It isn't easy to write a new science fiction comic book series these days, especially one depicting a dark and desolate future, because so much work has been recently in a variety of mediums with the same themes. There's enough difficulty already in portraying a hopeless future without tripping over the clichés, but add in the action element and cool technology, and you'd be hard pressed to find a comic book fan who doesn't instantly compare your concept to the hit film "The Matrix." But for writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, if the reviews from critics and fans of the Wildstorm series are any indication, they're on the path to creating a sci-fi action series that people are enjoying for what it is, not for what it isn't. CBR News recently spoke with Gray about "The Resistance" and the writer provided an in depth look at the series.
"RED LETTERS ON A BLACK SCREEN: (you know that goofy post apocalyptic narration scroll that's supposed to fill you in on what the hell happened to the world you currently live in) It's New York in the year 2280," begins Gray, explaining the premise of "The Resistance," "Manhattan, as you know it, is underwater. The government, to maintain a balance between population and food supplies, regulates childbirth. Those born illegally are hunted down and killed by lifeless machines programmed to perform the dirty work of their makers. The media embraces this law. The people embrace this law. The only opposition comes from those same children whose lives are forfeit the moment they exist. What were once deadly street gangs have now evolved into revolutionaries fighting for the basic human right to survive."
Art by Juan Santacruz
It's Gray's contention that "The Resistance" offers comic book readers a unique reading experience and he isn't afraid to say as much. "Right off the bat I'll say the art speaks for itself," says Gray boldly. "A majority of mainstream comics have the hero or heroes that come along to wipe our tears and tell us it's going to be ok. In the 'Resistance' people have to save themselves, it's that simple. The lines between right and wrong are blurred, the relationships are based on reality, and the situations are similar to what happens here and abroad. Visually you're going to be blown away, we've got a nice slick candy coating covering some thought provoking ideas. 'Resistance' is a political satire dressed up as a popcorn movie with all the trimmings."
But Gray isn't the only one writing the series- he's teamed once again with "21 Down" writing partner and industry veteran Jimmy Palmiotti, with whom he's developed a synergy he says can't be beat. "Jimmy and I have developed a system. We take one week a month to assault each other with story ideas. We use the three other weeks to gather ideas, concepts, and characters. Then we write them down or sketch them out. We compare notes, deconstruct concepts, throw away the weak ones, combine ideas and then we store them for future reference. 'The Resistance' was born from that process. Basically we sit around a local OTB and hang out with the old guys smoking cigars, sipping beer from paper bags and making bets on the horses. We divide up the chores by whose horse wins the race. The number six horse is dialogue; the number four is plot and so on.
"The easiest part is knowing the people you work with have your back and are dedicated to putting out the best work they can. I like everyone I work with, I respect them and I know I'm lucky to be doing this. The hardest part is keeping it PG13."
One of the many traps that Gray and Palmiotti risked walking into with "Resistance" was that of making their "cyber-punk" future seem too much like all the others that we've seen in other popular mediums. How do you make one bleak future a different kind of bleak from the other? "Many of the dystopian stories center on the lone wolf character, the badass hero out there fighting for his little piece of tomorrow," explains Gray. "'Resistance' is centered on a society with many heroes and many challenges. We endeavor to throw a bigger spotlight on the city and it's people rather than having one bad guy fight one good guy. Sure there has to be some of that, but it's not as important as the overall story which is the haves against the have not's."
If you're still thinking that "The Matrix" or films like "Blade Runner" must have influenced Gray when he was working with Palmiotti to conceptualize "Resistance," you'll be surprised to learn that in fact his inspirations come from a much deeper place. "Much of my contribution to 'Resistance' comes from my experiences working with people on the low end of the economic scale," reveals Gray. "I was doing outreach to homeless people, visiting shelters, giving lectures on victim's rights, discussing their options on what to do in the event that someone was beaten and abused simply because they were an easy target. Working with social services, visiting criminal court, walking through metal detectors on a daily basis gives you a different perspective on other people's lives. Like it or not there is a social system in place designed around a specific pecking order. Some people can never get ahead regardless of how hard they work because the playing field isn't level. We love to champion the stories about the people that climb out of poverty to become poster children for the American dream, but we never publicize the hundreds of thousands that never make it. If you've ever tried to apply for section eight public housing, you'll find that the system does everything it can to keep you on the street. This more than the 'Matrix' influenced me."
