Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that Al Pacino’s 1983 film “Scarface” has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Rappers look up to the Tony Montana character. The Hot Topic chain of stores stocks loads of “Scarface” merchandise. “Scarface” action figures disappear off shelves as quickly as they arrive. Sure, the film has always had its fans, but with this kind of mainstream resurgence, and a video game on the way, it was only a matter of time before comic books were the next arena for Tony Montana. This December, IDW Publishing launches five-issue, full color “Scarface” series from writer John Layman and artist Dave Crosland. With the project officially announced at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR News caught up with Layman for a few words about the book.
“It was something that I was interested in as soon as I got wind IDW was doing it,” said the former DC editor. “Shortly after that, I found out Dave Crosland was on board, so I diligently pursued IDW, with repeated harassing emails and phone calls. I turned in a pretty elaborate pitch, and didn’t waste a lot of time getting it to them, and I think maybe my passion for the project and the subject matter was pretty evident in the pitch.”
As fans of the film know, Tony goes out in a blaze of glory when confronted by his enemies, but in the comic book, as well as the upcoming video game, Tony lives and the mini-series chronicles what happens next.
“It’s a straight-out sequel, and, like most sequels, shares a lot of the same themes and story dynamics,” explained Layman. “‘Scarface’ was about an ambitious thug who wanted the good life, and muscled and killed his way to the top, before meeting a brutal comeuppance. In the comic, we pick up the pieces of what happened, with Tony surviving, but losing everything. But he’s used to the good life, and wants to get back to it — by any means necessary. Of course, there are going to be a few more complications this time, with more deadly gangsters taking Tony’s spot on the Miami drug scene, not to mention some Federal DEA agents of dubious morality breathing down Tony’s neck and doing their best to keep him miserable.”
Don’t think that Tony is the only character returning from the films.
“Well, Michelle Pfieffer, as you may recall, got her breakout role in the film, as the increasingly disenfranchised love interest who had bad taste in men and an appetite for the good life. We haven’t seen the last of her, nor the Bolivian drug kingpin who ordered the hit on Tony which marked the climax of the film.”
Though the comic book version of Tony Montana will act and speak like the Tony of the films, he won’t look the same as Al Pacino.
“I think it is liberating,” admits Layman. “I think being held to strict likeness results in a stiffness, that artists are so busy trying to get likeness 100 percent they lose all sense of spontaneity. Dave is simply doing his interpretation of ‘Scarface’, much like the artists on ‘Sandman’ were able to do theirs. It’s going to be Scarface, and undeniably so, but it is also going to be distinctly Crosland as well. I suppose it is a little like when a new James Bond takes over the role. There is a period of adjustment, but hopefully it is slight, and ideally Crosland (and myself) can indelibly make a mark on the character, so you’re not spending all your time thinking about Tony as done by Pacino — or at least Tony as ONLY done by Pacino.”
Part of “Scarface’s” notoriety came from the violence in the film, of both a physical and psychological nature. Looking at the film 23 years later, it’s certainly violent, but not so much as films such as “Saw.” So will Layman try to once again push the boundaries of violence with this book?
“I’m not sure you CAN set a new tone in violence, though I think movies like ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ and the Rob Zombie movies are trying,” he answers. “There is going to be plenty of gore in the comic, but I’m looking to capture the tone and intent of the film more than take it to any ‘next level.’ There’s definitely going to be a little more gallows humor than was in the movie, but that’s probably because both me and Dave have a pretty twisted sense of humor, and it’s hard for either of us to altogether avoid it. There is a pretty grisly, funny death at the end of issue #1, but I don’t want to give it away an any detail. Suffice to say, I’ve never seen anything like it, in any comics or movies, and the very notion should have some people running for the barf bag while others are doubled over with laughter.”
Layman is certainly no stranger to licensed comic books, with “Species” and “Thundercats,” among others, to his name. He’s enjoying the experience on “Scarface” thus far and adds, “I’m going to stay true to Tony’s gangsta roots. (As well as my own: John Layman gangstah, mang! J-Lay Thug Life 4 Evah!) This is not a mini-series about a reformed cocaine kingpin becoming a children’s variety host or anything like that. It’s Tony Montana, back in action, and killing a lot of mother-f**ckers who need killing.
“Yeah, in retrospect, I have done a lot of licensed stuff, and maybe that’s because I love comics without having the world’s biggest hard-on for superheroes, like a lot of writers in comics. Keep in mind, superheroes ARE essentially licensed comics. But I pick projects based on what I like, and think would be fun, and think I could do well. And, fortunately, they’ve all been really good experiences (except perhaps for ‘Species,’ only because both very excellent ‘Species’ minis have been indefinitely postponed by lame-ass Avatar).”
The scribe is also thrilled to be working with David Crosland again, allowing for the two to take their creative synergy even further.
“More than anybody else, I know Dave will give me exactly what I ask for, while still doing something totally unique, and something totally surprising and unexpected,” says Layman. “But if anything, it makes my scripts longer, because I tend to be pretty wordy and conversational anyway, and I find myself veering away from the subject, making jokes, making fun of Dave, just goofing off while I tell the story. It’s very casual between us, and we talk pretty regularly anyway. It’s kinda like getting the old band together again … and hopefully we’ll find out we’ve only gotten better with time.”
“Scarface” isn’t just another assignment for Layman, as he admits the film holds a special place in his heart.
“I like gangster movies. I love the ‘Sopranos’ (even though I fear it will end like Cerebus — another supremely well-done letdown.) I like rooting for an anti-hero and underdog, and I like exploring the seamy side of things. ‘Scarface’ was by no means a perfect film, and time has made it feel particularly dated. But I also think that is part of its appeal. It’s got a sort of nostalgia cachet, where the era is as important as the setting.
“And of course there is Tony Montana, who remains mostly likable, despite everything he does. Tony had his own peculiar code of honor, which I think still resonates with everybody, when he said, ‘I never tried to f*ck nobody who didn’t try to f*ck me first.'”
Jonah’s little friend, CBR Staff Writer Arune Singh, contributed to this story.