Johnston Pursues His "Chase Variant"

Chasing down hard-to-find comic books isn't an easy task, though the hobby of comic collecting itself is hardly a rarity amongst fans of the medium. What is rare, however, is the use of said hobby as a thematic subject in the pages of a comic book - rarer still is when that comic book stars an artificially manufactured four-armed badass that only comes one in every one hundred assassins created by an enigmatic organization.

This is the premise of "Chase Variant One Shot (Is All I Need)," the upcoming Image Comics one-shot penned by "Watchmensch" scribe Rich Johnston. Johnston, alongside interior artists Saverio Tenuta and Bagwell, is telling the tale of Chase Variant, a gifted assassin that finds herself in the crosshairs of various governments due to her extremely rare nature. CBR News spoke with Johnston about his comic book and the themes at play within "Chase Variant."

"It's not so much a plot, but a process," Johnston told CBR of "Chase Variant's" premise. "Chase is a 1-in-100 genetic assassin variant - there's only one of her in every hundred assassins created by The Company, and she's randomly distributed. Governments who don't get a version of her will do whatever it takes to capture her from their rivals, so every job she takes could well be an ambush."

Based on Johnston's description, it's not unfair to assume that multiple versions of Chase might be seen throughout the one-shot. "We see three Chases," he said. "They may be the same Chase. They may be different Chases. I'm not going to say one way or the other."

Whether or not these three assassins are the same character, each Chase is likely to have a similar personality due to her status as a manufactured product. "Her first name is Chase, her second is Variant, that's all we'll know and will ever know. She is a product, not a personality, so everything about her has been created rather than developed. That doesn't mean that she's not complex, deep and multi-layered - she is, but that's an intentional product feature to carry out complex jobs," said the writer. "She seems to run on pure reactive instinct. Any attempt to question her circumstances results in problems, both inside her head and in the world around her. And, yes, it's challenging because you're not just writing her, you're writing a reactive world alongside every thought of hers."

Johnston said that even though Chase is at the forefront of the book, she's not exactly the story's protagonist - that distinction belongs to a pair of enigmatic card players. "They are The Hands, two unseen figures playing a game of cards that seems to have some impact on the events unfolding in Chase's life," he said. "It's a role-playing game, somewhere between 'Top Trumps' and 'Magic: The Gathering,' played by unseen assailants whose flippant decisions have major impact for Chase's reality."

The existence of The Hands serves to propel the central themes at play in "Chase Variant," which Johnston identified as the notions of "destiny, free will, choice, fiction, narrative, [and] levels of reality." These ideas were first hinted at in the solicitation for "Chase Variant," which described the one-shot as "Michael Bay meets Rene Descartes, 'Tomb Raider' meets 'Annie Hall.'" While those specific creators and projects might not be name-checked within the pages of "Chase Variant," Johnston said that they speak to one of the book's most fulfilling attributes.

"It was basically saying that this is an example of having your cake and [eating it too]," said Johnston. "It's a balls-to-the-wall blockbuster of a comic, starring a leathered/tattooed babe with four arms, two breasts and one brain. But it's also a thesis on the nature of existence, of free will, and the differing levels of fiction and reality - with lots of guns."

Balancing a blockbuster action epic with equally heavy philosophical musings isn't exactly an enviable task with only 32 pages in the issue. "Worse than that, it's three separate stories in the book," Johnston revealed. "One of the things growing up reading '2000AD' is that you instantly see how to tell a full story in 10 pages or less. American comics have it easy - twenty-two pages? A luxury, sir, pure luxury. You don't have to throw out [characterization], you just make it integral to the plot. I promise, there are no scenes of people talking sat around a table in 'Chase Variant.' The talking happens while Chase is being attacked by genetic monsters of all descriptions."

The various genetic monsters - and, of course, the titular four-armed assassin - come courtesy of artists Saverio Tenuta and Bagwell. "I was introduced to Saverio by Liam Sharp when 'Chase Variant' was a part of the curtailed 'Event Horizon' graphic anthology. He's a 'Heavy Metal' artist, and I was blown away when those pages came through - the detail, the colors and the life of the pages," said Johnston. "He was unavailable for the second chapter, which is where I met Bagwell, who is currently working for '2000AD.' He lived in France and now in Korea, and his pages, well, they put Alex Ross to shame. A very different style, but so good for the character, too. And for the third chapter, Bagwell [decided] to change his own style, now to something more influenced by cell animation, but still with the insane amount of detail and kinetic force."

Bagwell and Tenuta aren't the only artists on board for "Chase Variant," as Johnston successfully reached out to "Youngblood" creator Rob Liefeld to supply a variant cover. "Rob's providing a 1:10 chase variant cover for 'Chase Variant,' which, remember, despite the philosophy, is a comic about a four-armed babe with guns blasting," said the writer. "Rob is delivering the cover for Christmas, and I hope he'll put a few pouches on there. I honestly have a lot of time for Rob's work, specifically the kinetic punch his artwork has, which is so exciting to see, especially for young minds."

"This is by far the best looking comic book I've been involved with, and I'll hazard a guess that it will be the best looking book of the week when it comes out - depending if Ben Templesmith and Ben McCool's new comic ["Choker"] also comes out on the same day," added Johnston.

When "Chase Variant" ships in February - which Johnston has dubbed "Chebruary" due to the first two letters of his book's title as well as Image's "Chew" and the aforementioned "Choker," also arriving that month - the writer will have a better idea of whether or not his new comic will have a life beyond the initial one-shot. "[There are] plenty more tales, but I want to check the market first," he said. "I get the feeling that this book will be under-ordered, will sell out fast once people see the damn thing and that the resultant demand will be enough to launch an ongoing series with. Failing that, I have seven first issues for other comics series and I'm currently looking for artists. You don't know any, do you?"

Johnston said that while he has confidence in the book's prospects, the only way for "Chase Variant" to flourish is if fans get in on the ground floor now. "It's a small comic from Image - a little bit hidden - and you can guarantee that, as usual, retailers on the whole will under order it," he said. "Naturally, they want to sell out. They don't want to be stuck with unsold copies, they don't want to take a chance on what may be a dud, which means if you do want a copy, you need, need, need to tell your retailer now. 'Chase Variant' from Image. They'll get you a copy, sure. But you need to tell them now."

"Chase Variant One Shot (Is All I Need)," written by Rich Johnston and illustrated by Saverio Tenuta and Bagwell, arrives in stores on February 3, 2010 courtesy of Image Comics.

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