When it comes to comic books, Mark Waid has done it all. To quote his bio on his digital comics site, Thrillbent, ‘Mark has written thousands of comic books and graphic novels in his 28-year career’, and that’s not even up to date – trying to cover his comic-book biography succinctly is impossible, so this will be a very broad overview. He started out as an editor at DC in 1987 (he edited Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, co-creating the Elseworld series, and started editing the ‘Five Years Later’ Legion of Super-Heroes) before becoming a freelance writer, although he has taken editorial roles subsequently (he was named publisher of Humanoids this year after being named director of creative development in 2018; he was previously editor in chief and chief creative officer of Boom! Studios). Waid even owned a comic book shop for a while (it didn’t work out; he described it as setting fire to his own money), just in case you don’t get the idea that the man LOVES comic books.
Although I didn’t read it when it first came out, The Flash was the book that made Waid’s name as a writer (and where I would first come to admire him as a writer). Starting co-writing with Greg LaRocque with issue #62 in 1992, he subsequently took over and made Wally West the character I think of as the Flash, working with the great, late Mike Wieringo at the start of his career, and then co-writing with Brian Augustyn (who had been the editor of the book) until the end of his run with issue #162 in 2000 (along with various specials and annuals). During that time, he also co-created future teenage speedster, Impulse (aka Bart Allen) in The Flash, which led to an ongoing series starting in 1995 with Humberto Ramos on art duties, as well as writing JLA: Year One with art by Barry Kitson (all artists he would work with again), not to mention various Legion books as well.
But it would be in 1996 that Waid’s fame exploded with the publication of Kingdom Come with beautiful painted art from Alex Ross (who came up with the original concept), which sees a future version of DC characters in conflict between the old guard and the newer, irresponsible superheroes. The book has gone on to be a best-selling collected edition for a reason and it still retains the power it had at the time.
Concurrent with this, he was also working at Marvel: he would work on the X-Men (including creating Onslaught), various Amalgam Comics titles, a well-respected run on Captain America (with art by Ron Garney) that was cut short by the Heroes Reborn event, after which he returned to the character for another two years, as well as writing a Ka-Zar series. Strangely, with his fame at its height, he would write X-O Manowar for Acclaim, before returning to DC to write an original graphic novel, JLA: Heaven’s Ladder, with art by Bryan Hitch; a series spinning out of Kingdom Come, called The Kingdom; and then a sojourn with Crossgen Comics, writing Ruse, Sigil, Crux and other titles before the company folded.
Waid never seemed to be tied down to one company, always working across the board. This included starting an imprint at Image Comics in 2000, Gorilla Comics, with Kurt Busiek, Kitson, Wieringo, George Perez and others, where he originally published the creator-owned Empire (with Kitson) – a story that was basically, ‘What if Doctor Doom won?’ – but the imprint collapsed when the financiers proved unsuccessful. Waid and Kitson would later finish Empire at DC.
Continuing his ability to write well for any company would lead to the wonderful Fantastic Four run between 2002 and 2005, with art by Wieringo, while writing the excellent Superman: Birthright, with art by Leinil Francis Yu (2003–2004), followed by Legion of Super-Heroes/Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (art by Kitson) between 2005 and 2007. He would also write Hunter-Killer for Top Cow during this time, and then went on to co-write 52, the year-long weekly series dealing with the fallout of Infinite Crisis (with Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns), The Brave and the Bold and a return to the Flash (2007–2008), and then working on a variety of Spider-Man titles between 2008 and 2010, while also working at Boom! Studios (The Incredibles, Potter’s Field, Irredeemable, Incorruptible, The Unknown). Prolific doesn’t quite cover it.
Waid would relaunch Daredevil with Paolo Rivera (to award-winning effect) in 2011, staying on the book for five years, relaunch the Hulk with Yu in 2012, write S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2014, write a Princess Leia mini-series with Terry Dodson (2015), launch All-New, All Different Avengers (2015), Black Widow and Champions (with art by Ramos), both in 2016, then another Avengers title in 2016, plus a short run on Captain America before relaunching Doctor Strange. All the while, he wrote The Green Hornet for Dynamite Entertainment and relaunched Archie (with artist Fiona Staples) in 2015 for Archie Comics for a three-year run. Recently, he has co-written Avengers: No Road Home, and written The History of the Marvel Universe mini-series and a mini-series for the Invisible Woman, not to mention the work he’s doing for Humanoids. Where does he have the time?
