Death stalks us all, but that doesn't mean we have to give in without a fight! Take the star of BOOM! Studios' February-launching "Death Be Damned," for example. Sure, series star Miranda Coler wound up on the wrong end of seven outlaws, but thanks to some supernatural trickery she's hunting down those who wronged her. The problem? Every time she dies again, she loses a part of her memory, making that whole revenge thing all the more difficult -- and she can't pass on until she avenges herself.
The Western miniseries comes from co-writers Ben Blacker, Ben Acker and Andrew Miller, along with artist Hannah Christenson. The first two have partnered on everything from "Supernatural" and their story-driven podcast "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" to comic work like "Deadpool" and adaptations of "Thrilling Adventure Hour," while Miller is known for "The Secret Circle," and Christenson illustrated BOOM!'s "Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Dragons."
CBR: What can you tell us about your main character, Miranda Coler, before her death?
Ben Acker: It takes guts and grit to be a frontierswoman. Miranda came from money but gave it up when she ran off with James Coler, an outlaw and killer. She was his match and his equal. He gave up killing for her. They carved out a piece of land, the two of them, partners. They lived quietly for some years.
When they had their daughter, they hardly found cause, either of them, to pick up a gun in anger again. Until the events of this story.
Is there something special about Miranda, or the way that she dies, that leads to her coming back in her unusual state?
Andrew Miller: It’s the injustice of Miranda’s murder that makes the situation unique. Her death and the death of her daughter – and to a lesser extent, her husband – creates an imbalancein the world, and Miranda is given the chance to correct it by killing the men responsible. Her purpose in this life is not yet complete, so she gets to keep going until it is. In fact, she’s forced to keep going, as we’ll find out in later issues.
In the world of our story, everything is connected. All life and death is part of the same universal cycle: energy shifts from one thing to another to maintain a balance. Physical things, thoughts, memories are all created from the same source. So, for Miranda and the people she encounters, coming back to life seems both miraculous and terrifying. But looked at from a greater distance, it’s just a very small re-purposing of the life force.
Ben Blacker: Initially, I was really taken with the ideas of, one, this incredibly straightforward vengeance narrative — this is a person who literally cannot die until she has her vengeance; and two, this takes place in a changing West. The move toward industry in the U.S. was a tumultuous one, a time of social, economic and environmental upheaval. It makes sense to me that this is a time when the Earth will lash out. It is a time, I think, not unlike our own. So, watch out for angry trees.
Getting into the details a little bit, can you explain the relationship between her memories and her newfound inability to die?
Miller: A key element we're playing with is the relationship between man and nature. This story is set at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, just before mankind beat down nature with technology and mining and then railroad. Right now, nature is still in control, but it’s her last gasp, trying to protect itself from us. In this story, we suppose that all life eventually makes its way into the Earth and it’s in this metaphysical world underground where a lot of the action takes place. The Earth takes the energy from above and re-purposes it. Our flesh, blood and memories all become her tools. Miranda’s memories are there, but as time marches on, they fade into the dense, complex and messy world of The Underneath. Miranda needs her memories to keep her focused on the vengeance she’s after, but the longer it takes, the harder it will be to access them.
Blacker: Other than being a terrific writer and collaborator and very clean, this is the idea that Miller brought to the table after we presented him with the basic story. Smartly, Andrew pointed out that there was little complication to Miranda’s quest. Indeed, her inability to die makes it easier for her. So, he suggested that perhaps, every time she dies, she loses a bit of the memory of what she’s fighting for. This gave the story incredible depth, I think, and opened up the "magic" aspects of the world in an interesting way.
Miranda’s joined by Joseph Murray in her quest for vengeance. Why does he get involved?
Acker: Joseph is an undertaker and death is his everyday. Despite that, when Heather, his wife, was in a fatal accident, Joseph simply could not cope. He studied death and the realms beyond and believes that his wife is not gone to him forever. Joseph, soon upon meeting Miranda, discovers that her unique circumstance takes her to realms Joseph cannot otherwise access, so he needs her and needs to convince her that she needs him.
Blacker: Initially, I imagined Miranda and Joseph as sort of an old-west Mulder and Scully. Joseph is a believer. In fact, he’s fervent in his belief that not only is there "another world," but that his wife’s soul can be reclaimed from there. Miranda doesn’t care about that. She is single-minded in her quest for vengeance. She has this weird power now, but she doesn’t ask questions about it. So, ultimately they need each other to bring the other back to Earth. So to speak.
You’ve worked in a variety of mediums from TV and comics to radio plays. What made "Death Be Damned" make sense as a comic?
Miller: This is a blood-pumping vengeance story centered around a hero you don’t often see anywhere but comics. On another level, comics are the perfect setting for our exploration into the symbiotic but aggressive relationship between man and nature because it doesn’t have to be so literal. The notion that the physical and spiritual realms are connected lends itself to art and imagination in a way only graphic novels can provide. This is also true of our characters, whom we come to know in multiple realms as well as see how they connect to each other in a deep, subconscious way.
What made Hannah the right artist for the book?
Miller: Hannah has the ability to express layers of emotion with simple, clean drawings that always feel like they exist in a grounded world. Because some of the story takes place in an abstract realm, we needed someone who could somehow convey the chaos and complexity of the life/death cycle in the other realm while never losing Miranda’s journey as she struggles though it. Hannah draws the way you hope your subconscious thinks.
What was the design process like? Has there been a lot of back and forth between yourselves and Hannah?
Miller: It’s a lot of Hannah sending us the way she sees the world and us being stunned at how much more beautiful it is from the way we imagined.
Acker: Working with an amazing artist is a dream. I highly recommend it.
"Death Be Damned" #1 by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Andrew Miller and Hannah Christenson, debuts in February.