Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Killer Instinct: An Interview With Comic Book Writer Justin Jordan

Straddling genres can be difficult, regardless of the medium in question.  Truly great hybrids amalgamate the very best elements of two seemingly different worlds.  Such experiments tend to flourish when guided by an especially perceptive mind.  Hence, heretofore unseen parallels between the genres being combined suddenly become glaringly obvious.  Even the most casual observer can spot similarities they’d never considered before.    

Writer Justin Jordan has a passion for both superheroes and slasher films.  He successfully combined the two in his limited series, ‘The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.’  Its sequel, ‘The Legend of Luther Strode,’ has just concluded its arc, and is now available in the hardcover format.  Jordan is now applying his unique touch to established properties like Superboy, among other things.  However, Luther Strode remains very much a priority for him.  I recently held court with him to discuss the violent nature of his most notable creation to date.  

Scott Wilson: In recent years, lots of superhero comics have offered pseudo-realistic takes on the genre.  The Luther Strode comics follow in a similar tradition, yet they feel much more primal and honest than other such stories.  Why is that?

Justin Jordan's fearsome creation, Luther Strode, after having applied the "Hercules Method."

Justin Jordan: That’s a good question.  It’s also one that’s hard for me to answer.  Firstly, Luther Strode is not a “realistic” comic.  However, certain aspects of it can be seen as realistic to some extent.  If somebody with super strength smacked you in the head, your head would probably come off.  On the other hand, it (Luther Strode) also takes place in a world where someone can kick another person’s guts out of their mouth. 

That being said, I try to infuse the Luther Strode books with a degree of emotional realism.  I considered the wish fulfillment aspect of the story.  For instance, what might a person want or anticipate from having super powers?  I then contrast those expectations against the actuality of it.   What would happen when if a person is granted superpowers.  I think that brand of emotional realism is what speaks to people.  Luther’s motivations are probably recognizable to anybody who was a teenage boy, and a lot of people who weren’t, judging by the number of female fans we have.   

Superhero comics tend to portray an absolutely crime-ridden world.  Batman often finds random street crime while patrolling through Gotham.  There’s just not that much crime in the real world.  Otherwise, the police force would be ten times the size it is now.  Police officers would be insanely busy.  I commented on that in the third issue of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.  There’s a bit where Luther goes out patrolling and can’t find any crime to speak of. 

I think there’s a certain amount of emotional realism in Luther Strode that speaks to people.     

During the 1980's, Jason Voorhees became the single most recognizable slasher in movie history, save for Freddy Kruger.

Scott Wilson: Luther Strode draws much of its inspiration from slasher films of the 1980’s.  Which slasher does Luther Strode himself have the most in common with?  In the comics, he attends Voorhees High School.  Is that a clue as to his slasher movie lineage?

Justin Jordan: Yeah, I would say that he is ultimately closer to Jason in terms of style.  There are two different types of slashers.  The primer, or original example, is Michael Myers from Halloween.  In the original Halloween, he was different from a lot of slashers.  He was a random and cruel.  He had no motive.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jason protects his territory and takes revenge on those who’ve done him wrong.   He doesn’t go out of his way to find people to kill.  He just kills people that encroach on his territory.  Luther Strode is a lot closer to Jason than anybody else.      

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the reluctant heroine of John Carpenter's Halloween.

Scott Wilson: Is Luther Strode’s name a reference to the Laurie Strode character from the Halloween films?

Justin Jordan: Yup, absolutely.  It’s a dual reference.  That’s the kind of thing that writer’s do to keep ourselves amused.  The first name is a callback to Lex Luthor, even though it’s kind of villainous surname with different spelling.  Luthor is spelled with an O, for Lex.  For the second name, I wanted to go back to the quintessential “final girl” of slasher movies.  I wanted a heroic name, since the character of Luther Strode has both villainous and heroic aspects.    

Scott Wilson: I can’t be the first person that’s asked you that.

Justin Jordan: It doesn’t come up as often as you would think.  You’re not the first, but you’re probably among the first five.  It’s just not a connection a lot of people have made.  Unfortunately, I don’t think enough people are watching Halloween these days.  That would be my conclusion. 

Scott Wilson: That’s a terrible thought.

Justin Jordan: (laughs)

Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) as reimagined by Rob Zombie.

