When you think “enigmatic character with a time machine,” there’s a good chance “Doctor Who” pops into your mind. However, this October Dark Horse is bringing back another man out of time in their reboot of ’70s and ’80s sci-fi adventurer “The Rook.”
Writer Steven Grant is best known for his crime stories, most famously the original “Punisher” miniseries, and “2 Guns,” which was adapted into an action movie starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Now, Grant teams with artist Paul Gulacy as the pair step into the science fiction realm with “The Rook.”
Debuting in horror comics anthology “Eerie,” the character moved to its own series, “The Rook Magazine,” in the ’80s. The protagonist, Restin Dane, is a time traveler who has styled himself after a Western gunslinger, leaping from one era to another with the help of a castle-shaped time machine and a robotic manservant. Now, Grant and Gulacy are poised to reboot the character at Dark Horse, first with a story in “Dark Horse Presents” #14, coming out in September, and a 4-issue miniseries starting in October.
CBR News: Much like “Doctor Who,” we often see The Rook, Restin Dane, in the background of well-known historical moments. How do you go about creating dramatic tension and inserting a new character into these familiar stories?
Steven Grant: History’s a funny thing; from our perspective it’s painted with a broad brush. Like that mountain far in the distance, we may know the general shape of it, but most of us don’t get near enough to spot details, to see that what looks like a snowcap is lightly-colored sand reflecting sunlight, or that it’s really three mountains set nearly in a row.
Much of what we think of as history is convenient illusion, and when you start looking closer, you learn that things didn’t really happen the way you were always told they had, except in a general way. That offers a lot of creative leeway. When you deal with a specific time or event, you don’t need to focus on the part everyone knows. You look for the things that might disrupt the familiar, ways to put an interesting little spin on things. “Doctor Who” mainly does it by having Julius Caesar turn out to be an alien or something. For us, the story isn’t so much about history — it’s more that history and the future are backdrops for The Rook’s story.
Like most classic comics characters, Dane has a crew of accomplices and a rogues’ gallery to draw from. Are you introducing any new characters in this miniseries, or can we expect to see familiar faces?
Due to how we’ve structured things, even the familiar faces won’t be that familiar. Four characters from Bill DuBay’s original “Rook” series pop up in the mini, one more than once, and a fifth has a voiceover, but never appears. One of our villains is both an old villain and brand-new: he’s suggested by Bill’s work, but we evolved him into an archenemy.
The first issue introduces three other new running adversaries of the Rook; they’ve joined forces into a sort of Rook Revenge Squad to hunt him through time, precipitating our story. One old “Rook” character only appears toward the end of the miniseries and doesn’t have that great of an effect on things, but they’re pivotal to the next mini. We’re using the old cast where they fit, but a few, like Granddad Bishop Dane, Bill’s Old West gunslinger, won’t arrive on the scene for a while. We haven’t forgotten anyone, but we’re rebuilding from the ground up.
From the first issue, the timeline is complicated and convoluted. How do you keep the story and continuity straight when writing a time travel adventure?
Again, it’s a matter of perspective. For me, the through line is fairly straight. The tricky part is keeping it straight from the characters’ perspectives. For instance, you’ve got Qwarb, Bill’s immortal First Man. Qwarb only goes one direction in the timeline, from past to future, a second at a time, while Restin Dane, The Rook, bounces up and down the timeline. The first time he meets Qwarb is in the far future, and he vaguely recognizes him at that point — from Qwarb’s point of view, he hasn’t seen Restin in hundreds of thousands of years — but Restin doesn’t know him from Adam. But when Restin encounters Qwarb in the past, he’s armed with information about Qwarb, straight from the horse’s mouth, that Qwarb knows he has never told him. Keeping track of continuity is easy, especially when you already know how it ends. It’s working out the ramifications of different encounters at different points in time that takes work. Fortunately, only the time travelers make that problematic.
You’ve written for a number of franchises throughout your career, but it seems that you’ve been more focused on original, creator-owned projects lately. What attracted you to working on this reboot of “The Rook”?
I was very nicely asked to. Ben DuBay, Bill’s nephew and current steward of Bill’s properties, had asked Paul Gulacy, who did a lovely “Rook” painting back in the day, if he’d be available to draw a “Rook” project. Paul and I had spoken on and off for a few years about possibly working together, and had created an original property we’re shopping around, so Paul suggested me for writer. Ben foolishly loved that idea and Paul put us in touch. The challenge of it intrigued me. It’s been a while since I worked with science fiction, so it was a good chance to flex some muscles that I haven’t used in a while. I don’t have any problem with farming out, as long as that’s not all I do.
I put forth a number of ideas I had, that I felt were both in keeping with Bill’s concept and radically diverged from it. Ben went for them. One doesn’t often get the chance to completely recreate a classic. Basically, it sounded like fun and it was a chance to get a collaboration with Paul into print.
What has it been like working with Paul Gulacy?
Paul’s great. There are a handful of artists I’ll work with on anything they like — he’s in that category. I love his work. He’s vastly underappreciated these days, I think, but I hope “The Rook” will go a long way toward changing that. I could rave up his design and storytelling skills, but the other day I called him a comics industry treasure. I can’t come up with a better description than that.
If you could travel to any moment in history, what would it be?
Future or past? I’d kind of like to see how it all turns out. Otherwise, Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests sound like fun. I’d definitely check out one of those.
“The Rook” #1 arrives October 21.
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