Dixon on "Alien Legion: Uncivil War," Politics in Superhero Comics

Chuck Dixon, Larry Stroman and Carl Potts return to active duty this week for "Alien Legion: Uncivil War" #1 (of 4) from Titan Comics. Described as "the Foreign Legion in space," "Alien Legion" was co-created by Carl Potts and Frank Cirocco in 1984. Dixon, well known for runs on "Batman" and "Punisher," has written several "Alien Legion" miniseries since 1987.

Described by Dixon as "a space opera, a military sci-fi," the series is set in a universe of many sentient races, who collectively assemble a military unit representing all the races of the planetary union -- or, as Dixon puts it, "the Foreign Legion in space."

Dixon spoke with CBR News about his return to "Alien Legion" after 15 years, the heartbreaking story of how he almost kickstarted a young Nicolas Cage's career and more. Plus, he clarifies the intent behind his recent Wall Street Journal op/ed piece with Paul Rivoche.

CBR News: Chuck, what's the central idea behind the new Titan Comics mini-series "Alien Legion: Uncivil War?"

The big enemy for "Alien Legion" has always been the Harkilon Empire, bunch of big nasty lobster-looking guys. It's really weird because I wrote this a while back but it seems to be torn from today's headlines as the cliche goes. The Harkilons are in the midst of a civil war. Different factions are streaming out of the Harkilon Empire and Force Nomad is sent to basically sort out the refugees. Make sure none of them are hiding terrorists or weapons as they come into the planetary union's space. Then all hell breaks loose because nothing goes right for these guys.

These characters have been around for quite some time. During your time with the Legion, have you developed a favorite member?

The fan-favorite is Jugger Grimrod. He's just this nasty piece of work. He's a former criminal. The guy just runs on hate most of the time. Real cynical. An exterminating bastard. My favorite characters relate to him because they're the Ik brothers. They're basically these little armadillo-type guys who are nasty in their own right. They're devoted to hanging around Jugger even though they annoy the hell out of him. They're like Huey, Duey and Luey. They complete each others' sentences. You never see one of them, you always see all three of them together. They're fun to write because of the humor aspect of Jugger's slow burn at everything they do and they're unawareness of how pissed off he is.

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Carl Potts and Frank Cirocco are credited as the co-creators of "Alien Legion." How did you get involved? Were you there from day one?

I'm more day three. [Laughs] They did a series at Epic with Alan Zelenetz as writer. Then they relaunched it beginning with Alan Zelenetz. Then I took over. I've been the writer on every iteration since then.

What was the creative process like between you, Carl and Larry for "Uncivil War?"

Carl gives us direction. He and I talked over the general plotline for this one before I began scripting. It's his baby. But he's been very generous with [artist] Larry Stroman and I as far as creator rights go, with participation every step of the way.

It seems like you have more of a stake for "Alien Legion" than you might when normally writing a for-hire series.

Yes. The rights are closely held by [Carl] and Frank because it started life as an Epic property. The old Epic deal was they maintain licensing until, after five years, the rights revert back to the creators. So Carl and Frank own this lock, stock and barrel. They manage it themselves.

What was the impetus to bring back "Alien Legion" at this moment in time?

Carl has been with this project from the beginning because he owns it. Showing it around. He has a deal with Bruckheimer to make it into a feature film. He has been with game and TV people for all these years pushing it. He always wanted to be certain that Larry and I, if he ever got another comic deal, would come back with him and yeah, of course, we will. We both enjoy it. Now's the time because he has a movie deal cooking and Titan Comics seemed to be a really good fit for it.

What's the current status of the "Alien Legion" film?

I have no idea. I know stuff's going around. I don't ask Carl about it and quite frankly this Hollywood stuff bores me. It's all promises and blue sky until you actually see it on the screen. He deals with that stuff. I can't deal with the daily disappointment.

You sound like you're speaking from experience.

Oh, you know, every deal can go sour at the last minute. It's a wonder anything gets made. As a producer told me recently the last thing anybody in Hollywood wants to do is say yes to making a movie because it's such a risk. I'm just sort of jaded. I'm not cynical and I'm not nasty but I just realize this is how the business is. I don't want to see how the sausage is made.

