Bryan J.L. Glass Gets FURIOUS with Dark Horse & the Lack of Female Characters
CREDIT: Dark Horse Comics
At the end of this month, Dark Horse is offering readers yet another opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of superheroes in its most recent series: FURIOUS. This new, creator-owned series from writer, Bryan J.L. Glass (Mice Templar, Ship of Fools) and artist, Victor Santos (Mice Templar, Polar), hits newsstands on January 29th. This title character hopes to make her mark through embracing some of the more familiar tropes of contemporary superhero comics as well as introducing the search for hope in a broken world and increasingly dark and grim genre.
Bryan J.L. Glass took some time from his busy schedule to talk with Newsarama about fan reception to his heroine's initial appearance in Dark Horse Presents #31, her first upcoming issue, and his thoughts on the superhero genre as a whole.
Newsarama: FURIOUS made her first appearance last month in the pages of Dark Horse Presents #31. What's the response been so far from fans and critics?
Bryan J.L. Glass: As "FURIOUS: Role Model" was but a single 8-page story in an anthology with nine other amazing stories, including Hellboy and Mind Mgmt., we didn't receive many critical reviews, yet fan response was outstanding! The series has been cloaked in a bit of mystery since its announcement last September, and that is due to how much of the series is about our lead heroine, the woman dubbed "FURIOUS" by the local media, trying to keep her true identity a secret even more so than your average masked adventurer. For her, the past she keeps so desperately secret is also what drives her to be a hero. The DHP short story couldn't explore any of this yet, so the challenge was developing a tale that would give readers a taste of what was to come without actually revealing anything. Response, however, was particularly strong and positive after the short was offered online for free. It definitely appears we succeeded in our goal to entice without revealing.
Nrama: You've been writing comics for about twenty-five years now, most notably, your work on the critically acclaimed Mice Templar. While this isn't your first time writing superheroes, it is your first time at the helm of an on-going superhero title. Why now?
Glass: I'd have done this long ago if given the opportunity. Our industry is an entertainment field and subject to many of the same practices as its Hollywood counterpart. Creators are known for what they've done. Editors, publishers, and even some fans, are quick to put writers and artists in boxes with labels. This guy writes horror. This woman specializes in psychological quirks. This team does humor. These creators specialize in space opera. For the past 5+ years, my box has been labeled "Anthropomorphic Fantasy". I've realized for quite a while that I needed to break out of that box with a concept high profile enough to get noticed. If I want to write horror (as I do), as well as sci-fi, then I also have to offer up our industry's bread and butter in an interesting and unique way…and that's superheroes!
Despite my desire to be a storyteller first and foremost, and not bound by any particular genre, I'm still enamored of colorful heroes. They are marvelous metaphors as so much of their subtext is already on the surface, already understood and accepted by the audience, and most fans are then anxious to discover what else lies beneath. FURIOUS has layers to spare. And hopefully my previously established success with "anthropomorphic high fantasy" will help me not get labeled as the latest expert in "troubled superheroines."
Nrama: What comics were most influential on your writing of FURIOUS? Were there any other sources that influenced your writing (novels, movies, etc)?
Glass: Long before she was to become FURIOUS, my original influence for the first of several incarnations of this character was Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's 1988 Daredevil: Born Again. In that classic tale (and hopefully 25+ years is enough to disregard any charges of needing a spoiler warning), an arch villain discovers our hero's identity and then uses that knowledge to dismantle the character of all his outer trappings, reducing them to their primal core; but instead of breaking our hero, the hellish journey strips him to his foundation instead. It is exhilarating storytelling on every level. My original desire was to apply that similar journey to the least likely character I could think of. The last hero or heroine anybody would ever expect of having a grim 'n gritty side and/or a profound inner core. And that's when my own creative journey on this character began.
FURIOUS is no longer a heroine dismantled by an archenemy before our eyes, she's already been undone by the worst villain imaginable—herself. Her breaking is over, and FURIOUS has emerged with a flourish…only to discover reinventing oneself isn't so easy. It's even harder when the reinvention isn't merely of image, but of deeply rooted character flaws. The old FURIOUS remains in the background, ever ready to undo whatever good the new FURIOUS might achieve. Hers becomes a terrible journey of one step forward, two steps back.
Nrama: In past interviews, you stated that "FURIOUS is an exploration of the human condition regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or culture." From looking at the short story included in Dark Horse Presents #31 and now FURIOUS #1 coming out January 29th, I'm curious why you felt the superhero genre was the right choice for the examination of the human experience?
Glass: If anyone sets out with an agenda to fuel their fiction then all you're going to get is propaganda…and the only readers who like that are those already committed to that particular cause. The last thing any storyteller should set out to be is a propagandist for their own crusade, no matter how strongly they believe in it. Thus, FURIOUS arrives at a curious time for me, where the drumbeat for "strong female characters" has never been louder.
