While DC Comics launched a slew of new ongoing monthly comic book series as part of September’s New 52 company-wide relaunch, they also brought back a handful of series as well, among them the early ’90s cult hit “Resurrection Man.”
Originally written by comic book duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with art by Jackson “Butch” Guice, the very first “Resurrection Man” followed Mitch, a man able to come back to life when he died, with each resurrection granting him a new super power. The new “Resurrection Man,” still written by Abnett and Lanning but with art by Fernando Dagnino, also follows amnesiac Mitch as he tries to fill in the blanks in his life and get the hang of his continually changing powers while playing with the same themes and tone of the first series. But now Mitch has a host of new problems, chief among them an angel and a demon sent by Heaven and Hell, respectively, and tasked with forcibly collecting Mitch’s immortal soul.
Speaking with CBR News about this new reimagining of the ’90s comic series, original creators and writers Abnett and Lanning eagerly dove into discussing the challenge of bringing back the Body Doubles for modern readers, why Mitch shouldn’t trust either Heaven or Hell, and details about DC’s upcoming trade paperback collection of their original ’90s series.
CBR News: You have the first three issues of the new “Resurrection Man” under your belt at this point, and this idea that Mitch’s soul is overdue to go to either Heaven or Hell is a new twist on the character. What made you decide to focus on this supernatural aspect of your more science fiction-y character?
Dan Abnett: I think the supernatural thread was always there in the original version, it just wasn’t as pronounced as we have it here. His essence as a character, like in the first version, is still very science based but the consequences of what he is have gotten more supernatural. That was something that also came from DC editorial; Eddie Berganza was very keen to have us play that up with this particular version and we thought it was appropriate because it gives it a slightly different feel.
When we last spoke you mentioned one of the challenges with Mitch is that, because he resurrects, you have to find other stakes for him or obstacles to overcome. Is having his immortal soul in contention one of the ways you’re doing this?
Andy Lanning: Yeah, I think like Dan was saying, it was our intention to, when we started this new version of Mitch, to take things into a slightly different arena [than] what we did originally. Obviously that made it more interesting from our point of view when it comes to writing him because we’re not retreading old ground. We’re definitely approaching stuff from a slightly different angle, and like you say, it offers us a little bit more in the way of drama and tension, basically reimagining the story with a slightly more supernatural twist even though there’s an underpinning of the science fiction. In fact, as we go forward with this the two will sort of meet head on.
With that supernatural element your series is one of the few New 52 series physically dealing with the idea of Heaven and Hell in the DC Universe. Are you getting to set the rules for Heaven and Hell in the new 52 DCU?
Abnett: I think DC editorial is pretty keen to make sure things are consistent across the board, so things that we’re doing here will hopefully get reflected in other places. It’s a very simple set of rules, to be honest. I don’t think it takes anybody a great deal of time to work them out! [Laughs] The really original slant to it is, although he’s a scientific creation and in fact in many respects a scientific wonder, there are sort of metaphysical implications to that. The man-made science may put him in a situation where he becomes a significant problem to higher powers, and that’s a fun thing to play around with. But we hope there’s a way of exploring the nature of Heaven and Hell in our book and also showing it affecting some of the others as the series will progress.
Lanning: One of the cool things of working with the new DCU is, along with the other books, laying the foundations for all of this stuff which appeared in previous continuity but it’s kind of like new ground that we are breaking. So we’re definitely keeping an eye on the other books and that we don’t contradict each other, and each book is kind of peeling back a new layer to reveal some more of this brand new version of the DC Universe.
Since we’re talking about the broader DCU, in the solicitations for February we have Mitch in Gotham City and Arkham Asylum. Does this mark a new storyline for Mitch and wrapping up the Heaven and Hell idea, or is that idea going to continue to play in the background of the series?
Abnett:/b> The key themes, the essences, the properties that are bugging Mitch all the way through the course of this story will remain consistent. The issue you’re referring to then when he interacts quite fundamentally with another part of the DCU is a consequence of that. We don’t want to give the story away but it’s the result of this chess game with the esoteric forces of the universe. I think it also helps to ground him. We’re trying not to make the stories unwieldy and long, there’s a quick succession and a couple of issues are spent moving things around, so that’s something that grounds him and reflects his place in the DCU.
