Story of a Bad, Bad Family: James Kuhoric on 'Dead Irons'

“99 Innocent Souls

6 Undead Monsters

1 Shot to save the world”

That’s how writer James (Army of Darkness) Kuhoric describes the upcoming Dead Irons miniseries, hitting early next year from Dynamite Entertainment. The five issue miniseries, featuring interior art by Jason Alexander (newly exclusive to Dynamite) and covers by Jae Lee tells the story of the Irons clan, a family of shapeshifting outlaws in the Old West. Their only problem? One of their own stands against them, determined to end the family’s curse forever.

We spoke with Kuhoric for more.

Newsarama: First things first James, how did you end up writing Dead Irons?

James Kuhoric: I’ve been writing licensed comics for over a decade now. It’s kind of funny, I actually saw one of my books described as being written by “veteran comics writer James Kuhoric” in a recent article. It doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long, but in that time I’ve had the pleasure of creating stories for some of my favorite television and movie properties. There comes a time in every creator’s career when they want to tell their own story, something that has been eating away at their insides waiting for the right forum to be told. Dead Irons is that story for me. The characters and plot have been evolving in my mind since I was in high school. It is the culmination of a lifetime of enjoying the best (and sometimes worst) in horror movies and literature that lead me to this opportunity. I’ve always had a passion for things that make your skin crawl and give you nightmares. The characters in Dead Irons are scary not just because they are physically creatures, but because inside deep down, they were psychologically twisted human monsters that became something even worse (but we’ll talk about that later in the article).

About two years ago I put my ideas and story into a brief pitch outline to show around to a few publishers. The first person I showed it to was Nick Barrucci, owner of Dynamite Entertainment. Because I always think of him as a friend first, I was really just hoping for him to tell me if he thought it was any good or not. The answer came within thirty minutes of the pitch email. He had read it and immediately had a vision of how good it could be. Nick had shared the pitch with Jae Lee who also really clicked with the characters and story. Jae had said that he “could see the characters” and that he wanted to be a part of this. I was blown away by both of their reactions. These are two guys that I respect not only as visionaries in their fields, but as close friends and their interest in the story made me even more eager to tell it.

NRAMA: Horror and Western are two genres that we see mixing more and more often, especially in comics....why does this peanut butter and this chocolate seem to taste so good together?

JK: As strange as this may sound, I think it really has a lot to do with believability. The old west was a hard and ruthless time in our history. Modern technology was in its infancy and people lived off a harsh and unyielding environment in which the rule of the gun was often the rule of the land. Civility was largely unknown and a closely masked barbarism ruled in many of the more remote territories. In this brutal environment it isn’t hard to imagine the basest creatures of nightmare hiding amid the population and feeding on their collective fears. Ask yourself this, what is easier to picture, a werewolf running through modern day New York City or skulking through the dusty streets of an Old West town? And to take it a step further, it is pretty easy to see how the marriage of environment matches up so well with the supernatural. Make sure you check out the Wicked West trade paperbacks by my friends Neil Vokes and Bob Tinnel for some other great western horror tales.

NRAMA: Set up the premise here - a shapeshifting family? Sketch them out a little...what kind of things do they do, and where do they come from?

JK: The Irons family is definitely the focal point of the series. A more accurate description of them would be to call them a “cursed family” though, more so than a strictly “shape-shifting” family. The children of Devin Irons are afflicted with curses of legend and they wear them like a badge of horror. Each has a different affliction and their young human personalities have helped to shape how they wear those scars. Their upraising was pulled from one of the most terrifying scenarios imaginable, a father who outwardly is a man of the cloth but inwardly is a sadistic and self centered fiend. Driven by lust for power and insane interpretations of scripture, he turns these children’s lives into a tumultuous festering black hole of horror. Even without the curse that he brings down on them, you’ll easily see how the siblings become twisted effigies of how normal children should be. We will see through the story that the salvation of Silas largely comes from the intervention of a kind soul during his formative years. One beacon of light in a lifetime of bleak despair is what separates him from the monsters his brothers and sister have become. It’s a testament to our fundamental need for compassion and understanding during the formative years of life.

The characters themselves are so much more than a quick snippet of description. Each one has a personality and motivations that go far beyond what they can do. For purposes of this interview, we can try to break them down by their basest characteristics, but the real fun is in the execution within the sequential story. You have to read the tale to really understand them.

Jesse Irons is the eldest of the siblings. His affliction is in his blood and in the cold and completely uncaring actions of his ruthless demeanor. Jesse is a blood drinker and his hatred of every living creature is only surpassed by his own self loathing.

Annie Belle is the lone female of the group. Torn between personalities she alternates between a demonic desire to taunt and destroy the living and a lost piece of the little girl that grew up protecting her brothers from the insanity of their father.

Colt is a bear of a man with the strength and ferocity of a rabid beast. His mind is animalistic and simple in ways but his demeanor incorporates the most competitive traits of the pack leader. If something gets in Colt’s path, it will most likely be rendered limb-from-limb in short order.

Silas is the youngest of the siblings and the one that recognizes the need to end the family curses. He feels the plight of the innocent and does his best to help those that can’t help themselves. But that includes himself. Silas is empty inside and that hole in his heart barely allows him to hold back the building fury within him. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that he can either rescue his sister or free her soul from the curse they all bear.

Devin Irons is a jackal in the guise of a lamb. Twisting the word of God to his own purposes he cares only for the power he can attain at the cost of his soul. His corrupt and cruel parenting created the real monsters within his children and his sacrifice of their souls did the rest. If there is a black heart of the family it lies within the rotting torso of Devin Irons.

