Thursday, March 4, 2010

Christopher Priest's "the 18th Letter"

Recently, a comic book podcast group called the Dollar Bin put up a two-part interview with Christopher Priest which ran more than two hours, touching on many ages and aspects of his career, from his days working the Xerox machine at Marvel in the 70s to his last freelance work in the early 2000s.

It's a terrific interview for fans of Priest and one I particularly enjoyed because I had never heard his voice before; he has an excellent speaking voice and carries on his recollections at a quick, steady clip. And his laugh is infectious.

So, I was inspired to investigate a mostly-forgotten work of Priest's which he's spoken highly of on his website. It's a Wonder Woman tale called "the 18th Letter" which ran in the obscure title Legends of the DC Universe #30-32 (2000).

During the interview, Priest mentioned feeling as though all the stories had been told and that what he tried to do as an author was to find fresh angles, to tell stories in a different way. "The 18th Letter" has a hook that is so different from a typical Wonder Woman story that you have to keep reading it just to learn how it plays out.

The concept: an east European country is beset by a terrible war (think: Bosnia) and super heroes such as the Justice League are forbidden by the UN from intervening. However, one of the leaders in the conflict sends for Wonder Woman to make an unusual proposal: he will order his armies to stand down if she agrees to sleep with him.

Now on the face of it you think, "there's no way Wonder Woman would sleep with him." Well then, how will she end the violence? Many of the additional characters in the story - Wonder Woman's friends, mother and fellow Leaguers - all assume that she will refuse the general, no matter how charismatic he is. In that case, what is Wonder Woman's plan? And even if she does have a plan to stop him without comprising her virtue, suppose he manages to seduce her all the same?

So yes, "the 18th Letter" keeps you turning the pages all the way to end to see how Priest answers the unusual dilemma he dreamed up. In the interview, Priest described his disappointment that the third and final chapter was illustrated by a different artist who was a novice and hence didn't bring his best work. This novice artist was none other than Pablo Raimondi, now considered a pretty good artist for his work on Peter David's Madrox & X-Factor, Ed Brubaker's Books of Doom and his current Realm of Kings: Inhumans. He was indeed a novice back in 2000, but it's still interesting to see how he started out.

Priest fans who haven't read this story - Wonder Woman fans who think they've seen it all - anyone who thinks this sounds like a great hook for a story - should track these comics down.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Thank you for the kind words. We at the Dollar Bin think it is probably the best interview we've ever done. There's an hour more we cut out having to do with upcoming projects that he didn't want out at this time. We have some more interviews with older creators coming soon.