Sam talks with artist Jim Mahfood about the life of a freelancer, Jack Kirby, the connection between music and art, and 80s television. Fun times were had by all!

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And in case you wanted to watch the cheesy Don Johnson goodness of “Heartbeat”….

Advanced Review: Pisces #1 (Spoilers!)

Posted: April 25, 2015 by Sam in Comics, Review

It’s hard to describe the first issue of Pisces. Not because the issue is awful – it isn’t – but because it’s clearly the beginning of something huge, something that’s going to unfold, like all good storied should, and finally make sense by the end. Maybe. It’Pisces_01s hard to tell right out the gate whether the team of Kurtis J. Wiebe and Johnnie Christmas, who’ve been working on this story for two years, will tell a concrete narrative because Pisces exhibits all the traits of an existential character study where time is fluid and each vignette delves deeper and deeper into a man’s psyche.

What is Pisces about? Wiebe offers this synopsis:

Former fighter pilot Dillon Carpenter found everything he wanted when he returned from the Vietnam War. A loving partner, a dream career training with NASA to travel through space, and soon, he will learn, a prime candidacy for a secret mission, one that will forever change the world: First Contact. But as Dillon prepares, his war trauma returns and he’s haunted by dark visions of his future. There is but one constant; the voice whispering from the stars.

The first issue certainly hits the ground running as we meet a drunken, bloody Dillon stumbling into the emergency room on the night of his son’s birth. After being confronted by the reality of his situation by having it literally beaten into him, we’re transported through the unconscious (or maybe conscious?) mind to Dillon’s time in Vietnam to witness one in what could be a series of decisions made with horrifying consequences.

PiscesWiebe cites multiple influences for Pisces including David Cronenberg’s early career of body horror films from the 70s and 80s, psychological thrillers like Jacob’s Ladder and Martyr, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Duncan Jones’ Moon. Certainly there are elements of each emerging in the first issue but it’s the sci-fi aspects of Kubrick and Jones that are more prominently featured as we take our first dip into the well of Dillon’s mind. And because we’re following Dillon’s mindscape, there’s plenty of opportunity for Johnnie Christmas to show off his amazing artwork. For all of the fantastical transitions, Christmas’ art has a beautifully raw quality that grounds the story. Even when the panels get fairly illustrative, a quick closeup shot delivers a devastating blow of emotion, particularly in the eyes. Reminds me a lot of Jock, actually. It’s gorgeous and made even more so by colorist Tamra Bonvillain palette. The entire Vietnam flashback is a beautiful display of color setting the mood and tone not just of the setting but also the main character. The dusky optimism of Dillon and his co-pilot Henry escaping their plane crash, the sickening yellow cast over Dillon as he makes his decision to escape alone, and the warm colors of dawn contrasted with the bright blood spilt as Dillon makes his assault on an enemy outpost all serve to make us more intimately aware of his state-of-mind.Persephone

What really drew my attention was the symbolism of the first issue. Oh yeah, I’m bringing symbolism into this! Throughout the entire issue water is used a transitional device, which makes sense when you consider the nature of the subconscious where water often acts as a tangible metaphor. Our thoughts jump around all the time and dreams are the mind’s way of trying to make sense of what we perceive on a daily basis as well as the psychological baggage we carry. The deeper the water, the deeper we sink and Dillon seems to sink pretty deep after fist meets face. The title similarly refers to water symbolism with the astrological sign Pisces, the two fishes, but also connects to the first contact mission Dillon embarks on where Pisces the constellation serves as a potential anchor point. One of the more interesting tidbits, for me at least, comes towards the end when Dillon radios into headquarters after killing the Viet Cong soldiers. His call sign is Hades and as he steps out of the hut to make his way to the evac point, he sees a monkey in the trees holding a pomegranate – one of the symbols for Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and Hades’ wife. Ya know, in case there weren’t other reasons Dillon is reliving his past.

All-in-all, Pisces is shaping up to be another solid piece of work. Wiebe and Christmas have started strong. They have my attention and they should definitely have yours.

Pisces #1 goes on sale Wed. April 29th!

Sam is joined by her friends JP and Jerry to talk about the Netflix Daredevil series. Spoilers!

You should also check out JP’s review of the Daredevil series!

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One trailer shy of a Furious 7 joke. Sigh.

