Cates and Reznicek's "Buzzkill" Crashes the Party

Superman, of course, gains his extra-human abilities by exposure to the Earth's Sun and is crippled in turn by Kryptonite ore. What if, hypothetically, a hero gained his powers from alcohol, and his crippling weakness was, well, alcohol?

This is, in radically simplified form, the general premise behind "Buzzkill," the upcoming four-part miniseries from Dark Horse Comicsx written by Donny Cates ("Hunter Quaid") and Mark Reznicek (drummer of The Toadies), and featuring art by Geoff Shaw and colors by Lauren Affe. Debuting September 18, "Buzzkill" centers on Ruben, a man who also happens to be an alcoholic and a superhero, in inseparable fashion. Ruben becomes, after imbibing enough booze, an unstoppable force -- but for all the good he's done as a hero, his habits have wrecked havoc on his personal life, and he's ready to get clean.

Comic Book Resources spoke with Cates and Reznicek about "Buzzkill," and the barrage of threats Ruben is facing from within and without. Cates and Reznicek touched on the ways their personal lives have influenced the book, balancing humor with a serious subject matter and the glory of Panteradactyl.

CBR News: First off, what's the story you're telling in "Buzzkill"?

Mark Reznicek: The short answer is, it's the story of a superhero who gets his powers from drinking alcohol and doing drugs. It's also the story of an alcoholic's struggle to redeem himself, facing the fact that the very things that give him his powers -- booze and drugs -- are also the cause of his problems. In order to continue being a superhero, he also has to continue to be an alcoholic. This story shows his attempts to solve that dilemma, while still having to contend with his arch-enemies and making amends for his past mistakes. 

Donny Cates: At its core, it's a story about the relationship between power and addiction. It would be very easy for us to write this as a joke, to have this bumbling superhero being funny and drunk or stoned, but that's not what we wanted out of the book. Rez and I have both lost friends to drugs and alcohol and the last thing we want to do is make fun of anyone. All that being said, the book is a ton of fun, we like to think we've managed a good balance.

So, is Ruben the hero of the story? How would you characterize him?

Reznicek: He's basically a good guy with a drinking problem. He has girl troubles, arguments with his buddies -- but he's also a badass superhero. And did I mention he drinks? A lot.

Cates: He's kind of arrested in his development a bit. He discovered he could do these incredible things early on in his life and never really had to grow up. If you look closely at his costume and how it develops in the first issue, you can kind of see what I'm talking about. Everyone knows Ruben, or a version of him. He's angry and selfish and a bit of a brat, but inside he's still just a little boy. 

Almost all addicts come from a background of some sort of trauma -- Dr. Drew will tell you that. Ruben's no different, and his background is a huge, scary part of this story.

Who makes up the supporting cast of the story? Are there other heroes or civilians Ruben has relationships with? 

Cates: Well, I think Rez and I agree on this one: there's a character who comes into the book in issue two named Dr. Blaqk that is just a ton of fun. He's kind of a mix between Dr. Strange, Alan Moore and Tommy Chong. If we had our way, we'd spin him off into his own miniseries, he's just so much fun to write. I think people are reallly going to love him. 

Reznicek: Yeah, we're having a lot of fun with the Dr. Blaqk character! There are some other heroes who show up over the course of the series, some as Ruben's friends and some as -- antagonists, let's say. And he may or may not have a love interest. But I don't wanna spoil anything by saying too much.

Who are the supervillains Buzzkill will be going up against? I heard something about Panteradactyl, which might be the greatest character name ever.

Cates: Thanks! I'm a really big fan of Panteradactyl! Despite his somewhat sinister sounding name, he's actually a hero. The bad guys in the book were hands-down the most fun Rez and I had. We just sat down and wrote out weird sounding names until we had a full rogues gallery for Ruben. There's a bunch of cool ones in there, and I don't give too much away -- I'll just let Rez throw out some names for you guys -- ut expect these bad guys to show up in some other books at some point. They'll pop up in some unexpected places in the future.

Reznicek: When Donny and I were first discussing the story and who we should have our hero go up against, Donny mentioned that it would be cool to incorporate the names of bands that we knew or liked, so I started listing some of my buddies' bands, and right off the bat we had a couple of our rogues: Brutal Juice and Baboon. These two bands came up in the DFW Deep Ellum scene with the Toadies -- we've toured with them, and all the guys in both bands have been good friends of mine for many years. Plus, they make good, evocative names for villains! So it's a sort of loving tribute/poke in the ribs to my buddies. You should check out both bands; they still play occasional shows and are both amazing.

The premise of "Buzzkill" onviously bends the superhero genre a bit. In what ways did you want to use the tropes inherent in it, and in what ways did you want to push or tweak it?

Reznicek: I think I speak for both of us when I say we're both fans of superhero comics, and we both grew up reading them. So, the idea of doing a superhero book came pretty naturally. But, since the genre has been around for 75 years or so, it's not that easy to come up with a superhero concept that hasn't already been done -- or done to death, at least. And for me, my favorite superhero comics, from the Lee and Kirby "Fantastic Four" to Claremont and Byrne's "X-Men" to Bendis' "Avengers," always focused on characterization at least as much as villain-bashing action. So we're trying to have Ruben's inner struggles try to be at least as potent as his struggles with his villainous opponents. 

