How DCs Legends of Tomorrow is living its best life as TVs superhero underdog

“That’s DC Comics,” says executive producer Phil Klemmer, pointing across the street at the towering building that houses the publisher’s offices, just a stone’s throw from the Legends of Tomorrow’s writers room at Burbank Studios. “They look down on us, both figuratively and literally.”

This joke — which Klemmer cracked with a chuckle as we stepped outside for the writers’ daily post-lunch walk around the lot mid-June — is classic Legends, irreverent and self-deprecating in equal measure. This show has poked fun at its network’s “dare to defy” slogan; had a character say “hard pass” to last year’s annual Arrowverse crossover; and ended its fourth season with three of its D-list superheroes dressing up as the titular heroes of Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl because they realized the world they were trying to save wouldn’t listen to them since they weren’t as popular as the Trinity.

In fact, Legends of Tomorrow — which is featured on one of the five Arrowverse covers gracing the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly — has fully embraced the fact that it might not be as traditional as its caped brethren on The CW. “We’re all more comfortable being underdogs,” executive producer Grainne Godfree tells EW. “It’s like the nobility of [The Big Lebowski’s] The Dude. He’s a slacker, but he’s also a hero. We all like those slacker heroes.”

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The gloriously insane CW super-series is centered on a band of lovable screwups who attempt to defend history from a coterie of threats, including a murderous unicorn, an immortal tyrant, and a dragon demon. The subversive dramedy’s cheeky sense of alienation from the rest of the Arrowverse is at least partially due to the lukewarm critical reception to its relatively conservative and uneven first season, which actually strengthened the cast and writers’ bond. “It’s definitely been us against the world,” Caity Lotz, who plays Sara Lance/White Canary, says with a laugh. “We’re so lucky there is that family element within the cast and writers. They take care of us, which is really nice.”

In the wake of that uneven first season — which followed the titular time travelers as they chased after Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) — the producers took a hard look at the show to figure out what worked and what didn’t. “Season 1 was kind of like the out of town part of a Broadway show and you have a chance to make it better,” says executive producer Greg Berlanti. “[The producers] really embraced the thing that’s different about TV than almost any other visual storytelling form: it changes as it goes.” In season 2, Legends swerved into the wackiness of its premise — a bunch of nobody heroes jumping through time — and that impulse has only grown in the ensuing seasons, leading to the show’s magum weird opus: The season 3 finale battle between the demon Mallus and Beebo, a giant blue Tickle-Me-Elmo-like toy that the Legends formed like Voltron. “When we make those kinds of decisions, there’s this notion in the back of our minds of, ‘People are going to hate this stuff,’” says Klemmer. “You start building the armor and being like, ‘If they don’t like, they don’t get it. They’re not sophisticated enough!’ But then when people do like it, it’s so surprising because, again, we, like the Legends, never expect people to accept us.”

But accept them people have. The reviews have improved as the show has become more idiosyncratic and zany (see: the Puppets of Tomorrow and the Regency-era England-set Bollywood musical number). In December 2018, halfway through season 4, Legends landed on several criticsyear-end-lists— and it’s now frequently hailed as one of TV’s best superhero shows. “We don’t play it safe. The show isn’t a traditional, ‘Let’s figure out how to package this and sell it to the masses.’ I feel like it’s really authentic and original,” says Lotz. Adds Berlanti, “When I watch Legends, it reminds me the most of any of our shows, of reading the Marv Wolfman comics when I was a kid. It’s funny. It’s zany. It’s still emotional. It’s not too earnest in the wrong ways.” This praise, though, has actually created a problem for the writers as they head into the fifth season (airing in 2020).

“If we become popular, are we going to lose our mojo?” wonders Godfree, explaining that the show’s season 5 premiere is a mockumentary that sees the Legends adjusting to their newfound fame after publicly saving the world in the heartwarming season 4 finale. “They’re famous for the first time and some of them are loving it. You have Sara, the stalwart captain who’s the most suspicious of this [and] is not into it.”

“We’re interested in how fame affects people [in season 5],” says Klemmer. “I really like the idea of tempting the Legends, that they’re still susceptible. Even though they sort of get over themselves after [the first episode,] I think you could always be tempted by the promise of getting to be a singular franchise-driving superhero.”

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The season’s concern with fame also relates to the encores — a.k.a. reincarnated bad guys of history that season 5 bad big Astra (Olivia Swann) released back into the world of the living at the end of last season — the Legends will face.  “It’s like these people who were power hungry and attention-obsessed and, you know, wanted to rule the world. It’s definitely similar to sort of fame culture we have today,” says EP Keto Shimizu, with Godfree adding, “They have that desire for fame and notoriety, as opposed to the Legends who, because this is an ensemble show, understand the simple joy that comes from family.”

Of course, the season’s other main concern is the Zari (Tala Ashe) of it all. In the season 4 finale, Zari disappeared from the Legends and was replaced by her brother Behrad Tarazi (Shayan Sobhian) because defeating Neron erased the dystopian future from whence she came, which means her brother never died and she never got the air totem. Thankfully, that wasn’t the last we’ve seen of Ashe’s heroine, and the show will explore her relationship with Behrad in season 5. “That’s the one energy we’ve never had,” Klemmer says of their sibling dynamic. “That seems like it’s going to be fun.”

As Klemmer and Godfree focus on season 5, Shimizu is currently working on the forthcoming crossover, “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” with the Arrowverse’s other writers. Says Shimizu, “I’m there making sure that, no matter what happens in the massive craziness in the crossover, we have the characters that are participating in [‘Crisis’] land in a very particular place.” Knowing Legends, that place will probably be wonderfully weird.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow returns in 2020 on The CW.

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For more on how the Arrowverse saved the TV superhero, pick up the August issue ofEntertainment Weekly on stands July 25-26. You can buy all five covers, or purchase your individual favorites featuring Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, White Canary, and Batwoman. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content: 

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How Arrow saved the TV superhero — and why it had to end

See exclusive portraits of the Arrowverse stars from EW’s cover shoot

Episode Recaps

How Arrow saved the TV superhero — and why it had to end

Stephen Amell is dreading the eighth and final season of Arrow, though you wouldn’t know it on this hot, sunny July day in Los Angeles. Wearing Green Arrow’s new suit, the CW star seems perfectly at ease as he strikes heroic pose after heroic pose on a dimly lit stage. But once he’s traded heavy verdant leather for a T-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, his guard drops and the vulnerability starts to creep in as he contemplates Arrow’s last 10 episodes, which was set to begin production in Vancouver a week after the EW photoshoot took place and premieres Oct. 15.

“I’m very emotional and melancholy, but it’s time,” Amell — who is featured on the new cover of Entertainment Weekly — says as he takes a sip from a pint of Guinness. “I’m 38 years old, and I got this job when I was 30. I’d never had a job for more than a year. The fact that I’ve done this for the better part of a decade, and I’m not going to do it anymore, is a little frightening.”

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Developed by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, Arrow debuted in the fall of 2012. The DC Comics series follows billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Amell), who, after years away, returned to now–Star City with one goal: to save his home-town as the hooded bow-and-arrow vigilante who would become known as Green Arrow (it would take him four seasons to assume the moniker). What began as a solo crusade eventually grew to include former soldier John Diggle (David Ramsey), quirky computer genius Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), lawyer-turned-hero Laurel Lance/Black Canary (Katie Cassidy Rodgers), and the rest of Team Arrow. Together they’ve defended their city from a host of threats — dark archers, megalomaniacal magicians, and the occasional metahuman — while Lost-like flashbacks revealed what Oliver endured in the five years he was away, first shipwrecked and then honing his skills around the world to become someone else, something else.

The premiere gave The CW its most-watched series debut since 2009’s The Vampire Diaries. But before they launched Arrow, Berlanti and Guggenheim had to suffer through a failure: 2011’s Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds. The duo co-wrote the script but lost creative control of the film, which flopped. So when Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth approached them in late 2011 about developing a Green Arrow show, they were wary. After much deliberation, Berlanti and Guggenheim agreed, on the condition that they maintain control. Says Guggenheim, “As long as we succeed or fail on our own work, and not someone else’s work then maybe this is worth a shot.”

Their take on the Emerald Archer — who made his DC Comics debut in 1941 — was noteworthy from the beginning. Taking cues from films like The Dark Knight and The Bourne Identity and series like Homeland, the writers imagined a dark, gritty, and grounded show centered on a traumatized protagonist. “As we were breaking the story, we made very specific commitments to certain tonal things, such as ‘At the end of act 1, he has his hands around his mother’s throat.’ And, ‘At the end of act 2, he kills a man in cold blood to protect his secret,’ ” says Guggenheim.

A hero committing murder? That was practically unheard of then. Having Oliver suit up in a veritable superhero costume by the pilot’s climax was radical too. Sure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was deep into Phase One when the producers were developing Arrow, but TV was traditionally more apprehensive about comic books. Smallville famously had a “no tights, no flights” rule and only introduced superhero costumes in the last years of its 10-season run, and there weren’t any masked avengers running around NBC’s Heroes or ABC’s No Ordinary Family, the latter produced by Berlanti (Let’s not even mention NBC’s The Cape, which was essentially dead on arrival and never did get its six seasons and a movie). But Arrow not only fully committed to the idea of someone dressing up like Robin Hood to fight crime with a bow and arrow, it introduced a second costumed rogue, the Huntress (Jessica De Gouw), in episode 7.

“It’s just comic book to the extreme and the fans seem to really love it,” says Batwoman showrunner Caroline Dries, a former writer on Smallville. “They still maintain it very grounded, but it’s very different with everyone in costumes. The appetite for superheroes has changed in my mind in terms of like they just want the literal superhero [now].”

Not that the team wasn’t meticulous about creating Green Arrow’s cowl. “We had to have so many conversations to get it approved, but that’s why we got [Oscar winner] Colleen Atwood [Memoirs of a Geisha] at the time to [design] the suit,” says Berlanti. “We were determined to show we could do on TV what they were doing in the movies every six months.”

“It’s really easy to make a guy with a bow and arrow look silly. We sweated every detail,” says Guggenheim, who also recalls how much effort it took to perfect Oliver’s signature growl. “I actually flew up to Vancouver. On a rooftop during reshoots on [episode 4], Stephen and I went through a variety of different versions of, basically, ‘You have failed this city,’ with different amounts of how much growl he’s putting into his performance. [We] recorded all that, [I went] back to Los Angeles, and then sat with the post guys playing around with all the different amounts of modulation.”

That process took eons compared to the unbelievably easy time the team had casting Arrow’s title role. In fact, Amell was the first person to audition for the role. “It was Stephen’s intensity. He just made you believe he was that character,” says Guggenheim, recalling Amell’s audition. “We had crafted Oliver to be this mystery box character, and Stephen somehow managed to find this balance between being totally accessible in a way you would need a TV star to be, but he’s still an enigma.” After his first reading, Amell remembers being sent outside for a short time before being brought back into the room to read for a larger group: “I called [my manager], and I go, ‘I know this is not how it’s supposed to work, but I just got that job.’”