I know a lot of people are concerned that the bubble’s going to burst on movies geared towards those of the geekier sort. If, however, the quality of the six movies whose trailers dropped within the last two weeks is any indication of their quality, then I think we’re good, where movies are concerned, for the next couple years. The last four days alone have seen most of those trailers released into the murky atmosphere of the internet, so I thought I’d go ahead and give you my thoughts on these films based on the most recent and previous trailers.large_trailer

Spoiler alert: I plan to see all of these films. I may have reservations about a few, some more than others, but I’m also the type of person who likes to experience the entire movie before I decide whether it’s the new love of my life, the biggest assault on the senses since Batman & Robin, or a disposable piece of fluff.

I’m just that type of girl. Go figure. Anywho, on to the trailers.

Second spoiler warning: The Terminator Genisys trailer gives away the biggest twist of the movie, so if you’ve managed to avoid it and want to remain in the dark I’d recommend scrolling down really, really fast and move on to the next trailer at a furious pace!

Jurassic World – June 12, 2015

Since the first trailer dropped I’ve been on board with the concept of Jurassic World as the logical extension of the original Jurassic Park (1993). Park and World share the same themes of scientific and corporate hubris with World upping the ante as the genetically modified dinosaur created to boost attendance wreaks havoc on the park. Previous trailers and clips have shown the movie will definitely be calling back to some of the more well-known moments in the first film while sticking to the tried and true formula of monster movie scares, dinosaur fights, and possibly some philosophical discussion about blah, blah, blah and oh my God Chris Pratt on a motorcycle riding with his velociraptor hunting pack! Ahem. Sorry, what was I talking about? Anyway, at the very least the movie promises to at least be visually stunning with each park attraction having a very Disney-esque immersion happening. And I know this is wishful thinking, but if there’s any chance Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm could make a for real cameo, I’d consider this movie a win.

Terminator Genisys – July 1, 2015

Yeah, I’m not sure why a trailer was made that gives away what would arguably be the biggest mind-blowing moment in the movie, but there ya go. Either the filmmakers and the production company really think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the franchise will put butts in seats just because or they’re really worried no one will see this movie because the last two installments didn’t do them any favors. To be fair, the premise is intriguing. With all the time travel that goes on in the myopic missions of machines trying desperately to eliminate one dude from the timeline, the idea of alternate timelines and what if scenarios actually makes sense. Of course, the type of time travel setup in the Terminator movies requires time to be linear otherwise John Connor’s future would keep changing. There’s also the notion of fate and fixed points in time because the machines keep sending assassins to kill John and his mother and yet they never succeed. But I’ve already put too much thought into this movie. Sorry, time travel as a narrative device is one of those things I obsessively pick apart. But hey, Emilia Clarke looks like a rad young Sarah Connor!

Ant-Man – July 17, 2015

I like the trailers for this movie more and more. Yes, it’s disappointing that Janet Van Dyne, a founding member of the Avengers has been all but written out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but here’s hoping that Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne will become the Wasp and give Ant-Man a run for his money! After the teaser trailer left something to be desired based on the performance of previous Marvel trailers, this one definitely makes up for it in every way possible. Better jokes showing off Paul Rudd’s endless charm as thief turned hero, Scott Lang, and a nice hero turned mentor dynamic set up between Lang and Michael Douglas’ older Hank Pym. Since Hank was also a founding member of the Avengers in the comics, it’ll be interesting to see how they incorporate the Ant-Man origins into a world where superheroes have only been a recent thing. Plus, I’m really digging the effects as Ant-Man and Yellowjacket shrink and grow during their fights. Even though the climactic battle will occur in Scott’s daughter’s room among her toys, director Peyton Reed promises there’s much more to it than just a cute shot of an epic battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine.

Fantastic Four – August 7, 2015

The Fantastic Four…with powers! Much better, 20th Century Fox. Like Ant-Man, the Fantastic Four teaser trailer didn’t exactly wow anyone, but this trailer feels like we’re getting a better idea of what the movie will actually be about. Yes, the premise for Marvel’s first family has always been a bit hokey, but there’s plenty to work with as the crux of the movie will center on Reed Richard’s genius that leads to the discovery of another dimension and ultimately changes him and his friends into superpowered heroes. Oh, and Doctor Doom is there too. Doooooom! Reed’s sense of responsibility and his guilt are a huge driving force behind the character so I’m interested in seeing how this will play out in the movie. Crucial to this is the friendship between Reed and Ben Grimm, so hopefully the dynamic between Miles Teller and Jamie Bell has some meat to it. Otherwise we’re just looking at four strangers who happen to get cosmic powers, live together and have their lives taped. Like a superhero Real World. So, yeah, I like what I see from director Josh Trank so far. The effects look amazing and there was actually some humor. Thumbs up for now!

