Waltz On "Silent Hill: Past Life"

One of the most unsettling survival-horror franchises returns next year as the next installment in Konami's "Silent Hill" series makes its way onto Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, sending yet another desperate protagonist through the psychological tortures imposed by the titular town. The latest piece the horror franchise is written by IDW Publishing editor Tom Waltz, who has recently become a prolific scribe with "A-Team" and "Legion" movie tie-in miniseries as well as his own "After the Fire" graphic novel and the first "Silent Hill" mini, "Sinner's Reward." Prior to the game's debut, however, Waltz and IDW will offer a new chapter in "Silent Hill" comics with "Past Life," to be illustrated by Menton Mathews III. CBR News spoke with Waltz about both projects, with an emphasis on "Past Life" due to details the upcoming video game remaining closely-guarded.

The original "Silent Hill" debuted on the Playstation in 1999, allowing players to take control of one Harry Mason as he searched for his adopted daughter. Each subsequent game has starred a new character, with the town of Silent Hill itself providing the central focus and continuity. The player-controlled characters invariably discover dark, disturbing facts about themselves and about the multiple levels of perception or reality that exist in the town and in-game choices can affect exactly how badly things turn out for the hero in the end. The latest published iteration of the game, "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories," was released in late 2009 and represented a retelling of the original "Silent Hill" for current-generation consoles. The most recent fully-original game in the series was "Silent Hill: Homecoming" in 2008, released not long after IDW's "Sinner's Reward" comics.

Set in 1867, "Silent Hill: Past Life" tells the story of Jebediah "Hellrider" Foster, a notorious outlaw in the Dakota Territory whom Waltz described as having "a soft, troubled heart lying beneath the cold, hard exterior." "When this soft spot is finally exposed, it will lead to Foster's greatest happiness, as well as a tragically infinite sadness," Waltz told CBR. "Foster, while carousing in Deadwood City, meets and falls head over spurs in love with Esther Monroe, a beautiful widow whose life's travels have lead her to Deadwood - a place she longs to leave for a better life." Together, Jebediah and Esther venture back east to her abandoned family estate in Silent Hill. "Esther sees it as the escape from the Wild West and back to civilization - an opportunity for both she and Foster to start their lives fresh and anew," Waltz said. "But, of course, Foster's dark past follows closely behind and he'll soon learn he'll have to face his sins, and that, in doing so, will drag his beloved wife and unborn child into his own personal hell, as well."

The eponymous town has a long, storied and eerie history as established in the "Silent Hill" games, and Waltz's latest miniseries will build off its brief prosperity as a mining town. "Silent Hill is, at this time, on the backend of a coal mining boom and we're starting to witness what I call the de-evolution of the town," the writer told CBR. "Many folks have started to leave the area, and we've already got a rift in the religious group the Order, as some of its members have split and set up a separate camp in the newly-founded and neighboring Shepherd's Glen, with the separatists calling themselves the Sect of the Holy Way (and if you played 'Silent Hill: Homecoming,' you know the huge impact that has on the universe). The American Civil War has ended and the infamous Toluca Prison Camp (which housed Civil War POWs) has been converted into the ultimately equally infamous Toluca Prison.

"Nothing happy about any of these happenings and, as I said, all indications that Silent Hill is on the cusp of becoming the mysterious purgatory-on-Earth we all know from the awesome video games and past publications."

Given that this is a world Waltz has played in before, CBR asked the writer what he might be changing for "Past Life." "The very fact that we're displaying a moment in the town's history has got to be the biggest experimentation. If you go online to SH fan forums like Silent Hill Heaven, you'll quickly find that SH fans are not only super passionate, they're well-versed in the town's history as well. What Menton and I hope to do with 'Silent Hill: Past Life' is bring the history that's been so talked about and debated about on the forums over the years to living color in the pages of our comic," Waltz said. "Having worked so intimately with the good folks at Konami now for the last few years, I have a much better understanding of the town and its inherent quirks and rules as set by the original Team Silent, which I think makes my ability to tell an accurate 'Silent Hill' story that much stronger. The events - and the monsters - in our story will make sense to the characters in play and will only be directly related to them and their circumstances, as they should be in any good 'Silent Hill' story. No Pyramid Head this time around."

Waltz said that the key to writing psychological horror of the "Silent Hill" variety is to "keep it human." "For all the monsters, spooks and scaries included in a horror story (or movie), it's ultimately the human element that readers and viewers relate to. So, as a creator, you've got be cognizant of that and ensure it's the element that is presented front and center and the scares and the gore remain a part of the setting and do not overwhelm the core story," he said. "For example, I think Stephen King's novel 'Pet Semetary' works so well because the ultimate horror in that book is not bringing the dead back to life, but is the untimely and horrific death of loved ones - in the case of the novel, the main character's young son, who is run over by semi-truck. Man, as a parent, I cannot imagine anything worse in this life than having your child die before you do. Everything else that happens to those characters in 'Pet Semetary' is, without a doubt, horrifying, but none of it (for me at least) supersedes that initial tragedy of a dad losing his beloved child.

