EXCLUSIVE: Williamson Promises "Hard R" Take on "RoboCop" in New Ongoing Series

It's only been two months since the release of the big screen "RoboCop" reboot, but BOOM! Studios is set to revisit the world of the original 1987 film in a big way. July brings the debut of a new "RoboCop" ongoing comic book series from the publisher, who recently released several one-shots starring the character.

The book is by "Ghosted" and "Captain Midnight" writer Joshua Williamson, whose Image Comics series "Nailbiter" is set to debut next month, and artist Carlos Magno, a veteran of multiple BOOM! projects. The series is set in the wake of the first movie, and doesn't factor in any other projects, like the subsequent films, comics, live-action TV series and cartoons. (Yes, the original, R-rated film spawned not one but two animated series aimed at children.)

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BOOM's "RoboCop" ongoing introduces a new villain named Killian, who specifically targets the officer formerly known as Alex Murphy and his mission to serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. CBR News has the exclusive first interview with Williamson on the series, and how he plans on preserving the "hard R" spirit of the first film with a "hardcore, gritty crime drama" take on the project not unlike an FX or AMC series.

CBR News: Joshua, obviously, the original "RoboCop" movie is a very influential film for a lot of people, and while I don't like to assume, I would not be surprised if you were one of them. How significant is the RoboCop franchise to you, personally?

Joshua Williamson: It was one of my favorite movies as a kid. It was that perfect mix of violence, humor and action. I mean, c'mon -- it's part man, part machine, all cop. So rad! That's a recipe for awesome!

But as an adult, when I started to watch it again, I was able to get the satire and how really just great it is as a movie. It's influenced by understanding of how to use satire and blend it in a subtle way. The acting, the story, the characters, it's all top notch.

That first movie is a great example of a crime sci-fi story done right. Not some big, overdone, overthought mess, but a clean, straightforward story that was ahead of its time. 

RoboCop has also had a long history in comic books, with some notable creators involved -- including Walt Simonson. Have any past "RoboCop" comics helped shape your approach to this series?

Mostly the Frank Miller stuff. I was always interested in Frank's work with RoboCop after the second movie. It was crazy to me that the writer and artist of some of my favorite comics wrote two RoboCop movies!

But, what was really important to me was to do something different with RoboCop. And that was to do a hardcore, gritty crime drama. The only thing supernatural about our series is RoboCop himself. The rest would be best suited on an FX or AMC show. 

Moving to the present, then, was it fairly easy to figure out what you wanted to do with a "RoboCop" ongoing series? BOOM's description of the book makes some pretty lofty comparisons -- "Gotham Central," "Stray Bullets" and "Incognito." Are you looking for something closely reminiscent in tone and genre to the original film, or something a little more specific to comics?

The original film is the bible for me. I've made an effort to ignore all the other movies, cartoons and comics. Our series takes place after the first movie and stands alone as it's own story.

So when BOOM! first started talking to me about "RoboCop," I turned it down. Twice, actually. First because of my schedule, but also because, as much as I love RoboCop, I just didn't have a RoboCop story in me, y'know? Something I think some writers do is take every gig that comes their way, but for me, it has to be something I can find my own take on.

And then I was talking to [BOOM! Studios managing editor] Bryce Carlson, and he said something that sort of made a light bulb go off in my head. I called him back later in the day and said, "OK, if I do this, this is want I want to do. This is how I want to do it." And Bryce heard me out.

I wanted to do a really crime-driven RoboCop that was a hard R-rated mature readers book. Take this crime-ridden city full of scum, with an overworked police force and then throw RoboCop in the mix. Drugs, guns and RoboCop.

I have to tell you, I can't believe some of the stuff that BOOM! and MGM let me get away with in this book. I thought for sure I'd be fired or shut down by now, but it's been smooth sailing. 

RoboCop also seems like potentially a tough character to dig into on an ongoing basis, since there's clearly an amount of detachment there. How much of a challenge was it for you as a writer to truly "get" RoboCop as a character?

Not much. It's all there in that first movie. He's this guy who wanted to be a cowboy. He wanted to be a certain kind of cop, but died before he could. There is a bit of a power fantasy, there.

But it's also tragic. Murphy will never be anything other than RoboCop. This is it, for him. He'll never get promoted. He'll never get married again. He's just a cop. It reminds me of these old cop noirs where they'd retire and all they'd have was a gold watch. They were workaholics, married to the job, who in the end have no family, or friends, but they know they caught a bunch of bad guys.

Our RoboCop is going to be a man of few words, but badass actions. A lot of the book is through the eyes of Killian and Officer Lewis -- how they see RoboCop. That's part of where the "Gotham Central" comparisons come in, because we wanted to show how the city and people around RoboCop are affected by his presence.