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In the first season, the show’s chief concerns were maintaining both the “grounded and real” tone and the high quality of the stunts, and investing the audience in Oliver’s crusade. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t much of an over-arching plan, which allowed the show to naturally evolve — from introducing more DC characters, such as Deathstroke (Manu Bennett) and Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), sooner than they initially intended (the shot of Deathstroke’s mask in the pilot was meant as a harmless Easter egg), to promoting Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity from a one-off character in the show’s third episode to a series regular in season 2 and eventually Oliver’s wife. Even the whole idea of a Team Arrow — which, over time, added Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland), Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez) and Dinah Drake/Black Canary (Juliana Harkavy) — was the result of the writers allowing the best ideas to guide the story. “Greg used to say all the time, ‘You have a hit TV show until you don’t, so don’t save s—,’ ” says Amell.

Also not planned: Arrow spawning an entire shared universe. “We went on record a lot of times during the premiere of the pilot saying, ‘No superpowers, no time travel.’ But midway through season 1, Greg started to harbor a notion of doing the Flash,” says Guggenheim. “I’m a very big believer that it’s great to have a plan, but I think when it comes to creating a universe, the pitfall is that people try to run before they can walk. The key is, you build it show by show.” And so they did. First, they introduced The Flash star Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen in the two-part midseason finale of Arrow’s second season. From there, Supergirl took flight in 2015, then DC’s Legends of Tomorrow in 2016, and Batwoman is due this fall. “It’s like the hacking of the machete in the woods and then you look back and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a path,” says executive producer and Berlanti Productions president Sarah Schechter. But even though Arrow is the universe’s namesake, Amell doesn’t concern himself with the sibling series outside of the now-annual crossovers. “I never think about any of the other shows,” he says. “I want all of them to do great, but they’re not my responsibility. My responsibility is Arrow, and to make sure everyone from the cast to the crew are good.” His sentiments are seconded by Flash’s Gustin: “I don’t understand how he does it — his schedule that he maintains with working out, the conventions he goes to, the passion he has for it, and the love he shows towards fans. He’s always prepared. He cares more about that show being high quality than anybody else on the set.”

That said, the universe’s expansion precipitated what is widely considered to be Arrow’s best season, the fifth one. After focusing on magic in season 4, the show returned to its street-crime roots as part of “a concerted effort to play not just to our strengths but what made the shows unique,” Guggenheim says of balancing their four super-series in 2016. “Because Arrow was the longest-running Arrowverse show, we were able to do something that none of the other shows could do, which is have a villain who was basically born out of the events of season 1,” he explains of introducing Adrian Chase/Prometheus (Josh Segarra), whose criminal father was killed by Oliver. “That gave the season a resonance.”

It was midway through season 6 when Amell realized he was ready to hang up Oliver Queen’s hood. “It was just time to move on,” the actor says of pitching that Oliver leave the series at the end of season 7. “My daughter is turning six in October, and she goes to school in L.A., and my wife and I want to raise her [there].” Berlanti persuaded him to return for one final season, which the producers collectively decided would be the end. “We all felt in our gut it was the right time,” says Berlanti. Adds Schechter, “It’s such a privilege to be able to say when something’s ending as opposed to having something just ripped away.”

But there’s one integral cast member who won’t be around to see Arrow through its final season. This spring, fans were devastated to learn Rickards had filmed her final episode—bringing an end to Olicity. “They’re such opposites. I think that’s what draws everyone in a little bit,” showrunner Beth Schwartz says of Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. “You don’t see the [love story of] super intelligent woman and the sort of hunky, athletic man very often. She’s obviously a gorgeous woman but what he really loves is her brain.” For his part, Amell believes the success of both Felicity and Olicity lies completely with Rickards’ performance. “She’s supremely talented and awesome and carved out a space that no one anticipated. I don’t know that show works if we don’t randomly find her,” says Amell, adding that continuing the series without Team Arrow’s heart is “not great. Arrow, as you know it, has effectively ended. It’s a different show in season 8.” And he’s not exaggerating.

The final season finds Oliver working for the all-seeing extra-terrestrial the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) and trying to save the entire multiverse from a cataclysmic event. “[We’re] taking the show on the road, really getting away from Star City. Oliver is going to be traveling the world, and we’re going to go to a lot of different places,” says Guggenheim. “Every time I see Oliver and the Monitor, it’s like, ‘Okay, we are very far from where we started.’ But again, that means the show has grown and evolved.” Adds Schwartz, “This is sort of his final test because it’s greater than Star City.” Along the way, he will head down memory lane, with actor Colin Donnell, who played Oliver’s best friend Tommy Merlyn in season 1, and Segarra’s Adrian Chase making appearances. “Episode 1 is an ode to season 1, and episode 2 is an ode to season 3,” teases Amell. “We’re playing our greatest hits.”

But season 8 is not just about building toward a satisfying series finale. “Everything relates to what’s going to happen in our crossover episode, which we’ve never done before,” says Schwartz. Spanning five hours and airing this winter, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” will be the biggest crossover yet and may see Oliver perish trying to save the multiverse from destruction, if the Monitor’s prophecy is to be believed. “Oliver [is told] he’s going to die, so each episode in the run-up to ‘Crisis’ has Oliver dealing with the various stages of grief that come with that discovery,” says Guggenheim. “So the theme really is coming to terms, acceptance.”

If there’s one person who has made his peace with Oliver’s fate, it’s Amell. “Because he’s a superhero with no superpowers, I always felt he should die — but he may also not die,” says Amell, who actually found out what the show’s final scene would be at EW’s cover shoot. “I cried as [Marc Guggenheim] was telling me. There are a lot of hurdles to get over to make that final scene.” Get this man some more Guinness!

Arrow premieres Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. on The CW.

For more on how the Arrowverse saved the TV superhero, pick up the August issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands July 25-26. You can buy all five covers, or purchase your individual favorites featuring Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, White Canary, and Batwoman. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content: 

See exclusive portraits of the Arrowverse stars from EW’s cover shoot

Arrow promotes Katherine McNamara to series regular for season 8

Arrowverse’s ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ crossover will include Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow

CW boss on if Emily Bett Rickards will return for final Arrow season

Billionaire Oliver Queen — under the vigilante persona of Arrow — tries to right the wrongs of his family and fight the ills of society.

Episode Recaps

How Tom Kings Batman run has built up to City of Bane

Writer Tom King’s run on DC’s flagship Batman comic was initially one of the main highlights from the publisher’s DC Rebirth initiative when it launched back in 2016. Three years later, it has become one of the longest-lasting of the initial Rebirth creative teams, and one of the most celebrated — but it all comes to a head this week with the beginning of the “City of Bane” arc.  

As the title suggests, this week’s Batman #75 finds Gotham City overrun by Bane. King’s run has gone a long way towards catapulting Bane into the top-tier of Batman’s rogues gallery (in case Tom Hardy’s Dark Knight Rises portrayal wasn’t enough). Though he first appeared early in the run, Bane was only getting started. 

EW spoke with King recently in a long-running conversation about his run and what it’s been building towards. Some of it was about the epic Batman-Catwoman reunion that will take place during “City of Bane” (after the characters’ failed wedding back in issue #50), but we also discussed how the new story builds on seeds that King has been planting for years. 

Gotham Girl

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The very first arc of King’s Batman was called “I Am Gotham,” and found the Dark Knight confronting a very unusual situation for him: The arrival of two superheroes with actual superpowers in Gotham City. The brother and sister duo called themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl. Though at first, they seemed like a welcome presence in Batman’s life, the dark truth was soon revealed. Their magnificent powers were slowly killing them and driving them insane. Gotham did not survive that first story, while Batman went to great lengths over subsequent issues to save Gotham Girl’s life. 

Flash forward to the present, where Gotham Girl is allied with Bane now. Not only that – she’s one of the main reasons he’s able to control Gotham City at all.  

“What’s awesome about Batman is I’ve been planting these seeds forever and now I’m just watching them grow,” King tells EW. “So going all the way back to issue 5, which is way far back, we showed that Gotham Girl has the power to take down the entire Justice League in about 30 seconds. So, when we talk about a city controlled by Bane, you might ask, why doesn’t Superman just come down and end it? Why doesn’t the Justice League take it over? Because they’ve got an atom bomb. Bane’s not working with someone who can shove a staff in your face, he’s working with someone who can punch Green Lantern into the next galaxy. But of course, the catch to that is, every time she uses her power she dies a little. By using her that way, he’s killing her.”

I Am Suicide

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“I Am Gotham” was followed by an arc titled “I Am Suicide,” in which Batman went toe-to-toe with the Suicide Squad in order to secure Psycho Pirate’s therapeutic powers for the benefit of Gotham Girl. That wasn’t the only meaning of the title, however. As Batman fought his way through Bane’s South American stronghold – since the villain had been using Psycho Pirate for his own ends, to cure himself of addiction to the drug Venom – he revealed via internal narration that he had once attempted suicide.  

This was a shocking revelation for some readers, but King thinks it’s all part of who Batman is. 

“I don’t think I added to the myth; I think it sort of discovered stuff that was already in the myth, if that makes sense,” he says. “The idea is that when Batman got on his knees and made that vow, in some ways he was killing his old self. He was saying, ‘I have no more use for Bruce Wayne. I’m now this other thing. I’m the man who wars on criminals.’ I think that was always there, I just made it a little more, maybe, explicit.”

King adds, “There’s a reason I’m not Batman, and you’re not Batman, and even the Delta Force guys aren’t Batman. They care about something other than being Batman, but Batman only cares about that. You and I don’t go out every night and punch people in the face because we care about things like our family and not getting punched, but Batman only cares about that.”

Only future issues will be able to tell whether that singular determination is enough to overcome Bane. 

Thomas Wayne

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A few years before DC Rebirth, the publisher reinvented its entire line. Previous continuity was erased, and every comic series started off from a new issue #1. This initiative was called “the New 52,” and it was accomplished through an event series titled Flashpoint in which the Flash went back in time to try to save his mother’s life; in doing so, he created massive changes to the time-space continuum. Before things settled down into the New 52 status quo, readers glimpsed an alternate what-if universe with radically changed DC heroes. The most interesting element of that Flashpoint world was that the Batman mantle was worn not by Bruce Wayne, but his father Thomas. In that world, it was Bruce who was killed that fateful night in Crime Alley, while his father took a vow of revenge and declared a war on crime. 

In May 2017, King’s Batman briefly crossed over with The Flash for a story called “The Button,” in which Bruce finally came face-to-face with the version of his father from this alternate dimension. Thomas, who in this incarnation has lived his own lifetime as Batman, declared that he did not want his son doing the same. 

