Your average American citizen generally doesn't know that much about the members of the US Navy Seals. Sure, we know the soldiers that make up the Navy Seals are the best of the best, trained and equipped to conduct special ops in a variety of environments, but beyond that most of us aren't too familiar with them aside from the occasional film or television show reference. Writer M. Zachary Sherman, a Marine Corps. Reservist himself, might change that a bit. He's the guy behind the July shipping graphic novel "Seal Team Seven" coming from AiT/PlanetLar. We caught up with the writer to learn more about the book.
"Seal Team Seven" originated as a feature film idea about eight years ago when Sherman was living in Los Angeles working as a screenwriter. "I had an idea for a group of military guys that get involved in an adventure revolving around time traveling Nazis," Sherman told CBR News. "Yeah, time traveling Nazis. The best thing about Nazis is that you can kill 'em and kill 'em and kill 'em and no one gets offended! At the time, we didn't have a global war on terror or any kind of common enemy, so Nazis seemed the best choice. Also, one of my favorite themes in science fiction is time travel. Hell, all of the best sci-fi stories are based around something to do with time travel; from 'Star Trek' to 'Terminator,' so I figured I'd give it a shot. Unfortunately, it wasn't realized - everyone told me it'd be too expensive to do (CGI was just becoming common-place in the industry) so I decided I'd do it as a comic."
After finishing the first draft of the story, Sherman began looking for an artist and actually found one living in the same apartment building he was living in. "His name is Joaquim Dos Santos, an amazing artist I had hired to be a conceptual illustrator on 'Mortal Kombat 2' when I was working on that film - He has since gone on to be the storyboard artist and director of many 'Justice League Unlimited' shows - he's an amazing talent! To make a long story short, unfortunately, he did some art, but ended up being too busy to do it so it sat on a shelf for some time. Then, time passed - Flash-forward six years - a failed marriage, several industry jobs and a move to San Francisco later…"
This is where AiT/Planet Lar Publisher Larry Young steps in. Sherman and Young met at James Sime' Isotope store in San Francisco. "At this point in my career, I had been working in San Rafael at Industrial Light and Magic for some time and wasn't focused on writing as much, but I told Larry I had this idea anyway. I pitched it to him and showed him some artwork (done by the extremely talented Alex Jaeger, who also did the production design for 'Seal Team Seven') and he loved it, but said my story was way too long for an unknown comics writer to publish."
Young felt that it would cost too much and comic buyers wouldn't by such an expensive book from an unknown writer, so he suggested a shorter story involving the same characters to be the first book and if that went well, the original story could be published at a later time. Sherman already had another idea in mind. "What if the underwater kingdom of Atlantis attacks and the rest of the world needs to fight them off? I had been working on that idea for a while and it was rather easy to transform into 'Seal Team Seven,'" said Sherman.
Next came the most difficult part of the process-- finding the right artist for "Seal Team Seven." "I had worked very closely with an incredible production designer at ILM named Alex Jaeger to design all the tech in the book and needed to find someone who could realize those designs and what was not only in my script, but also in my head. After placing several posts on Internet message boards, I started getting samples. Everything you can think of from 'I worked at Marvel for 10 years' to 'my mom thinks this is my best stuff.' No one had the feel I needed for this kind of book. I have a very visual way of writing - if I say it's an M4 with bi-pod mount and RIS system, that's what I want to see in the art and I know this book would only work if I found the type of artist that could deliver that amount of detail. Also, since that was initially going to be a feature film in my mind, I wanted someone with a dramatic sense about their work-with the ability to place the reader into the best spot to feel the action and the drama with angles and forced perspective. One who could use the black and white format to our advantage. That's when I found Roberto de la Torre.
"An incredible artist, completely untapped by the American market-- Roberto lives in Spain. I'm sure after this book comes out, I'll never be able to afford him again, but he is probably one of the best artists in comics today. I'd put him up against the likes of Bryan Hitch and Carlos Pacheco any day. He and I have never met or even spoken on the phone, we do all of our work via emails, and it can be difficult sometimes (even after living in LA for 15 years, my Spanish sucks) but he is the best artist with all the qualities needed to pull off a book of this magnitude and I'll suffer through troubled emails for that any day!"