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – December 18, 2015

As someone who only looks at Star Wars through the movies (I know, I know Clone Wars and Rebels are part of the canon), I held out a lot of hope for Episode VII after being terribly disappointed by the prequels. Thankfully, it looks like J.J. Abrams will be doing right by the franchise because I love every friggin’ second of this trailer. The opening shot of the Star Destroyer is gorgeous and Luke’s narration made all the goosebumps happen. Do I really need to explain how awesome that final shot was? Do I? It’s Han and Chewie, for cryin’ out loud! This looks like the movie we’ve been waiting for as the older generation gets ready to pass the baton down to the next. How John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac’s characters factor into the universe post-Return of the Jedi still remains unclear, but that’s part of the fun. If all I have going into this movie are the ridiculously awesome visuals, then I’m still going in content with my ignorance of the plot. I want to be surprised by this movie and fall in love with Star Wars all over again.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – March 25, 2016

Okay, not gonna lie, I’ve been down on the burgeoning DC Cinematic Universe for a while. Not because I dislike DC Comics, quite the opposite. I’ve been a DC fan since before I can remember, but Man of Steel was so underwhelming – for me – that it’s going to take a lot to change my mind about what this franchise can offer. At the very least, Batman v Superman holds promise. It won’t be out for another year, but I’m hoping Chris Terrio’s script tackles the rivalry and eventual friendship of Bats and Supes in a way that at least makes sense despite borrowing heavily from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns wherein their decades long friendship falls apart. Throw in a dizzying amount of cameos from other DC heroes and it’s quite the ambitious start on the road to Justice League. The religious connotations are, of course, present. Looks like Zack Snyder will be following up on the destruction of Metropolis and what it means to have a superpowered “savior” among us. Supes and religion isn’t new territory and Snyder isn’t shying away from the obvious symbolism, so hopefully the script handles it with some subtlety…please? Other than that, Henry Cavill still looks great as Superman and Ben Affleck looks good for the few seconds we get of him as Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’m pretty sure people will be griping about the “Batman gravel” in his voice, but those things don’t bother me. I just want to be able to walk out of a theater next March pumping my fist in the air and shouting “Yeah, Bats and Supes!”

So those are the most recent trailers. What did you guys think? Which movies are you the most excited for and does the trailer factor into that excitement?

It’s been a hell of a time for the Rat Queens, internally and externally, but despite some hiccups along the way Kurtis Wiebe’s sophomore arc, The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth, went above and beyond in its storytelling as the Rat Queens and friends fought to save Palisade from the mind-altering squid demons of another dimension. Like ya do. But like everything Wiebe does there’s a greater story being told while the Queens punch, curse, and bring destruction to their enemies with 3964263-07righteous fury. If the first volume, Sass and Sorcery, was our introduction to the world of Rat Queens, then N’Rygoth is our introduction to the people within that world. Now that we have a handle on the personalities and the dynamic between Hannah, Betty, Dee, and Violet, it’s time we got a better idea of who they are and what brought them together.

If we’re going to boil the story down to its nitty-gritty elements, then these are the essentials: Gerrig Lake, the merchant who Old Lady Bernadette hired to “take care” of the quest group problem in Palisade, has been secretly plotting to release demonic beings worshiped by Dee’s religious order to get revenge on Sawyer for the death of his wife. As the demons attack Palisade and its residents, the Rat Queens fight their way to Gerrig’s stronghold, with help from the Four Daves and the Peaches, while trying to stave off the time-altering mind fuckery of the tentacled creatures from beyond. Of course there’s more to the story than just that, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Just know that this is the minimal amount of information you need without being ridiculously spoiled.

That being said…spoilers ahead (unintentional rhyme!).

After the events of the previous volume, the Rat Queens find themselves revisiting their pasts on an epic scale that still manages to feel surprisingly intimate. The arrival of Dee’s husband, Kiah, Hannah’s on-again-off-again relationship with Sawyer, and Violet’s inspirational meeting with the clean-shaven Morgan Meldhammer all speak to the underlying themes of the book: outcasts, acceptance, and misfit families. The need for acceptance and the feeling of belonging has been present from the get-go, but it’s really in N’Rygoth that we see exactly why the world of Rat Queens is so important and why fucktraditionso many people within the comic book community have become ravenous fans. Wiebe stated it very clearly when I interviewed him about the Braga one-shot. Rat Queens is about home and how people from disparate backgrounds come together and create their own families.

