There aren't a lot of real tough men in comics. Wolverine? He cries over redheads. Batman? He cries over boys in tights. Punisher? He gets beat up by Wolverine and Batman. Beau Smith, the toughest man in comics, is coming back with guns blazing in IDW Publishing's "Cobb: Off The Leash" (a book he described as "Sam Peckinpah directing '24'") later this month. But who is Cobb? Sit back gentle reader, as Smith will tell you a tale of a very unique man.
"Some people are born to do certain things better than anybody else," Smith told CBR News. "Sometimes it's because they 're driven to be the best by their own motivation. These people work hard to become the goal they have set for themselves. With other people it's different. They do it because it's hardwired within them. Something they can't quite explain. Something they can't deny no matter how hard they try. It's an instinct, a natural reflex. A way of life.
"That's the way it is with Frank Cobb.
"Ever since he can remember, he has had the urge, the desire to protect. Like breathing, he can't stop it. He can't live without it. Although from time to time he has tried to hold his breath, in the end he has to inhale his desire for protection or he feels he will die. From as early as defending the weaker kid on the playground, being an All American tackle in college protecting the quarterback, a soldier defending his country against the enemy all the way to being a level one Secret Service agent protecting the president of the United States. Frank Cobb has always been a protector.
"Cobb has always had a special way for being able to see danger before it comes. He can smell it before it enters the room. More times than not he can stop an attack before it blooms into an act of violence.
"It's his gift. It's also his curse."
While many actors, such as Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson are influences on the character of Cobb, and inspired his creation, there's another surprising influence behind the man. One of Smith's dogs proved to be the "manliest" person in Smith's life, a living template of the qualities that would come to epitomize Cobb. "One of my dogs is an Australian Shepherd named Blue. He's got one blue eye and one brown eye. That kinda thing is common in that breed. Australian Shepherds are very loyal, orderly dogs. They are very protective and love to work. If they don't have a job then they will make one up. If they don't have a job they can also get destructive. They need to protect. The need to herd. They need to work. You don't want a destructive Aussie. They are super smart dogs that are problems solvers. If you don't give em' a problem to solve they'll invent lots of em' just for you.
"My dog Blue has no cattle to herd. So he has created his own job and that is protecting me …24/7. He is Jack Bauer and I am President Palmer. From the moment I get out of bed until I climb back in at night, Blue is up and with me every step of the way. In his world he is on the clock. He wants to know where all family members and our other dogs are every moment. He wants things in order. To him the order and safety of the pack is the number one priority."
Cobb will also be joined by a wide variety of supporting characters, all of whom are the result of hours of research and conscious attempts to eschew stereotypes. Smith feels very strongly about authentic dialogue, authentic history, and multi-faceted characters, so he won't be surprised if you fall in love with one or two of his creations. "Lemme give you the 'tale of the tape' on the supporting cast:
"Cobb -- Former Level One Secret Service Agent now on his own. Cobb has been 'Off the grid' since he left the service under 'cloudy' circumstances. He is 'talked' into rejoining his former secret service superior Jack Murphy with his private investigations and securities business.
"Jack Murphy -- Decorated Viet Nam hero. Retired from the Secret Service. Cobb's mentor and trainer from the service. He was an instrumental agent in the cold war. Hw now works in his own private investigations and security business. Murphy still deals with the government concerning government loose ends from the cold war and the Russian Mafia.
"Molly -- Law student and Jack Murphy's granddaughter that helps him out part time. Very much like her grandfather as the readers and Cobb will find out as the series unfolds.
"Yuri Ivankov -- Head of the Russian Mafia in the Brighton Beach Area. Very powerful and has strong ties with former soviet government and military contacts through the black market. He thinks of himself as somewhat an expert on human behavior. He is a student of Van Landingham's writings on human behavior. In 'Off The Leash,' Yuri is working a deal to put black market Russian stealth detonators in the hands of Al-Qaeda for a very large amount of money.
"Nikita Melnikov -- Beautiful former girlfriend of Yuri Ivankov. She has escaped his compound and is in fear of her life since Yuri had her brother killed. Like her dead brother, she knows of Yuri's deal with the terrorists.
"Ivan Rossoshik -- Yuri's head of security and his main enforcer. Very loyal and former Russian special forces. Ivan is smart and supremely deadly. An excellent field general for Yuri's criminal activities.
"Agron 'The Cossack' Rostov -- Former KGB agent and Cobb's Russian counterpart. He is almost a mirror image in skills to Cobb. He is the Russian version of Cobb in many ways. Rostov is a Cossack as his family has been for many generations. His upbringing plays a very big part in his actions and his unique way of thinking. He is very traditional in the ways of Cossacks."
