At New York Comic Con 2012, Legendary Comics’ booth was packed for a very special announcement. “Pacific Rim” director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beachem along with superstar writer Grant Morrison and Legendary Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Schreck took the stage to announce two exciting new projects for the company’s comics line. Morrison announced “Annihilator,” a new creator-owned series, while del Toro and Beachem plan to helm a “Pacific Rim” comic prequel.
Morrison’s “Annihilator” centers around Ray Spass, a down-on-his luck screenwriter with a brain tumor who gets the chance to write a huge blockbuster film.
“He gets the opportunity to write a big tentpole movie called ‘Annihilator,’ which is based on a character called Max Nomax who’s an ancient pulp character,” Morrison said. “Max Nomax isn’t actually an ancient pulp character, we made him up specifically for this. Our story is that Race Spaz has got this movie and he kind of makes a deal with the devil. Two days later, the FBI shows up at his door and says, ‘A man just turned up — in a block hole we created. Why does he want to meet you?’ He looks at the picture and says, ‘This is the new character in my new flick.'”
What follows is a journey very much in Morrison’s wheelhouse: a road trip of self discovery with a fictional, but real, character.
“The two of them go on a bit of a road trip trying to escape from a guy that’s been sent to destroy this Nomax character,” Morrison explained. “It’s a love story, it’s a mystery, it’s a sci-fi story. It’s kind of got everything in it, but most of all it’s a Hollywood story — the difference between artifice and authenticity.”
Morrison also revealed one of the major plot points of “Annihilator” — that Spass’ deadline for his script is a very real problem.
“It’s quite clear that Max Nomax is real, the question is how can this be? If he doesn’t write down the story, he dies of the brain tumor,” he said. “If he does write the story, he unloads the information and saves his own life and the universe. That’s the problem he’s going through. He has four days to finish the screenplay or he’ll die… “I think we’ve all had the deadline horror and I want to take the deadline horror and expand it to make it cosmic.”
The idea for the series actually came from a challenge from fellow creator Rian Hughes that Morrison took on.
“Rian Hughes challenged me to do something that was as intricate as ‘Watchmen,’ and I said, ‘No way,’ but I went away and I just got into this whole idea of doing something with a black hole as a motif, hence the thing in the guy’s brain, hence the black hole,” he said. “It originally came from a challenge from Rian Hughes.”
While Morrison’s stable of work has mostly consisted of superhero work, he’s recently begun more high-concept creator-owned titles like “Happy!” — “Annihilator” falls in the same category and Morrison sees a set of unique challenges in tackling high concept without capes.
“It’s been fun. Obviously with the superheroes it’s easy because they come with the emotional baggage attached,” he said. “This one, you try to create new characters and make sure people can get into it as quickly as possible in the first issue. I’ve got to say, it’s been really fun because for the last ten years I’ve done almost exclusively superheroes. It’s been great. I’m trying to take the same sensibilities of the superhero story and the big moments and the big beats and the big images and fit it to a different kind of story.”
The writer describes the size and scope of the story as more influenced by movie trailers than actual films. “I wanted a story that all the boring shit is out of it. There’s a kind of influence on how the story is told in trailers. There’s a hugeness in the way you tell the story,” Morrison explained. “It’s more like the way we feel life. If you put our lives in television, it’d be kind of boring, but the way we feel it is epic. Every moment is epic. I’m trying to get that feeling in the double-page spreads.”
Legendary’s other announcement, a “Pacific Rim” prequel comic from del Toro and Travis Beachem, will help to expand the world and mythology of the film in a big way.
“The idea was, from the start, not to do an adaptation of the movie, that, with very rare exceptions, suck,” said del Toro. “I always thought it was a lose-lose proposition to try and adapt the movie into comic book form. We thought about this as the most humble transmedia attempt. When we were developing the movie, both Travis and I kept writing biographies for the characters and eventually, we started developing the design and the tech for the Jeagers and the story for the Kaiju and we ended up generating a bible that was several hundred pages long. There was such richness in that material, so many ideas that were there.”
Beachem stated the book will echo the film in that it brings a focus on the characters rather than the Kaiju monsters.
“Fundamentally, the movie is really about these people and it really drops you into this situation that’s been happening since before the movie starts,” Beachem said. “In the process of developing it, we had to come up with such a substantial backstory to be able to refer to it in the film. That gave us the framework to be able to build a comic book prequel around. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Legendary also debuted an image in the spirit of old wartime posters from World War II, which echoes the Rosie the Riveter posters from that era.
“We thought the comic was the perfect opportunity to see the moment where we all thought we could win this,” said del Toro.
Beachem further stated the film has room for expansion — especially when it comes to following the physical and emotional journeys of the Jeager pilots.
“When you see the movie and you see the damage the Jeagers have accumulated in a physical respect and the damage the pilots have accumulated in an emotional respect, it really does earnestly hit at an older and perhaps alternately tragic story than the movie is,” said Beachem. “The comic will, inevitably, have to end on an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ dot dot dot, whereas the movie becomes this apocalyptic climax. It’s different kinds of stories, but I don’t think one will steal the thunder from the other.”
“It takes months and months and months and billions of dollars to build a Yeager and a few hours of casual combat to total the Yeager,” del Toro added. “The origin is something we always geeked out about and the comic is perfect for that.”
Other opportunities for story include following characters from their early stages in the comic through to the film.
“Literally, one of the characters is eight years old when he sees a Kaiju for the first time,” said del Toro. “The result of that character is to face a Kaiju and destroy it.”
However, destroying a Kaiju may not be so easy — Beachem and del Toro noted a big part of the Kaiju in the comic and the film is their mysterious — not to mention deadly — nature.
“Their purpose is very mysterious,” said Beachem. “Part of what’s so terrifying about it is that if a big monster comes and starts tearing up the city, you’re not the president. You’re not important. You’re just you and you’re probably not going to get an explanation. If a second one comes, nobody’s going to tell you why. That’s why I think we tended to talk a lot about the human drama. There’s something so profound about the uncertainty.”
“The Kaiju are created as perfect traps. They’re not carbon-based organisms. They’re silicon-based organisms. It takes a while to figure out something that is not carbon-based,” said del Toro. “They decompose and release an agent called Kaiju Blue that completely destroys the cities, makes air impossible to breathe and their blood is completely acidic.”
Beyond the comic, which focuses on the very start of the war, del Toro said there is still much more story to tell.
“Because it’s the entire Pacific Rim, we can go to Russia, we can go to Australia, we can go to Peru, we can go to California, we can go to Alaska,” the director said of the story possibilities. “At the height of the war, there were dozens and dozens of Jeagers. Everyone was pooling all their resources… The Pacific Hemisphere consolidated into an alliance. There’s stories to be told about Russian Jeagers, there’s illegal Jeagers being used in Peru for suspicious operations, there’s a lot of stories we can tell.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on “Annihilator” and “Pacific Rim” as well as more coverage of NYCC 2012.