Sherman says the hardest part of writing is creating characters people will care about. When writing "Seal Team Seven" he was very conscious of this, making sure his characters didn't come off as wooden. He's worked hard at writing real people, yet placing them in situations they can't control and see what happens next. "That's what I've tried to bring to the 'Seal Team Seven' characters. This is truly an ensemble cast of characters in this book and I've tried to make them individuals and their own people with pasts and personalities.
"Commander Douglas Griffin is an ex-navy seal who'd had enough of the killing and death surrounding the covert actions of the navy seals. Extremely intelligent and very well educated in Middle-Eastern affairs and historical events, Doug is reactivated into the Teams against his wishes to deal with the puzzling events that have been set in motion. During an op in Somalia, his team was to set up a base of operations in a deserted building, but when they got there and entered the building - it wasn't deserted. Shots started ringing out and Doug froze at an inopportune time. That smallest hesitation got some of his men killed. Racked with guilt and blaming the incident mostly on the bad intel they were given, Doug decided to use his advanced education in Middle-Eastern History to it's fullest advantage and became an analyst for the CIA. He vowed what happened to him would never happen to another person again if he had anything to say about it.
"Lt. Commander Jarvis is a hard-assed, hard charging 'lifer,'" continued Sherman "A golden-gloves champion boxer in school, he has always concentrated on becoming the best at everything he's done. Graduating the top of his class from the Texas A+M Aggie Corps. with a Bachelors in Mathematics, he was given a commission right out of school, bypassing OCS. Jarvis was hand-picked to got straight into BUDs by the head of SOCOM. Acing BUDs with very little trouble, Jarvis went on to lead his first Seal Team at the age of 22. He was busted down from team leader when he picked a fight in a bar in Coronado with a Marine Gunny Sergeant, but since has worked very hard at keeping his southern temper in check. He was the point person on the team lead by Griffin in Somalia and harbors resentment toward him for quitting the teams.
"There are many other characters that appear in the book; the other members of the seal team, the Secretary of Defense, the President of the US, but this story really centers around Jarvis and Griffin's relationship and how after being forced to work together with this past they have, they learn to trust and respect each other again."
In "Seal Team Seven," Secretary of Defense Banning is tasked by the President to pick the best possible team to investigate a sunken nuclear submarine lost somewhere in the Gulf of Oman. While there was a major sea/air skirmish involving armored Iraqi oil tankers that happened near by, the submarine went down over a hundred miles away for no apparent reason. "Knowing what it's going to take to accomplish a mission of this magnitude, the Secretary of Defense 'reactivates' Commander Griffin from his post as a CIA analyst and back into his old SEAL Team," said Sherman. "Griffin is chosen by Banning because when he was the Admiral in charge of SOCOM black-op programs he knew Griffin rather well, often relying on his strategic mind. Though he's been out of the game for a while, Griffin is thrust back into the world of the seals. This isn't unlike some of the people being 'recalled' in today's military! A stockpile of nuclear missiles swimming off the coast of Iraq isn't an ideal situation for the US, so Seal Team Seven has free reign to do what is necessary to get the job done, answering only to the Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately, that job turns out to be something a bit more mystifying than just investigating a sunken submarine..."
