Individually, Roger Stern and Ron Frenz are two giants of the comics game. Stern is best known for his work on the “The Death of Superman” storyline as well as co-creating Hobgoblin. Meanwhile, Frenz is best known for his run on The Amazing Spider-Man and co-creating the New Warriors. But the pair also have a storied history together, having worked on the hugely beloved Amazing Spider-Man story “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” Now, the pair, alongside the equally legendary Sal Buscema, reunite for another kind of superhero story with Heroes Union.
The series is the first from Binge Books, a new publishing venture run by veteran TV writer Darin Henry (Futurama, Seinfeld) that, as the name suggests, emphasizes “bingeable” content (or, 68 pages of comics goodness). The book follows the titular group (created by Henry) as they embark on “a cosmic epic bursting with so many breathtaking twists and thrills,” with plenty of emphasis on the team’s status as “21st century heroes.”
Before the book arrives on August 4, we touched base with Stern and Frenz for a deep dive into the project. That includes what it’s like to work together again, the “return” of the Comics Code, influences and inspirations, their favorite members, and much, much more.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for the series proper?
Roger Stern: Oh, I never needed to make a pitch. Darin Henry had already created the members of the Heroes Union and their back-stories, long before I signed onto the project. And Ron Frenz had already designed them. When Darin asked me to write their first issue, all I had to do was say yes.
Ron Frenz: If you like super-hero teams like Avengers or The Justice League you will go bananas for these all-new modern super-stars! Traditional adventure comics story-telling with a decidedly modern voice, you will love the members of Heroes Union!
AIPT: What are some of the challenges, or even opportunities, of working in this “bingeable” format? Does it make for a better or more satisfying experience as writers as well as for the readers?
RS: Well, our story does have three times as many pages, so it took me a little longer to write it. And I know it took Ron a little longer to draw; he’s not a machine, you know. But when we were all done— yeah, it was very satisfying to see the whole thing come together.
RF: The challenges for the creatives come only with determining the publishing schedule .For the reader, it guarantees experiencing a complete “done-in-one” adventure that will leave you feeling like you definitely got your money’s worth!
AIPT: What was the collaborative process like? Does the fact that everyone’s a lauded “veteran” of comics make working together easier/harder/more exciting?
RS: Collaborating with this crew was a lot of fun. As I said, Darin had come up with these characters, and had figured out the overall points of the story. He was the co-plotter, and also acted in the same capacity as the showrunner of a television series would, shepherding things along. In fact, we’ve declared him the Heroes Union “bookrunner.”
Anyway, Darin and I hashed out the plot over the phone and via email. I then wrote up the plot and Darin sent it off to Ron. Ron started breaking down the story and penciling it, and as he turned in the pages, I started scripting them. Sal Buscema inked Ron’s penciled pages—backed up here and there by Chris Nye—and Glenn Whitmore supplied the colors. Marshall Dillon added the lettering. And that was how Heroes Union #1 came together.
It was really great working with this crew. Of course, I’ve worked with Ron a number of times on both Spider-Man and Superman. And early in my career I was lucky enough to work with Sal on The Incredible Hulk. Sal is simply the best, and his inks are a wonderful complement to Ron’s pencils.
Hey, and let’s not forget Glenn Whitmore! As good as the art looks in black-and-white, Glenn’s color really made it sing, just as he did on Superman for all those years.
RF: Yes to “easier” and “more exciting.” If nothing else, you will get a well-crafted tale by highly skilled professionals! How’s that for a lead-line!! LOL!
AIPT: Building from that last question, you and Frenz are behind a much-lauded story from Amazing Spider-Man, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” Does that past connection help at all? Do you think this latest project falls in line with a story like that in terms of feel, aesthetic, potential, etc.?
RS: Oh, yeah, it’s always great to work with Ron. He was just a youngster when he drew “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,” but he was already such a talented storyteller. And he’s grown even more as an artist since then. It’s funny, but whenever I plot a story for Ron, I usually have an idea of what he’s going to draw. And I’m usually right. But even so, he often surprises me by composing a scene in a way that looks even better than what I had in mind. You can’t help but be inspired by working with Ron.
RF: I can’t speak for Mr. Stern but I hold his work in the highest regard and every story he tells has the potential for wonderful character insight and connection for the reader. In that way ALL stories can be similar although “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” was an intimate character study and Heroes Union #1 is a larger-than-life epic space opera with literally galaxy shaking stakes!
AIPT: What was the process of creating the actual Heroes Union? How much of this unit is maybe inspired by other characters or creations from your creative past?
