“The Ultimates,” “The Authority,” “JLA,” “Age of Ultron” — Bryan Hitch has done a lot in his 25-year comic book career. But he hasn’t done it all.
With that in mind, the acclaimed artist is set to tackle new territory starting in March 2014 with “Real Heroes”, a six-issue miniseries published by Image Comics — the home of his recent collaboration with Jonathan Ross, “America’s Got Powers.” But this time, Hitch is not only providing his celebrated illustration skills to the comic — he’s also the sole writer and creator of the series.
Described by the artist as “the cast of ‘Avengers’ does ‘Galaxy Quest,'” Hitch has been promoting the project in recent weeks through a series of teasers. He’s now ready to speak at length about the series, which sees superstar actors forced to take on the roles of the superheroes they play on screen due to a mysterious threat. CBR News has the exclusive first interview with Hitch on “Real Heroes,” which he calls “one of the most creative and genuinely fun experiences I’ve had in my career.”
CBR News: “Real Heroes” is the first full project you’ve written as well as illustrated. What motivated you to take on sole writing duties for this series?
Bryan Hitch: It’s as simple as saying that it was my idea, and as I thought about what story that idea would lead to, there was just no real thought of involving anybody else. Mind you, however simple I make that sound, writing the story and especially trying to write it well, it’s no shortcut in the creative process. It’s a whole other job on top of drawing, and I certainly haven’t made it easy on myself by just giving myself “cool” things to draw.
It’s been a learning curve, of course. It’s involved many long walks with the dog in pursuit of some scenes, but it’s been one of the most creative and genuinely fun experiences I’ve had in my career.
Has writing your own comics always been something you were planning on taking on in your career?
It’s been my intention and hope to be writing the stories I tell since my first day in the game in 1987! I was too young, though, and there wasn’t the same Internet publishing avenues then that there are now. Now, I suppose I could have just done a webcomic and developed my skills that way, but it’s certainly been a goal to aim for since day one.
I’ve tried a few times to write stuff, though it has never quite worked out, and I’ve certainly been active in the plotting of many stories going way, way back. I’ve been lucky in many of my collaborators, and they’ve been vey encouraging. Warren Ellis just assumed after “Authority” that I’d be writing, and often mailed me to ask where the Â£^*$ my story was. Mark Waid told me on “JLA” I’d eventually realize I didn’t need a writer, and Millar has always been telling I should do it.
I suppose in some part it’s been both an inevitable path towards this, and one I’m totally chuffed to finally be on.
There are many examples of comics artists transitioning to writing with great success — and some less so, of course. Did you find the learning curve to be pretty steep, or, given your years of experience in the medium, was it a fairly smooth transition?
It’s been smooth. It hasn’t been sudden, really. A few years ago I started writing a “Thor” series Marvel wanted in time for the first movie, and for various reasons to do with being wanted to draw other stuff, it never got further than a plot. Later, I fully wrote a six-issue “Ultimate Captain America” series I got 10 pages or so into drawing before being moved onto the Ultron thing and it’s a huge disappointment I never got to draw it all.
So really, bit by bit, I’ve moved into this.
How far back did you begin developing the”Real Heroes,” and what can you tell us about the inspirations that led you to the story?
It starts with “Prisoner of Zenda,” the same plot of which was updated for the Kevin Kline movie, “Dave.” I loved “Zenda” as a Kid. “Prince and The Pauper,” too. That whole thought of the lookalikes getting to be the ‘real thing’ for a while is a hugely appealing idea. “Galaxy Quest” did it brilliantly for anybody who’d ever heard of “Star Trek.”
These days, far more people know about superheroes through movies than comics. Much as we wish it weren’t the case, comics, as a medium, can’t touch the audience numbers that flock to “Iron Man,” “Avengers” or Batman [on screen], most of whom would never read a comic at all. So the idea of updating that childhood favorite as a massive scale superhero romp using movie actors seems very much “today.” What if the cast of “Avengers” got asked to save the world for real. Would you trust Downey Jr. in a real Iron Man suit? If Mark Ruffalo really turned into a giant, green rage monster, would you love him as much? The actors know the moves, they know the lines, but that doesn’t make them heroes.
So what does? What can make them “Real Heroes?” Take those guys, Hollywood superstars, who play the worlds greatest heroes and take them to a place where they are asked to do it for real, take the responsibility for saving six billion lives. It’s a fish-out-of-water story for these guys, but it’s also a great way of getting to do classic superheroes with that modern voice.
You’ve already stated that “Real Heroes” is one of the biggest scale stories you’ve told. Artistically, how are you approaching the series compared to the very famous “widescreen” epics you’ve illustrated in the past?
