Though the lives of detectives, crime scene investigators, field agents, spies, and other law enforcement professionals have been successfully dramatized for television, film, and comics in recent years, the less action-packed aspects of fighting crime have received considerably less Hollywood attention, generally being relegated to a brief scene in support of more high-octane stories. But in “Codebreakers,” a four-issue miniseries beginning in April from BOOM! Studios, the normally bookish field of cryptanalysis takes a turn for the explosive as a team of FBI data decoders goes off the grid for a dangerous investigation. Based on a concept by BOOM! co-founder Ross Richie , the series is written by newcomer Carey Malloy and illustrated by Scott Godlewski. CBR News spoke with Malloy about the project.
“It was an interesting challenge to tell a sort of ‘procedural’ story in the form of a comic book,” Malloy told CBR. “In procedurals, you have the luxury of slowly changing a character over a long period of time, which obviously wouldn’t work in the comic medium. So my plan was to quickly introduce their current world, then set off a metaphorical bomb that would get them out of their comfort zones and out into the big, bad, dangerous world. A world they’ve only observed from the confines of their offices.
“We begin by meeting our four central characters, codebreakers going about their everyday life in the FBI’s Cryptanalysis Unit. Early on they learn that a fellow codebreaker has apparently committed suicide, but these people look for code in everything – and they begin to find pieces of their friend’s life that don’t seem to fit,” the writer continued. “Pieces that lead them to believe something far larger is happening, but no one at the FBI believes them. Unable to let it go, the codebreakers set out, against the wishes of the FBI, to unravel the mystery of their friend’s vanishing. And through the course of this adventure, they learn secrets about each other, secrets that may connect to the larger mystery at hand.”
Malloy said that knowledge of codebreaking techniques both stems from and feeds into each character’s specific personality, and the investigation into their friend’s death will push each to discover new ways to use their talents. “The great thing about shoving these characters out of their comfort zones is that they are forced to use their varied codebreaking skills in new ways,” Malloy said. “They’re essentially nerdy math-obsessed desk-jockeys who find themselves in extremely unfamiliar and dangerous territory. No longer dealing with espionage and crime from the safety of their computer monitor, they are swept into the middle of a crisis that forces them to improvise and use their talents in new ways. It’s the most exciting aspect about the book for me. Seeing what these introspective people are capable of doing when pushed far enough. And it’s a fun wish fulfillment. A world where you don’t need super powers to save the day. What makes you a nerd, also makes you a hero.
“Without giving too much away, their character quirks are connected to their codebreaking ‘powers.’ We kept referring to the various characters’ codebreaking skills as their powers. Each character has a specific skillset, and each skill is represented in a uniquely visual way.”
Given some of the recent controversies about how private information is collected and used, CBR asked Malloy whether the Codebreakers question the methods behind their profession. “I think the characters begin in a world where they believe they are the good guys and bad guys exist and they revel in using their talents and the tools provided by the FBI to bring them down. Very cut and dry, black and white. And, of course, that changes for them pretty quickly,” the writer said. “The fun of the story is seeing each of these characters question their place in the Bureau and their true alignment when they find themselves on the other side of the line. Extralegal things happen pretty quickly in this book. The change in their environment, and their perception of the Bureau and what’s happening behind closed doors, ultimately leads them to do some legally and ethically questionable things to seek out the truth.”
Though “Codebreakers” is Malloy’s first comic writing credit, the writer does have a history with BOOM! Studios, having adapted two of its titles into film scripts. “‘Tag’ was the first assignment I ever went out to pitch for after I had my first spec script sale and got representation,” Malloy said, referring to the 2006 horror series by Keith Giffen and Kody Chamberlain. “I was terrified. And then I met [BOOM! co-founder and CEO] Ross Richie. He responded to my pitch and quickly became an advocate for me and the story I wanted to tell. ‘Tag’ is amazing concept, and a fantastic book. I felt my job with adapting it was to simply scale the story for the big screen and along the way add my own voice to the characters and the world. Adapting ‘Second Wave’ was a similar experience in that the story and the solid concept was already there. I learned firsthand writing ‘Codebreakers’ that BOOM!’s editors are very dedicated to character and theme and story, so I’ve been lucky to have two very solid bases to start from in adapting their books with them.”
Despite these credentials, Malloy said he sees writing comics as an intrinsically different skill. “I firmly believe that comic writing is the most difficult form of creative writing that exists,” he said. “It requires such a heightened level of efficiency and punch in every moment, a level that I don’t know exists in any other media. Even screenwriting. You can throw a line in for flavor or fun in a film script, but in comics, even the fun and the flavor have to push the story forward. And if it doesn’t, there’s simply no room for it.”
Knowing the artist that will ultimately present his story on the page, though, brought some comfort to Malloy’s efforts. “As for Scott Godlewski? The High Priest of Pencil? The genius that’s bringing this entire world to life? That guy? I recommend every writer pay out of pocket to have him do their book,” the writer said. “Sincerely, I find that I can relax on the reins because Scott will give the scene, the characters, the story overall, exactly what is needed. A great friend and fellow writer, Johanna Stokes, told me a good artist won’t give you what you want, they’ll give you what you need. And that is Truth. The visual styling and awesome character work that Scott did in his early sketches and issue one have greatly informed what I’m doing with the story and the characters in the subsequent issues. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of how this series has turned out.”
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