This is especially relevant when one looks at the geek community. We’ve often felt isolated because of our interests, but within the communities of fandoms and internet groups, and the rallying point of conventions, we find acceptance and a place where we can be ourselves. Yes, there are times when the creation of like-minded groups causes a great deal of harm, but there are just as many, if not more, cases of groups producing beautiful displays of love, friendship, and family through their bond over something they love. It’s the inclusive nature of Rat Queens that makes us all want to be a part of this world where modern sensibilities meet high fantasy. There’s a reason the book won a GLAAD award. Just sayin’.

From the beginning of the book, Rat Queens has felt fleshed out in a way that many sword and sorcery comics suffer to Broogaccomplish. Wiebe’s grasp of the characters, of the people of Palisade, contains just enough of the man himself and his own experiences that one can’t help feeling his sincerity. While Dee is the character Wiebe identifies with the most, he still manages to weave in similarities between most of the Rat Queens. Dee’s religious community, Violet’s tradition-mired clan, Braga’s stagnate horde of orcs, and the subtle jabs directed at Hannah for being a “demon baby” all drive the point home that narrow-mindedness is poison and isolation breeds intolerance. The saving grace for all of them was finding each other in a place where diversity is the norm. Although we still don’t know much about Betty…for now.

Yeah, if I was going to lob any kind of criticism on a book I clearly love, it’d be that Betty, while present within the story, didn’t have much in the way of character development in this arc. Even in the last two issues she doesn’t have much to say or do except regroup with her friends. I can understand with the focus shifts in the story and the unintended hiatus of the book leading to a shorter narrative that something had to give. It’s not unlike the previous arc where Dee’s background was put aside so her outlook and background could have a more thorough explanation so I’m gonna give Rat Queens the benfit of the doubt and trust that Betty will get her due with the next story.

RatQueens10_Review-hannah-saywer-660x1015As far as the art goes, Rat Queens really can’t fail from a stylistic standpoint. Yes, the circumstances that brought Stjepan Šejić on as the book’s new artist were unfortunate, but the way he renders Roc Upchurch’s designs are fantastic. Šejić brings just as much energy and movement to the book, but it’s in his expressions where he really punches you in the gut. The scene between Hannah and Sawyer in which Hannah reveals that her rockabilly hairdo is actually hiding a pair of horns is pitch perfect. Šejić captures that fleeting moment where Hannah hopefully looks to Sawyer to say the right thing, which goes as well as you might expect, but the impact of that one panel gave me quite the visceral reaction. There was also Dave and Violet’s romance novel kiss, which made me squeal in delight. Of course, it must be mentioned that Tess Fowler’s work on the Braga one-shot was phenomenal! Like Šejić she makes her style work for telling Braga’s tale. There a hint of adorkability that makes the pages feel warmer, more inviting – that would also be the work of colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick – even when Braga is slaughtering other clans so the bards can sing her accolades.

Rat Queens is a book that plans to be around for a long time and I couldn’t be happier. And it looks like the Queens are headed to Mage University soon. I can’t wait!

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daredevil-posterFull disclosure this was not supposed to be my introductory piece to the Maniacal Geek. No, actually when I reached out to Sam a week ago and told her that I was itching to write something again I had pitched two completely different ideas. The first a wonderful piece about Flash and its importance to the DC television universe, and second a prediction on the fate of the Jedi Order sans George Lucas. I may very well end up finishing those two stories but something happened in the last few days that changed the game and I feel compelled to write about.

When Marvel and Netflix announced their partnership I admittedly did not think much of it. I have read Daredevil comics, and I know of all the other characters and parts that were suggested, but to be honest I have never been much of a fan and I feared that budgetary and production limitations would make these properties as second class to the MCU as they have often found themselves in the comics. So when Friday rolled around, and I sat working from home, I found that my excitement to watch Daredevil had more to do with the lack of anything compelling on Hulu than a real need to see how it turned out. Bottom line if you stop reading now know this… Daredevil is 13 compelling episodes of cinema with a grit and reality that hide its flaws and highlights the fact that film and TV can now match the world building of comic books. I will not give you a play by play of the series, for that you will need to watch yourself, but here are my reasons why Daredevil just moved to the top of my “television” superhero properties.

