Our Interview With Trinity Creator Kurt Busiek

How much of the story did you have in mind when you started, and how much came into place as you went along? What were some of the biggest changes to the story from original conception to finished product?

Once we actually worked out the story, what we had was a fairly loose outline that covered the high points, and then I'd outline the first act more tightly, and we'd work from that until it was nearly done, then I'd outline the second act more tightly, we'd work from that, and then of course the third. So we had the advantage of knowing where we were going, but the freedom of having a fairly sketchy roadmap, one that could accommodate new discoveries and opportunities that came up as we went along. So I don't think there were any flat-out "major changes" from the original conception — we delivered on that original outline pretty well — but there was a lot that came up while we were under way that we were able to incorporate.

The whole Tomorrow Woman arc, for example, wasn't in the original outline, it just came up along the way, and it worked, so we went with it.

This was the third DC weekly series, following 52 and Countdown, both of which had featured fairly large writing and drawing teams. Trinity, on the other hand, had a much smaller crew, with only you and Fabian Nicieza as your cowriter on the backup stories on the writing front and pretty much only Mark Bagley and the team of Tom Derenick, Scott McDaniel, and Mike Norton handling the art. How did it prove possible to pull off a weekly series for an entire year without delays with such a relatively small creative team?

In some ways it was easier than with a larger group, I imagine — because our creative team was small and focused, it wasn't as much of a headache to juggle different visions and schedules and such. I think the 52 crew had weekly conference calls, across I don't know how many time zones between Grant and the west coast guys. Fabian and I probably talked more often, but there were only two of us. All we had to do was get on the phone, and bang, writer-team conference call. It's a lot easier. And Fabian was always ready to talk stuff over, to make suggestions, to get me past logjams.

The other half was focus — Mark, Geoff, Grant and Greg were all juggling a pretty full plate along with 52, as were the guys who wrote COUNTDOWN, but I was working on TRINITY and ASTRO CITY and a very few other things. Fabian had more to juggle, between TRINITY, a few other comics assignments and his not-inconsiderable outside-comics work, but it was still kept lean enough that he had the time to focus on TRINITY.

Our Interview With Trinity Creator Kurt Busiek

Same for the artists — if you look at how much other work they were doing outside TRINITY, it adds up to an impressive but manageable workload for all of them. Everyone was pretty focused. The miracle was Mark Bagley, of course. He was the only one who wasn't doing anything but TRINITY, and he had a hellacious workload — 12 pages a week — but not only is he fast, he had the other quality that kept us on track: The ability to put ass in chair for long hours and do the work. Regardless of the distractions, the whole TRINITY team focused on the work and got it done when it needed to be done. And there were plenty of distractions — from buying and moving into a new house to deaths in the family and other emergencies — but everyone had committed to this schedule, and they did the work. So credit Mike Carlin, as well, for knowing how to pick a team of guys who'd all do that without fail. And for keeping us moving, getting us answers, support, encouragement, every time we needed it and without delays. I've worked on books where I'd turn in a plot and it wouldn't get approved by the editor and sent off to the artist for two weeks or more. In Mike's case, it was rare that something came in and didn't get turned around within two _hours_. A plot comes in, it was read immediately. An outline that needed approval would get it that day, or get requests for changes. We could work steadily because there weren't delays on the DC end.

And on that score, I'll add that it was a miracle that we didn't have to tie in to the other big events of the year — so we were able to keep moving, and not have to wait to find out what was going to happen in BATMAN or JUSTICE LEAGUE or FINAL CRISIS or whatever. We kept it largely to the immediate creative team. There were two moments where Dan Didio asked us to do something differently, and neither was anything major.

But in the end it comes back to focus. Tom Derenick did more pages that year than any other year of his career, and they looked great. Scott McDaniel handled anything we asked of him, from street-level adventure to space wars to trippy cosmic encounters, and made it all stylish and attractive. Mike Norton got a lot of character-drama chapters about a dizzying array of characters, and made them all individuals. And Mark Bagley drew the entire DC Universe and a brand-new mythology on top of it. And it's not like no one ever slowed down. But no one ever gave up, no one ever said, "No, I can't do that."

Plus, we all knew that once the year was over, it was done, so while that final sprint might have been exhausting, it would end. That makes it easier to keep pushing.

One of the big themes of Trinity is that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fulfill special roles in the DC universe that no one else can quite fulfill. Was it somewhat strange to develop this idea at a time when two of these characters were undergoing major upheaval in their main books, with Superman leaving Earth for New Krypton and Batman apparently dying in the aftermath of R.I.P and Final Crisis?