Switching to the characters, in #3 you had the fun Transhuman reveal with Darryl walking out in the robot suit. Where did the Transhuman come from? Is he a brand new character?
Abnett: He is! [Laughs] He sort of presented himself to us as we went along. We had a role for a character there and we didn’t really know exactly what we wanted to do with it yet and he ended up being much larger than life than we were expecting, but in an interesting way that immediately developed into a strand that we intend to pursue. But yeah, I think that was a great moment. We take great pleasure in trying to throw in twists and surprises and quite often with the book “Resurrection Man,” given his power base and the sort of people who would be after him, you kind of know where those surprises are going to come from. So for it to come from the old guy next door was a new one I think! [Laughs]
Lanning: And as far as Transhuman is concerned as well, there’s an extra surprise with his back story that will be revealed in issue #4, I think.
Last time we spoke you also mentioned the historical tradition of resurrection men who stole the dead and Burke and Hare the body snatchers. In #2 you reintroduced the Body Doubles, a duo who are essentially proactively corpse snatching Mitch. Do you see them as the darkly funny Burke and Hare of your series?
Abnett: Yeah, they are in a way, I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I think there are more to these Body Doubles than to the original version of the characters, some of which is yet to be revealed. We talked about in some ways making them more proactive in this new iteration, and I suppose they are, in a more focused way. They are always violently active, but in this they are a coming after Mitch with extreme prejudice and a great deal of focus and I think that’s what makes them scarier in a way. We manipulated them and what they can do slightly from their original version, so that’s another fun way of playing around with them. They essentially needed to be modernized from the way they were presented in that mid-’90s style we did them in the first time around.
Along those lines, how did you go about modernizing them? What specifically makes these Doubles different?
Lanning: They were very much that idea of the Bad Girl stuff that was going out in the ’90s and we were doing some pastiche of that, but I think the idea of having two strong, capable female characters who are basically totally in control and kicking ass and taking names is a kind of timeless quality that we want to have fun with! We’re definitely playing against the type because they look like bimbos and act like hit men, the hardest sort of assassins you can find, and we think there is fun to be had with that. When we did the original Body Doubles we did some miniseries that came off that back of that which were very tongue and cheek and very funny. We’ve given a slightly higher reach to them now, but I think is still a sort of playful, fun element that’s always going to be in there with those characters and we’re definitely going to play on that side of things.
Abnett: I think in reinventing them, which we definitely did, we didn’t want them to not be the Body Doubles anymore; we wanted them to be recognizably what they were the first time around because otherwise you might as well invent completely new characters. I think the important thing is, if we are going to present very obviously aggressive characters who are women and who present themselves in this sort of over sexualized comic book way, they have to have proper characters and they have to have serious intent to justify being that reckless, I suppose! I hope that’s what we’ve done and I think you might see a little bit more of that as we reveal more about them. I think it was quite a fun thing to do in the 1990s, but you’ve got to do a slightly subtle take on how you present that and why you’re presenting something like that.
Artist Fernando Dagnino is obviously at home with that more cheesecake art style — is this one of the reasons you guys wanted to team up with Dagnino, that he can bring that juxtaposition for the Body Doubles with his pin up style?
Abnett: To a certain extent, yes. I mean, I think brining him on as an artist to the series was in keeping with the visual style of the original series, and actually in these issues we knew he would do a damn good job with them. That didn’t come as a surprise at all. But the sheer dynamism, particularly in the battle sequences that are coming up in the fourth issue, he’s really terrific there. We knew they’d look good but they look better than we could possibly imagine, it’s really terrific stuff. So yes, we found something he can draw really, really well and I think he does make them work much more successfully when they sort of are undeniably great comic images on top of what we might be able to do with them as characters.
Lanning: And the really cool thing as well is that Fernando’s artwork really has a flavor of Jackson Guice’s stuff from the original series as well. There’s like I said, in interest of what Jackson did in that first series, that’s really nice, that’s a nice continuity there.
