A Furious Interview with Bryan J.L. Glass, Victor Santos, and Jim Gibbons

Billed as a “five-issue miniseries where celebrity, fame, and superheroes meet,” FURIOUS brings together Mice Templarcollaborators, Bryan J.L. Glass and Victor Santos for a creator-owned series from Dark Horse Comics. Not only does this mini-series represent Glass’ first foray into creator-owned comics as the original creator of the comic, but it will also be his and Santos’ initial opportunity to take the helm of a superhero comic book.

FURIOUS debuts this December with an eight-page short story inDark Horse Presents #31 followed by the mini-series premiere in January. Readers got their first taste Glass and Santos’ contribution to Dark Horse’s latest push into the superhero genre at the Baltimore Comic Con on the “Powered by Creators” panel, and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with not only Bryan Glass and Victor Santos, but also Dark Horse editor, Jim Gibbons, who is responsible for helping revitalize the publisher’s burgeoning superhero roster.

HELVIE: Many readers know you from your work on Mice Templar – a decidedly different type of comic from the more common superhero genre that marks FURIOUS. What led you to branch out into the superhero genre for your first creator-owned comic?

GLASS: This venture into superheroes isn’t sudden, as FURIOUS has been in development numerous times over several decades. Decades. Really! I am a storyteller first and foremost, thus I have unpublished creations in multiple genres, each awaiting their own opportunity to shine. Following FURIOUS, I have a genuinely unique take on zombies just waiting for the right publishing connection!

There is also just as much danger of being typecast in writing as there is for actors performing in TV and movies. Currently, I’m known almost exclusively for producing fantasy, and “talking animal” fantasy at that. This reality has made it somewhat difficult to be recognized by editors for writing in any other genre. FURIOUS gives me an awesome opportunity at this stage of my career to show the industry that I’m capable of far more than just “mice with swords!”

HELVIE: For the record, I’ve been a big fan of your “mice with swords” work, but that makes sense. How does FURIOUS distinguish itself from the multitude of other superhero titles crowding newsstands today?

GLASS: FURIOUS is a redemption story gone awry. It’s about the media, fame, power and irresponsibility…as well as screaming, bloody desperation. The trope for most superheroes is that they wear a mask to protect their loved ones. FURIOUS wears a disguise because if the public knew who she really was they would despise her. She carries far more baggage than your average superhero, and that’s hard to let go of no matter how good one’s intentions may be. FURIOUS strives to redeem herself, yet possesses a temperament that could explode at the slightest provocation. Add superpowers and you have a hero capable of becoming a villain of devastating power.

HELVIE: One of the things that came to mind when reading the first story of the superheroine, FURIOUS, in what will be her initial appearance in Dark Horse Presents #31, is it carries a similar sort of look and feel to Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s Kick Assseries both in the artistic direction and the approach to ground the hero in realism (or as real as a world with superheroes in it can be!). While this hero does, in fact, have superpowers, how else would you say it’s doing something different from many of the other “gritty” and “real world” superhero stories that are popular today?

GLASS: The headspace of the woman labeled “FURIOUS” is what I believe will set this series apart from nearly everything else on the market. Without spoilers, her superpowers are symbolic of far more than just the responsibility of power. This heroine is on a journey of self-discovery, and what she finds isn’t pretty. In many ways, FURIOUS is a superheroic variation on Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness. If that doesn’t set her apart from every other spandex saga on the racks, I don’t know what will.

HELVIE: Shifting gears a bit here, the issue of gender in comics – particular superhero comics – is gaining more and more attention both on the fan and creator side of things. Was the decision to make your protagonist a woman a deliberate decision? How do you see FURIOUS fitting into the greater discussion of gender / sex representation in the superhero genre today?

GLASS: More than anything, FURIOUS is an exploration of the human condition regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or culture. While at the same time, I don’t believe this particular story would work as well were the gender roles reversed. Finding a male equivalent to the situations FURIOUS finds herself in would result in quite a different story; same message yet a different escalation of events.

I believe one of the most powerful statements this series makes regarding the ongoing state women find themselves fighting against within our culture is revealed from the very beginning. Our heroine chooses a name and a mission statement for herself, yet finds that identity stripped from her by an agenda-driven media. She doesn’t choose the name “FURIOUS.” It’s a label assigned to her in order to categorize what she represents in the most sensationalized manner possible. While the power of media and pop culture then has the power to enforce labels as either stigmas or badges of honor. One of the many plights FURIOUS finds herself entangled in is the fight for her own personal identity; and yet even that is as much a mask as the disguise she wears to conceal the truth about herself.

My goal with FURIOUS is to deliver a character as broken as every reader who takes a chance on the series, and show through her struggles that our own lives are still worth fighting for no matter what we’ve done, no matter what the world says about us. And that is a message women and men can be inspired by.

HELVIE: Let’s talk character design. The first thing that struck me about FURIOUS’ costume is the insignia on her chest, which seems to bear a similarity to that of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) and the Plutonian from Irredeemable – too very different types of superheroes. Am I reading too deeply into what is merely a coincidence, or is there some connection there? What influences were there in yours and Victor’s design of this character?

GLASS: This is a question more down Victor’s alley, as I gave him carte blanche in designing the character outside of the items that were story specific, like her wig and goggles. I did influence the color scheme toward cyan, but any symbolic emblems were his. I simply trusted that they weren’t derivative.

SANTOS: About the logo question, really the answer is easy, I didn’t think about other logos like Captain Marvel or Irredeemable (I have not read the book). The name chosen by the main character is The Beacon; I understand she wants to be light – a torch of hope like the Statue of Liberty. Her uniform is like a sparkle on a blue sky, a positive message. I thought on the simplest shape of a flame or a light. Like the uniform is a pret-a-porter [ready to wear] of sport wear and accessories. Also, I couldn’t draw a really elaborated logo. She´s not an artist.