Not really. After all, I knew — even if the readers didn't — that my story happened before all those other events. And I didn't really know what was going on with the other books — the readers saw it play out week-to-week, month-to-month, but that doesn't mean I was writing TRINITY while hearing about each new development in BATMAN RIP. I was seeing those books when they came out, and we outlined TRINITY long before they started to play out that way, so we just did our thing without the other events needing to intrude. Fabian knew a lot more about RIP, since he was writing ROBIN and other Bat-related stuff, but I felt like I was working on a big standalone novel, so I didn't have to think about the other upheavals.

Structurally, the story deals a great deal with arcane topics from tarot cards to the fundamental metaphysical structure of the universe. When dealing with such heady mystical material, how do you make these elements cohere into something relatively comprehensible and consistent? Is that even necessarily a priority? What are the challenges in taking these rather abstract concepts and grounding them as something real and immediate to the characters involved?

The one time I talked with Jack Kirby, he told me that it didn't matter how weird or cosmic or far out anything got, as long as your characters reacted to it the way real people would. Give the audience a vantage point they can comprehend, a place to stand that feels real, and they'll comprehend the bigger stuff. Ideas like the Worldsoul and the metaphysical structure of things would be arcane and dry if you just explain them in a vacuum, but if it's Tarot learning about them, or Krona trying to comprehend and failing, there's a character involved, a human emotional reaction, and that goes a long way.

Our Interview With Trinity Creator Kurt Busiek

For such a massive story - by my count, it runs to about 1144 pages - how do you go about settling on which supporting characters to feature? What leads you to such obscure characters as Gangbuster, Charity O'Dare, or Tomorrow Woman? Even with more major players, like Hawkman or Firestorm, how do you go about deciding they'll play supporting roles as opposed to any of the other secondary heroes in the DCU?

1155 pages, I think, with the additional pages in #1 and #52.

And the supporting characters came in for a number of reasons — usually to do the job of supporting characters, which is to support the plot and the themes. Sometimes that happens by design, sometimes it just kind of happens. To rattle through your examples — Hawkman we used because we were told that nothing was going on with him so we were free to use him, and we earmarked him to play a major role. After which, of course, plans for the HAWKMAN SPECIAL happened, and the character suddenly became off-limits, but since we were operating outside of the other events (and before the special, in any case), we didn't have to worry about that. Gangbuster was another deliberate choice — we were looking for characters to use that people hadn't seen much of recently, and Gangbuster is a character I've always liked, and who fit into Tarot's world well, so we roped him in.

Charity O'Dare we used because we were going to use Madame Xanadu, only she got her own Vertigo series and became at least temporarily off-limits, so we have her major role to Charity (and a few minor bits to Madame Zodiac). That storyline played out differently, in some ways, because Charity's a different character, but it made for some nice moments.

Tomorrow Woman was a complete fluke — we needed characters to put on a set of covers showing "replacement" icons, and I wanted to get a little weird with it. Green Arrow was kind of an obvious choice for a replacement Batman, and Black Adam fit Wonder Woman's myth-based warrior concept, and that meant we needed someone for Superman, and we didn't want the replacements to be all male (but we'd picked Black Adam in part to break up the gender pattern), so we needed someone for Superman who was female, science-fiction-y and in some way futurist. Who better to replace the Man of Tomorrow than a Tomorrow Woman? So we put her on the cover, thinking it was a nice bit, that we could use a dead character because we'd revised history and all — and then the fans went nuts. There was an outpouring of excitement even just from the cover appearing online, and we're not stupid enough not to notice — so we gave her more to do, and it just grew from there. Fairly early on, once we started using her, we proposed bringing her back at the end, restoring her to life, and got the okay, so we were off to the races.

Firestorm wasn't a character we'd planned to use as much as we did, but his role grew organically. As one of the youngest JLAers, he was a good choice to have John Stewart explain Krona to, so he started out purely as a mechanical choice — he's the one who doesn't know, so we can build an infodump around him needing to learn — but then some chemistry happens, and all of a sudden it wasn't just that he was the new guy asking the Green Lantern about GL history, he was the young black guy who didn't want to feel stupid in front of the team so he went to the older black guy to ask privately, knowing that John would understand why he didn't want to look like a dope. And from that little spark, a friendship came out on the page that we hadn't been expecting, and the Firestorm-John Stewart bond became important, so Firestorm got a bigger role to play.

That's the way it happens — some characters you set out to use, some are happy accidents. As long as it works, it doesn't really matter how you got them.

