Announced at last summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Legendary Comics and writer Mark Waid’s original graphic novel, “Shadow Walk,” launches November 27 with art by “Superman: Earth One” artist Shane Davis and fictional world bible constructed by “World War Z” creator Max Brooks. “Shadow Walk” tells the story of a mysterious valley in the Middle East that may be the Biblical Valley of the Shadow of Death. All who have entered the valley perish, save one — an American soldier named John Raines. Now, Raines is tasked with leading a group of scientists and believers back into the valley, armed with Christian relics — and what the group finds there will either stave off global war or kill them as it has countless others.
Waid spoke with CBR about “Shadow Walk,” exploring the historical and religious research he and Brooks put in to it, the real-world mechanics of survival and Davis’ twisted artistic imagination.
CBR News: Mark, you’ve assembled a high-profile cast for “Shadow Walk,” especially after the release of “World War Z” in theatres — Max Brooks is working on it, you’re writing and Shane Davis is drawing. Initially Legendary brought you the idea and put together this team, but had you known either Brooks or Davis before “Shadow Walk?”
Mark Waid: No, so we were all in the trenches together — but it was an illuminating process! Max I had known through his work but had never actually met him. Being able to watch someone who is as skilled at world building as he is and passionate about background and getting the details right was inspiring — and incredibly helpful too. It was up to Legendary Founder Thomas Tull and myself to shape the story into something that made sense to both of us, but I’ll be perfectly honest, Max did all the heavy lifting. The bible he turned in to demarcate what this world might be like and the history would be is as thick as the script itself — so god bless him!
With Shane I knew his art but I had not had a chance to work with him before. It was a lot of fun because, and I can’t speak for him, but I think he’s spent a lot of the last few years being an art robot on different projects where he didn’t have much of a creative say. I think he really enjoyed the give-and-take on this, especially as we got further into the story and further into the nightmarish realm in which it takes place. A lot of this was us jamming on the phone about what this might look like, or, “Here’s some sketches, can you build a scene out of this?” Or, “Here’s some demons or monsters. Once you finish crying from looking at them can you use them?” A lot of the times that was the process — there was a lot of collaboration.
What we know so far from what you’ve said before is in “Shadow Walk” there’s a mythological place, possibly the Biblical valley of death, which only one man named John Raines has ever survived. Now he and a team of science heroes are going back there. Talking about these characters, is the book about John as the protagonist or is it an ensemble about all the different people coming in?
It’s more of an ensemble piece. What I find interesting about writing ensemble pieces is, if you have one protagonist or a highly focused team going into a situation like this they’re all pointed in the same direction. Whereas if you take a fairly disparate group of people conscripted into service — I keep saying it sounds like a bad joke: a priest, an astrophysicist and an anthropologist walk into a bar — but they’re there because they are specialists in their field, yet that doesn’t mean they are all pulling in the same direction. They all have different takes and experiences with what they come across there. What I like about that is it doubles the tension, because now you have outside forces working against them but you also have them pulling against each other as much as you have them pulling towards a goal.
Can you tell us more about the characters and the threat they face?
Yeah, I think we can leak a little more stuff out! Essentially our prologue is the early days of the Iraq War and a special missions force split off from their troops, stumbling into this weird, nightmarish realm where on a practical and Einsteinium physics level nothing makes a lot of sense. They don’t make it out alive except for one guy, who is the first ever to make it out of the Valley of Death alive. That is just the prologue of our story, the idea that now the one guy who has ever made it back has been tapped to lead a group of experts in their various fields — like I said, an astrophysicist, a quantum mechanics guy, an anthropologist, a priest and a couple of others — into that realm to try and figure out what exactly it is we’re dealing with here. Whatever it is, it’s growing and that doesn’t seem good! As it grows around the world, various wars and conflicts are starting to fall apart. As it grows the doomsday clock on the world is ticking faster.
You’ve talked before about how this is an intersection of religion, sci-fi and horror, which are themes you’ve played with before — certainly “Kingdom Come” comes to mind. What attracts you about tackling the bigger religious questions in genre form?
What attracts me is questions of faith and belief are fundamentally what brings us together — that desperate need for us to understand the world around us and interpret it in a way that makes sense. Part of what I brought to the table here is there’s a great non-fiction book I read called “The Survivor’s Club.” The premise was the author looking into and talking to survivors all around the world of things like natural disasters, plane crashes, cancer and so forth — survivors of all kinds. He interviewed them to see if there was some common thread that bound them together — what makes you a survivor when everyone else around you dies?
It’s an interesting premise and I don’t know if I completely believe this, but when he put all the data together he found the thing that bound them all was they all had faith in something. Not necessarily a spiritual, religious faith but just some sense that they are not all alone in the world — they are part of some bigger cosmology. Again, not necessarily in a religious way, but faith is apparently the ingredient in being a survivor. That plays out very heavily here; that laid it all out for us. The whole purpose of the valley seems to be to test your faith, to test you mettle and your belief system. If that’s the case, what does it take to survive that?
The valley is also near Iraq in the Middle East and you have the whole symbol of that also being the Indus river valley and the cradle of civilization, so there’s a lot of historical reference you can pull as well.
Exactly! Again, this is where Max did all the heavy lifting. He went back to that period of time and took it forward from there, god bless him. So we were able to lay in a lot of that — the idea that this is not the first time the valley has manifested. This is not the first time anyone has run across it. This is just the first time in recorded history anybody has survived it long enough to point back to it and say, “Hey look, let’s go back in.”
Looking at the science heroes you’ve assembled, there’s a priest in the mix. Being a part of modern America there’s a feeling you can be pro-faith or pro-science, but not both. Is that something you’re tackling in “Shadow Walk?” Or is this a world where people are more inclusive and recognize that a scientist might have faith or a believer might have agnostic doubt?
No — in fact we play it both ways and we address it head on. There are characters in here that bridge the gap nicely between science and faith. There are also characters who are supporters of one and have no use for the other. It’s a very interesting argument and is something we get all our mileage off of.
You mentioned Brooks put a giant bible together for this project. Because you have so much groundwork done, are there any plans to revisit this world in a sequel or leverage it as a movie property or some other form of media?
I would love to. It certainly was designed to be read as one piece — it’s a story with a beginning, middle and end. But having got in there and having seen all the rich potential for storytelling I would not be at all averse to revisiting this world. Talk to me again when the sales figures come in and if people like it, if the reaction is good, then I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t go back and delve into the valley again.
A book like this seems like it needs a particular vision to make it a reality. What made Shane Davis the right artist for “Shadow Walk?”
Wow, that’s a good question. I think just watching Shane Davis unleashed! [Laughs] Really watching this quiet little man’s dark imagination at work is going to be an eye opening experience for readers!
Mark Waid, Shane Davis & Max Brooks’ “Shadow Walk” goes on sale from Legendary Comics November 27