The 1988 film “Die Hard” introduced filmgoers to New York City cop turned terrorist-fighter John McClane and established actor Bruce Willis as a major action hero. After three sequels, the most recent being “Live Free or Die Hard” in 2007, McClane is going back to his roots in a new ongoing series from BOOM! Studios. “Die Hard: Year One,” written by Howard Chaykin and illustrated by Stephen Thompson, begins in August, following rookie policeman John McClane as he fights crime in mid-1970s New York. CBR News caught up with Chaykin to discuss the series and his own experiences during the Bicentennial and its blackouts.
Though the first “Die Hard” film gave a thorough portrait of John McClane’s mettle as he dispatched terrorists in Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Building, the character is somewhat more raw in Chaykin’s “Year One” series. “He’s a young guy, a Marine vet, in his early 20s, who’s come out of the service and joined the NYPD,” Chaykin told CBR. “He’s been on the force for about a year, and he’s still in that training mode.”
The first story arc will see McClane working the streets during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration in New York City, an environment Howard Chaykin knows firsthand. “The Bicentennial in New York City was one of the greatest parties ever,” he said, noting that unlike the Civil War centennial fifteen years prior (“one of the biggest financial busts ever”), America’s bicentennial proved remarkably popular and lucrative. “Here it is, the Bicentennial celebration in New York City at a time when New York was one of the most roundly despised places in the world by the rest of the states. New York was sort of a scary pit in the ’70s. I loved it, I had a great time. But most Americans just hated New York and everything about it, so we play that dichotomy throughout the book.”
Though Chaykin’s creator-owned work such as “American Flagg!” and “Black Kiss” tends to take top billing when discussing his career, he has often delved in company-owned characters such as Guy Gardner, the Punisher, and Hawkgirl, either as a writer, an artist, or both. “Die Hard,” he said, fits in well with his own sensibilities. “I like doing period material, I like doing urban stuff,” Chaykin said. “I had a great time working with Matt [Fraction] and Rick [Remender] on the Punisher stuff, doing that New York landscape. When I did the Wolverine book [‘Logan Dies’] with [Marc] Guggenehim, there were a lot of World War I elements in that book, because we’d harkened back to Wolverine’s experiences in the trenches. And then I rolled right over into the ‘Phantom Eagle’ stuff with Garth Ennis, which was another use of World War I material.
“In this case, [Publisher] Ross Richie from BOOM! asked me if I was interested in this book and I jumped on it immediately,” Chaykin continued. “One of the wonderful things about the ’70s that most people don’t know, what we think of as the ’60s was actually the ’70s. I’ve always said that guys who are much younger than me will outlive me, but thanks to the ’70s I had a much better time. New York in the ’70s was an absolute playground if you were in your mid-20s and were making kind of a living. And there was money to made. We were all very young, hanging out, great drinking times. And the other thing about the Bicentennial weekend, which is my own personal story, is that I ate a bad cheeseburger and came down with ptomaine poisoning, completely blew my system out for about six weeks. Literally, on July 3 of that year, I ate a bad cheeseburger and lost 14 pounds in 8 days. I got down to 148 pounds — and I weighed 148 at birth, you know. But the ’70s were just an absolute gas. The clothes were ridiculous, the outfits were nuts, and the women were crazy–it’s just a fabulous time.”
This perspective helped Chaykin get a feel for the character of John McClane in his early-to mid-20s, as well as the experiences McClane would be likely to have in 1976 NYC. “Certainly, I lived through it, I know what it looked like. But there’s also a sensibility to it. For example, McClane is a guy who’s really sensitive to the fact that most women he’s attracted to are not going to be attracted to him because he’s a cop,” Chaykin said, referring to the fact that police brutality had led many to view law enforcement officers with suspicion.
“The other thing about the ’70s is that there was the first real wave of feminism, there was the first wave of getting past race and getting closer to the kind of unity that would ultimately lead to the election of a black president, and it was also just the beginnings of a casual relationship to gay culture,” Chaykin explained.
Particular events, such as the citywide blackout, would allow for exploration of both the characters of New York City and McClane himself. “My experience with the blackouts, [artist] Alan Weiss was at my place and he was using some tools of mine, we were working, and we watched New York black out one block at a time, moving uptown,” Chaykin said. “We were living at 26th street with a northern exposure. And the expectation for insanity, the city turned into a nighttime party. Saloons were just giving drinks away, so I spent the entire evening kind of loaded. That was the way the city was in those days. It was a little scary, but if you knew where to go and how to get there you had a great time. I’m trying to convey that kind of sensibility [in ‘Die Hard’].”
Another ongoing phenomenon around New York at the time was the Son of Sam murders, which eventually proved to be the work of cult member David Berkowitz. Though the possibility that McClane would be involved in hunting this serial killer was mentioned in initial publicity for the “Die Hard” comic book, Chaykin said that it would be some time before he got to this story, likely in the series’ third arc.
Also not immediately appearing is Holly Gennero, the woman fated to be McClane’s estranged wife. “In the first arc I really wanted to focus on who McClane was, in action, how he behaves under pressure, and ultimately how he gets his gold shield,” the writer said. However, it’s possible Gennero might show up as early as the second arc.
Joining Chaykin on the series is artist Stephen Thompson, who is already turning in “Die Hard” pages. “It’s terrific, I’m really impressed,” Chaykin said of Thompson’s art. “I always love guys who have not lived through the period or in the world who really manage to catch the language and sensibility of what I’m looking for. He’s doing a dynamite job.”
Chaykin is planning his “Die Hard” stories as four-issue arcs, and told CBR that he has turned in scripts for the first two issues, with #3-4 currently in the breakdown stage. “It’s an absolute gas. I’m about to start developing the concept for the second four-issue arc, which will probably be (unless of course I hit a stumbling block) the blackout, which was one of the great fun events of the ’70s. Look, there’s always disco, urban cowboys, all this stuff, swing clubs–the ’70s were fantastic! It’s one of the biggest, widest-open panoplies of plot material you’ve ever seen.”