1. Cinema Not Television

The first thing I realized as I started to watch Daredevil is that my concerns about budget and production where needless. Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen are as real and as well defined as any television series about a guy with superpowers has ever come close to being. Showrunner Stephen S. DeKnight has been on record as calling the Wire a source of influence and Wilson Fisk himself Vincent D’Onofrio said that it felt like making a movie, well they are both right. Daredevil exhibits a focus in its storytelling and character development that I would expect from a 2 hour film rather than a 13 episode series. Additionally the fight sequences are beautifully done not only highlighting the individual styles and attitudes of the characters, but walking a line of violence that puts my parent radar on alert while keeping me on the edge of my seat. MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

While I have binged watched shows before, I have never begun one that was intended to be binged watched. You feel it with Daredevil and it works. The story is meant to be told in large chunks and even the progression of time in the episodes reflects this approach. Events are compacted to help you feel like you are living the predicament of the characters and this is reinforced with the acting. The pacing for some of the B stories is not always perfect, but tell me one film where they always are? Most importantly, even with its radically different tone and storytelling, it still belongs in the MCU. Daredevil never feels misguided or second class and its characters are as compelling as everything we have seen in phase 1 and 2 so far.

2. Genuine Not Gritty

As a DC fan I hate when I hear that they are trying to be more “gritty.” That word makes my skin crawl as I feel it has become synonymous with overacting and gratuitous violence. Daredevil has neither, in fact it has a genuine feel to it that had me thinking more about Breaking Bad than Arrow. Both hero and villain find themselves fighting for the same thing, and walking similar lines. The faint difference that puts them on opposite sides is their willingness to kill another human being. Note that this is important as one finds his willingness forced upon him as a child while the other faces an active choice that he is constantly on the edge of making. This compiled with what I feel is an Emmy worthy performance by D’Onofrio, makes Fisk often the most compelling character on screen. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock does a great job, though he suffers by comparison to the powerful acting around him. Murdock’s often thin relationship with his faith and questions of his own sanity and worth easily run the risk of being too much and too direct with the “Devil” aspect. But Cox’s conversations with Peter McRobbie’s Father Lantom are well written and well performed, and that is where Cox really shines. Matt_and_Father_Lantom

Along with D’Onofrio, every time Vondie Curtis-Hall (Ben Urich) is on screen I am immediately drawn in. Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple a.k.a. Night Nurse) and Toby Leonard Moore (James Wesley) are limited by either screen time or role respectively, but you do not notice it. Both of their performances are spot on and Wesley’s one liners are timely and well delivered. I can go on and on about the cast but I will wrap it up with the three show regulars: Charlie Cox is a compelling Matt Murdock, though his Daredevil persona suffers from the lack of personality that comes from a darker story. That is not to say it is good, but while Daredevil holds up to most of the other parts of the MCU, this is the one place where a moodier story makes for a slightly less dynamic hero. Deborah Ann Woll has already proven to make the most out of a limited role with her time on True Blood, but her take on the innocent victim with a dark past of Karen Page is not only well executed, but actually has me excited to watch her fall from grace as the story continues. Lastly, I will admit I was concerned about how Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson would do. Would his natural ease and nerdy charm stand up to the dark undertones and rest of the grizzled cast. Not only does he have his own serious moments, but he somehow finds a way to maintain his likeability while never becoming the comic relief.

3. World Building

Daredevil is not the Avengers and it is certainly not Guardians of the Galaxy. It does not have time for any of that light hearted fair or banter. Its characters can rarely be described as heroes, and are more what we would deem heroic everyday folks. Hell it is not even remotely recognizable to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but in all of that the MCU just become so much richer than it has been until this point. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved the MCU so far (I think I have seen Guardian’s going on 15 times), but nothing has described the impact and everyday lives of the people in this world like Daredevil does. Daredevil reminds us that when Hulk throws someone into a building there are repercussions. There are people and children that have now grown up in this MCU and heroes and villains are just a fact of life. How would that change how we function as a society? What would our lives look like in this new era?Matt _Murdock

Most importantly even though it brings color to the MCU picture, it also holds its own. Being the gateway to an entire new world of storytelling that the Netflix productions will be charged with. Sure there is a part of me that now wants to see the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen throw it down with Spider-Man and Captain America, but if it never happens I will be completely OK. Daredevil does not need it nor does the rest of the MCU. Daredevil’s sole responsibility to the MCU is to open the door for characters and heroes that are not the Avengers. That do not play whims to galactic trans-dimensional villains, or to alien hoards, or super science. It is to show that even in a world where a guy with a hammer can call lightning at will and SHIELD spends money like it’s going out of style, people still have to struggle to keep the lights on and have clean running water. I only hope that as we get into the more super-natural story telling of Iron Fist, and ultimately the Defenders, that the realism and grounded nature of Daredevil does not get lost. If Marvel has earned anything so far it is my confidence that it will be just fine.

