WWLA Xtra: Bringing "Painkiller Jane" to the Small Screen

This weekend at Wizard World L.A., "Painkiller Jane" co-creator Jimmy Palmiotti and Executive Producer Ken Levine held a panel about the upcoming SciFi series based on the comic, and CBR News was on the scene. Palmiotti regretfully informed attendees that Kristanna Loken, who is playing the titular role in the TV series and was scheduled to appear, missed her flight from Vancouver.

Levine brokered the deals for both the TV movie of "Painkiller Jane" from a few years back and the upcoming episodic series. "90% of my friends in this business work with Ken, because Ken is one of the few guys that understands the creators and what they want and how frustrated they are about everything, which goes a long way," Palmiotti said.

"We're taking over the 'Battlestar Galactica' spot, April 13th, and we have 22 episodes in a row, one hour episodes, which is a wonderful luxury to get that kind of commitment from Starz," Levine said of the show's U.S. distributor. "The only real criteria they had for me was, 'We're not going to do it unless you can promise us that you're gonna give us Jimmy Palmiotti.'" A far cry from the earlier adaptation, which wanted little to nothing to do with creators Palmiotti and Joe Quesada.

SciFi's Painkiller Jane

Palmiotti proceeded to show the audience a rough cut of a scene from the first episode (Loken, as Jane, tussling with an armed assailant, smashing through a plate-glass window and plummeting to the ground far below), and an early trailer Palmiotti referred to as a "sizzle reel."

"If you guys are familiar with the comic, it's a little bit of the comic, it's a little bit of 'X-Files' thrown in with a little bit of madness," said Palmiotti of the new series. "Kristanna works with a team of people that hunt down these things called Neuros. Now, in comics, we all know kind of what that is, when people have powers that they shouldn't have. And in this series, they have a tendency of actually doing bad things most of the time. It's never like somebody that can create ice cream out of their ear or something. It's always a guy who has a power that's gonna destroy something or blow up something.

"It's an hour show, it's an episodic show," Palmiotti continued. "Each episode has a beginning, middle and an end, you get the whole story. So if you miss the first one, you can catch the second one and you're not gonna feel so alienated at that point.

"Kristanna brings something to the part that I love, in that she has this vulnerability about her in her face. I mean, she's a big girl and she can kick your ass, and yet she does other scenes and is very vulnerable, very open. That's the stuff I like about the character Jane. A lot of people were trying out for Jane. When Kristanna came up, it was an easy sell. 'Oh, yeah, she can kick my ass. That's it.'"

"This is really historically, and for me personally, it's been kind of an interesting journey," Levine said. "My start point in the early '80s, I co-founded a company called First Comics, which was really the first independent comic book company. And that ran into the early '90s, and then it got sucked up by a conglomerate, and then went public and that was the end of that. My next foray into the publishing side was having the privilege to work with Jimmy and Joe in about '95, I think, starting what became Event comics. So I got to see 'Painkiller Jane' before any of you did. It's like being there at sort of the birth of independent comics, and then I was at the birth of this property, watching it gestate into just a terrific series."

Levine asserted that it is an exciting time for adaptations of comics to other media, citing the successes, both creatively and financially, of projects like "Road to Perdition," "Hellboy," "Sin City" and most recently "300." He mentioned the adaptation of Garth Ennis' "Preacher" which is in development at HBO, and said that he is doing his best to get Ennis and Palmiotti's comic "Pro" on the small screen as well.

"We're in negotiations with Spike TV to do 'Pro' as an animated series," Palmiotti confirmed.

Palmiotti penned one of the first season episodes of "Painkiller Jane," and is planning to direct an episode as well. "It's honest to god the best of the scripts," Levine said of Palmiotti's effort. Palmiotti humbly debated this point, in deference to the rest of the writers on the show.

And Levine was quick to point out that his praise of Palmiotti was not at the expense of the rest of the series' writers. "My friend Kevin Murphy does 'Desperate Housewives,' and he says, 'When you're in that writer's room 24 hours a day, and you gotta crank out week after week after week, that is a brutal thing.'" Levine recounted. "And watching what the writers are doing on this, it's sensational what they're doing."

