Mattel is looking to replicate the success of Ben 10 with their new series Max Steel, and its early popularity has prompted VIZ to greenlight an all-ages graphic novel series which recently hit shelves. The latest volume, Max Steel: Haywire, pits the cybernetic superhero duo of Max and Steel against his old enemies the Elementors and a new threat which writer Tom Pinchuk calls a “21st century digital plague.”
Pinchuk’s name might be familiar to indie comics readers for his work on Hybrid Bastards and Unimaginable, but for the past few years he’s been spending his time working in animation. Currently, the Los Angeles-based scribe is working on a top secret animation project with the comics veteran / animation tycoons Man of Action Studios, and according to him he’s parlaying what he’s learned from Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau into Max Steel’s foray into comics.
Working with artist Jan Wijngaard, Pinchuk’s Max Steel: Haywire mixes classic boys adventure with high tech heroics that’s fit for all ages. Newsarama spoke witn Pinchuk about the Max Steel series to bring readers up to speed with the character, this new graphic novel volume, and also trying to pry some secrets out about his upcoming collaboration with Man of Action.
Newsarama: Despite it’s popularity as an animated series, some people are out of the loop with Max Steel. What can you tell u about him and these graphic novels you’re writing?
Tom Pinchuk: Max Steel’s the newest, coolest, most turbo-powered, symbiotic, cybernetic superhero to ever zoom across the cosmos. I’ve written a triple-sized epic, Max Steel: Haywire, that spins the cutting edge right around - - pitting the tech-savy Max against technology that’s gone utterly mad. How about that?
Nrama: And who exactly is Maxwell McGrath and Steel?
Pinchuk: Max is just your average American kid… who also happens to be a living battery surging with Turbo Energy. His father’s been missing for years under mysterious circumstances. And, as it comes to light, his mother was once part of an underground organization, N-Tek, which has been secretly protecting Earth from extraterrestrial threats.
So… Max’s got a lot more on his plate than whatever mystery meat’s being served at the cafeteria today.
Steel is the aforementioned symbiote! He’s a biomechanical “Ultra-Link” who’s the same age as Max (in Ultra-Link years, anyway). When he links up with Max, they turn into Max Steel, a superhero with an impressive arsenal of Turbo gadgets and Speed, Strength and Flight modes.
To stress the point again, the series could really be called Max & Steel. The duo can only do all these amazing things when they’re linked up. They’d be helpless if they tried fighting all the bad guys alone. Don’t get the idea that the partnership’s always copacetic, though. These boys are constantly busting each other’s chops. And that’s my favorite part, honestly.
Nrama: So what’s the story of Max Steel: Haywire itself?
Pinchuk: What at first looks like another routine tussle with these bad guys, the Elementors, quickly spirals out of control. A mega computer virus is let loose on Copper Canyon, Max’s hometown. Suddenly, all machines are acting erratically, or shutting down all together. The whole city’s plunged into chaos.
Suddenly, Max can’t rely on this computer network he’s always taken for granted. Suddenly, even his allies in the super-secret organization, N-Tek, are left in the dark. The clock’s ticking. The virus is spreading rapidly. And nobody can just pull the answers up in a search bar.
Max is going to have to roll his sleeves up, grit his teeth and play things ‘old school’ if he’s going to have any hope of stopping this 21st century digital plague.
And then there’s that mysterious stranger, lurking in the shadows during all the calamity. Fans of the show are in store for something extra special. Perhaps they’ll meet an important, new villain in these pages before he makes his debut on screen…?
Nrama: Speaking of the show, how would you compare this comic and that series?
Pinchuk: We did our best to get the comic right in step with the show. There was a lot of back-and-forth with the licensors to make sure Max acts like Max, Steel talks like Steel, and the story fits into a precise place in series continuity.
That said, we obviously don’t have the same run-time and budget limitations a weekly show in a half-hour slot must deal with. We got the space to make this a proper Max Steel epic. When Max races to stop a missile threat, I can have him chasing down a whole swarm of rockets. When N-Tek assaults the bad guys’ base, you better believe it’s with the whole force of Jump Jets, not just one or two.
