Krueger, Deneen and Zachary Lift "Phoenix" From the Ashes

At Atlas Comics, everything old is new again and is it ever a good time for old heroes. Reviving and re-imagining classic heroes from the old Atlas Comics/Seaboard Periodicals comics from the 1970s, Atlas is bringing heroes to the modern age in a big way. Now, with their three flagship titles about to hit their fourth issue, things are really starting to heat up for these new old heroes.

"Phoenix," written by Jim Krueger and Brendan Deneen with art by Dean Zachary, seeks to revive the saga of astronaut Ed Tyler and his adventures saving Earth from aliens as a veritable phoenix from the ashes of an orbiting space station. While the original run only lasted four issues (and changed its name to "Phoenix... The Protector"), Krueger, Deneen and Zachary have much more story to tell for a whole new Ed Tyler in the modern era.

Krueger, Deneen and Zachary took some time to speak with CBR News about "Phoenix," adapting classic characters for 2011, creative process, character design, the differences between old Ed and new Ed, the lead-in to "Atlas Unified" and the future of the book.

CBR News: Jim, you've had a little experience adapting old-school heroes for a new audience in books such as "Project Superpowers," "Earth X" and "Avengers/Invaders." How did this experience help you while adapting "Phoenix" for a new audience?

Jim Krueger: When I think about all the projects with Alex [Ross] that I wrote, the one thing that jumps out at me is my belief that the more characters, the less drama. And while there is a thrill to be writing and showing so many characters, the effect on actual drama is a diminishing one. The more characters, the less drama. And so, writing "Phoenix" (co-writing with my long-time friend Brendan) has been a return to the kind of dramatic set-ups that I did when I was dreaming about telling a Batman story without the League, or something like that. The focus is drama all the way for me, which is a lot of fun.

Brendan and Jim, give us an idea as to your writing process and your creative process for the book -- how do you decide what to bring over from the original Atlas comics and which new aspects to introduce?
Krueger: It's very organic. We broke down a major plot for the first [six] issues and since then, I write a detailed panel-by-panel breakdown of each issue. Brendan then scripts and sends back to me for more notes, which I make. We're talking about issues 7 to 12 right now.

Brendan Deneen: Yep, Jim's answer is the long and short of it. For me, it's a very cool experience because I've been reading Jim's work since "Earth X." I started off as a fan, then we became friends, and now we're co-writers on a book I'm loving. That's a very fun process for an old-school comic nerd such as myself.
Let's talk about Ed Tyler for a moment. Who is he in this new series and how does he differ from his original Atlas counterpart? What motivates and drives him through the story?

Krueger: I'll let Brendan answer this one mainly because as the series' script-writer, he's been giving Ed his voice. I like to think that this Ed is not all that different form the original. The difference is that comics are told differently now, and we're learning a whole lot more out about Ed than we ever did in the original series.

Also, Ed is a character who is changing. The more often he dies and is reborn, the less of his humanity remains... and that makes a constantly changing but very heroic character. And that's cool.

Deneen: I think 2011 Ed has a more modern sensibility, of course. He's not an astronaut, he's an investment banker who's been caught up in these incredible events. I think that makes him a bit more grounded and relatable. But the biggest difference, in many ways, is his relationship with Max, his best friend, a character who didn't exist in the 1970s version of "Phoenix." They're like brothers, and if you look at his "costume," Max is actually the one who more resembles the original Phoenix! Their relationship isn't ending any time soon. If anything, it's only going to get more complex in the second arc.
Dean, what was your character design process like? How much did the original material influence your designs?

Dean Zachary: After studying both the original '70s costume along with the "Phoenix" #0 designs, I actually created some radically different approaches that you might see in the trade paperback extras one day. Ultimately, the creative team felt that keeping with the established look of "Phoenix" #0 was the way to go for continuity, and I agree. To enhance the look of the suit, I add textures, core shadows, reflections and highlights to make the suit and the entire Phoenix universe more resonant. I say "resonant" instead of "real" because I'm going for a surreal world look, not photographic reality. It's reality through the Zachary filter. There is always atmosphere. Rain. Ice. Wind. Snow. Leaves. Ashes. Dramatic lighting. You get the picture.

For each of you, what has been the most creatively challenging aspect of bringing this character back to life in a way that is compelling to a modern audience?

Krueger: It's probably keeping the story small at the beginning. I live for major revelations, and there are plenty coming, but in those first three [or] four issues, it's about putting the characters in place and winding them up to the point where the reader knows that when Hell breaks loose, the pieces are not going to be able to be put back together.

Deneen: Honestly, and weirdly, it hasn't really been all that challenging at all. I live to re-invent and modernize characters, like I've done with "Flash Gordon," and like Todd Dezago, JM DeMatteis and I did with "Casper the Friendly Ghost." It's a cliche, but this series really seems to be writing itself. It helps to have Jim's plot breakdowns, but then I add my own ideas, and it really just flows out of me and out of Jim, too, it seems.

Zachary: Honestly my approach has been to use the three "Gs." Grainy Gritty Graphite. Leaving behind the traditional "open for inks" style pencils has allowed me to grow creatively, adding the signature dense atmosphere to "Phoenix" that seems to connect with readers. I intend to push myself further and further as I grow, and hopefully bring the willing readership along with me!

What appeals to you most about the character of the Phoenix?

Krueger: There's a lot of talk these days about how death means nothing in comics. And we're using that with Ed as a major strength of the series. Every time he dies and comes back to life, he's more powerful but less human, less in touch with his soul. So death is a part of transforming the character into the weapon the aliens who did this to him want him to be, and it becomes increasingly about holding onto yourself regardless of the fact that the only way to save everyone is to die over and over again. That makes for fun drama, I think.

Deneen: I like the fact that he has NO idea what the hell is going on. He was kidnapped (along with his entire hometown), experimented on, killed over and over again, and then escaped with the help of incredible super powers. Now he's on the run with his girlfriend and an alien outcast, losing his humanity little by little. That's just fun. No other way to explain it.

Zachary: He's an everyman challenged by a situation progressively out of his control. That scenario can make for some very entertaining stories.

Now that you're three issues deep into the series, readers are starting to see the character really start to come into his own as a hero. What's in store for him coming up and how will it bring further challenges into his life?

Krueger: Certainly, everything is pointing to Ed's final showdown with his best friend Max -- and Ed's revenge against the aliens who did this to him. But there's a lot more coming.
Deneen: Jim is right on the money. Ed and Max have a lot of challenges coming their way, and nothing, of course, is what it seems. I'm excited for Denise's arc as well. She's not going to be just another damsel in distress. She's one smart cookie, and we'll be seeing more and more of that.

Now that Phoenix and other heroes like Grim Ghost and Wulf have gotten established, you guys are gearing up for the big Atlas crossover, "Atlas Unified." How will "Phoenix" set the stage for the event.

Krueger: I have no idea. He's certainly the superman of the Atlas universe, so I imagine something along those lines.

Deneen: Let me put it this way. He dies in the first few pages... and doesn't come back to life. Uh oh.

Beyond "Atlas Unified," what's in the future for Phoenix? Will he be following the steps of the past and become Phoenix... the Protector, or can we expect more deviations from the original series?
Krueger: As I mentioned before, Brendan and I have been talking about the next six issues after this. As for "The Protector," I have an idea that I think will work perfectly but one Brendan and everyone else at Atlas have to approve first.

Deneen: Ironically, Jim and I separately had the same idea regarding "The Protector." I also have a crazy idea that I haven't even told Jim about yet. Hey Jim, I'll call you in a little while to tell you!

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