“I’m a writer — I’m fairly successful at it — but if my son was to come to me and say, ‘Dad, I want to be a writer. In order to do that, I’m going to throw away my entire life. I’m gonna be totally obsessed with it. I’m gonna risk my well-being every single day. I’m just gonna be in love with being a writer and only care about writing for the rest of my life,’ I’d be like, ‘no, no, no don’t do that. That’s an absolutely horrible idea. You need balance in your life,’” King says. “Then it becomes an idea of addiction. The way his father sees it is, ‘My son is addicted to something. He made this suicidal choice and now he can’t quit.’ So Thomas Wayne, and this becomes explicit in issue 74, is like, ‘I can’t break your addiction by being the nice dad, I’m going to break your addiction by bringing you to your lowest point.’”

Thomas wasn’t kidding. He’s willing to go to any lengths to save his son from the torment of being Batman…even if it means teaming up with Bane to take over Gotham. Thomas becomes Bane’s top lieutenant – “the Darth Vader to his Emperor,” in King’s words.

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One of the most fascinating recurring characters in King’s Batman has been the villain known as Kite Man. Despite Batman’s long and storied list of villains, Kite Man is probably not a name you’ve heard much before. Though he was originally created by Batman co-creator Bill Finger himself back in 1960, Kite Man has gotten new life thanks to King, who seized on the villain’s name being Charles Brown and turned him into a tragic everyman figure, a villain who just can’t get anything to work for him. Kite Man played an integral role in King’s epic “War of Jokes and Riddles” arc, and will also feature prominently in “City of Bane.”

“He does have an outsize role,” King says. “I was basically saying to [‘City of Bane’ artist] Tony S. Daniel, who can draw beautiful stuff, ‘you could draw any villain in the world here… but we’re gonna focus on Kite Man.’ He’s got a big role because the city is controlled by villains, and he’s a villain. When it comes to what working for Bane is like, and what fears go with that, our man on the ground is Kite Man. As usual, Lucy always takes the football and he always falls on his back. Poor fellow.”


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It all comes back to Catwoman. The romance between “Bat” and “Cat” has been a major part of King’s Batman so far, and will strongly influence his endgame. One of the standout issues from the run was issue #49, the one just before the attempted wedding, in which Catwoman found herself in an hours-long stand-off with the Joker. As they both laid on the ground clutching their bleeding wounds, the two reminisced about the old days in between threatening to kill each other. It was a beautiful mess of divergent tones that also made perfect sense.

“Comic books are fundamentally absurd,” King says. “They make no sense if you read them, especially if you read them under the presumption that all of this happened to one person. It’s completely nonsensical. The thing that mitigates that is that life itself is fairly nonsensical. So the absurdity of comics can become a metaphor for the absurdities we go through every single day — which is good because a lot of movies give you these straight-ahead plots where there’s a first act, a second act, and a third act, and it all resolves. That’s not life. Life is like a comic book. Life is ongoing and, at least to you, never-ending. So, that’s what I do. I take that absurdity seriously because when we look around everyday, we take absurdity seriously.” 

King continues, “That’s just like one day in your job, where you’re talking about some stupid TV show. Then you go home that night you have to talk about your father dying of cancer, and then later that day you have to talk about the groceries. Your brain has to process it all. And then you turn on the news and everything’s falling apart. All of these things have to exist in you at once and that’s what comics can be.”

In that issue, the Joker strongly implied that if Catwoman married Batman and made him happy, then he wouldn’t be Batman anymore. And in that case, who would be around to stop the Joker from killing everyone? That’s a question Catwoman has struggled with. But another important reminder from that encounter is that she knows Batman’s villains almost as well as he does. Together, the two of them might be Gotham City’s only shot at salvation. 

“For the past 25 issues, I’ve been torturing both myself and the audience, sort of tearing Batman apart get him to his lowest point,” King says. “I’m super proud of those issues, but I knew looking at my outline this was going to be tough to write and tough for the audience. It’s gonna be just tough for everyone. And we’re finally turning that corner. We’re at that low point — Wolverine at the bottom of Hellfire Club being like, ‘Now it’s my turn.’ Or John Wick seeing his puppy die and being like, ‘Alright it’s on.’ We’re there. To me, it feels like it’s a good place to take a breath before we start our last leg. You’re running that 400 dash and your best runner just got the baton.”

Batman #75 is available now. 

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How The Rise of Kyoshi YA novel finds new things to love about Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Avatar lives again! Just as the titular character of Avatar: The Last Airbender is constantly reincarnated from one elemental nation to the next, so too has the Avatar universe grown — from its beginnings as an animated TV show, to a live-action movie, then to tie-in graphic novels, and now to prose novels.

This week sees the release of The Rise of Kyoshi, the Avatar universe’s very first canonical prose novel. Written by F.C. Yee (The Epic Crush of Genie Lo) with advisement from Michael Dante DiMartino (who originally co-created Avatar: The Last Airbender with Bryan Konietzko), The Rise of Kyoshi is a stunning revitalization of Avatar storytelling that uses the YA novel format to explore new depths within its world, exploring the internal mental state of element-bending and developing a compelling same-sex romance. 

Front and Center, Finally

True to its title, the new novel focuses on Avatar Kyoshi. Born into the Earth Kingdom (one of the four nations of the Avatar world, each matched to one of the classic elements), Kyoshi held the Avatar mantle two generations before Aang, the famed “last airbender.” Longtime Avatar fans may have first heard of Kyoshi in one of the earliest episodes of The Last Airbender, “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” in which Aang and his friends first encountered the Kyoshi Warriors of Kyoshi Island. The all-female group were capable fighters who protected their ancestral homeland while dressed in the kabuki makeup of their namesake idol and wielding her trademark weapons: Fans.

Kyoshi’s unique look made her a visual stand-out whenever Aang was greeted by visions of his past lives. But The Rise of Kyoshi looks at the woman behind the makeup, showing how she went from a dirt-poor nobody to an inspiring legend. Thanks to the prose format, Yee’s novel has the space to expand on mythology that was only hinted at in previous works. Readers don’t get to see Kyoshi bend the elements with martial arts the way Aang did on screen, but they do get to live inside her head and see the Avatar world from a whole new angle. 

As The Last Airbender unfolded, it occasionally granted additional pieces of information about Kyoshi. Fans learned she was renowned as one of the most powerful Avatars ever, who lived to 230 years of age. Whenever she manifested herself to speak through Aang (as all past Avatars can do), she displayed a strong sense of justice. Unlike the peace-loving Aang, Kyoshi possessed an iron will to see justice done at all costs. This attitude clearly produced both good and bad results. Kyoshi’s separation of Kyoshi Island from the Earth Kingdom mainland successfully protected the community for posterity and ended the tyrannical ambitions of Chin the Conqueror, but made her a reviled figure in Chin’s hometown. Kyoshi also founded the elite Earth Kingdom secret police known as the Dai Li, who protected the Earth King’s life at the cost of slowly funneling the monarch’s political power into their own shadowy order.   

The character we meet in The Rise of Kyoshi is a long way from all that, though. 

“What was appealing to me was how with limited screen time, she was such an effective foil to Aang in the original series. They don’t spend that much time together, but it’s so interesting to watch them play off each other with their different approaches to problem-solving,” Yee tells EW. “That got me into thinking about what could be filled in. What kind of experiences would she have had to go through in order to arrive at the woman we see as an adult, who briefly appears and advises Aang, and owns up to slaying a conqueror, and doesn’t take any BS from anyone? She must have seen some pretty intense stuff to give her that edge.” 

Granted, every Avatar needs years of training to master the four elements and grow into their destiny as the savior of the world, but Kyoshi isn’t even recognized as the Avatar at the beginning of the novel. The earthbending sage Jianzhu and the airbending master Kelsang, friends of the late Avatar Kuruk who have been charged with finding and protecting his successor, have instead misidentified the Avatar, lifting up a man named Yun even though Kyoshi is right under their noses. 

This fascinating twist marks a first for the franchise, since both Aang and his successor Korra were identified as the Avatar at an early age and grew up knowing they were meant for greatness. Kyoshi, by contrast, begins as a mere serving girl in the household of the exalted “Avatar Yun.” An orphan since childhood, Kyoshi is used to being reviled by ordinary townspeople. The combination of her potentially earth-shattering powers and her xenophobic reception among average people may remind some readers of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Though when we first meet Kyoshi, her self-esteem is so low she can barely earthbend at all.

“Since the earliest days of Avatar, we’ve always been pitched ideas of a fake Avatar. It seems like a natural thing for writers to glom onto,” DiMartino tells EW. “We never really resonated with that idea, there was never an angle we could figure out that made sense. But the way F.C. did it, it makes sense in this volatile period between Avatars. He came up with a plausible reason they could’ve been misidentified. It’s a great start for Kyoshi specifically: The person who becomes one of the most powerful and legendary Avatars ever starting out where people don’t believe she is and she has to go rogue to learn how to become the Avatar.”

He continues: “It’s a cool angle on the classic Avatar journey of mastering the four elements and having to find your masters and stuff, when she’s treated as an outcast in a way.” 

The Korra Connection

The Rise of Kyoshi also fleshes out a key part of Kyoshi’s character that fans only learned of very recently. The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender that focused on Aang’s headstrong Water Tribe-born successor Avatar Korra, ended with Korra embracing her romantic feelings for her friend Asami. The final minutes of the show found its two female leads taking each other hand-in-hand before walking off into the sunset

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars trilogy of sequel graphic novels, written by DiMartino and illustrated by artist Irene Koh for Dark Horse Comics, further explored this relationship, as Korra and Asami struggled with coming out to friends and family. This is where Aang’s waterbending daughter Kya came in. Kya approached Korra and Asami during Turf Wars, explained that she also loved women, and gave the two young lovebirds a crash course in the state of LGBTQ affairs within the Avatar world. One of the most interesting tidbits was the revelation of Kyoshi’s bisexuality. Just as The Rise of Kyoshi explains how the Earth Kingdom Avatar learned to fight with fans while wearing kabuki makeup, it also explores her first experience of falling in love with another woman. 

“In the back of our minds we always thought Kyoshi was probably bisexual,” DiMartino says. “For a YA novel, it just seems quite appropriate to have her explore her feelings toward men and women. In the Korra comic, it’s just a line; there wasn’t time to really get into it, so F.C. took that idea and came up with an awesome character Rangi and it’s great. It’s really the heart of the story, which I really like.” 

For a story that’s primarily about martial arts and elemental battles, Avatar has always had a knack for crafting compelling romances. But the blossoming relationship between Kyoshi and her firebending friend Rangi, who start out as co-workers in Yun’s mansion before being drawn together in a daring escape and learning to survive together on the run, also highlights the unique strengths of Yee’s novel. The Avatar shows and graphic novels can visualize the spectacle of bending, but The Rise of Kyoshi gets us into the characters’ heads to see how these elemental powers fuel personalities and relationships. 

At one point, as Kyoshi and Rangi are fleeing from attackers, Yee writes, “[Rangi] ran as nimbly as they did on the roof tiles, and when there was a leap too great to make naturally, she stepped on jets of fire that blasted out of her feet, bounding in propulsive arcs across the sky. The sight made Kyoshi’s breath come to a standstill at the very time she needed it flowing. Rangi was so beautiful, illuminated by moon and fire, that it hurt. She was strength and skill and determination wrapped around an unshakable heart.”  

