Sci-fi meets 'Seven Samurai' in John Raffo's 'The 7th Sword'

When you run out of bullets and bombs, a sword is a good thing to have at your side. Provided you take care of it, a blade can last you a lifetime -- and make your lifetime longer, if you know how to wield it.

In April, Darby Pop (under the umbrella of IDW) will release The 7th Sword, a series that centers on the power of the sword even in futuristic times. Created by screenwriter John Raffo (The Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Relic), The 7th Sword takes his love for Akira Kurosawa's feudal Japanese dramas and creates a new story, set in the future.

The 7th Sword uses the filmmaker's work as launchpad to tell the story of a itinerant swordsman named Daniel Cray, who wanders from port to port, planet to planet, until he discovers a remote settlement named ZenZion in need of saving from criminal warlords using an army of robots and mercenaries in an effort to seize the enclave's resources. Illustrated by frequent Top Cow artist Nelson Blake II, The 7th Sword mixes samurai drama with the dirty, lived-in worlds of a space frontier.

ROBOT 6 spoke with Raffo about this comics debut, the inspirations for the story, and of course, the series itself. Darby Pop has provided us with four exclusive pages from The 7th Sword #1.

Chris Arrant: John, what can you tell us about 7th Sword?

John Raffo: I thought a story that took a traditional samurai tale and put it in a sci-fi/fantasy world would be really cool and wasn't something I'd seen done before. 7th Sword takes some old-fashioned archetypes (the isolated community under siege from a villain, the wandering gunman or former soldier looking for redemption) and drops them into a new world ... in this case, a far-distant desert planet. These bits merge with pure futuristic bits like hybrid humans, robot hordes, giant desert warships and, hopefully, we wind up with something new and ultimately unexpected.

7th Sword's isolated community is called ZenZion. Tell us more about the predicament the people are under.

The ZenZionites are a small enclave established near a water source on a desert planet called Helios. They are human, their parents and grandparents arrived on this distant planet-colony a generation ago. They've lived their lives in peace and harmony, but the rest of the planet is much more politically unsettled. There are warlords, warring clans battling for power. The ZenZionites find themselves the object of desire of one of these warlords, a man named Quentin Kavanaugh.

Who is Quentin Kavanaugh, and why are he and the other warlords out to get ZenZion?

Because of ZenZion's reliable water source, and its critical location in the middle of a vast desert, they've become an important tactical resource. Kavanaugh, from the north, sees ZenZion as a tactical stepping stone in his empirical quest.

What’s this world like where swords are still able to be the forefront of weaponry?

There are simply no resources for explosive weaponry. There may have been guns in the past, but they were brought from Earth ... and the powder and metallurgy used in their manufacture doesn't exist on Helios. The simplest, most reliable weaponry is primitive in form ... edges: swords, knives, etc.

And what can you tell us about this sword Daniel Cray carries, the Malathane?

The Malathane uses non-metallic technology. I'm not making this stuff up, but the keenest blades manufactured today are ceramic ... which can actually be made to be as sharp as one molecule wide ... in theory, sharp enough to cut through anything. These edges are more difficult to manufacture but they hold an edge longer than a traditional metal blade. So the Malathane is a big sharp sword, half-katana (the large samurai blade) and half Claymore (the big swords carried by the knights and Crusaders). The Malathane is a legendary weapon, brought to Helios from Earth some years ago.

And tell us about the man himself, Daniel Cray.

Daniel Cray arrived on Helios 15 years ago as a member of United Nations troops sent to Helios to put down a planet-wide rebellion. A full-blown war broke out. The UN forces found themselves overwhelmed and the powers that be on Earth realized that they'd misjudged the resolve of the Helios colonists and found war on a far-distant planet much too expensive to maintain. Within a year of sending troops, the UN quit the war and pulled out its troops.

Why has Cray withdrawn himself from being a warrior at the beginning of the series?

Cray, and a few others who were widely dispersed on the planet were unable to find their way to the United Nations escape ships. These men are known as "Leftovers" and despised by the Helios residents. Cray is particularly reviled because he is Bushido, and carried the Malathane ... he was considered one of the most violent, most badass of the "empirical forces." But now, 10 years after the war is over, Cray is something else. He is a man without a country, a homeless wanderer, distrusted, hated by almost all the residents of Helios. Cray does what he can to survive and dreams of finding a way back home.

This is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, and given the name 7th Sword I think it’s intentional. Can you tell us about your connection to that classic film which has been homage so many times?

Yeah, it's absolutely intentional. Kurosawa's samurai tales are simple, beautiful redemption stories, which both borrowed from, and informed American pulp stories and westerns. (Dashiell Hammett's R" became Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Seven Samurai became John Sturges’ Magnificient Seven.) This is just another extension of that "borrowing"; the plots are externally significant but the details aren't the same at all ... and Kurosawa's movies had very stylized violence. They're rather bloodless. I wanted to try and update them and create something that would be more modern, more graphic.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but this is your debut in comics. Can you tell us how you come to work on a comic?

Yes, 7th Sword is my comic debut. [...] But I've admired comics, graphic novels, and comic art for a long time (though I'd have to admit my personal influences are mostly literature and film). And here's the sad irony: While I've made a living in Hollywood for a long time, most of my original stuff is science fiction. While a lot of it is admired, none of it has been made, either because it's not "branded" enough, or its simply too expensive to produce. The story of 7th Sword needed to take place on another planet, I wanted some of the characters to be hybrid, humans and machines. I wanted robot hordes, vast desert landscapes with "sailing" ships. I wanted it to be huge and graphic. The story seemed perfect for a comic series, rather than a screenplay ... if only I could figure out how to do that. Then, last year I somehow fell in with Mark Wheeler [Darby Pop V.P. of Business Development] who hooked me up with Jeff Kline [Darby Pop President], who liked the story. The pieces seemed to fit and here we are.

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