With a mysterious alien threat looming overhead and placing the entire planet — and all of existence — in danger, a group of unique heroes will mount up and take the threat head on. If this sounds like the plot of a modern day blockbuster, you might be surprised to learn that “Rough Riders,” an upcoming series from AfterShock Comics, is actually a piece of historical fiction with none other than an American president in the lead. “Rough Riders,” which comes from writer Adam Glass and artist Pat Olliffe, follows this group of individuals as they face the unknown. Led by Theodore Roosevelt, the group — comprised of Harry Houdini, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison and others — agrees to work together to stand against a coming onslaught. Their journey begins in April’s “Rough Riders” #1 with an investigation into an event in Cuba.
The comic has roots in historical events that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century but obviously steers into fictional territory. Comic Book Resources spoke with Glass about blending fantastical threats with real world heroes, the group’s dynamics, comparisons to “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” and more.
CBR News: “Rough Riders” is made up of legendary — but real — figures. Who all do you have in your cast?
Adam Glass: First of all, I definitely wanted everyone to feel represented. I should start by saying I’m a gigantic fan of the time. I love the turn of the century, new world era. The world’s changing very quickly. Some people were totally ready for it and some people, not so much. I wanted a variety of people. Someone like Teddy Roosevelt, he helped lead this new world and was all about tech. Edison was dragged there; he helped make it but didn’t like the idea that other people were also in that pool — he wanted to be everything. He was the only person besides god who put light on this earth. He was the Steve Jobs of his time.
Then you have someone like Houdini. Magic has been around forever, but he’s figured out a new way to do it. He starts to use media — newspapers and radio — to promote his magic and push it to more death-defying places. You have Jack Johnson who basically can fight. He’s fighting in a white man’s world and becomes, at the time it was really hard to believe, the first black heavyweight champion of the world. And finally, Annie Oakley. She’s an Old West girl, a homestead girl who was taught to hunt and taught to fight just like guys. She was ahead of her time in her thinking.
How did you decide which historical figures would be part of the story?
The people I picked all come from different walks of life, different economic status. There’s a woman in a man’s world; women didn’t have many rights then. Same thing with the African American, and there’s the magician who happens to be Jewish, and then there’s the very wealthy man who really was the first person with a lot of money who sort of felt guilty about that money and wanted to give back.
“Rough Riders” is set in 1898 and these characters face different challenges, but I can see some similarities between the turn of the century and the 21st century; we’re constantly on the brink of a new world considering how rapidly technology changes today. I can see some similarities coming up — aside from the supernatural elements.
It’s more of a steampunk, tech world. It’s not supernatural as much as it is otherworldly. They’re dealing with a lot of the same things as we are today. The world is changing. They’re all characters that have a difference to struggle with but also capitalize on it in the changing world. We have the son of a slave, the son of a rabbi, a cowgirl, a wealthy blue blood, and the greatest inventors of the time. At the time when the story takes place, Edison hasn’t invented anything in a very long time. He’s feeling massively insecure about his place in history and his future.
With all those different perspectives and personality, it seems the stage is ripe for conflict. Do they vie for leadership? What’s the structure like?
It starts with Roosevelt. He’s asked by some very powerful people who know about what really happened down in Cuba. They ask him to put a group together to look into it. I tried to stick to some historic things. I’d say the characters are historically true and a lot of what’s happening with the Spanish-American War is true, but then there’s the twenty or so percent that’s made up.
So, Roosevelt uses the cover of war and being a colonel and puts a team together and heads down there to find out what’s going on. He has this co-op operation while he’s actually trying to fight the Spanish-American War. He’s totally our leader, but his leadership is put to question. Some people you might not expect step up to challenge him.
Since you’re using people, locations, and events from the pages of history, how did you work with Pat to develop the look?
Pat and I both love history so much. We had lengthy conversations in the beginning. We talked about the feel, the look, things we wanted, how we wanted it to look real yet a little heightened at the same time, and then I sent a lot a photos. He’s so easy to collaborate with and such a great partner for this. I really like his style. It’s considered an old school style, but I just think of it as a great style and it’s perfect for this kind of book. They all look like badasses — especially Teddy Roosevelt. It’s been awesome to have everyone on board with telling the story.
I think at first blush, and with good reason, people are going to say, “Oh, it’s the American ‘League of Extraordinary Gentleman.'” I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t an influence. Of course it’s an influence, but those are all fictional characters. I’m using historical characters — which in some ways are cooler. There’s a lot of truth in my story and the way the relationships and characters work together.
AfterShock Comics’ “Rough Riders” #1 hits stores on April 6.
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