Sherman's goal for "Seal Team Seven" was to create a story about a covert action team that was grounded in reality, with access to the world of science fiction. Thus the appearance of Atlantis in the book. "After I settled on using the Seals instead of creating a fake black ops organization, I tried to come up with an antagonist that would be as visually stunning to draw as they were exciting and fresh to write about and I thought, 'hey who better to pit against the US Navy than invaders from Atlantis?' The way I see it somewhere down the line one organism decided to stay in the ocean evolving into Atlantians while the other crawled onto land and evolved into humans. After careful research, I found the city of 'Atlantis' Plato theorized about sank somewhere near where ancient Sumeria would have been. Reality dictates it's probably a city that collapsed during a massive tsunami and was destroyed, allowing it's remains to sink into the oceans. Realizing Sumeria was the beginning of all civilizations, I though how cool would it be if they based their entire society on the writings they found in the rubble of this doomed culture? Ancient Sumerian texts speak of massive floods rising from the fury of their gods. Interestingly enough, one of those Gods was Nammu the Sumerian sea goddess. Credited as being the mother of the other gods and the creator of the earth and heavens, I thought how perfect was that, so I made Her the primary deity for the Atlantians. Plus it's right smack dab in the middle of one of the hottest war zones in history, so that made it perfect for the book. With the massive amounts of fighting we've been doing in the Middle East, the environmental impacts on that region must be as dangerous and threatening to an oceanic civilization as a nuclear war could be to us. That's why it's a sea battle with nine massive oil tankers that triggers the events.
"I really wanted my vision of Atlantis, (so fully realized by art director Alex Jaeger and amazingly illustrated by Roberto de la Torre) to be as far away from any other look or feel we'd encountered in comics/books/film or TV," said Sherman. "Tell me why a civilization of water-breathing people would need domes around their cities and why would they look like people? These concepts and others have always bothered me about Aquaman and Namor. It just isn't very realistic. Now, I totally understand that in the years these characters and their worlds were created, Weisinger, Kirby and Lee were blazing the path for us to follow, and I respect them for that-- without them, there wouldn't be a business for me to write for, but with this book I wanted to try my best to ground the entirety of it in reality. It's essentially 'what if we were invaded by Atlantis today?'"
As for the Atlanteans themselves, in order to allow them to operate on the surface, Sherman has placed them in pressurized battle armor filled with recirculating sea water. He's also loaded them up with weapons that fire explosive rounds tipped with deadly poisons found on undersea animals that surface dwellers haven't yet discovered. "Also, Atlantis the city, is just the capitol city of a massive underwater civilization that encompasses the ocean's deepest surfaces all over the world," said Sherman. "The tides and streams connect all the cities together, almost like a submerged freeway system. Plus the reason we can't see them from the surface is they build down from the rocks and jetties, protecting and shielding them from the outside world. All in all, a fresh, new perspective on Atlantis that I hope everyone enjoys."
As for the characters and the team found in "Seal Team Seven," Sherman felt in necessary to base them on real people he's met over the years to bring a greater sense of reality to the book. "My father was a Navy Captain (and was also the technical adviser on this book) and I myself am a Marine Corps. Reservist - these insights and background made it easier for me to explore what it is that makes these men tick," said Sherman. "What is it that makes a person want to be a Navy Seal? What is it that makes them give it up? During the course of writing the script, I spoke to several active and retired military personnel, doing the best I could to capture the flavor of the service. Being a Marine, I know (though I haven't been in combat) just how strong these bonds can be and what types of personalities the service attracts. Most civilians feel that they're just a bunch of war mongers; not so. Most of them, realizing how fragile life really is, embrace life to it's fullest and do what they can to be better people in not only their jobs, but in regular society. Though I based each of the characters in the book on real people (changing the names to protect the innocent, of course) I really tried to make them individuals, bringing a different personality type to each character. Griffin is the smart, gun-shy historian while his ex-partner Jarvis rushes in where angels dare to tread and Master Chief Taggert is the quiet but wizened battle-hardened warrior. Those characters, as well as a cast of others, bringing a unique insight of the service, and the teams, to the book."
Currently Sherman spends his days working at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, but by night looks forward to the future of "Seal Team Seven." "I absolutely would love to continue the adventures of Seal Team Seven," said Sherman. "I love these characters and the situations you can put them are endless. I have four sequels, one of them scripted and three of them plotted out. The follow-up to this one is a shorter story Roberto and I are currently working on about a 'standard' retrieval mission that turns out to be more just finding a lost communications satellite. It's got lots of action and centers around 'genetic splicing.' A real frankenstien-esque tale. And following that I'm taking the book back to the original concept that started it all - Time traveling Nazis!"