Ron Marz & Bryan Edward Hill talk "Broken Trinity: Aftermath"

On sale in April is "Broken Trinity: Aftermath," the followup to Top Cow Productions' recent Broken Trinity event. The one-shot is illustrated by Jorge Lucas and Tyler Kirkham, co-written by Ron Marz and Bryan Edward Hill, and depicts the quest for the 13 artifacts in the Top Cow Universe. Following the events of "Broken Trinity" come two new characters, two new stories and another chapter in the growing Witchblade saga. Michael Finnegan wrestles with the power and purpose that comes with the Glacier Stone, and his first test might be saving Darkness wielder Jackie Estacado from himself. Hundreds of miles away, Glorianna Silver suffers from her banishment at the hands of The Angelus, and in order to survive, she will have to embrace the power of the Ember Stone and the destiny it has for her.

In support of the release, co-writers Ron Marz and Bryan Edward Hill join CBR today to discuss with each other their work on the special and its story's implications for the Top Cow Universe going forward. The pair also get deep into the differences between writing for comics and writing for film.

Ron Marz: So who the hell are you, and why are we having this conversation?

Bryan Edward Hill: I'm the lucky guy you let play around in the Witchblade universe. 

RM: How did you get hooked up on the "Broken Trinity: Aftermath" gig?

BEH: At Comic-Con International in San Diego, 2008, I met [editor] Rob Levin and [Top Cow Publisher] Filip Sablik and they were open to some ideas about "Broken Trinity," specifically Finn and Glorianna. 

RM: So I don't think this is your first comics gig, but it's among your first, right? What's your background otherwise?

BEH: I'm a screenwriter, journalist and filmmaker. My first comics gig was my original project "Orphan," over at another publisher. I was having an...uh...negative experience with that publisher, but Rob and Filip saw my work on "Orphan," liked it and reached out to me about "Broken Trinity." 

RM: Screenwriter? Come on, give up some credits.

BEH: Well, I'm responsible for a terrible Dolph Lundgren movie called "The Russian Specialist." Thankfully, beyond that I've developed projects at Warner Bros. and Fox. 

RM: I would think the phrase "terrible Dolph Lundgren movie" is kind of redundant. Okay, so you've made your bones somewhat as a screenwriter. Why the interest in jumping to comics?

BEH: I grew up reading comics. Most of my adolescence revolved around Frank Miller, Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson. 

RM: That's pretty wild. Jim and Bernie are both friends of mine. We used to live very close to one another in upstate New York. Bernie was two miles one way, Jim was five miles the other way. Jim is the one who got me started in comics, taking me into Marvel and showing me around.

BEH: "Batman: The Cult" is complete brilliance. I have panels of that burned into my memory. It doesn't surprise me that you're friends with them. You've made some pretty bold and brilliant moves yourself. Green Lantern comes to mind. 

RM: Well, I suppose the "boldness and brilliance" of my "Green Lantern" run depends on who you ask. There were certainly people who wanted me strung up by my ... uh, thumbs ... over it. I remember when Jim and Bernie were doing "The Cult," and getting to check out the pages as they were being worked on. Getting that peek behind the curtain was inspirational.

I'm very conscious that Jim handed me my career, so I've tried to make sure that I pass on that karma when I can, and do a solid for someone else getting into the business.

BEH: It's leadership by example. I remember some interview where you said "don't give the audience what they ask for, give them what they want." I put that down in my journal. To me, that's writing. That's Hemingway. That's Dickens. To quote DeNiro from "Heat," "that's the discipline". When I heard that there was a chance to work with you, I knew I'd be working with someone who believes in storytelling, someone who cares about the experience of the reader. At the end of everything, it's about the reader. 

RM: Well, for me, yes and no. It's about the reader, but I'm not writing for that reader. In other words, I'm not writing to please a particular audience, other than myself. I set out to tell a story that I'd want to read, since I'm the only audience whose tastes I know. I don't sit here and think, "Well, fans of this book would like to see this character do this particular thing." I'm not interested in that kind of fan service, because I don't think you get the best stories that way. But I am interested that the reader -- any reader -- gets the best experience that story can offer.

Let me ask this. More than a few editors have told me that working with screenwriters can be a pain in the ass, because a lot of them don't get the format or style of comics. Since comics don't move, you have to think in specific, singular visuals, rather than continuous action.

In a lot of ways, comics is harder, because the writer is being the writer and the director and the editor in the movie sense of those terms. Some screenwriters get it very quickly, and some never do. I know of cases in which an editor just hands a half-assed script to the artist and says, "Here, make this into a comic." How did you find the whole transition?

BEH: I graduated from NYU with a B.F.A. in film direction, so I've never really considered myself a screenwriter by definition. Writing was cheaper than making films, and a bad script always makes a bad movie, so I focused on writing out of necessity. That being said, it was reading comics that made me want to tell stories. I've never stopped studying comics. That goes from monthly titles with traditional execution to graphic novels that play with the form.

I still read Frank Miller's "Elektra: Assassin" before I do anything. To be honest, and this might get me in trouble, I'm irritated by screenwriters who don't take the time to understand the art of writing a comic. As you said, when writing a comic you're the writer, the director and the editor. Screenwriting, even in its best cases, is really the art of creating a blueprint for a director. In comics, there's much more responsibility on the writer's shoulders in my opinion. So for me, comics isn't a transition. It's a passion. I love comics. To this day, I still think that Hollywood lags behind the work done by people like you in comics.