RS: Well, again, I didn’t create any of these characters. Darin and Ron had come up with the characters, and Darin already had a general idea of what the story was going to be about. I added my two cents to the plot, and put words in the characters’ mouths.
The characters themselves draw on all sorts of archetypes, but all with their own distinctive variations. The Blue Baron, for instance, is a legacy hero in that his powers have been passed down from father to son for generations. But the general public thinks that there’s been one ageless Blue Baron who’s been around since the Revolutionary War. In fact, even most of his teammates think that the current Blue Baron is the same hero who founded the Union back in the 1930s.
Startup is the team’s super-speedster. But as of Heroes Union #1, she’s had her powers less than a week. Luckily, she’s quick learner.
RF: Designing these heroes and villains for the “Heroes Unionverse” has been a fantastic exercise in breaking me of any bad habits I may have collected in creating/designing characters. The seed comes from Mr. Darin Henry along with disparate images of possible costume elements(often unlike anything I’ve seen before) and my task is to coalesce those elements into a complete and pleasing whole character. It can be very rewarding when it works and exhilarating even when it doesn’t!
AIPT: This is reportedly the first book in a decade to feature the Comics Code Authority Seal. Why, if at all, is that an important distinction for this series/these characters?
RS: I’m not sure that it is. It certainly didn’t affect the way I wrote the story. I didn’t even know that Darin was going to arrange for the seal to be on the cover until long after I’d finished the script.
Then again, I worked under the old Comics Code for most of my career, and it never really prevented me from telling any of the stories I wanted to tell. As I recall, relations with the Code depended a lot on whom they had reading the stories on any given day. Let’s just say that the Comics Code often used their authority in a less than consistent manner.
RF: Simply put, we are attempting to entertain the widest possible demographic with our stories, including children. If that stamp on the cover eases the concerns of an involved parent then it’s worth it’s weight in gold to me and I truly hope the parent and kid can enjoy the story and characters together!
AIPT: Do you have a favorite hero/squad member and why?
RS: Boy, it’s hard to pick just one as a favorite. The Blue Baron, Startup, Bull, Honcho … I really like them all. Here’s another example: Skyrocket is a hero from the original 1930s Union whom I find especially intriguing, and she appears in just one brief cameo. Blink and you’ll miss her. So don’t blink!
RF: The Blue Baron and Startup are early favorites if only for the amount of thought and dimension already invested in them as characters and I eagerly await, along with our readers, the origin/backstory of Bull.
AIPT: It seems like everything with this book and project is about pushing boundaries and trying to innovate with the larger comics publishing model. Is that important to you as creators, and does the industry need a little kick in the butt, as it were?
RS: I think it’s healthy for the comics industry to occasionally step back—to take a good look at what they’re publishing—and consider what they could be doing better. I mean, some companies are publishing 32-page comics that cost $4.99, and that’s for just part of a continued story. You don’t get a lot of bang for your buck with a periodical that size. I like the idea that the Binge Books are bigger comics that deliver a longer, complete story for a more reasonable price.
RF: With the price point continuing to rise, comics must try to give the reader a “complete unit of entertainment” for their dollar. Experimenting with format is an essential step in that process.
AIPT: What are some other comics, or even other stories, characters, and fictional properties, that inspired some of this series/story?
RS: You’d really need to ask Darin about that. The members of the Heroes Union were all fully formed when I came on the project. As I said, many of them are recognizable heroic archetypes. They may at first seem familiar, but they’re really all delightfully different.
RF: The combined childhood adventure fantasies of at least seven grown creatives are all coming together in these pages. That’s a huge tapestry of influences — feel free to pull a particular string! LOL!
AIPT: In the press, there’s talk that this book is a “unique way to teach children about business.” Can you explain a little more about that?
RS: That’s another one of Darin’s clever touches. A good number of our characters have names that are derived from business and financial terminology: Bull, Raider, Startup, Think Tank. As Darin has said, “Our heroes mean business.” He even included a neat little glossary in the back pages of Heroes Union #1, spelling it all out.
RF: I would leave that more to Bossman Darin Henry, but I find using the backdrop of business terminology to name and frame the characters has led to dozens of fresh characters and concepts! It’s fun!
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
RS: Heroes Union #1 is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a brand new super-hero universe. It’s a triple-sized comic story—complete under one cover—featuring an all-new super-team. It’s imagineered by Darin Henry, drawn by Ron Frenz and scripted by Yours Truly. And it costs just $4.99, making it a much better buy than a lot of other comics that are a third its length.
Why would you not want to try it?
RF: Why not? As we’ve discussed you’ll certainly get your money’s worth in super-hero action and excitement you could meet new favorite characters and concepts and why pass up an opportunity to smile and have fun?
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!