CCI: Hernandez & Mastromauro Deconstruct Aspen's Announcements

Aspen Comics had a number of surprising announcements at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego including volume two of "Shrugged;" a new volume of "Fathom: Kiani;" "Dead Man's Run," a brand new series written by Greg Pak with art by Tony Parker; and "Homecoming," a mysterious new project from Aspen designed by Michael Turner. With all the Aspen announcements coming out of San Diego this weekend, we went straight to the source for more details.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen's Editor-in-Chief, and Frank Mastromauro, Aspen's President, took some time out of their busy CCI schedule to detail Aspen's exciting projects and explain what's coming up for everything from fan-favorite character Kiani to a brand new series designed by Michael Turner.

Just announced, "Shrugged: Volume Two" is a continuation of the 2004 series created by Michael Turner and Frank Mastromauro. Following the adventures of a boy named Theo and the two beings that sit on his shoulders advising him, Ange and Dev. Playing off of the idea of the Angel and Devil on our shoulders, "Shrugged" explored the concept with adventure and humor. Now, Mastromauro is set to continue the story he and Turner began.

"'Shrugged was definitely the brainchild of Mike [Turner] at first. He and I discussed so many different things about it," Mastromauro told CBR News. "When 'Shrugged' was originally first envisioned, Mike had two big stories in mind. Unfortunately, he passed away and I finished up probably the second half of the first volume without him with a little bit of input. I just kind of ran with that and finished it up as strong as we could. I know there were a lot of delays and everything, but I was just grateful we got to finish it.

"I get so many emails and questions on 'Shrugged' at cons and so many different places that when I talked to Vince [Hernandez] it was like, 'Let's bring it back,'" Mastromauro continued. "There's already a story that I know that I'd spoken with Mike about and a big overarching plot that I have information on already, so it's not as if I'm completely starting from scratch or figuring out where I want to take the second volume. I definitely have a bunch of cool new things that I thought of since that time, but it should bring back some of the same characters, introduce a bunch of new ones and just move Theo forward in life. It's gonna be a lot of fun."

"It's nuts. The first volume was a wild ride because I had the pleasure of editing that book. Every script would come in and I would be like, 'Frank, what the heck is going on here with this story? You're just taking it in all kinds of wild directions!'" added Hernandez. "We anticipate doing the same thing with volume two. I'd say it's one of our, like Frank said, best received series and I think people like the absurdity of what it was. You can't put your finger on it -- is it a comedy, is it an action-adventure, is it all of the above? Volume two is going to be twice as much fun."

According to Mastromauro, volume two of "Shrugged" sees Theo at the end of high school, transitioning in his life -- and likewise for Ange and Dev. "We're trying to focus on the relationship between Theo, Ange and Dev. Theo is going to be in his senior year of high school. He's not going to be the main cool kid on the block, but he's been through so much that now he has more of a confidence to him," says Mastromauro. "In the meantime, Ange, because of what went on, is similar to how in real life girls advance quicker than boys. She's already moving on to the next stage of her life. She's gone up in the next level in the Elysian ranks. She's ready to be a grown-up and move up into the future world. Of course with Theo being a total teenager, Dev has regressed where he just wants to sleep all day and doesn't want to take a shower. There's going to be even more of that dynamic with Ange wanting to do the mature right thing and Dev just wanting to party, hang out and be with his friends. I have a fourteen year-old son who pretty much every day of my life I learn new phrases, new words or find out different crap of what's going on in middle school and the beginning of high school. So, aside from just normal things and experiences in 'Shrugged: Volume One' that myself and Mike drew from, I have plenty of stuff to draw from now that should make it a whole heck of a lot of fun."

Although "Shrugged" follows the story from volume one, Mastromauro was confident that new readers would have no trouble picking up the title. "It's been four and a half years since 'Shrugged' even began, so by no means do I want to do a straight from the hip continuation," he said. "It'll be a brand new series that any new reader, if you've never checked out 'Shrugged' before, can hop in. I'm doing a cool reintroduction of all the characters -- I actually already have that worked out for the zero issue exactly how I want to do it. That insures that anybody picking this up now won't be alienated or not know what's happening and yet introduce some new characters, some new people, some new feelings -- I don't want to go into too much detail, but this one is going to deal with fear and angst and anxiety. There's going to be a bunch of new feelings like in the first volume how there was the butterflies in the stomach and the gut feeling and stuff like that. This one is going to introduce a whole new batch of feelings for exploration and seeing where we can take all these weird, crazy things.

"I by no means want to disregard what's come already, but I'm certainly gonna take volume two in a fresh new direction and be respectful to what's already happened," Mastromauro continued. "If you've read volume one, you should wholeheartedly love volume two and if you've never read it, hopefully you'll pick up volume two, it'll stand alone and you'll want to go back and pick up volume one. That's my goal."