Waid has been writing comic books for more than 30 years, at a consistently high standard, for all companies, and he continues to be asked to write books for various companies. There are several reasons, which include a deep and abiding love for comic books and superheroes, an innate understanding of the characters he writes, and the ability to dig out a new aspect to uncover. From his days where he put semi-autobiographical elements in The Flash, to revitalising Superman’s origin in Superman: Birthright, to portraying the Legion of Super-Heroes as teenagers who are angry at the establishment, to uncovering new ways to demonstrate Daredevil’s powers – Waid consistently brings something new and interesting to the table, and he fits his style to whatever property he works on, and he is consistently reliable. He must be good to be able to continue to work in a tough field for so long – nobody would be paid to produce as much work as he has these days when the competition is so fierce if he wasn’t that good.
At the same time, Waid is an outspoken and passionate advocate of comic books – he runs a blog on his website where he provides information to help new writers, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, and he stands up for the right thing (as seen in the recent incident where he is being sued by Richard Meyer).
Finally, 1000 words later, I can talk about my favourite five books of his, which is no small achievement in his huge body of work (and having to eliminate his excellent Daredevil run, 52 [which is a favourite book of mine, for all its faults], and Champions):
This was an utterly charming sitcom with speedsters – Bart Allen had been raised in a virtual reality machine in the future because of hyper-accelerated metabolism before he was brought back in time to be helped by Wally West to save his life. He stayed in this timeline, but he didn’t understand danger because of growing up in a simulated world, so he was ‘mentored’ by retired superhero speedster Max Mercury in the town of Manchester, Alabama, where Bart went to school to learn to be ‘normal’. The writing was perfectly paired with Ramos’s art to create something quite special.
4. Kingdom Come
Alex Ross’s art might have been the main draw, coming off the back of the mega-hit that was Marvels, and Ross provided the original idea and co-wrote, but Kingdom Come needed the writing talent of Waid to tell a great story that was not only exciting and dramatic but also had a point to make about the nature of heroism and to basically drub the Image-style heroes that existed at the time. It’s a great book, packed with lots of lovely incidental detail among the powerhouse storytelling.
3. Fantastic Four
There have been several great runs on the Fantastic Four, but Waid and Wieringo’s is among them, and we almost didn’t have it all – then President of Marvel Comics, Bill Jemas, wanted Waid to write the team as if the members were a sitcom family, which Waid didn’t want to write but he tried his best, but he and Wieringo were taken off the book, only for there to be so much furore over the decision that they were reinstated. Waid and Wieringo make for a perfect pairing for Marvel’s premiere family, with Waid emphasising the ‘imaginaut’ approach (astronauts of the imagination) as well as the family, providing some touching moments as well as a tribute to Jack Kirby.
There is an adage about how the Golden Age of science fiction is when you were 12 years old, which really means the affection you retain about the time you discovered it. This applies to Waid and the Flash – discovering Waid’s voice as it was developing on a character he made his own and shine in his own right will always hold a place in my heart. Waid transformed Wally West into something special, created the Speed Force that is now a huge part of speedster lore (and part of the television show as well), told great stories that were packed full of heart and science, as well as developing the heritage aspect of the Flashes. All my enjoyment of Waid’s work stems from this run.
1. Superman: Birthright
It’s tough giving any of these books the number 1 spot on my list, but this pips it because it’s Waid writing on his own and channelling his love of Superman into a book that brings the character up to date (even if this origin was supplanted by Superman: Secret Origin because of Infinite Crisis) and is still relevant – certain details were used in the Man of Steel movie for good reason. It’s a book that made me enjoy reading a Superman story, which few have done, with great art from Yu and a good story from Waid. What more could you ask for?