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When last we saw writer B. Clay Moore and artist Jeremy Haun work together, they were busy telling the story of World War II era super heroes who, under the guidance of the U.S. Government, banded together to help with the war effort. Naturally, things didn’t go exactly as the heroes might have expected. The story twisted and turned in unexpected directions, with very real consequences for the heroes of the story.
The next project for Moore and Haun goes in a markedly different direction, but those of you familiar with Moore’s previous work know our heroes don’t necessarily find themselves in a safe place. This June sees the release of the five-issue, full color series “The Leading Man” from Oni Press, the first full-color series from the publisher in four years. We spoke with both creators to get the low-down on the series.
“‘The Leading Man’ is Nick Walker. He’s the hottest actor in Hollywood, and, unknown to all, he’s also the world’s greatest super spy,” Moore told CBR News. “He works for the Agency, a real talent agency that only takes a few select clients. Throughout the history of Hollywood, the Agency has secretly trained some of Hollywood’s greatest to fight the forces of evil.
“I mean, how do you think James Dean really died?”
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“Nick is the star. Also on the set with him are his right hand man/assistant/techincal guru, Travis Conrad, and his stylist (who spends much time covering battle scars), Sarah Diamond. Co-starring in the movie, and in his first adventure, are former television action heroine Kim Carlisle and Academy Award worthy actress Alison Frost. Both ladies end up entangled with Nick as he stumbles across a secret terrorist training facility on the coast of France, run by the infamous Code Black.
“The Code Black bad guys in this issue are the nefarious Colonel Maxwell (ex-CIA, of course) and his students, known collectively as the Honor Guard.”
The series opens with Nick in France shooting a movie. While there, he’s asked to run a little recon mission for the Agency. “Nick ends up discovering something a little larger than what he thought he’d find and plunges into a new mission,” explained Moore. “Along the way, his two co-stars, Alison Frost and Kim Carlisle, involve themselves in the case in unexpected ways.”
But what about the mysterious Code Black? Who are these people and what are they up to? “Code Black is an organization designed to profit from the current state of the world,” said Moore. “They steal and sell arms and weaponry, and train terrorists, which are all sold to the highest bidder. Nick stumbles across one of the Code Black training facilities and has to deal with fomer CIA operative Colonel Hansford Maxwell and his Honor Students.”
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Clearly Moore and Haun are having some fun playing with Hollywood stereotypes a bit in “The Leading Man,” but Moore says it’s all in good fun. “I think it’s a fun poke at the nature of ‘reality’ as it applies to people in the public eye,” said Moore. “People spend millions every year to learn the latest juicy details about the private lies of their favorite stars, and it’s doubtful they ever get a single real glimpse at those lives, no matter what they think. So we took that to an extreme. Nick is an actor, but the real acting comes as he pretends to be ‘just’ an actor, hiding his nocturnal spy guy activities.
“Hollywood is a pretty screwed up town, but it sure is fun.”
“The Leading Man” was born from an idea Jeremy Haun told Moore about. “As we were wrapping up ‘Battle Hymn’ for Image, he started pushing me to investigate the concept. I finally broke down and gave it some thought, and his initial idea of an actor doubling as a super spy sparked the broader story we’ve since developed. As soon as I showed it to the guys at Oni, they freaked out over it.”
“It all kind of started with a conversation my brother and I were having about the film industry and all of the training these actors have to do for certain roles,” Haun told CBR News. “They’re constantly learning martial arts, how to fire weapons and all sorts of crazy things. We did the typical, ‘You know it’d be cool to do a story about an actor that was an assassin or a spy or something” and from there I just kept thinking about it and that it’d make a great comic. After about a week of pinballing it around in my head, I gave Clay a call and said ‘I think I have an idea for a story.’ From there we talked it over, added some stuff, took some out and the next thing I know here we are.”
Hollywood has seen its fair share of action stars, from the likes of Steve McQueen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise. But don’t expect Nick Walker to be like any action hero you’ve seen before. As Moore noted, actors are just playing roles written for them by screenwriters, but Nick Walker’s a hero first and an actor second. “In my mind Nick is more likeable than your average Hollywood star and I think that’s because his ‘real’ job is that of super spy,” explained Moore. “I suppose in that regard he’s more like an idealized version of how I’d see myself in a similar role. Playing at the Hollywood life while trying to take care of the real business in secret (and getting tripped up along the way). Of course, in a non-idealized version, I’d end up dead in a heartbeat.”
