Discovering "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" With Rob Zombie

When you think of the horror-minded musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie, the first thoughts that come to mind probably don't involve the words "luchadore," "robots" and "Paul Giamatti" all in the same sentence. Nonetheless, those words and more are well beyond adequate in describing "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto," Zombie's recent straight-to-DVD animated film that focuses on a classic strongman in the form of a washed-up luchadore who, alongside his capable sister and her robot partner, battles a variety of monsters at the employ of the maniacal Dr. Satan, voiced by Paul Giamatti.

While the animated feature is certainly the highest profile rendition of "El Superbeasto" to date, it isn't Zombie's first romp with the character's haunted world. Zombie, whose fictional endeavors have previously manifested in films like "House of 1000 Corpses" and the "Halloween" revival, originally penned the adventures of El Superbeasto in the pages of "Spookshow International," his own anthology-style horror comic book published by MVCreations. While plenty of arguments could be made on behalf of each of the stories contained within "Spookshow," it was El Superbeasto that resonated most with readers - certainly enough to warrant an animated film starring the voices of Giamatti, Tom Papa and Rosario Dawson.

Now, "El Superbeasto" is making a comeback, not just as an animated film - which finally became available in September after several years in development - but also in its original form as a comic book series. In conjunction with Image Comics, MVCreations is republishing "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" in a new trade paperback. CBR News spoke with Zombie himself and "Spookshow" editor Leanne Hannah about the upcoming recollection, the film and Zombie's upcoming plans for the comic book genre.

"'El Superbeasto' is the story of an egotistical, dimwitted, washed-up superhero/wrestler named El Superbeasto, who somewhat fights crime when the mood hits him - mostly, he hangs out in local strip bars and gets loaded, thus leaving the real work to his sister Suzi X and her robot sidekick Marvin," Zombie told CBR of the book's premise. "He is a classic underachiever. I like this type of character because he's always funny - this isn't an action superhero book, it's more of a slice of life slacker superhero book."

"I think the Superbeasto character is one of those loveable slacker types you can't help but like," added Hannah, who edited the original "El Superbeasto" stories in the pages of "Spookshow International." "He doesn't take himself seriously - sometimes he'll fight crime, but most of the time he just does what he wants. His stories always had a great cast of characters and were fun to read. They were like comedy superhero comics for adults, and I think they fit a niche you don't often see."

Despite the impending recollection of "El Superbeasto," Zombie said that his specific memories of creating the "Spookshow International" comic books have faded somewhat, thanks in large part to his work on the recently released animated film. "Truthfully, I can't really remember much about the actual comics," he admitted. "I've spent so long working on the film that the scenes all blur together in my head."

While specific scenes currently elude his memory, Zombie is sure of one thing: the "El Superbeasto" comic books are completely unrestrained in terms of his unique, typically twisted vision. "I pretty much tried to jam any goofy idea that came into my head into the book, even if it didn't make any sense at all," said Zombie. "Comics have no budget; you can draw anything and it costs the same. That's very freeing, unlike in a movie where every little thing costs a fortune to do."

"I think the biggest challenge [in working on 'El Superbeasto' was] trying to make sure we got Rob's vision from his head onto the printed page," Hannah said about Zombie's self-described jam-of-ideas approach to writing the "Spookshow International" series. "He's a great storyteller and comes up with these really interesting, crazy characters and situations, and making sure everything comes across as he intended is key. We've worked with a lot of amazingly talented artists to help make this happen over the years, and it's definitely been a fun ride."

For Hannah's part, it's not just Zombie's finished comic books but the comic scripts themselves that the editor finds so amusing. "When I'd go through his scripts in the studio, the guys would always hear me laughing from across the room because I'd be reading this hilarious dialogue that would come out of nowhere and completely throw me - it's great," said Hannah. "And Rob's always been able to come up with these totally off the wall situations and characters that make his stories interesting and fun, to the point that you never know what's going to happen next. It's always been a lot of fun working with him."

The fun for Hannah came after some initial trepidation she felt before working with Zombie, thanks in large part to his frightening stage presence. "The first time I talked to Rob, I was nervous as hell because, you know, this is Rob Zombie, and I've listened to his music for years and seen his videos where he has this 'scary' persona," she said. "But I have to say, Rob is one of the most laid back people to talk to. Within minutes, I got over my initial nerves and it was just like I was BS-ing with a friend. He's always been very cool about everything, even when I've had to bug him for things while he's been busy with his films or other projects."

One of those other film projects, of course, is the animated "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" adaptation, which Zombie himself directed. According to the "El Superbeasto" creator, there was one thing about the character that always begged for a film version to be made. "Basically, his voice," revealed Zombie. "I could always hear it in my head, but obviously everyone reads a comic differently and hears their own voice. I really wanted to bring him to life in a way that was a more extreme vision than just comic panels."

To find that voice, Zombie recruited comedian Tom Papa, who also co-wrote the film's screenplay alongside Zombie. Following the casting of Papa, the remaining main characters - Suzi X, Dr. Satan and Velvet Von Black - were all handed to known actors; Zombie's wife Sheri Moon, Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson. According to Zombie, the actors weren't cast strictly for their vocal performances, but also their potential physical resemblances to the characters. "I think it would make a great live action movie, [which is] why I sort of cast voice actors who resemble the actual characters," said Zombie. "In Tom Papa's casting, I think we would have to put him in a giant padded suit. I'd shoot it all on a stage and make it very hyper real."

For now, the animated version will have to suffice, as there are no announced plans for a live-action film. Additionally, Zombie said that "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" wouldn't be reborn again in comic book form. "Now that it's a film, I can't see it as a comic anymore - it has taken on a different life of its own," he said. "I think he works great both ways, [but] the animated version is actually more ridiculous than the comic version. Easier to make big boobs bounce in a film than in a comic!"

But the end of "El Superbeasto" as a comic book doesn't mean that Zombie himself is finished with the medium. On the contrary, he's already got a new comic project. "I am working on a new book as we speak called 'Whatever Happened to Baron Von Shock?'" he said. "It's the story of a washed-up horror movie host who devises a plan to regain his lost fame and glory - the never-ending story of sex, drugs, money and monsters."

"I think the thing I really like most about Rob's projects is that I never know what he's going to come up with next," Hannah said of Zombie's new comic book. "It again features a colorful cast of characters, crazy situations and everything else you'd expect from Rob. He already had me laughing out loud while reading just the first few pages of the script to issue #1. I take that as a very good sign."

Official plans for "Whatever Happened To Baron Von Shock?" have yet to be made clear, but fans of Zombie's comic book work can look forward to the recollection of "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" in the meantime. "The new 'El Superbeasto' trade will be a collection of all the short stories the character appeared in during the 'Spookshow International' comic series," said Hannah. "It will feature the same cover as the DVD, and will be a nice companion piece to the movie."

As for Zombie himself, the end results of both the "El Superbeasto" comic books and the animated feature film left him feeling exactly the way his audience is intended to feel. "I was thrilled," he said of working on the comics and the film. "Everyone involved was super cool to work with and really had a blast with the material."

The recollection of "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto" is available in stores on December 2, 2009. The animated adaptation of "El Superbeasto" was released in September and is currently available for purchase.

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