NRAMA: What inspirations are you pulling from on these supernatural creatures?

JK: Some of the afflictions are taken from classic literature and others are a mix of legend and film. But as I said a little earlier, the actual curses are much less important than the horror that turned them into the creatures they became. I always loved vampire and werewolf movies. But the one thing that bothered me was that these characters were evil just because that’s how they are “supposed to be.” There usually wasn’t more to their one dimensional portrayals other than their powers and their need to be bad. We have taken a far different approach to the characters in Dead Irons. Yes they have supernatural powers and do fall prey to lusts and excess, but those are driven by their own personalities and not the curse. Jesse Irons places no value on any life but his own. He would kill and feed on an innocent as soon as look at them, but we see how that anti social behavior develops and manifests. It’s not just an inherent thing with him. And you’ll see that resplendent cold calculation behind his actions when he peels the skin off a living victim.

NRMA: As you mentioned Silas is opposing them - a sibling. Why'd he split with the family?

JK: The split of the Irons family is a major theme in the series. Beneath the surface tale of corruption and redemption is the underlying story of a dysfunctional and fractured family. That is where many of the scariest scenes of the series come from, seeing what happened to make these people into the demons they become. Our characters aren’t one dimensional monsters that are evil because that’s how you expect them to act, these are people who have become creatures and brought their own inner demons along with them. You will see the ruthless environment that turned these siblings into the misshapen horrors they became. Jesse Irons is a black hearted killer and his deepest hatred is for his youngest brother, Silas. This misplaced hatred began in the dysfunctional and destructive family environment that he was raised in. You’ll see every ugly event leading up to their current conflict in chilling flashbacks to atrocious childhood traumas.

Silas is trying to end the family curse and stop the heedless death and terror that follow his brothers and sister around like buzzards after a kill. His own affliction twists his guts into a knot as he sees untainted men and women living out the existence he so longs for. It is the potential to save his sister, Annie Belle, which keeps him focused on his goals and moving forward instead of giving in to the rage inside of him. Silas is the one hope for salvation the family has. But they view him as a freak who denies his own fate and they have nothing but contempt for him and his cause. These siblings are heading for a reckoning of biblical proportions and when they clash, bullets and blood will fly.

NRAMA: On art, you’ve got Jason Alexander, recently of Abe Sapien: The Drowning at Dark Horse) and, as you mentioned Jae Lee - please do gush about the art...

JK: It simply doesn’t get better than this! Jae Lee and Jason Alexander are phenomenal talents and really are the reason that Dead Irons is as special as it is. A big part of making this series was finding the right visionaries to breathe life (or unlife in this case) into the Dead Irons world. Jae has shown the world his ability to bring western horror to life with his phenomenal work on the Dark Tower books. If you are like me and read those Stephen King classics about Roland over and over, you knew how hard it would be for anyone to try to flesh them out in comics. Jae understood the books and really outdid anything I’ve ever seen in comics. He brought that same passion to this project and has really been a personal inspiration to me with his enthusiasm and encouragement. Thanks, Jae – you are and always will be the best!

So you have a superstar like Jae Lee doing your design and cover work. Who can you possibly get to do interiors that can match up to the amazing work Jae is doing? I knew Jason’s work from Abe Sapien, Damnation, and Queen and Country. Because his style was so dark and detailed, it was the perfect choice for developing the sequential story from Jae’s character designs and our scripts. The atmosphere and detail work he did was a perfect fit for telling our dark western tale. When he turned in the first few pages from the series we were all amazed at how incredible it was. You’ve got the preview pages of Dead Irons here [note – flip through them at the top of the article], so then you’ve seen my favorite piece from the book so far. The possessed form of Annie Belle Irons floats several feet above the floor of the tavern in full demonic thrall. It is an amazing piece of illustration and every page he has done has the same intensity. Jason is a phenomenal artist and someone I’m proud to call a friend and collaborator.

With an illustration team like this, I can guarantee that fans are going to want to give it a shot. As a fan, I can’t wait to see the finished book. Our intention is that it will read like a classic spaghetti western with all the teeth of your favorite hardcore horror flicks.

NRAMA: One last one James - what gets the ball rolling in issue #1?

JK: The first issue introduces the main characters and starts to give you a close up look at what drives each of them. In somewhat classic Sergio Leone pacing and fashion you have to make certain assumptions about who are the good, the bad, and the ugly early on in the story, but it is soon revealed through brutal events unfolding in rapid succession. Three undead siblings tear through a small town viciously collecting a bounty for the head of a killer. On their trail a lone figure follows, desperate to catch them and longing for the salvation of his lost half sister. We walk with these monsters and see through their eyes as the forces drawing them together are played out. If you aren’t repulsed by the actions and beliefs of some of the characters from the beginning then we haven’t done our jobs right. These monsters are ruthless and they value nothing save their own desires and machinations.

Issue one sets the stage for a massive showdown between blood relatives and creatures of the night. The action is intense and the scenes are disturbing. Flashbacks take us into these characters childhood and show the twisted and sickening environment that made them monsters long before their curse changed them into fiends. There is something for every horror fan in this story and the first issue sets the table and acts as the appetizer for the bloody feast to come.

Finally, I just want to say that this series is very special and if it doesn’t disturb you with some of the visions within it, nothing will. Good luck sleeping after you’ve read Dead Irons. The nightmares will follow you well into the future.

99 Innocent Souls

6 Undead Monsters

1 Shot to save the world

Dead Irons

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