School can be tough for any kid. There’s all that homework, power-mad teachers and, of course, the other students. Tyler, the star of “Bomb Queen” creator Jimmie Robinson’s upcoming five-issue Shadowline/Image Comics’ series “Five Weapons” has to deal with not only all the typical high school pitfalls, he also has to enact his special plan: defeating of the best students from five very specific fields of study. As you’ve probably guessed, Tyler’s school is not a normal one. In fact, it’s a renowned school where young people train to be assassins. The school’s split into five groups specializing in the use of guns, archery, knives and staffs, plus the mysterious, exotic club composed of a top student from each specialty.
Luckily for him, Tyler’s no ordinary student. Thanks to the strict society in which he lives, he’s not even supposed to be allowed to attend the school due to the class he was born into. Our 13-year-old hero isn’t going to let that get in his way, though, as he will use his cunning and smarts to defeat the heads of the five respective classes in combat. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the first issue to find out.
In the meantime, CBR News spoke with Robinson about the series with the writer/artist opening up about Tyler’s world and motivations, his new school and how both Buddha and Bomb Queen influenced “Five Weapons.”
CBR News: What can you tell us about Tyler, the star of “Five Weapons?” What makes him want to attend this school?
Jimmie Robinson: Tyler is a 13-year old kid, so his motivations for attending this specialized school are a bit complicated. This will become clear by the end of the first issue, and I don’t want to entirely give it away right now because Tyler has a secret that will hinge on the whole story. But the bottom line is, Tyler is a street smart and brilliantly observant kid. He’s a bit like a young Sherlock Holmes; nothing escapes his view, and he’s just wise enough and smart enough to put things together that will squeak him through some of the most difficult and dangerous situations.
This is the edge Tyler brings to the book. Not only will he challenge the School of Five Weapons, but he will also challenge the reader because all the clues that Tyler needs are right on the page. If the reader is sharp enough, they can figure out how Tyler will escape, how he will challenge his enemies and even how he will win against these powerful opponents at the school.
What can you tell us about the school’s focus and how well known it is to the wider public?
It is an exclusive, private and powerful institution. The school is well known within the world of assassins, but it is not widely known amongst the general public. In short, this is a spin-off from Bomb Queen’s universe, in which our normal society has allowed a segment of the population to have their own rules and moral conduct, as long as they do it in private and leave the rest of us alone.
In this particular private world, the assassins are like celebrities. Many have name recognition and popularity within their community, and others are just lower rank hit men, but they all have strict rules about just who can be an assassin. It’s classism. You have the assassins who live in the rich zones and in lovely houses, and on the flip-side, you have their personal servants and the community infrastructure (garbage collectors, shop owners, etc.) who are only there to serve the assassins. This lower class is where Tyler comes from. He’s not allowed to own or use a weapon in any way. His class of people are forbidden by law to use anything. However, this becomes Tyler’s strength, because when people depend on their weapons, it leaves them open in other ways. Tyler has grown up understanding this and he has learned to get by using his creativity and problem solving skills.
What are the five weapons and how does Tyler think he’s going to defeat them without having mastered them?
The School of Five Weapons is exclusively for the children of the assassins. The school provides them a solid Ivy League education, but also with top weapon training by several weapon masters who act as the teachers and educators. This is done in “Clubs”. Each club activity is dedicated to a specific weapon. Your grades and how you graduate from the school is highly dependent on your skills within these weapon clubs. Each club has a student class president who is considered the best in their specific weapon skill.
We have the Knife Club. Their class president is Jade the Blade. Then there’s the Staff Club. Their class rep is Rick the Stick. The Archery Club is headed by Darryl the Arrow. We also have the Exotic Club. Their president is Joon the Loon. Lastly, we have the Gun Club with their president Nat the Gat. Those are the five weapons for this school year.
Tyler will face off with each of these class presidents through trials and challenges. Sometimes he plans it, and other times he might be forced into battle. Each weapon club has a set of rules for how to become a president of the weapons class. The rules for the knife club will obviously be different from a challenge in the gun club. However, Tyler is smart and he can find loopholes in those rules that favor him. This is where the fun is and this is what I want the readers to enjoy. Just how can Tyler beat the president of the knife club, or thwart the representative of the gun club without using a weapon at all. As a writer, it has been a challenge for me to make it viable and fun at the same time.
How long has this idea been kicking around your head?
It came up during the last two story arcs of “Bomb Queen.” It all sprang from an old myth about one of the incarnations of the Buddha. There’s an old tale called “Prince Five Weapons.” Basically, the young Buddha is sent away from home to train with a weapons master. He is taught the skills of five different weapons. After he masters them, he travels back home, but in the forest runs into a monster called Sticky Hair. The young prince uses all of his weapons, but none of them have any effect. He even uses all five of his limbs (arms, legs, head) and still he can’t beat the monster. However, he wins because he decides to use an invisible sixth weapon: His mind. He beats the monster by telling him that his body holds a powerful weapon that cannot be consumed. The monster concedes to this because the prince is clearly not afraid of death and challenged him without fear. Thus, he believes the prince and sets him free.