"In comic book terms, the same can be applied to superheroes, as well. Frank Fradella, my great editor at the superhero prose magazine called 'Cyber Age Adventures' I used to write for ihero.net always preached that the characters' powers are the setting - their normal lives are the real and important, story. And Frank was absolutely right," the writer continued. "It's cool that Peter Parker, for example, can shoot webs from his wrists and climb walls like a spider, but what's really interesting about him - what continues to resonate most with fans of the character - is the fact that underneath it all, he's a normal, dorky, self-conscious, awkward guy, with the kind of real problems we all face, like paying bills, etc."

Art for this series is by Menton Mathews III, whose work on "Zombies vs. Robots: Aventure" suggests he's a strong match for the grim world of "Silent Hill." "Menton is a mad genius. Seriously. Pages are starting to come in and they are a beautiful and haunting mix of pencils, inks, water colors, oils - you name it!" Waltz said. "His art is as unpredictable as Silent Hill itself and it's a match made in Heaven (or, maybe better, Hell). Honestly, no matter what folks end up thinking about my story, they are gonna love Menton's art - he's a comic book superstar creator just waiting to happen. Plus, we're getting some awesome incentive covers from Justin Randall, who also did the very popular incentive covers for 'Silent Hill: Sinner's Reward.'"

In addition to the comic, Waltz is also writing the upcoming "Silent Hill" game for Konami and developer Vatra. The game's working title is "Silent Hill 8," though that may change before its release next year. "I'd met with Konami reps at Comic-Con [International in San Diego] in 2008, and at that time they shared their happiness with 'Silent Hill: Sinner's Reward,' the miniseries I'd just finished up for IDW with artist Steph Stamb, which was voted in the top ten of horror comics for 2008 by Fearnet," Waltz said of his first encounter with the game publishers. "They asked me if I'd be interested in helping them with next game's story. I was flabbergasted! Really, as a true fan of 'Silent Hill' before I ever started writing in the spooky universe, it was like a dream come true. So, I gave them a resounding, 'Yes - yes I would!' and a number of months later, Konami producers Devin Shatsky and Tomm Hulett called me to talk about the game they were developing. We all hit it off from the start (Devin and Tomm are truly great guys) and now, along with the fantastic development team at Vatra, we're deep into creating what I'm confident will be a fine new addition to the long-running 'Silent Hill' universe."

Waltz described the opportunity to work simultaneously on the next "Silent Hill" game and comic rooted in the game's mythology as "getting my veritable cake and eating it too." Indeed, there will be some crossover between the game and the comic, as a certain character will appear in both. "The character will have to remain unnamed for now (nothing comes easy in 'Silent Hill,' so fans are gonna have to get our comic to learn more), but I can say we provide a look at his origin story, something you won't get in the game, so reading our comic book - though not necessary to enjoy the game and the character's role in it - will definitely add the overall experience," the writer told CBR. "And we're telling the first full-length 'Silent Hill' historical tale, which, in and of itself, is exciting!"

While he was able to talk somewhat freely about "Past Life," Waltz was not at this time able to reveal much detail about the eighth "Silent Hill" game. "We're keeping it all very close to the vest for now, so all I can really say is, I'm very proud of what we are accomplishing in the new game and can't wait for fans - old and new alike - to see it and play it," Waltz said. "All of us - Konami, Vatra, me - absolutely love 'Silent Hill' and are very appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of the ever-expanding SH Universe. The game and the comics are all works of love - and blood, sweat and tears."

Waltz does hope, however, that the game's fans will support the "Silent Hill" comic to add to its success. "We really want to keep doing 'Silent Hill' comics (and other great horror comics just like SH), but we can't continue without some support from our fellow SH and horror fans. What we really need folks to do is to reach out to their local comic book sellers and ask them to preorder 'Silent Hill: Past Life' - the bigger the numbers we can get, the better our chances of continuing our dark journey through Silent Hill and beyond," Waltz said. For the benefit of video game fans who may not normally read comics, Waltz suggested 1-888-COMIC BOOK and comicshoplocator.com to find a shop nearby. "Preorders are actually happening now, so no time like the present to let your retailers know you want them stocking 'Silent Hill' comics for you, otherwise you may miss the cutoff for preorders. And please know, your support is greatly, greatly appreciated by Menton and I!"

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