Family reunions can be tough, especially when they involve estranged parents and children. Now, picture that level of anger and awkwardness between two super-spies. That’s the premise of Arash Amel’s “Butterfly,” a project he originally envisioned as a film. However, after seeing how much deeper and more involved writers can be with their creations in television and comics, Amel switched gears and is simultaneously developing “Butterfly” for the latter two mediums.
BOOM! Studios imprint Archaia, writer Marguerite Bennett (“Superman: Lois Lane,” “Sleepy Hollow”) and artist Antonio Fuso (“G.I. Joe: Cobta Files,” “Sinister Dexter”) have all joined forces with Amel to bring “Butterfly” to life in a four-issue miniseries which launches on Sept. 24.
The story focuses on a young woman known by the codename Butterfly, who works for a secret spy organization called Project Delta. Fining herself framed for murder, Butterfly goes on the run and reunites with her father, a former Project Delta agent known as Nightingale, who assumes PD set his daughter up. The Cold War-bred Nightingale might have very different methods from his daughter, but the two share an intimate knowledge of the terrible things people in their business are asked to do, shared knowledge that ultimately brings them together.
CBR News spoke with Amel and Bennett about bringing “Butterfly” into the comics realm, the unique relationship shared by daughter and father and a look at how Project Delta became as shady as it is.
CBR News: The plan is to go multi-platform with “Butterfly,” creating the comic while also working on a television series. Arash, what inspired you to go this route?
Arash Amel: “Butterfly” was initially conceived as movie a couple of years ago, which then became so large a universe as I was creating it, both in terms of history and world-building, that I found I needed an outlet that could contain it all and let me keep expanding the universe. Comics and TV seemed the natural platforms. The comics-to-TV model was something I’d always wanted to do but didn’t really get going on until I spoke with Stephen Christy at Archaia and realized quite how much was possible in the comics world in terms of building the biggest sandbox possible. Especially as we start with a father-and-daughter spy team who are brought together and find themselves as one corner of a far larger and extremely dark mythology going back over 30 years and spanning the globe.
In addition to both working in episodic pieces, TV and comics also seem to be sharing a renaissance these days when it comes to creativity. Was that something you had in mind when bringing “Butterfly” to Archaia?
Amel: Right now, comics and television are the two most exciting visual media platforms to be working in for a writer, simply because of the depth in story-telling opportunities, the ability to serialize and also be much more edgy and daring than you’re usually allowed to be in many other forms of writing. Also, in a creator-controlled environment, it allows for you to stamp your vision across the entire world all the way through production. This control, in contrast to a couple of experiences I’ve had in movies where well-received original screenplays have been interpreted in ways that saw the written work warped beyond recognition on-screen by the production team, is pretty important. In that kind of environment, as a writer, you’re pretty helpless. But so far, my experience in comics and TV has been terrific and totally the opposite — the Archaia partnership is really allowing for the purity of the writer’s vision — and I include Marguerite in this — to come through, and that’s a real privilege.
Marguerite Bennett: Cheers, Arash! One of the first things that our editors Cameron Chittock and Stephen Christy asked me was, what would I do with this story if I weren’t hindered by the typical parameters. What would I want to do with this book that would otherwise never have been allowed in mainstream comics? They encouraged freedom in structure as well as content, so I came back to them with a framework that flows forwards and backwards, splitting the protagonists while paralleling them, pitting them against one other while forcing them to confront their mirror images. I’m very grateful to have been considered for the project, but I’m especially grateful for that.
The father-daughter dynamic of “Butterfly” is a rare one in spy fiction. In what ways have you found that this relationship upends the usual tropes of the genre?
Amel: I wanted to do a different take on the classical Bond or Bourne story. One where you have all the sudden bursts of violence, action and suspense — all the tropes of the spy genre — but which delves into the human cost of spycraft, and is ultimately about the relationship in a single broken family. One that’s about the personal consequences of secrets and lies, and how ordinary people can actually become monsters — which is how I view both Bourne and Bond. Our characters are really no different to Frankenstein’s monster in their need to kill in order to find closure. We’re going to get pretty twisted!
