The idea of superheroes fighting in World War II is not a new one. Captain America famously punched Hitler on the cover of his first comic, while Superman was part of the war effort as well — and this was back during the real war, not just in some recent comics. But in his Majestic-12 trilogy, writer Michael J. Martinez explores what would happen if people with super powers had been involved in what happened next: The Cold War. In the following email interview, Martinez discusses the third and final book in this series, MJ-12: Endgame (paperback, Kindle).
I always like to start with an overview of the plot. So, what is MJ-12: Endgameabout, what is the Majestic-12 series about, and aside from being the third and final book in the trilogy, how does MJ-12: Endgame connect, both narratively and chronologically, to MJ-12: Inception and MJ-12: Shadows?
Let’s start with the broader question. The Majestic-12 series is about normal people mysteriously enhanced with strange, paranormal abilities — i.e., superpowers — and the government program that seeks to use them as covert agents in the burgeoning Cold War against the Soviet Union. And as it happens, the Soviets have their own Enhanced agents as well.
MJ-12: Inception, as the title implies, is about the onset of these abilities and the start of the Majestic-12 program, with training facilities at Area 51, followed by the agents’ first mission. Shadows ups the ante by revealing the source of the Soviets’ abilities and their leadership. And finally, Endgame covers the death of Stalin in 1953 and the Soviet agents’ attempt to assume control of the Soviet Union itself, and the Americans’ attempt to stop them.
Where did you get the original idea forMJ-12: Endgame and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
The idea for the entire series actually came to me as a character: a spy who could leverage the memories of those who died around him in order to access their talents and knowledge. I figured such a person with such an extraordinary ability could be downright dangerous. From there, I just built around him. How did he get the abilities? What would the government do?
For Endgame, I knew early on that the death of Stalin would be a game-changer in the setting, just as it was for the entire Soviet Union. I knew very early on that it would be one of the potential end-points for the series, so when it came time to write, it really didn’t change too much from the initial concept.
MJ-12: Endgame, like the other books, is set during the Cold War. Why did you decide to have it take place then as opposed to in a fictional Cold War of the future?
My background is in historical fantasy; my previous Daedalus series [The Daedalus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis, and The Venusian Gambit] was set during the Napoleonic era. There’s just so much history to work with, and so much of it is so insane, that it never really occurred to me to futurize it. To me, the late 1940s through the mid-1960s was the golden age of American covert operations, and that’s not to say it was all good or worthy or honorable. In fact, it was a time of nearly zero oversight and lots of horrible abuses. There’s some stains on American honor dating from that period, but it also means the storytelling opportunities are immense.
These books also feature people with superhuman powers. Did you ever consider writing this series as a comic book?
You know, I never really considered it. I’m a novelist, and that’s what I do. That said, I think Majestic-12 would make a great comic book series. Or a TV show, for that matter. I’m rather open to it all, so hey, if anybody from those areas are reading this, let’s talk. Coffee’s on me.
MJ-12: Endgame, like the rest of the MJ-12 series, seems to be mash-up of science fiction and espionage. Is that how you see it, or is there a better way to describe it, genre-wise?
The rather difficult thing about all my novels thus far is that they’re a bit tough to define. For the Daedalus series, I settled on “Napoleonic era space opera,” which is about as close as one could get to the notion of sailing ships in space, and the description still glosses over another entire half of the series set in the future. For Majestic-12, I’ve settled on “super-powered Cold War spy novels.” That gets, like, 90% of the way there. But I’m sure my agent and editors would probably like me to write something a bit easier to define and shelve at some point.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on MJ-12: Endgame but not on your earlier novels?
Not really, aside from the history itself. The death of Stalin and the rest of 1953 in the Soviet Union was a mess, so naturally I was attracted to that, and did quite a bit of reading around it. I did read a fair amount of Le Carre and others, of course, but that’s a pretty general thing for the whole series.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have an influence on MJ-12: Endgame?
