This December, Dynamite Entertainment and State Street Pictures join forces with "Bring the Thunder," a tale of a new superhero for a new generation. Created by award-winning artist Alex Ross and written by up-and-coming writer Jai Nitz, "Bring the Thunder" tells the story of African-American military para-rescue jumper Wayne Russell during the current military conflict in Afghanistan and a mysterious accident with a futuristic weapon that changes his life forever.
According to Ross, "Bring the Thunder" came about during initial discussions for a new book with State Street Pictures writer/producer Robert Teitel. "I was trying to tailor-make a concept to their liking. It had a lot more to do with what I thought they would like rather than what they would tell me. They were very open to asking for my recommendations," Ross told CBR News. "I thought of something that would be very modern that would advance some kind of superhero happening in the U.S. Beginning from there and taking somebody who is currently at war, but who has the grounding of being from [the United States] and somebody who could bounce back into the neighborhoods of the U.S. and relate to their experience of being formed out of the conflict of Afghanistan, was something that I pushed for."
"We need to have this contemporary thing because all superheroes at their best respond to the needs of their time periods," Ross continued. "In many ways, the superheroes that came as a flood in the '40s were there to symbolically fight Nazis and the changing of the times. I can't say that there was this flood of heroes to fight the Vietnam War, but in some ways, the more intensity that goes on in world conflict, the more we have a creative boom of superheroes created."
Taking on writing duties for "Thunder" is "Kato: Origins" writer Jai Nitz, who agreed with Ross' concept of superheroes springing forth from the creativity of wartime. "Comic books owe a lot to war, wartime and war culture. It's easy to tie the Golden Age of comics to World War II because they go hand in hand," Nitz said. "The nascent comic industry latched on to the popular sentiments of the war. Captain America was punching out Hitler on the cover of 'Captain America #1' before the U.S. was officially embroiled in the conflict. Comics, specifically superhero comics, grew along with WWII. I could blab on and on about war and comics and mythology, but right now the U.S. is fighting a war in Afghanistan, and we easily forget that. Alex approached me with an idea about today's soldier becoming superpowered. What would that be like? Would that character be different because of the conflict he's involved in? Who is today's soldier? What's his home life like? We mixed all those questions together and made a new character."
That superpowered soldier is Wayne Russell. Although nothing is being revealed about the accident that grants Russell powers, Nitz was able to share some of the creative processes that went into creating the character: a normal, African-American soldier in wartime who happens upon amazing powers. "Today's military is a volunteer force. Why would you volunteer for a potentially deadly career? It takes a certain kind of person to do that," said Nitz. "On top of that, Wayne is a PJ [para-rescue jumper]. PJs have the highest dropout rate of any Special Forces branch. They also have a longer training time because they are basically parachuting doctors who have to be able to jump into a hostile situation, save a soldier's life, fight any enemy they encounter, and get the wounded soldier out safely. It's an intense life. My best friend is a Special Forces pilot in the Air Force. It was his job in Afghanistan and Iraq to drop PJs out the back of his plane in hostile situations. [His] outlook on the military and life, coupled with the other Air Force personnel I talked to, shaped Wayne as a character. I feel like I know Wayne."
"My favorite part of the book is the motivation of the characters," Nitz continued. "Stories don't have any punch when the heroes are always right and the villains are mustache twisting psychos. In 'Bring the Thunder,' everyone is the hero in their story and those motivations come into conflict. I try to make it so you see where every character is coming from - what they want, and why they want it. That way, even if you don't root for them, you feel bad for them when they lose."
While Nitz was able to share a bit about what makes the character tick, Ross gave some insight into the creative origins of Russell's sonic-based superpowers. "To find a work or aesthetic that has never been done before is pretty much impossible. The best we could do was vary things visually that might be interesting," said Ross. "I didn't want to go for an electrically based African-American hero, of which there are about a dozen that you might name right off the bat. But I wanted a sense of power that could be very visual, and certainly if it had the chance to be turned into a movie, it would have a great power on the screen - something that would have both visual and aural power and that was a sonic derived hero; someone who was formed out of sound waves and was manipulating sound waves with every word they uttered, every shout and every sound they could make. Clapping hands, stomping feet - these could all cause dramatic reverberations. That was something that I thought could be very visually interesting. That was something that perfectly captured that kind of intensity of the dramatics that could be illustrated."
While Russell's accident remains shrouded in mystery, it has been revealed we do know that it involves a futuristic weapon of some kind - a weapon that Ross was quick to admit he had very little part in designing. "I am the least technically accurate or useful designer in terms of bringing things to life from the imagination where technology is going," he said. "I see the best from other, better designers who notice stuff and just wing it. [Laughs] I'm not on any kind of cutting edge when it comes to science fiction. I know as little about science as someone could possibly know."
Nitz has also found Wayne Russell's perfect for the story he's trying to tell. "I think it's really satisfying when you have a couple of story ideas start to dovetail together when you didn't plan on that to begin with," said Nitz. "Wayne's powers are sonic in nature, and having a lot of the simple story points for each character come together in sonic terms is very satisfying. It makes me feel like I know what I'm doing, even though I know I don't."
Helping to bolster Nitz's confidence is his collaborative process with Ross, who also provides cover art for the series. "That's the craziest part about this whole project for me. I get to talk to Alex F-ing Ross on the phone and actually collaborate with him!" said Nitz. "We get to talk about ideas and both of us come away feeling better about the project. We've collaborated on story and art both. We've improved parts of the storytelling together and he has asked me about ideas for cover design. Alex has forgotten more about cover design than I'll ever know, but he's still interested in collaborating and making the project a team effort."
"Alex is so talented, so respected and so recognizable that I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd been difficult to work with, but he's the exact opposite," Nitz gushed about Ross. "He wants the best for the project, and he knows when to let everyone do their job and not get hung up on the minute details of production. It's been awesome to have a collaborator who wanted to work together to make the book the best it could be, and be able to deliver his end of the bargain. Have you seen his covers for this book? Wow, just wow."
Nitz also mentioned that "Bring the Thunder" isn't just your average superhero book. "I tried to make Bring the Thunder equal parts war genre and social commentary genre," the writer said. "War is a social commentary, right? But the concept of 'professional warriors' is lost on most people. Today we call it 'career military' instead. What do you call an Afghan citizen who has seen his country pushed and pulled between different warring nations for his entire life? What do you call an inner-city gang leader who has no chance at a legitimate life? Are they career military? I see them as professional warriors. That's the melding of the war genre and social commentary genre to me."
"Nothing's set up more than seeing how this does, getting the core idea out there and seeing what then becomes of it on the State Street side," said Ross about the series future beyond this miniseries, but both he and Nitz are excited for the book's release. "The thing I hope for the most is that what we communicate in the story has a sense of authenticity everywhere aside from the simplicity of the science fiction concept that we've cobbled together. Hopefully, what we've represented as the Military and their behavior will be fully and clearly accurate."
"I think it's a quality package from top to bottom. I think our book is as good as any superhero title on the stands," said Nitz. "You get an Alex Ross cover and designs and you get amazing interior art from Wilson Tortosa. I'm really proud of my story on this book too. I'll let the readers be the judges of that, but the art really speaks for itself."