In addition to the small screen, "Painkiller Jane" will also be returning to comics. "'Painkiller Jane' starts in April, the 25 cent teaser book comes out," Palmiotti said. "After that it's monthly. Lee Moder is doing the monthly book with me, based on a story Joe [Quesada] and I knocked around about terrorists, bisexuality and murder. My kind of book, not made for kids though. Painkiller Jane has her first kiss at the end of the first issue with another girl on a beach. The great thing about the TV show and about the comic is that they're two different worlds. I control this one, so anything happens there."

As a case in point, Levine brought up a "Painkiller Jane" story arc that ends with Jane murdering an entire family. After taking a husband, wife and their father-in-law out into the desert and killing each of them one by one, the story ends on a "granny killing." "[Jane] goes to the senior's home and takes the old lady out and beats her legs with a pipe," Palmiotti said. "She's in a wheelchair already. Pushes the wheelchair down a hill onto a frozen lake, and it doesn't break the ice, and Jane just pulls a gun and shoots the ice, and she just goes under.

"Afterwards, we realize that this family has had ties with Nazis and white supremacy," Palmiotti clarified. "And the father and son are into this S&M stuff where they were torturing these illegal immigrants, and killing them. These people were the most despicable people on earth. But I wanted to show that Jane could sink to their level and take care of them. I didn't want it to be the superhero thing, 'I'm gonna put you in jail and we'll never have to worry about you again.' No, Batman, kill the Joker already. He won't come back."

Not surprisingly, in the writer's room for the "Painkiller Jane" TV series, the most outrageous ideas come from Palmiotti as well. "Well, listen, come one, she's gotta get rid of this guy, why are they dancing around?" Palmiotti would say. "Just let her knock him in the head and throw him in front of a moving car."

The plot of the first arc of the new "Painkiller Jane" comic pits the title character against a woman who is dealing with the guilt of selling arms to terrorists who turn around and use them against the U.S. "Meanwhile, she steps into Jane's turf, and it's these two girls, they kind of do a dance with each other, but it gets really nasty and it gets real crazy," Palmiotti said. "And Amanda [Conner] just did a cover of Jane on the beach with a bikini, and a nuclear explosion in the ocean, with the other girl coming up the beach to kill Jane. It just says it all."

When one fan compared Palmiotti's work to that of Garth Ennis, the writer had this to say: "Before I ever met Garth, I had the same brain. Garth has opened up the door to any craziness in the world. Garth does the extreme. Anything we do is okay. He does the most foul things in the world, so when I hand in something that's pretty messed up, they go, 'At least it ain't Garth.' So it makes it kind of easy."

Despite the often excessive violence, Palmiotti thinks "Painkiller Jane" will appeal to male and female alike. "That's girl power on the screen, that's all Jane's always been about to me, it's about a book a woman could read," the writer said.

Then Levine made an impassioned plea, not just on behalf of their show, but also for all of those comics adaptations yet to come. "You, as part of what we think of as our industry, the comics industry, have enormously disproportionate power," Levine began. "Networks and studios really care what you all think. If you care about this show, you really can do the industry a favor by saying that you like it." The success of a show like "Painkiller Jane" could pave the way to many more successful adaptations, Levine reasoned.

"It's exciting, because we're a small group, comic people," Palmiotti agreed. "The rest of the world thinks we're a billion people strong, but the numbers on the books, we know, we're a small group. But we're a powerful group because they all listen like hell. Even a small group okaying something makes a big difference."

One audience member (who Palmiotti identified as John Heffernan, screenwriter of "Snakes on a Plane"), asked about the possibility of adapting some of Palmiotti's other properties like "Beautiful Killer" and "New West."

"'Beautiful Killer' and 'New West,' those are projects that just really need the right person attached that understands them, because it's right there," Palmiotti said.

The first episode of "Painkiller Jane" airs on Friday, April 13 th at 10:00 p.m. on the Sci-Fi channel.

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