The “powerful weapon that cannot be consumed” can be read as a trick, his wisdom, his spirit or whatever, but what I liked was how it showed that the prince was more than the weapons he carried and that message can be translated to anything we do. It’s the same concept used by Bruce Lee when he confronted his opponents. It’s not about how strong you are, or how powerful your weapons are, it’s really about how you size up your opponent and find their weakness and your real strength over them. It’s a psychological battle, where observation is more important than firepower. I touched on this a bit with Bomb Queen. She ruled an entire city based on her personality, her threat and her ability to trick people and turn the tables. She was not a physically strong character that could beat someone like Savage Dragon or Invincible in a head-to-head fight, but she managed to still win, just like how Batman is simply a guy dressed up in a suit with some nice tech toys. It’s not the toys that make Batman who he is, just like it’s not the bombs that makes Bomb Queen who she is. It’s all about the character.
Speaking of Bomb Queen, what are your plans for her, moving forward?
I do have plans, however, it might involve some clever footwork because currently the character exists about 300 years into the future and her mind and abilities have been transferred into another body. I have one of two stories in mind for her. Either I continue her adventures in the future, or I send her back to the present. Of course, there’s the other old trick: use a clone. Bomb Queen was created by the government, so there are copies of her around, as seen in Volume 5. What I get most from readers’ email and meeting fans at the conventions is that they love her in her city. The criminalized town of New Port City is what people really gravitate to, but I destroyed that city in Volume 6, so in order to get back to that point, I might use a time travel trick and have her face off with her former self.
Other than that, Shadowline is working on repacking the Bomb Queen trades into a series of hardback collections. We’re calling it the “Bomb Queen Deluxxxe Editions.” Each hardcover features two remastered and edited trades, plus every extra ever put into the series. I’m also tossing in some new pin-ups and behind-the-scenes work. We’re hoping this will make all the fans happy because the price point will be lower for the entire collection.
So, Bomb Queen is not over — she’s just on vacation while I do a few other things. The problem I have is that I love to do everything on my books. I can create, write, pencil, ink, letter and even color an entire book. However, I leave the coloring to the very talented Paul Little. He’s been great. I still color covers and other things, but I leave the interiors to him. Doing all that work means my time is limited to do multiple books. Some folks juggle two or even three books. I can’t do that as easily, so I put “Bomb Queen” on a year long break while I do “Five Weapons.”
If this first miniseries does well, do you have more stories in mind set in the “Five Weapons” universe?
Well, that’s the eternal question all creators face, isn’t it? I’m not doing this just for the money — this is a fun story that I want to tell. If it succeeds, I will be very happy, but if it breaks even, I’ll be happy with that, too. As long as I can tell the whole story. I admit, if it connects with readers I’d like to delve deeper into the world of “Five Weapons.” The story I’ve written has a definite ending, but I could easily see stories like “Five Weapons: Summer School,” or “Five Weapons: Spring Break,” or “Five Weapons: Graduation.” Who knows, maybe Tyler can even make it to college without dying. And of course, since it’s a spin-off of Bomb Queen’s universe, perhaps the Queen herself could visit the school. Though it would be a toned down Queen if she appeared in “Five Weapons.” While the series deals with weaponry, it’s not about blood, gore and guts. I’m aiming for the fun. The action is basically comic mischief, but the violent threat is real. I’m making this series open to all readers, even the art style is different. How well will it do in the market? I dunno, but my focus is on making this series the best it can be. Some folks only know me for my work on “Bomb Queen,” but I have a history of other genres and styles going back to the 1990s. I hope “Five Weapons” brings me back to that mindset with the readers.
Were there specific changes you knew you wanted to make to your art going in or did they just come from sketching and drawing these characters?
I knew off the bat that I wanted to change things. In my mind, I kept thinking about “Chew,” how that was highly-stylized with a cartoony twist. So I set out to do something wonky like that, but no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t shake my “Bomb Queen” style.
I had this problem, in reverse, when I started “Bomb Queen.” I had just finished a graphic novel for Image called “Avigon” that had a manga style with very elongated, stick-like people. So when you look at the early “Bomb Queen” series the characters were all very tall and thin with giraffe necks and extra long arms. It took me a couple of issues to really iron that out. Now the same is happening with “Five Weapons.” I want something less dramatic and more stylized to take the edge off the fact that these are kids with weapons and not everyone is going to be onboard with that concept here in America. If you just mention kids with guns in school, it will raise a hundred red flags. Most folks think of something like Hit Girl when it comes to kids and weapons, but “Kick-Ass” was an exception, not the norm. Also, it was aimed at adults with the R rating. “Five Weapons” is aimed at teens on up to adults, so I’m trying to ride the fence here.
I’ve gone through a lot of changes with the art style and character design. At first I wanted something sketchy, because I felt the loose style would keep it cartoony like “Ren & Stimpy.” That didn’t work. I moved it to a digital sketchy style. That was okay, but it would have been hard to hand over to my colorist because a lot of it was “painted” instead of inked. Then I simply reverted to my linear inking style, but it was so tight that it looked like a Saturday morning cartoon. I ended up just doing it in pencil. My pencils are tight, so I could just use that instead of inking, and that way I could also be a little loose — and I could still hand it over to Paul Little for coloring.
Now that I’m doing the art on issue #3, I’ve refined a few signature tricks in the pencils to make it unique enough to be on its own terms. It’s not fully away from “Bomb Queen,” but it’s enough to make it stand apart.
“Five Weapons” #1 by Jimmie Robinson, Shadowline and Image Comics debuts on Feb. 27.