Bennett: The focus of the story is not on spectacle — car chases, firefights, explosions. Those have their time and place, and they’re well spoken for. “Butterfly” is closer to a psychological thriller, in the increasing tension, intensity and claustrophobia as this world tightens around the characters’ throats and they’re forced to rely upon one another, all the while knowing the unspeakable crimes the other has committed.
This dynamic also allows you to play with two different kinds of spies. Nightingale was around in the Cold War, while Butterfly is out there in the modern world. How do those very different working environments help define these characters and their relationship?
Amel: It’s really about how they each see the world they live in and influence. Butterfly is a product of our modern hi-tech, high-surveillance era; hiding in plain sight, working fast and efficiently and somewhat desensitized to the work she’s being asked to carry out because chaos, misery and brutality is very prevalent in our world. Nightingale is from a more idealistic and romantic era, when spies were fighting for a very definitive “us versus them” cause, and we could also point to our enemies. Nightingale is also somebody who we will see is a product of his time — ruthless and calculating, but patient, subtle, cultured, strategic and psychological in his approach. He likes to exist in the shadows. They ultimately have to solve the conspiracy they are trapped in and survive — even though once they get over the surprise of reunification they may kill each other at any moment because of their shared histories.
Even though they might have different ways of playing the spy game, do their shared work experiences help bring them together?
Amel: Their similarities as father and daughter, and two spies who worked for the same organization in two eras, makes them the perfect weapon when they join forces, but also creates a great deal of conflict between them. It’s all ultimately a journey of father and daughter learning to reconcile their past, to forgive themselves and each other for their sins.
Bennett: One of their greatest sources of mistrust is the knowledge of all each of them has done in service of their respective causes and masters, and the realization that the other has done as much if not far worse. We excuse our own emotional failings, our own crimes, but seeing them mirrored back in the person you want to most love or most protect — realizing that you failed to save them, failed to honor them, by becoming everything that they themselves are and despise being — is so profound and so brutal. I really hope readers are struck by it.
What can you tell us about Project Delta, the organization Butterfly and Nightingale worked for? Is it an international organization, tied to a certain country or is all that a mystery?
Amel: Project Delta is shadowy unit set up by the Pentagon during the last days of the Cold War, deep within the bureaucracy of the Department of Defense, to deal with the future rise in asymmetrical threats to the United States. It was very forward-thinking in this regard. But we will learn over the series that today it’s a corrupted version of what it used to be.
The key characteristic of PD is that it has an invisible standing army of agents like Butterfly, living and existing full-time in cultures and countries around the world, moving unseen, on the front lines — disrupting threats and carrying out the criminal acts that must always be disavowed. Theft, robbery, extortion, murder, all in the name of security and freedom. Think of Project Delta operatives as highly-trained chameleons — actors — who work alone, never know of each other, and they never come “home.” They are splinter cells. Their job is to be lone wolf units, operating to a mandate, receiving instructions every once in a while via secret phone numbers. We don’t know how many of them they are or the extent of their operations.
Project Delta has knocked a few noses out of joint at the CIA, because they over-reach and over-step the CIA’s mandate by allowing the Department of Defense to bypass the CIA channels altogether in executing defense policy. So in this regard you’re looking at a civil war between the DoD and the CIA. Whose agenda PD is really serving and why is all a mystery to be unraveled — especially as we learn that they may or may not be working for the US government at all, but a Keyser Soze-type mole in US intelligence that is exposing us to a far more sinister conspiracy taking us behind the old Iron Curtain.
Arash, you’ve worked in the world of TV and film. What’s it been like, seeing your characters developed in the world of comics thanks to Antonio Fuso? And what made him the right artist to bring “Butterfly” to life?
Amel: It was unreal seeing the characters coming to life on the page. And the emotion Marguerite and Antonio have brought to the characters and the world is beautiful.
Bennett: Aw, bless, Arash! And Antonio is just killer, with our gorgeous Phil Noto covers to boot.
Antonio’s art had such a brutality to it–sharp, curt lines and sinister symmetry, a great weight and gravity even to the delicate and frail–the impression of something monstrous behind even the elegant. I’m really stoked he could join us!
“Butterfly” #1, from Arash Amel, Marguerite Bennett and Archaia, lands in stores Sept. 24.