Those who say you can’t learn from the past, sure haven’t seen a certain film from 1983, where we were taught, from lead Tony Montana, “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” Unless you’re new to American cinema, you probably recognize the quote from Al Pacino’s now classic “Scarface,” a film that debuted to mediocre reviews but has become a pop culture staple. IDW Publishing recently published a sequel to the film, but as announced at Wizard World LA, the company will hit rewind and present a prequel entitled “Scarface: Devil In Disguise.” Writing this five issue mini-series, which ships in July, is Joshua Jabcuga and he spoke to CBR News about the project.
“I’ve seen ‘Scarface’ countless times, right, and DVD sales suggest I’m not the only one infatuated with this movie,” Jabcuga told CBR News. “The DVD is like one of those perennial bestsellers; it’s to DVD sales charts what Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is to album sales. Everybody either owns it or is familiar with it. The film has an amazing pedigree, with Brian DePalma directing, a screenplay by Oliver Stone, and Pacino in that fucking brilliant over-the-top iconic performance. The whole thing is outlandish yet it was so forward-thinking in many ways, that not only does it stand the test of time, but that crazy violence and gang mentality and drug pusher as rock star lifestyle isn’t far-fetched anymore. Hell, if anything, it served as a template. But the film always left me wanting more.
“At the beginning of the film, Tony Montana feels like this real, authentic, lived-in character. And that’s barely five minutes into the film! People can talk shit all they want about Al Pacino chewing scenery, but I’d include his portrayal as Tony Montana as one of the top ten performances of American cinema. For better or worse, as far as memorable roles go, it’s up there with Bela Lugosi’s ‘Dracula,’ Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas,’ Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront,’ Harrison Ford as ‘Indiana Jones’ and Sly Stallone in ‘Rocky,’ just to name a few off the top of my head.
“And to me the movie always felt like it was a broadcast already joined in progress. It’s a long movie, too, especially for 1983. The film centers mostly on Tony Montana’s rise to power, so they couldn’t cram too much more in there. All the credit in the world to Pacino and screenwriter Oliver Stone, that we can buy into this dangerous character so early in a story, but where did Tony Montana come from? He was an assassin before he even came to America. We see the scar; we see the little pitchfork tattoo on his hand. What’s that all about? I needed to know these things as a fan myself. And I’m not a casual fan. I’m pretty obsessive about this character.
“I could never figure out why Hollywood never jumped the gun on this one and gave the fans more. God knows there’s certainly a very loyal, rabid fanbase. With that being said, I loathe sequels. You can name all the great sequels in the world, ‘Godfather II’ and ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Terminator 2’ and ‘X-Men 2,’ but for every single solid sequel, there’s fifty embarrassingly poor ones.
“I never wanted a Scarface sequel so much as I wanted a prequel. There’s just so much to explore there. Tony’s origins, the setting of Cuba, the time frame with Castro taking control, and subsequently, La Cosa Nostra getting kicked out of Havana. This story practically writes itself, because so much of it happened. I did literally days and days of research, then pushed everything aside, and said, “OK, this’ll make for a good backdrop, but as a fan of Scarface, I want as much Scarface in this book as I can fit in there.”
“And this isn’t some imaginary story. I’m semi-basing this off real-life events, like Oliver Stone did, plus there’s a lot alluded to in the movie that I get to play with in the miniseries. For the fans out there who can quote lines of dialogue from the movie at the drop of a hat, they haven’t seen ‘Scarface’ until they’ve read this series. And for the people who maybe never really quite understood what all the fuss was about, either this series will hopefully make them want to rent the movie or get a better understanding of it, because my goal here is to create a ghetto opera that can stand on its own. Chris Ryall once paid me a compliment and called me a “gutter poet” after reading a particular piece of mine. I think ‘Scarface: Devil in Disguise’ will further that reputation. Think of it as equal parts Rage Against the Machine and The Clash and ‘City of God’ with some Sam Pechinpah and Michael Mann tossed in for good measure.”