Our Interview With Trinity Creator Kurt Busiek

Beyond the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman trinity, there are a number of other trios you developed over the course of the books. Obviously, there's the Despero/Enigma/Morgaine Le Fey trio that serves as the primary antagonists, but there's also a brief point around issue 40 where the vague trio of Lex Luthor/Joker/Cheetah, which is arguably a more natural set of antagonists for the heroes, seems to gain some significance. What was your thinking in using a more unlikely assortment of characters as the main villains, and what was the function of spotlighting the more traditional adversaries at roughly the same point in the story?

We didn't want to use Lex, the Joker and Cheetah (or Circe or Ares, the two other natural WW-archfoe choices) in part because we had this big weird plan, and it's not really a Luthor-y plans and it's not a Joker-y plan, so we needed characters who'd come together in that kind of plan. Also, we didn't want to just make the most obvious choice. And we wanted to get at some core ideas about the Trinity. Lex, the Joker and Cheetah aren't the same concepts as the Trinity, but the Dark Trinity we used — a woman of mystic power, a technological schemer and a powerful alien — fit a Trinity-pattern we could use in the story.

You could do that with Lex-as-Batman and Cheetah/Circe as Wonder Woman, but even then, the Joker doesn't step into the Superman mythic role well at all. And we see those guys all the time anyway, so let's have them play secondary roles and do something new with the main villains. That was the basic thinking.

The other big trinity appeared to be Alan Scott/Carter Hall/Jay Garrick, as they openly wonder whether they could have fulfilled the roles of the trinity, seemingly coming to the conclusion that they are lacking. How do you go about demonstrating the importance of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman without implicitly devaluing the contributions of other heroes, such as these three Golden Age crimefighers, to the DC mythos?

Keep in mind that Alan, Carter and Jay weren't simply presented as "not up to the task." They were a force in a revised history in which the very core concepts that make Superman, WW and Batman what they are had been removed, blunted, faded, all the way back through history, as seen by the fact that even the Egyptian gods in Prince Khufu's time were weakened. So it wasn't as if DC's normal Golden Age heroes aren't all that, it's that when you take away the mythic underpinnings that fuel even them, they have to soldier on in a less idealistic way, becoming more pragmatic than inspirational, becoming tougher and darker, making hard choices without the magic. So that's not a reflection on them as they were in the Golden Age, but on what they needed to be to keep the world together in a reality without that truth/justice/"American way" at the heart of it.

I think they did about as well as they could, all things considered.

Our Interview With Trinity Creator Kurt Busiek

It's probably a fool's errand to even ask this question, but how does Trinity fit into the larger DC continuity, if at all? In particular, The resurrection of Tomorrow Woman is probably the biggest change, although there also new characters like the Dreambound who seem to have more story worth telling. Will any of these changes carry over into other titles?

I think it's pretty easy to see where TRINITY fits into DC continuity — just look at the JLA. When we first see them in the series, Red Tornado is damaged and his brain is occupying the JLA computers. Shortly thereafter, he's been rebuilt and is back in action. So it takes place around the time that stuff was going on in the JUSTICE LEAGUE book.

As for repercussions — well, those last couple of pages will make for some very big ones, coming up. And yeah, Tomorrow Woman and the Dreambound and Xor and Tarot are out there, ready to do more stuff, have new adventures. Where and when those'll happen, I can't say for sure, but all that stuff happened, it's part of the DCU now.

Heck, I'd like to see Tatters, the Ragged Wonder, turn up in Ragman's life. And Supergirl meet Interceptor. And Tomorrow Woman figure that if she survived, maybe there's a way for her to save Triumph...

Ultimately, what are you hoping readers take away from Trinity? The obvious message seemed to be that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have irreplaceable roles in the DC universe, but the ending of the story appeared to complicate that considerably, as the trinity acknowledged all the "normal" humans who had shaped them into who they are.

I think what we said is that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman belong at the heart of the DCU, but it's not a one-way street. They represent things that we can see resonating in the other heroes, in all of us, in the whole world. They're the face of it, the symbols of it, but it's not unique to them. They get it from their lives and experiences and the nature of the universe.

But the reader doesn't need to think about any of that; this is a big sprawling adventure thriller, not a college class. If all they take away from it is "Wow, that was fun! The Joker turned into a whole city! The anti-Deathstroke is an idealistic hero! I wanna see more Tarot, and it was cool to see that annoying frog-guy blow up!" then I'm just fine with that. Theme is great, for people who like to approach stories that way, but it's an organizing principle that helps us write a story that has some weight, it's not something that all readers have to care about.

The stuff happening on the surface can be the take-away just as much.

In case you haven't already, click here to read our review of the entire 52-part series as a whole.