Pardon me, but does anyone really think that Hollywood has the stones to do what you did in "Green Lantern," or "Broken Trinity?" Only after Batman became a failed franchise did Warner Bros. cave in and allow it to be told by vision and not committee. 

RM: Well, I do think that's one of the great creative enticements in comics; you as the creator get to play a huge role in the finished product. A comic is the product of just a handful of people, sometimes just one person. There's a purity to it, especially doing creator-owned material.

When I do something like "Samurai: Heaven and Earth," or "Dragon Prince," it's exactly what I want it to be -- art, color, letters, everything. Obviously when you're doing work-for-hire and utilizing company-owned characters, there's an added element of editorial control, but in a lot of cases, you can still tell your story.

Top Cow gives me a very free hand in deciding where Witchblade is going, or what we do in an event like "Broken Trinity." I was allowed to create the characters of Finn and Glori from scratch, and just get an approval from on high, rather than endless meetings and conference calls.

So we essentially handed you one of my babies, so don't drop her!

BEH: She's in good hands, Ron! I've worked with more than my share of bad guys, and Top Cow is a team of good guys. When I look at a company, I don't just look for happy creators, I look for happy staff, and everyone there is glad to be a part of the effort. That mattered to me. "Witchblade" matters to me. I still remember Ian Nottingham cutting through a car with a samurai sword.

I'll do right by the world of the Witchblade. Scout's honor. 

RM: You have no choice. We know where you live.

Let's talk about the "Broken Trinity: Aftermath" issue specifically. It's two stories, one by you featuring literal dragon-lady Glorianna Silver, and one by me featuring Finn the sometime frost giant. Talk about the process.

BEH: Each of the stories serves as an epilogue to the events of "Broken Trinity," following Finn and Glorianna. The characters, to me, are about balance, and my process was really finding the right story for Glorianna that created balance with your work on Finn.

You, Rob Levin and I talked extensively about the back-stories and once we had a common understanding my process revolved around telling a story that closed the events of "Broken Trinity", but set Glorianna on a path into the future of the WB universe. 

RM: And how about the writing experience itself? Do you feel like you learned anything, especially with me hectoring you?

BEH: Look, I can say without doubt that if someone wants a clinic in how to write an effective comic script, they should work with Ron Marz. Specifically, I was surprised at how generous you were with these characters that you created. You've got a great sense of what makes the big picture and the small picture work in a narrative. That was a great help.

On top of that, you let me create a new character to add to Glorianna's world. That's the definition of exciting. 

RM: Well, I wasn't fishing for compliments, but I was always taught that it's rude to do anything except say, "Thank you." How about the characters of Finn and Glori? At the end of "Broken Trinity," I wanted there to be a certain ambivalence about who's a "good gut" or a "bad guy." Do you feel like that holds true in the Aftermath issue?

BEH: I think it does. From the beginning we talked about these characters having dimension, and not being easily classified as "good" or "evil." To me, that complexity is the crux of the Witchblade / Darkness universe. ["The Darkness" writer Phil [Hester's] work on Jackie Estacado and your work on Sara Pezzini isn't about easy definitions. It's about complex, dimensional people with great power and great needs.

What's really exciting about Glorianna and Finn is that these characters are still learning about the scope and history of their power, and their using that power to serve their needs. Sometimes we'll agree with them, sometimes we won't. Specifically with Glorianna, I remember you telling me that "dragons covet." That need to have "more" can be both negative and positive, but it certainly is more complex than she's "bad."

RM: Hopefully both Glori and Finn are a little more fleshed out by the end of the "Aftermath" issue. Because we wanted to keep "Broken Trinity" lean and mean, and not have it sprawl into a 37-part event, I felt like Glori in particular needed more depth, which you definitely provide in your story.   

How did you like working with Tyler Kirkham? Tyler got his start at Top Cow, but migrated over to Marvel as part of the Top Cow's deal with Marvel. This is his first Top Cow story in a few years.

BEH: I own "Superman/Darkness" so I know that Tyler makes great images. When I knew I would be working with him, I jumped at the chance to write strong, beautiful visuals that could push the narrative forward. Here's where I put my film geek hat on, but I'm a huge fan of David Lean and his work on "Lawrence of Arabia." Tyler, with his knack for grand imagery, gave me a chance to be "epic." He was very supportive throughout the whole process, and I appreciated that. He's done some beautiful work here, in my opinion. 

RM: Tyler has more of a what I think people consider "the Top Cow style," in that there are definitely elements of [Top Cow founder] Marc Silvestri's style in there. But the guy drawing my Finn story is the opposite end of that, in a lot of ways. Jorge Lucas has filled in on a number of "The Darkness" issues, and has a real gritty, realistic style. He seemed like a good fit, since Jackie Estacado appears in the Finn story.

BEH: Right, and aesthetically the stories balance each other effectively. Sometimes, short stories are short on impact, but I think that you and I both love the challenge of writing short form, and the result should be pretty cool for people picking up the book. 

RM: I like short stories a lot. Some of my favorite things I've written are 8-page stories, because they have to be focused and succinct. You can't waste space, which you see a lot of in 22-page comics.

So we've got two stories and two covers (by Ryan Sook and Tyler with Stjepan Sejic). Why else should people pick up "Broken Trinity: Aftermath?"

BEH: As a reader, I'm always looking for the right time to jump into a universe in motion. This is a great book for people to get in on the events of "Broken Trinity: Aftermath" if they haven't yet. And for the fans that are following, they get to see more dimension into two characters that will impact the Witchblade universe in the coming months...and there's a bear. An angry, angry bear. 

RM: Who am I to argue with an angry bear?

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