This February from Avatar Press, two of the most popular female characters in comics meet for the very first time. Brian Pulido scripts as his Lady Death takes on Billy Tucci’s Shi in the aptly named, “Lady Death/Shi.” Drawn by fan-favorite Juan Jose Ryp, this series dives into the past of these two popular characters in a way that will please their fans. In the first of a two part look at the book, CBR News spoke with Pulido about his latest project.
CBR News: Crossovers between popular characters have been a staple of the industry for decades, but crossing over characters from different universes is always a tricky proposition. How did you approach bringing Lady Death and Shi together in a way that will ring true to the readers?
Brian Pulido: Yeah, the different universe dealio is tricky, but in this case, it worked in the story’s favor. Lady Death’s story takes place in the twelfth century, so with Billy’s permission, I created the “Fuedal Era” Shi.
He and I spoke and I learned that to him there was a “Shi” in every generation. I loved that “eternal” Warrior-type idea.
Working from there, I crafted a tale about a Japanese family that secretly practices Christianity, which was outlawed at the time. Kikoku, the youngest daughter is the sole survivor after the family is made to pay for their beliefs.
Years later she is found by Hojo, a masterless samurai, masquerading as a bum. He trains her in the art of war, so that one day they could both exact revenge against Lord Yamada.
At night, Kikoku rights wrongs done by Lord Yamada’s samurai. She’s seen as a folk hero by the villagers. Yamada is desperate to see her die. Cut to –
The Blacklands, a dark realm parallel to earth. In an effort to rescue her mother, Hope (Lady Death) renounced her humanity and came to the Blacklands. She’s been there for years and has been unable to save her mother’s soul.
Yamada’s sorcerer Tachibana appears before her with a proposition: If she can kill Shi, they will reunite her with her mother. Long story short, she accepts and the story is set off.
So, setting the story back in the day made it easier to tell. If we had to jump around in time, with a modern Shi and Lady Death of the dark ages, that would be a mind bender.
CBR: The story is set in the Heian Period, just prior to what is considered Feudal Japan. How does writing a period piece differ from a modern day tale? How much research into Classical Japan did you have to do for this series?
Pulido : A modern tale could be easier. I could directly draw on modern events and such, but honestly since Lady Death’s tale is set in the twelfth century there is always research for me. Don’t know exactly why I took her in that direction except that the time I set her in is real savage, so it is fun to write.
For this story, I did a bit of research on the time. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but that is what makes writing a story like this interesting. There’s a lot of discovery for me along the way.
What I found most fascinating was the clash of cultures during the time. It is easy to simplify and classify a culture as one thing, but Feudal Japan had a lot of cultural conflict. This is embodied in Kikoku. Born a buddist, raised as a Christian who follows the teachings of a Chinese man (Sun Tzu’s Art of War).
CBR: You’re working with two characters that have, in their own way, defined the careers of their creators. Writing Lady Death must be like sitting in your favorite recliner, but you’re also taking on the character most associated with Billy Tucci. Is there an added stress when dealing with someone else’s property, especially when that someone is a single entity and not a faceless corporation?
Pulido : In the beginning of any gig, I take a deep breath and consider exactly what you’re talking about. Billy and I have been buds for over twelve years now and I want to do his character proud. I have a deep respect for Billy, his awesome wife Debbie, Shi and what they’ve accomplished together. I admire the character. So it is a bit stressful, but only at the beginning, before I dig in.
Once I started formulating the story and crafting the Kikoku/Shi character, it felt right. She felt like the Shi of her time: ruthless, determined and an underdog ready to do the right thing, even if it cost her life.
I always loved that the modern Shi was haunted by death in the beginning, so I brought that out too. Besides her cultural conflicts, conflicts with her government, she is convinced death stalks her. When Lady Death comes into the picture, it almost confirms it.
It is cool that I got to create the Feudal Shi. She recalls the savagery of Shi in her first story, The Way of The Warrior.
CBR: From reading the scripts, it appears that you delve into the past of both characters to drive the story. Do you see this series as being part of the history for both characters or was part of the process to put everything back the way it was when you were done?
Pulido : For my money, this is a “real” imaginary story. This actually happens in both of their continuities. That way, I can make the story count. If it never actually happened, then the outcome is almost preordained. In this story, if one dies, it’s truly over – and it comes real close a couple of times.
