Co-writers John Mahoney and Filip Sablik, along with artist Thomas Nachlik, used the pages of their 2011 Minotaur Press miniseries “The Last Mortal” to explore the concept of eternal life. The Top Cow project follows a petty thief named Alec in the wake of a failed criminal endeavor which left his partner and friend dead after which Alec ponders, then attempts, suicide. While Alec is successful in shooting himself in the head, his story is just beginning as he discovers his inability to leave this plane of existence, no matter the physical damage inflicted upon his body by himself or others.
Sablik and Mahoney, longtime friends who came up with the original concept of their tale while still in high school, have provided CBR with the entire first issue of the collection which hits stores this week. The team breaks down the story with a page-by-page, panel-by-panel look inside their tale of maturity, redemption and the idea that immortality is far more of a curse than a blessing.
Panel 1: We’ll come clean; we used Philadelphia as the setting for this book because those bastards on “The Wire” pretty much cornered the market on crime fiction in Baltimore, our original intended setting for the book. We’d always envisioned Alec living in a shipping container (nothing says transitory like a dock yard), so our options were limited to port cities. In the end, Philly won out because we were both familiar enough with the city to feel comfortable writing it.
Panel 3: This was our high school dream home: our own private “Casablanca” far from rules and curfews. Just look at all the cool shit Brian and Alec have connected to their unseen generator. Admittedly, dealing with the port-a-potty would suck, but there is always a price for freedom, right? And no, there are not any beds in the clubhouse. We don’t know where they sleep.
Panel 4: This is Alec’s gun. This is the only firearm he touches in the miniseries. It’s not an accident that Alec begins to resemble the gun; taped up and damaged, throughout the course of the story.
This was a rare occasion in which the final illustrated version of the page matched almost perfectly the image we imagined when writing it. We always knew that we’d need to grab readers’ attention with something shocking in the first few pages. Yes, it’s a little bit of a writer’s cheat, but this page always makes us very happy, despite the gruesome subject matter.
We felt it was important to establish Alec’s “day job.” He steals stuff. Not big stuff, nothing that would ever get him enough cash to, say, live somewhere with a real bathroom. We originally wrote a complex, cinematic sequence where Alec steals a bunch of construction equipment from a worksite while the workers are at lunch, then hocks the stuff at a pawnshop, but we quickly realized two things: 1) this as a blatant rip-off of a scene from “Fight Club” and 2) it was impossible to express in one page.
Panel 1: Our main man, Callahan. One part JFK, one part Ken Wind from Miller/Sienkiewicz’s “Elektra Assassin.” The American Dream and Alec’s polar opposite.
Panel 2: Artist Thomas Nachlik added quite a bit to the story of “Last Mortal” with his visuals. The anachronistic televisions here are a great example. They add to the sense that Alec is a throwback to another age, a man trying to navigate the 21st century while taking all of his social cues from the 20th.
Panel 4: Driving home the theme of the “man out of time” we used Marc Bolan & T-Rex’s 1973 classic “Twentieth Century Boy” as Alec’s personal theme song (and cell phone ringtone).
Panel 5: This joke fell a bit flat. Originally, the hotdog vendor was supposed to be confused by Alec paying him in change, which our hero would have gotten from the change machine on page 3. At some point we remembered that people feed dollars into these machines, so in robbing it Alec would have dollars, not quarters. Just imagine the vendor with a handful of quarters and it’s a much funnier panel!
Here we continue the theme of Alec’s inner and outer lives being in conflict. On the outside, he’s a leech on society; but we felt it was important to establish (even slightly) his potential and desire to be a better man than he is now. This page was specifically added to give the audience a reason to like and root for Alec.
It’s like the scene in “Lord of the Rings” when Frodo looks at Gollum and realizes what he will become if he doesn’t get rid of the ring, Alec finds himself sitting on a park bench with the man that he may someday become if something doesn’t change. When confronted with a potential ghost of your future self the least you can do is feed him, right? That and we wanted to inform the reader that Alec isn’t a complete jackass. He doesn’t have much but what he has, he shares.
Panel 3: We introduce the FIXER. The similarity in his clothes and posture between he and Alec is another foreshadowing to a potential future for Alec. Also, the hardest thing for a new writer(s) to do is leave a page completely silent and trust your artist to convey what needs to be said on the page. Needless to say, Thomas nailed it. ‘Nuff said.
