Vertigo is unleashing an ambitious slate of 12 titles in the fall, including a new series about the most famous of the fallen, Lucifer.
"The Spiderwick Chronicles" writer Holly Black and artist Lee Garbett will be dealing with the devil in a fresh take on the classic Vertigo character, who previously spun out of the pages of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" in an acclaimed 75-issue epic dark fantasy series written by Mike Carey that ended in 2006.
Black and Garbett's ongoing "Lucifer" series will find God dead and the erstwhile lord-of-Hell-turned-nightclub-impresario accused of the murder by no less than his own angelic brother, Gabriel. If Lucifer can prove his innocence, not only will his sins be forgotten – but he'll be welcomed back into the Silver City. (The character is also the subject of an upcoming television adaptation on Fox.)
The mature-readers DC Comics imprint announced the slate, to be released one No. 1 each week from October through December, including new titles from Peter Milligan, Simon Oliver, Rufus Dayglo, Tom King, Gilbert Hernandez, Gail Simone, Darwyn Cooke, Michael Allred and more at its Thursday night panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Before the panel, Hero Complex interviewed Black and Garbett; Milligan ("Hellblazer"), whose 12-issue "New Romancer" with artist Brett Parson details unlucky-in-love Lexy, a coder for the titular dating app whose creativity with computers brings around that most romantic of Romantics, Lord Byron, in the flesh; CIA veteran King ("Omega Men," "Grayson"), whose eight-issue "The Sheriff of Baghdad" with artist Mitch Gerads follows Chris, a former Florida police officer who could have possibly prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks who joined the Army to train Iraqi police and must investigate the death of one of his trainees; and writer Oliver ("The Exterminators") and artist Dayglo, whose seven-issue "Last Gang in Town" goes into the 1970s London underworld with Ava, who's leading a band of bandits from the punk scene on a mission to heist the crown. Those four titles are due in December.
The four Q&As follow, plus details on Vertigo's October and November launches and, later, highlights from the panel presentation.
Any hint as to who the suspects are, biblically? Names we'd know?
Black : Well, the first name we will know isn't so much a suspect as the former angel charged to solve the murder of The Presence — Gabriel.
I really loved Gabriel's story line from "Hellblazer." He ended up with his heart crushed and being sent to Hell as a mortal — which meant he was still in play. I was interested in the idea of forcing he and Lucifer to investigate a murder together. Gabriel knows Lucifer in a way that few other beings do, as a brother. And Gabriel has plenty of reasons to hate him, so there's a lot of interesting tension. Yet, they also have a common cause.
Garbett: Yeah, that's going to be a really strong aspect of the first arc, I think. The friction between the main characters, the mistrust and bad blood. I love drawing emotional beats and body language, so I'm really looking forward to portraying that dynamic in the artwork. That and all the magic, demons and horror.
With it being an ongoing series, will the God killer be a running theme as other matters come up, or is this just the first arc?
Black: The murderer will be discovered by the end of the first arc, but the answer may create more questions.
What's life like for Lucifer on the road? What sort of car does he drive? What's his favorite state besides California?
Black: Lucifer drives a white convertible with the top always down, even in rainstorms. I imagine that there's no place where Lucifer doesn't feel perfectly at home, but I suspect he has a preference for old cities, cities with layers.
Garbett: L.A.'s glitzy veneer, dark underbelly and even darker past is a perfect fit for Lucifer – but he pretty much owns any space he's in, or certainly plays it that way.
What sort of odd-couple-on-the-road type moments will we be dealing with?
Black: One of the most fun parts of writing this has been sending Lucifer to familiar places, where things have changed in his absence. Some people are happy to have him back, many are less so. Writing Gabriel and Lucifer's return to Hell was one of my favorite bits because of the way they play off each other.
Garbett: I can't wait to get to that. The balance of light and dark in Holly's script is one of the things that's so fantastic about her Lucifer. Along with the genuine sense of weight and drama, you get these very cool character moments, with great dialogue that just really puts the flesh on the bones of the world. I started reading issue No. 1 and was totally hooked.
It seems innocent enough for Lexy to create this character, but there's obviously some danger involved?
Milligan: Coming face-to-face with the embodiment of your longtime dream lover is fraught with the dangers of whether that romantic fantasy can live up to brutal reality. In "New Romancer" there are added dangers: It seems besides her beloved Lord Byron, Lexy might have unwittingly unleashed a bunch of darker lovers who will fall a long way short of the romantic ideal. Cue mayhem, murder and strange fashion decisions.
