

Finally, what are you most excited to do in this book now that you have it?

What am I most excited to do with this book? The list is endless, but I really- this whole book is about the journey of a friendship. And I want to take these characters on an emotional journey. So it’s not just a journey of kicking ass.

Like, there’s a long list of characters who would give their kidney to Luke Cage, but Danny is at the top. Danny is the person- he would give his life for Luke. He would. And the only thing that would stop Luke from giving his life for Danny is his daughter. And Danny knows that. So, it’s going to be interesting. So, it’s just going to be an incredible journey of friendship. And I think that anybody who has a best friend that they’ve had for a long, long time, that they fight over stupid, petty shit, they’re gonna get this book.

Thank you so much for talking with me.

Yeah. Thank you.

Grade

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