All About the Words

Until now, Avatar has primarily been a visual story. Both the animated shows and the tie-in comics have used their formats to broadcast the show’s visceral combination of martial arts techniques with elemental powers. But in scenes like this, Yee finds a way to make the components of Avatar storytelling come alive on the page. Other characters, like Jianzhu, use interesting bending techniques that focus on small projectiles or minor manipulations that maybe wouldn’t pop on screen but come alive in the reader’s imagination. 

“I knew it was going to be a challenge capturing the motion and kinetic energy of the series in word form,” Yee says. “If you were going to describe, word for word, everything that happens in a fight scene as complex as the ‘Day of Black Sun’ episode where everyone’s jumping around pillars created by the Dai Li, or the gang’s intrusion on the Earth King’s palace…I felt for me it would be impossible. So I actually drew on a concept from back when I practiced capoeira. For capoeira, when you see two people get into the circle and start moving and it seems like a very fluid thing, the mindset my teachers told me is you’re supposed to be having a dialogue. Rather than doing lots and lots of motions, you’re posing a question to the other person. Then they’re answering and posing one of their own, and you’re interacting that way. That call and response, set up and subversion, was probably better suited for the text form and my own capabilities, so I described fight scenes in that manner.”

The good news is, there’s more where this came from. Kyoshi’s aforementioned 230-year lifespan means there’s lots of room left for additional stories, and Yee is already brainstorming the follow-up novel. He teases, “She is definitely going to be challenged on an intensely personal level, which you might guess from the end of book 1, as well as on the political level, as she goes from the lowest rungs of society and most outcast to the highest levels of the world stage.”

What’s Next

That’s not even all that the future holds for the Avatar universe. DiMartino is currently writing a new trilogy of Legend of Korra graphic novels, this one titled Ruins of the Empire and illustrated by artist Michelle Wong, that explores the fate of the villainous Kuvira; part one is available now. A new trilogy of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics is also currently underway, written by Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City) and illustrated by Peter Wartman with consultation from DiMartino. 

Most interestingly of all, DiMartino and Konietzko are hard at work developing a live-action series version of Avatar: The Last Airbender for Netflix. Not much is known about the project, and it’s still early enough that DiMartino couldn’t speak much about it. But with that on the horizon and The Rise of Kyoshi in bookstores this week, it’s clear that Avatar has become one of the richest and most rewarding fictional universes of 21st-century pop culture.

“It’s pretty crazy,” DiMartino says. “It’s just wild that we created it in 2002, and we’re still working on it. It never went away, even when we weren’t working on the show, because I was working on the book or comics. It’s always been part of my life. But this does feel new. The people who grew up with the show are now older and actually working on the shows, comics, and books, and there’s still the next generation discovering it. That was one of our goals originally: To tell a timeless story that could last generations.”

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

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Why Colson Whitehead continues to plunge into American historys dark heart

Colson Whitehead is sitting in a booth at City Diner, around the corner from his Upper West Side apartment and a few dozen blocks from where he grew up as a kid. In between sips of Coke, he’s recalling his process writing Sag Harbor, his semiautobiographical 2009 novel. A dreamy coming-of-age saga rooted in Whitehead’s adolescent memories, Sag Harbor pulses to the beat of ’80s hip-hop; it’s sprinkled with nods to his childhood faves, Star Wars and The Cosby Show. “My earlier books were more detached, a little more clinical,” he says. “This was a real breakthrough for me, in terms of letting it all hang out.”

So, was preparing for the book, his fifth, more difficult than others? He considers the question, then laughs, softly — a tart contrast to the weighty literary persona his work fosters. “Googling Run-DMC is different from reading the autopsy report of people exhumed from the Dozier School,” he deadpans. He laughs again, knowingly this time.

And there’s the reminder that Whitehead, 49, always takes on new challenges — and that, in his consistent focus on the racial tensions of American life, it’s always personal. The abusive Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which closed in 2011 (bodies of dead students have been found buried under its grounds), provides the basis for The Nickel Boys, Whitehead’s new novel set in Jim Crow-era Florida and centered on two black boys. A brutal meditation on fate and choice, it marks a slimmer, grimmer return to the bildungsroman structure that Whitehead first mined a decade ago in Sag Harbor, and has yielded a harsher form of emotional catharsis. “I was really depressed those last six weeks I was writing it,” he admits. “I decided on a course for the boys’ story; actually implementing it, as the book was winding down, took a lot out of me.”

Clad in a summery plaid button-up on a late May afternoon, Whitehead exudes a bright sense of humor even as the conversation turns thorny. He recently crossed the 20-year mark as a published author. “I think I’m more in control,” he says of his current work. Reflecting on the beginning of his career, Whitehead argues he pushed “a postmodern exuberance” in his first few novels, posing “What if?” questions and answering them through ironic narrators and an abundance of granular detail. His witty debut, The Intuitionist, came out of, “What if an elevator inspector had to solve a criminal case?” (He answers this surprisingly head-on.) His third novel, Apex Hides the Hurt, traces a branding consultant’s duty to name a small fictional town.

These tales critically examine the American narrative, but they’re more playful, less linked to concrete events. In The Intuitionist, for instance, talk of integration and racism abound, but the unspecified nature of the time-period allows Whitehead to run wild. He still grins just thinking about it. “It’s a world where elevator inspectors are really, really, really important, and that makes me laugh,” Whitehead says. “It’s absurd! It lends an otherworldly quality to the story.”

Now, Whitehead is sitting in the shadow of a global literary phenomenon. The Underground Railroad, published in 2016, won him a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, and sold more than one million copies — shooting him into the pantheon of American authors. (Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins is set to direct the TV adaptation for Amazon.) The book was circling in Whitehead’s brain for 10 years or so before getting published — the author says it too resulted out of that “What if?” impulse, a gonzo response to, “What if the Underground Railroad was real?” — and, accordingly, it nicely delineates his maturation. “I couldn’t have [written it] 20 years ago,” Whitehead says. “Being older, being a parent, and trying to be a less crappy individual improves my work.” He’s resistant to being asked about the book’s social importance: “People are like, ‘Why is it important to learn about slavery?’ It just is!” Another goofy chuckle.

Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Those familiar with Whitehead’s eclectic bibliography — gory zombie thrillers (Zone One), cutting satires of capitalism (Apex), epic alternate histories (John Henry Days) — might have expected a lighter, or at least weirder, novel to follow the genre- and time-bending Railroad, which follows a runaway slave. Yet The Nickel Boys further showcases the author’s visceral historical imagination. The novel is propulsive, its two heroes Elwood and Turner teetering between idealism and cynicism as the plot builds to a devastating climax. Says his editor, Bill Thomas: “A lot of what he’s done in these last two books — Underground Railroad and certainly The Nickel Boys — is reclaim [American history], and make it clear how present it still is.”

Whitehead adds: “Whether you’re a young black man in Florida in 1962, or a young black man in 1986 in New York City, like I was, you can be caught up in the snare of law enforcement at any time. In a split second, your life can change.”

Whitehead was working on a crime novel — still is, in fact — when he learned about Dozier in 2014. “I did feel this compulsion,” he says. “There have not been a lot of novels about teenagers growing up under Jim Crow. There are stories that have not been told…that need to be told.” For research, he dug through university and newspaper archives in Florida, but found a Dozier survivors’ website most useful. “Getting the slang of the characters makes it vivid for me,” he says. “There’s a worldview in slang — like calling the White House ‘The Ice Cream Factory.’ There’s an attitude towards the world. It’s rueful, kind of comic. It helped me understand them.”

Whitehead has now been novelizing this country’s past for 20 years. His theories on his writing’s evolution certainly bear out: He’s more in control, concise, empathetic to his characters. Deep in thought, the author trails off, pondering his creative growth and what draws him to certain stories. His narrators are less existential; his approach has turned tighter, sadder, sharper. And he feels it. As to why he keeps returning to American history’s dark heart? Whitehead lets out one last loud, morbid laugh. “There’s a lot of good material.”

Related content:

20 new books to read in July
Review of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One
The Underground Railroad selected for Oprah’s Book Club

Killer clowns are no joke: Inside the battle between Pennywise and the Losers in It Chapter Two

A couple of years ago, actress Jessica Chastain visited the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to watch an early cut of a new ’80s-set horror movie by director Andy Muschietti and his producer sister, Barbara. The Zero Dark Thirty actress is friends with the pair, having starred in their 2013 hit fright film Mama, so she was a bit apprehensive viewing the Muschiettis’ latest project with the two of them sitting in the room with her. Barbara gave Chastain a glass of red wine to sip, much of which never made it to her stomach. “In the first five minutes I jumped, and the wine went everywhere,” says the actress. “Right after the movie’s end, Andy goes, ‘You want to do it?’ I go, ‘Yes, I want to do it! Of course I want to do it!’”

The “it” in question, naturally, is It: Chapter Two (out Sept. 6), the sequel to the film Chastain was watching that day. Adapted from Stephen King’s classic novel, 2017’s It tracked a group of misfit kids — who dubbed themselves the Losers’ Club — battling a child-slaying supernatural entity who reveals himself to his prey as a clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Despite initial doubts from horror fans that Skarsgård could match Tim Curry’s iconic performance as the fanged entertainer in the much-loved 1990 It miniseries, the Swedish actor and the Losers’ Club turned out to be winners, with the $35 million-budget film praised by critics and going on to gross $700 million at the global box office.

Brooke Palmer/Shutterstock/Warner Bros.

That success is reflected in the production of the sequel. “In general, I feel more comfortable. I have more toys,” says director Muschietti. “On the first one, I was struggling to get a Technocrane [a massive telescopic crane for a camera] on certain days. But now the Technocrane is always there!” His goal: to make an even more overwhelming experience this time around. “I think that everything that people love from the first one, like the humor and the emotions and the horror, will all be there,” says Muschietti, “and cranked up, in some cases.”

It Chapter Two is set 27 years after the events of its predecessor, as Pennywise returns to the streets — and sewer drains — of the fictional New England town of Derry to slay more children…unless the Losers’ Club can stop him. The young cast of the first IT was, unsurprisingly, in large part made up of unknowns, with Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, who played the wiseacre Richie, the best known of the bunch. Chapter Two, in contrast, boasts several high-profile actors, including Chastain, who plays Beverly, the lone woman in the Losers’ Club; Bill Hader as Richie; Sinister franchise actor James Ransone as the grown-up version of the supposedly sickly Eddie; and James Mc­Avoy as Bill, who lost his younger brother, Georgie, to Pennywise in the first film.

