Designing The Characters Of "Halcyon"

For his next Image Comics series, writer Marc Guggenheim is building everything from the ground up.

Aside from launching a new set of superheroes into the marketplace, Guggenheim and artist Ryan Bodenheim's "Halcyon" also marks the start of Collider Entertainment - a new production shingle and Image Comics imprint headed by the writer and partner Alisa Tager. As Guggenheim revealed exclusively to CBR News during Comic-Con International, the imprint's goal from its launch title on is to draw some of Hollywood's top creative talent to the comics marketplace (an idea he expounded upon in a later CBR TV interview, available at the end of this article). He described the November-shipping "Halcyon" as "a superhero story exploring what happens when all war and crime and man-on-man aggression is eliminated from the world - what happens to the superheroes when there's no evil left to fight? What happens when the never-ending battle for truth and justice ends? What happens to a character like Batman or the Punisher when there really is no crime left to fight?"

Since that concept involves building a whole new version of the world - not to mention a whole new superhero team from scratch - Guggenheim and Bodenheim opened up their process of creation for the series (which will be co-written by Tara Butters) by sharing early concept sketches for the entire "Halcyon" cast. Below, they explain how heroes like Zenith and Jarhead tweak tradition superhero formulas, what real life space event inspired bruiser Enos and how one supervillains hangs on to his piece of a new earth.

Ryan Bodenheim: One of the most important aspects of any comic is character design, story being the most important. When I design new characters, I like to have as much information about the story and the characters as possible so that the design of the suits/costumes can be tailored fit to the personality or powers that inhabit the particular character properly.

Marc Guggenheim: I'll admit, I probably didn't give Ryan nearly as much backstory as he wanted. Since I tend to find the character in the actual writing and for various production reasons, Tara and I hadn't yet written the first issue when Ryan needed to start working on the designs.

Bodenheim: The first character I designed for Halcyon was Sabre. Since so much of the story revolves around him, I knew once I nailed down his look, the other characters of the Halcyon world would fall into place. Sabre doesn't have powers, so I made sure that his costume serviced his needs for stealth and protection. I ended up researching a lot of motorcycle suits and old samurai armor as inspiration to achieve this.

Guggenheim: Although Tara and I didn't have a lot of backstory yet worked out for Sabre, I had a pretty clear idea in my head of what I wanted him to look like. I'd originally pitched Ryan something that had a very "Nineteenth Century" look to it - I'd envisioned something à la [the Mike Mignola DC Elseworld book] "Gotham By Gaslight," but Ryan very wisely modernized that impulse. What I think is really cool is that he did it in such a way that still evokes the feel I'd had in my head.

Bodenheim: Enos ended up being my very favorite of the characters.

Guggenheim: Mine too. Enos' evolution is a terrific example of the creative process and my collaboration with Ryan. It started off with my suggestion that the super-hero team have a character whose super-power is agility - à la Spider-Man, the Beast or Nightcrawler.

Bodenheim: Marc had asked for "a talking Gorilla." I'm probably in the minority based on how many gorilla/apes there are in comics, but I can't stand them.

Guggenheim: Yeah, I forget how we got on the "talking gorilla" path. I think it had something to do with wanting to ground the aforementioned agility in something "real."

Bodenheim: I tried out a few different looks which led me to draw a hairless ape. With the addition of some bio-plugs, costume and a Wikipedia search, Enos was born. The second chimp ever shot into space who was put through top secret experiments well after his Mercury Atlas Five flight was cut short and his apparent death.

Guggenheim: I thought this was brilliant and really a testament to Ryan's imagination and willingness to bring his own ideas to the table.

Bodenheim: Zenith is the leader and alpha dog superhero in "Halcyon." I wanted her to have a look that showed off her power without ignoring her sexuality. I'm not one for excessive T&A, though, so I didn't want to overdo it either.

Guggenheim: Ryan doesn't bitch about it, but I suspect this was a very difficult design to come up with. I really wanted a "female Superman" but it's very difficult to come up with a look that is original while simultaneously avoiding the T&A Ryan's referring to, which really would have undercut the power and authority of the character.

Bodenheim: Transom is the speedster in our story. I wanted to design a costume that looked like it could take the extreme stress of running at high velocity. I placed special fabrics in areas that would sustain high friction during running so that his costume didn't feel like it was going to fall apart while Transom was running. One idea that occurred to me while drawing Transom was that he constantly loses his body hair due to the violent wind that decimates his hair if he runs without his costume on. So Transom is usually screwed the minute he gets his coffee in the morning at top speed if he doesn't think about it, and he usually doesn't.

Guggenheim: This is a great example of how much thought Ryan gives to his designs. I really love how "functional" Transom's costume is. I actually feel bad I didn't find time in the story to demonstrate how Transom singes his hair off. Ah, something for the sequel.

Bodenheim: The villain is always fun to design. Oculus was created to have a very refined and regal look to him, but also hint at a bit of wizardry. I wanted him to have a look that portrays more than just him being evil, but [shows] he has had much success in the past with his endeavors and schemes. He's not one to fail or back down from a challenge and he has become very powerful by doing so. He's not your average villain that just gets beat up by the hero. I really wanted his look to get across that he's been quite successful in the past.

Guggenheim: I thought Oculus was a good character to show you what I gave Ryan to work with, which is both a lot of information in terms of character, but extremely little in terms of look. It amazes me how Ryan's able to take those character thoughts and visualize them into a design:

The hero/villain of the piece. Think Dr. Doom. He's the world's deadliest super-villain. Like Doom, he has his own country - because he conquered it. It's called Germany - Oculus took it over after World War II. The world has since managed to contain him, but his ambition to take it over remains.

He's extremely old, but a mix of science and sorcery keeps him alive and spry. However, this longevity has come at the cost of his appearance. His skin is wrinkled and mottled, as if burned by some radioactive blast. Maybe he hides his terrifying visage behind a mask. Maybe he doesn't.

Oculus is a renaissance man in every sense of the word, particularly when it comes to being a super-villain. Science, sorcery, conventional weapons, exotic weapons, etc. - there's nothing Oculus won't and hasn't used to achieve his plans of world domination.

Bodenheim: Jarhead was explained to me as Captain America if the super soldier program had existed today. The idea was that he should not look like a symbol. I kept him pretty basic for the most part.

Guggenheim: Yup. Nothing to add, except that Jarhead may be one of my favorite of Ryan's designs

Bodenheim: Another part of my design process is to build 3D models in SketchUp for locales or equipment that I know will be making several appearances. The first model I built was for the Halcyon team. Marc and I had this idea for an underwater base deep in the ocean where the team could meet via solid holograms.

Guggenheim: Ryan says "Marc and I" which is kind, but while I suggested an underwater base (mainly because I hadn't seen it for a superhero team before -- cue internet bombarding me with prior examples) but Ryan was the one who came up with the, quite frankly, kick-ass idea to have the members participate virtually.

Bodenheim: I decided to make Sabre's headquarters an old parking garage that he modified to suit any need that an urban vigilante may have. This thing has everything from target range to sleeping quarters. Since this is essentially Sabre's and Evie's home, I needed it to have everything.

"Halcyon" ships in November from Image Comics and Collider Entertainment. More of Ryan's work can be seen at http://rbode777.deviantart.com/

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