So, is Lord Byron going to be something like an actual operating system a la Scarlett Johansson in "Her?"
Milligan: No. "New Romancer" takes things further than "Her." Lord Byron is no all-seeing incorporeal dream. Lord Byron becomes a flesh-and-blood man, with all a man's desires, needs and many weaknesses. Newcomer Brett Parson's incredible art imbues this time-displaced 19th century poet with humor, sexiness and humanity.
Why is Lexy's perfect guy Lord Byron?
Milligan: Lord Byron seems to represent everything that Lexy wants her life to be – and yet so painfully isn't. His quixotic love affairs, his selfless defense of romantic causes, his heartbreaking poetry: all so different from the modern, computer-dominated world Lexy is forced to live in. He also has the cutest pout she's ever seen.
What are the pluses and minuses of "Weird Science"-ing a lover?
Milligan: The pluses of "Weird Science"-ing a lover are that in this world of dodgy dating sites, speed-match-ups, and disastrous relationships, you get what you want. The minuses are ... you get what you want. "New Romancer" is about realizing that what we think we want might come with some very unwanted and uncomfortable benefits.
How is this Lord Byron different from the historical Lord Byron? Does the computer know it's self-aware?
Milligan: It's the same guy. Unreliable, brooding, brilliant, incorrigible. The crucial difference is he's alive in 2015 Silicon Valley – and this variance in time and space tests his usual Byronic aplomb.
THE SHERIFF OF BAGHDAD
Since you were with Marvel and DC before joining the CIA, did these types of stories form in your mind while working for the agency?
King: Honestly, no. At that time I had pretty much abandoned the whole writer dream, and I was set in the idea that I'd be an operations officer for life. That was a good job doing good work, and I felt like I was good at it. It wasn't until years later, after I had my first child, when it became clear that I couldn't be both the officer and the father I wanted to be that I turned back to writing.
But even then I wasn't interested in writing about what I'd gone through in a direct way. It seemed cheap somehow, or maybe it seemed too hard, or maybe I understood I wasn't ready. Probably, most honestly, I didn't want to think about that world right then. So instead I wrote about all those experiences through metaphor and allegory in my first novel, "A Once Crowded Sky," which was all about superheroes except when it wasn't.
Now we're a few years later, looking back more than a decade on when I was in [Iraq]. Now it seems I'm part of this whole generation that spent their 20s trying to fix a country that wouldn't stay fixed. Now we're entering a new war that seems like an old war. It just seems like the right time to revisit my experience, to see if I can see what I learned and didn't learn from Baghdad.
Are any of the characters amalgams of people you've known or situations you may have seen overseas?
King: This book comes out of my experience.
I served in Iraq very briefly; I was there for a little less than five months back in spring/summer of 2004, though I worked the Iraq issue for many years from a number of different countries, both before and after the invasion.
I want to bring the reader into that time, into those five months when the insurgency was beginning and we were starting to understand that our mission was far from accomplished. This is not a book about politics. It's about heat and sweat and the jump you do when mortars fall. The jump that stays with you the rest of your life.
The series revolves around three characters: Chris, an American cop, who is serving as a contractor, training Iraqi police. Nassir, a Shia Iraqi who was a police officer under Saddam and is now unemployed. Sofia, a Sunni Iraqi leader who has returned from a lifetime in exile to participate in her country's new democracy. In Issue 1, a man is killed and one of these three people must decide who is responsible for finding his murderer – who is the sheriff of Baghdad?
This has a lot of similarities to "Homeland." How will you avoid repeating similar themes, or do you welcome that comparison because it's been such a popular show?
King: Small confession. I've never watched "Homeland." The reason being, if "Homeland's" bad, it's just another bad show. If it's good, if it reminds me of my experience, then I start to get mad at myself; I feel guilty for not being out there anymore. I'm proud of my work in the CIA, and I'm never sure that my decision to leave was the right decision. When I'm watching TV I rarely want to revisit that particular moment in my life.
That said, from what I know about the show, "The Sheriff of Baghdad" is pretty far off from its premise. This is a crime series, a brutal murder mystery that is set in the brutal heat of post-invasion Iraq. It's not about the CIA or spies. It's about that moment when all the hopes we were holding onto in that country fell away, and it's about three characters who fall right along with them.
How can comics tell the homeland security story angle better than films or books? What advantages does the comic medium offer this story?
King: The basic answer is comics give you the right balance between freedom and collaboration. A movie or a TV show that wanted to depict these events on this scale would need the approval of 16 producers and 72 studio executives (as an aside, my mother was a studio executive; they're wonderful people).
