Rob Liefeld has earned his place in comic book history both for his body of work, having drawn superhero icons at both Marvel and DC Comics, and as a co-founder of Image Comics, essentially jumpstarting a new era of creator-owned comics. While Liefeld’s work has been exclusively associated with the capes and tights set, the writer-artist is about to change that with the release of the graphic novel “Armageddon Now: World War III,” the first of a planned six-book series based on apocalyptic prophecies. Liefeld spoke with CBR News about the book, its subject matter, his pastor and collaborator, and to dispel the perception that the book is targeted only toward religious readers.
In the vein of such works as the “Left Behind” series of novels and films as well as “The Omega Code” movies, Liefeld describes his new graphic novel as ”a huge, massive global disaster epic that finds a severely damaged and crippled America sitting on the sidelines as an international coalition attacks Jerusalem.”
“Armageddon Now” follows Lt. Col. John Corbin, a military investigator. “He’s assigned to investigate the terror attacks following the horrific nerve gas attack on New York and the terrible nuclear strike on Los Angeles that open the story,” Liefeld told CBR. “Corbin has long battled nefarious enemies of the United States, so he is dispatched in order to bring the conspirators of the U.S. terror attacks to justice. He arrives in Jerusalem and very quickly realizes that there are familiar forces at play working to bring about a change in the world order. Some of the players in the game have personal ties to him and his past.”
After a long history of working in the superhero genre, observers wonder what it was that brought the prominent creator to the realm of biblically inspired fiction? Answered Liefeld, “I have been a fan of biblical prophecy my entire life, dating back to a series of films about the ‘End Times’ that started with ‘Thief in the Night’ in the mid-seventies. That film had three sequels, all of which depicted life on Earth following the biblical Rapture and the rise of the Anti-Christ. I had picked up the ‘Left Behind’ books early on but while I was pleased that they existed and that they connected with such a massive audience, I thought they were pretty boring.”
Liefeld’s interest continued when Phil Hotsenpiller of Yorba Linda Friends Church held a series of talks on biblical prophecy several years ago. “The presentation by our pastor, Phil, was as exciting and gripping as any big budget action film or thriller,” Liefeld explained. “It hit on many of the aspects of prophecy that I had always been intrigued with. For instance, where is the United States in prophecy, what role does it play? It's right there in scriptures. How about astronomy? Didn't the stars tell of Christ's birth? So why wouldn't they reveal the end of the world? Orion's belt is prophesied about three times in scripture.
“It’s fascinating stuff that just leapt off the page and prompted me to approach Phil about producing it as a graphic novel. I had been developing some biblical projects, I'm a huge fan of the epic stories in the Bible, but once I heard Phil's seminar, I knew this project should take the lead.”
Liefeld and the pastor-cum-comic writer spilt the writing duties evenly to start. “Phil focused on writing the beginning of the book, which is basically the terror attacks on the U.S., and the end of the book, World War III,” Liefeld revealed. “I focused on the middle of the book introducing key characters and sewing the story together. I started drawing from Phil's early plots and then once those were complete we worked out the prologue and the rest of the book. We essentially created a series bible over the course of creating 110 pages for the graphic novel and building our website (www. armageddonnow.net.) We then collaborated on scripting passing the book back and forth as it evolved over the course of nine months.”
While “Armageddon now” invites comparison to “Left Behind” or “The Omega Code,” Liefeld finds it’s closest literary relative to be something much better known. “It is closest to ‘The DaVinci Code’ the either of those,” Liefeld remarked. ‘The DaVinci Code’ was knee-deep in biblical scripture without being preachy or evangelizing, I believe our book plays the same way. ‘Armageddon Now’ works towards prophetic events such as the Rapture, which isn't until the end of book two. World War III and Armageddon are two distinctly separate events in the Bible. People tend to combine them or confuse them but they are distinct events each signaling a different sequence of events.
“World War III kicks off the change of the guard and the shift towards a new world order that will kick start the major end time prophecies. The secret of Orion's Belt as well as the belief in counter prophecies by foreign powers drives our story as Corbin is introduced to fantastic elements that reveal a much larger agenda at large.”
Liefeld praised his collaborator’s unique vision. “Phil's approach is as original as any I've heard and I've been exposed to a great deal of these prophecy stories,” he said. “I'm a huge fan of the genre. This is more geo-political than religious other than in regards to whether or not the Bible foretold of much of what is being experienced now and inside the book.”
With such a basis in biblical prophecy, research is a given. “Phil is the research nut,” said Liefeld. “He told me of these ancient Russian barbarian warlords that drank and ate from their victims bones and I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm in.’ His research of history is crazy and his biblical knowledge is amazing. I grew up in the church, my grandfather and my dad were both ordained ministers, so it's hard to surprise me with an original take on prophecy but this was amazingly compelling.”
Observers and fans of Liefeld’s work may perceive a difference in his artistic approach to “Armageddon Now.” Said Liefeld, “I'm drawing, penciling in my style and then those pencils are digitally painted by some ridiculously talented folks, chief among them is Mike Capprotti who has emerged as the primary painter for the first issue as well as the remainder of the series.”
As “Armageddon Now” is envisioned as a series, why did Liefeld choose to go with the graphic novel format over monthly releases? “I believe that this story is best served in original graphic novels that can be sold in every bookstore and retail outlet in the world,” Liefeld said. “The format has obviously become quite transcendent and this is the perfect outlet for our series. Big, thick, original, painted graphic stories about the end of the world will prove to be pretty irresistible to consumers rather than the flimsy 32-page format that gets destroyed on the racks at bookstores. “
Rob Liefeld sees his target audience for “Armageddon Now: World War III” as quite simply “everyone” and not just Christians or fans of biblical prophecy fiction. “This is the first work in my 22-year career that doesn't contain any superhero elements, no super-powered people, capes, or familiar myths,” he said. “It's a big spy-thriller set against the world of biblical prophecy come true. It’s much like ‘Independence Day’ or ‘I Am Legend’ rather than traditional faith-based material.
“We printed and sold a limited edition of ‘Armageddon Now: World War Three’ for our church at a similar prophecy conference in August and 90% of the people who bought it responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, none of whom have ever read a comic book or graphic novel. The story is topical, relevant and becomes more familiar with every new day as the world around us struggles to hold it together.”
The “Armageddon Now” series is planned for six books with “Armageddon Now: World War III” hitting the stands December 3, 2008, and volume two shipping in February 2009.