Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are no stranger to the lackluster response readers have to war comics these days — but Palmiotti predicts their next soldier-centered comic "will sell out in a week."
Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie launches in July as a new monthly from DC Comics, combining two genres to make a story that the writers hope appeals to "people that like The Walking Dead and Sgt. Rock."
The character known as G.I. Zombie was originally a joke between the two co-writers, as they wished to tell stories about a soldier who could do something really unexpected.
So why not tell stories about a soldier who eats people?
Called "GIZ" by his creators, Jared is a soldier of fortune who struggles with his humanity and his appetite. "Jared is someone we would love to have on our side, unless he got hungry," Palmiotti said.
Featuring art by Scott Hampton — revealed for the first time in images accompanying this story — Star-Spangled War Stories is also one of the titles participating in September's Futures End event, shifting five years later.
Newsarama talked to Palmiotti and Gray to find out more about the comic, its supporting cast, and what could happen to an undead character in five years.
Newsarama: Jimmy and Justin, just to clarify the comic before we start, is this a series of "stories" about different characters? Or is it just about this one character in particular?
Justin Gray: The book, while named Star-Spangled War Stories, is about the ongoing adventures of the bizarre character of G.I. Zombie. Yes, he eats people, so lets get that out of the way.
Jimmy Palmiotti: It is G.I.Zombie’s book, monthly, by Scott Hampton. There are no other plans for the title other than his stories. The title is a classic banner in the DC universe and must be used time to time where it would fit, and it happens to fit over this character pretty well.
Nrama: OK, so who is G.I. Zombie? How did the character even get created, and what's he like?
Gray: It began as a joke about the previous war comic we worked on G.I. Combat and how we couldn’t seem to get any traction with the title following the short lived other war comic.
I believe after looking at the declining sales, Jimmy said we should have named it G.I. Zombie and just done all this crazy stuff that was nothing like a traditional war comic.
Palmiotti: We said it out loud and Dan just loved the title and told the two or us to pitch him an idea. We came up with and Carmen and the rest of the story pretty quickly after that.
Nrama: Why do you think this guy is compelling as a character?
Gray: Being a vegan zombie. I’m kidding. He’s a mystery, he can do things and we can do things to him that are unexpected. He struggles with his humanity and his appetite and will face the fallout of what being a zombie means to people around you.
Palmiotti: He has seen it all and still retains a nice, sarcastic, creepy way about him. He is very self aware of what people think around him and with that, the pace and story of the first issue is more grounded than you might think a war comic should be, but it is a slow burn and issue #2, we get into the madness right away.
Jared is someone we would love to have on our side, unless he got hungry.
Nrama: OK, so he eats people. Does that mean the tone of this comic leans toward horror? Or is it more of a war story?
Gray: I think it is fair to say there’s a lot of genre blending and healthy bits of horror, action, and anything else we can throw in to keep it interesting. I mean, we have to see who he is when he’s not being a zombie soldier of fortune.
Palmiotti: I think the powers-that-be would have loved the first issue to have more war action, but we felt with a brand new character, we wanted to build the world around them and get to know them right away, so this issue seems to be more horror than war.
That all changes with issue #2, as it becomes a shoot-'em-up with the characters in the middle of madness.
I think as we dig into the book, we're finding a nice balance of war and horror that is something we don't see very often. I like to think this is a perfect book for people that like The Walking Dead and Sgt. Rock.
Nrama: OK, so the lead character is this zombie soldier of fortune. Who are the people around him in the story? What's the supporting cast like?
Gray: They’re an eclectic group of former soldiers, government agents, spies and so forth. A lot of the development has the book more squarely focused on GIZ, but we’ll slowly be introducing more as the series progresses. Initially, he has a very kick-ass partner in crime.
Nrama: Who's the partner? Can you tell us about the person?
Palmiotti: Carmen King is the unfortunate person teamed up with Jared, and after a few tours of duty overseas, she still was not prepared for what she's dealing with. As the book hits the half year mark, we have a full roster of supporting characters in the title that make sense to the story.