The reason I included their critical histories is because both characters where shaped by tragic events in their pasts. Since this may be the first book for either character’s fans, I wanted to get everyone up to speed, but in fresh way, that wouldn’t turn off long time readers of either.
CBR: This story is more action based than what you are normally known for writing. How does the process differ for you when you are scripting an action story? Are there any obvious differences like number of panels on a page, or is it subtler?
Pulido: Well I beg to differ on not being known for action. Most of my long time readers know that I write psychotic action scenes. Honestly, I’ve never been able to slow down my horror stuff enough for my own tastes. I usually go balls out in the action department. Even way back in “Evil Ernie: Youth Gone Wild,” there was a ton of action. I was doing “fast” zombies back in 1991. Hell, Lady Death has a fight to the death with the devil himself in her third issue.
Lady Death is known for having knock down, drag out fight scenes and action scenes. I mean, her arch-enemy was once Purgatori and when I wrote those two in a fight, run for the hills. Stuff was gonna get broken. Even my New Line stuff moved like a freight train.
The real difference in this story is the martial arts stuff. I grew up on the Doug Moench / Paul Gulacy “Master of Kung Fu” and I loved the way they would illustrate the martial arts. We’re frequently using lots of panels to get across that kind of kinetic energy.
Conversely, we’re using less panels with Lady Death. She’s a brutal fighter in this one. Like a Mack truck smashing through a China shop.
Maybe you are referring to tone. Since I am know for more horrific stuff than “action / adventure.” Candidly, we are keeping the dark tone associated with Lady Death in the lighting and settings, but we are also letting Shi be Shi. She’s an action character, but in this case, she’s very dark too.
CBR: I found it intriguing how in the story Lady Death is almost brutish in comparison to Shi. Lady Death takes the hits and hits harder back, where Shi is all about speed and being sleek. Had you thought about Lady Death in this way before or was this something new to you as well?
Pulido : Well, relative to Shi, Lady Death is a brute. I think this goes back to paying respect to Billy’s creation. I thought that compared to Lady Death, Shi would be faster, more tactical and more skilled. Lady Death would endure more punishment and be lots stronger.
I didn’t want to play favorites, so I had to identify the strengths of each character.
Remember, this is the post-Chaos! Lady Death. We’ve brought her much more down to earth, so to speak. She is not at the height of her powers or skills.
I liken my current attack on Lady Death’s stories to Robert E. Howard’s approach on Conan. Howard took the liberty of jumping around the character’s continuity. I’ve took that as a guide for the last few years.
In the ’90s, I was tied to continuity and our giant story arc, “Judgment War.” It took 5 years to tell and had lots of other comics weaving in and out of it.
These days, I’m happy to jump around in Lady Death’s life (or unlife) and tell stories from different times.
In this story, Lady Death is virtually a barbarian. Her fighting style is so primitive. She’s the perfect contrast to Shi.
CBR: Was the idea of crossing the characters over yours or did it come from Avatar? And how much involvement did Tucci have in the process?
Pulido: I suppose if you really went back in time, this crossover was Billy’s idea. Back in the ’90s, he was always suggesting it. I honestly had a hard time imagining how to get them to cross over. Lady Death was almost too powerful back then. At the time, I also thought crossovers were a sell out move. Looking back, I don’t know why I thought that, since they usually turn out fun to write, but what can you say? That was my mind-set then.
Recently, William [Christiansen, Publisher] from Avatar has been pushing all of us to do it, so I pitched my story idea to Billy at MegaCon in Orlando this year. He simply told me not to disrespect Shi’s character and all would be cool. It means a lot to me that he is satisfied and I suppose so far, he is.
CBR: Are there any other characters out there, company or creator owned, that you would like to see Lady Death interact with?
Pulido : In no particular order, I’d like to see Lady Death cross over with Witchblade, Darkness, Vampirella, Scarlet Witch, Red Sonja, Wonder Woman, Fathom, Zatana, Shadowpact, Wetworks, Deadman, Spawn, Ghost Rider, Satana, Werewolf by Night, Marvel Zombies, Tomb of Dracula, Hellstorm, Storm, Moonknight, Tarot, Dawn, Thanos, Darkseid and The Demon.
Thanks to Brian for his time to discuss this project. The zero issue ships in February with covers by Juan Jose Ryp, Billy Tucci, Matt Martin and Rafa Lopez. Return tomorrow for more on the series with artist Juan Jose Ryp.