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Commentary Track: Dynamite’s “Voltron” #1

by  in Comic News Comment
Commentary Track: Dynamite’s “Voltron” #1

SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead for “Voltron” #1, on sale now.

This week, the forces better known as Dynamite Entertainment and writer Brandon Thomas combined to create “Voltron” #1 – a new comic launch based on the fan favorite ’80s anime series. And though the original series promised that the lion space vehicles that combined into a mighty robot came from uncharted reaches of the universe, Voltron’s new origins place a decided twist on the premise.

Longtime fans or new members to the Voltron force of readers alike may wonder how Dynamite came upon a version of the characters that ties so closely to modern day Earth or the storytelling moves that led this latest launch from conception to final product. To help pull back the curtain on the process, Thomas provided a commentary to the first issue for CBR News.

Below, the writer delves in to the ins and outs of “Voltron” #1 from how he earned the gig at last year’s C2E2 convention, how the ubiquitous “Black guy dies first” movie trope worked its way into the series on accident, what action-heavy comics like “The Ultimates” and “The Authority” offered him in his writer’s toolbox and why the move to Earth is one that will continue to unfold in the months ahead.

Brandon Thomas: Editor Joe Rybandt started this whole thing, while we were sitting in a restaurant on the ground floor of the Hyatt right across the street from McCormick Place…

I was meeting with him and Nick Barucci, as they were in-town for C2E2, so I could thank them in person for the opportunity to write an immensely cool project that hasn’t quite been announced yet. Until that point, the only person I was writing comics for was myself, so I was incredibly excited to get back into the work-for-hire game.

I also knew they’d just announced getting the Voltron license, and when the subject of other potential projects came up, I asked about it outright. They said they hadn’t made a decision on a writer yet and told me if I was interested, I had a very limited window to get something in to them – which was something that initially intimidated the hell out of me and convinced me right on the spot I was never going to get it. So then Joe goes and says, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, “You know what I’ve always wanted to see…Voltron on Earth.” That phrase and that image got stuck in my head for the rest of the day and week, and it was the spark which ultimately turned into the pitch that got me the gig.

Fast forward approximately nine exciting, restless, and sometimes frantic months, and you’ve got “Voltron” #1 – the first issue of the first ongoing comic series I’ve ever written. Excited isn’t even the word to describe me right now, and thought it’d be fun to work up some commentaries dealing with this first storyline, “The Sixth Pilot,” the things that went into it, the things that got cut out or changed along the way, probably some mistakes made, but before we get into all that, let me explain exactly how the Black guy ends up dying first (well first-ish) and how it’s entirely my fault.

The brief opening pages was supposed to set the stage for the scale of things and to give an unusual introduction for the famous blazing sword. Jake and his friend/co-worker David are watching Voltron mix it up with a Robeast a few blocks away from their office building. Dave, feeling a little excited and reckless about everything, wants to stick around at what he thinks is a safe distance and watch the show…which clearly is a huge mistake. But here’s mine: though I specified that Jake should be white, I didn’t do the same for David, but what I did do was ask artist Ariel Padilla to fill the background with people of every race, age, and body type.

So that last piece of script got projected onto Dave, and when the art came back with him Black, I couldn’t do anything but grin about it. To make matters worse, his dead hand on page six came back from the initial colors pass the incorrect skin tone and I had to actually request that it be turned into a Black guy’s hand for continuity’s sake. But it was funny and a nice ice-breaker, ’cause I’m always a little nervous until the art starts coming back anyway.

What I wanted to do with this opening scene was start extremely fast and give people something they haven’t necessarily seen from “Voltron” every few pages – kind of the storytelling equivalent of pushing everyone into the pool. And I always tried to keep that kid in mind – the younger version of myself that used to watch “Voltron” on TV and think it was the coolest thing ever. If he were watching an animated version of this issue, what would I have to do to surprise him and crash his jaw into the floor? What are some things that could be done with these characters and this world that could give it both a contemporary gloss and some new entry points? Because it’s not enough that hard-core “Voltron” fans want to read this book (which obviously is extremely important) but I wanted to do that while somehow appealing to a legion of lapsed “Voltron” fans and people that have maybe heard of it, but never thought to ever read or see anything more about it. Sounds impossible, I know, but that’s the job, isn’t it?

