Writing a gripping story isn’t something that can be easily done. This difficulty was the weekly grind for comic book writer Steve Englehart during the ’70s and ’80s for Marvel and DC. As the acclaimed writer of series like The Avengers and Batman, Englehart penned stories that brought the popular characters to new frontiers as he pushed comic boundaries by putting the heroes in adult situations. Although he’s left the superhero world, Englehart has created his own with his new series of political thriller novels. The recent release of his latest Max August chronicle, The Plain Man, marks the third installment of the series as the immortal attempts to gain his bearings as Earth constantly evolves. In a phone interview, Englehart discussed his novels, comics and the reason he left the industry.
Taking over a story is a complex task. There’s always the decision of either continuing what the previous writer did, or dramatically alter it by creating a new saga. Englehart opted for the former when taking over popular series such as Batman: “When I would take over a series, I liked to honor what had been there before, but I usually had my own take on it.” Keeping the characters in a similar frame allowed Englehart to let the character retain their integrity. “I’m not in favor of bumping everything that’s come before, which I know DC is about to do down the line,” said Englehart.
Englehart’s work with DC brought the company from paper to silver screen. As the first writer to give a superhero (Batman) a sexual love interest, Englehart created a bold storyline that became the inspiration for the 1989 Batman film. Tensions grew however, as Englehart said DC refused to let him include or reference Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter in his Justice League origin story. With the industry becoming more engrossed in what could be put on lunchboxes than the quality of the material in the books themselves, Englehart began to question his continued involvement.
Although he was credited for the first Batman movie, the reboot was unfortunately what severed his connections with comics. “I did a Batman series which [DC] decided not to publish, which I thought was very odd,” said Englehart. “But then when I saw ‘Batman Begins’ there were chunks of my comic book series story in that movie, and they hadn’t told or paid me. So that’s when I told myself I was done with this business.”
It’s a shame to see a talented writer leave with these bitter memories. However, the departure allowed Englehart to focus on his novels. Over the years, Englehart has continued his passion with his August series. Seeing most political thrillers using cliched villain concepts, Englehart decided the genre needed a modern renovation: “As I look at the world in 2011, I see a society where all your emails are being read and all your phone calls are being listened to. I didn’t see political thrillers that were grappling with these 21st-century century threats, and I thought I could do something more up to date.”
Englehart stated that he hopes to continue writing the August series until “the novel’s rhythms stopped flowing in his head.” Whether through novels or other future endeavours, Englehart hopes to remain hooking in true believers in with his punchy writing.
“I always felt like [writing for different mediums] is like playing baseball in a different ballpark,” said Englehart. “The dimensions of the outfield are different and the wind’s blowing a different way, so you have to adjust. You’re still playing baseball though, and it’s kind of like that with writing.”