HELVIE: Victor, I was also curious how this work will be different for you compared to your past body of work?

SANTOS: I´m not a great fan of specific superheroes or universes like Marvel or DC. I can´t say, “I was waiting all my life to draw Batman!” I have a lot of comic books in my home but never a complete collection because I just follow the makers. I’m a fan of the genre, and I love their artists and writers but I hadn’t a big knowledge about the Universes, events…

So while I’m working, I don´t think of what other companies did or how are the current uniforms of all the superheroes because I don´t know!

I think the biggest influence in this costume is the Legion of Superheroes. I have not read their last series, I know them because I read some comics of them in my childhood (Mexican editions sold in Spain in a digest size and an awful translation) and for the Bruce Timm animation series, and I love the simplicity of their design. Just a couple of colors, simple forms and really fancy.

HELVIE: Jim, I’m always impressed when creators can put together a strong one-and-done short story, and I think Bryan and Victor have done just that with this first introduction to FURIOUS. And given Bryan’s earlier responses, it does sound like it will be something different from what we’re seeing elsewhere in the greater world of costumed characters.

GIBBONS: That’s fantastic to hear! Thanks again for taking an interest! I think Bryan and Victor are doing something pretty incredible with this book. They’re putting character and the character arc of our heroine before all else. It’s a book with violence, action, and it’s a lot of freakin’ fun, but man, they’re making the emotionally resonant stuff the priority and that makes all the difference. Anyone who picks this book up and gives it a read is gonna see that commitment on every page and I think people are gonna love it!

HELVIE: I understand you’re responsible – in large part – for spearheading Dark Horse’s new “superhero initiative” along with fellow editor, Patrick Thorpe. It seems many of these superheroes take a more “pulpy” approach to the superhero genre, drawing upon past Dark Horse characters such as X, Captain Midnight and Ghost. Can you tell me a little about this initiative?

GIBBONS: Well, Dark Horse President and Publisher Mike Richardson is really the man with the plan on all this stuff. Patrick and I are some of the bigger superhero fans in the office, so when Mike needed some right hand men to help with the launch, we ended up being tapped to be those guys. But it’s a huge team effort, Mike, as well as editor in chief Scott Allie and senior editors Randy Stradley and Chris Warner (who edited Blackout in DHP) are all in the mix and we band together to chat about larger plans for all these books and break elements of the story at large, then Patrick and I, as well as Daniel Chabon who edits Occultist—the guys who live with these books and characters and keep track of all the large and small aspects of them—take these ideas, bounce them off writers, who add another amazing level of ingenious fun, action ,and adventure to these books and we get, I think, some pretty unique superhero books.

HELVIE: However, there are other titles that aren’t a part of the “Comics Greatest World” banner, such as Michael Avon Oeming’s The Victories and now Bryan J.L. Glass and Victor Santos’ FURIOUS. How do you see this new series fitting into this emerging area for Dark Horse? How do you see Dark Horse’s vision of the superhero comic book pushing against the “Big Two,” or put another way, how do you see superhero titles like FURIOUS differentiating themselves from the rest of the pack?

GIBBONS: Well, I think when you boil it down, we’re about putting together quality books regardless of genre. Dark Horse has a long history of great creator-owned comics and when some of the Project Black Sky books (Captain MidnightGhostX) started ramping up, I think that mentality of “Yeah, doing high quality books is our priority… why can’t that apply to superheroes?” began to settle in and, without any sort specific plan—No one said, “Editors, go get us five creator owned superhero books!” or anything—we just went out and found high quality books we were excited about and a lot of them happened to be superhero books. When we realized that had happened, that’s when we had Freddie Williams II put together that big piece with a bunch of the company-owned and creator-owned heroes that’s been at our convention booths this year. It was kind of a cannonball shot to say, “The high quality books you expect from us in the sci-fi and horror genres or in the licensed book realm or in indie comics, you know those? Yeah, we do that with superheroes too!” And I think Ghost,XCaptain MidnightCatalyst, as well as Black BeetleThe AnswerVictoriesDream Thief, and—soon—Brain BoyBloodhound, and Buzzkill are books that, whether you are a superhero fan or just a fan of good storytelling, have had a lot of time, care, and effort put in to make them solid stories with well-formed characters in a way that, superhero or not, we all want to see from our comics.

So, very longwinded answer, but I think a book like FURIOUS, or any of the others I just mentioned, provide an alternative to mainstream capes and cowls comics where you can rely on telling a good story and developing fully formed characters to be the title’s priority. Bryan and Victor have a flying hero who punches stuff and fights villains, but her journey is so much more complex and intriguing than that and just because you like superheroes doesn’t mean you can’t expect a great story from that genre. Obviously, we’re not the first to do that and there are a ton of truly amazing superhero stories in the history of comics, we just aim to—creator-owned or company-owned—make comics that tell great stories and that’s the goal no matter what the genre.

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Fans can get their first look at FURIOUS in the Harvey Award-winning Dark Horse Presents #31 in December, and the first issue will premiere in January 2014.

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Forrest C. Helvie lives in Connecticut with his wife and two sons where he is chair and professor of developmental English at Norwalk Community College. His literary interests are broad-ranging from medieval Arthurian to 19th-century American, and most importantly, pedagogy, comics studies, and super-heroes. In addition to academic publications, he writes a variety of comic short stories, including his own children’s comic series, Whiz Bang & Amelia the Adventure Bear. He regularly writes for Sequart and reviews comics for Newsarama. Forrest can also be found on Twitter (@forrest_helvie) discussing all things comics related.

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Also by Forrest Helvie:

How to Analyze & Review Comics: A Handbook on Comics Criticism

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