For those already reading the series, you might be worrying that the "hero" of the story thus far, Brian, has savior written all over him and that the series is following an all too predictable route by killing his only family member, thus providing him with inspiration to destroy the "evil dictatorship." "The first story arc was designed to hook people with the brilliance of Juan's art and the big budget action movie feel," says Gray in response to any concerns that the first arc is too predictable. "After that we wanted set up a tales in the city type of feeling, by following individual lives and fights for survival. We have a storyline involving what it is like to be a genetically engineered mermaid, your life and body taken from you at birth and forced into self exploitation. Brian is simply the entry point for readers, he's not Neo or the savior or even the best hacker. As the story progresses you'll see other characters step forward."
The reasoning behind the other characters stepping forward is simple, explains Gray- it's fun and that ties into the objective behind the production of "Resistance." "There are two objectives. The first is to put out a fun book that has entertainment value, something that's exciting to read, with different characters from different backgrounds. The second is to make some social and political commentaries about just how fucked up the world can be when people start to care more about sitcoms than the environment their creating. I guess you could look at the book as the bastard child of the A-Team meets Michael Moore."
Art by Christopher Shy
If you've read any work by Gray or Palmiotti in the past, one thing you'll notice quickly in "Resistance" is the increased sexual imagery and sexual metaphor, something done tastefully but definitely more prevalent than in their past works, for reasons Gray says are important. "This is the best question I've been asked in a long time. One of the major themes of the book deals with procreation and the right to have children. Prostitution for instance would become legal under the system we've established in the book. Let's face it sex is a part of life, but America has a sort of puritanical view of what is acceptable in mainstream culture. It's ok to show people brutally murdered, decapitated, tortured, gunned down on the streets of Gaza, but if a nipple slips into the scene then all hell breaks loose. It's funny to me that sex and nudity have to be justified by a logical plot furthering excuse. As if to say that two people sexually drawn to each other would have to validate having sex as part of a five year plan. The sex and nudity in the book isn't there to pander to adolescent fantasies or to sell more books, it simply exists as a part of life."
As mentioned previously, Gray and Palmiotti are extremely excited about the artist on "Resistance," Juan Santacruz, whose work they feel helps makes the book the critical success that it has been thus far. "Jimmy and I were talking to David Macho who manages both Juan and Jesus [the artist on '21Down]," says Gray. "He showed us Juan's work and it was obvious that he had a style, work ethic and imagination that matched what we wanted to see visually. When you look at the work he does, the intricate detail, the wide open perspectives, consider how many other books ship late and then realize that Juan hands in a page a day. I see in Juan the same dedication and relentless commitment that I try to bring to anything I do. And he's not afraid to draw naked people in sexual situations. That's the European perspective coming into play."
Another perspective coming into play is that of fans and retailers, something that Gray knows will take time with a series as off-beat as "The Resistance," but he feels that in time the series can gather a large audience. "Reaction was mixed at first because with a month between issues it's difficult for people to gauge how a story will play out, there is plenty of time to speculate and make snap judgments about what's going to happen. But with the second issue I started to see a drastic shift in attitude especially among retailers, which is fantastic because they are on the front lines between the publisher and the reader. We didn't kid ourselves, Jimmy and I knew 'Resistance' was going to be a hard sell, but we also felt strongly that given time people would start to get curious and we could build a healthy following. Right now we're still building, gathering one reader at a time, but like with '21Down' the word of mouth has been gaining momentum."
With the third issue of "Resistance" just released, Gray doesn't want to say too much about the future of the series, but he will offer some teasers. "Guest artist Christopher Shy paints the apocalypse, we take a look at the concept of Homeland Security in it's most extreme application; Version Mary takes us to Mongolia for bow and arrow practice, audio dentistry and arms dealing, the war on drugs is finally explained and Mermaids are more than pretty fish."