The Cow Strykes Back: Jay Faerber brings 'Strykeforce' back to life

With all the talk of love for the 80's, maybe someone should be talking about the love for the 90's- Jim Lee is back in full force, variant covers sell like crazy and Top Cow is bringing back their big superheroes that helped to launch the company. Leading the charge is Stryker, star of the "Codename: Strykeforce" series that spun off from the popular "Cyberforce" comic and he's bringing along someone else you're seeing more of these days: write Jay Faerber. CBR News recently spoke to the scribe about his DC/Wildstorm "Robotech" work and his creator-owned Image graphic novel, "Dodge's Bullets," but this time Faerber is here to talk about the all new "Strykeforce" series premiering in April.

"'Strykeforce' is about a group of superhumans who are wanted fugitives from the U.S. government," explains Faerber of the series' main concept. "So they're on the run, and they hire themselves out for various dangerous missions. They'll rescue kidnapped CEOs, they'll help free the son of a congressman from a supernatural cult, they'll help smoke out a telepath engaged in corporate espionage. You name it, they'll do it -- provided the price is right, of course.

"I like this concept because the 'for hire' aspect gives you an endless well to draw stories from. It's very structured that way. And the fact that the characters are fugitives gives you an added element of risk.

"We start off the book James Bond-style -- we join the Strykeforce smack-dab in the middle of their latest operation: rescuing the survivors of a plane crash in the Amazon jungle, who've been held hostage by guerilla fighters. From there, Stryker meets with their newest client, a desperate woman whose husband recently passed away, and whose 8-year-old son is now missing. She's at the end of her rope, and the cops aren't getting anywhere, so Stryker assures her that he and his crew will help find her little boy. As the Strykeforce gets involved with the case, however, it quickly becomes apparent that some very dangerous people don't want little Tommy Jenkins found.

"I felt a book like this should start off with a bang, and really throw the readers into the deep end, which is why we opened right up with them in the middle of a case. And then the main story, with the disappearance of Tommy Jenkins, allows me to craft a pretty good mystery, while we get to know the various Strykeforce characters. Over the course of the first 5 issues, we'll learn a lot about each of the characters -- in fact, we'll learn some things that they don't even know about each other."

The writer has previously said that of all the properties that Top Cow offered for revival, this was the one that appealed to him the most and he contends it's not because of a crush on Cyberforce member Velocity. "I think you've got me confused with Robert Kirkman, on that last one," Faerber laughs. "But I chose Strykeforce simply because it had a nice, easy concept, but the book wasn't so well-known that I'd be forced to keep everything in the original book. That's one of the reasons why I didn't go after Cyberforce -- there's a lot more backstory, and a bigger fan-following for that book, so there'd be a lot more scrutiny about the new version, and how would it stack up to the old, etc. I'd rather dust off a concept that wasn't such a sure-fire hit. That's not to say that Strykeforce doesn't have fans -- it surely does. I've heard from a lot of people who loved the original book, and are excited about its return. But Strykeforce affords me a little more room to bring my own stuff to the table."

Despite what some may be inclined to say, this isn't a nostalgia filled romp through Stryker's world or an ode to times past: Faerber is updating the team with new faces and new dynamics designed to make the series stand on its own. "The Strykeforce is comprised of six characters. We've got Stryker, the cybernetic leader of the group. He's a no-nonsense former Special Forces officer. The Strykeforce isn't a democracy -- Stryker calls the shots, and he won't let anyone forget it.

"Next up is Anvil, the other carryover from the first series. Anvil is a short little guy, who happens to have dark blue skin, and is incredibly strong and heavy. He's also next to impossible to hurt, and he hangs out with the Strykeforce mainly for the rush. To him, each mission is another opportunity for him to get an adrenaline rush.

"Lift is a new character, a telekinetic pickpocket and con man. He's sort of like a younger George Clooney, from Ocean's Eleven. He's always got some side angle going, and he lives for the con.

"Tia Katana is a half-Asian woman who has a history with Stryker. He was friends with her father, from his military days. Tia's got some weird body art -- her tattoo peels off and becomes a powerful sword. She's one of those unapproachable beauties -- the kind of woman that's so hot she spends her nights home alone, because guys are too afraid to ask her out.

"Sly is our other female character, and she's decidedly more upbeat and down-to-Earth than Tia. She's got a kind of stealth power that lets her camouflage herself. So she can almost turn invisible, but not quite. If you look hard enough, you can see her. One drawback to her power is that her clothes don't turn invisible with her, which leads to some embarrassing situations when she reappears, and has to find something to cover herself up with.

"The last character is Killawatt, who's a walking power battery. His body produces massive amounts of bio-electricity, which he can discharge in powerful blasts. He's the newest member of the team, and he sometimes has a hard time with the hard line some of the others take with their missions."