Well, it’s a different story, so there are different muscles to work with. Artistically, I’m approaching this the way I would any other script or story written by anybody else. I’m just looking to do the best job I can. As a writer, I’m certainly not taking it easy on myself as an artist. As I say, the action and scope grow to be truly enormous in scale, but at heart it’s a character piece about six ordinary guys who need to learn what it means to be a hero.
Well, I say “ordinary.” As ordinary as six of the most famous actors on the planet can be!
Speaking of the characters, it seems that at least a few of the main cast of “Real Heroes” might be at least partially influenced by real-life actors — there’s even a Robert Downey Jr.-esque formerly troubled star. When creating the main players of the book, how much were you inspired by real life celebrities — or at least their public personas?
I suppose there are some recognizable types; a semi-recovering drug addict, a celebrity dieter, a young rap/music star turned actor, the British thesp. Types, sure, but I’ve found that they are fairly distinctive characters as I write them, not a pastiche of other actors. I could certainly cast this as a movie a few times over, so I’m not totally locked on the idea of one specific actor.
Initially as I drew it, I was thinking heavily of two or three guys, and the likenesses came through in some pages. I know I sort of started the celebrity casting with some success, using Sam Jackson as Fury, but that was a time when there really weren’t any superhero movies except maybe “X-Men,” but now, it’s so familiar having actors playing our favorite heroes that celebrity casting looks like it belongs ten years ago. After a few pages, I’d found the real characters, and they didn’t really look like known actors, so I went back and redrew those likenesses as my Real Heroes.
Besides, when you all read it, it will be much more fun to hear how you guys would cast this.
Though I’m sure you’d mostly like to keep it under wraps at this point, what can you share about the threat that places the “Real Heroes” in the extraordinary circumstance they find themselves in?
Without giving the plot away, I sent the first issue to a few friends like Millar, [Brian K. Vaughan], Joss [Whedon], Damon Lindelof, [Brad] Meltzer and some other great TV, movie and comics writers whose opinions I knew would be direct and honest but I told them nothing about it. I wanted them to react to the story as written just on the pages. I was honestly floored by the positive response, as I only hoped I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself as a writer. I think part of that wonderfully enthusiastic response comes from not having any fore-knowledge.
We almost know the movie or comic’s plot by the time it comes out, and I’ve honestly hated having to give away some aspects of the premise. I’d rather have just had you all trust in something you know nothing about and enjoy it completely fresh. Alas, that’s not how it works.
What I can say is, those guys loved it, and that’s a lot of creative firepower giving you the thumbs up!
Some of the dialogue in issue #1, and the comparison to works like “Galaxy Quest,” suggests that this is also a story that has some more lighthearted — or at least satirical — elements along with the large-scale action. How would you describe the tone of “Real Heroes?”
Well, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a satire, or even the wonderful pastiche “Galaxy Quest,” was but there’s certainly some humor to be had from such unlikely individuals becoming real superheroes. They play those characters in a movie franchise so they are familiar with their language and who they are supposed to be, but that certainly doesn’t make them heroes, Real Heroes. It’s their actions that count and, really if you or I were facing a world threatening violence, our most likely reaction would be to run away. Or cry and wet our trousers.
It’s a drama to be sure, but it’s also, I think, fun and occasionally funny. For me, it’s a fresh way of coming at the familiar. We are familiar with superheroes, and by making theses guys actors in superhero roles, it makes them likewise familiar with the same stuff, without coming at the material from the cliched fan or geek perspective. They can become our voice and our way of seeing the difference between the fictional portrayal and what reality would be like if these powers, these threats existed.
About a year ago, in an interview with CBR, you made allusions to “Real Heroes” being in the works — presumably, you’ve been waiting for enough of the series to be in the can before making the announcement. Is “Real Heroes” slated to be released on a monthly schedule?
Oh, it’s definitely monthly. I didn’t want to get caught the way we did with [“America’s Got Powers,”] so apart from the day-to-day stuff, I’ve made sure we only scheduled a publishing plan when sufficient work was done. I started far later than the last CBR chat would have indicated, as “AGP” grew an extra issue and I was working on a film project (can’t tell, sorry). That said, I’m writing issue #5, and penciling issue #4 as we speak. Paul Neary is inking issue #3, and issue #1 is colored and lettered. All in great shape with more than four months before issue one ships. It will be monthly, if I have to deliver each one to your houses myself.
I know I’ve had a well-deserved rep for being late, and whilst we all contributed to “AGP’s” frustrating delays, I can learn from mistakes, and the biggest is scheduling a book before it’s ready. It’s more than ready so it will hit on time each month. Unless, of course, I lose my arm in a fight with a bear or something. It could happen. It’s highly unlikely, but it could happen.
Bryan Hitch’s “Real Heroes” debuts in March from Image Comics