NOTE: The following story contains some strong language.
To most comic fans, actor Thomas Jane is best known as Frank Castle AKA The Punisher, having played the title character in this year's feature film. His resume is an eclectic one, playing the part of an action hero in "The Punisher," a baseball hero in "61," a bank robber in last year's "Stander," as well as roles in such diverse films as "The Thin Red Line," "Boogie Nights," "Deep Blue Sea" and many others. While you may know Jane primarily as an actor, comic fans will soon get to know him as a writer.
Next summer Jane and Steve Niles tackle the world of science fiction in the twelve issue series "Bad Planet" from IDW Publishing. The series is about an accidental alien invasion and the consequences of said invasion. While we've discussed the series with Niles in the past, we hadn't heard from Jane quite yet. CBR News spoke with Jane last week to learn a bit more about the series and to see what other comics work he may have in the offing.
"'Bad Planet' opens with this giant freighter hurtling through space around 400 years ago, being towed along by this little tug boat," Jane told CBR News by phone. "The tug ends up exploding and sends this freighter, this meteor like object, hurtling off into space.
"Cut to 400 years later, present day earth, and scientists discover this meteor is coming our way. It's coming in fast and faster than anything they've experienced before, but it's not that big. It's not big enough to
cause something like in 'Armageddon,' but it's maybe the size of a couple of football stadiums and could cause some fucked up, localized damage. You'd definitely want to evacuate the area when this fucking thing comes in!
"So, people are getting excited about it, everyone's selling pieces of it on eBay before it even hits. There are news crews camped out waiting for it, hoping to get a good look at it when it comes in."
Jane said that when the meteor finally crashes, the pieces land in two places. One lands in Africa, while the other lands in Washington D.C. Inside the meteor is a freighter like craft filled with thousands of predatory alien creatures. Once exposed to Earth's environment, most of the creatures die, but there's one creature that doesn't, a spider-like being about the size of a large dog that are certainly not man's best friend. The creatures thrive and set up camp, dig their mud pits, begin breeding and start eating everything in sight. Oh, and so far nothing hurts them.
"They don't burn, they're unstoppable and impenetrable," said Jane. "Eventually there are hundreds of thousands of these things and they just start eating everything. People just don't know what the fuck to do! They're eating the planet!"
The series is populated by three main characters. There's Veronica Falcon, an astronomer who works in the tiny observatory that first discovered the meteor. In Africa, there's a young ten-year-old boy who sneaks on to the crashed ship, hacks into its systems with his computer and ends up inadvertently setting off the ship's distress signal. The auto-response from the system reveals that the owners will be right on their way to pick it up, the only problem being this alien race lives a good fifty light years away, so there's little chance of them helping out to battle these creatures devouring Earth.
As the signal travels through space, an inmate at an intergalactic prison hears about the distress call. When he hears the news he breaks out of prison and hitches a ride down to earth to help stop these things. Similar creatures destroyed his own home world and he decides to go to earth to help stop these things.
Helping Jane with the writing chores is writer Steve Niles, whom he met for the first time at this year's Wizard World Los Angeles. But it turns out it wasn't the first time Jane had heard of Niles.
"I grew up as a punk rock kid and was going to punk rock shows and I was buying albums from a band called Gray Matter," said Jane. "Years later, I'm reading Steve Niles' comics. When I met him I found out he was the bassist in Gray Matter."
When the two met, Jane pitched Niles the idea for "Bad Planet," wondering if he'd be interested in working together on the scripting duties and Niles quickly agreed.
"I had the beginning and the basis for the book," said Jane of what he presented to Niles. "I knew there was going to be an outlaw who would come down to save the planet. I took that to Steve and together we've spitballed the rest of it. Steve came up with this wonderful character, the 10 year old African kid, a kid whose whole village had been wiped out by AIDS and famine, so there's only children left in this village. This kid and this outlaw have something in common where they've both lost everyone they've cared for and their whole world's have dissolved."