"Shrugged" isn't the only series to get a second volume coming out of CCI. "Fathom: Kiani" launches a new volume of the eponymous heroine's stories following the events of "Fathom: Volume Three." Written by Hernandez, "Fathom: Kiani" solves the mystery of what happened to Kiani after not knowing whether or not she died at the hands of Aspen Matthews. "Anybody who read volume one will know that was primarily focused on Kiani finding out about her past and who she was," Hernandez told CBR News. "For the first half of her life, she thought she was basically an orphan. In 'Kiani' volume one, she found her father was Killian, this big badass dissident who's basically been the big bad of every 'Fathom' up to that point. That kind of shattered her life's perception. In this volume, we're following up 'Fathom: Volume Three' where you really don't know if Aspen Matthews killed her. It's been about a year since anybody's heard anything from Kiani. She's basically been dead in the Fathom universe. We left that pretty open-ended, though, so fans are wondering what's going on with Kiani. Is she ever coming back? Did Aspen kill her? So this volume picks up right there at that angle because Scott [Lobdell's] 'Fathom: Volume Four' focuses on Aspen stuff, 'Kiani: Volume Two' takes us back to Kiani returning and she's pissed. Volume two is all about Kiani growing into the fact that she knows about her life now -- she doesn't like it. She doesn't like that everybody in her life has basically turned on her and she has no home in existence at this point. She was a member of the Blue, the underwater world, but they've disowned her because of her actions. She's not a human, she hates the humans. She's left in this weird void in the middle and that's what volume two is all about exploring and where she goes from there."

Mastromauro added a bit to the analysis of Kiani's character, speaking on her choices throughout "Fathom." "The problem is, I think, she committed a sin that she can never take back: she killed Cannon. Sure, being pissed at her dad or being pissed at what was going on because of the blues, with the black coming up and not agreeing with the way they wanted to handle the situation, that's all fine and good because there are disagreements all the time," said Mastromauro. "Marvel's 'Civil War' and DC's 'Blackest Night' are because of disagreements, but she went to a place she could never come back from by actually killing Cannon and I really think this miniseries is going to explore a lot of that because, as Vince said, not only is she alienated from her own race, now it's going to be this whole thing with her trying to find a place she doesn't even know if she can get to. Can she find peace? Can she find a place where she belongs? You don't know. After everything she's been through, there are things on the line: vengeance, acceptance, redemption -- all these different things. It's going to be a whole lot of fun to explore and see ultimately where her journey takes her.

"Like Vince said, Scott has Aspen going on all these crazy new adventures which is fantasticm" Mastromauro continued. "This is the first time where, even though they're both in the same world, they're traveling on completely different paths. We get to explore a lot of different options and not have them totally intertwining and being exactly related to each other. We'll be able to build a few bigger stories that people will hopefully really dig."

"I think that's one of the best selling points about 'Kiani: Volume Two,'" Hernandez said. "Scott's built this wonderful new story with 'Fathom: Volume Four.' It has brand new characters and it takes Aspen off in this new direction, but in 'Kiani: Volume Two,' if you were a fan of the first three volumes of 'Fathom,' this will take you back under the surface with all these characters of the Blue that people have come to know and love throughout the years. That's probably the best part of writing 'Kiani.' It's kind of like writing the main 'Fathom' book because you get to use these characters that everybody loves. 'Kiani' definitely focuses back under the surface with the Blue characters."

One of Aspen's most exciting announcements was their newest collaborative project with Producer Gale Anne Hurd's Valhalla Productions since "Scourge," "Dead Man's Run." Written by fan-favorite "Hulk" scribe Greg Pak with art by "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" artist Tony Parker, the book sets its sights on a futuristic underground prison where a team of the damned forms to save one soul. "I've been working on this since the end of last year, getting it all finalized," said Mastromauro. "We've been wanting to work with Greg for years since when Mike and I first met him in Toronto in 2004. We sat down at the bar that night, came up with this really cool concept that we were gonna start working on but at that point Mike started all his DC stuff and Greg started blowing up at Marvel doing all the 'Hulk' and 'World War Hulk' stuff. Nothing ever worked out schedule-wise and we always kept in touch saying we had to do something someday. Thankfully, that day is now. Over the last six or eight months, I've been getting this hammered out. 'Dead Man's Run' is the book. The logline is: 'In a future where Hell exists as an underground prison for the reanimated dead, a young man enlists a team of the damned to escape and save his innocent sister's soul.' Essentially, it's an innocent who gets sent to Hell, shouldn't be there and her brother goes to save her. It's insane. I've had hour-long conversations with Valhalla and Greg with him structuring the story and building all these different characters into it, how the Devil comes into play -- it's not fire and brimstone or how Hell is normally envisioned. It's going to be a whole different take on how Hell can be exactly where you are. What if this is Hell? He's putting up cool twists on all that stuff as only he can. It should be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

"Peter [Steigerwald] and Vince have known [Greg] for years, really great guy," Mastromauro continued. "We've never had a chance to work with him on any project because nothing seemed to fit, but Gale and the Valhalla guys really love his stuff. He's going to bring the perfect amount of attitude, of characterization and great storytelling that we're going to need for this. It's going to hopefully be one of our biggest books that we've put out in the last several years."

Aspen's final big CCI announcement was a new project designed by none other than the late Aspen founder, Michael Turner. Called "Homecoming," the book was the last thing Turner designed before his untimely death in 2008. Now, in collaboration with "Executive Assistant Iris" creators David Wohl and Brad Foxhoven and "Fathom" writer Scott Lobdell, Aspen is bringing "Homecoming" to life. Not much was revealed about the project except for an iconic image by Turner. "We're excited to finally be able to unveil our newest property, Homecoming, brought to you by an awesome collaboration of the late Michael Turner, David Wohl and Brad Foxhoven with Scott Lobdell," said Hernandez. "The creators of 'Fathom,' 'Executive Assistant: Iris,' and the legendary writing talents of Lobdell have combined to bring you a high school experience unlike anything you've seen before!"

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