Nearly a full year has elapsed since the tragic passing of comic book creator Michael Turner. With contributions to the industry including a multitude of highly praised cover art as well as the co-creation of franchises such as "Witchblade," Turner undoubtedly left behind a significant legacy when he died - and his friends and colleagues at Aspen MLT Inc. are doing their best to carry the torch in his name.
"I think Mike would be proud of us because we've really busted our hump the past few months to maintain everything he built," Aspen's Editor-in-Chief Vince Hernandez told CBR News. "His inspiration will always be evident in everything we do moving forward."
And there's no doubt that Aspen is moving forward. Its gone from a comic book company marred by personal loss to an entity with an exciting future. In addition to making progress on their flagship titles "Fathom" and "Soulfire," Aspen is adding two brand new titles to its catalogue with this summer's "Executive Assistant: Iris" and "Dellec," both of which have already released #0 issues.
Hernandez spoke with CBR News about Aspen's immediate future and the creation of "Iris" and "Dellec." With the occasional chiming in of Mastromauro, Hernandez also spoke about other titles including the elusive "Ekos" from Geoff Johns, as well as Aspen's Hollywood aspirations with "Fathom" and "Shrugged."
CBR: Vince, what makes now the right time in Aspen's history to unveil brand new properties such as "Dellec" and "Iris?"
Vince Hernandez: Timing always plays a major role in our process for launching new properties. We never want to just release a book for the sake of having product out on the stands. We want to make sure we can devote the highest quality possible in terms of story, art, and production to each series.
Our late founder Michael Turner was never about quantity over quality with his approach to everything, and that's a policy we hold dear to how we do business. For "Dellec" and "Executive Assistant: Iris," the proper development and production was completed on both, and we knew this would be the perfect time to show our fans that we're committed to producing new ideas and properties to compliment the titles we currently produce such as "Fathom," "Soulfire," and "Shrugged."
What does the arrival of these new titles mean for your older flagship titles like "Fathom" and "Soulfire?"
VH: We're definitely going to put the spotlight on our new titles such as "Dellec" and "Executive Assistant: Iris," but our fans know that we consider every property to be of equal value. In fact, we have more plans for "Fathom" and "Soulfire" than we're able to schedule in right away. For "Fathom," we're smack dab in the middle of the ending of a massive volume three story arc that will lead into an entirely new future for the series that will surprise many.
On the "Soulfire" front, our plans for volume two are still a go as we're already finished with the first five issues of the volume. Also, out on the stands as we speak is the all-new "Soulfire" miniseries "Souflire: New World Order," which bridges the gap between volumes one and two.
In "New World Order," magic is alive and beginning to spring up in unexpected places. Our story focuses on a particular group of people that have begun to discover they have the magic within them, and the dangerous consequences attached to their newfound abilities. It's an expansion upon the story involving Malikai and Grace in volume one and in addition to the many new characters you'll encounter, a few characters from the proper series will also appear.
How do you think the new books will resonate with your pre-established audience?
VH: I'm very optimistic that both "Dellec" and "EA: Iris" will find their own niche with our fans. Already we've seen huge amounts of excitement for both properties and I think when people get their hands on copies of both they will be surprised. We're very interested in seeing how people react to "Dellec" because honestly, it's a departure from everything else we've done in regards to style and story. However, the art is phenomenal and I'm not being biased because it's our book. I fully anticipate that people will be blown away when they see how awesome this book looks. I'm certain both properties will fit nicely into our catalog of titles.
Putting these two series aside, are there other titles that Aspen is working on that hasn't been announced yet?
VH: We have many new titles in the works, and you can expect an announcement on them in the coming months. These announcements will be made throughout the convention season as we have big plans for the major shows and what we'll be revealing. So yes, stay tuned for even more announcements coming out of Aspen in the next few months.
Clearly, 2008 was a very difficult year for the studio with Michael Turner's passing. How has Aspen adjusted since then?
