Being reincarnated may sound like a fantastic adventure, but after living the same life of crime for thousands of years, you may be ready to fight your way out.
That’s the core conceit of “Resurrectionists” — a new creator-owned series from Fred Van Lente and Maurizio Rosenzweig with covers from Juan Doe. Arriving in comic shops this November from Dark Horse, the ongoing monthly tracks the lives of ancient Egyptian tomb robbers who are born over and over again with access to their past lives — and their past failures. When the cycle of thievery arrives in the modern day, the most recently “unlocked” Resurrectionist attempts to reverse history in order to win his future.
Ahead of Van Lente discussing the series at this weekend’s Phoenix Comic Con, CBR News has an exclusive first interview with the writer along with the first look inside “Resurrectionists” pages. Below, Van Lente describes how the world earliest career criminal served as his inspiration, what uncanny abilities come with being a Resurrectionists and how another Dark Horse project of his will help you win every internet debate you can.
CBR News: Fred, “Resurrectionists” is your brand new creator-owned series at Dark Horse, and it has a lot going on in its pages — time travel, ancient Egypt, crime stories. What was the core concept you focused on when you pitched it?
Fred Van Lente: Basically, it’s a crime series set in ancient Egypt and 2015 simultaneously. It posits the question, “What if you not only had all your own memories, but also the memories of all your past lives? And on top of that, what if you were able to do everything that your past lives were able to do?” When you get unlocked as a Resurrectionist, you have a full memory of all your past lives, and if in them you were a great swordsman, you’re now a great swordsman. If you were a great sleight of hand artist, you’re now able to be a great sleight of hand artist.
We follow a group of criminals who have been trying to perform the same heist for the past 3,000 years. They keep failing and dying, and then they get reincarnated and try again — only to fail and die. It goes on until finally, in 2015, it seems like they’re poised to successfully do this heist. I like to think of it as if Philip K. Dick wrote historical fiction.
It sounds a bit like your work on “Incredible Hercules,” because you get to bounce back and forth in time as you tell your story. Was there something generally in that historical context that made you want to tell this?
Yeah. Essentially, the story started out as a piece totally set in ancient Egypt. I stumbled across the interesting historical fact in ancient Egypt, that tomb robbing — and this makes perfect sense — was an actual job. You were a professional tomb raider, not just a bunch of random peasants trying to find something. Usually, if you were in one of these crews of tomb raiders, you were out to rob your enemies, or would get hired by a rival family to break into a prince’s tomb. In ancient Egypt, these tombs weren’t just full of stuff as a case of hoarding riches. You were supposed to take these riches with you into the afterlife so you’d be running around with the bunch of slaves or whatever you had with you in there. And if someone came along and burned your mummy or stole their gold, then that stuff would disappear in the afterlife, and you’d become powerless.
I took that kernel of an idea and thought, “Well, what if reincarnation is the afterlife? What if the modern day as we currently see it is the afterlife the Egyptians are talking about?” Then our modern world is just a thousands of years-old struggle for dominance between these nobles and princes — or “afterlords” as we’re calling them. So the tomb robbers we meet have gone independent, and they’re trying to open up the afterlife for all. This whole concept becomes clearer and clearer as the story develops.
So, in the modern era, who are the characters you present to the reader?
In a pop culture sense, you want somebody who already knows about “The Matrix,” and someone who knows nothing about it. They’re taking the pill, so to speak. As a reader, you’ll see that how a Resurrectionist becomes unlocked is kind of terrifying. In the opening, we meet Lena — someone who has already been unlocked and is trying to find Jericho Way, who is our main character — and he’s also our main character 3,000 years beforehand in ancient Egypt where he was a great architect. He gets thrown into this world, and what he finds out is that the events that led him into the life of a criminal may not be as random as they seemed in the past. Instead, his career was engineered as part of this thousands of years struggle.
Is that idea of fatalism something that you’re particularly interested in? It feels like “the chosen one” as a story concept is played a little differently here.
I think so, yeah. A lot of what “Resurrectionists” is about is destiny and fatalism. Are you able to escape this? Can you break the chain? That is what all the characters are struggling against. It’s their own destiny in that their heist has never been that successful. But at the same time, in the present day there is this glimmer of hope where they keep pushing on. I like that refusal to accept your fate even if you are the chosen one. What if you don’t want to be the chosen one? You’ll see different members of our crew struggle with that idea.
Another aspect that will become clear as we go along is that each Resurrectionist represents a different aspect of the soul. In Egyptian mythology, the soul is broken up into five to seven parts. So there are references to the Maker and the Scout. Later on we’ll meet the Double and the Heart and the Guardian. Everyone in the book has had their own role to play as these archetypes are playing themselves out through history. But I think I try to be a hopeful writer. I don’t want people to think that they are locked into their particular role. A lot of what the Resurrectionists are trying to do is steal their own future back from the past.
Your artist, Maurizio Rosenzweig, is going to be a new name to a lot of people, and the quality of his line and colors feel like their a fit for a story that can bounce between the gritty present and the ancient past. What’s the collaboration been like?
Maurizio has been doing incredible work. He worked with Dark Horse before on a Victor Gischler book called “Clown Fatale,” which was where I first came into contact with his stuff. He’s been amazing and is bringing so much character and energy to the book. There’s an intelligence to the design. There’s a piece where Jericho and Tao — two avatars of the same person — are designed to look kind of like a cat. When you see that first splash page, you can see how they share something similar. One of the fun things about the series is all the traps and obstacles the Resurrectionists have to overcome because Tao was known for designing these elaborate death traps in the tombs. The way Maurizio has created all those is perfect.
This is only the latest new Dark Horse project you’ve had come down the pike since announcing a new edition of “Action Philosophers” and taking on so much of the Project Black Sky universe. What was the process like of building up to a brand new series like this?
We were having a great time doing “Brain Boy” and “Project Black Sky,” and my editor Jim Gibbons asked if I wanted to pitch anything creator-owned. So I pitched him three properties, and I was happy to hear him say, “I want to do all of these!” [Laughs] After talking it out with some of the other editors there, we decided it was best to lead with “Resurrectionists.” But I’m happy to report that a second creator-owned project will be coming along shortly as well.
It’s been very cool. Once they assigned me “Conan” and greenlit “Resurrectionists,” they also asked me if I had any older projects I’d like to bring back into print. I immediately thought of “The Silencers,” which was a book Harvey Award-winner Steve Ellis and I did in 2003 for a small imprint called Moonstone Books. That was about super-powered mob enforcers going rogue after the family they worked for got whacked. It was basically “‘Sopranos’ with super powers,” and was really the thing that got me my first gig at Marvel.
And it turned out that we were also at the end of the most recent printing of “Action Philosophers,” and it was the tenth anniversary. So the idea of having Dark Horse do a hardback “Uber Edition” that has a new story which will premiere first in “Dark Horse Presents,” which is pretty cool.
What philosopher will you be focusing on there?
I actually asked people online what we should do next, because unfortunately, once you’ve done 320 pages of philosophy comics, you sort of hit the bottom of the barrel. [Laughs] No disrespect to the thinkers of the world or to the people who submitted suggestions, but there wasn’t anything I really liked. So instead of picking someone new, I wrote a story called “Action Philosophy.” It kind of sums up the whole series and is also essentially a guide to fighting people on the internet. I’m not sure that’s something we all need or want, but it’s kind of like a gun — better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. So it’s a super fun story, and Ryan [Dunlavy] is just wrapping up the art for it right now.
“Resurrectionists” #1 arrives in November from Dark Horse Comics.