A new pandemic breaks out this July in comic shops everywhere, but unlike swine flu, you’ll want to catch this. While mostly known for their water-based series that explore the unseen world under the sea, Aspen Comics breaks the surface and heads to the skies with the brand-new, six-issue miniseries “The Scourge” by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Eric Battle.
Well-known for his seminal runs on multiple X-titles during the mid-90s, Lobdell pens the new series based on an idea from Gale Anne Hurd, producer of such blockbuster award-winning films as “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Aliens.” The story revolves around a rapidly spreading infection that sweeps across the island of Manhattan, turning the citizens of the city that never sleeps into monstrous creatures made of stone. One man stands against the ever-growing number of adversaries plaguing the New York skyline and desperately seeks a cure while attempting to protect his young son. An introductory issue #0 to the book swoops into comic shops on July 14, with the first issue due for release the following month.
Lobdell spoke with CBR News about the new series, sharing his thoughts on what makes this title different from your typical zombie-inspired story, his own personal plans should the gargoyle apocalypse actually strike the real world and his desire to possibly return to a certain legendary apocalyptic age in comics he helped create.
CBR News: This series has been described as being like a zombie movie, with a virus that spreads across the population traveling from person to person. Would you say that’s a pretty accurate description?
Scott Lobdell: It’s definitely an outbreak story, except unlike the traditional “dead infected person eating another person and then on and on,” this is actually a living organism that has been around for thousands of years that has laid dormant until one of the main characters brings the virus back with him from Europe. When that happens, each person that gets infected winds up gaining the characteristics of what somebody at first glance would recognize as a gargoyle. I don’t think the word gargoyle is ever quite used in the script, but they’re gray and their skin becomes like stone and several of them sprout wings and claws. The goal is essentially to keep perpetuating their race, so they have a specific goal in mind. As opposed to zombies, which are more traditionally just mindless, dead creatures craving for brains and flesh.
Where did this concept come from – the idea to turn people into these gargoyles often seen decorating the city skyline?
Honestly, it came from Gale [Anne Hurd], who I guess was talking about it with a director and they said how much they would love to fill the skies above Manhattan with gargoyles. Then it fell on me as the writer to figure out how to make that happen. I think what’s a lot of fun is that we’ve seen a lot of post-apocalyptic New York stories, whether it’s “Escape from New York” or “I Am Legend,” and traditionally we see New York after it’s been devastated by one apocalypse or another. Meanwhile, if in the event this becomes a movie, the whole comic would play out over a two-hour time. If this outbreak is going to be stopped, it’s going to be stopped in the first two hours of the infection starting. If they don’t, then the Scourge would make its way off Manhattan. We see how quickly people get infected, and should it make its way off the island, we’d be safe to assume that all of humanity would end within the week. It’s like the fun of “28 Days Later,” where you got the impression that if it made it off the island that things were going to be horrible. So, we’re trying to do a high-adrenaline take on an outbreak comic book. I was a fan of Gale’s for years before meeting her, but I remember when “Terminator 2” was coming out and she was talking about it, a quote from that was, “The entire movie is like the last five minutes of ‘Die Hard.'” And “Terminator 2” turned out to be this non-stop action extravaganza. That’s kind of what we’re going for here.
What is it about the idea appeals to you as writer? How do people morphing into gargoyles and the spread of this virus work in a story capacity?
When I was a kid I used to play this game Team Tag. The idea was that you’d have 20 kids and one person would be “it.” And when that person touched another – where in a traditional game that person would become “it” and the first person would be free – they become “it” and now there are two “its.” Then they tag two people and it becomes four “its” and so on until suddenly there’s one person who is not it and that person is running for their lives. It’s a fun game, especially when it’s all your brothers and sisters and all the neighborhood kids and it’s taking place in the middle of apple field in the middle of the night. To me, when we first talked about, that’s what flashed in my head.
In the traditional outbreak movie, people get sick and die and people run around and try to find a cure. Whereas this is really about the notion that you start out with one person, in this case Dr. Peter Newburgh, and Newburgh starts out as a single infected human being and within an hour, Manhattan is crawling and gnashing and clawing with gargoyles. And honestly, if they came and said, “How do you feel about doing a zombie story in Manhattan,” I probably would have passed because while zombie movies are certainly fun, I kind of have the impression of if you’ve seen one zombie movie, you’ve seen them all. For people that like that, that’s awesome, but it’d be hard for me to figure out a new take on a zombie property. Gargoyles are there ideally to protect us and buildings from evil spirits and otherworldly threats; that’s the basic concept of having a gargoyle on your building to begin with. So this notion, that something we think traditionally as a safeguard is what’s really threatening all of us, just seems like a fun thing to explore.
You mentioned that the first person infected is Dr. Peter Newburgh.
Yeah. I actually took the name from one town over from where I was raised. I always liked the idea of naming a character after a town. Actually, the lead’s name is John Griffin and he’s a SWAT officer. The funny thing is that, I’ll be honest, I’m always amused when they do things like the character being named Jim Twain and somehow he gets the power to turn into two people. Literature, comic books and movies are filled with that. “The Truman Show,” true man, you know? But as a writer, I could not resist naming him Griffin, which is a variation on a gargoyle. I just couldn’t resist. Forgive me!