While most aspiring comic book writers point to superheroes as their “dream” characters, big stars such as Batman, Spider-Man and Captain America, or even some smaller names like Punisher or Phantom Stranger, for Jabcuga, the choice is, well, “Probably Marvel’s Devil Dinosaur & Moon Boy, or Fin Fang Foom,” he laughed. “Seriously, my first choice would be Scarface. And as strange and convenient as that may sound, ask anyone that knows me and they’d tell you the same thing.”
Jabcuga’s background also influences his writing, as he grew up with an entire family in law enforcement and heard many the grown-up tale around the dinner table. “When I was old enough to wander off by myself, I saw a lot of things that’d I’d only heard about, but needed to see firsthand,” he revealed. “Sometimes you need to carry a badge and a gun to see those types of things, and other times, you just need the gun. Lucky for me I was able to fake it. I’d been raised in a household where there was good, bad, and the gray area in between. The only thing that separates one person from the next is their ability to identify these characteristics in others and the boundaries they are contained within. Like survival of the fittest. If you ever find yourself in a bad spot, outnumbered, it doesn’t take long to find out who your true friends are, ’cause they’ll drag their asses out of bed if they know you need someone to watch your back in a fight. Likewise, I’ve had many friends who would later cut my throat–just to watch me bleed, as Johnny Cash might say.”
This background makes “Scarface” a natural for Jabcuga, who counts IDW head honcho Chris Ryall as a mentor and dear friend and who “reminds me of Rod Serling,the total package, he just gets it– a brilliant writer in his own right.” Once IDW announced “Scarface: Scarred For Life,” which initially produced a negative reaction from the scribe (“The inner Scarface fan in me was pissed that anyone would do a sequel to Scarface, regardless of what company did it”) until he saw the creative team attached and fell in love with the results of the project. “Everybody pretty much knows that this is turning into the Year of [writer] John Layman, but I’ve read up to issue #3 of the series, and I’m totally digging it. The whole creative team on that book managed to take certain elements of the film and turn the volume up to eleven. It’s a really unique book, really violent, edgy, funny and engaging all at once. Each panel is like a tiny pop art masterpiece. And they just make it look so easy.
“So one day Ryall and I get to talking, and I tell him about some ideas I’d been kicking around for a ‘Scarface’ prequel. I wanted to play it a little more straight, a little more grounded in reality, but still keep a dash of the sense of humor that the film and “Scarred for Life” possessed. Ryall told me he liked what he heard, and said he’d think about it. I get a call from him a couple days after Christmas, maybe the beginning of January, and I figured he was just calling to shoot the breeze, wish me a Merry Christmas, etc. Maybe two seconds into the call he says, ‘You still interested in doing that Scarface prequel?’ What a way to bring in the New Year, right? So I wrote up a proposal that he presented to Universal. We got everybody on the same page, the stars aligned perfectly, and here we are. I did tell him, only half-kidding, that the only person more suitable to write this prequel would be Oliver Stone himself, but even if he was able to get him, I’d order the hit on Ollie myself to guarantee that I was able to leave my mark on this character. Lucky for Ollie and Ryall that they choose me [laughs]!”
For those fans of “Scarface,” you might be wondering just why the film needs a prequel, as we learned quite a bit about Tony and his life, but die-hard Jabcuga promised to show fans something new. “If we consider the ‘Scarface’ film to be the New Testament of the character’s mythos, it was and is my goal for ‘Scarface: Devil in Disguise’ to be the Old Testament. Quite literally, eye for an eye, too. I mean, how cool is it that I get to show how Tony got that scar of his, but also, who gave it to him and the motive behind it. I also get to show what happens to the other guy, ‘El Gancho,’ who plays one of the main villains in the story. If you need any more clues, look up the translation of ‘El Gancho.’ I’m also dealing with heavies like La Cosa Nostra, the ol’ mob bosses from the glory days of the U.S. gangland, via Havana, Cuba. We’ll see Tony as a young boy, we’ll see Tony growing up on his own, since his mother and sister are forced to leave for Miami without him. We’ll see Tony’s involvement with the political forces of the time like Bautista and Castro. The CIA has their hands in the mix as well. But really, this is a morality play. How much choice did Tony really have? How much of the moral fiber of a man, his very core, is he born with, and how much is a result of chance and circumstance. That whole nature vs. nurture thing. Except we’re not talking about Middle America circa 2007. We’re talking about the streets of Cuba, circa 1959. We know Tony survives the streets, because if not, there wouldn’t be a movie. But how did he get to that point, both as a character, and in regards to transition, coming to the United States. His real education occurred on the streets of Cuba, before he stepped one foot onto U.S. shores.”
