Daniel Corey Merges Noir, Sci-Fi in Image Comics' "Red City"

Writer Daniel Corey leaves behind the early-1900s setting of "Moriarty" for the far-flung future of Mars with the launch of his latest Image Comics title, "Red City." Born of Corey's love of film noir and sci-fi, his new miniseries combines the two genres as he, along with artist Mark Dos Santos, colorist Chris Fenoglio and letterer Dave Lanphear, follows agent Cal Talmadge as on his quest to locate a Mercury ambassador's daughter, who is lost somewhere in Mars Central City.

Corey took CBR News on a tour around "Red City" while divulging his classic science fiction inspirations, how he built the title's creative team and the way in which the city of Los Angeles, both real and fictional, played a part in shaping the new title's story.

CBR News: I see "Red City" is being billed as "L.A. Confidential" on Mars -- what made these settings appealing for you?

Daniel Corey: There has always been a strange sense of Manifest Destiny about Los Angeles, and people have always come here to make their dreams come true. There is, of course, a bittersweet irony about that, as L.A. and Hollywood have been known to crush a dream or two.

If you're a person in the middle of having a dream crushed, you have to remember that it's all in how you look at your situation. The hardships that actors, filmmakers and businesspeople experience here end up being part of a journey that shapes them into new people. I mean, if this town does chew you up and spit you out, you can either stay mush, or you can reform yourself into something new and better. So, there's a story or two to be had there.

"L.A. Confidential" is inspiring because is works so well. The characters have different aspirations, and by the end of the story, everyone does sort of attain something of what they want, but their path to getting there isn't what they expected. And when they get it, they're not sure if they really wanted it to begin with. It's a beautiful expression of the journey of life, and specifically life in Los Angeles.

Red City is the nickname for Mars Central City, where our story takes place. I named the book "Red City" because the city itself embodies the characters' wants and needs. Everyone in the story needs a place. Everyone is looking for some sense of belonging and identity. The city itself is an expression of those desires. The character of the city shapes their lives.

As the miniseries opens, where are things, societally? There's mention of a recent war --

We are way, way off in the distant future, where all of the planets of our Solar System are united as one country, with each planet acting as an individual state. The resulting "country" is called the NSS: New Solar System.

A few years before our story begins, Venus and Neptune united to attempt secession from the NSS, resulting in the Unification War. In the end, Venus and Neptune lost, and The Amnesty was established, forgiving all wartime ills. Now everyone is forced to get along, by law. Post-war times are hard, and the once-prosperous Mercury is now forced to enter into trade talks with Neptune. The treaty is to be signed in Mars Central, aka Red City. Problem is, the Mercurian ambassador's daughter, Talia, has gone missing somewhere in the Big Red, threatening to disrupt the talks and throw off the tenuous hold of The Amnesty.

Enter our hero, Cal: He is an NSS Federal Security Officer, the NSS version of an FBI agent. He is a native of Mars Central, and is sent down to find Talia and keep the situation contained. But as Cal well knows, nothing is ever as it seems in Red City, and everything goes wrong, as alien mobs and political conspiracies come brimming to the surface.

The tone of "Red City," even in the first few pages, is fun, dangerous and familiar -- I feel like I know this kind of guy narrating the story, and I'm ready to find out more about his world. Tell me a bit about the star, Cal Talmage. 

Cal starts off the story as a guy completely out of place. He grew up an orphan on the streets of Mars Central City. He's a human of Earth origin, but has never been to Earth. He's wary of having to return to Mars Central, but it's also a homecoming for him, and perhaps a chance at some sense of identity.

As a guy who is really just looking for his place in the universe, things are tough for Cal. The character of the city and the extreme nature of his job take him down a hard path. Will he ever really get what he wants out of Red City? If he does get it, will it really be what he wants?

Cal narrates the story to us in first-person, following the time-honored tradition of the hard-boiled hero. The conventions of a classic American crime story are all there: gangsters, crooked politicians, femme fatales. There are familiar story elements, things that you expect. But I think we're giving these conventions a fresh voice. We're blending genres, standing them on their heads and giving them a new look.

Who are some of the other characters we will meet?

At the start of issue #1, we get a brief look at Angel. As Cal promises, we'll get to know her better a little later. She ends up being central to the story, definitely our leading lady, and definitely our femme fatale. She's fierce, smart and independent.

