Giant robot comics used to be so simple. Then Devil's Due and writer Dan Jolley went and infused the characters of "Voltron" with depth, provided exciting adventures and a compelling end to the first mini-series (which the creative team discussed earlier this year). So, to help clear up things for CBR News and it's readers, writer Dan Jolley, who's been working a lot with Devil's Due of late, decided to give people the basics behind "Voltron" and prime them for the ongoing series arriving in January (along with a collection of the first mini-series).
"In large part, 'Voltron' is a story about second chances and new beginnings," explains Jolley. "It's set roughly five hundred years in the future, when the galaxy is in a state of interstellar cold war between the mostly human Galactic Alliance and the vast Drule Supremacy. A rogue Alliance military officer sends five maverick pilots on an unauthorized mission to retrieve an ancient war machine that he believes will tip the scales in the Alliance's favor; but when the five pilots locate the legendary Voltron on a distant planet called Arus, their allegiance soon shifts. Now they've sworn loyalty to Arus, and to its leader, Princess Allura... and they're about to discover that they've become the fulcrum in the Alliance/Supremacy power struggle, with ramifications far beyond what they'd foreseen."
Every comic reader is looking for something unique or special in the land of funny books and Jolley contends that, quite simply, "Voltron" has something no one else has, laughing, "Well, I do think it's safe to say that this is the only comic book on the market about a giant robot warrior composed of five robotic lion fighter ships. But, setup aside, one thing I do consciously strive for with this title is a sense of fun; it's definitely an all-ages book, and that's not something I'm particularly known for. (Aside from three issues of 'Superman Adventures,' pretty much everything else I've done has been aimed at an older audience.) It seems to be working, though - keeping the stories light and fun enough for kids, and sophisticated enough for more mature readers. I'm having a blast with it."
In striving to keep things layered, but not lose any of the all ages fun, Jolley's tapped into the character archetypes that made the original "Voltron" such a success and added his own spin. "All five of the Earth pilots were misfits on their own planet; in fact, all but one of them had no families, either. Keith Kogane, the mission commander, is a natural leader and a brilliant martial artist, but after experiencing a number of huge personal tragedies, he's now so unwilling to let his emotions show that he comes off as cold and machinelike. Lance McClain is a little like Tom Cruise's character in 'Top Gun,' except that his showboating landed him in a massive load of trouble, and he had to be released from prison to take part in the mission. He's by far the most fun-loving and exuberant team member, and has a hard time learning from his mistakes. 'Pidge' Stoker is a certified genius, but as an orphaned ward of the state - and a pretty scrawny little guy -- he's had a brutal time trying to fit in and learn to socialize. Given the chance to leave the boarding school where he was ostracized and frequently beaten up, he jumped at it. Subsequently, Pidge has gotten along best with 'Hunk' Garrett, a gigantic, intimidating mechanical wizard who relates to machinery a lot better than he does to other humans. The last member of the team has proven to be the most puzzling: Sven Holgersson is a weapons specialist chosen for his deadly ability; he and the other four Earthmen discovered and learned to fly the five lion-like ships that would eventually bond together to become Voltron. But for a reason as-yet unknown, Voltron seemed to reject Sven, and Arus's leader, the young princess named Allura, stepped in to pilot the Blue Lion. Sven is less than pleased with this development."
That's only one of the sub-plots left open for development after the last mini-series and questions as to the Drule's empire's power or what role the Princess will play were put out there for a reason. "Oh, we'll be addressing those questions and more in upcoming issues," promises the "JSA: Unholy Three" scribe. "At one point we'll see the Voltron team actually travel to the planet where the Drules' most powerful weapons - the colossal, viciously destructive Robeasts - are bred. And what's going on with Sven will be dealt with in some depth fairly soon. As to why we left the questions open, it's simply because we always intended to continue the story; we knew we'd be back after 'Revelations' ended."
Seeing as how the previous series was only five issues and did quite well, one might be tempted to wonder why a) the series restarted at a #1 and b) why Devil's Due didn't keep doing sets of mini-series. "Starting at #1 and going monthly was a decision made by Josh Blaylock and the rest of the gang at Devil's Due - but I'm very much in favor of it," admits Jolley. "Writing an ongoing series really lets me stretch out and explore tons of different aspects of the Voltron universe. Plus it allows for the occasional one-shot, which is obviously pretty hard to do when you're writing a mini-series."
Continuity, one of the few polysyllabic words in the comic geek's dictionary that seems to be a four letter word nowadays, plays a big role in "Voltron" because of many fans' strict adherence to the "Go Lion" (original Japanese "Voltron" series) timeline and the adventures in the Americanized series. "The continuity of the TV show is definitely taken into account in this series; the characters are basically the same, the setup is basically the same, and I think the 'feel' of the story has been preserved," purports Jolley. "But we said from the beginning that we were creating a new continuity for the comic book. That's why we started from the beginning, so that we could tell the whole story the way we wanted to. And the approach has not been difficult to adhere to; we're just keeping all the parts of the show that we liked, and jettisoning all the parts we didn't. And as we go along, readers will see us diverge more and more from the continuity of the show -- but it'll be okay, I promise [smiles]."
By now you've likely heard stories of how Devil's Due and Ontario based Dreamwave Productions have had to go back to licensors to approve images on their "G.I Joe" and "Transformers" series respectively, and while it seems that between the lines there may be some small points of contention, Jolley says that the owners of "Voltron" have been fabulous partners. "World Events Productions has been a dream to work for. They just really like what we're doing with the story, and 99% of the time they pretty much just let us do what we want to do. I think part of that is that we're coming from a place (and this may apply to me most of all) where we loved the original show SO much that it's just kind of instinctual what'll work and what won't. So we just avoid what won't [laughs]."