Panel 1: In our introduction to Brian, we needed to convey one thing immediately — this guy is a complete screw up. This is another page that was originally written with a much more involved scene, in which Brian tries to intimidate the Fixer, thinking Alec will be there at any moment to back him up. Alas, Alec was in the park reading poetry so instead the Fixer gets sick of Brian’s lip and takes a lead pipe to Brian’s knee. We couldn’t fit that on one page so instead we imply that whole scene in panel 2.
This is the sequence on which the central hook of the story is unveiled and we, somewhat heavy handedly, we must admit, hammer home that Brian is a complete f*Â©k-up. Some readers and reviewers commented early on that the premise of Alec and Brian as would-be assassins seemed to stretch the believability of the plot a bit thin. To those folks, all we can say is, yes, we agree and hopefully the end of the story offers up a satisfactory explanation.
Also, we show how Alec can be moved by a passionate monologue. So much so, that he overlooks his own best interests and reservations. This will be important later in the book.
Panel 4: The first instance of Thomas’s pencil-only method for rendering a flashback. We thought this was a particularly innovative way to indicate flashbacks in a black and white book, where color (or lack of) would typically be used to indicate the past. This sequence, the point where Alec first used the gun, is a story we still plan to tell in the future. The sequence is referenced a second time on page 13 of issue 4.
Panel 5: Brian’s comment is our first reference to the mechanical knowledge that will allow the climactic final scene of this miniseries.
Several key insights into Alec’s character are revealed on this page. First, we have the same layout as page 3. Alec is killing himself again, only this time with drugs. The implication that Alec is high in the next scene is also key.
Secondly, we wanted to continue indicating Alec is more than your run-of-the-mill criminal, as he meditates on small details of the Buddha myth. The Buddha’s path to Enlightenment will be referenced again on page 16 of Issue 4.
Finally, the actions on this and the previous page make up the third arm of the archetypical heroic epic, as laid out by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (which like George Lucas we borrowed from liberally). Brian has presented our hero (Alec) with a Call to Adventure, Alec has Refused this call, because he can not accomplish the feat. The danger is too great. To succeed he will need Supernatural Aid. This aid is present on either page 12 or 13, depending on whether you prefer the unique gun or the drugs that expand his consciousness. This also tells us that the First Threshold is about to be crossed, the point at which there is no going back and nothing will ever be the same again. Annotations are supposed to be highbrow, right? No? Okay, in that case, we just thought drug use made our book seem more “street.”
Not only does this page kick off the lone action sequence in the first issue, but it’s also one of the scenes that remained largely unchanged from the first script in 1995. One of the first visuals we imagined in high school was the idea of an assassin using a window-washing platform to get in position to his target.
Panel 3: Alec’s whispered dialogue is a modified call back to page 6 where he ponders immortality.
This sequence was meant to show the true heart of Brian and Alec’s essential selves. As they are traveling to their potential deaths, Brian cracks bad jokes while Alec has a panic attack.
Panel 1: Robert Callahan in his office, conducting his business, doing absolutely nothing shady. There is nothing to suggest that Callahan isn’t the angel in this story and Brian and Alec are the demons.
Panel 6: The completion of Alec’s panic attack and its unfortunate result being he drops his gun. Back to the Campbell analogy, whether the gun or the drugs were his supernatural aid, both have failed him, leaving him truly vulnerable for the first time in the book.
Panel 1: Question: Knowing they were going to have to shoot through thick, plate-glass, windows to get to Callahan, why did the boys only bring small caliber handguns?
Panel 2: Our first introduction to Detectives Hendrix and Curtis, who play larger roles further in the series. Also Thomas’s depiction of Callahan in this panel is no accident although few people noticed it in their first read through.
Panel 4: In the script we wrote that Brian crashed face-first into the pavement. Thinking of the children, Thomas decided to draw this less gruesome shoulder-shattering landing. This way all the blood stays on the inside.
This page tells us even more about Alec. He refuses to give up on either his friend, who is, if not dead, very close to dead. Nor does he abandon his gun, which failed him. Hendrix and Curtis are on Alec and Brian almost instantly, and they’re using silencers. That says something, doesn’t it?
We don’t know how Alec disappeared either. He has his moments.
Panel 4: Again, because we knew the book would be published in black and white, we needed Alec’s scar to be iconic and recognizable from a distance. While it’s not necessarily the most realistic gun shot exit wound scar, we though the “Y” shape was a nice symbolic icon. We also had decided early on that while Alec’s wounds would heal as part of his immortality, this would be the one wound that would never fully heal and always be scarred. His “birth wound” as an immortal, if you will.
“The Last Mortal” hardcover collection hist stores March 14.