In comics I have an editor and I have a gifted partner in my artist, Mitch Gerads. We talk about what we're going to do, and we do it. This gives us the freedom to tell the story we want to tell. Basically, we can get away with taking more risks, with taking the story away from the expected and toward the shocking, which to me is toward the truth.
The deeper answer is that I love the comics medium, and I love writing in it. When I was a kid it spoke to me in a way that other mediums didn't. It takes away the descriptive elements which can weigh down prose while still engaging your imagination in a way film does not. Comics are about what happens between the panels, what your mind puts there. In The Sheriff of Baghdad, I want those gaps to tell a haunting story about a country that still haunts us today.
LAST GANG IN TOWN
The '70s punk scene in London is often ripe for stories. What is it about the era that drew you to tell this tale?
Dayglo: Our story starts in 1976 Punk London.... And it's burning with boredom, it's the Summer of Hate. (No '60s Summer of Love for us!) It was the year punk exploded into the world on the radio and TV screens, scaring parents, the government, and the status quo. (It probably scared Status Quo the band too, with their long hair...) I was born into this punk London, so for me it's the thing that informed my childhood and my musical taste (and unfortunately my dress sense.) The first art I did was for punky fanzines, and fliers for friends' punk bands. Punk has an energy. It makes you feel like you can be a hero and make a difference. Even if it's just for you and your mates. And if that doesn't work, you can rip it up, start again, and just make a mess! So we want our gang to make some changes. And demand the impossible.
Oliver: I think to a large extent a lot of what I've done and what's influenced me in my life can be traced back to that attitude and DIY spirit that took hold around that time. I was only a kid at the time, but when I really came of age in Manchester in the 1980s a lot of that scene in music and clubs was a direct descendant of what started 10 years before.
Even though I've now actually lived longer in the States than I did in England, that attitude … that embraces the underdog, embraces failure, and chaos and anarchy, still feels somehow uniquely British. As much as I have very mixed feelings about the country of my birth, I'm a firm believer in great things coming from damp, depressing places, where you don't form a band, or pick up a pencil, or write a book because you necessarily want to be a rock star, or great artist, or novelist – you do it simply because you feel you have no choice.
I know they had a big punk scene in California later on and about the Ramones and New York Dolls and all that, but I don't feel it's the same. The Sex Pistols could only have come from one place and at one time…. The trash was piled high in the streets, half the country was out on strike and they couldn't keep the lights on. I remember being 8 years old and going without electricity for at least two days out of the week. At least most Third World countries are at least warm.
A lot of this book for me is about reclaiming and embracing what's really great about Britain, and it's not the tourist, changing of the guard, biscuit tin version. What's great about Britain is the reality – it's angry, violent, class-ridden and depressing and I really mean that in the nicest way possible, because without that we wouldn't have had all the great music and art that's come out of [it] … and also, as it relates to the book, crime. British people are great at stealing stuff. When it comes to audacious, bare-faced … crime, we're really damn good at it.
So yeah, that's really what this book is all about – trying to capture that spirit and bottle it in a way that makes sense and of course carries a story that we both believe in and above all means something to both of us. I don't want to sound old, but the longer we get from times like those the less I feel that kind of influence around me, and in a way this is my very small way of trying to reclaim that energy.
Are there any particular real life characters that you've included or would fit in well with Ava and her gang from the era?
Dayglo: There'll be a lot of references to events in punk and other later music scenes. Simon and I will be making lots of punk in-jokes and tips of the hat. I know a lot of the people who helped start and shape punk in London, like Mark P (London's editor of Sniffin' Glue, the first punk fanzine), Soo Catwoman (London's most famous female punk rocker and style and scene maker) and lots of other musicians and scenesters. So I'll be making lots of sly references to them.
What I'm really happy about is our gang is largely girls. All my heroes were the girls and women of punk. People like Poly Styrene, Soo Catwoman, Gaye Advert, Jordan, Siouxsie Sioux, Ari Up, Viv Albertine and the Slits, Little Debs, etc.
I want this to be a love letter to them, and to anyone who ever drunkenly screamed along to the Ramones or the Clash in their bedroom.... While cutting up their favorite T-shirts.
What sort of look are you going for in the pages that will complement this time period?
Dayglo: Lots of beige. Terrible curtains and nothing on television, rubbish building up in the streets, and the world about to implode with boredom (ba dum ba dum!) Or maybe I'll crank up some "Combat Rock," and draw some punk rockers doing what we do best, causing a bit of trouble... And having a laugh.