His detachment from those around him and in some way the reader is part of his character, making it part of the story. 

What can you share at this point about the opening arc -- which evidently involves a villain named Killian?

Killian is an old-school criminal who wants to return Detroit to a Wild West [atmosphere]. He misses the really bad days of old before RoboCop. But he realizes that RoboCop actually makes the city more interesting. It's a challenge to him. To make the city a place of chaos and to use RoboCop to do it.

Killian is really where it all started for me. I saw him making this speech about RoboCop, and the story spun out of that.

Our first story arc involves OCP and the Detroit PD cracking down on guns within the city and assigning RoboCop and Officer Lewis to lead the task force. Killian sees this as an opportunity to have some bloody fun. 

The series is illustrated by Carlos Magno, and though I don't believe you've worked together before, he has quite a body of work at BOOM!, on "Deathmatch" and "Planet of the Apes." What do you like about what he brings to a distinct and recognizable character like RoboCop?

Style. Carlos has certain energy with his pages that nails the look we wanted.

As I said before: Our take on RoboCop is a very gritty one, and Carlos has been able to bring that. It's a dirty world, and Carlos is drawing every bit of dirt. The amount of detail he has been putting into the pages has been insane. Also, if you look at the original movie, Detroit was also sort of gross. Carlos gets that, too.

Carlos and I have never worked with each other before, but I got lucky here. Carlos has been knocking the pages out of the park. It's easily his best work yet. 

This is targeted as an ongoing series -- do you know how long of a run you're planning on the book at this point?

Without getting into specifics, I have a pretty big arc planned for RoboCop, Officer Anne Lewis and Killian. Each of them has a story and will be changed by the end of my run.

I have something to say about that world and want to be able to do that. It might take a few issues.

One thing that's really important to me is to really build Officer Lewis up. Get more into her story and place in the city and as RoboCop's partner. 

You've worked on a wide variety of books in the past few years -- from Justice League comics distributed in cereal boxes to creator-owned books about serial killers -- what made you confident "RoboCop" was a title you wanted to take on? And how do you see it fitting with the rest of the series in your current slate?

Well, it took me a while to find my voice and tone as a writer. Around the time I was writing "Masks and Mobsters" and then "Ghosted," I was able to find the path. I like to write about complicated characters that are a bit on the edge, in a sort of grounded setting. Most of the books I try to do now are very character based and all on a dark side. Crime, horror and a bit of sci-fi.

With something like "Nailbiter," my next Image book about the serial killers, I've been comparing it to "Twin Peaks," "Se7en" and "True Detective," which are these twisted looks at reality, but also very grounded.

With "RoboCop," I get to cut loose a bit. Which again, I only agreed to do because BOOM! told me we could do our rated-R "RoboCop." But they also got that I wanted to make sure that the only thing sci-fi in the book was RoboCop, making the rest of the characters real people dealing with real street crime.

It could easily sit next to "Ghosted." When you read the first issue, you'll see. This is about a me version of "RoboCop" that you could ever get. I've never seen a RoboCop book like this one. 
You've worked quite a bit in both the creator-owned and work-for-hire fields. Is it a conscious goal to have a balance of the two -- and the different thought processes that each represent?

Whew, that's tough. For the last year, aside from "Captain Midnight" and "Predator," most of my focus has been on creator-owned. And those two books have been crazy rewarding. I've learned a lot and became a better writer because of them.

Y'know -- I can't imagine not doing creator-owned. When I talk with other creators -- I just don't get people who don't have that drive to create. To make your own. When I was a kid, I was always making up my own characters and writing my own stories. I have no idea why some people lose that.

If I only did work for hire, I'd lose my mind. I would. It's not like I sit there and think, "For my career, I must have this balance to build this audience." Nah, I create because I can't help it. I know that might sound pretentious or silly, but that's what it is. There is some great work for hire stuff out there, and I've had fun with it, but it can't be the only thing I'm doing.

It's not that much of a different thought process, now. My goal is, "Make it good." And whether it's with a creator-owned or a work-for-hire publisher, I'm super grateful to be surrounded with people who have that same goal.

Finally, this series is based on the original "RoboCop," but it's notable that it's debuting in the same year that a "RoboCop" reboot debuted in theaters. Did you see that film, and if so, what was your take?

Didn't see it.

Not a knock. Just didn't. No time. And I talked with my editors about it, and made sure that we avoided what was done with the reboot. Didn't want to step on anyone's toes.

Listen -- our focus is just creating the best damn comic that honors how fucking badass that first movie was.

"RoboCop," by Joshua Williamson and Carlos Magno, debuts in July from BOOM! Studios.

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