A violent horror comic book about a serial killer inspired by the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhies and Michael Myers might give censorship advocates new reasons to wake up in the morning, but it certainly shouldn't cause any genuine bloodshed - unless the comic in question inadvertently moves some of its readers to embark upon a wave of real life violence, that is.
In "Random Acts of Violence," the upcoming graphic novella published by Image Comics, co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray of "Power Girl" fame are ditching the tights and grabbing a knife to slice and dice their way through the dangers of fiction and creation. According to the writers, the story focuses on comic book creators Ezra and Todd and their first major published work, a horror character called Slasherman. Success starts flowing like a river, but when that river turns bloody and people start dying in the midst of a signing tour, it becomes clear that Ezra and Todd's creation has taken on a life of its own.
"It's a horror tale that twists several of the genre's conventions. At times, it feels like 'The Hangover' meets 'Silence of the Lambs.' How's that for a combination," Gray described in an interview with CBR News. "'Random Acts of Violence' plugs into and twists the human need to belong and identify with something bigger than ourselves. There's always been a fear that video games, music or comics lead directly to violence and the decay of civilization, [and] Slasherman is a Frankenstein monster that grows into a blood-soaked pop culture disaster."
According to the writers, "Random Acts of Violence" explores the idea of fans latching onto what they're reading and the dangers of how far they're willing to take that obsession. "In real life, we see these kinds of fans everywhere, especially at signings and at conventions," said Palmiotti. "They are fun and can be, at times, a bit scary, but [they're] mostly fun and sweet."
While intense fandom rarely leads to a horrific killing spree, there's certainly no question that comic book characters and historic runs tend to take on a life of their own outside of the creator's initial intentions. Heroes like Batman and Spider-Man, for example, have passed through many hands, both within comics and other forms of media, as well as within the fan community. Palmiotti himself is certainly no stranger to watching one of his own creations expand beyond his wildest dreams.
"For me, the 'Painkiller Jane' character has taken on a life of its own a couple of times already, and it's still on that track," he said. "The girl that can never die has almost had as many lives as a cat. The character went from rough idea to self-published miniseries to television movie and then to a 22-episode TV series, and she's about to take another leap. It's pretty amazing to think that something you came up with a friend, this time Joe Quesada, can turn into a character that has been featured in just about every country in the world. I'm a guest at conventions outside of the U.S., and I'm still amazed at how many girls dress up like the character.
"The cool thing here is that no one cares about me anymore," the writer continued. "They identify with the character as a separate entity, and in that way, Painkiller Jane has taken on a life of her own, just like the character in 'Random Acts of Violence.' We explore the good and the bad of having this type of thing actually happen, and we run with the 'what if' scenario of the story."
Although Palmiotti can relate to the plight of fictional comic book creators Ezra and Todd, he insisted that the characters aren't based on himself and co-writer Gray - well, not exclusively, anyway. "There's a lot of us in these characters, right down to the girls and the signings and such, [but] there is a lot in this book that will ring true with comic fans and creators as well," said Palmiotti. "We even got Mark Waid's permission to retell one of my favorite stories that Mark has ever told. We shorten it a bit, but it's a wonderful tale. We do that framed in a scene that involves our two main characters sitting in a bar with seasoned comic pros."
There's certainly a strong emphasis on the process of creating comic books and working the convention circuit, but the writers promise that "Random Acts of Violence" truly lives up to its title. "At its core, it's a horror book," said Palmiotti. "This is a stark and emotional story that does not pull the camera away when it comes to the violence and story. I would not give this book to anyone under 16 for any reason, and really, we aimed this at an audience like ourselves that prefers their horror with a hard R-rating. I'm a big fan of the genre and also understand that it's our job to make you care about the people in the story."
"It's for mature readers because of the violence, language, nudity and subject matter, but as Jimmy said, this is a story about people," assessed Gray. "We're not trying to shock you for shock's sake. Everything that happens, whether it's bloody, sexy or otherwise, propels the story forward toward its conclusion and alters the way the characters view their world."
One of the book's most propelling forces, of course, is the character of Slasherman himself. "I particularly enjoy crafting a psychological killer whose view of the world is so incredibly skewed, and yet relatable, or at least logical, in a sense that you can see why this particular person went down the path he or she did," said Gray. "Slasherman as a double agent of fiction is interesting because he exists in a comic book about a comic book, and if we're at a show and someone dresses up like Slasherman, it will have broken loose from the three dimensions of storytelling. That would be strange to see!"
As "Random Acts of Violence" explores the idea of fiction invading reality, it's ironic to learn that the book itself went through some birthing pains. Originally titled "Splatterman," based on a name and character Palmiotti created for Comic Images trading cards, the creators were ultimately compelled to change the name of the book in light of some legal issues.
"We were told a company had applied for the trademark before us," explained Palmiotti. "It didn't matter that the name and character appeared in a trading card set in the late '90s. These things happen, and in the end, we felt that we had an amazing story to tell and beautiful art to go with it. The title was a minor thing, especially since the book is about more than one character. We just didn't feel it was worth that waste of energy and money we didn't have, so we came up with an awesome title in the end that has grown on us as well. 'Random Acts of Violence' works in more ways than one, so in the end, it all works out."
What matters most to Palmiotti and Gray is that "Random Acts of Violence" is satisfying on a creative level, something they feel they've accomplished with the help of illustrator Giancarlo Caracuzzo, cover artist Tim Bradstreet, colorist Paul Mounts and designer Bill Tortolini. The end result is a done-in-one 72-page graphic novella that sells for $6.99 and, in the writers' opinion, offers plenty of bang for its buck.
"We wanted to give the reader the full experience of a well-crafted tale that actually ends in a big way," Palmiotti surmised. "In the end, we want to take the readers on a joy ride that most comics just don't go near anymore. This is the kind of book you pass around and talk about with your friends. There really is something here for everyone, and, for us, a great way to tell a story with some balls."
"Random Acts of Violence," a 72-page graphic novella co-written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo, hits shelves on April 28, 2010.