There's Colonel Slade, who fills the role of the no-nonsense chief that gives Cal the business. Only this guy is also in charge of a fleet of attack ships.

We learn about Talia. She's the missing Mercurian girl that Cal is trying find. Trouble, for sure.

There's Mitchell, a one-eyed alien that works in the shuttle station who fills the function of snitch. He's goofy-looking and funny, but don't turn your back on him.

Obek is the number-one Neptunian gang boss on Mars, and he's climbing the ladder of the underworld. He and Cal have history, going back to the war.

Prior to the war, Cal worked the streets of Mars Central as a homicide detective. Post-war, his old partner Jacques has come up in the world, and is now head of security at Versailles, the biggest casino in Central. But just because they used to be tight doesn't mean that Jacques doesn't have his own agenda.

We're living in a time where talk of colonizing Mars is getting closer to something that could legitimately happen in the future -- how much actual science is part of your story, if any? And how much did you pull from current day L.A. to inform the city?

The procedural nature of this story deals in the crime genre, and just happens to be set in an exotic otherworld. It's a good point to bring up, the present-day reality that there are corporations out there trying to colonize Mars. When they finally do, there will be crime. So, there will be special police that have to investigate those crimes. In a sense, "Red City" is a fantastical take on something that will probably happen.

The world of "Red City" is set far in the future, and all of the planets are occupied by native species: Martians on Mars, Venusians on Venus, etc. Everyone can speak each other's language and breathe each other's air. The settling of the NSS and discovery of all that science is for a different story, at a different time. I might get around to telling that story at some point. But for now, I want it to be sci-fi cops and robbers.

Imagine how difficult school would be in this universe. With so many planets functioning as part of one country, kids would have to learn the entire history of every planet! Too many presidents and state capitols to memorize.

As for current-day L.A., you'll definitely see some architectural influences in Mark's designs. You'll see downtown, City Hall, the industrial quarter, the outskirts and the desert. Just like in classic detective stories, we get a good taste of the various parts of town, the different building types, the different topographies.

You're teaming up with Dave Lanphear again, who you worked with on "Moriarty," as well as Chris Fenoglio and Mark Dos Santos. How did you go about building the creative team for "Red City?"

Dave is my go-to guy for letters, logos and design. He's worked for every company out there. He's been nominated for an Eisner. He can do it all. I usually run into Dave at a show and I'll say, hey -- got a new book coming up. Wanna letter it? And he usually says yes.

I met Mark Dos Santos at Jay Company's Amazing Arizona Con in Phoenix last year. Odd that we met there, since we are neighbors, both living here in the San Fernando Valley. Tony Fleecs introduced us. I told Mark I wanted to do "L.A. Confidential" on Mars. He said, "OK." Mark has made a real name for himself on the convention circuit, and deservedly so. He's a great artist, with a wonderful retro-styling that makes him perfect for "Red City."

I met our colorist Chris Fenoglio at Image Expo 2012. "Moriarty" artist Anthony Diecidue and I were debuting "Moriarty Vol. II: The Lazarus Tree," and Chris stopped by our table to show us his portfolio. I loved his "Weird Kids" book, loved his style. It took a little while for us to link up on a project, but I'm glad we did. He does great work.

What was the character design process like? How specific were you about your vision for this world and the people in it?

For the human characters, I like put reference links in the script, usually citing various famous people to base them on. For clothing styles, Mark decided to do something similar to "Blade Runner," and gave everyone slightly tweaked-to-look-space-age hats and trench coats. Also, I'm pleased to say you'll see your share of Bradbury-style outer-space jumpsuits. That was all Mark.

For the aliens, I'm usually vague in my descriptions, giving Mark and Chris an opportunity to bring their game. I described one alien as "William Holden, with a pineapple-like texture to his face." He's on the cover of issue #4, and I'm happy to say that he is both of those things. Can't wait for everyone to see him.

When asked why aliens would dress just like humans, I merely point out that three-piece suits could have an extraterrestrial origin, much like the pyramids. Food for thought.

For anyone who would like to know, I'll be at NYC: Special Edition on June 14 - 15 signing copies. You'll also be able to pick up the "Moriarty" Deluxe Edition Hardcover, as well as some other good stuff. I hope to see you at Javits Center in June, but if you can't make it, I'll see you in the funny papers. Feel free to tweet me at @dangerkatt.

"Red City" #1 hits stores June 11.

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