And this time they really do want to create some Anarchy in the U.K.
And then go get [drunk].
OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER TITLES
Vertigo's October launches are "The Twilight Children" by decorated talents Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke; "Survivors' Club" by Lauren Beukes ("Fairest," novels including "The Shining Girls"), Dale Halvorsen and Ryan Kelly; "Clean Room" by Gail Simone ("Secret Six") and Jon Davis-Hunt; and "Art Ops" by Shaun Simon ("The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys") and Michael Allred ("iZombie").
The imprint's November newbies are "Unfollow" by Rob Williams and Mike Dowling; "Slash & Burn" by Si Spencer ("Bodies"), Max Dunbar and Ande Parks ("Capote in Kansas"); "Red Thorn" by David Baillie and Meghan Hetrick; and "Jacked" by Eric Kripke (TV's "Supernatural) and John Higgins.
The cavalcade of new comics will start with the all-star team of Hernandez ("Love & Rockets") and Cooke (adaptations of Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker novels). "The Twilight Children" is a four-issue "David Lynchian, surreal … fish out of water story," Vertigo Executive Editor Shelly Bond said. The collaboration began when Cooke reached out to the writer about doing something that recalled the feeling of the latter's "Palomar" stories in "Love & Rockets," Hernandez said.
The very dark "Survivors' Club," co-written by Beukes (who previously wrote an arc for Vertigo's "Fables" spinoff series "Fairest") and Halvorsen, with art by Kelly, will answer the question of what would happen if "the kids from those '80s horror movies actually lived to tell their story," said Bond, speaking then, as in many cases, on behalf of creators not on the panel.
Before talking about his and writer Simon's upcoming "Art Ops," Allred saluted Hernandez, saying the comic that inspired him to start making his own comics was "Love & Rockets." The artist, who lately has been working on Marvel's "Silver Surfer," said "Art Ops" will follow a group of secret operatives who "free artworks from their prisons." As the cover for No. 1 suggests, first up is the Mona Lisa. Bond added that it's Vertigo's new team book, in the vein of Grant Morrison's run on "Doom Patrol."
"Clean Room" will be the first Vertigo series — "a dream come true" – for Simone, well-known for her work on DC characters, including Batgirl. The story will find the power-hungry motivational guru Astrid, whose corporate headquarters includes the titular mysterious, hermetically sealed, life-altering, subjugating chamber, against Chloe, a journalist with nothing to lose after her fiancee, a follower of Astrid's, commits suicide near an open copy of the self-help author's book, Simone said.
Bond called "Unfollow" a political thriller that's a sharp examination of social media. Williams' and Dowling's series follows what happens after the billionaire creator of a Twitter-like service leaves his fortune to 140 strangers. The surprise heirs will "lie, cheat, stalk, protect and murder their way to the prize," the editor said.
"Slash & Burn" will be about a pyromaniac-turned-firefighter's struggle against dark desires.
"Supernatural" creator Kripke's six-issue "Jacked" will detail the addictive spiral of a man undergoing a middle-age crisis who orders a pill that gives him superstrength.
Vertigo's lauded, long-running myths-in-modernity series "Fables" is ending soon with the graphic-novel-size No. 150, but come November, "Red Thorn" will arrive to "satisfy that gaping hole in your heart," Bond said. The book, rooted in Scottish mythology, centers on an imprisoned-in-a-bone-cage "swaggering demigod" named Thorn who escapes captivity and seeks revenge.
But before that, there will be fanfare for "Fables'" end, including a three-day Great "Fables" Wake in Austin, Texas, in August. The series' creator, Bill Willingham, sent a video message for the panel crowd, thanking them for following the worlds-spanning saga and noting that anything they love in the big finale was his idea and anything they dislike is artist Mark Buckingham's fault.
Scott Snyder and Rafael Alburquerque, the Eisner Award-winning creators of the Vertigo horror hit "American Vampire," were also on hand.
"I know that I write 'Batman,' " said Snyder, who's in a years-long bestselling run scripting that marquee DC series, "but if there was one thing that I could send into space as a capsule, I would say ['American Vampire'] is the thing that represents all of my interests, all of the things I love writing about."
He added that the next issue, "American Vampire: Second Cycle" No. 9, "sort of shows everything that's coming in the series."
Gene Ha ("Top 10") wasn't on the panel but did sketch the panel members (clockwise from top left in the link: Allred, Oliver, Simone, Lee Bermejo [who talked briefly about his already-going dystopian L.A.-set "Suiciders"], Hernandez, King, Albuquerque, Snyder and Bond).