And that brings up another major comparison point - - Jan Wijngaard, the artist. Didn’t matter what I threw at him in the script, he could handle the most outrageous scenarios without cracking a sweat. Obviously, the comic looks like the cartoon, but it’s still coming through his unique artistic style. Fans of Max Steel are getting the very cool opportunity to see the series through a different set of eyes here.
Nrama: Max Steel has a long history, going back to toys, two animated series, and even comics previously. How would you describe the franchise itself and what it offers for today’s readers?
Pinchuk: The first series started in 2000, I believe. Max was an adult agent, and his adventures were more of a mash-up of spy games and extreme sports. It was really, really popular in Latin America (from everything I’ve encountered while promoting this comic).
The whole franchise got rebooted last year. Now, Max is your classic teen superhero - - a good kid balancing high school with a double-life battling against extraterrestrial threats - - but there’s this major twist in him being bound to a biomechanical alien symbiote.
Now, what does the franchise offer today’s readers…?
Hah. You mean aside from cool toys and awesome action? Well, I’d say it actually makes good on the whole ethos of teamwork that a lot of these series espouse. It’s not about a hero and his sidekick. It’s about a true partnership. And that’s a very fun change of pace.
Nrama: How did you come to be involved with VIZ to write these Max Steel comics?
Pinchuk: Let’s call it a ‘multimedia Mobius strip’ - - comics led to animation, which then led back to comics.
One of the editors at VIZ, Joel Enos, had known me from my comics. We’d wanted to work together for a while, but my credits were largely these weird, mature readers, indy titles. They were a bit too far afield of Perfect Square. To convince licensors I could handle writing all-ages, we really needed some material in that specific wheelhouse to show them I was a good fit.
Interestingly enough, those same comics caught the eyes of Man of Action, and they picked me to write for them on an animated series they were putting together. Once I had that credit on my resume, Joel had a better case to convince the powers-that-be.
These guys are all champs. I’m real lucky to have gotten to work with all of them. They looked at my writing, saw something that wasn’t obvious at first glance, and I’m finally getting to show that off in Haywire. It’s my first all-ages comics, and it was a floor-to-the-ceiling blast to work on.
Nrama: In addition to this, you’re also working on a top-secret animation project with comic vets at Man of Action Studios, who created Ben 10. You have a background as a comics writer, so can you describe what you’re doing with them?
Pinchuk: It’s an animated action-adventure, much in the same vein as Max Steel and Ben 10. I’ve written some episodes, picking the plot up from the larger story arc that Man of Action has masterminded. The show hasn’t been formally announced here yet, so I can’t get much more specific…!
Nrama: We’ll give you that, but how is working with the progenitors of Ben 10 affected how you write Max Steel?
Pinchuk: Getting involved with a cartoon before any character designs have even been finalized is, in all wordplay, an eye-opening experience.
First, you’re writing with only rough concept art available. You don’t have a completed show there for reference. You still have to imagine a lot of things. Then, you hand the script off, it goes to the animators, and you don’t see how the episode will actually look until months and months later. I kept track of how things differed from what I pictured - - what was kept, cut, shortened or expanded - - and tried to keep an open mind about understanding why.
Another learning moment came when I was working off the series bible at the start. You study this thick document, and it’s all laid out there. A concrete plan. Not just the story - - the whole franchise. Forget about how the heroes get from Point A to Point Z. What exact audience reaction is expected? What specific wishes are being fulfilled? Each question had an explicit answer, with clear thought behind it. It got me seeing the bigger picture.
Honestly, prior to this, if you’d asked me to write an all-ages story, I would’ve been tempted to take all the bite out. And that’s the worst thing you can do. Nobody at any age - - kid or adult, human or Ultra-Link - - will get excited about a story that’s “safe.” So I aimed for Haywire to still feel dangerous (even while we kept things appropriate).
Nrama: So far there are three volumes out – do you and VIZ have plans for more?
Pinchuk: Bag’s packed. Boots are laced. Tank’s filled with rocket fuel. I’m ready to zoom off with Max and Steel for another intergalactic adventure at a moment’s notice. And I’d leap at the chance to work with Jan again.
But… it’s your hand that’s hovering over the launch button. Plan’s up to you. Buy these books. Tell Viz and Mattel that you want more.