We’ll let it slide for now. But now that you’ve mentioned him, what can you say about John Griffin? Will he be a lone man against the world in this story, like Will Smith in “I Am Legend?”
He and Newburgh actually vacation together and Griffin is getting over a pretty bad breakup with his wife. So, Newburgh has the idea of going and hanging out and climbing mountains. When Newburgh gets infected, Griffin doesn’t realize until it becomes very obvious when they’re in a cab and he rushes him to the hospital. But by then, it’s too late. It’s in the emergency room where Newburgh ultimately manifests as a gargoyle. Griffin actually has three things he’s dealing with. He’s dealing with the fact that this is his friend that he now has to kill. He has to figure out a way to maintain his responsibility as an officer to try and protect people. But he also, as a father, needs to make it across town and rescue his son, who was on a trip to see a Broadway play. So, he’s attempting to rescue his son and stop this horrific infestation at the same time. While he is essentially the lone action figure in the story, he is assisted by his son’s English teacher, who is a really hot young woman named Claire, as well as the unfortunate cab driver, Astor, who had the misfortune of picking up the two guys in the first place. So, there is an ensemble between the four of them.
Where does the inspiration for Griffin come from with regards to the character’s motivation and drive?
I go back to the father of all modern day action movies, which is Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” The thing is, [John McClane] was an everyman. Certainly, he was a cop, but he was not a cop that was trained to take on a building full of terrorists. Similarly, Griffin has a tremendous amount of experience with contingency plans should terrorists take over Manhattan or bank robbers take hostages, but clearly there’s nothing that could have prepared him or anyone for a complete and total gargoyle pandemic. While what’s happening in Manhattan is affecting thousands of people within the hour – and at any point we could have followed any one of those characters – the notion of following Griffin was the idea of giving this guy the abilities that in a normal situation allow him to pull things off, but now he is facing a life form that hasn’t been on the planet for centuries. At the same time, he’s totally invested in totally protecting his son and he’s also in the position where he can’t just grab his son and get off the island, because if he doesn’t stop this scourge here and now, it doesn’t matter how far he gets off the island.
We talked about the human characters we’ll be seeing, but what about the gargoyles themselves? What are they like? Are they just violent and mindless or are they somewhat sentient?
They’re certainly creatures. Without giving away a lot, what we discover is that they function similar to the way bees function. Newburgh becomes kind of their queen bee. They certainly at first seem to be mindless and just bent on destruction, but it becomes apparent to Griffin, who is himself trained in strategy, he recognizes right away that there is a method to this madness that has taken over Manhattan. What I think is a lot of fun is, at least visually, to give each of the gargoyles trappings of their previous lives. So, a motorcycle cop gargoyle is going to probably going to have a NYPD bulletproof vest still attached to him. Or a business man gargoyle might never let go of his briefcase. So while they’re gargoyles, there are not a lot of naked, stone gargoyles running around. Whoever they were before they were infected is the gargoylic – I just made up a word – version of themselves. And I will tell you that there is a master plan and Griffin comes to realize what it is and what needs to do to stop it, but I can’t tell you what that is without giving away the third chapter of the story.
You mentioned the visual aspect of the book, and I definitely wanted to ask about artist Eric Battle. Besides having an awesome name that just implies crazy action scenes, what else does he bring to the table visually?
When you first start with an artist, and certainly I’ve worked with hundreds of artists over the years, when you work with them, you get a sense of who likes the quieter moments and who likes the big moments. In some cases, they like one but don’t like the other. With Eric, they sent some samples of these characters in action and what got me really excited is that Eric is as dynamic and exciting as his gargoyle action sequences are. He is incredibly adept at stopping the action and dealing with the pure emotion of a scene – sometimes in alternating scenes, but also inbetween the action itself. So, Battle is a great name for “Scourge,” but he might also want to name himself Eric Characterdevelopment or Eric Rooftopdialogue, as well. [Laughs] He’s just one of those guys who can do it all.
A lot of people have their theoretical end of the world game plans. But if the events of “Scourge” were to happen in real life, what would be your plan?
I hate to sound so crass, but I’d probably run to the nearest strip club. If I was going to die anyway, I’d love to see what a bunch of gargoyle strippers were like before I was devoured. That’d be pretty awesome.
Wrapping up, I wanted to take a look at what’s in the future for you. You wrote a lot of X-titles in the ’90s and looking at Marvel recently, they’ve had a lot of creators coming back and finishing their original runs on titles, such as Chris Claremont’s “X-Men Forever.” Would you ever considering going back and doing something like that?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think it’d be a tremendous amount of fun. It’s 10 years later and I still have “Age of Apocalypse” stories that I’d love to tell. You remember Blink and her crew from those?
Definitely. Blink’s one of my favorite characters of all time. Same with AoA. That storyline defined comics for a whole generation of readers.
Well, those characters have a lot of stories left to tell. I wouldn’t want to go in and tell “Factor X.” Maybe “Generation Next,” although I remember that they ended up with a pretty grizzly fate. But I think that certainly Rogue, Sabertooth, Morph, Wildchild and Blink would make an awesome series. I would love to keep telling stories from that point of view.