There are some nice details in his work too, such as the incredibly creepy chalk outlines in Limbo. When it comes to the art, do you just let him run with it and drive the look for Limbo, the characters, etc?
Abnett: Certainly! I think it was in the script that he put chalk outlines everywhere, but he did that so well because they were literally everywhere. That was a lovely idea, I think, that played out very visually.
Lanning: In fact, in that Limbo sequence, his visualization of the demon was really cool as well, that idea that you can’t quite see it properly was really well realized.
What were your initial ideas behind creating the demon and the angel Suriel, the two characters who would visually represent Heaven and Hell?
Abnett: We quite like the idea that when the angel first appears she’s not obviously angelic, she could be a demon. So when you meet a demon he’s kind of even worse. In fact, there is a sort of question of which side is worse or if they are equally inimical to the mortal world. I think we are pleading a special case because we’re not necessarily saying that all angels are like her. She is a sort of special executive angel who has superpowers and is fairly ruthless and, let’s face it, quite psychotic! But it does show that this disregard at this higher level and lower level in both Heaven and Hell for all mortal life. The immortal soul is all that matters. They’re not at all squeamish about people caught up in their struggle to obtain them.
On a related note, in January DC is releasing the first fourteen issues of the original series as a collected trade paperback. Did doing the new “Resurrection Man” series help prompt the collection?
Lanning: I think so; I think it obviously prompted interest in the old series again. From everyone’s point of view that was something they hadn’t collected up until now, and something that we were more than happy for them to put together because that original series of “Resurrection Man” is something we’re still very proud of. We’re 100% behind the idea of them putting together a collection because its something that DC does particularly well. So we’re looking forward to that.
Are there plans to collect the rest of your ’90s run in trade paperback?
Abnett: Fourteen makes a fairly nice collection in terms of a trade paperback. I guess they would do what would be the second half if the first one got a big enough audience. I think it would be nice to see it all collected and I guess they could do it in two volumes.
Lanning: You’d hope that they’d do the whole thing because it’s not a massive, massive run or big commitment! [Laughs]
Wrapping things up, in this new run you guys seem to be toying with the question of Mitch’s powers being fate versus free will. When it came to reexamining Mitch, what stood out to you as important ideas or themes you really wanted to emphasize in the new series?
Abnett: One of the key ones is that he is essentially a regular guy. We didn’t want him to be this stupendously super heroic character in terms of his personality. He’s a regular guy who finds himself in a very irregular situation. He’s the everyman hero, he’s the guy next door, he’s a hero by circumstance rather than inclination, which I think is fun! He’s also the product of real world science and human ingenuity rather than something supernatural, but we really wanted in this to place those together in contrast. I think the other thing with Resurrection Man is, by his very nature, every time he comes back with a different power that power is not known immediately to the reader, so he is a mystery. He is a mysterious person who needs to be re-explained every time he reappears because every time he’s different and there’s something new to know about him. So we really wanted to wrap that up and go back to what we emphasized the first time around, that his entire life is a bit of a mystery, and really play that up. Not only are we learning about him every time he comes back, he is himself learning about what he used to be. That, I think, is quite rewarding because Mitch and the reader are on the path of discovery together.
Lanning: Something that was definitely true in the first series was the idea that as a reader you were discovering along with Mitch what the bigger story was, and we kept peeling back layers of that story with more and more surprises and cliffhangers. That was definitely an element we wanted to carry forward into this series as well, even though we’ve made an effort to make Mitch a little more proactive. He doesn’t just die and turn up in a place and discover his powers and help people out, he’s being drawn to places now and that’s something that is going to play out over the next few issues. We’re going to introduce this idea of whether he’s fated to do stuff or whether he’s got free will and he’s the master of his whole destiny. Again, within that whole theme there’s a lot of surprises we want to put out for the readers rather than everyone knowing exactly what’s happening with this book. We’re coming at it from a completely different angle and you’re learning each issue along with the main character and we think that gives the book a slightly more unique take on the superhero trope, basically.
“Resurrection Man” #4 hits shelves December 14, 2011 and the “Resurrection Man” Volume One TPB arrives January 25, 2012.