Bill has gone on to become a Hollywood screenwriter. “He’s in L.A. shooting a movie,” says the X-Men star, describing his character as a “Stephen King avatar.” In King’s novel, Bill also writes screenplays, which explains McAvoy’s willingness to discuss the subject. Other actors are cagier, reluctant to spoil the deviations screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the Annabelle movies) has made from the novel. “It’s not the same as the book,” says Hader about his character’s post-Derry life. “But it’ll be a real mindblower.” Is he a porn star? “Yeah,” Hader jokes. (We think.)

The Muschiettis cast Jay Ryan (Top of the Lake) as Ben, Andy Bean (Swamp Thing) as Stanley, and Isaiah Mustafa (Shadowhunters, the Old Spice commercials) as Mike, the one member of the Losers’ Club to remain in Derry, who now works as a librarian. “Mike sees how Derry is very special in a dark way,” says the actor. “He’s trying to figure out what the hell’s going on in this town and what he can do to put an end to this cycle. It’s an obsession for him.” Mike needs the help of his childhood friends for a repeat match against Pennywise, who was beaten but not destroyed at the end of 2017’s It. The catch? All the other members of the Losers’ Club don’t remember the traumatic events of their childhood. “When you leave Derry, something happens where you forget it all,” says McAvoy. “I think it’s like a [power] of Pennywise’s. Because if everybody could remember what he gets up to every 27 years through history, we’d go, ‘Hey, Derry’s really f—ed up, we should do something about that. We should send in the f—ing Army!’” 

The Losers’ Club reconvenes in Derry, where the members size each other up at a Chinese restaurant. “We had so much fun,” says Chastain of shooting the sequence. “We literally sat, pretending to drink shots and eat Chinese food, for two days. Andy would yell stuff out like ‘Take a shot with your mouth, no hands!’” Though she’d previously worked on two other films with McAvoy and shared one scene with Bill Hader in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, the actress “didn’t know anyone else. As the Losers were getting to know each other again, we were all getting to know each other [as actors].”

Muschietti also gathered the young performers who played the Losers’ Club in the first film for scenes depicting the recovered memories of  the adult characters. “Instead of us just standing around going, ‘Oh, I remember that time,’ we get to show it to the audience,” McAvoy tells EW. “Which is great, because that would be real sad if we had to say goodbye to that cast that the audience across the world fell in love with. And actually, in a weird way this movie resembles the structure of the book, in that it goes back and forth.”

As for Skarsgård’s clown, well, it turns out that after losing out to the Losers in the first film, he is really not smiling — at least not on the inside — this time around. “He’s scarier and he’s angrier,” says the actor. “There’s a couple of very brutal things in the film.”

Sounds like you should leave the wine at home.

-Reporting by Anthony Breznican

Get ready for Comic-Con 2019 with EW’s special It Chapter Two issue. Buy one — or both — of our collector’s covers featuring the Losers’ Club and Pennywise. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Pennywise will be a more vengeful and bloodthirsty clown in It Chapter Two

Why am I saying ‘Who’s ready?’ three times?: An oral history of SpongeBob SquarePants

For two decades, he’s lived in a pineapple under the sea, absorbent and yellow and porous, whose nautical nonsense we’ll always wish for more of. Created by Stephen Hillenburg, who died last November after battling ALS, SpongeBob SquarePants launched on Nickelodeon in 1999 as a surreal fever-dream cartoon that appealed to adult fans of comedy as much as the kids who grew up singing the theme song. In the years since, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon, having spawned a Broadway musical, multiple movies, and some of the internet’s very best memes. (Who among us can look at a jar of mayonnaise without wondering if it’s an instrument?)

On a sunny June afternoon at Nickelodeon’s studios in Burbank — where the original SpongeBob cast was working on the partially live-action special SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout (July 12 at 7 p.m.) — EW sat down with the gang to discuss the series’ origins, development, and legacy. Are ya ready, kids?

The Beginning

TOM KENNY (SpongeBob): I’d worked with [Stephen Hillenburg] on Rocko’s Modern Life [as the voice of Heffer and other characters]. So this was the easiest job I ever got: There was no audition, there was no callback, there was no “It’s down to you and two other guys.” Though I did hear that there was a push to have Fred Savage play SpongeBob.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE (Sandy): I remember during the audition, it was in a conference room, which was awkward to me. [They] left the microphone on the table — we weren’t in a booth. [It was] awkward and weird. I had never done that. There’s the mic and there’s Steve. And there was a fly flying around. I’m watching the fly, trying to do it, and it landed on the paper I had. And I [slams on the table] killed it. I never kill anything! I always catch things and put them outside, and I totally panicked.

KENNY: Did you suck in that dead fly’s life force and channel it into your audition?

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Oh my God, I don’t know. But when I left, I was like, “There’s no way.”

MR. LAWRENCE (Plankton): But that’s Sandy! That’s a Sandy moment.

KENNY: The last day of that fly’s life was the first day of the rest of your life.


MR. LAWRENCE (Plankton): I was also friends with Steve from Rocko; we were directors on that show together. When he was working on the SpongeBob pilot, I came in and he said, “You’re going to be somebody on the show.” I actually read for SpongeBob with Plankton’s voice. I was like [does Plankton’s voice], “I’m ready! I’m ready, Gary!” But I read all the pages like that. All I know is they kept listening to the tape while they were making the pilot. I felt like I was in the room because they’d always say they played it; when the network had just come in, or when they were down in the dumps for some reason, they’d play the tape and listen to this stupid thing. It sounded so stupid. It did not work at all.

VINCENT WALLER (co-executive producer): Steve mentioned on more than one occasion about Doug auditioning for SpongeBob with Plankton’s voice. He definitely loved that.

RODGER BUMPASS (Squidward): I just looked at [the script] and said, “[Squidward] has got this big ol’ honking nose, he must have some nasality quality to him. He’s a little sarcastic. It was a match made in heaven with my personality.

KENNY: I felt like I just got [SpongeBob]. Steve did such a good job with it. Everything was right there. You go, “Oh, I know this guy. I can embody this guy.” I feel like there’s some shared DNA between me and this character. We’ve all felt that way. That’s part of Steve’s brilliance. He seemed to be pretty sure of his decisions once he made them, and couldn’t be dissuaded.

BILL FAGERBAKKE (Patrick): Recording [the pilot], I thought it was a dopey preschool kids’ show. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get most of the jokes. “Why am I saying ‘Who’s ready?’ three times? Okay, it’s for 4-year-olds.” Then when I finally saw it, my head blew up. It was so delightful.

BUMPASS: I played the pilot for my family. I looked back 11 minutes into the thing, and my father was asleep.

FAGERBAKKE: Along with thinking it was for 4-year-olds, we were recording with helium for the sound of the anchovies. I thought, “This is the weirdest $600 I ever made.”

Character Development

CLANCY BROWN (Mr. Krabs): The first time I read [for Mr. Krabs] for Steve, he told me to riff. I was just doing some pirate voice. I said, “Steve, you’re the director, right?” He said, “Yeah.” “Then direct me.”

BUMPASS: I remember one of our first episodes, I heard [Tom changing his voice as] SpongeBob. All of a sudden we had the latitude to do other voices — the “Krusty Krab Pizza” thing. I’m sitting there, and I didn’t know anything about the show, like, “What’s he doing? He’s totally out of character!” I didn’t realize [SpongeBob] had that latitude to be anything he wanted to be.

KENNY: It’s hard to riff when you don’t know the character yet, or it’s your first brush with the character. But now, Clancy riffs as Krabs all the time.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I was always terrified [of improvising]. It took me a while to get comfortable because I felt like [you guys] were all so much more established. I was amazed.

BUMPASS: When we first started I was very monotone. Then we had this scene [in season 3’s “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy IV”] with the utility belt and it zapped me, and I had to do a sequence of screams. Each scream had to be a different type of a scream. There, they learned I could scream, so now, every episode they make me scream. [Laughs] But that’s how it expanded. Now [Squidward] is more me than anything else.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I can’t remember the first time that Sandy got angry. But I know there’s something about her being mad that became a thing.

WALLER: It was when they were messing with Texas!

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Right! That’s where my personal life and Sandy [merged] also. When I was younger and I’d get really angry, people would laugh, and I’d be like, “I’m mad!” It’s the same with Sandy.

MR. LAWRENCE: We still try to [record together] as much as we can. What’s great to see every so often is when we roll down the road and there’s a lot of jokes happening because we’re laughing at something we’re saying, and it suggests something. Sometimes something comes out of that, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it makes the whole process fun to go through. It’s jazz riffing. I like watching it and I like doing it.

WALLER: That’s where some beautiful invention comes from that’s not in the script.

KENNY: And a conviviality. It feels like a workplace. It’s funny. I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show when I was a kid, and I’d go, “Wow, that’s what I want to do. I want the kind of job where you’re just hanging around with funny people.” This is as close to that.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: But we were unique. A lot of shows don’t record like that.

BROWN: I love stuff [like “My leg!”] that comes out of left field.

MR. LAWRENCE: It was one of those ad-libs where we’re trying to get the last word, going back and forth. I know Roger does it all the time. We all do it because it’s so stupid.

KENNY: The voice-director just needs people to go “Agh! Oop! Blargh!” Like, “We’re still alive under this rubble, kids.” It was kind of like that. “Give me my legs!”

MR. LAWRENCE: It just came down to a silence, and I just let it go a little bit longer, and popped out, “My leg!” We all laughed and started doing it more. It became a joke for us to do it. Nobody’s writing “My leg!” in there!

KENNY: It was never intended to be a meme.

Creative Control

WALLER: [I was there] from season 1 to season 2, then I went away for 3, and then came back on 4, after the movie. I was on Ren & Stimpy previous…. This was the first time collaborating with someone in the same room over one piece, rather than doing one thing and having someone come in and tear you a new one and rewrite it. But it was all fun.

KENNY: So you would say it was a more collaborative process than on other shows you’d worked on?

WALLER: Yes, much more collaborative. From beginning to end, rather than when you’re done, everybody comes in and collaborates.

MARC CECCARELLI (co-executive producer): The idea of writing in a storyboard phase had fallen out of favor in television animation. The reason they brought it back for [Ren & Stimpy], and the reason it’s so appealing for SpongeBob, is because it’s a much more visual way of writing the story. It’s one thing to write a visual gag in text.

KENNY: One picture is worth a thousand words, right? “His tongue unrolls like a staircase. His eyes bug out and hit the wall.”

BUMPASS: It’s one of the things that makes this show special because it deals with animation and cartoon-ism the way it used to be. Unlike, say, King of the Hill, which should’ve been a live-action show.

MR. LAWRENCE: We often will base a whole show on just some visual we really want to see; something we start drawing, like, “I’ve got to see that.” It doesn’t happen every time, but sometimes a whole episode will form out of a visual where we go, “That’s gotta happen.”

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: As an actor, it’s a lot more fun being able to get the board. I mean, that’s huge.

BUMPASS: [This is] the first show I was ever involved with where they gave us the storyboards in advance. It helps you so much to see what that gag is.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Right! You know, and it’s amazing. You can see Sandy’s jumping off an enormous mountain instead of a little mountain. You can’t see that in a written script.