Marvel and Netflix have yet to confirm a second season, but I have no fear (see what I did there) that it will happen. I expect these Netflix series will be a little more Doctor Who in frequency than most shows, but that is   . Mainly because if they keep being this good, I will just watch them over and over again until the new stuff finally hits the internet.

Let me know your thoughts and predictions below and as always thanks for reading. JP

Part two of Dark Horse’s Conan/Red Sonja talk at Emerald City Comicon concludes with co-writer Gail Simone! If you haven’t read part one with Jim Zub, I strongly encourage you to do so on pain of death! That I will somehow accomplish through the internet…once I’ve mastered magic? Okay, just know that the interview with Jim Zub is fantastic as well. Gail was lovely to talk to and it’s always great getting her insights on the comic book world and how much we’ve grown as a community.

Fun fact: The Dark Horse booth was across from the ECCC equivalent of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H, so there were times during the interview where, after I asked a question, there would be a swell of cheers coming from the room as if the audience was showing their approval. So know that my confidence was running high from all that.

Also, look out for the special guest appearance by Dark Horse’s Publicity Coordinator, Steve Sunu. Hi, Steve!

Author’s Note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: I talked to Jim yesterday about Conan/Red Sonja.Gail-Simone-Red-Sonja1

Gail Simone: Okay, great.

MG: He had a lot of glowing things to say about you. So, you wanna give us the real story about working with Jim Zub?

GS: Yeah, the real story is quite amazing. I haven’t done work with co-writers too often but when I have they’ve been really great ones and Jim has been really great. It was so fun when we first started talking about, “Well what do we want to do?” We’ve got four issues and this type of a team-up hasn’t happened in forever. It’s very exciting, we’re both very excited about it. So it has to be epic!

MG: Yeah!

GS: And so then we started thinking about what would be epic and we decided to tell a story that spans a lot of time. And so, ya know, we write our separate pages and then we both go over each others pages. And I think it worked very well, I think it’s very seamless and makes a really exciting, fun story. I’ve known him for years, he’s a great person, he’s a great writer, he’s a great collaborator. So it was great. And then when the art started coming in and it’s so fantastic, it’s so gorgeous and people have been coming up to my table all convention and telling me how gorgeous and how much they love the art and how excited they are about the story so I think we hopefully hit our goal with it.

MG: I read the third issue right before the con so I’m all caught up with the bloodroot and everything. I was asking Jim about the idea of legacy and storytelling because each issue is narrated by a…is it a vizier? A teacher and the young prince?

GS: Yeah.conanrs3p3

MG: What does legacy mean to you in terms of these stories?

GS: Well, this is a character that’s been around a long time and people, some people, are familiar with her stories, some people aren’t but they still know who Red Sonja is for one reason or another; whether it’s a movie or an old comic or just seeing art and material out there they seem to know who she is. And that’s kind of a really cool thing. And then when you can take modern themes and use them with legacy characters and set them in a totally different and unfamiliar time period – I love that mixture of being able to be kind of current with the themes and the thought processes and the actions of the characters but the setting’s a completely different time.

MG: What do you feel is Red Sonja’s arc? In the Dynamite series but also in this one?

GS: She has a couple different things going on. The first arc was kind of more about how she became who she is and what formed her into the great warrior that she is and the second arc was more about “Do you still have friends and friendships and contacts and things when you become this person?” And then the third story arc that takes us through issue 18 is more about…emotion. It’s a lot more deeply emotional story than the other two arcs so she has a really strong emotional arc that she takes.

MG: And when you say that, talking about Sonja’s arc with “can you keep friends and be this person still?” It reminds me of how we are in general; we grow, we become a different person. Especially women in these [nerd culture] industries.conanrs3p4

GS: Well I think, too, there’s something to be said about when you become the best at what you do, then when you take a look around – who’s left? Who’s still standing with you or beside you? And sometimes that can be lonely and sometimes you can fall into really good friendships that are equal.

