One-on-One Interview with Brad Meltzer

[Date: September 10, 2004]

By Barry M. Freiman

If one thing is certain about author Brad Meltzer, it's that he clearly has no secret identity of his own - he couldn't possibly have time for one.

Meltzer, the 34 year-old writer of DC Comics' mega-hit, ultra-hyped 2004 crossover, "Identity Crisis", is Time Warner's triple threat. In addition to the DCU event, Meltzer's pre-comic writing gig as a New York Times bestselling author continues with his most recent political thriller, "The Zero Game" published by Warner's publishing arm in January 2004.

Jack & Bobby And now, cornering off Meltzer's Time Warner trifecta is his latest endeavor: he's co-creator, supervising producer, writer, and "all around shlub" (as he puts it) for the WB's new drama, "Jack and Bobby", which debuts this Sunday.

"It's kind of amazing. I write books for Warner Books, comic books for DC Comics, which is owned by Warner," Meltzer marvels. "And the studio that we sold the new TV show to is Warner Brothers Studios, and the network is the WB."

Multiple projects for Time Warner's sister companies aside, Meltzer contends that "not a single branch [of Time Warner] knows what the other branches are doing."

Meltzer created the concept for "Jack and Bobby" with his co-creator and friend, Steve "Scoop" Cohen. The show was further developed with co-creators Greg Berlanti (who created the WB's "Everwood") and "Everwood" writer Vanessa Taylor, and Executive Producer, Tommy Schlamme, of NBC's "The West Wing" (who is coincidentally married to "Jack and Bobby" star Christine Lahti).

"We were lucky to always be surrounded by very talented people" on this project, Meltzer graciously acknowledges.

"Jack and Bobby" is the story of two brothers, one of whom grows up to be President of the United States. While the main storyline takes place in present day 2004, the show features cutaway interviews with the future President's staff and First Lady that reveal pieces of both brothers' futures circa 2040.

If the show's premise sounds familiar to Superman fans, it should though self-proclaimed comic geek Meltzer was late in making the connection himself.

"Here's the crazy part, and this maybe shows how pathetic I am," Meltzer jokes. "We came up with the pitch about the 'boy King' who's going to be President someday, and when we're finished explaining it to our agent, he says 'Oh, so it's like 'Smallville' for politics."

"At that moment, I realized 'Oh my Gosh'," Meltzer admits. "You work so much in a vacuum that you sometimes don't realize what you're doing. So I said 'Yes, of course. How did I miss that?'"

Though Meltzer and Cohen toyed with turning the concept into either a novel or film, they ultimately decided that television was the best medium for telling this story. "There are more stories to tell than just telling the origin. What makes a good TV show is 'can you tell more than one good story?'" Meltzer's use of the word "origin" reveals the source of his writer's muse - who but a die-hard comic book geek refers to a character's first story arc as their "origin" and laces their conversation with exclamations of "Oh my Gosh"?

"One of the few things we all have in common - every race, creed, nationality and every country - is that we were all kids. That is the one thing that I think will always be appealing and fresh about the show."

As with "Smallville", the stories stem from what happens in between the beginning and the end. "The middle is the meat," Meltzer insists.

The show differs from "Smallville" in one huge way. While everyone knows where Clark Kent's Middle American journey will eventually take him, the McAllister brothers' futures are less certain because the J&B team is responsible for crafting their present and future. "The difference is, with 'Smallville', we all know who Superman is. Here, we have to tell the future story. 'Smallville' never has to tell the future story because we all know it."

"There's no question that a big part of [J&B] is 'destiny' and certainly a part of 'Smallville' is about 'destiny' so on that level you certainly can't take away" the comparisons. However, Meltzer contends that J&B "from the first pitch, has always been about Jack and Bobby."

Though he sees the "Smallville" connections now, Meltzer insists that his show's characters can't be anyone but who they are. "They can't be Pete Ross or Clark Kent," Meltzer explains, "but there is no doubt that every week, we are trying to create our own lower-case superman."

Beyond the fact that both J&B and "Smallville" concern themselves with the evolution of the principal characters into their greater future selves, J&B is arguably laced with bits and pieces of Superman and "Smallville" lore.

Clark Kent is an outsider in much the same way as Bobby, the younger McAllister brother. At the same time, he's also been the hunk d'jour as portrayed by actor Tom Welling, and older J&B sibling Jack McAllister fits that bill as well, played by dark-haired, fair-skinned newcomer Matthew Long.

The female love interest and future First Lady, played by Jessica Pare (no relation to fellow Canadian actor Michael Pare from "The Greatest American Hero" and "Eddie and the Cruisers") has a younger sister named Chloe, also the name of a "Smallville" character. Older McAllister brother Jack's best friend, Marcus, is African-American like Clark's TV pal, Pete Ross. And the President in 2041 is known as "The Great Believer"; any Superman fan worth his or her salt knows the importance of "believing" to Superman mythology (as in "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly", the 1978 tag line to Superman: The Movie).

Most apparent, though, are the similarities between two of the more interesting fictional small towns on television - Smallville, Kansas and J&B's fictional Hart, Missouri. Meltzer concedes that co-creators Berlanti and Taylor are responsible for much of Hart's heart. "When we originally pitched [the show], we envisioned a small town that was out of a [Bruce] Springsteen song and I think that Greg and Vanessa really brought that to life in their own way."

Notwithstanding the parallels, and the fact that both shows air on the WB (and both pilot episodes were directed by David Nutter), Meltzer doesn't anticipate a meeting between future President McAllister and future Superman any time soon. "If my geek dreams came true," Meltzer jokes, "but I unfortunately have no control over that. . . . Crossovers, I think, are great for comic books but they rarely work in TV shows."

Identity Crisis #7 With his hand in so many different writer's pots, Meltzer has a clear sense of the distinctions between writing novels, TV shows, and comic books. "Comics were good preparation for TV in that it got me more used to the collaborative process" than the solitary task of writing a novel. Television is a "visual medium and you get to paint with the pallet of a visual" which is similar to the comics genre.

As far as future comic book writing, Meltzer is keeping mum waiting out the release of the remaining four issues of "Identity Crisis" and the revelation of the murderer's identity in the months to come. He's excited about the dialogue that the series has created - both favorable and not so favorable - among comic book fans.

When cajoled about the significance, if any, of a lone Green Lantern ring sitting on the floor under the hanging costumes of the other Justice Leaguers on the recently released cover to the last issue of "Identity Crisis", Meltzer laughs. "You really don't want me to give anything away at this point," he offers. Issue four of "Identity Crisis" is scheduled for release next week.

Though "Identity Crisis" has been compared to the 1985 maxi-series "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in terms of its importance to the DC Universe, Meltzer insists that "Identity Crisis" will differ from that story in one important way: all seven issues should be released by DC Comics on time.

"Rags [Morales, the penciller for "Identity Crisis"] is, I think, today or tomorrow finishing issue six and then he's onto the last issue," Meltzer promises. "So, God willing, everyone is healthy" the story should conclude on schedule.

More information on both J&B and "Identity Crisis" can be found at www.jackandbobby.net.