KENNY: Steve built a great foundation for this house. I think about that all the time, how much he knew what it was going to be. He was also really good at digging in his heels, usually in a very gentle, friendly way, and picking his battles and fighting bad ideas from non-creative people. He was good at that.

BROWN: Different milieu, though, right? Nickelodeon was its own thing back then.

KENNY: I guess everything was a different milieu back then. I always say with Rocko, the inmates were running the asylum to a pretty crazy degree. As long as they delivered the product and there weren’t any big content problems, you kind of are just left alone to make your quilt.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Lot of creative freedom. And now…

KENNY: It’s a little less so now. It’s a double-edged sword: If something gets gigantic, there is a lot more at stake. A lot more eyeballs. That’s what I give [the writers] a lot of credit for, still having that subversive [quality]. SpongeBob still feels like a subversive show, even though it’s kind of the most mainstream show of all.

CECCARELLI: We’ve been grandfathered in and protected by the fact that the show was so good and successful from the beginning. They don’t really mess with us so much, content-wise, even to this day.

BROWN: I also think it’s because nobody really knows how to f— with it.

Guest-Star Parade

BROWN: The stunt-casting sessions are always strange. You never know when somebody comes in what they’re going to be like. We’ve got our thing, but then you add somebody in who’s a stunt.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: Early on, didn’t it make Steve crazy? Everyone called him wanting to be on his show and he didn’t want them.

BUMPASS: Bruce Willis wanted to be on.

FAGERBAKKE: We’re not accustomed to it. It’s not like in every episode there’s a wacky guest.

KENNY: [Speaking] as the voice director, it’s interesting too, because it’s a little bit like celebrity roulette. “Wheel of Celebrities!” You had to give them almost a tutorial. Many of them have seen SpongeBob, but even if they have, you have to go, “Whatever you think you’re going to do, go bigger.” It’s a heightened reality. You probably won’t be too big. And if you are, we’ll tell you. But you probably won’t.

BROWN: Did you ever have to tell someone to pull back?


BROWN: Dennis Quaid came in pretty hot.

KENNY: That’s true.

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I like when Ernest Borgnine [Mermaid Man] was in and he just kept going and going. We all just hung out and waited until he was done.

KENNY: Same with Tim Conway [Barnacle Boy]. It was the first thing they’d done together since McHale’s Navy, so that was fun to watch.

MR. LAWRENCE: It was arresting. For me, it was like if someone squeezed in your stomach. You’re seeing these two guys in that room. Just like, wow.

FAGERBAKKE: Jon Hamm was awesome. He clearly was enjoying himself.

KENNY: He actually stayed after he was done recording. We were like, “Okay, that’s it, Jon.” He goes, “You mind if I stay?”

MR. LAWRENCE: I remember Scarlett Johansson coming into the first movie we did [released in 2004]. She was so excited. We all got into the booth, and we were all there at the same time. She had her headphones on, ready to do her line, but as soon as we started talking…she looked like she was watching a pinball machine. She got to her line and she said, “I don’t know if I can do that.” You could see she was scared. Just the intimidation of watching us all do it at once, up front. And then: She was great!

Pushing the Boundaries

CAROLYN LAWRENCE: I think my new favorite [installment] is going to be [SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout]. It was so much fun for us to do something so wild.

MR. LAWRENCE: We keep surprising. We’re trying to keep a surprise going with things. And…it’s going to be hard to surprise people after this one.

KENNY: It’s like being married for a long time. You’re like, “We’ve gotta spice things up! Here, put this on! Dress like me!”

MR. LAWRENCE: Like we just did an episode about “My leg!” recently. The idea was “How much can we abuse the audience in repeating a line over and over again?” [Laughs] There was something to creating a new structure to that, so it would hold that joke for 11 minutes.

CECCARELLI: Personally I like the two stop-motion specials we did. Back when I was 10 years old, I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen. That was my entry point into this fantasy world.

FAGERBAKKE: And that’s probably the only chance you’ll ever get to do stop-motion animation. It doesn’t happen very often.

KENNY: I love those episodes, too, because it’s kind of imperfect. It’s skittery. Like the 1933 King Kong versus some CGI, “Oh, okay, there’s Jack Black standing in front of a green screen.” There’s an imperfection to that the 2D version of SpongeBob has too. You can see people’s thumbprints. In the stop-motion and the 2D version of it, it’s imperfect. I went to Pixar once, and they had this giant bank of computers. I was just like, “That’s to make sure [for] this character, every hair flows like real hair.” I like imperfection. I like records with bad notes, where the drummer misses a beat. Spongebob has still got that.

FAGERBAKKE: The discovery of the show, the nature of the show, I had no idea [when I first was cast], and I was very surprised until I saw it.

KENNY: SpongeBob is one of the last remaining super-visual cartoons. There’s just not a whole lot of shows like that anymore. In some ways, I feel like I’m working in this time-machine job. Like working on a radio show or Looney Tunes. It’s pretty cool that we’re still able to be employed as milkmen in 2019.

Related content:

Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, and Idris Elba gear up for Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw

Dwayne Johnson has arrived on the set of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with an arsenal of ways to insult Jason Statham. It’s January, and the pair are both speckled in mud and fake blood, perched on a sunny cliff above the Pacific Ocean in Kauai, Hawaii. They’re about to shoot a rare scene where nothing gets blown up, punched, or run over. The script already calls for Johnson’s Luke Hobbs to declare that he sees Statham’s Deckard Shaw as his diminutive sidekick: the Robin to his Batman, the Mini-Me to his Dr. Evil.

But when the Rock hops out of his truck — he prefers to drive himself to set, listening to chill Hawaiian radio on the way — the first thing he does is run over to Statham and start suggesting fresh one-liners they can hurl at each other (including one impressive Of Mice and Men reference). Huddling under a shady tree, the two soon work out a new bad-mouthing rhythm with writer-producer Chris Morgan, and when the cameras roll, they lay into each other with quips about their characters’ height, strength, appearance, intelligence, and lack of friends. Finally, when Shaw grumbles, “I’ll sidekick you right in the mouth,” director David Leitch calls “Cut!” and Johnson and Statham immediately abandon their scowls for grins.

“Jason loves to come to set extremely prepared, lines locked in,” Johnson, 47, says later, driving his black pickup back to base camp (and slamming on the brakes to avoid the occasional wild pig by the side of the road). “I do too, but then I also come [as] a massive pain-in-the-ass headache for Jason because I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this other idea! Take what you learned and throw it out the window! So how about we do this…’ ”

“I think me and Dwayne share a very similar sense of humor,” Statham, 51, adds later by phone. “The only difference in us is the amount of weight he pushes when he’s doing a bench press.”

The first Fast & Furious spin-off has been a long time coming. Ever since the original sped into theaters in 2001, the eight-part franchise has evolved from street-racing saga to explosive, globe-trotting spectacle, led by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his merry band of car-loving misfits. The plotlines have gone from successfully stealing VHS players to taking down international terrorists, with the films raking in more than $5 billion worldwide combined and becoming Universal’s highest-grossing franchise of all time.

The crew has amassed new allies and enemies along the way, with Johnson signing on as Hobbs — first an enemy, later an ally — in 2011’s Fast Five. As the near-invincible DSS agent, Johnson has been thrown through glass windows, survived fiery car crashes, and gone toe-to-toe with psychopathic assassins, always pulling through to pummel another henchman and deliver some more quips. (In a squad of memorable characters, Hobbs is perhaps the most quotable.)

There were discussions of spinning off the character as early as 2011, but plans didn’t shift into gear until after the introduction of Statham’s rogue British agent Shaw in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. Shaw joined the Fast narrative as a vengeful villain, before teaming up with Hobbs to stop a nuclear attack in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Yes, he incurred fans’ wrath when he killed beloved racer Han (Sung Kang), but he sort of redeemed himself by hijacking a plane to rescue Dom’s kidnapped baby (as one does).

“I think Shaw was sort of misunderstood when he first came on to the screen in the early Fast & Furiouses, and as we start to unravel what he’s all about, we come to understand that he really isn’t a villain,” Statham says. “But you don’t need to get on the wrong side of him. He’s very resourceful, and he’s quite an intense character.”

Over the course of multiple movies, Hobbs and Shaw evolved from nemeses to begrudgingly tolerant colleagues, becoming fan favorites in the process. (It turns out people really like watching Statham and the Rock beat up bad guys — and each other.) So, the studio gave the green light for a stand-alone Hobbs-and-Shaw movie in 2017, eventually bringing aboard longtime Fast writer Morgan and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch. Hobbs & Shaw forces the two characters to join forces in order to stop a looming biological threat, journeying from Shaw’s native London to Hobbs’ homeland of Samoa.

“The other movies were great, and I loved creating the character of Hobbs,” Johnson says. “Eventually, for me personally, I needed more juice. I needed to sink my teeth into something that allowed the character to grow and expand and showcase more layers.”

Hobbs & Shaw is the first Fast to turn off the main road, and the filmmakers say their biggest challenge was creating a movie that felt true to the franchise while still injecting fresh elements. “What we wanted to do was still be able to lean into the spectacle and the action that you’re used to with that universe,” producer Hiram Garcia explains. “But we wanted to turn up a little bit of the humor, the banter, the buddy-cop dynamic that sometimes we can’t get in Fast because there’s so many characters in play.” The real test is whether audiences will be willing to follow them down that track.

Seeing as both Hobbs and Shaw have filled the antagonist role in past Fast & Furious films, this outing needed a foe who was big enough, bad enough, and threatening enough to unite these two frenemies. Enter Idris Elba’s Brixton, a cyber-engineered baddie who’s eager to get his hands on a globe-threatening virus.

“I’ve been a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, as is everyone,” Elba tells EW in his trailer, where he’s clad in an all-black, all-leather costume, trying to cool off between scenes. “It’s sort of the ultimate escapism. And I love cars. I’m a bit of a motorhead. And then, of course, I get to play this really complex bad guy.”

Brixton is a former British agent who’s been cut open and stitched back together with Terminator-esque technology, making him nearly indestructible. (The tech in the Fast & Furious world has come a long way since the first movie.) In a franchise about machines, Brixton is part machine himself — basically the Six Million Dollar Man, if Lee Majors’ Steve Austin was a homicidal British terrorist with a shape-shifting motorcycle he could summon on command.

“You kind of almost want to like him, but he’s on the wrong side of the law all the time,” says Elba, no stranger to playing sympathetic criminals, like his breakout role as The Wire’s Stringer Bell. “For me, the most complex [character] to play is someone that’s hideous and violent but has qualities that make you go, ‘Oh! He could be a nice guy if only he wouldn’t shoot so many people!’”

To bring down Brixton, Hobbs and Shaw turn to what Johnson calls “the F-word” of the Fast franchise: family. Even though there are no Torettos on hand to offer platitudes about how “you don’t turn your back on family,” Hobbs & Shaw is still big on hereditary ties. “It’s become kind of a joke that every time someone [in a Fast movie] says ‘family,’ there’s a drinking game and you drink,” Morgan says with a laugh. “We’re aware of it.”

