Having steered his post-Apocalyptic survival series “Wasteland” through twenty-six issues and counting, as well as writing two series based EA’s “Dead Space” games and several indie graphic novels, Antony Johnston adds a bit of mainstream cred to his CV in February, when he begins co-writing Marvel’s “Daredevil” with Andy Diggle. This announcement, which was first announced through Johnston’s Twitter feed, came soon after news of another major project for the writer at Oni, a Cold War espionage graphic novel titled “Cold City,” scheduled for publication in hardcover late in 2010. CBR News caught up with Johnston to discuss his current work.
“Wasteland,” the Oni Press series illustrated by Christopher Mitten for which Johnston is best known, recently celebrated its twenty-fifth issue with a double-sized color special, and #26, in stores now, begins a story arc focusing on several individual residents of Newbegin. “The ‘Enemy Within’ arc focuses on the six months following Michael and Abi’s escape from Newbegin, and the fomenting Sunner rebellion that occurs over that time period,” Johnston told CBR. “Each issue covers the same period, but from a different character’s perspective.
“So in #26 we saw it through the eyes of Yan, the son of the late ex-Primate, as he starts to find his previous convictions about the city’s working aren’t as solid as he thought. In #27 we get Jakob’s point of view, as he tries to balance his new job in the Disciples of the Watch with his own loyalties to the Sunners,” the writer continued. “And so on, up until #31, where we reach the climax of the arc, and get a couple of revelations that will have a big impact on the city’s future.”
Johnston said that the nature of “Wasteland” permits him to shuffle some of his major characters offstage for a time while still maintaining the series’ momentum. “It’s all about world-building, which I take very seriously, and anyone who reads ‘Wasteland’ knows that the whole book is maybe 50% world-building anyway,” the writer explained. “If you have a solid foundation, and make even the secondary characters as interesting as the primaries, then readers will want to know what happens to them. Hell, one of the book’s most popular characters is Ankya, who only ever ‘appears’ in the ‘Walking The Dust’ text pieces.
“It’s a question of trust, and I think we’ve done enough now for readers to know that if we decide to focus on something other than the main characters for a while, it’ll be worth it,” Johnston said.
He did hasten to add, though, that Michael and Abi are not gone forever. “The focus is only shifting from Michael and Abi for this arc,” Johnston said. “I don’t want people reading this to think we’re never going to see them again, quite the opposite!”
In addition to his ongoing work on “Wasteland,” Oni has also recently announced Johnston’s original hardcover graphic novel “Cold City” for a late-2010 release. That book will be illustrated by Sam Hart, whose credits include “Starship Troopers,” “Judge Dredd,” and “Outlaw.”
“Sam’s a great artist, very atmospheric and noir,” Johnston said. “I can’t wait to see what he does with it. The story concerns an MI6 operation in Berlin during the last days before the Berlin Wall fell. An MI6 officer is killed on his way to deliver a very sensitive document – a list that purportedly contains the identities of every spy working in Berlin, on both sides of the Wall. But no list is found on the officer’s body… which means it’s somewhere out there in the wild, and now MI6 have no idea who they can trust.
“So MI6 send in Lorraine Broughton, a veteran officer who’s never been to Berlin, and therefore has no ties or bias in the city that might affect her judgement. Lorraine’s job is to find the list, at all costs – but she arrives to find herself caught in a web of lies, betrayal, mysterious assassins and defections gone wrong,” the writer continued. “Nothing is what it seems, and now she’s returned to England to tell her story.”
Johnston said of his central character Lorraine Broughton, “She’s a veteran officer specialising in jobs close to, or over, the Iron Curtain. She’s worked on the Prague desk, been to Helsinki a bunch of times, undertaken jobs in Greece, Italy, Austria… she’s seen pretty much everything there is to see of Soviet Europe (except East Germany, and Berlin itself, which is the point).
“So she’s been there, done that. Lorraine’s very smart, calm under pressure, knows her tradecraft, keeps her private life separate from work. Put simply, she’s a professional, and she acts like one.”
The specificity of the time period is significant to the story, making “Cold City” a more complex bit of espionage than simply East vs. West. “The officer’s body is found two weeks before the Berlin Wall comes down, and Lorraine returns to England two days after,” Johnston said. “An atmosphere like that creates a powder keg – everyone knew something was up in Berlin but nobody, and I mean nobody, knew what exactly would happen or how quickly the Wall would fall. So everyone is on edge, paranoid, trying to figure out their angle and how they can take advantage of it.
“I think the main thing to remember about that period is how perpetual the Cold War felt. By the time of ‘Cold City’ it had been underway for over forty years, and there was no end in sight,” Johnston told CBR. “The idea that the Soviet Union could fall, or that the Cold War would ever end, was simply unthinkable. So there was a fatalism around the times; the USSR would always be our enemy, nobody could really be trusted, and just a single carelessly spoken secret could give them an advantage.”
Well before “Cold City” arrives in stores, though, readers will be able to catch another monthly dose of Johnston’s storytelling, as he will be co-writing “Daredevil” #505-507 with Andy Diggle for an arc titled “The Left Hand Path.” “Andy and I have been friends for a long time – we became full-time writers within a few months of each other, and have always had a lot of fun brainstorming, throwing ideas back and forth with one another,” Johnston said. “Because of that, we’ve often talked about working on something together, but we could never quite make it happen – I was too busy, he was too busy, there wasn’t a suitable book… it was always one thing or another.
“Then Andy took over ‘Daredevil,’ and suddenly, for reasons of scheduling and artist deadlines, had way too much to write in way too short a time. So he asked me to help him out with ‘Left Hand Path,’ and I just happened to have enough free time.”
Diggle’s tenure on “Daredevil” is building from the precarious position in which previous writer Ed Brubaker left the title character – Daredevil is currently the leader of the Hand, the deadly assassins he’s tangled with throughout the hero’s career. Though still early in his run, Diggle has already thrown Matt Murdock into some morally compromising situations, and the deeper Daredevil gets into Hand business, the more difficult it will be to pull himself out.
“In this arc, Matt goes to Japan for a summit of the Hand, to ensure its ‘five fingers’ – the regional directorates of the organisation – are working together harmoniously,” Johnston said of the arc on which he is collaborating. “And, naturally, things don’t go quite as planned. I can’t really say much more than that, I don’t want to give anything away.”
As a writer best known for his creator-owned work – though he has previously worked on the Marvel/Del Rey Manga, “Wolverine: Prodigal Son” – CBR asked Johnston about the joys and challenges of working on a regular, in-continuity series. “This is certainly different to anything I’ve done before,” he said. “The biggest challenge is to make sure I get the characters’ voices and demeanor right – not to mention the action, because I can’t just kill people off left, right and centre like I do in my own books.
“As for the joys, they’re the same as the challenges. I like doing things that force me to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle stories and styles I haven’t done before.”
Johnston added that he wouldn’t mind writing some of Marvel or DC’s street-level characters, but “I’m not sure I could deal with characters that can fly and shoot laser beams without turning it into ‘The Authority.'”