In crafting the main character that inhabits "Off The Leash," Smith has taken painstaking care to make sure Cobb doesn't feel like other vigilantes. While the first issue won't reveal all his secrets, readers will see that Cobb isn't motivated by revenge or atonement, as with characters such as Batman or Punisher. "Right off the bat (A pun you will understand in the first three pages of issue #1) we see that Cobb has a natural instinct to protect those that he sees as unable or too weak to protect themselves in overpowering or outnumbered situations," explained Smith. "Unlike Batman and The Punisher, nobody killed his family in front of him or stuffed his Granny's fi-fi dog in a bag and dropped it into the river. Cobb is the kinda guy that you wanna hang out with, a guy that you can trust, and depend on. He has a great dry sense of humor without spouting off the tired tough guy one-liners."
The first issue will also feature some serious balls-to-the-wall action, leading into an even more intense battle in the second issue. It's safe to assume that Cobb will survive to the third issue of his titular series, but Smith says everyone else is up for grabs. "Issue one is everything [artist] Eduardo Barreto and I have ever learned about story set up. No hype, issue #2 is cover-to-cover, full throttle, gonads to the grinder, fist-fight-with-your-mother-in-law, action. Eduardo and I planned out each panel to make sure that this is nothing you've ever seen in a comic book or film before. There might be a couple of scenes you think you might have come across , but at the last second instead of tossing in that monkey wrench that everybody else throws at you, we fling in the vice-grip, the channel locks and a stud finder you've never seen before."
There's a lot of talk about "old school" comic books, in terms of tone and character, but it's been Smith's desire to really tap into that "old school" vein. He and IDW Publishing President Ted Adams found they shared similar views about "tough guys" and their deterioration in the comic book world. "It seemed that there were very few, if any, likeable tough guys. Any hero can have balls, but very few had backbone. Like Eduardo, we both felt that it was time to take folks back to school -- old school. I created Cobb to prove that to be a tough guy hero you don't have to be a sociopath or borderline psychopath. Sure, Cobb has some flaws, but not the kind that puts you in a backwards jacket with extra long sleeves that tie in the back.
"I don't know if it's lack of editors with story telling backgrounds or just lazy creators, but it just seemed that most were taking the easy way out with making the good guy worse than the bad guy. Good and evil, there is a difference. I wanted to show that there can be some good in the good guy. You can be as tough as leather, but that doesn't mean you have to wear it like Hannibal Lector. In the last few decades, film, comics and novel versions of tough guys have been reduced to borderline psychos or angst ridden nut jobs. It's ok for the tough guy to be flawed, that makes it interesting, but writers as of late have gone a little overboard with it. The tough guy ends up not being very tough or just as bad as the creeps he's running down."
Smoth's joined by his good friend Eduardo Barretto on art to bring the story to life. While the two share many similar interests, from John Wayne to similar taste in women, Smith said that it was hard to find a publisher that wanted to publish such a non traditional story. "We have always been told that there is no place for the genres of tough guys, action/adventure, westerns and war stories," said Smith. "It took Ted Adams, Chris Ryall and Robbie Robbins at IDW to finally let Eduardo and I off the leash. (bad pun…sorry) They believed in us and the project. As you can see by what they publish, they also believe that there is more than just super-hero stories to be told.
"Eduardo is a master craftsman. Like Joe Kubert, Jose Garcia-Lopez and Alex Toth, he is what a storyteller is all about. When you look at his art, you can see all the foundation that a great career is built on. His work is a lesson in art. You can cover up all the word balloons and text and still know exactly what is going on and what the characters are feeling.
"There a lot of 'top, hot artists' out there that could learn a lot from looking at Eduardo's art. If his art was a woman, it would be Raquel Welch -- a timeless beauty. I'm one that never thought the phrase 'Old School' was a put down. It's the highest compliment a creator can get. If Eduardo is Old School, then I know a lot of artists that need to go back to school.
"Eduardo and I have two other projects in the works. We're hoping that if 'Cobb' is a success, then it will open the door for us to unleash '200 People to Kill' and 'Jefferson Buck: Mann Trapper.'"
With the release of "Cobb" not too far off in the distance, Smith hopes that readers venture into their local comic store to pick up "Off The Leash," and he hopes that they understand Barretto's importance to the project. "'Cobb: Off The Leash' wouldn't exist if Eduardo wasn't the artist. I cannot stress how proud I am to be working with my friend. Not to sound cliché, but it really is a privilege to be working with him."
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.