It should feel like a series of dominos though, with another new surprise coming right when you were getting acclimated to the last thing that just happened. They should also be getting bigger in scope as you go along, so that seeing Voltron on Earth is not as big a “moment” as seeing Keith and company outside of the lions, which is not as big as hearing Voltron actually speak, etc., etc.
I have an idea which one of those things will be seen as the most “controversial,” but I’ll keep it to myself for now.

Whatever your opinion is on some of the book’s plot points, one thing we wanted everyone to agree on were the visuals and action sequences. We wanted everything to feel massive throughout, like Voltron is simply too big to fit on just one page, so you have to bring an extra. Think Ariel did a fantastic job with the layouts and storytelling on these, cause I know from working on Miranda with Lee that setting up an effective two page spread is challenging. Unfortunately for Ariel’s drawing hand, I’ve started to develop a real love for these over the years and this project seemed like a great place to use them over and over. Only thing I have to keep a close eye on is making sure the material actually deserves two pages of coverage, and isn’t one page just blown up real big. Even if it is worth the two pages though, it sometimes feels like I’m running out of space twice as fast, which has been a big consideration this past week as I’ve been finishing up issue five which is almost nothing but big action.

There was also some internal discussion on whether or not these scenes needed SFX put in, but we thought the art and the colors worked well enough to leave them without. Which was my initial preference, as I always loved how that was something that made books like “The Ultimates,” “The Authority,” “Planetary,” etc. more visually unique. The SFX in your head probably sound better than what I would’ve used anyway.

Following the hard cut is probably the most important scene in the book, even though it’s not as explosive and flashy as the front 2/3rds of the book. Deciding to give Zarkon an Earth-based origin wasn’t done on a whim and is something that will be fully explored over the first arc, and answer almost every question anyone will have about how something like that could fit into the mythos without everything else collapsing around it. The idea is not that we’re making it so Zarkon was now born, raised, and corrupted on Earth…it’s about how he’s always been from Earth and we’re just finally learning the true story behind it all.

But there’s some very important info spread throughout this entire exchange with him and a figure that’s obviously President Obama. We discussed showing more than his ear, a hand maybe, or even a reflection, but that all got scrapped cause we didn’t want that to become the focus point of the scene, and because plopping his face on and in comics to get folks excited seems like something that’s run its course. Did try to write his lines according to his speaking cadence, but I’m not sure how well that worked.

The important thing are the actual words flying back and forth, and there are a couple of major “clues” that will give you some ideas of where we’ll be going with all this. And you know, I fully acknowledge there is a level of risk in what we’re attempting here. But one thing I do want everyone to know is that any changes/alterations/additions were not done lightly or as some lazy ass way of getting people talking about a first issue that “changes everything you know,” which I don’t believe is the case anyway.

There’s a very good reason that Zarkon is now more connected than ever to Earth. And that his story ultimately gives birth to both the Galaxy Alliance and the Space Explorers. And that Voltron actually speaks, though don’t get too used to that.

This is only the first step of what I hope is a long journey that subtly redefines Voltron and his well-established position within comics and pop culture. Little more contemporary, little more dangerous and unpredictable, but at the end of it, this intepretation is about the thing Voltron has always been about—the power of teamwork, the importance of relationships, and you know, a giant awesome looking robot fighting giant awesome looking monsters…

Next issue:

“Is this how the planet of Earth welcomes a most distinguished guest?”

“No one knows. No one can know.”

“Pidge, Allura—they just knocked out our last forward cannon, and we need guns to stay in the air. See what you can do.”

“You guys have a good day. I’ll try to be home for dinner.”

Stay tuned for more on Dynamite Entertainment releases like “Voltron” from CBR News.

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