VH: We still haven't and probably never will. Michael was more than our founder or president or superstar - he was our best friend. You can never truly adjust fully from that loss. Our first few months as a company after Michael passed were the hardest period in Aspen's history. All of us were dealing with not only losing our leader but someone we loved and who gave us so much. But we're lucky to have tremendous fans that supported us, and industry colleagues who've stepped up to help us stay on the level that Mike brought us to. Special thanks have to be given to guys like Joe Benitez and David Wohl, who helped us out tremendously without asking for anything in return. We knew it was going to be a tough road without Mike, but I'm convinced that he'd be proud of the hard work we've put in to keep Aspen going strong.
Let's get into the details of some of these new titles. Tell us about "Dellec."
VH: "Dellec" is the story of one man who is put into an impossible situation. He's forced into a fight between innocent and evil and sets out of a dangerous quest to eradicate these forms of evil that serve a devious purpose - to sway the people of the world's faith in God. Simple, huh? Not quite. What Dellec will come to discover is there are varying forms of ill repute in this world. Innocent and evil do not have simple definitions or identities and our story intends to explore the humanity of both.
The idea that God was creating his own form of evil to build faith in him was one that struck Frank Mastromauro a few years back and we've been developing it the past few years. The story arc will encompass time periods dating all the way back to the dawn on man to explore the premise in the book.
Tell us about Dellec as a character.
VH: He's a working class guy, your average hard-working man. I wouldn't use the term hero at all to describe him because his decisions are made out of circumstance rather than choice. He's forced into an impossible situation and reacts accordingly. Frank and I made it a point to make him realistic in his choices and actions. In "Dellec," it will be hard to distinguish at some points who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are because many of our characters will do and say questionable things. And when I say questionable, I mean what normal society deems inappropriate or "evil." But these characters will wholeheartedly believe that their actions are for a just cause. Dellec's motives and actions will sometimes fall into this grey area as well.
From the sound of it and judging by the covers, the tone looks pretty dark and bloody. Would you classify "Dellec" as a mature readers book?
VH: It is dark and bloody and the content will be mature. We're not pulling punches on this series. It's set in reality, so people do bad stuff, so to speak. It's not a kid's book at all, but of course, I can see some kids enjoying it because it is an action adventure series, after all - and there will be loads of action. I can't emphasize this enough. Frank and I wanted to have a book that, at its core, is intense and exciting. Something we would want to read.
How happy are you with Micah Gunnell's art so far?
VH: Micah is going far above and beyond what we asked for in "Dellec." I can honestly say without a shred of doubt that "Dellec" will be one of the best-looking titles we've ever produced. Micah is not only penciling each page, but he is also designing the world Dellec inhabits. In fact, anyone who picked up the zero issue was treated to a multitude of his design sketches. He's not just the artist on the book; he is without a doubt the visual voice of the series. We couldn't be happier with the work he's done. To say he's elevated his form is an understatement as I feel he's not only added to his repertoire, but he's redefined what his style is completely - for the better.
Moving on, you of course have "Executive Assistant: Iris" coming out. Can you tell us a bit about how it was developed?
VH: "Iris" was created by David Wohl, Brad Foxhoven and Michael Turner. It's based off of a "New York Times" article Wohl once read highlighting these executive assistants in China who are basically trained from childhood on to be corporate bodyguards and, if called for, assassins for high-powered executives who might need such protection, but also want to keep a level of discretion. Yes, these executive assistants also dutifully manage the day-to-day duties of a normal secretary. It's a fascinating phenomenon that [the creators] explored and turned into a thrilling story based on one particular assistant's journey for the truth about her existence.
Iris serves her master, Mr. Ching, with unflinching dedication and loyalty. However, as events unfold that force her to defend the life of her boss, Iris discovers more about her past and she begins to question her loyalty. But she also finds out the price of disobedience, and the truth of her origin, which is much deadlier than she expected. Her origin shaped the woman she is today and what you can come to expect from her and her actions.
Do you think that the franchise potential stems from Iris as a character, or from the concept of the executive assistant?
VH: The naming of this series is entirely built to function as a platform to have stories about the other executive assistants out there - and yes, you will be introduced to a few of them in this series.
Aspen also has the long-developing series "Ekos" from Geoff Johns and Michael Turner. How are things progressing?