As a fan of strong independent women (I married one), I fully support this movement, as well as long for the day when such is the norm and no longer requires a movement to make it valid. But throughout my life I have had notoriously bad professional timing: I started self-publishing as Lost Cause Productions in the mid-90s, long after that 80s phenomenon had run its course; I got in at Caliber, just as Bendis & Mack were leaving; I had a B&W at Image Comics under Jim Valentino, just after their black 'n white experiment of '97 was drying up; and of course, my four years developing a mouse warrior saga didn't see print until a year following another previously unknown creator pioneered tremendous success in the same genre. FURIOUS then marks the first time in my professional career that a character and series long in gestation is about to hit the marketplace at the best time possible! And that's where I balk.
I didn't choose to enter that discussion of strong female characters, evaluate all the data before me, and Lo…Behold—FURIOUS is born! Again, that would reduce her to propaganda: a character and story in service to a cause. I never wanted FURIOUS to be received as just another answer to that great gender debate. She isn't about that debate. She was never intended to be part of that discussion. She just happens to be coming out at long, long last at exactly the same time the debate is raging. And I couldn't be more pleased that I finally appear to have the right book at the right time.
As I said in that previous interview (available here), despite gender and social class, FURIOUS is about brokenness, and a desire to do the right thing. That is human; both sides of it. That transcends all the biases we use to separate people into labeled boxes. And the larger-than-life soapbox of superheroes is a perfect place in which to see beyond the power and beauty without and explore the interior failure within.
Nrama: It seems many superhero stories today continue to trod down the path of the dark, gritty, and ultra-violent that so many comics have taken since 1986; however, it seems like FURIOUS is a character struggling against this trope even as it's being forced on her. What are your thoughts about superheroes and the sense of joy & wonder that used to be associated with these mythical characters, and how do you see it factoring into this heroine's journey?
Glass: First, if I can address your observation about FURIOUS as a character—the point you made about her resisting a trope forced upon her is one of the ways this story does resonate directly with the issues the female audience is currently expressing displeasure about. This woman is unique, with her superpowers truly setting her apart from every other human being on Earth (at least for now), yet a media system labels her. She wants to be "The Beacon" yet a male reporter saddles her with what could be considered a negative title: she's "FURIOUS." It's an observation, but more so an indictment. And deep down, FURIOUS struggles with the truth that this label is a far more accurate descriptor than her desire. She can rail against the label and the system that boxed her, yet only reinforce the label by how she does so. How she ultimately struggles against that system, as well as her own inner darkness, is part of her heroic journey. And that brings me back to your actual question regarding that lost sense in the joy and wonder of superheroes…
Children are enamored by superheroes, first and foremost I believe, by the colorful costumes, and then by the superhuman feats of strength, flight, and physical prowess. It is not the desire to be good that attracts the child, yet the truth and justice applied to the colorful crusader can still reinforce their hero as a behavior to be emulated. Thus, children can be equally enamored of Superman and Spider-Man as clear-cut heroes, while still attracted to the darkness of Batman, the ferocity of Wolverine, and the often child-like tantrums of the Hulk. The superhero genre touches something in its audience.
Nrama: So how do the "grim and gritty" postmodern elements coincide with our original love of these inspirational characters?
Glass: I'm sure others can or have articulated this far better that me, but I consider the appeal of the grim 'n gritty approach to superheroes to be about validating a perceived childhood fixation for an adult. As children, our heroes are as simple as we perceive life to be. As we mature, we want heroes who mature with us. As adults, we live in a world of suffocating gray everywhere we turn. The love of those superheroes we grew up with in simpler times calls us back, yet our adult cynicism sees right through them. Grim 'n gritty became a way for our heroes to truly grow up with us. And like every other expression of anything, there are those who do it well, and those who merely mimic a form failing to understand what's beneath it.
The dark side of this for some, as I perceive it, is that the "superhero" can also become embraced by many as an expression of one's own personal agenda—an unquestioned, untouchable force that reduces their professed hero to little more than a super-powered bully. But the same can be said of any fictional character regardless of the genre or medium. It just becomes easier with superheroes because the bombast is so in your face!
Nrama: And FURIOUS brings these seemingly different sides of the genre together.
Glass: For FURIOUS, she lives in a world where superheroes exist only as fantasy, in comic books, games, TV & movies, greater media. Hers is not a universe of established heroes, super-teams or generational legacies. She receives super-powers, and her response is to become what she imagines the public would embrace. Her desire is that which can easily call anybody to a career in law enforcement, the medical profession, education, the clergy, a firefighter or soldier—a desire to help others. There is purity to it. But if one brings only their naivety to their calling, bitter disappointment will follow. That is her journey. And that is what attracts the audience to the tale.
The wonder of the hero reveling in their newfound powers is fun and exhilarating, yet short lived. Spider-Man doesn't resonate with us because he's always web-slinging from building to building as if for the first time. Peter Parker resonates because we remember all the times he wanted to give up but didn't. Persevering against impossible odds is what inspires me. Claiming victory when even our own darkest heart told us we would fail is what brings the joy and wonder of superheroes back for me.
FURIOUS is dark. FURIOUS is grim. FURIOUS is gritty. But instead of languishing in a nihilistic world, FURIOUS strives in the hope that there's something worth living for after all.