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Have any of your creator-owned projects been optioned before?

Oh yeah. It happens all the time. Currently "Winterworld" is with Xbox, but it's not an option deal; it's a partnership deal, so it's a little more promising. And I think Carl is far beyond an option deal, but optioning is just sort of leasing your property for a while. Doesn't mean they're going to do anything. The closest I've been is two weeks away from principal photography and then the plug got pulled.

Wow. Two weeks. What's the story there?

It was a book I did for Now Comics called "Alias." It had a screenplay by Frank Darabont. Joe Dante was set to direct. Gene Hackman and Nicholas Cage were starring. It was two weeks away from shooting. They had scouted locations, had all the pre-production sorted, all the storyboards, everything. And they pulled the plug because somebody at Universal decided Nicholas Cage couldn't carry a movie. This was early '90s. He wasn't big enough yet.

This stuff happens all the time. It's heartbreaking. I don't even want to hear about movies that almost got made and why. It happens all the time. They get close to a deal and everything falls apart in the end.

What other projects do you have at the moment?

I've got "Winterworld" out from IDW. That's a new monthly ongoing. Again, a series I did in '89, and this is an ongoing coming off of that. Xbox is going to start doing live-action new entertainment ala Netflix. So this is in the pipeline for a big budget 8-episode television event.

You got a lot of attention recently for an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed the phenomenon of a liberal bias in comics. It seemed like the point you and co-writer Paul Rivoche were trying to make got lost a bit in the shuffle. What did you hope readers would take away from the piece?

The point that Paul Rivoche and I made in the article was that there seems to be a liberal or left-wing bias in superhero comics, and it leads to characters being portrayed in a morally ambiguous manner. In addition to some purely political material appearing in mainstream superhero comics. Specifically superhero comics. If you want to put politics in your own comic, go ahead, that's a great thing. But to put it in mainstream superhero comics and use them as a platform for your own political views is something we object to. And we object to it from both ends. We don't think these characters should be used for anyone's point of views even if they agree with us.

When I wrote these characters, I didn't have them present my political views or any political views at all other than their own that are part of their character. Such as Batman is anti-gun. I wrote a lot of anti-gun speeches for Batman that were well-justified and compassionate. I am not personally anti-gun or anti-second amendment, but that's the character. You don't write it different than what's established. That was basically our premise, that these were iconic characters shared by generation after generation and should be pretty much just left alone as good guys and bad guys.

So you're not saying there should be more conservatism to "off-set" the liberal bias you talk about?

I would certainly welcome more conservative people entering comics publishing, but to do works like "Forgotten Man," a book Paul and I worked on, not to do "Superman" with one superhero arguing one political side and another arguing a different side. It's just not what they're for. They're supposed to be escapist. We read this stuff to get away from that crap not to read more of it.

Do you think the article was misinterpreted by the comics community?

Yeah, I think so. They took it from the headline. I think the headline was rather unfortunate that they assigned to it. Something using liberal as a pejorative, which we didn't do in the body of the work. And it had a paywall, so people were only able to read the headline and a couple lines. Then they assumed what it was about from that point on. Plus it's the Internet and people just base stuff off their assumptions anyway. [Laughs] You can't win there. But it certainly sparked a discussion. And I didn't troll the Internet looking for hate but what reached me was supportive even if people disagreed with me. They were supportive of the discussion.

It was interesting to do. I was in the Wall Street Journal and that's pretty cool. And then the subsequent appearance on Fox News. It's always cool to be on TV. Get a peek at what that strange world is like. I think the Fox thing fired people up even more because certain people just hear the words Fox News and they just lose their minds. We basically just reiterated the same thing we said in the article. That we wished there wasn't as much politics in superhero comics. In superhero comics. I keep stressing superhero. Mainstream, action figure, kids wearing pajamas with their pictures on them. Those guys. Because I keep hearing I don't want any comics to be political and I never said that. Paul and I worked on the "Forgotten Man" which certainly has a political point of view but we didn't put Batman in it.

"Alien Legion: Uncivil War" #1 (of 4) is available now from Titan Comics.

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