SALVATION RUN: Exit Willingham, Enter Sturges

Veteran scribe Bill Willingham explains his exodus from DC's Salvation Run, which has been taken up by his 'younger, healthier' protege, Matthew Sturges.
In late 2007, Eisner Award-winning writer Bill Willingham (Fables) took on an important DC Comics project, in the form of the seven-part miniseries Salvation Run, which features the DCU’s heavyweight superbaddies fighting it out on a remote prison planet.

But, when issue #3 hit the stands on January 9, Matthew Sturges inexplicably was Salvation Run’s new warden.

Willingham explained to JEFFREY RENAUD at Comic Book Resources why he turned over Salvation Run to the "younger, healthier and more capable" Sturges. "The short version is that I got sick, and on doctor’s orders I needed to dial back...the most stress-inducing part of my workload--and picked the most likely candidate to give up."

Salvation Run was that candidate because, in Willingham's words, it had become "a large and highly stressful mess," like every other big event comic. While the veteran writer admitted that such storylines can be fun, he bemoaned DC Editorial's method of handing down the necessary plot points to the creative team, as well the required coordination with other DCU titles.

"I’ve always been a bit spoiled in my comic writing career," he revealed. "From my very first work in the early 1980s, the Elementals series, I got used to being the only one who determined what would happen in my stories. I never quite made an adjustment to the big company method of comic writing, where everyone had to learn to play nice together and share his toys. I’m certain this played a big part in my decision [to leave] Salvation Run."

So when DC found themselves in need of a writer to finish one of the key titles heading into the highly-anticipated Final Crisis, rising star Matthew Sturges was the ideal choice.

"Bill...taught me nearly everything I know on the subject [of comics]," he explained. "We’ve always worked well together, mostly because we have similar tastes and similar senses of humor. And after writing Jack of Fables for three years, we’ve gotten pretty skilled at working both with and around each other."

The 37 year-old Texan also inherited DC's magical team book Shadowpact from Willingham after issue #16. Though Sturges regularly calls up his mentor of ten years, at his home in Nevada, to brainstorm ideas and break stories when writing Jack of Fables, he's handled Shadowpact differently. "I’ve pretty much just taken the ball and run with it, though I did have several conversations with Bill about the direction of Shadowpact and the resolutions of ongoing plot threads in that book, that sort of thing."

So, Sturges knows how keep the voice and feel of the books fairly constant. "I’ve done a couple of things slightly differently from what Bill was doing [on Salvation Run], but my primary concern was making sure that the series works when seen as a whole. In that respect, I’m ‘doing’ Willingham to the extent that I want the book to have a consistent tone."

Sturges was quite happy to continue Willingham’s "over-the-top portrayal" of the Joker, as well as the clown prince's competition with Lex Luthor to be top dog. But the writer warned fans to keep an eye on the other players at the same time. "We’ll see some real heroes emerge from within the ranks of those villains--we come to see that not everyone who ended up on the planet really deserved to be there, and that will become an issue as the story goes on."

Writing Luthor, the Joker and the Rogues in a book that's so important to DCU continuity ("the same universe where the icons of my childhood exist") is an exciting opportunity for Sturges, but he also feels the full weight of his responsibility to do right by those characters and the DCU as a whole.

"Salvation Run is an odd book in that it’s a superhero book with an alarming dearth of superheroes," he said. "But making it work and be a fun read that people care about is a worthy thing to attempt. The trick is that you have to get the reader to root for bad guys, which is hard to do in general, but...nobody wants to the see the Joker die, regardless of what a destructive psychopath he is--just one of the many strange differences between fiction and real life."

Salvation Run #4 goes on sale February 13.
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