Nrama: Continuing to take a cue from some of your past remarks concerning this character, you mentioned how "One of the many plights FURIOUS finds herself entangled in is the fight for her own personal identity," a fight which is typically instigated by the mass media. What prompted you to take aim at the media with this story?
Glass: The very first teaser image for FURIOUS posed the question: Do we build our heroes up, just to see them fall?
This answer is another example of my not having chosen where the story has led. There was no effort on my part to "take aim" at anything. The character FURIOUS has secrets, which in our own world would unravel her good press. As her motivation is personal redemption, she must maintain her anonymity at all costs. Yet we see what our own media does every time we log on to our favorite social media sites—every day is highlighted by the scandal of a politician, athlete or the performer du jour. Our very culture feeds off controversy and a perceived right to know and judge everything about everyone else. The world of FURIOUS is no different. This approach to media in the series is necessitated by the precarious position of its heroine.
One doesn't seek redemption unless they believe they've done something they need to make right. For FURIOUS, there is no single dark mistake that wrought tragic consequences from which a heroine is born. FURIOUS isn't seeking to make right for that lone terrible deed. Hers is a lifetime of actions and attitude, aided and abetted by others surely, but also of her own conscious choice. And should the media ever discover her true identity then everything good she fought for others, but especially herself, will unravel. If that indicts the media, and our very culture by proxy, then it's a byproduct of the storytelling and not original intent.
Nrama: It's interesting that you note the struggle you face as a writer when it comes to being pigeon-holed by a media industry - in this case, comics - while your character also faces a similar struggle against external labels from the media. Is Bryan J.L. Glass secretly FURIOUS? :)
Glass: If I told you my bra size, then I'd have to kill you.
But on a more serious note, as if my stunning pecs weren't drop-dead serious enough, I would definitely have to concede an influence. When not doing specific research for a new project, writers write what they know. In this case, I understand my heroine's frustration. I can infuse her pathos with an honest slice of my own. Unfortunately for FURIOUS, I get to work out my angst on her, while she, alas, has no such alter ego to deflect her own rage against…or does she? I'd say more, but that would be far too spoilerrific!
Nrama: Obviously, you're not alone in your efforts in producing FURIOUS. What can you tell us about your collaborator on this series?
Glass: I want to mention the contributions of Victor Santos who is, not only providing covers, interior pencils and inks, but also coloring his own pages! It is truly an artistic tour de force performance that Victor is delivering on this series.
While I had a very clear-cut vision of what I wanted FURIOUS the comic to be about, I offered Victor total freedom to design not only characters but also the look of the book. I had originally envisioned one of those uber-realistic styles, so there was a nervous hesitation in surrendering that aspect of my vision to him. But the morning my inbox was bursting with Victor's extraordinary character designs…I was ready to have his children! Much to my wife and his girlfriend's relief, we settled on only giving birth to the best story we could tell.
Victor's designs, layout, and storytelling acumen make me feel the emotion of every scene he translates from script to board. For example, issue #1 features a car chase. Such things are notoriously tricky in comics for multiple reasons. Speed is motion. Comics are static. Automobiles are solid objects, and not prone to the power of an otherwise distorted Jack Kirby punch that knocks the reader out of their chair with the power the artist imbues the pose. Car chases in comics are usually boring and devoid of genuine tension and suspense their cinematic counterparts have. I was nervous having paced and scripted one out. But I challenge anybody to read those car chase pages in issue #1 and not feel the speed, the physical and emotional desperation of that action. And that is what it's like to work with Victor Santos. As I learned through working with him for five years on Mice Templar, anything the writer can conceive of, Victor will deliver in excess of expectation.
I took a chance opening my series with a car chase because I knew Victor Santos would take every reader on the most exhilarating ride of their lives!
Nrama: What sorts of surprises are in store for FURIOUS in the coming months? Any hints or teases?
Glass: Psychopathic mothers. Corrupt self-righteous cops. A really spooky serial killer. And a seriously disturbed Tabloid Queen who knows more about our heroine than even FURIOUS herself is willing to admit.
This first mini-series Fallen Star is definitely a "Year One" approach. It's less concerned with the origin of her powers, though that is hinted at via partial reveals in issue #5, and far more interested in what made her the human being that she is. As a mere mortal she's a mess. As a superhero she's a train wreck. And yet somehow born out of the fires of both is somebody artist Victor Santos and I hope readers will care about.
Volume II will follow more of a Godfather II approach: the details of her superhero origin set against her further adventures as the world comes to a greater understanding of what FURIOUS represents…and there's guaranteed to be more than one Fredo stewing in the plot.
Nrama: Any other plans in 2014 to follow your entry into the superhero genre with FURIOUS? Are there any plans for more superheroes or will you be testing other "creative waters"?
Glass: The Mice Templar will enter the Second Act of its three-part finale this spring! And I have something a little more horrific cooking up in my office, but I can't say anything more about that.
For now, I'm waiting to see how the world responds to my superheroine! A lot of love and care went into the nurturing of her story, and I have a lot more I want to unleash regarding FURIOUS!
FURIOUS #1will hit newsstands on January 29th and can also be downloaded on Dark Horse Digital. Readers can also get any updates about this new series on Twitter (@FURIOUScomic).