Scott Wilson: After Luther Strode applies the exercise techniques that he learns from “The Hercules Method,” he is physically transformed.  From that point on, he resembles Rob Zombie’s version of Michael Myers.  Was that intentional?

Justin Jordan: Yes and no.  It references Michael Myers, but it’s not an intentional callback to the Rob Zombie version of Halloween.  I can’t remember if that was even out when I first started Luther Strode.  The outfit that Luther ends up wearing looks like a teenager could actually make it.  I’ve mentioned this in the past.  In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker makes this incredibly elaborate costume.  It looks like it cost around 50 thousand dollars.  A poor man couldn’t make a costume like that.  By contrast, Luther’s costume is basically just a dark outfit with a white mask. 

We tend to think of slashers as being huge, hulking men.  The first few stuntmen that played Michael Myers and Jason weren’t particularly large.  They were average sized guys.  The iconic conception of them (slashers) is these huge hulking characters, so that’s what we were going for.  It’s possible that Rob Zombie cast Tyler Mane as Michael Myers for the same reason.  He might’ve wanted someone looming, who resembles the collective mental picture of slashers.  Tyler Mane is gigantic.   He’s almost 7 feet tall if memory serves me correctly.    

An ultra violent panel from Issue #1 of The Legend of Luther Strode.

Scott Wilson: The Luther Strode comics have a lot ultra-violent fight scenes that have a distinct anime/manga feel to them.  I was often reminded of Riki-Oh and Fist of the North Star.  Are you familiar with such properties?  If so, how much of an influence did they exert over Luther Strode?

Justin Jordan: The hyper-violence of Luther Strode is partially drawn from those things.  Fist of the North Star was around when I was a kid.  I’ve read the manga and watched the anime versions.   I’ve also watched the anime version of Riki-Oh.  In The Legend of Luther Strode, there are dozens of Easter eggs that reference the world of anime.

Artist Tradd Moore

The anime/manga influences of the Luther Strode books can mostly be seen in the artwork.  Tradd Moore’s style is definitely anime influenced.  That’s why I wanted him for the project.  He’s responsible for the visual look of the Luther Strode books.  Had I chosen to work with a different artist, those influences might be as prominent. 

Scott Wilson: The ancient murder cult that recruits Luther Strode via “The Hercules Method” was founded by Cain from the Bible. Where you afraid that some readers might see that as sacrilegious?  Do you have any religious beliefs?  If so, did that influence your decision to include a biblical reference like that?

Justin Jordan: Well, I’m a Christian.  That’s my religious background.  I included Cain because I’m familiar with his story.  The idea that he was the first murderer appealed to me.   There’s also a theme about sons who fail to live up to the expectations of their fathers.    God is not Cain’s father in a biological or human sense, but God is the father of all creation.  Cain broke one of his laws and paid the price, thus becoming a disappointment to him.    

I considered the possibility that some people might be offended, but I decided to just roll with it.  Surprisingly enough, a lot of people never made the connection.  I’ve always found that interesting.  I would think that anyone who grew up in a relatively religious household would pick up on it the minute they see what’s going on in that flashback scene.  Those who don’t tend to miss it entirely until they hear the librarian talk about it later on in the series.  Nobody’s been pissed off about it, or at least they haven’t made me aware of it.  On the other hand, I got a lot of anger and hate mail for titling one of my back matter pieces “Why I Hate Midi-chlorians” or “Fuck You George Lucas.” 

Scott Wilson: If a Luther Strode film ever got made, what themes and story elements would you want emphasized?  Would you want it to be more of a slasher film or a superhero film?   

Justin Jordan: I’d probably want the superhero aspects emphasized more so than the slasher aspects.  The human relationships are the heart of the story.  There’s Luther’s romance with Petra.  There’s also his relationship with his mother, as well as his friendship with Pete.  I think those elements would translate much better in feature-length superhero film.  That juxtaposition might be more difficult to achieve in a feature-length slasher film. 

Scott Wilson: Will there ever be a Luther Strode action figure?     

Justin Jordan: God I hope so!  I would love to have one.  Nobody’s approached me about doing that as of yet.  I don’t know how to make that happen on my own.  I do know a woman named Michelle Coffee made a “plushie version,” which was oh-so-friggin’ adorable! 