Hobbs & Shaw introduces a few new relatives: On the Shaw side, The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby joins as Deckard’s sister, Hattie. Meanwhile, Helen Mirren returns as the elegant Shaw family matriarch. (“She played the Queen once, so it’s a weird relationship,” Kirby jokes.) Hattie is an elite MI6 agent who’s been tracking Brixton and is just as deadly as her brother — joining a long line of badass Fast women that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Gal Gadot.

“She’s an amazing fighter,” says Kirby, who previously starred in Mission: Impossible — Fallout. “I just feel like it’s really important nowadays for these kinds of movies to make sure the women are as capable as the men. Often the men are saving the women or doing the fights while the women watch on, or they’re at home. A film like this is a responsibility to kind of subvert that, really, and make sure that Hattie doesn’t get saved by the guys.”

The battle against Brixton also brings Hobbs and Shaw to Samoa, where Hobbs reunites with his mother and four brothers, who run an illegal chop shop–turned–legitimate family business. For Johnson, who is half black and half Samoan, exploring Hobbs’ heritage was a chance to introduce audiences to his own; he’s particularly proud of a scene where Hobbs leads a pre-battle performance of the Siva Tau, a Samoan war dance. “On a personal level, it’s just so gratifying,” he says, “because for the first time ever in the history of Hollywood, we’re showcasing my culture. So there’s a tremendous amount of pride.”

Hobbs & Shaw also adds a new Fast family member behind the camera: David Leitch. After making his directorial debut with Chad Stahelski on John Wick, the former stuntman helmed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. (He also has a long history with Statham: They grappled on screen in 2011’s The Mechanic, ending with the British actor chucking Leitch through a bus window.) For Hobbs, Leitch’s goal was to add even wilder stunts to a franchise that’s already raced submarines and dropped cars from an airplane. That meant amping up the hand-to-hand combat: One scene follows Hobbs and Shaw as they search for information on Brixton, each taking out a separate room of disposable bad guys, with Shaw nimbly outfoxing his opponents as Hobbs just clobbers them upside the head. “Shaw’s like a precision driver, and he’s very purposeful, [with] minimal movements,” Leitch explains. “He’s a guy with a forward-thinking plan. And then you have Dwayne’s character, Hobbs, who’s a man of brute force and muscle.”

For the actors, that meant brushing up on their fight choreography. “It’s been more fights than I’ve ever done,” says Elba, whose previous action track record includes Pacific Rim and the Thor films. “I come from a martial-arts background, so it’s great to be able to do all this. Brixton is extremely strong, so I get to do all these incredible fight sequences and just take out, like, 12 men by myself.”

Adds Kirby: “I’ve learned so much. If I was to go and do another Mission or something, I know that I’d be able to bring what I’ve learned from Dave and carry it on. Do not approach me in the street!”

But it’s not all punches and kicks. No Fast movie is complete without some high-speed car chases and bonkers road maneuvers, and Hobbs & Shaw contains several — including one sequence where our heroes use a truck to lasso a helicopter out of the sky. And when EW visited the set, Leitch and his team shot a scene where the Hobbs family holds off Brixton’s advancing mercenaries by rigging a perimeter of old junker cars to explode. (There are a lot of explosions in this movie.) “We’re grounded in the way that Fast is grounded, but I think as the movies progressed, they were allowed to have a little bit more fun with themselves, in terms of this heightened world,” Leitch says.

It’s a world that just keeps growing in all directions. The main Fast & Furious franchise has a ninth and 10th film in the works, while Fast & Furious: Spy Racers, an animated TV show about Dominic Toretto’s cousin, is coming to Netflix this year. There’s also been talk of another spin-off movie, this one focusing on the women of Fast. “If I’m looking down the road, the roads always connect,” Morgan teases.

In the meantime, Hobbs and Shaw have a world to save — and some insults to exchange. Says Statham with a laugh: “Anything fast and smelling of petrol seems to flick the switch.”

For more on Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it now! Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.  

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Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham break down the “oil and water” alliance of Hobbs & Shaw

Idris Elba on his Hobbs & Shaw villain: “He’s a mean motherf—er”

See the Hobbs & Shaw trailer

Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Shaw get their own “Fast & Furious” spin-off.

Who killed the Masked Marvel?

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon around 5 p.m. on Sept. 12, 1943, in Venice, Calif., when 12-year-old Lorraine Smith happened to look out her window and notice something peculiar. There below was a burgundy Austin sports car heading east on Washington Boulevard. But something was off. The car was bumping and bouncing across the road that runs parallel to her home, narrowly avoiding crashing into a telephone pole before jumping the curb and finally landing in a bean field. Grabbing her telescope for a closer look, the young girl noticed something else: The man behind the wheel was nearly naked. And then things got really weird.

Wearing only blue bathing suit trunks, the driver opened the car door and stumbled about 15 feet before falling to the ground, covered in blood. A man named Wayne Powell, who had witnessed the crash, rushed to the scene. “Help me, please help me!” cried the bloody, half-naked driver while writhing between beanstalks. Powell told him to lie still and save his energy. “Who did this?” Powell asked. The driver could not answer. Ten minutes later, he was dead.

The scene — complete with a steering wheel soaked in blood and bloody handprints on the driver’s-side window — sounds like something that would come straight out of a pulpy 1940s film serial. Which makes the fact that the victim was the star of just such a project all the more eerie.

Twenty-nine-year-old David Bacon was not just an actor; he was the Masked Marvel! A mild-mannered insurance inspector moonlighting as a World War II superhero taking on an evil Axis enemy hell-bent on sabotaging America’s war industry, the Masked Marvel was the seemingly infallible star of a 12-episode serial bearing his name. “When the Masked Marvel goes after a man, he’s finished,” proclaimed one baddie. “The Marvel learns everything and strikes from nowhere!”

But the man behind the mask was struck down himself just two weeks after filming had completed in a mystery that, more than 75 years later, still bursts with intrigue and has yet to be solved. Why did Bacon write a new will shortly before his death? What’s that about a diary written in a secret code? Who was the unidentified “angry” man seen at a Bacon-rented apartment? How come police ruled out a person who confessed to the crime not once, but twice? So many questions remain unanswered, including the biggest one of all: Who killed the Masked Marvel?

Gaspar Griswold Bacon Jr. was born in 1914 to a prominent Boston family that traced its roots to Plymouth Rock. Bacon’s grandfather attended Harvard with Teddy Roosevelt and served as Roosevelt’s secretary of state and ambassador to France; his father was president of the Massachusetts State Senate and a lieutenant governor for the state. After graduating from Deerfield Academy prep school, Bacon — who would later change his stage name to David — attended Harvard, writing and starring in productions of the famed Hasty Pudding club and acting alongside then-president Franklin Roosevelt’s youngest son, John.

The actor’s big break in Hollywood came while playing a doomed nephew of Benedict Arnold trying to redeem his family’s name in 1942’s Ten Gentlemen From West Point. Though Bacon was far from top billing and was appearing only in his first film, everyone on set — including headliners George Montgomery and Maureen O’Hara — referred to Bacon as “our star,” The Boston Globe reported. “He’s really terrific,” director Henry Hathaway told the Globe. “Half the time he drove us nuts, with muttering his lines between takes, brooding over his method.”

Tall, dark, and handsome, Bacon was described as the next Henry Fonda, and with Hollywood in the midst of a leading-man shortage at the time, the fresh-faced actor hoped to fill the void and start his path toward stardom. “In Hollywood, the greatest sin is to be unnoticed,” wrote Hollywood reporter Mayme Ober Peak. “Such means death to a player’s career. Not so with David Bacon, who is now not only noticed, but well remembered.”

Bacon landed roles in five movies altogether before scoring what he hoped would be his breakthrough in The Masked Marvel. The 12-episode Republic Studios serial was an action spectacular that also served as era-typical wartime propaganda. The hero was trying to take down Japanese spy and saboteur Mura Sukima, a cringeworthy villain notorious for blowing things up in the hope of hampering Allied forces and causing the United States’ war production “to break down.” The big twist (and one that Republic had used in The Lone Ranger) was that neither the characters nor the viewers knew the identity of the titular star until the very last scene of the series, when unassuming insurance agent Bob Barton (played by Bacon) took off his mask to reveal himself as the mysterious crime-fighting hero. Two weeks after filming that scene, Bacon would be dead.

While the Masked Marvel character protected people from harm, those actually appearing in the films were considerably less fortunate. The role of Bob Barton was considered cursed even before Bacon’s untimely demise. In fact, Bacon only got the role after four other actors were injured. Another time, during the filming of a particularly intense fight scene, every single actor participating was hurt except Bacon. “I better look out or something might happen to me,” the actor was heard joking while leaving the set. “I’ll probably get hurt going home in my car tonight.”

And then there is this: David was not the only actor with the last name of Bacon playing an insurance agent in The Masked Marvel who perished prematurely. Rod Bacon (no relation), who played Jim Arnold in the serial, died five years later in 1948 at the age of 33.

The circumstances surrounding David Bacon’s death form a case that even the Masked Marvel would have had trouble cracking. The weekend of his murder began with a dinner party. Bacon and his pregnant wife, smoky-voiced singer Greta Keller, hosted a soiree that included cocktails for 150 guests followed by a sit-down supper for 50 at Castle Hill, their home in the Hollywood Hills. Keller, who liked to joke that she sang in four languages but cooked in 14, made a traditional Viennese dish, beuschel with dumplings. The next evening, Bacon returned the favor by serving his gourmet-chef wife his two signature dishes: omelets and Jell-O. “He loved Jell-O and I hated it, but I always had to eat it anyway,” Keller wrote later in notes for her biography.

Sunday morning, Sept. 12, was a hot, muggy day. Over breakfast with his wife, Bacon suggested that they go to the beach. Keller wanted to go with him, but because she was in the second trimester of a difficult pregnancy, her doctor advised her to stay home and rest, so the couple instead spent the afternoon writing letters, eventually lying down together to take a nap. When Keller woke up, her husband was gone. She would never see him alive again.

Nobody knows exactly where Bacon went that afternoon, whom he was with, or why anyone would want to murder him. Money was likely not a motive, since Bacon was still wearing a valuable ring and had $13 (along with his Screen Actors Guild card) in his wallet when he died. Inside the vehicle, there was a blood-soaked bathrobe, but it didn’t have a knife hole, so detectives deduced that Bacon wasn’t wearing it at the time he was murdered; he was just sitting on top of it.

And this is where the questions — and contradictions — begin. After the autopsy, medical examiner Frank Webb surmised that Bacon was stabbed with a stiletto while he was leaning forward — possibly releasing the parking brake — but there were no signs of a struggle. When the police dusted the car for fingerprints, they all came back as belonging to Bacon.

