Organized crime takes on many names depending on its heritage. It might call itself the mafia, the yakuza, or it may just label its members "gangstas." The interesting thing about this though is that crime finds a way to organize in every culture. I guess criminals must enjoy the feeling of family.
This November, writer Ron Marz ("Ion," "Witchblade") shares with readers the tale of a mob soldier from the USSR in "Russian Sunset," courtesy of Desperado Publishing. Serbian artist Mirko Colak, in his debut U.S. work, joins him for this five-issue miniseries solicited by Image Comics. CBR News spoke with Marz to find out more about this book and the inspiration behind its story. And in this case, it turned out the inspiration for the writer was the artist.
"This was really a case of having the artist in place first, and then coming up with a story that would best suit what he does," Marz told CBR News. "Desperado publisher Joe Pruett showed me Mirko's work and asked if I might want to work with him. I really liked Mirko's stuff, which has a real gritty quality to it, so I tried to come up with a gritty story to match.
"[The story takes place in] present-day, post-Soviet Russia, which is still dealing with major crime and corruption issues. When the old system fell apart, one of the things that rushed in to fill the vacuum was organized crime, which seems to have its tentacles into most levels of Russian society."
For his research into the Russian mob, Marz decided to forgo clandestine meetings with ex-mobsters in dark alleyways; although he sounded very pleased with his alternative. "Thank God for the internet! It's been invaluable in researching Russian organized crime here in the United States and abroad, as well as the terrorist movement in Chechnya, which also figures into the storyline. Both of those situations continue to unfold, so I pay attention to the headlines."
As mentioned, many criminals turn to organized crime to attain a sense of belonging. Nik, the main character in "Russian Sunset," is no different, but whether or not he achieves this feeling as a mob soldier is another matter.
"Nik was born in Russia, but partially raised in the United States, so he's really part of both cultures, but not completely comfortable in either," Marz said. "He doesn't quite fit in with the Russian-born mobsters he works with, but he's not completely at home in America, either. When the story opens, he's working for an ex-general turned mobster in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The job Nik is sent on, however, takes him back to Russia."
Of course, Nik isn't alone in his adventures. A colorful cast of characters joins him, but only time will tell if they are there to hurt him or help him. "The book definitely revolves around Nik, but the other important character is a woman he meets once he's back in Russia," elaborated Marz. "She's working for the mafia in Russia and she's supposed to be Nik's contact, but she's hiding some secrets that are going to make Nik's job a hell of a lot harder. The other characters aren't a very savory bunch - cutthroat Russian mobsters, corrupt military officers, murderous terrorists. Compared to them, Nik doesn't seem like such a bad guy."
As for the story and how Nik meets many of the characters, Marz explained, "The Brighton Beach - or 'Little Odessa' - arm of the Russian mafia sends Nik to Russia so that he can broker and execute a deal with a corrupt Russian military officer who wants to sell a stolen nuke a terrorist faction. So Nik finds himself dealing with extremely dangerous and desperate people on all sides, none of whom he can trust. Everybody's got a secret, everybody's got an agenda."
The book seems to contain elements that could be categorized under noir, espionage-thriller, and just plain ol' mobster-mayhem. Marz said the book is a bit of all of those genres. "I've said it's a little bit like 'The Sopranos' meets Tom Clancy," said Marz.
When it comes to movies about organized crime, most of the "flicks" that do it best - and most realistically - garner an "R" rating from the MPAA. Movie studios are always a bit wary of an "R" rating, because it limits their audience and can, therefore, potentially limit their box office. "Russian Sunset" does contain a retailer warning on the solicitation (which, in the comic book industry, could mean anything from strong language to violence to nudity). We asked Marz to clarify the warning. "The first issue does open with a murder, but there's not as much outright gore. I think what you don't show winds up being more effective than what you do show. There's nudity and there's a lot of rough language. These characters inhabit a brutally violent and profane world, and we wanted to portray that as realistically as we could.
"I think when you choose to tell a story like this, and you want to tell it properly, you're already committed to an 'R' rating," continued Marz. "Not every movie at the multiplex needs to be kid-friendly, not every comic on the stands needs to be kid-friendly. In this case, there wasn't even a discussion about it. I told Joe Pruett that this was going to be a 'Mature Audiences' title, and he supported that. I give Joe a lot of credit. His chief concern is getting the series done right."
And in terms of "getting the series done right," Marz indicated that artist Mirko Colak was contributing greatly to this occurrence. "As I mentioned, Joe Pruett was responsible for bringing me and Mirko together," said Marz. "Mirko is Serbian, and he's worked almost exclusively for European publishers, so this is really his American debut. There's an obvious European flavor to his work, with a very strong sense of black and white composition. One of Mirko's influences is Eduardo Risso of '100 Bullets,' and I think you can also see a bit of the late, great Edvin Biukovic in there as well."
In addition to writing Russian gangsters, Marz manages to keep his plate full with everything from galaxy-spanning heroes to old world warriors. "I'm still writing 'Witchblade' and 'Ion' monthly for Top Cow and DC respectively. The other thing I've got coming out in November is the sequel to my 'Samurai: Heaven and Earth' series from Dark Horse. And then in 2007, I'll have another creator-owned series from Dark Horse called 'Pantheon City,' with artist Clement Sauve."
With every project he undertakes, the writer indicated that each one possesses a quality that draws him to it. With regards to "Russian Sunset," Marz said the thing that excites him is "…the chance to do something different. I've never wanted to get stuck in one genre, because I think that leads to the work getting stale, and I know it leads to me getting bored. I have to be entertaining myself before I can expect to entertain the audience. So being able to tell different kinds of stories is important to me. Man does not live by superheroes alone, you know?"