Robert Weinberg might be a name you recognize from novels, or from his run on Marvel’s Cable a couple of years ago and last year’s Marvel miniseries, Nightside. Most recently, however, he and co-author Lois H. Gresh released The Science of Superheroes (a book I reviewed in November 2002). The book so impressed me, I decided to reach out to Weinberg for an interview. I appreciated him offering up his time and thoughts, and also a special thanks to Johanna Draper Carlson (of www.comicsworthreading.com fame) for helping me get in contact with him. Enjoy.
O’Shea: How did the intro (to the book) by Dean Koontz come about?
Weinberg: My wife and I have been friends with Dean Koontz for more than 20 years. Dean’s a truly nice guy and gave me a lot of wonderful advice when I decided to get back into fiction writing in the late 1980’s after a 15-year break. I knew how much Dean liked Disney comics and since we devoted an entire chapter to Carl Barks and Donald Duck, I asked Dean if he would write the intro for the book. And he agreed.
O’Shea: What was your favorite chapter to write? What was the hardest, or the one that demanded the most research?
Weinberg I enjoyed writing about Green Lantern and black holes. I think black holes are among the most fascinating topics in modern science and being able to devote most of a chapter to them was fun.
The hardest to write was Superman. He’s a great character but his powers are just so outrageous that coming up with something to discuss other than just saying he was impossible was a challenge.
O’Shea: What is the latest news on the potential TV project related to the book?
Weinberg We have three different TV production companies interested in the book. No final deal has been signed but interest in the idea remains high. Hopefully, the next few months will see the project take off.
O’Shea: How did you and co-author Lois Gresh divvy up the writing of the book?
Weinberg Lois and I have written several books and short stories together. We did it pretty much the same as always. We both researched and wrote several chapters and then passed them on to the other to review and rewrite. Then I did a final run through the entire manuscript and afterwards, Lois did the same. In that manner, we shared the work and also made sure the book read smoothly and was always reader friendly.
O’Shea: In the “Who Missed the Cut?” chapter, the dearth of female heroes in comics was still a challenge that you noted. Would you like the chance to write more female strong leads in comics?
Weinberg I like writing strong female characters in comics. That’s why I enjoyed bringing back Rachel Summers in CABLE. And, Sydney Taine, in my own series, NIGHTSIDE, was a strong female lead. Given the chance, I’d enjoy writing more.
O’Shea: At one point in the book, you have the following passage:
“Reading comic books requires some suspension of disbelief. When we pick up a comic book, we need to be willing to give the author some leeway in his writing. Except in extreme cases, we have to be willing to accept some compromises.” This is an assessment that I think some comic book critics and many fans fail to grasp. Do you think the industry suffers from hyper-critical readership who fails to exert some “suspension of disbelief”?
Weinberg Actually, I think that the audience for comics are a little too forgiving. Not only are they willing to forgive super powers that scientifically and logically make no sense (like Cyclop’s ray blast eyes) but they’re also willing to accept major lapses in story-telling logic (like 16 million people being killed in Genosha in one night and no one but the X-Men getting upset). Comic writers are allowed to get away with a lot because that audiences don’t demand better. Until that changes, I don’t think comics will improve.
O’Shea: How strange was it to read Mark Waid’s review of the book on Amazon, which includes the following line:
“…THE SCIENCE OF SUPERHEROES leeches all the charm and sense of wonder out of these adolescent-fantasy characters without offering in place any qualities equally (or even remotely) as uplifting or imaginative…”
Were you surprised, particularly considering the book’s point about “suspension of disbelief”?
Weinberg Mark Waid’s entitled to his opinion. At the same time, as we did in the chapter dealing with the Incredible Hulk, I think Lois and I could come up with much more believable explanations for most superheroes than what’s being published today if given the chance. Science fiction writers aren’t allowed to get away with bogus science in their stories and comics should be no different. Mark Waid’s a fine writer. I believe he could fix his comic characters easily. Complaining about my book doesn’t make the problem go away.
And, for the record, Lois and I don’t rip down every superhero in the book. We offer possible explanations for Batman, the Green Lantern, Aquaman, and several others. We even explain why Ant-Man is much more possible than Giant Man. Lois and I love comics and have been fans for most of our lives. We just wish they were written better.
O’Shea: Other than this rather public and vocal reaction, have you received any other industry feedback from your fellow creators?
Weinberg We’ve received lots of letters from industry pros telling us how much they enjoyed the book. And most reviewers on Internet comic websites have been very positive as well.
O’Shea: In dissecting the science of superheroes for this book, were there any creators or series you appreciated more (or less) after looking at it from the scientifically critical perspective?
Weinberg I’ve always been a tremendous fan of Batman, and I think that the comic has maintained a high level of quality throughout it’s entire run. I don’t know that I appreciate it more, but I definitely still appreciate it.
O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I may have not asked?
Weinberg Our aim in writing this book was to produce a fun read for fans of comics and people not so familiar with comics. Our aim was never to tear comic books down. Instead, we hoped to point out ways they could be improved. Comic book readers are getting smarter and smarter. If comic book superheroes don’t change with the times, they’re going to be abandoned. And that will mean an end to superheroes.