Steve Sunu: Sorry, Sam, just about two more questions.

MG: Okay, yeah. [to Gail] Next question: What was your favorite metaphor that you used as a descriptor for Red Sonja or for Conan?

GS: [laughs] Oh my gosh! Favorite metaphor? I don’t know. The thing – there is some metaphors but the thing that I like most about writing the Red Sonja character is that it’s pretty straight forward. It’s pretty grounded, it’s pretty filthy and bloody and sexy and all those things. I think that – in the second arc where she’s having trouble getting with somebody, nobody wants to be with her and she can’t quite figure out why or what to do about it. I think that – I wouldn’t say that’s a metaphor but I do think it’s something a lot of people do go through and could relate to. At least they’re telling me that online that they could really relate to her current problem. So I enjoyed telling that story. It was humorous but also it was still a little painful.

MG: And last question: Who’s the best Monkee?

GS: [laughs] Who’s the best monkey? Hmmm, the best monkey…? I don’t know. Gorilla Grodd, right?

MG: [laughs] Well I mean Monkees like the band.

GS: Oh the band? The Monkees?! Oh no!

MG: Since you’re such a Monkees fan.Michael-Nesmith-the-monkees-19107360-1217-790

GS: I am. Michael Nesmith. [laughs]

MG: [laughs] Yeah, no, I agree! I’m all there with you.

GS: I hate to say it –

MG: No, don’t hate!

GS: If I was going to have to pick one it would be him.

MG: All those Davy [Jones] fans, “NO, Gail! Curse you!”

GS: Gotta go with the lyrics.

MG: That’s right. The guy with the hat. Thank you so much, Gail. I appreciate the time you’ve given me. It’s all great. I love reading your work. I read [Now Leaving] Megalopolis as well. So fantastic.

GS: Thank you so much.nightwing butt

MG: I’m looking forward to all your new stuff that’s coming out.

GS: Me too. I can’t wait until it starts coming out.

MG: And is there going to be Nightwing butt in Convergence? You gonna have just like one shot – “NIGHTWING BUTT!”

GS: [sing-song] There’s some cute Nightwing stuff!

MG: [sing-song] Okay! Thank you so much!

GS: Thank you.

In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

If you’re a fan of comic books, Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds, or even – gasp – a fan of all three at the same time, then you’re probably aware that the Deadpool movie, long in production limbo and only recently started filming, will receive an R rating. This is good news and as is befitting of the Merc with the Mouth, the team bringing him to the big screen (for realz this time!) announced the rating victory in the only way that made sense.deadpool footage

Some of you might be wondering why it’s so important that Deadpool has an R rating. Even Mario Lopez points out in the video why having a PG-13 rating would benefit the movie; franchise, sequels, toys, etc. But what it really boils down to is authenticity. Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, isn’t a PG-13 character, he’s an R character. His world is full of graphic violence, ambiguous ethics, and some pretty choice language. Yes, he’s funny, irreverent, and breaks the fourth wall, but a lot of that is used as a stark contrast to the awful things he says and does. Emphasizing one aspect over the other kind of misses the point.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a little background, yes? Yes.

Deadpool has been kicking around Hollywood since about 2004 when New Line Cinemas tried to produce a film with writer/director David S. Goyer, who you may remember from such films as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel, and Blade, helming the project and Ryan Reynolds starring as the titular character. This was around the same time as Blade: Trinity (2004), which Goyer wrote, produced, and directed and Reynolds starred in alongside Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel. Goyer apparently lost interest, but 20th Century Fox picked up the film rights and put a spinoff into production as a potential followup to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) where Reynolds was cast as Wade Wilson/Deadpool.

Sort of.

that-deadpool-movie-we-were-all-excited-about-will-be-pg-13While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a box office success, it was a critical failure and didn’t sit right with many fans of the X-Men universe, the comics or the film series. Regardless of its prequel status and the inflated cast of mutant cameos, one of the more egregious errors was the treatment of Deadpool to the point where most fans don’t even consider the character on screen to be the same as the one they found in the pages of Marvel comics. To be fair, none of the X-Men movies have stuck to the comic book canon completely, but Origins seemed to be checking off a list of names to use without any thought put into motivations, personality, or anything else that would make a character compelling. Reynolds does, however, have one of the best scenes in the film and his sarcastic, snarky attitude resonated with fans of Deadpool. The movie may not have gotten it right, but Reynolds did.