Meanwhile, eyewitnesses to the crash told the police varying stories. A gas-station attendant about half a mile away said he saw both a man and a woman in the car with Bacon. A woman who lived across the street from the crash, however, told police that she definitely saw a dark-haired man in the passenger seat. Because of the angle of the knife wound, Webb theorized that the killer was left-handed and not very tall. He said because of the way the knife punctured Bacon’s lung, Bacon could have driven 20 minutes before he died, giving his assailant plenty of time to bail out before the crash.

Almost every day, newspapers across the country reported a new twist or piece of baffling information emerging in the murder investigation — twists like Bacon’s encrypted diary that Keller gave to the police. It seemed to be written in a secret code, mirroring a coded diary that Bacon’s character had examined in an episode of The Masked Marvel. Even odder, shortly before Bacon died, the roof of his Cadillac convertible had been shredded — it appeared to have been slashed with a knife. Keller told police that her husband never gave her a straight story about what had happened. One day he said he was in the car while someone knifed it; another time he said it happened while he was at the studio. Regardless, Bacon traded the vehicle for a used Rolls-Royce and the small British-made Austin sports car that later became a murder scene. Was he trying to hide from someone who knew his ride?

Just days after his death, Bacon’s cousin uncovered and filed a will that Bacon had handwritten three months before the crash. Dated June 14, the will was written in pencil on a piece of onionskin paper; it left everything to Bacon’s wife. Keller later explained in notes for her biography that Bacon refused to come to bed one evening, even though he had to get up to film early the next morning. He told her he was jumping off a second-story building during filming and he wanted a will just in case something went wrong. But was that the real reason? Did the 29-year-old know his life was in danger?

And then there was the apartment. Police discovered that Bacon had rented a small studio apartment in Laurel Canyon a few weeks before his death. The key in his wallet when he died fit the lock. Keller said she helped her husband pick the apartment, then they advertised in the paper for a carpenter to help Bacon execute plans to expand their home in exchange for a place to live. But who lived there? All police found inside the apartment were dirty dishes, coffee, spaghetti, and some books.

An upstairs neighbor, actor Leslie Denison, informed investigators that he never noticed anyone in the apartment — except for the day of the murder. “Someone was there on Sunday,” Denison said. Meanwhile, landlord Charles Hendricks told police that he was driving by the building two days before Bacon died and saw a light on, so he stopped to collect the $20 for rent. Bacon said he didn’t have the cash on him but promised to leave it in the landlord’s mailbox the next morning, which he did. But Bacon was not alone.

“There was another man with Mr. Bacon,” Hendricks said at the coroner’s inquest. “He was dark and slight, foreign-looking, and his face was flushed like he was angry. All the time I was there, he never spoke a word, nor did Mr. Bacon introduce me to him.” The police announced that they were searching for the individual Bacon’s landlord had met. “This man should have come forward by now with an explanation, unless he has left town,” Capt. Thad Brown of the Los Angeles Police Department’s homicide squad told reporters.

Unfortunately, this was just one more wild chase on the trail of false leads and, well, dead ends. But while the “angry” apartment person of interest never turned up, others did, including one hospital orderly who knew the identity of Bacon’s killer. Or so he claimed.

On Sept. 21, 1943, 22-year-old Blakely Clifford Patterson gave an exclusive interview to the Los Angeles Examiner, saying he knew exactly who’d murdered his good friend Bacon. And he believed he was next. “I have a feeling that if this man is still in Los Angeles, he’ll get me too — that my days are numbered,” fretted Patterson. “He might kill me to silence me.” A hospital orderly who had recently moved to Hollywood, Patterson said he first encountered Bacon at the beach and they became fast friends. He recalled that one day he and Bacon met with the mystery man at a downtown hotel. “This man seemed to be very angry at David,” Patterson said.

Patterson told reporters that Bacon phoned him in a panic around 11 a.m. on the morning of the murder, saying that the man had written a threatening letter demanding money. “He seemed puzzled and nervous, and didn’t know what to make of it,” Patterson said. Bacon begged Patterson to go with him to the beach to meet the man, but Patterson responded that he couldn’t because he had to work. The actor promised to call the next morning, but he was killed later that day.

Any hope by detectives that a key witness was about to blow the case wide open was dashed when they finally interviewed Patterson and asked him to describe his good friend David Bacon. He couldn’t. Patterson recanted his story, telling police that he’d made the whole thing up, admitting that he had never even met the deceased. “I thought I could get into the movies if I had my picture in the paper,” Patterson was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. He was arrested and charged with making false police reports, and spent 10 days in jail before returning to his hometown of Hibbing, Minn., on judge’s orders.

Charles R. While also claimed to know who’d killed Bacon — himself. The 23-year-old confessed to the murder of the Masked Marvel, but police let him go after questioning, saying that they didn’t believe he, like Patterson, had ever met Bacon. But While was not done. A month later, he was arrested after attacking a neighbor with a butcher knife, and during his time in custody, While told a Santa Monica police officer that he had murdered the actor. When detectives questioned While a second time the next morning, he said he was drunk and denied his previous confession. Due to the amount of discrepancies, he was once again cleared.

The police, however, had their own suspect. Examining a blue crewneck sweater that was placed under Bacon’s head, taken from the car in the bean field before he died, detectives noted that there was no way it would have fit the 6-foot-2-inch actor. “It is much too small,” Captain Brown told reporters. Police sent the sweater to the crime lab and found blond hairs around the collar and three small feathers that appeared as if they might have belonged to a seagull.

Law enforcement determined that the sweater looked like the kind sailors wore, so they started questioning Army-Navy stores along the coast in an attempt to find the owner. “It is logical to assume that whoever stabbed Bacon departed so hastily, he left his sweater behind,” Brown told reporters. Police searched for a man who was about 5 foot 8 and blond, weighing around 140 pounds. “We are convinced the sweater belongs to Bacon’s assailant,” the LAPD’s Det. Lieut. Harry Fremont said.

And they were convinced that they’d found their man when police arrested 20-year-old Navy deserter Glenn Erwin Shaum for the crime. Shaum had been hired by Bacon as a gardener two weeks before the murder. However, the actor then canceled the job days before his death. But there was a problem: Shaum had an alibi. The deserter couldn’t have murdered Bacon because he’d spent all day Sunday with his wife, which witnesses confirmed. No other leads or suspects were ever made public. “The workaday cops were baffled,” The Boston Globe reported days after Bacon’s death. “Detectives who studied reports and questioned everybody who ever knew Bacon admitted they were certain of nothing.”

Perhaps that is because the investigation was somewhat botched. Police made one critical error, admitting to reporters that Bacon’s body was embalmed before officers examined it or ran any forensic tests. Officers weren’t sure if Bacon was murdered by a close friend or a complete stranger. They even theorized a hitchhiker could be responsible since the actor was known to often give pedestrians rides. “It was like the Jack the Ripper murders,” says film historian Greg Mank, who included a chapter about Bacon in his book about Bacon’s costar Laird Creger. “Somebody got away with killing somebody with a knife in broad daylight.”

Still, 76 years later, the case is not closed. “It is an open case,” a spokesperson for the LAPD tells Entertainment Weekly. “At this time, [we] are not commenting any further.”

The tragedy of Bacon’s murder extended well past the bean field in which his car — and life — came to a screeching halt. Bacon’s widow, Grace Keller, struggled with the loss of her husband. “I cannot find peace,” she said in the days after his killing. Less than two weeks after her husband’s death, the pregnant Keller lost their baby. “I wanted to die,” she wrote in the notes for her biography. “I kept thinking I should be dead, not him.” Bacon’s widow never stopped trying to solve her husband’s murder.

After the miscarriage, Keller invited detectives to her hospital room and suggested where they should look and whom to call. “I said, ‘I’ll give up my fortune, I want to find the killer,’” she wrote. “I called the detectives one or two times. I said, ‘Look there, look there’…. They said, ‘Do you know something?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’”

Keller even went so far as to hire a New York law firm to investigate the stabbing, but they never solved the case. “I can’t rest until I find the murderer,” she told a reporter who met her at a nightclub in St. Moritz, Switzerland, about nine years after her husband’s death. “David was just a big, lovable kid. Nobody could help liking him. And how could anybody kill him?” Keller spent the rest of her life wondering who did it. “I have had the feeling that [it was] somebody from his former life,” she mused. “Someone who had a kind of power over him.”

Keller never remarried. And most of the relationships she had were with men who either looked like Bacon or somehow reminded her of him, says Wolfgang Nebmaier, who was in a relationship with Keller from 1973 until she died of liver cancer in November 1977. “Greta was absolutely gaga about the man,” says Nebmaier, who is working on a book about Keller’s life called Chanteuse. The singer never quit searching for her husband’s killer, but she never found an answer. And she never watched The Masked Marvel. “I think I would not have survived seeing him before me on the screen, and not in reality anymore,” she said.

Bacon’s other family members never gave interviews about his murder. They never even spoke of it to one another. Seventy-six years after the killing, Bacon’s niece, Marsha Bacon Martin, says that all she knows about her “Uncle Gappy” is that he was very handsome, very talented, and very charming. “Nobody talked about him,” says the 71-year-old Martin. “He was kind of an enigma.” In fact, Martin has never seen any of Bacon’s movies and only learned her uncle was murdered when she recently Googled him. “I’m very curious,” she says. “You probably know more than I do.” When Bacon’s life came to a tragic end in that Venice bean field on Sept. 12, 1943, his final feature film was playing in theaters. The title: Someone to Remember.

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Ad Nausem II to feature over 500 vintage newspaper ads for 90s and 00s horror movies — first look

EW can exclusively reveal that journalist Michael Gingold has written a sequel to last year’s Ad Nauseum, which collected together vintage newspaper ads for ’80s horror movies.

The new book is titled Ad Nauseam II: Newsprint Nightmares from the 1990s and 2000s and will feature over 500 ads from Gingold’s personal archive. The book highlights the many trends in ’90s and ’00s horror cinema, as well as the rising careers of key filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, James Wan, and Rob Zombie. The movies featured in Ad Nauseum II include Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview With The Vampire, Saw, Final Destination, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity.

“The response to the first Ad Nauseam was thrilling and gratifying,” said Gingold, in a statement. “We heard from so many people who also collected movie newspaper ads as kids — and as adults — and shared the love of this lost pop-cultural art form. And since I had so many more ads still lurking in my archives, it seemed natural to continue this particular history of horror through the 1990s and 2000s.”

Ad Nauseum II is a 1984 Publishing title presented by Toronto-based horror periodical, Rue Morgue. The book will be published on Sept. 24 and is now available to pre-order.

Last week, EW broke the news that Gingold has compiled a book of ads for sci-fi films called Ad Astra: 20 Years of Newspaper Ads for Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films. Ad Astra will be published Sept. 10, via 1984 Publishing.

Gingold is a longtime writer and editor at the horror magazine, Fangoria. He also contributes to Rue Morgue, Birth.Movies.Death, and Scream.

Exclusively see the cover of Ad Nauseum II below.