You might think "The Dirty Dozen" or similar "fugitives go good" types of stories to compare with "Strykeforce" or even a certain Mohawk wearing toughman's team, but Faerber says a different fictional production helped inspire the series. "Well, I referenced 'The A-Team' when I pitched the book, but that was just a shorthand for the whole fugitives-for-hire vibe I wanted to get across. Early on, Jim McLauchlin and I talked about 'Proof of Life,' that movie with Russell Crowe and David Caruso as kidnap & ransom experts. There's some parallels there, in terms of these guys being hired to do a navigate a really dangerous situation -- the kind of situation most people never even think about.

'But 'Strykeforce' is, of course, a super-hero book. So expect lots of super-powered action, along the lines of the old school 'Cyberforce' book, coupled with a little more modern 'Ultimates'-style choreography."

Faerber's been vocal about the fact that he's eschewing the trend of decompressed- which some interpret as padded- storylines and is going for a more "balls to the wall" action series. That, however, doesn't mean more panels per page: it just means making each panel count. "The pacing of a story usually has less to do with how many panels you have on a page, and more with what you chose to show in those panels. It's breaking the pacing down to its root -- the panel-to-panel action. The decompressed style of storytelling is built around savoring the smaller details of a given scene. With 'Strykeforce,' for the most part, I'm not doing that -- I'm trying to cram as much into each issue as possible. That means that there's an economy involved in what gets shown in each panel. Because of the sheer number of dramatic events I want to have in each issue, I don't have the luxury of showing every frame of a fight scene -- every single punch, every shell-casing hitting the floor, etc. I have to keep things moving. Another way to do this is the old rule of getting into each scene as late as possible, and getting out as early as possible. You keep cutting away at your scenes until they're as tight as can be."

Despite series like "Strykeforce," which feature a male lead, Top Cow has been plagued by a perception that the company only produces T&A comics- but don't say that to Faerber, because the writer certainly doesn't agree with that stereotype. "Well, I think the perception exists because two of Top Cow's most popular books are 'Tomb Raider' and 'Witchblade,' both of which feature attractive women who are often scantily clad. But, at the same time, you've got books like 'Rising Stars' and 'Midnight Nation,' which were never about T&A, and even more recently, you've got books like 'Wanted' and 'Common Grounds.' And sure, I can't deny that 'Strykeforce's' two lead females have pretty revealing costumes. But, that's not ALL the book is about, and I just hope that people will give us a shot."

Something you can expect not to see in "Strykeforce" is a crossover with Faerber's other work, from his super hero series "Noble Causes" to the much maligned DEO Kids from his "Titans" work. "Only if the Strykeforce is hired to kill the DEO kids," he laughs. "Normally, they wouldn't take on an assassination contract like that, but in this case, they might make an exception. The 'Noble Causes' and 'Strykeforce' worlds don't really have much in common -- there wouldn't really be any point in having them meet up. Although, now that I think about it, Frost or Rusty might get along with the Strykeforce crew. But there aren't any plans for a crossover, and I doubt there ever will be."

Helping to bring this new vision of Stryker and his crew to life is artist Tyler Kirkham, whose work is loved by Faerber, but was brought in by Top Cow. "I can't take any credit for Tyler. He was assigned by the Top Cow guys. From what I understand, he works out of their studio in Los Angeles. I guess they have a little bullpen-type deal going on there, which is great, because Tyler's relatively new, and he's in a great position to get advice from Marc Silvestri, and the other artists that are on-site there. You can really see the Silvestri influence in Tyler's stuff, from the way he draws his characters, right down to the camera angles he picks. When I wrote the first script, I didn't know exactly who would be drawing it, but now that I've seen Tyler's stuff, I'm able to tailor the scripts to him, and I think the results are fantastic. I wanted to do a book with a lot of action scenes, and Tyler's really able to sell that stuff."

If you're one of those pesky comic book critics- like CBR's Augie De Blieck Jr. for example- Faerber isn't concerned with whether you like or dislike the series. "I really don't care. I write for myself, first and foremost. The minute you start second-guessing yourself, and trying to write for a perceived audience, you're finished. That's the surest way to make a book come off as lifeless."

Some readers might be undecided about reading another super hero comic and be sitting on the proverbial fence, so if you are, Faerber has a plan to bring you to his side. "Well, I'd offer them a nice comfy chair, since sitting on a fence isn't all that comfortable. Then, I'd tell them that the catch is, in order to sit in the chair, they'd have to read 'Strykeforce.' I think they'd take me up on the offer."

Though he may not be full of sports predictions, Faerber offers what he feels will be a revelation to some about the big event in comics for the year 2004. "I'm going to go out on a limb here, and predict that 2004 will see a lot of comic books printed, some in full color, and some in black and white. Some will be successful, and some won't."

So, in the end, is there anything else people need to know about Jay Faerber?

"Yes," he says. "Everyone should know that I was 25 years old when I had my first burrito."

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