The last time we spoke with Niles about "Bad Planet" he was lamenting the fact that the search for an artist who can do science fiction art they way they wanted was a difficult one. Well, that search has come to an end as Jane revealed who the lucky artist will be for the series.
"We hunted around for artists for a while, I'm very finicky about that," said Jane. "I grew up reading some pretty incredible artists that worked in the sci-fi and horror genres. We both held out until we found someone who really knocked us out and that's Chris Bolton from Australia. This is his first book."
Jane initially pitched his ideas to his friend Tim Bradstreet, who helped Jane work out who the characters that populate "Bad Planet." Bradstreet then suggested he approach Steve Niles about writing the book. As for Bradstreet's involvement with the series, Jane said he may end up doing some covers for the series and will be doing covers for the eventual TPB collection.
"I've always wanted to write a comic and I've always been a huge sci-fi fan," said Jane. "I wanted to do something that was on such a scale that making a film out of it would cost say $300 million dollars. For me, comics are an arena where your imagination can go hog wild, where you can have a lot of fun and tell a great story. That's what we're doing with 'Bad Planet.' We're making something that you just couldn't film, not quite yet."
Clearly Jane's "day job" as an actor pays a lot more than comics writing does, so that begs the question why write comics in the first place?
"It's just a matter of a love of the art of it," admitted Jane. "I've had a relationship with comics since I was eight years old when my Dad turned me on to "Mad" magazine. From there I was lead into checking out the old EC horror stuff, then Creepy, Vampirella, etc., which led to Bernie Wrightson and 'Swamp Thing' and then in the 80s I was turned on to Dave Stevens and 'The Rocketeer.' I was a big fan of guys like Frazetta, Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Wally wood, all these incredible artists."
You might notice a lack of reference to super hero comics in the above list. Jane said he's always had more of an interest in adventure style comics, not super heroes. "I've never been a super hero guy. I've never understood it," said Jane.
Jane says that he's enjoyed writing "Bad Planet" thus far and that we can expect to see more from him, possibly a new series every other year or so, as his schedule permits. As for "Bad Planet," it's a fairly ambitious first project. It's a twelve issue series, large in scope and essentially a big budget science fiction film on paper. Jane said that the first twelve issues are broken up into two story arcs and that should the series find an audience he already has plans for more stories revolving around the very same world.
In addition to "Bad Planet," Jane may have a stint or two on Marvel's "Punisher" series in the distant future.
"It's something I've been talking about with Marvel that they've agreed," said Jane. "It's just a matter of getting it going and finding a slot for it. Steve Niles and I have the story already and it's a good one.
"I'm also talking to Bradstreet about putting together a 48-page Punisher book drawn by Tim that would essentially star me. It would be me as the Punisher, drawn by Bradstreet. To get Bradstreet to do interior work would be a real coup. I've got my fingers crossed that it'll work out."
In addition to "Bad Planet", Jane's working on another comic, this time based on a real life 17th century Transylvanian countess who killed over six hundred women in her time.
"I'm working on the outline right now for a comic about Elizabeth Bathory, the blood countess. She's a fantasic character. She was an artist of torture and a complete mad woman in a wonderful way. I'd love to do a three or four issue mini-series and I think I'll call it 'Blood Beast: The Story of Elizabeth Bathery.' It happens 50 or so years after Vlad the Impaler. It's that whole gothic castle, head on a spear, drain your blood and take a shower with it kind of stuff."
As for the future of the live-action Frank Castle, Jane say's he'll be back in the title role in a sequel soon enough.
"They're really hot on the sequel since the DVD has sold so well," said Jane. "They're in the process right now of budgeting a sequel. We should have it in the next two weeks, sort of a preliminary budget, and then we'll start talking story, then writer and then we'll get going. I'll be involved in the story development. I probably won't be credited as such, but I'll definitely have input as to what I want to do."