VH: It's my understanding that Geoff is continually working and developing the property. It's impossible with his immensely busy schedule to focus on one project so when the time comes for us to get cranking on the property again, I don't anticipate any setbacks story-wise.
For fans who might not be aware of "Ekos," can you explain the concept of the book?
Frank Mastromauro: The story deals with the planet Ekos and how our main character, Grell, starts to see visions of the planet being invaded and destroyed. With none of the other creatures believing what he says, he becomes almost an outcast. However, the day soon arrives where his visions come true and all of the beings on the planet need to unite together to defend themselves. Grell finds himself an unlikely hero fighting against this new enemy, while also discovering a hidden secret that's much worse than those he now fights!
Basically, it's pretty damn epic, will read and look amazing, and is one of Mike's best creations. Make sure to check it out!
Has the delay in release given Johns and everyone else some time to rethink certain plot angles?
VH: No, that's always been set and I personally think it's amazing and doesn't need any tweaking. Adding to the story? Yes. Up until Michael's passing last year, he and Geoff would constantly discuss the story and add to the universe. They had a great collaborative chemistry, which will be reflected in the book for sure.
Are you any closer to assigning "Ekos" to a new artist?
VH: At this moment, we're not revealing an artist on the series. But rest assured, the artist we choose will be somebody we feel can follow in Mike's footsteps and make him and us proud.
If you had to guess, how long until "Ekos" is released?
VH: I would say one to two years is a reasonable estimate, but this could all change depending on many variables such as artist schedules and production time and so on.
What can we expect from some of your flagship titles like "Fathom" this summer? You're wrapping up the third volume, right?
VH: This summer we do in fact wrap up "Fathom" volume three. This is the culmination of the first three volumes and everything Mike started back at the beginning of the series. It's what "Fathom" fans have been waiting to see as the humans, the Blue and the Black all square off with Aspen Matthews smack dab in the middle of all the action. There will be new directions for many characters following the wrap up of this volume, and the "Fathom" universe will change dramatically.
We just recently held a "Fathom" summit meeting to discuss and solidify what we have in store for the "Fathom" universe beyond volume three. We also welcomed onboard (yes, that's a "Fathom" pun) writer David Schwartz to join the team and help us map out the future of the series. There will be a fourth volume and there will, as always, be more "Fathom" miniseries in the works. And the "Fathom" minis coming up are really going to open up the world of the Blue and "Fathom."
How far along is the "Fathom" movie's development?
FM: I'm an executive producer on the movie and the studio, Fox, has been fantastic in including me in almost every aspect of the development process so far. I was able to sit in on almost all of the pitch meetings for the writer selection and give my notes and opinions. Choosing Jordan Mechner [as the screenwriter] was honestly a no-brainer. He had done so much research and brought "Fathom" into our world very realistically while still retaining everything that made "Fathom" so special. I can't wait to read his script.
I've discussed and gone over the original "Fathom" story with everyone involved several times. They all highly respect the world Michael created and want to bring that to the viewers in the most accurate yet relatable way possible. Megan Fox really has been a fan of Michael and his work for a long time now, so I know she's going to do an incredible job portraying Aspen on the big screen.
While a second "Shrugged" series may or may not happen, are you guys thinking about the property in terms of media outside the comics industry? What different types of media would "Shrugged" work in?
FM: I do have a story for volume two of "Shrugged" and think it will eventually happen. We just need to work out the scheduling and such for when that'll be. "Dellec" is taking up most of my time right now, but I'm certainly looking forward to exploring and bringing everyone more "Shrugged" soon.
In regards to outside media, I really think "Shrugged" could be the perfect family summer movie. Start off in the real world with Theo and his friends and by the second act, we're in Perspecta and everything is now animated CGI, ala "Shrek" or "Monster's Inc." As we eventually make it back to the real world, many of the animated characters from Perspecta come back too and it'll be an all-out free-for-all, like an updated version of "Roger Rabbit," only in 3D! I think it could be a lot of fun and I'm starting to have some discussions with a few people to hopefully make it a reality. Stay tuned!
"Executive Assistant: Iris" #1 hits stores June 17. "Dellec" #1 arrives July 22. Zero-issues of both series are on sale now.