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JP: To me, if you're writing something about 1967... well, Batman and James Bond were both big in 1967, so why wouldn't they both be friends? All this stuff is connected in my head. And so I'm kind of celebrating it and also trying to pick at it, to find the little faults of logic and exploit them. Like the Impossible Family, our version of the Fantastic Four family. I wonder: "What would really happen if cosmic rays deformed you? What kind of so-called powers would you really end up with?" So we play with the human frailty at the core of that story. We inject as much humanity into characters as possible. A joke may start with something as simple as "Wouldn't it be funny to see a guy in a butterfly costume have to ride the subway?" But the more we get into it, the more we get into these characters, the more we get find other veins of genuine character and humanity that we can pull other stories from.
Reason: What's a more sincere treatment of the Fantastic Four - your sociopathic and screwed-up version, or the 2005 movie version?
JP: Before that movie came out, I thought the best way to do a Fantastic Four movie would be to go full on, Peyton Reed Down With Love with it. Make it take place unapologetically in 1962, us this slick over-designed world as the setting, and make it a comedy. Because those characters are ridiculous. You're never going to get a guy who stretches to be anything but wicked funny. It's a little hard for me to feel the supposed gravity of those situations they get into with a guy named Dr. Doom, for Christ's sake! I go back and forth between thinking whether or not comedy is brave or cowardice in terms of an approach to subject. I guess it depends on what you do with it. Certainly Dr. Strangelove was a form of comedic bravery.
Reason: What's the connectivity between all of this and the pop culture figures you rope into the series, like Depeche Mode members or David Bowie?
JP: The connective tissue is first and foremost us: This is stuff Doc and I like. But a guy like Bowie is a natural for a series like this because he's so otherworldly cool. He's portrayed an alien more than once. He's so fucking cool that he's got to be a supervillain. We hit on Depeche Mode and new wave stuff because, stylistically, those guys kind of look like supervillains.
Reason: Are you just cramming those real-world characters into these stories, into the whole sci-fi continuum?
JP: I think Bowie was born out of this to begin with. "Space Oddity" was his first big hit, remember. You can't tell me that Bowie wasn't into that stuff when he was a kid. You can't tell me that didn't broaden his horizons. I'm sure he read a lot of science fiction when he was a kid and then started to embody these fantastical characters.
Reason: As big as they were in the 60s, these comic book characters and sci-fi stories are even bigger now. They're basically the currency of Hollywood blockbusters. Why is that the case?
JP: Being a solipsistic person, I like to think it's happening because I want it to happen. I was working at a comic shop when Tim Burton's Batman came out. That was a huge deal: We'd had Superman movies before, we had The Hulk on TV, but it never fully took over. Part of it was that the 80s saw the beginning of an acceptance of the comics medium as something valid, something critics should pay attention to. We were selling The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and all of that stuff.
Reason: But it's far more dominant now.
JP: We're really lucky that all of that is happening now, while our show is on, because that's our fanbase. Lost is a result of this kind of thing. So is Battlestar Galactica. People are getting into these episodic science fiction-y things, which can only help us because we've got a longer story arc in the background. I have no idea why it happened other than maybe my generation doesn't draw the line between high and low art. You also see that in the fine arts world. Commercial illustration is seen as a legitimate fine art form. These old cover paperback novel paintings have skyrocketed in price. You can buy books or prints of pulp novel covers. Old movie posters are huge collectors items.
Reason: And that's a good thing?
JP: Absolutely. I think all those people, those artists, had a lot more creativity and worked just as hard or harder than "fine artists." I put Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same category as Fellini. Maybe that's a generational thing, but it's a good thing that artists can be celebrated for doing that work, and that a lot of the elitism is gone. And it's good that Hollywood is cashing in on it. Maybe they're only making more of these stories because the X-Men movies did so well, but it works out for everybody.
Reason: But there are different levels of science fiction; there are self-consciously pulpy or fun authors and creators, and then there are the Neal Stephensons and Robert Anton Wilsons. Is there any less cultural value in the super-science stories than in the hard sci-fi or more ambitious philosophical stuff?
JP: If I have to be honest, yeah, of course there is. But I only admire the kind of creative spark that occurs when a room full of guys has to crank out 100 boy adventure novels. There's obviously a lot of work and thought going in there. And there's a lot of crap, a lot of hack work. It is ultimately less valid and it's there to be a pleasant diversion. But I was never that intrigued by the other kind of science fiction. It always kind of bored me and seemed a little pompous. I really just wanted the laser guns.