In “Scarface,” it was quite clear that while Tony was meant to be the protagonist, he was definitely not a hero or mobster with a soul (we’re looking at you Sonny Corinthos). Making such a character the lead in any story would be a challenge, but with fans knowing that Tony Montana becomes a very bad man, it can be hard to make him sympathetic to readers. “Who said anything about depicting Tony as a sympathetic protagonist?” smiled Jabcuga. “I’m a writer, not a miracle worker. Honestly, I’m letting the reader make the call. I’m not here to judge people, fictional or real. I think one of the strengths of this series will be the tone of it. I’m not painting a picture of good guy vs. bad guy, because in this world, both real and imaginary, as a writer, I view things very…cynically at times. No one is perfect, so it’s really a case of judging one person against the next and determining who is the lesser of the two evils. But in that weird way, gangs do have some sense of code, and we know already from the movie that Tony does have some morals. I did a ton of research with some friends over at Attica, examining gangs. I got the sense that a lot of that is structured around survival, too, by means of aligning yourself with a group who might offer protection from other groups with the same goal in mind. Tony wasn’t about merely surviving though. To a large degree he was his own worst enemy, as his greed, ambition, paranoia, and intoxication with power got the best of him and clouded his judgment. The mountains of nose candy didn’t help him any. Would you trust Tony? You’d be a fool if you did. Look at what he did to Manny, his close friend. I’d do business with Tony, sure, but trust him, never.”
Joining Jabcuga on “Devil In Disguise” is artist Alberto Dose, whose work on “Desperadoes: Buffalo Dreams” caught the eye of the scribe and Ryall. “I will go on record, and forgive me if this sounds cocky, and it does, but I’m just shooting here with you, but at the end of 2007, I believe ‘Scarface: Devil in Disguise’ will show up on more than one or two critics’ best-of-the-year lists. I’d hope that some of that will be because of my contribution with the plot and script, but oh my God, Alberto Dose is off the chain! This was one of Ryall’s Rod Serling moments, where he just has this innate vibe on what will click. If you see Alberto’s work in Desperadoes, you can imagine how high I jumped when Ryall paired him up with me. And then the first batch of pages came in for issue #1, and Ryall and I were both stunned. We knew what Alberto was capable of, and were anxiously awaiting the results of what he’d do with my script. Ryall knew Alberto was an artist at the top of his game, right? Then we see those first pages come rolling in, and I said, “Who is THIS guy?” It was like listening to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Physical Graffiti’ in mono for years and loving it, and then suddenly, the band says, ‘Here, now try listening to it in stereo.’ Ryall and I were both blown away. Alberto is in it to win it, and when people see his work on this series, I expect his stock to go right through the roof. For this series he’s got this robust style, and he’s bringing humanity to these killers, thugs, and madmen. His approach on the script is spot-on with my philosophy. Don’t judge these characters. Show, don’t tell.”
As for the chance of more “Scarface” prequel series, one can assume that sales of “Devil in Disguise” will play a large factor, and Jabcuga revealed that he does have some plans for more tales of Tony Montana. “There’s some characters in the world of fiction that have been done to death, literally, where it would seem they’re all tapped out, but we still enjoy them for the unique spin their respective creators can bring to them. With ‘Scarface,’ though, the world is still Tony Montana’s for the taking. If readers maintain this level of interest in the books as they do the film, who knows what the future may bring. If you’re at all a fan of the movie or the character, I can assure you that you’ll get your money’s worth here. I’m a ‘Scarface’ fan, first and foremost, and I’d buy this book. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written it. Besides, my brothers would kick my ass if it were anything less than extraordinary. Just a little pressure there. They get to use Tasers in their line of work, afterall, and they know where to find me. So who am I to let them down?”