John Ostrander: A Writer Picks His Favorite Characters

amanda-waller-grimjack-kros

by John Ostrander

Last weekend I was at the Geek’d Con in Rockford, Illinois. It was a small first time con and it had some things to work out, but over all it went okay.

I really enjoyed the fans but, for me, the big moment was when my niece, Julie Adams, showed up with her husband Rob and their three kids, Rachel, Hailey, and Ryan. They even sat in on the Q&A panel I did on Saturday and, bless ‘em, asked some questions themselves. And, as is typical with kids and especially kids who are relatives, a question or two were tough to answer.

The big one I was asked (by Hailey, as I recall) was, “Which of your characters is your favorite?” Deceptively simple, that question. “That’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child,” I replied, glancing at Julie and Rob. Both grimaced.

I’m not sure that answer completely satisfied Hailey (or her brother and sister) so I did explain a little more. “This may sound like a cop-out but it’s whatever character that I’m working on right now. It has to be that way. I need to be that excited about the character I’m working on if the story is going to be any good.”

Okay, I admit it was a bit of an evasion but it’s true; I really can’t pick just one of my characters as my favorite. That said, I can name several of the characters that I’ve worked on as among my favorites. One, obviously, is Amanda Waller of the Suicide Squad. There was no-one like her when she first showed up some thirty years ago and there’s really been no-one like her since. She doesn’t mess around; she has a vision and she goes after it. She uses people (villains mostly but not exclusively) and if someone has to die to get the job done, she’ll sacrifice them without a second thought. As Deadshot in the movie says of her, “That is one mean lady.”

Thing is, I’ve never thought of her as an outright villain. An anti-hero, certainly, but she does have something of a conscience. She’s kept people around to call her on her bullshit. What they say may not change what she does but, as she has said at least once, “Just because I don’t do what you say doesn’t mean I’m not listening.” She’s more of an interesting character if she has a sliver of a conscience; otherwise, she’s a sociopath.

Two others on the Squad also qualify among my favorites – Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. With Boomerang, it’s that he’s actually well-adjusted (more or less); he knows he’s scum and he’s happy being that. He has no desire to be better than who he is. Every time you think he’s sunk as far as he can go, he finds another level to which he can fall. Deadshot just doesn’t care – period. I don’t see him as having a death wish. I think he just doesn’t care if he lives or dies and that, IMO, gives him a lot of power.

I also really enjoyed working with Father Richard Craemer, both in the Squad and in The Spectre. He’s a good man, a good counselor, with a good sense of humor (useful when dealing with nigh omnipotent Spectre). My late wife, Kim Yale, and I created him and based him on religious people we knew in our respective families who also were good people.

I even enjoyed the cannon fodder in the Squad – characters brought in to be killed off. I had to invest something in them in order to make those deaths mean something and have an impact on the reader. One of my faves among these was Shrike (Vanessa Kingsbury); an innocent mass killer, she felt she was Born Again even though she couldn’t help killing more people as she went on. She weirded the heck out of Father Craemer.

Minor characters like Punch and Jewelee also among our faves. More than a little nuts, they were like criminal yuppies from hell.

I could go on at great length about some of the other characters in the other series that I’ve done over the years but this column is long enough (and late enough) as it is. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one very big name – John Gaunt. GrimJack.

You could say in a way that he was my first born. I had written four 8 page back-ups in Warp and one full length story in Starslayer when GrimJack debuted in the back of the latter title. He was my first original creation in comics, influenced in equal parts by Robert E. Howard and Raymond Chandler. A hard-boiled barbarian working out of the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure, I could place him in almost any setting and make it work. We even did a time traveling Western.

He was also a scar-faced Cupid. Kim and I knew each other before GrimJack but we were just friends. She was also a big fan of the book and it was one particular issue, “My Sins Remembered,” that really got to her. She wrote to me (although at the time she lived less than a mile away) and we went out for coffee and we talked about the issue and what had affected her so much. She opened up to me and I found myself connecting to her in ways I hadn’t before. About seven months later, when I proposed, Gaunt was a part of that presentation (including a GrimJack teddy bear). So, I guess, gun to my head (which Gaunt is certainly capable of doing) maybe he is my favorite. Along with his supporting cast. And his next incarnation.

See how difficult this is?

Right now, my favorite characters are Kros (from Kros: Hallowed Ground which I’m doing with Tom Mandrake) and Hexer Dusk (which I’m doing with Jan Duursema) because those are the ones I’m working on at the moment. You can find samples of both on Indiegogo and even pre-order the books if so inclined.

I’m also starting a new love affair for a project I’m working on with Mike Gold. It’s not announced yet so I can’t really tell you much about it but my enthusiasm is mounting.

I just can’t help myself!


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium and the writing brain behind the most successful run of Suicide Squad in comics. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix.