Tyrese Gibson might not be the first Hollywood personality you think of when it comes to comic books, but if he has any say in the matter, that won't be the case for much longer.
Gibson is diving headfirst into the four-color world with "Mayhem!", a brand new three-issue series from Image Comics launching in August. With the assistance of writers Mike Le and Will Wilson and artist Tone Rodriguez, the "Transformers" star is rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands in the ink of the comic book industry. For a star of Tyrese's caliber, his hands-on approach to the medium might surprise some; after all, how hard would it be for Tyrese to slap his name on the comic book and call it a day?
"That's not Tyrese," Mike Le, co-writer of "Mayhem!" and vice president of Tyrese's HQ Entertainment, told CBR News about the star's involvement in the series. "I've known Tyrese for a long time and he has his hands on every project his name is on. He is one of the best ideas guys I've ever met, and [is] just an amazing person to brainstorm with. Like the rest of the team, Tyrese is extremely excited about 'Mayhem!'"
While there's no question that Tyrese is passionate about the project - "All you have to do is follow him on Twitter to see," Le pointed out - there's also no doubt that he's had plenty of collaborators helping to breathe life into this new property. In addition to Le, Arch Enemy Entertainment CEO Will Wilson came aboard to work on "Mayhem!" as co-writer.
Le recalled the first time that Wilson and Gibson crossed paths, describing Wilson as someone who understood Gibson from the get-go. "When I eventually introduced Will to Tyrese, and I'll never forget this, Will put his arm around Tyrese and said, 'They want you to play Luke Cage, but they don't want you to own Luke Cage,'" Le said. "I knew right then that Will was the perfect guy for us to team-up with."
From there, it was only a matter of finding the perfect artist - and that man happened to be Tone Rodriguez. The artist spoke to CBR News about his first meeting for "Mayhem!", during which Tyrese became enthralled with a particular piece of Tone's art. "I brought my portfolio [to the first 'Mayhem!' meeting] and after looking through it, Tyrese kept coming back to a piece of art that was for a pitch I had from a few years back titled 'The Enforcer,'" said Rodriguez. "After some time he asked who this guy was - he decided right there and then that he wanted to use this character, and after some long talks, and the input of Mike and Will, we had our guy - he only needed a name."
And thus "Mayhem!" was born.
Le describes the lead character as a modern day vigilante in the vein of Batman and the Punisher, a masked hero that is trying to wrest Los Angeles free from the grips of drug addiction, violence and other brutal crimes. With the help of his sidekick Malice - a "sexy, bad-ass" cross between Megan Fox and Lara Croft, as Le described her - Mayhem goes up against the nefarious Big X, a ruthless crime lord with "a dark secret" linking himself to Mayhem.
Mayhem's war against crime is enhanced with the aid of fancy technology, much in line with the aforementioned Caped Crusader's gadgetry - except with Mayhem, there's a bullet-riddled twist. "He uses a pair of chrome Desert Eagles and a souped up 1967 Buick Riviera that's outfitted with a battering ram/car flipper," Rodriguez explained. "Tyrese asked for the chrome plated Desert Eagles - that was a must - along with the car and the guns on the car. But the rest of [his design] is me. I wanted him to be realistic, without the custom X-Men or Spider-Man look in his wardrobe. I wanted to take a realistic look in his appearance, but I figure his shirt is some kind of high-tension chainmail that can deflect bullets at long range, and the mask does the same. But at close range, I'm sure all the protection in the world would still fail in the face of a hollow point."
Additionally, Mayhem operates out of a "Bat Cave" of sorts, as Le put it. "He's got this really kick-ass headquarters in the basement of an inner-city church. It's a fascinating dichotomy, how the upper level of this church is populated by a weekly congregation glowing with 'God's love' but yet right underneath is a lair decked out with man-killing weapons and vehicles. It's a metaphor for the tortured nature of Mayhem - he does bad to do good. The ends justify the means, that sort of thing. The wrong that he's suffered in the past drives him to right the future for others."
In that regard, Mayhem's methods are certainly more in line with Frank Castle's than they are with Bruce Wayne's. As one glimpses through the interiors of "Mayhem!", it doesn't take long to realize that this street-level Robin Hood is drawing a hard line on crime - a line that's drawn with guns, knives and any other convenient item that can be used in lethal fashion. "I wanted the action scenes in 'Mayhem!' to have the poetic visual thrust of an early John Woo or Ringo Lam film, and the bloody ballet of a Takashi Miike film," said Le. "Violence is not something we should shy away from in art, as long as it moves the story along and is part of the characters. Also, the apocalyptic explosiveness of 'Mayhem!' is immensely cathartic to write."
As far as explosions go, the "Mayhem!" team is certainly hoping for their book to blow up, but not in an apocalyptic fashion. As it stands, "Mayhem!" has pre-sold over 5,000 copies in just two weeks, and that's only at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles. "I think it's proof positive of readers that are outside of our regular readers [coming for 'Mayhem!']," said Rodriguez. "Weekly comic book buyers pick up their books on Wednesday like clockwork - I know, 'cause I used to be one of those once-a-week guys. I can honestly say I've never pre-paid for a comic book, and that includes 'The Death of Superman' 15 or so years back. I came in and picked mine up as usual, like clockwork. We have been hearing about all sorts of people trying to bring in new readers, [and] I think this program Tyrese has set up is bringing in new readers."
Just who are these new readers and where are they coming from? "It's his die-hard fans that are pre-ordering 100 copies at a time," said Le. "To me, this is the best thing about this 'Mayhem!' venture: the fact that it's bringing comic books to the attention of non-traditional readers. When Tyrese first Tweeted about 'Mayhem!', tons of his fans responded with, 'Tyrese is bringing comic books back!' That's quite an eye-opener for me, because it indicated that the vast majority of our population actually believes comic books have disappeared or think it's an art form on life support. I would be so happy to know that 'Mayhem!' brought more traffic to comic book stores. The way Tyrese has campaigned to get the word out has changed the landscape. From here on, when a celebrity puts their name on a comic book, the publisher will always compare them to how Tyrese did it."
Even Tyrese himself can be counted among those new comic book fans. Despite his name being linked to comic book properties such as "Power Man," Gibson himself wasn't much of a comics reader, but a trip to San Diego's Comic-Con changed all of that. His experience there led to his interest in creating his own comic book character, leading Tyrese to take the next logical step - immersing himself in the classics.
"Tyrese took a lot of the initiative himself to wrap his head around comic books," said Le. "The first thing he did was meet with some influential people like Avi Arad, Jeff Katz and Jim Lee, and he called Todd McFarlane, to basically pick their brains and seek advice on how to proceed into this venture. Then I took Tyrese down to our local comic book store, Meltdown, and I let the staff there just give Tyrese whatever they thought was good. He left the store with several big bags full of comics that included 'The Punisher,' 'Batman,' 'Green Lantern' and more. While he's going through that pile of comics, Tyrese has also been watching documentary clips on YouTube about the likes of Jack Kirby and Alan Moore. But with all this said, Tyrese will be the first to admit he's not a comic book veteran and has much to learn."
Interestingly, it's that side of the coin that Le is most concerned with - the everyday lifelong comic book reader. "It's the die-hard comic fans that have been cynical, but honestly, on one hand I can understand it," he admitted. "I knew this going in that we'd be fighting a precedent. Comic fans have been burnt by celebrity-driven books. Either they don't do their part to promote or they have no direct involvement with the creation of the book. Why then would they be expected to buy the book? It's an insult to their intelligence. But now is a new day, and 'Mayhem!' is going to change the game. I hope the die-hards accept our book, because we all worked so hard to make it the best comic as possible."
In the end, that's the key point for the "Mayhem!" gang - that they are working on a comic book first and foremost. "There are no current plans to turn 'Mayhem!' into a movie," said Le. "We've gotten plenty of calls from studios and producers wanting to turn our book into a movie, but right now, our main goal is focusing on bringing the people the best comic book possible. All that ancillary stuff will naturally follow based on the success of the book.
"We're all very proud and over the moon with the final product," Le continued. "It's been a wonderful team effort. If the fans enjoy reading the book as much as we've enjoyed putting it together, then 'Mayhem!' is a huge success for us."
"Mayhem!" #1 hits stores August 5 from Image Comics. Check in with CBR in the coming days for an exclusive interview with Tyrese Gibson.