Since then it’s been an ongoing battle to get Deadpool his own movie with Reynolds being the character’s biggest champion and cheerleader. So it was to everyone’s delight when the film was given the official green light in 2014, not long after the test footage for the film was leaked, with a scheduled release date of February 12, 2016. The timing of the film’s production and release within the context of the current landscape of superhero and comic book franchises, however, is what makes Deadpool‘s rating so important.9df2a3cce7aae4167e8461ac7ab22c9d

Deadpool‘s status as a viable property emerged during the first wave of successful Marvel films of the late 90s and early 2000s. Basically, it was post Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002) but somewhat preceded the concept of a shared cinematic universe propelled by Iron Man (2006) on down to The Avengers (2012). Yes, the X-Men films had an internal continuity (sort of) but aside from being based on Marvel characters, the film rights under 20th Century Fox left any possibility of a crossover with Marvel Studios off the table. In the wake of Marvel’s billion-dollar franchise of films, pretty much every studio has tried or is attempting to copy their model. One of the more consistent elements of the Marvel films, and most superhero films in general, has been a PG-13 rating.

ryan reynoldsThe PG-13 rating is a studio’s dream for franchise films. It allows for the broadest range of audience demographics while still maintaining a level of action, violence, salty language, and sexual innuendo that we’ve collectively accepted as appropriate for children to see with their parents and teens to see on their own. Adults, obviously, are always welcome. From a marketing standpoint, kids and teens are the target audience because, as we all know, studios are looking to make bank on merchandise. One need only look at the plethora of Marvel Cinematic Universe toys and the children gravitating towards them to understand why Marvel Studios hasn’t let any of their films break the PG-13 barrier. Not that it’s handicapped the movies at all, but then again we’re not dealing with characters who occupy an R-rated world.

Comic books published by the big two of Marvel and DC currently maintain an unofficial PG-13 rating, though your mileage may vary on whether or not that’s true depending on the subject matter. Either way, both companies have imprints, MAX and Vertigo respectively, meant to handle mature content for readers and the MAX books regularly featured characters like Wolverine, the Punisher, and Deadpool in stories that went beyond acceptable levels of violence, language, and bloody satisfaction. But these are also the stories many fans of the characters latched on to before Hollywood got a hold of them. Wolverine and the Punisher were products of a lax Comics Code and the ultra-violence of the 80s and early 90s and Deadpool was an inspired copy of DC’s Deathstroke. These are not characters who regularly cuddle bunnies and sing show tunes. Well, Deadpool would, but he’d probably be murdering a guy to death while doing it. The point is when adapting characters like Wolverine and the Punisher to the big screen, there’s a reason why Fox continues to produce the exploits of deadool_vs_deathstroke_by_luizhd-d7546h6PG-13 Logan, in X-Men or solo films, while Frank Castle’s two rated R theatrical releases have become cult classics.

Given everything that’s occurred since the initial interest in Deadpool, one would think Reynolds, director Tim Miller, the writers, and producers would attempt to go the safest and seemingly most profitable route. But I think it goes back to what I mentioned earlier. This is about authenticity, bringing the real Deadpool to the big screen. There might be some thoughts of sequels or a franchise, but I guarantee that what’s really at the forefront of the filmmakers’ minds is making the best damn Deadpool movie they can, which means getting a hard R rating so they can at least say they made their Deadpool.

And really, a rated R movie for a Marvel character isn’t a huge stretch at this moment in time. Marvel Studios is about to release their Daredevil series on Netflix, which has no standardized ratings to speak of, and from all accounts it sounds like the series could be Marvel’s grittiest venture to date. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist are slated to follow but no one’s talking “franchise” just yet. This is as much Marvel experimenting with how far they can go deadpool-ryan-reynolds-450x244with their “street level” heroes as it is building their live action universe. Yes, Deadpool is owned by Fox, but he’s also part of a growing trend of studios exploring comic book properties beyond broad spectrum demographics. Dark Horse’s Powers has already premiered on Play Station, Valiant has started the process of developing a shared cinematic universe with their properties, and Image Comics darlings Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction will be developing several of their works from the publisher for television. There may be blockbuster superhero films, but niche audiences are also proving to be just as lucrative.

And I’m sure Deadpool would appreciate that.