THE COMMENTARY TRACK: "The Scream" #1 w/ Peter David

Welcome back for the third installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is a new regular feature at CBR in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent release, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It'll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.

For this installment, we're trying something different. "The Scream" #2 came out this week from Dark Horse Comics, written by Peter David with art by Bart Sears by Randy Elliott. It's a new four-issue miniseries that might have flown under your radar. So we're going back to the first issue with its author, Peter David, to see what you've missed and give you a second shot at this new story.

Peter David has raised the bar for commentary tracks this week, with lots of information for you Process Junkies, and some good teases for what's yet to come in the miniseries. And, really, where else will you read a writer pointing out a character's "huge jugs?"

And just to point out the obvious, this commentary track screams SPOILERS!


The big challenge in embarking on any new series is: Where do you start? How do you provide enough exposition for the reader to follow everything that's going on without turning it into a massive info dump? Also, how do you get your hero visual early into the story since, chronologically, the Scream himself doesn't show up until the latter part of the story. In the case of "Scream #1," I decided to throw the reader into the middle of the story via a dream sequence followed by a false wake-up, thus enabling the Scream to make an appearance.

Mike Richardson created the concept for the Scream, and I was brought in to develop the specifics. Since Mike wanted an old-style, Silver age Marvel style feel for the book, I dubbed the lead Danny Duncan since so many of the classic heroes and supporting characters had alliterative names (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Clark Kent, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, etc.) This page was entirely from Danny's POV. It's supposed to have a surrealistic look to it. The guy on the lower right wound up looking way more demonic than he was intended to, which I think is mostly due to the coloring. Actually he's supposed to be the judge who sentenced Danny to the asylum. If you look carefully you can see that he's leaning over a judicial bench and he's got a gavel visible just under Danny's outstretched hand. It might have been more clear if he'd had the nameplate on his bench that I indicated in the script which gave his name: "Hon. Jacque Hughes." But Bart didn't include it for some reason. Maybe he just winced too much at the pun name. Ever since I heard the phrase "J'accuse" I thought it would make a great name for either a judge or a district attorney. Guess I can still use it.


Panel 3: We introduce Phil, Danny's boss at the post office. Notice that Phil is present in the splash page, wielding a roll of packing tape. That's to help underscore that people from different times and places were all being compressed into the single flashback. In retrospect, it was probably just confusing.

In the script I called for a small image of the classic Munch "Scream" to appear on Danny's tie. It's not there, perhaps having gone the way of the judge's nameplate. It wasn't particularly essential to the script; just a nod and a foreshadowing. Danny's nametag is supposed to read "Danny" on it. The tag's there; the name isn't. Just having no luck with names.

Panel 5: Danny runs his fingers through his hair. One of my favorite things to indicate to show that a character is feeling frustrated. Easy to draw and speaks volumes.


The Scream makes his first appearance. Ah, the joys of a dream sequence.


Panel 1: Danny is suddenly sporting glasses. That was in the script, a way of subtly distinguishing the dream from the reality. In the dream, Danny has 20/20 vision. Once we're in the real world, he needs his specs. Glasses seem to be passé nowadays in comic book characters. In the old days Peter Parker had glasses, Bruce Banner had glasses, even Clark Kent (not that he needed them.) It was a way of conveying vulnerability and intelligence. I couldn't recall the last character created who was wearing glasses (and no, shades don't count). So I gave Danny glasses.

Panel 5: Bart has Danny adjusting his glasses. Nice touch. People who wear glasses are always pushing them up on their nose or fixing them.

Panel 7: Gladys was described in the script as "an older female poster worker, looking to be in her 70s." I guess Bart decided that nothing says "older" like incredibly saggy breasts. For all those fans who get off on heroines with gargantuan hooters--this is what they're going to look like forty, fifty years down the road once gravity has had its way with 'em. Not so much of a turn on now, is it, ya sickos?


Panel 1: There's a guy on one of my bowling teams named Leroy and he's got a big handlebar mustache. So I made him a character in the book because, y'know, why not?

Panel 5: The introduction of another alliterative character, Celeste Crane (technically not alliterative, I suppose, since it's an "S" sound followed by a hard "C," but at least it's the same initials.). I described her as "Absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, a classic raven-haired beauty, albeit with streaks of silver in her hair." The silver isn't quite there and, yes, apparently she's got huge jugs. She probably shudders whenever she looks at Gladys, knowing what awaits her.


Panel 6: I called for Danny's last word balloon to be heart shaped. I do that sometimes, to indicate the speaker is talking with a romantic sound to his voice. But Bart drew in a big honking heart floating next to him with an arrow through it, so I have to think the letterer decided a heart shaped balloon would be too much. I have to agree. When you've got a giant heart shaped thought balloon with an arrow through it, that pretty much says it all.


Panel 2: Danny's in a dream sequence. Notice that the glasses have vanished again. It continues to help indicate a fantasy sequence. . . as if dressing him like Heathcliff from "Wuthering Heights" wasn't enough.

Panel 5: We see "mental waves" emanating from Danny for the first time. They're what tip the reader off that his power to influence others is functioning, similar to the Spidey-sense lines. Curiously, even though this panel is clearly back in the real world, Danny's glasses have momentarily vanished. Go figure.

Panel 1: Apparently Bart decided to add to the surreal aspect of the proceedings by giving a fish-eye look to the sequence. Nothing says "weird" like a fish-eye lens. I have to think it was an artistic choice, because otherwise the desk has a concave bend to it and the floor is in the process of buckling.