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When preparing for a scene, an actor will explore the motivations of the character he’s playing to find the emotional response most appropriate for the scene. In the case of Nick Walker, our star finds the job of international super-spy is all the motivation he needs. “We see him as a guy who was once a struggling actor, tabbed by the Agency to do this double-duty,” said Moore. “Since there must be something inside the typical ‘action’ star that drives him to at least appear heroic on film, surely some of them would be turned on by the notion of actually being the hero in real life. Nick has the best of both worlds. He fights the bad guys, which is truly special, and then is heralded by the public as something special because he also pretends to fight the bad guys for their amusement.
“The public is generally more turned on by fantasy than reality, after all. And who can blame them?
“Most of my ‘heroes’ are guys who get swept up in the circumstances that surround them, and I suppose to some degree this is true with Nick, at least in this particular case,” continued Moore. “For me, the fun in genre storytelling is screwing up the nice, clean path of adventure the hero is traveling upon. In other words, you set up a story (and reader expectations) and then blow it up along the way.”
After working on period pieces like “Paradigm” and “Battle Hymn,” Haun said he’s looking forward to doing something more contemporary – something sleek and modern. “With all of the books I do, I try and give them a sense of reality, but at the same time I want them to be fun. I think ‘The Leading Man’ is a nice combination of the two,” said Haun. “The trick with a book like this is trying to balance the reality of the espionage and Hollywood worlds with the fun, over the top stuff that make comics great. Clay and I are always having conversations where I’m asking him something like, ‘Do you think an MP5 would look sexy enough for the bad gal to use in this scene’ and he’s on the other end shaking his head over how much worrying I do about that sort of thing. I just want this book to look as great as it can, so I tend to go overboard on things like the look of guns and costumes for the characters. I think in the end, though, all of my fretting is paying off.’
When Haun was preparing the design of this series, he began an extensive amount of research into the spy world, reading both fiction and non-fiction novels. “I read a lot of Robert Ludlum, I reread all of the Ian Flemming Bond novels, pretty much anything I could get my hands on,” explained Haun. “I also tried to watch as many espionage type films as possible, both the good and the bad, and there is a ton of bad out there, but sometimes those are the most fun. I really enjoyed a lot of ’60s stuff like ‘Danger Diabolik’ and ‘Our Man Flint.’ I don’t even know if I want to admit to this, but I picked up a lot of Hollywood gossip tabloids to look at what people were wearing and take a peek into that world. It was a bit much though.”
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Haun’s approach to the art on “The Leading Man” has changed a bit when compared to his previous work, mostly due to the different era the book takes place in. Haun said he loved working in World War II Era America on “Battle Hymn,” but it definitely had its limitations. “Working on ‘The Leading Man’ has it’s own set of challenges, but I’m not having to spend quite as much time at the library doing research,” said Haun. “With both books – in all of my work for that matter – I try and go for a real cinematic feel. I think with ‘The Leading Man,’ I’ve made an attempt to push that a little farther though, going for shots and angles that would have that widescreen, summer blockbuster feel.
And as an actor doesn’t intend to make just one movie, Nick Walker is no different and future adventures are certainly a possibility. “We have lots of fodder for future stories,” said Moore. “And along with taking shots at Hollywood imagery, there’s room to play around with notions of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in international politics. We’d love nothing more than to establish a successful franchise for Oni.”
Before we let Moore go, we wanted to check in with him on progress with the “Hawaiian Dick” film. There’s been quite a bit of news of late. A screenplay has been done for some time and the option on the book was recently renewed. Last week it was announced that director Frank Coraci (“The Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer”) will direct the supernatural private eye thriller, which is being produced by Practical Pictures’ Craig Perry and Quattro Media’s Jim Strader for New Line Cinema. With a finished screenplay and the addition of a director, things look real good for a big screen “Hawaiian Dick” feature. “Evidently, Coraci really responded to both the concept and the script, and as a fairly ‘hot’ guy right now, and one who digs comics and noir, everyone’s genuinely enthused to have him on board,” said Moore.
“I’ve gone from skeptical that it could ever happen to suddenly feeling pretty good about its chances, at which point I will be a fat and happy sell-out, with more free time to tell my own stories the way I want to tell them,” continued Moore.
“Now we just need to wrap up the second mini-series.”
“The Leading Man” is featured in the latest Previews Catalog in the Oni Press section with order code APR063291.