Again, not in particular for the last book. The series, of course, was influenced by a wide variety of spy movies and such. I kind of wish The Death Of Stalin, the dark comedy that came out this past summer, would’ve been out a year earlier; it played fast and loose with history, but was a really fun ride.
Now, I mentioned earlier that MJ-12: Endgame is the third and final book in this trilogy. But a lot of writers, when they get to the end of a trilogy, decide to keep going, either with side stories, like Kameron Hurley didto her God’s War trilogy with the novella collection Apocalypse Nyx, or with a second trilogy, like K.B. Wagers is doing with There Before The Chaos, which kicks off a sequel trilogy to her Indranan War series. Are you planning anything similar with MJ-12?
You know, never say never. If there’s a strong demand, I’d definitely consider adding to the story. But as of right now, I tend to work in threes, and there’s a lot of other ideas I have kicking around inside my head and my hard drive. I feel like Endgame leaves the story in a good place — closure for readers, opportunity for me to pick it up again should I decide to do that.
So what are you planning to do next?
Well, I’m between contracts right now, and I have no fewer than three major ideas that I’m trying to work on. I also just moved from the New York area to Los Angeles this summer, so my usual writing patterns have been upended. Once things settle down some, I’ll crack open my files and see what resonates.
Earlier we talked about the movies and TV shows that influenced MJ-12: Endgame. But has there been any interest in adapting it or the MJ-12 trilogy, into a movie, show, or game?
Hollywood, I’ve found, is a very fickle thing. It’s probably one of the most risk-averse industries I’ve ever seen. I’ve had trickles of interest in all my work, but they tend to dry up fast. Producers tend to want bestselling authors or award-winners to work with, so that there’s something of a guaranteed audience for the subsequent screen adaptations. That’s why we’re getting a Lord Of The Rings series on Amazon rather than any number of other worthy fantasy works that bring fresh ideas to the mix; Lord Of The Rings is a proven commodity.
If it was to be adapted, what do you think would work best?
I think Majestic-12 lends itself really well to episodic television, especially for producers and outlets willing to take chances and keep some of the character-driven edge. I could see it on a Netflix or Hulu rather than, say CBS.
If that happened, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
You’d need actors with range and depth to really take on the roles, since the books delve deeply into the emotional and psychological cost of these paranormal abilities. So I think for Danny, the leader and secret-bearer of the group, I’d go with Nicholas Hoult [Mad Max Fury Road] or Daniel Radcliffe [the Harry Potter series]. The aforementioned character hauling around dead memories, Frank Lodge, would have to go to someone like Charlie Hunnam [Pacific Rim] or Sam Claflin [Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides]. Calvin Hooks, a former factory worker with the power to heal or harm with a touch, is a touch older and needs some gravitas, so someone like Common [John Wick: Chapter 2] would be really interesting; I think he has chops he’s just discovering. Finally, Maggie can manipulate emotion and is on her own emotional rollercoaster as a result, so it’s super challenging; I want to see someone like Saoirise Ronan [Lady Bird] or Margot Robbie [Suicide Squad] take that one on.
Finally, if someone enjoys the MJ-12 series, what would you suggest they read next?
For more genre-inflected spy novels, I’d suggest the work of Charlie Strauss and Tim Powers. Both are awesome. Strauss’s Laundry Files series is a darkly funny mix of eldritch horror, spy thrillers, the occult, and English bureaucracy, while Power’s Declare is a great mix of Cold War spying and occult horrors, very true to its thriller roots. Ian Tregillis also does some amazing and very different things with the periods involved. His Milkweed Triptych trilogy delves into a Cold War between experimental mutants and wizards bargaining with dark powers to save Britain.
Of course, if you liked my work in particular, I have other books, too. I’ve written the Daedalus trilogy [The Daedalus Incident, The Enceladus Crisis, and The Venusian Gambit], a mix of future Solar System exploration and…Napoleonic Era space opera. I feel like I should say that because my publisher is gonna read this.