To say that Rob Liefeld's biblical prophecy-inspired, apocalyptic action epic "Armageddon Now!" took comics readers by surprise is a bit of an understatement. Known for a cartooning style that celebrates the exaggerated and extreme elements of superheroes, a mixed-media military graphic novel series backed up by the prophecy research of Christian preacher and scholar Phil Hotsenpiller didn't exactly seem a natural move for Liefeld. However, with one volume in the planned multi-graphic novel epic now on shelves, doubters have seen how serious Liefeld (whose rough pencils on the book are finished in digital paints by artists Marat Mychaels and Mike Capprotti) takes the concept.
For curious parties interested in seeing the results, Image Comics releases "Armageddon Now: Jada" this May - a one-shot prequel telling the origin of the graphic novel's antagonistic spy.
"This is a prequel, showing Jada's early assignments in the espionage business, which have direct connections and ramifications on the ongoing series. It definitely links Book one and Book two which is out in July," Liefeld told CBR News. "Jada is a complex character that wears many faces and, as you'll see, she's a fast study in the espionage game but by the time we get to 'Armageddon: The Beast,' the second series that starts this summer, you'll see that it's beginning to wear on her. Jada as a spy, is a completely self-serving character, she's only interested in benefitting her own interests at the expense of all else. Her relationship with our series protagonist, Corbin, definitely throws a wrench in the works for both of them."
The moral grey area of Jada's character provides a hook not typically seen in biblically inspired fiction, but more traditional elements of the apocalypse work their way into the "Armageddon Now!" concept as well, each with their own unique focus. "Well, one of the more prominent aspects of the 'End Times' prophecies is the Mark of the Beast, a numerical system that will determine the economic landscape. That technology as well as other advance tech are hot items in the world Jada is trading in," Liefield explained, adding that allusions to the character's unique blood type found on the "Armageddon Now!" website also play a role in the spy's past and future.
"Her blood is significant in the grand scheme, as are other genetic aspects and technology I alluded to earlier. How will the Anti-Christ, the Beast, raise an army of millions, how will he perform some of the technological miracles that are spoken of in prophecy? Those are some of the issues we are tackling throughout this story as well as the second series."
With so much of the bigger goals for the long-term project focused on those big ideas and epic plotting, Liefeld felt that fans would want outlets into the stories aside from the annual, book formatted novels. "It occurred to us as we were wrapping up the first graphic novel, that we should use one-shots and mini-series in order to expand selected characters such as Jada who has more story in her than we had room in the first OGN to share. These are our 'Expanded Universe' stories that can be enjoyed on their own as well as to enhance the larger story," he said, noting that the plot for the upcoming one-shot involved Jada protecting a unique infant. "Oh, boy, you'll have to find out when the book ships. There is humor and danger as Jada has to protect this very special child. But it is definitely not a Christ-child, it's not that obvious."
And while the artist isn't contributing as tight of pencils as he did on the graphic novel, the work laid down by Mychaels and Capprotti carry the distinctive style of the project as a whole. "The creative process is really rolling, Marat and I approach the page knowing that Mike can handle anything we throw at him so we have a great time with the sequentials as well as the actual drawing," Liefeld explained. "Mike enhances everything, he is an amazing talent. He keeps us all interested. But we approach the page just trying to create the most exciting imagery and story-telling possible. For the one shot, there is a more traditional story-telling approach rather than the 'spreads' that are the staple of the main books."
Of course, Liefeld keeps busy these days, and the artist's contributions for 2009 are ramping up to overwhelm recent output by a large margin -- including work with Robert Kirkman on a revival of Marvel's "Killraven" and a wave of new Image books including issues of his signature "Youngblood" with Joe Casey and the one-shot "Smash" with Jeph Loeb.
"I'm jumping all around," Liefeld agreed. "I've drawn three of five issues of 'Killraven,' Robert handed in the last two issues in the fall, which coincided with him completing his contract with Marvel. With 'Killraven,' we're getting them all finished before soliciting them, or at least getting out way in front of the deadline. 'Youngblood,' 'Killraven,' 'Smash' and 'Armageddon' are drawn on different days of the week. It's a whole lot of drawing, but I prefer it that way. I'm easily distracted."