Cates: Rez nailed it. I've always gravitated more to intimate stories, personal ones. I love the quiet moments with Peter and Mary Jane. I love how Bendis writes those quiet moments in "Powers" and "Alias" -- stuff like that kills me. 

You're working with artist Geoff Shaw on the book -- what are you seeing him bring to the story?

Reznicek: First off, Geoff is an incredible artist, and Donny and I were literally jumping with joy when he agreed to do the book. He has an amazing ability to show emotion on the characters' faces and with their body language, yet can also draw jaw-dropping, bludgeoning, superheroic fight scenes. He also brings a cool sense of design, layout and gorgeous rendering. Every character appears on the page just like we imagined them, but ten times cooler!

I'd also like to mention our colorist on the book, Lauren Affe, and the beautiful job she does. She really makes the art jump off the page, and has a style that's really different, and intrinsic to the whole look of "Buzzkill." I'm humbled to be working on a book with such an amazing art team as Geoff and Lauren! They're both superstars!

Cates: Oh my god -- Geoff's work is unparalleled! You guys are going to be blown away by the things he's able to do. He is such a great talent, and such a nice guy and so invested in the characters and story. He's really a dream to work with.

I've been working with Lauren for my entire career -- she colored "Hunter Quaid" and she's coloring a few other projects with me as well. At this point, if you see my name on a book, it'll be colored by Lauren Affe -- a true professional.

How did this project come about? What inspired it, and how did the two of you develop the story?

Reznicek: While I was on tour with my band The Toadies, we played a show in New York City. At the time, Donny was an intern at Marvel, and is a childhood friend of our tour manager, Wes Solem. Wes invited Donny to our show and, knowing I'm a comic fanboy, introduced the two of us. After the show, while a party was raging on all around us, Donny and I stood in the corner geeking out about comics. Donny mentioned he'd be moving back to Texas eventually, and asked if I'd like to collaborate on a comic book someday. Some months passed while I tried to think of an idea that would make an entertaining comic. I eventually came up with the germ of an idea of a superhero who got his powers from booze. Everyone has felt like a superman when they're drunk now and then, and Donny and I have been known to engage in drinking to excess on occasion, so the idea seemed viable. I finally screwed up the courage to type up a few sentences outlining the concept, and sent it off to Donny. I was apprehensive and worried he'd hate it, but to my pleasant surprise, he liked it. An even more pleasant surprise was the fact that, basically overnight, he'd developed a whole backstory, supporting cast, framework and universe for this character to exist in. We had a few story conferences, and met up -- over drinks of course -- and further developed the story. The conferences basically consisted of Donny explaining his ideas, and me saying, "Cool!" and ordering another beer. But before long we had a script we were both happy and excited with.

Cates: I had just signed my first contract with Dark Horse ("Hunter Quaid," co written with Eliot Rahal, and premiering in "Dark Horse Presents" #24!), so I felt pretty confident tackling something new with Rez. He had a great idea and everything just really came together when we found Geoff. I am and always have been an enormous Toadies fan (Probably more than Rez knows) and being a Texan, I was raised on their music. Being able to do this book with Rez is a dream come true. And to be doing it at Dark Horse is just unbelievable. 

How much of your own lives and experiences inform the book?

Cates: Well we're both raging alcoholics, of course -- kidding, Dad! But in reality, at the time Rez came to me with the idea of a guy who gets powers from drinking, I was going through a pretty rough spot with a friend of mine who I unfortunately ended up losing to his addiction. I watched him turn into this kind of monster until I eventually couldn't even recognize him anymore. I had to walk away, and it was really hard. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't bring some of that baggage with me into "Buzzkill." It's why we ended up doing so much research -- going to AA meetings and all of that -- I wanted to take this seriously, learn about it. People who have never gone through this would never know if we were just making it up. People who had lost someone to this disease, or are maybe going through it themselves, would know in a heartbeat.

Reznicek: When we were first discussing this project, I voiced concerns that we not treat the subject too lightly. Obviously, there's a lot of potential for comedy in an idea like this, and that does come through in the book. But at the same time, alcohol addiction is a very real thing and really shouldn't be used as merely the basis of a joke. Having played in bands most of my life, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I've done my share of boozin', and spent a lot of time with lots of other folks in bands who like to drink -- musicians like to drink! We've had lots of fun while drinking, but there are consequences, too. So the root idea of the whole story is based on my life and the lives of most of the people I know.

In thinking about these ideas of addiction and power, or control versus chaos, some other classic stories come to mind -- maybe Jekyll and Hyde. That image of Ruben curled up on the floor makes me think of the werewolf on the morning after, which must come with its own distinctly intense hangover.

Cates: That's a really good way of looking at it. We are all, certainly, different people when we are intoxicated, and to some degree we are a truer version of ourselves at the same time. The idea of becoming a monster and not knowing what you did the night before is, I think, something we've all experienced at some point in our lives, and it's really scary. There is a very big metaphor in the book of having your demons come back to haunt you. Just because Ruben is clean now doesn't mean he gets to have a clean slate. As one of our villains says in issue two, "You don't get to just walk away."

Reznicek: It's sort of the ultimate hangover! The night before, you're having the time of your life. You're funnier, better looking, unstoppable while you're drinking and whooping it up. Come the next morning, you're laid low with a crippling hangover. For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. Everybody's gotta pay their dues sometime. And now is Ruben's time to pay those dues.

"Buzzkill" debuts in September from Dark Horse Comics.

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