Nrama: How does this comic tie into things happening in the DCU?
Gray: That’s a secret. Isn't it?
Palmiotti: Just you wait…the DCU is a strange and wonderful place.
Nrama: OK, let me rephrase that: What corner of the DCU does he interact with initially? I mean, is he more toward the supernatural side and Justice League Dark? Or is he more attached to other secret government organizations, like the Suicide Squad? Or is he off on his own?
Gray: We’re looking to explore all of our options after we establish GIZ, who he is and how he functions before branching out into the larger DCU.
Palmiotti: There is a chance that you will be seeing him in other places. Yes.
Nrama: Fair enough. Let's talk about the September "Futures End" issue. With this type of character, it's tough to believe that much has changed with him in five years … right? But is there a new threat? Or can you describe what type of story you're looking at for September?
Gray: Hey, don't underestimate the possibilities. He’s a zombie. He could lose a toe or other extremity. Five years is a long time. Maybe he’ll be married with little zombie children on leashes running through Gotham at night feeding off criminals.
Palmiotti: Or maybe something he sees in the first two issues has a long-term effect that changes the DCU in the five years later issue and sets up something that will one day affect all the titles. Who really can tell? Wink. Wink.
Nrama: Got it. On art, you've got Scott Hampton working on the series, which gives it a unique look. How would you describe the feel you're hoping to achieve with the series by working with Scott?
Gray: Scott’s doing beautiful and atmospheric work. His style suits the character and situations we’re putting him in. It really is fantastic work.
I feel like with Scott, we’re able to ground and yet accentuate the hyper-real or hyper-surreal elements of the story.
Palmiotti: We hit the jackpot. Scott sets the tone and mood and has a real world feel that other DCU books don't have. It's creepy, sad, and cool, all at the same time.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that G.I. Combat struggled from the beginning. Why do you think G.I. Zombie's story will work where some of the other war comics released by DC haven't fared as well?
Gray: I can only hope it resonates, but we’re not telling a traditional war story — nor is this based on the comics that have come before it.
We tried with Unknown Soldier to fashion that character back into the same kind of mold of what came before. With this we’re just having fun with the character and concept.
Palmiotti: It is nothing like the other books, and that alone might be interesting to readers.
It has a True Detective pacing to it that I think will find its audience over time.
Its one of those books we hope DC previews to give readers and retailers a taste of what’s to come. With each book you experiment, and with new characters, it’s always hard to find a hardcore readership right away. DC has committed to this title and we're doing our best to make each issue as good as we can.
I know the first issue will sell out in a week. I'm taking bets on that. When people read the September book, they will be running back to get issue #1 and #2…its gonna happen.
Nrama: We heard at C2E2 that one of the cover artists on Star-Spangled War Stories, Darwyn Cooke, is also going to be providing interiors for All-Star Western #34. But fans have also noticed that All-Star Western is absent from September's "Futures End" solicitation. Will August's issue be the final one for All-Star Western?
Gray: Well technically All-Star is set in the past so five years later in a period piece wouldn't have the same effect I believe DC is going for. You’ll also note that All-Star was absent from Villains month mostly because when you cross Jonah Hex you don't get to join a rogue’s gallery you get dead.
Palmiotti: It doesn't make sense to make him part of that event. As far as 34 goes, its one of the most beautiful and heartfelt issues of the entire run. Darwyn is doing some of the best work he has ever done on this.
Nrama: Getting back to Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.E. Zombie, since you're getting an ongoing series for this character, what can you tease about your plans for the comic over the next several months after it launches?
Gray: We’re shooting for a lot of character driven action and to see if there are solid storytelling ways to get GIZ interacting with other names in the DCU. We want to see what we can get away with and how far we can push the character before standards and practices are called in for a 2319. Yes, that was a Monsters Inc. joke. I haven’t slept much or had coffee this morning.