Panel 2: Love the little touch Bart added here of the heart silhouette.

Panel 3: The ringing is supposed to be originating from Danny's shirt pocket to indicate that he's got his cell phone in there. Unfortunately the letterer placed the sound effect above his head, so we have to assume that Danny is carrying his cell phone in his hair.

I love that Danny is just completely oblivious to everything that's happened around him.

Panels 5 and 6: These guys are supposed to be Hell's Angels. But they kind of look like -- I dunno -- refugees from a Renfair or something. The gag was that they're these incredibly bad ass mofos who were suddenly liplocking and are totally freaked about it after the fact. But since it's not terribly clear that they're bad ass bikers, the gag doesn't really work.

Panel 2-We meet Danny's father: Wilhelm. His name is an in-joke reference to the Wilhelm Scream, a classic sound effect in movies that is typically employed when someone is being subjected to a particularly gruesome death. If you didn't get the joke, don't worry: To my knowledge, nobody else did, either. I had to indicate that Wilhelm was really up there in years in order to make his status as a veteran work. I figured that he fathered Danny rather late in life. After all, Jimmy Doohan and Tony Randall both fathered children long after they'd hit retirement age, so it's not impossible. I described him as: "Lean, frail-looking but still fire in him, bald." Judging by the latticework of veins, apparently he's also a drug addict. Basically, Wilhelm is my answer to Aunt May: The anti-Aunty, if you will. Mean-spirited, disappointed in his son, and also scared because of creeping senility. The one thing I didn't give him was a heart condition.

Panel 1: A way of providing additional backstory for Danny. It's always annoying to me when characters say stuff to each other that they would by rights already know, just to benefit the reader. So I finessed that here by having Wilhelm, in his delusional state, thinking he was talking to someone other than Danny, making the recitation of Danny's background and their hostile relationship reasonable.

Panel 6: We get a feel now of what their relationship might have been like if Wilhelm weren't having so many problems. A staggeringly large percentage of American fiction centers on father/son or mentor/student relationships. So why not "The Scream?"

Panel 4: I like Bart's addition of a flag hanging on the wall. Unfortunately, it's displayed backwards. When hung vertically on a wall, the union -- the blue field with the stars -- is always uppermost and to the flag's own right, i.e., to the observer's left, just as when it's being flown horizontally.

Panel 2: The Purple Heart, on the other hand, is accurate.

Panel 5: I'm assuming that Bart was going for symbolism here in having the flag behind them, rather than that it's the same flag from the wall but now horizontal.

Panel 1: Our introduction to "Belle Foux," which is French for "Beautiful Insanity." Except the word insanity is spelled "Fou." I had some reason for adding an X, but damned if I can remember what it was. I also had a reason for having it established in 1984, but I don't recall that either. In my defense, at the time I didn't know there would be a quiz.

Panel 1: Our introduction to Mort, the fourth person from the splash page. I figured he was first cousin to Java from the old Metamorpho series. I liked the notion of a guy whose fundamental stupidity was his greatest asset.

Panel 4: The script indicates, "Mort enters a room with a nameplate that reads "ANGUS MACARBRE, Doctor of Psychology" on it. " Unfortunately I had as much luck with this nameplate as I did with all the others in the book. As a result I violate one of the main rules of comic book writing: Get all your characters' names into the story. Doctor MacArbre remains unnamed until issue 2. Memo to me: Be sure always to put names into dialogue or captions, because you just can't count on nameplates.

Panel 3: We meet another major player in the series: Sian Ferguson (who at least I had use her name in dialogue.) Her name is also a pun: It's supposed to sound like the Yiddish for "I forget." There's actually a story reason as to why Sian would, in fact, be having memory problems that will be revealed in a subsequent issue.

Panel 1: I didn't give either of these guys actual names in the story because they're basically cannon fodder. So I refer to them in the script simply as Alpha and Omega for easy reference so that the letterer doesn't misplace the word balloons.

Panel 3: Danny's necktie is now gray instead of black. Dunno why. It just is.


Aha. The Scream. Now: Here's the thing--the reader is supposed to believe that Danny has transformed into the Scream. Except he hasn't, because the Scream is actually an illusion that everyone else is seeing but actually isn't there.

Unfortunately the effect is undercut by the fact that Danny is visibly lying there in the lower left. He shouldn't be, nor is there anything in the script that indicates he should be. If this series is collected in trade, I'd really like it if Dark Horse could go back in and remove Danny from the art in that page. If nothing else it makes no sense because the word balloon is originating from the Scream when it would, in fact, be coming from Danny. However, enough readers -- looking for analogues to previous works, as readers typically do -- have likened the Scream to the Hulk, which makes me hope that maybe they simply didn't notice Danny lying there and are under the impression that he actually transformed.


Notice that the bullets are going right through the Scream and killing the other guy. Why? Because Danny is cowering on the floor and the bad guys are shooting at chest-high level. So the bullets are going right over Danny's head. Again, a sequence that would have been far more effective if we hadn't seen that Danny is on the floor.

Thanks to Peter David for stopping by this week and annotating the first issue of THE SCREAM for us. You can also catch him at his blog, of course, as well as writing "X-Factor" and "She-Hulk" for Marvel, and "Fallen Angel" at IDW.

If you have any suggested titles or creators you'd like to see a commentary track from, drop us a line. If you're a creator with a book due out soon that you'd like to stop by to talk about in detail, let us know. (We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far.) We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!

Now discuss this story in CBR's Indie Comics forum.


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