The idea of spending quality time with their superhero creations has probably crossed the minds of most comic book writers and artists — Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster would have had a nice time hanging out with Superman, and Robert Kirkman would enjoy meeting Invincible. On the other hand, Willard Penn, the main character of Glen Brunswick’s “Reality Check,” would tell them it’s not so great.
“Reality Check” is a four issue miniseries from Image Comics, where Willard finds himself riding a wave of positivity when his creator-owned superhero comic is picked up by a major publisher — but it all comes crashing down when a wicked case of writer’s block hits. Things go from bad to worse when he can’t remember the story because the main character has left that reality only to appear, literally, right outside his window.
Brunswick (“Non-Humans,” “Jersey Gods”), along with artist Viktor Bogdanovic, has crafted a tale in which superhero Dark Hour is holding his story hostage and only fills Willard in on the details if the writer sets the hero up with the girl of his dreams. No Romeo himself, Willard struggles to find such a woman while dealing with his own social issues and dodging his editors. CBR News spoke with Brunswick about creating the story within a story and how much of himself he put into the character of Willard Penn.
CBR News: One of the two main characters in “Reality Check” is comic book writer and artist Willard Penn. How much of yourself is resembled in the character?
Glen Brunswick: Not as much as you might suspect. There are some things — we both share a love for creating comics, and we probably share a similar outlook regarding the comic industry — but Willard has his own unique reasons for wanting to create comics. His main driving force is to create to honor his deceased brother who died when they both were in college, and whose death he feels responsible for. His brother was the only person in his life that was really there for him. He practically raised Willard after their father died. Willard’s brother easily overcame life’s challenges and made Willard’s problems go away. The loss of his brother has left a gaping hole in his heart. In a sense, he’s really trying to live his brother’s life for him, and it comes at the expense of forgetting to live his own.
It sounds like Willard’s inability to live his own life outside of his creations is reflected in the superhero Dark Hour — is this story about Willard helping himself find companionship?
Not consciously, but one of the side benefits of being forced to help Dark Hour hook up with a woman is it forces Willard to re-engage with the world as well, so in that sense he’s helping himself to connect with other people instead of solely focusing on his creative endeavors. It causes Willard to reevaluate his life.
What can you tell us about Dark Hour as a hero and how he finds his way into Willard’s world?
Dark Hour is a force for good — a dark crime fighter. His need for companionship has been bubbling up for so long it’s become his primary focus. He’s a Batman-type hero, with a billionaire alter-ego, that’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. The tipping point that makes Dark Hour come to Willard’s world is a piece Willard writes into the comic that has the two women Dark Hour is dating break up with him. This is the final straw. Dark Hour decides to exit the comic and insist that Willard, as penance, help him find his true love. Willard has no choice. When Dark Hour leaves the book it causes him to lose his memory about the story. The comic is his first hit after struggling for many years. Willard has to make Dark Hour happy to insure he returns to the comic so that he can resume his hit series.
With romantic relationships being at the heart of the story, they can be tricky for both writers and heroes considering both live outside the normal social structure. Does that parallel come into play in the book?
Both the hero and the writer are relationship challenged. The question is will they be able to help each other by teaming up, or will they make an even greater mess of things together? The answer is a little bit of both. Things are about to get truly crazy before they get better, and they both have to contend with a very real threat — the homicidal maniac villain, Devil-Inside, who followed Dark Hour from the comic and into the real world. He’s set his sights on murdering them both now — and anyone else that gets in his way.
Devil-Inside is a psychotic murderer, so how does he deal with the real world?
Pretty much the same as he does in the comic. His primary activities are murder, theft, kidnapping, rude behavior, witty conversation and the consumption of fine wine. Typical bad dude stuff!
For Dark Hour and Devil-Inside, does the real world look and feel different than the one they live in?
The real world just allows them to be themselves a little bit more — it’s the advantage of living in a 3D world versus the 2D world they’re accustomed to.
Are there elements of the comic book business you’re looking to expose readers to that they might not be familiar with?
I wouldn’t say I’m trying to do anything like that as a conscious effort. Willard’s character brings him inside the comic industry and in fleshing out his world, some of those insider events become exposed. It has more to do with trying to make his world engaging than revealing industry secrets.
Do you have plans for the world of “Reality Check” beyond this miniseries?
The ending pays off most of what I set up in the beginning. I could do a sequel if it’s warranted, but I’m fairly satisfied with the revelations that come in the final issue.
How did you team up with Viktor Bogdanovic and what made him the right artist for “Reality Check?”
Viktor’s art wowed me from the moment I first saw it. It was a cover he did for an Image book called “Epic Kill.” His work has shades of Tony Moore and Greg Capullo as an influence. The main thing that really struck me, once I saw his sequentials, is how great a story teller Viktor is. He handles the small moments of character expression with depth and certainty — you know exactly what the characters are thinking and he adds unexpected details that inform the characters as well. He has the kind of skill set that tackles the big action moments that are essential to bring a story like “Reality Check” to life.
“Reality Check” #1 written by Glen Brunswick and drawn by Viktor Bogdanovic goes on sale September 4 from Image Comics