The Magic Of Mantra

Mike W. Barr Talks About Life, Death, Magic, And the Sexual Politics Of Super-Heroes

From The Malibu Sun #27, July 1993

Extremely prolific, Mike Barr has scripted issues of Batman, Green Lantern, Star Trek, The Outsiders and Detective Comics for DC comics as well as creating the critically acclaimed The Maze Agency, a series nominated for both the Harvey and Eisner comic industry awards (the highest in the comic book field). In addition to his work on the Ultraverse for Malibu Comics, he's also working on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for Malibu and The Good Guys for Defiant.

Stacy Oberkrieser: Who or what is Mantra?

Mantra character design
Mantra character design by Adam Hughes

Mike W. Barr: Who and what Mantra is came out of my concept for the series. I wanted to do a story whose theme was reversals. People go along in life and think they have everything planned, they think they know everything and have everything secure, and then all of a sudden something comes up and turns everything over. Things get kind of reversed and you don't really have any say in that sometimes, you just have to cope with it. That's what Mantra is all about. More specifically, Mantra is about a war between two wizards which has been going on for about 1,500 years. There is an actual historical battle in Europe in about 451 A.D. that Steve Englehart and I are both using as backgrounds for our strips. The story of Mantra begins as a civil war between these two wizards. One is called Archimage, and the evil wizard is called Boneyard. They've been essentially having a war for fifteen centuries. The forces of Archimage are reincarnated by Archimage every time they get killed. The warrior who will become Mantra is a male warrior who's been reincarnated in several hundred male bodies over the last 1,500 years. There's always been kind of a balance of power all these years--in the war between Archimage and Boneyard, neither side has been making any significant gains. All of a sudden, when Mantra #1 comes out, we see that Boneyard has made some significant gains. Archimage, in a last desperate attempt to win the war, casts this very male warrior who's very secure being a man into the body of a woman so he can learn the ways of sorcery. The Warrior's name is Lukasz, and he gets cast into the body of Eden Blake.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What is the goal of Archimage and Mantra, the good guys?

Mike W. Barr: The goal of the good guys is as always, to defeat the bad guys. Each side sees themselves as the good guys and the others as the bad guys. Mantra begins to realize it's not that clear cut, she learns to question what she has been fighting for all these years.

Stacy Oberkrieser: Is it clear to the reader who the good guys are and who the bad guys are?

Mike W. Barr: It's very clear to the reader. When we use the terms good guys and bad guys, we use them for convenience. In real life, no one ever sees themselves as the bad guy. Adolf Hitler, during World War II, saw himself as the good guy. He didn't understand why the whole world was fighting what he saw as a very rational goal.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What is your goal for the story?

Mike W. Barr: My goal is to tell an entertaining story and have fun doing it, and hopefully to have some fun with the characters as well. There was a series I wrote a few years ago called Camelot 3000. It had a character who to some degree was something like Mantra. I realized after a few years that I probably hadn't said all I wanted to say on that whole male/female thing. I wanted to go back and do a little more with it, and found a way to do it within the confines of a super-hero comic. Mantra is sort of mystic-oriented, but we see it as a super-hero comic and we want a lot of super-action in there as well. The fun for me with the character is that this very male warrior Lukasz has dropped into not only this woman's body, but this woman's life as well. He, now she, has various interpersonal relatonships to carry on with people she's never seen before and doesn't have much interest in, but has to maintain to keep her cover. She finds herself the mother of two children--she has no interest in these kids, but she has to keep them going. She has an ex-husband, she has various boyfriends. There's a lot of humor in all of it, some of it hopefully will be quite poignant as well.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What is unique about Mantra?

Mike W. Barr: I would say that Mantra is unique in the Ultraverse, because she is the first female super-hero to get her own title. In a larger scope, I think this whole male-female dichotomy is unique, which she'll have to learn how to resolve if she's going to survive.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What is important to you with Mantra in the Ultraverse?

Mike W. Barr: What I like about being brought in on the birth of the Ultraverse, is that I can be there. All of us who created books can be there to look out for our place in the Ultraverse. What I'm hoping to do is to be able to speak for Mantra and the place of Mantra in the Ultraverse, to make sure that the book has an important part in the upcoming crossovers and the various things that affect the Ultraverse.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What would you like readers to get out of the story?

Mike W. Barr: What I'd like them do get out of the story is a good time, because I primarily see myself as an entertainer. I think the artwork of Terry Dodson will go real far in doing that. Terry is a young guy, but he's very good, and I think the readers will be happy with his work. I want the readers to get an entertaining time for their money. An interesting by-product may be that they'll somehow think of things a little differently. Female readers will almost certainly get a kick out of seeing Mantra's commentary on what it's like to live life as a woman, and male readers may think, "I've never thought of that before."

"I want the readers to get an entertaining time for their money. An interesting by-product may be that they'll somehow think of things a little differently."

Stacy Oberkrieser: How did you get into comics?

Mike W. Barr: I had begun submitting spec scripts to editor Julie Schwartz at DC comics, and had been submitting to Marvel as well. I had sent Julie an unsolicited Elongated Man script, who was a character appearing in Julie's books at the time. I wrote an 8-page story and sent it in. Bob Rozakis, who was Julie's assistant at the time and is now DC's production manager, read it and liked it, and told Julie he should take a look at it. I did some revisions on it, and they eventually bought it. This was my first comics story, but it was the second story I sold. My first professional sale was to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1972.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What happens during a normal day in your life?

Mike W. Barr: Usually I have to throw the cats off the computer a few times--they like it because it's warm. I try to get a little work done in the morning and a lot of work done in the afternoon. I find that writing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you sit down and think you're going to have a hard time and not get anything done, you generally have a hard time with the story. If you sit down and think, "Let's see where we can go...", you'll have a pretty good time with it. I'm not going to pretend it's not work, but compared to some other jobs I've had, it's a pretty good way to make a living.

Stacy Oberkrieser: What are some of the other books you've done in the comics industry?

Mike W. Barr: I mentioned Camelot 3000 at DC, which was the first big splash I made in terms of recognition. I created a book called Batman And The Outsiders for DC, which will soon be revived as The Outsiders. I wrote Detective Comics for a while with Alan Davis, in what might be described as an acclaimed run. I wrote the Classic Star Trek book both at DC and Marvel. I wrote Green Lantern for a while, I wrote the first Green Arrow miniseries. For Malibu, I'm also doing the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book. I think I'm the first guy to write Star Trek for three pubishers.

Stacy Oberkrieser: Tell me a little about yourself.

Mike W. Barr: I'm just a guy who is trying to make it through the day, hopefully making a living and still maintaining some standards about myself and my work.

The first issue of Mantra debuts in July from Malibu Comics. Written by Mike W. Barr, the series is illustrated by Terry Dodson and Al Vey. Barr's first issue of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will debut in August.

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