Is This the End? J. Michael Straczynski Delivers "Apocalypse Al"

For Allison Carter, saving the world from any number of nasty threats isn't just a job -- it's a legacy. Four generations of her family victoriously defended the planet and Al's not about to let them down. Sarcastic, sharp-tongued and quick on the draw, she's the best chance we've got against a looming darkness that seeks the destruction of mankind. But in order to take down the Ultimate Darkness, she'll have to fight her way through zombies, imps, trolls and a demonically possessed theme park that definitely isn't the happiest place on Earth -- all in a days work for "The Adventures of Apocalypse Al."

This four-issue miniseries, created and written by the legendary J. Michael Straczynski and published under his Joe's Comics imprint at Image Comics, launched last week and will continue monthly. Drawn by up-and-coming artist Sid Kotian, the series promises to be an imaginative adventure with touches of horror and noir-style humor. Plus an undead boyfriend and pistol-whipping a costumed character.

After reading the first issue, CBR News had to find out more about Al, and Stracyznski let us in on some of the details about what we can look forward to in the series, as well as his vision for what Joe's Comics will bring in 2014.

CBR News: "Apocalypse Al" is the first new title in 2014 from Joe's Comics. Does it set the pace for what we can expect for the rest of the year?

J. Michael Straczynski: To a degree, yes. Last year we did a lot of very dark, gloomy books and it's very important to change flavors from time to time. I love a good steak but if you eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for ten days straight, you might get tired of it after a while. I think its important to show the range of what Joe's Comics is. This year we are doing "Apocalypse Al" which has a lighter tone, and "Dream Police" which has a bit of a lighter tone but a darker story underneath it -- so we have the chance to play with both sides of that. We have "Cemetery Cats," which is a fairytale in graphic novel form and of course "Book of Lost Souls," which is a modern dark fantasy. This is the year we show more colors and tones of what Joe's Comics is.

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It sounds like "Apocalypse Al" is largely about exploring a unique world and having a lot of fun.

Oh, absolutely. My theory is that there are at least four laugh-out-loud moments per book. In the next one, Al enters the cybervoid to get information about what's going on -- that's where the internet and the supernatural world mix -- she runs into her mom who guilts her about her relationships, being in the same job. She runs into a situation where she is being pursued by a car of three-inch tall imps with machine guns, each operating a different part of the car. I see Al as the Egyptian God of Frustration. She's constantly being beset by one bizarre thing after the other. There's a serious story in there very deep, but for the most part it's just meant to be a lot of fun.

Tell me about Allison. What do you want people to know about her as they head into the series? What kind of heroine is she?

She has some of the same smartass attitude that you'd see in a Buffy sort of character, or maybe "Ghostbusters" or "Men in Black." The difference is that even though she has people she can go to for help and advice, she's basically on her own. She doesn't have a partner or a watcher. This [job] has been passed down from generation to generation and she's on her own. She tried briefly to have a partner, who we'll meet later on, who ended up sacrificing his life for her. So she's decided to go the route of being solitary and it gives her this sharp attitude toward relationships in general. For me, the fun of the character is that she's completely single minded, not afraid to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the right moment. She's someone who is independent and likes to have fun. If Humphrey Bogart was a woman with a sense of humor, he'd be Al.

She specializes in preventing the end of the world -- apart from her family legacy of filling this role, what makes her qualified for the job? Has she saved the world before and this new mission is just old hat for her?

She's been doing this since she was 18. To a degree it may feel at times like old hat to her, but what's good about this story and where it's going is that something will happen to Al that she doesn't expect, involving her former boyfriend and partner, Scott. It pulls her out of the "been there done that before" point of view.

She's been hired by this group called The Committee that paid for her parents, her grandparents, and so on [to do this job.] They pay her in gold coins, which she sells on eBay because she can't fit them through the ATM.

Who poses the biggest threat to Al?

