Matt Wagner Hunts "Legendary" Demons With "The Tower Chronicles"

Next week, both the fledgling comics label Legendary Comics and acclaimed creator Matt Wagner will embark on a new adventure. That's because Wednesday marks the release of "The Tower Chronicles" - an epic series that marks the company's first serialized comic narrative and Wagner's latest long form story. The first of four 64-page prestige format issues - which collectively make the first of three planned "Tower Chronicles" graphic novels, subtitled "GeistHawk" - is drawn by iconic comics painter Simon Bisley under a cover by Jim Lee.

The series focuses on John Tower, a bounty hunter of supernatural ghouls, demons and monsters who was developed by Wagner and Legendary Executive Thomas Tull - best known for co-producing geek blockbusters like "The Dark Knight" films of Christopher Nolan and "300" via his Legendary Films banner. Speaking with CBR about the projects creation, Wagner explained that his commitment to telling such a long-form story with the publishing startup was an easy choice on many levels.

"I'm always looking for a narrative challenge," he said. "And aside from working on the big company characters, I have 'Mage' which is my one man show. And I have 'Grendel' which is my collaboration orgy. But I've never really tried to work like this where someone had this one specific idea and I then tried to write this story with that person. And additionally, the idea of a supernatural bounty hunter is kind of ubiquitous right now. Truthfully, you could say 'Buffy' was that, and there's a show on TV called 'Grimm' which is somewhat similar subject matter. So it was a big challenge for me to figure out a way to make that different."

Wagner admitted that many Hollywood players come to comics to presell their ideas for film franchises. But between Tull's dedication to publishing first and the work of longtime editor Bob Schreck, he knew this wouldn't be the case. "Obviously, when you have a company like Legendary starting a comics division, you're going to be met with certain cynical talk of 'Oh, they're just doing this to be a movie pitch in comics form.' That's not the way I approach things. I tell narrative in comic books. That's my medium. And I don't take projects on unless I'm excited about them."

The journey towards "The Tower Chronicles" series of prestige mini series started when Wagner met Tull to hear his pitch on who John Tower would be. "Tom has had a bunch of cool ideas, but I was the one who said 'Okay, now we have to make it a human being. What makes this character not just cool and tough as nails? Because we've got to give a damn about him.'" the writer explained of their process. "And so we tossed back and forth some ideas and came up with what I think is a really great backstory for him. When you read the first issue, you'll get that killing a bunch of monsters isn't really his aim. It's just a means to an end. And there's a large mystery as to what is his actual goal and what is it that drives him to confront these supernatural threats.

"He'll work for anybody, and he charges a hefty fee, but he says over and over again that money isn't his concern. So why does he do this? Well, that's the fun of the story as it slowly unspools," Wagner said, noting that in the first mini series, readers will see Tower take gigs from private citizens, gangsters and eventually a woman named Alicia Hardwick of the F.B.I. She will provide a way for readers to step into Tower's world and mind.

"I think with these aloof, tough characters, there's a real passionate human being in the middle of all of that who has somehow seen something too tragic or too terrible that has driven them to desperate action. Same is true of Batman or most of Clint Eastwood's roster of characters, and it's at the heart of what we'll discover about John Tower."

Wagner praised his artist, noting that the rare interior artwork from Bisley has grown more collaborative as the books have been worked on over the past year. "He and I get much more used to working together, and I get better at writing for him, and he gets better at delivering what I ask for. Just the other day, he turned in some pencils for a sequence involving these disgusting little characters, and he drew them so much better than I was imagining. As a writer who's also an artist, when you get pencils like that in, it's so thrilling," he said, noting of the artist's signing for the book. "The first piece he did was a painting, and he so knocked it out of the park that Bob and I started hoping we could draw him into doing the whole thing."

Bisley agreed, though the artist known for his detailed paintings for series like "Lobo" switched up to a more traditional method of drawing without losing his style. "A big part of that is that the collective team has gelled so well," Wagner said. "Simon on pencils. Rodney Ramos inking. And Ryan Brown is a digital painter from Ireland that Simon had done some work with before and recommended him is coloring. We've now got this great look which is much more sequential than you're used to seeing with Simon, and Ryan brings this color pallet to the table that makes it look almost like Simon is painting it."

The writer explained that the series is planned for 12 extra-sized installments because both he and Tull's natural inclination expanded what could and should be done with the Tower character. "It became evident that all this back story was going to be too big for one graphic novel because we also didn't want to skimp on the adventure quality of him hunting down monsters," he said. "I didn't want to see him hunt down only two or three monsters. We wanted to open it up and tell a lot of adventures with this character, and that led us to doing it as a trilogy. Each book will be about 280-plus pages, and each will be serialized as four 64-page prestige format comics. You get a nice, hefty chunk of story with each edition.

"Overall, it'll be over 800 pages, which I think is the longest sustained narrative that Simon's ever done. And we're well into production. I'm just done with Book 2, so I'm eight prestige volumes in, and Simon's just finishing the third one, so he's 200-plus art pages in. We're having a blast."

Readers can sample an 18-page preview from the first issue of the "GeistHawk" mini series here on CBR to test out Tower's first takedown of an unsuspecting mythological threat. "That was an obscure character from Hungarian folklore called a Strigoi. It's a ghoul that inhabits a human body - usually a woman or older woman - and tend to prey on young children. I just thought that sounded cool and wove that in to my narrative structure," Wagner said.

"Like I said, I want him to fight a whole bunch of different monsters, so I've just been marking them down. I had to make a whole chart at one point because I didn't always want it to be the same way over and over again. The battle couldn't always be urban or always be rural, and the weapon and takedown needed to be different each time. With this sort of character, you need to do that to keep things interesting. I kept comparing Tower to Batman because when you think about it, Batman does the same shit over and over again. I wanted to mix this up more. I don't have all that established baggage."

"The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk" #1 of 4 ships to comic shops next Wednesday from Legendary Comics.

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