Michelle Coffee's Luther Strode Plushy

Scott Wilson: If you had conceived Luther Strode as a Black character, would you have written him differently?

Justin Jordan: Probably not.  That’s a hard question to answer, being that I’m a white guy.  I think a lot of the experiences that Luther has are common to everyone.  I also think that race is probably secondary to those experiences.  However, there’d certainly be things that you need to consider in regards to the Black experience in America.  I don’t know. 

Thinking about it, that’s a good question.  The prejudice that a Black person in the same situation might experience changes the context quite a bit.  

Shadowman making short work of a pair of demons.

Scott Wilson: Both Luther Strode and Shadowman deal with the supernatural to some extent, yet both feel very distinct from one another.  Was it difficult to achieve that kind of distinction?

Justin Jordan: No.  It’s part of my creative process.  Readers can’t see what goes on behind the scenes.  I do a lot of background work on both titles.  That way, both worlds become distinct in my head.  The conceit in Luther Strode is that one can gain control of their body in such a way that gives them superpowers.  That’s one step away from reality.  In Shadowman, the idea is that magic really exists.  I wrote up a long document that outlines the rules of magic, and how they line up with the rules of the Valiant Universe.  It shows how everything makes sense in conjunction with one another.   I plan out everything in such a way that it’s not difficult for me to make the necessary distinctions. 

I’m also helped by the constrictions and restraints that are in place.  I can’t just have Shadowman punch a regular human’s head off.  I can do that with a demon, but not a human being.  Shadowman can’t use profanity.  I’m not going to have anybody as foulmouthed as Petra that book.  All of that goes a long way in making those titles distinct from one another when you’re working alone.  For me, the real trick is making sure that I don’t recycle some of the same sarcastic jokes in each book. 

Scott Wilson: How long does it take you to write a single issue of Luther Strode or Shadowman?

Justin Jordan: It varies from series to series and issue to issue.  Luther Strode is much faster to write than Shadowman, for a number of reasons.   It can take me a couple of weeks to write an issue of Shadowman, whereas I can write an issue of Luther Strode in three to four days.  A given issue of Shadowman tends to go through a lot of different drafts.  I work in conjunction with editors Warren Simons and Judy LeHeup.  I was also working with artist Patrick Zircher for a time.  Those factors can make the creative process take a bit longer. 

It also depends on how satisfied I am with the final product.  Usually, when I finish writing an issue, it’ll be about 95% of what I want it to be.  Other times, if it doesn’t meet my personal standards, I’ll just say “fuck it” and start over from scratch.  I just chuck out the draft and start all over again.  In those cases, it has taken me as long as two weeks to get an issue through, where I want it to be.  For the most part, the process is fairly brief. 

Scott Wilson: What attracted you to a comic like Shadowman? 

Justin Jordan: I liked the Valiant books from the early 1990’s, Shadowman in particular.  I’d heard that they (Valiant Comics) were going to reboot their entire universe.  I wanted to get in on the ground floor, and have a direct hand in shaping the current incarnation of Shadowman.  It’s nice being in the foundational series of a universe that isn’t beholden to continuity that was established over 20-50 years.  I liked the idea of writing a character that’s based in New Orleans, which was most interesting.  Furthermore, I liked the idea of trying to mesh superheroes with the supernatural.  I wanted to see if I could make that combination work to my satisfaction.  Other people had managed to do it, but I wasn’t sure if I could.  I liked the idea of a character who inherits a power with a mind of its own.  It’s not necessarily something that he can control.  That was fairly intriguing.  I thought there was something interesting I could do with it. 

Scott Wilson:  Is there anything you have coming out in the near future that fans should keep an eye out for?

Justin Jordan: I’m writing Superboy from DC right now.  If you like Luther Strode, you’ll probably like my run on Superboy.  Obviously, it’s not nearly as foul mouthed or as violent, because I have to write Superboy to a PG-13 standard.  Nevertheless, it’s still fun.  I’m also writing New Guardians for DC as well.  I have an unannounced creator owned project that will come out sometime this year, I hope.  We’ll definitely announce that fairly soon.  Next year we’ll be doing The Legacy of Luther Strode, which will wrap up the trilogy.  That’s all the stuff I’ve got going on right now.   


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