With that creative latitude, Jolley says the focus for "Voltron Vol.2" is, "Definitely light adventure and fun for all ages, but I don't think that means characterization gets excluded; I've got lots of plans for these characters, and I'll be getting into their heads as much as possible, as often as possible."
Something that has long time fans of "Voltron" both happy and full of trepidation is the return of Vehicle Voltron, the large mecha comprised of 15 different vehicles. So what's next, the Power Rangers? No, says Jolley, who contends it'll never be morpin time inside the page of "Voltron." "We planted the seeds for Vehicle Voltron pretty much immediately; on the TV show, the VV team was led by Commander Hawkins - and it's Hawkins himself who decides to recruit the five pilots to go searching for the Lion Voltron at the beginning of the first mini-series. One thing I'm trying to do is unify the continuity of the two Voltron series into one storyline that makes sense. There is no 'Far Universe' and 'Near Universe' now, as was put forth on the show; Lion Voltron is simply based on the planet Arus, and Vehicle Voltron... well, that'll be explained soon enough. [smiles] (In the first arc of the new series, actually - issues 1 through 5, which were co-plotted by Yours Truly and Marie Croall, my studio-mate in Studio Phoenix. She took a look at what I had in mind for the first arc, and said, "You know what would be a better idea?" So I listened, and had to say, "Well crap, you're right - that IS a better idea." [smiles] )"
Many of you reading this article may not care Vehicle Voltron or roll your eyes at the thought of more nostalgic elements being introduced at potentially the loss of pages of characterization, but Jolley is squarely focused on appeasing the die-hards and present forward movement of the mythos for new fans. "Again, it's all about the approach. The original 'Voltron' TV show was A) spliced together from two completely unrelated Japanese series, and B) aimed exclusively at young children. Those two factors combined to make a show that suffered from some pretty large continuity and logic problems, as well as being really saccharine sometimes. We're not bound by the restrictions that the American show's producers were; therefore we're free to take the core concepts and tell whatever tight, exciting stories we want to with them. And that's what we're trying to do every month."
While "Voltron: Defender of The Universe" garnered both fan and, surprisingly, critical acclaim, it hasn't exactly burned up the sales charts in the way "Transformers" and "G.I Joe" have in recent times. "I'm sure the nostalgia thing plays a part in it; it's very easy to have pre-conceived notions about something like 'Voltron,' based on what's come before it," says Jolley. "So my response to that is simply, Pick up a book and give it a read. I'm betting you'll be pleasantly surprised. Even some critics who were openly opposed to another 'nostalgia property' have given the series good reviews; it may be that word of mouth will eventually catch up with us."
Imagine that you were given free reign over the "Voltron" universe- what would you do? Don't ask Dan Jolley- the possibilities are too much for him to handle! "That's a tough question to answer, just because there are SO many things I'd like to do; I mean, 'Voltron' is a science-fantasy saga with an entire galaxy to play around in, so the possibilities are very nearly limitless. I want to see wars fought and empires toppled, great romances bloom and die, ancient secrets revealed and ultimate destinies embraced. There's not much I don't want to do, actually."
Unlike some other creators, Jolley hasn't found beautiful women throwing themselves at him during convention season, but on the upside, he hasn't received any death threats or people trying to get him drunk so he can do stupid stuff for Rich Johnston to report. That said, he has his own quirky story from his "Voltron" experience and explains, "It's not really a funny story, but when I started on 'Voltron' that was my first real exposure to what's commonly called 'the diehard fan.' I didn't realize to begin with how many people there are out there who feel very passionate about 'Voltron,' but I quickly became very aware. And man oh man, the second some of them heard that we were changing things about the story, they became intensely negative - and vocal - about it. That was a pretty interesting few months, when news of the project had come out, but the first issue hadn't hit the stands yet. Of course, now that they've seen what we're doing, and realized that we're not trampling all over something they love with reckless abandon, the complaints have gone away [laughs]."
While the marvelous Mike Norton pencilled the mini-series, "Techjacket" artist E.J Su is the new penciller and Jolley explains how he came to be involved with the series. "E.J. had worked for Devil's Due before, on 'Micronauts' 4 and 5, I believe, and they were really pleased with his abilities; then, when Mike Norton got so busy with various projects that his brains started to leak out his ears, DD decided to bring E.J. on board with the new issue #1. (Mike's brains are safely back in place now, and he's feeling much better.) E.J.'s figures (the inimitable Clint Hilinski is still on board drawing backgrounds) are really fluid, really dynamic, and he captures that certain "anime" feel sort of brilliantly. Plus he's fast! Not that Mike wasn't, but E.J.'s a freaking machine! I think he and Clint could draw two books a month if they felt like it."
Speaking of Clint Hilinski, who spoke with CBR News earlier this year, he's one of the people that makes the job fun for Jolley and the writer can't stop gushing about his talents. "Clint is a fantastic guy, a really talented artist, and he's got the work ethic of an entire Amish family. I couldn't ask for a better team member. With Clayton Brown inking and my old pal Ben Hunzeker taking over colors (from the amazing Brett Smith) I know I'm in really good hands."
If Jolley's "Voltron Vol.2" was a movie, you could expect a big, loud trailer and the writer explains what scenes you'd see in the preview for Volume 2. "Hmmm... Definitely a huge, low-angle shot of Lion Voltron locked in combat with Vehicle Voltron (with music by John Williams playing). A couple of steamy shots of Drule knockout Queen Merla (music by Lords of Acid)... and I think we'd have to throw in an image or two of the huge, savage Drule Prince Lotor facing off with Keith Kogane, in what will undoubtedly be the mother of all smackdowns (to the tune of Rob Zombie's "Boogeyman").
"How's that? [laughs]"