Justin Aclin wraps 'S.H.O.O.T First' mini, teases more to come

Writer Justin Aclin has looked forward to today, as his Dark Horse miniseries S.H.O.O.T First comes to a conclusion with the release of the fourth issue. Four happens to be the magic number on more than one level, as Aclin notes that the storyline has been in development for four and a half years.

However, the end of the miniseries doesn't mark the end of Aclin and artist Nicolás Daniel Selma's adventures with the S.H.O.O.T. First team. In fact, Aclin provided ROBOT 6 with a peek at art from the upcoming arc Dark Horse Presents, which in March with Issue 24.

As Aclin described it, "This page is the first time we're showing art from the upcoming Dark Horse Presents story. Part 1 takes place 10 years in the past, where an earlier version of the team confronts a giant snake Outside Actor in the Everglades. You can see a younger Lord Byron taking aim here."

Tim O'Shea: The final issue of the S.H.O.O.T First miniseries comes out today. How good does it feel to be finally able to get the finish line on this story arc?

Justin Aclin: This storyline has been in development for four and a half years, so it's thrilling and surreal to see it finally make its way out to readers. I found it unexpectedly emotional to write the final pages with these characters, but that was mitigated a little bit by finding out we'd be getting to do a story with them in Dark Horse Presents, so I was really only not writing them for a couple of weeks in between.

Over the course of developing this miniseries, did any characters grow on you more than you might have initially expected them to when you first created them?

I think that Bett is the character that snuck up on me the most. She's got a lot of moving parts to her — time-displaced Victorian, taken under the wing of a punk nihilist in modern times, has a unicorn horn she fights with — that don't necessarily add up to a character, and probably could have added up to a train wreck of a character. But she's the character who most revealed hidden depths to me. I think you see it when she has her conversation with Infidel in Issue 2, and when she learns the truth about her past in issue 3. That said, I love all the characters, of course. I was just expecting to love most of them.

When you embarked on a story with secular humanists as the heroes, did you expect to hear any protests from religious consumers? In fact have you heard from any folks dismayed with the plot of the miniseries on philosophical or spiritual grounds?

I was expecting to hear protests from religious people, and instead what I've mostly heard if protests from atheists, oddly. I think that when they do a cursory reading of what the series is about, it sounds to them like I'm somehow trying to discredit atheists or make them look ridiculous, and that's clearly not the point. I started this series with a question I needed to answer for myself, which was, "Now that I've come to accept that there's nothing after death, what do I believe in that brings meaning to life?" I think it comes from a very authentic secular place, but maybe just not the secular place that a lot of atheists on the Internet have come to expect.

Much of the intrigue of this miniseries focuses on Mrs. Brookstone and Ray, but you were able to explore some major plotlines with the remainder of the team as well. How challenging was it to work all of that in, yet in the span of four issues?

I knew that I didn't want to leave anything on the table in case we did not get to do another miniseries, because there are no guarantees. So we tell a lot of story in these four issues. I've said before that if this were an ongoing series, the events of the miniseries would probably play out over at least 12 issues, if not more. And it was very challenging to get that all into 88 pages without making it feel overstuffed, but I'm really happy with the story we were able to tell. I think every character has an arc, and I think when people sit down to read it in one sitting, it's going to feel like a full and satisfying story, hopefully.

What have you most enjoyed about collaborating with artist Nicolás Daniel Selma?

Other than the fact that he's a delightful human being, Nico's a crazy-talented artist. And he's about to break out in a huge way as the artist of Dark Horse's Tomb Raider ongoing with writer Gail Simone! But Nico brought brilliantly inventive character design to this series, plus solid storytelling that helps ground some of the outlandish concepts in a way that's easy to understand. He and our colorist, Marlac, did incredible work.

Am I right in thinking you hope to tell more stories with these characters (far beyond even the upcoming Dark Horse Presents story)?

Nico and I have every intention of doing more stories with these characters. I just need to figure out what those stories are going to be! Without getting too heavily into spoilers, we take the old comic book cliche "nothing will ever be the same after this issue!" and make it 100 percent true in Issue 4. The status quo is completely overturned by the end of the book. Luckily, I started writing S.H.O.O.T. First with a question I didn't know the answer to, and that's how I'll start writing any potential sequels as well.

As you mentioned, the next time you'll see these characters is in Dark Horse Presents #34-36, starting in March. The whole creative team is back for a story that takes place 10 years before the series, in between issues of the series and then after the main action of the series, so it will give you a little more insight into what the future may hold.

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