The toughest one in general is the guy who's trying to destroy the world with the Book of Keys, but after him comes... well, there's one issue coming down the road where she's trying to get into a theme park that may look familiar to some readers. Demonic forces possess the place, so you have all of these franchise cartoon-based characters with demons in them. They're the most serious threat because she's surrounded by hundreds of them. It's funny but in some ways it's the scariest issue to date. My favorite scene in the entire book is when she's in this theme park, pistol-whipping Dopey Dog.

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We wanted to do something quick and short to introduce the character and put that world in place. We're doing 12-issue runs on "Ten Grand" and "Sidekick" so we wanted to do something shorter and punchier that we can always come back to later. Once we've caught up with some of the other books that are coming out this year, I want to revisit that world and either do a 6 or a 12 or two 12-issue runs to follow her again, because she is just too much fun to write.

How did you come to work with your artist, Sid? What made his style a good fit for the story?

I was looking online. I tend to keep an open mind as far as what kind of artist to use. Obviously there's any number of A-list artists I could go to who would love to work with us, so there are lots of people we could choose from, but I wanted to keep the book open to fresh talent. I literally stumbled across his work online. He'd done two or three titles based out of India and I just fell off my chair when I saw it. His art was so accessible, so open. The detail work he puts into his art is phenomenal, and I thought that he was exactly the right guy. In order for something to be funny, it needs to be light and airy but sometimes you have to have the emotions of the characters coming through. Sid can do both of those things, which is really hard to find. So we locked him down for "Al" and once we saw what he'd done, we locked him in for "Dream Police."

Did you have a clear aesthetic in mind for Al, and did it change once you began working with Sid?

Not really. I had a very clear image in mind and the cool thing about working with Sid is that he's almost telepathic. When he did the initial character designs -- we had to work through the wardrobe a bit to get to what was appropriate -- but as far as the look of Al herself, he nailed it right off the bat. We did want to give her proper clothes to run around in and not some skimpy outfit, except for the scenes in the end of the first issue. Most of the book she's wearing a jacket, pants, shirt and a gun. She's someone who can be sexy without having to constantly wear a uniform with her private parts sticking out. That's a thing I insisted on early on with the character.

At one point, "Apocalypse Al" was slated to be a webseries through MTV Geek -- do you hope to take it in the same direction through Joe's Comics?

Initially MTV wanted it. We were going to follow the book up with a webseries for MTV.com but that was all being done through MTV Geek. When that folded, I yanked the book back to Joe's Comics. I'd love to do a webseries down the road but for right now, my main focus is doing the comic first and foremost. I have a suspicion that once this hits the stands, we're going to get a lot of interest from actual television and film people, but I'm in no rush for that. I'm happy to do the book for the moment. Whether it's a webseries down the road, or a TV series or movie, I'm in no rush. These books need to stand on their own. Because of where JMS Studios is, if we want to do a film, we go out and sell a film. I think comics should not be viewed as proof of concept for something else. It shouldn't be a means to get a TV series or a movie; it needs to be a good comic. If it's a good comic first, the rest will eventually follow. Our goal right now with everything we do is to make it the best book we can and let the rest take care of itself.

Do you feel like a lot of comics that have come out lately are at risk for being proof of concept projects versus sincerely committing to the comic genre?

I don't want to bag on anyone, but I've known too many writers who have turned around and said, "Listen, I've got this idea for a movie. I wanna do the comic book first and get it some attention and then do the movie." There are a lot of people who do that. I'm not saying its good or bad, it's just how they prefer to work. I prefer to work it by making the best comic first. Like "Midnight Nation," I just wanted that to be a really good comic above everything else. We've had many, many people come to us with vast sums of money to option that book. We've always said no, that's a comic. It needs to be a comic and remain a comic. Maybe somewhere down the road, we'll do it ourselves, but in terms of letting someone outside do it? No. No, that's my comic and leave it alone.

"The Adventures of Apocalypse Al" #1 is on sale now from Image Comics/Joe's Comics; issue #2 goes on sale March 5.

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