If you’ve enjoyed the wry, witty writing of Jeff Parker on DC Comics’ Batman ’66, and his teaming with artist Sandy Jarrell on some of those Bat-stories, their upcoming collaboration from Oni Press, the original graphic novel Meteor Men, is the definition of “and now for something completely different.”
We mean that in a good way.
Meteor Men is a suspenseful, cinematic tale of alien invasion…but not how you’ve seen it before. Limited to the perspective of a small-town 16-year-old who witnesses a strange event in a meteor shower, the tale never lets up as the circumstances of the event gradually unfold, growing larger and larger…with chilling implications for humanity. And if you think you know where this story is going…you don’t.
With the book now available for pre-order, we talked with longtime friends Parker and Jarrell about the unique way this book came together, what readers can expect, and more.
Newsarama: Jeff, tell us about the plot to Meteor Men.
Jeff Parker: Simply put it’s the end of humankind on Earth and the 16 year old who becomes the pivotal figure in the process.
The focal point of Meteor Men is Alden Baylor, a teenager who has been forced to grow up a lot in the past few years after his parents’ death in an auto accident. When the story begins Alden is letting people set up in his family’s pasture to view the Perseid Meteor shower.
Alden is well liked and has friends despite a very quiet, introspective nature, but as you might expect, he’s yearning for direction – he has had to make hard choices no adolescent should. And when he meets the main alien (who doesn’t have a name or seem to understand the concept of naming) suddenly the level of tough choices becomes astronomical.
Soon, everyone is interested in what Alden is going to do next – it’s an unfair amount of responsibility for anyone.
Nrama: Sandy, I've known you and your art for a while, but you've just started putting out some comics for mass consumption the last couple of years. Where'd y'all come from, and what led to you and Parker working together on this?
Sandy Jarrell: Parker and I had some overlap at ECU way back when, and we both had strips that ran on the comics page in the East Carolinian. We stayed in touch over the years, I kept showing him whatever I was working on, and one day he visited me at my day job and asked if I wanted to make a funnybook with him. 4 years later, it’s at the printers.
Nrama: Jeff, where did the idea for this story come about?
Parker: It came from me daydreaming about how an alien invasion would probably actually play out, where it’s not little green men plotting but a species’ natural migration into a new habitat that pushes out the previous dominant race – us.
I wanted it to not be the kind of action-adventure stuff I usually do, because I feel when you do a personal project, your duty is to go into territory you often don’t. So the “hero” of it is a normal teenager, not some ass-kicker or the world’s greatest scientist.
Nrama: Sandy, say some nice things about Parker!
Jarrell: Anyone that’s downloaded them from his website knows that Parker writes engaging, conversational scripts. He knows the craft like nobody’s business, working with him has been a great learning experience.
And it’s a terrific story – logical, understated, hits all the right notes. I’m awed that it works as well as it does – we spent three years doing this in small chunks. I’d get 5-10 pages, sometimes as few as one, and the script wasn’t finished until the end of last year. It’s misleadingly seamless considering the way it was done, and I think that’s a testament to Parker’s infuriating cleverness. I’m so glad that I’ve gotten to work with him, and hope to again.
Nrama: Okay Parker, now say some nice things about Sandy!
Parker: One of the best vouchers for the talent of Sandy Jarrell is that Alex Toth stayed in correspondence with him and was interested in his development enough to send him books he thought Sandy would benefit from! When a legend of the medium (check out the Genius Animated book just out by IDW) taps your head with the sword, you can pretty much expect great things.
And I think after Meteor Men, there will be a lot of Jarrell talk and demand of his time, so I’m glad I was able to get in this project with him.
This story demands someone who can tap back into the formative years of becoming a young adult — not as TV and movies usually depict it, which is 180 degrees off mark, but how all of that really is, and Sandy can do it. He also can draw the hell out of fantastic outer space scenarios, which the book calls for. You will understand his range by the end of the graphic novel.
I had a rough outline of the script, and then I wrote it in small sections, just staying ahead of Sandy. It’s the same way I worked with Steve Lieber on Underground, and it gave a good page-turning quality to it all.
Jarrell: I like drawing kids, so Alden’s a blast all the way through. I stole his hair from my son! Kids, forests, outer space = fun. Stuff explodes, too.
Nrama: Kevin Volo’s coloring the book – what’s it been like working with him?
Parker: First, beyond his obvious talent, Kevin Volo is extremely tolerant, because neither Sandy nor I were easy to work with on this. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you spend so much time on a project, you have insanely specific ideas of how to treat each scene, and Kevin was gracious enough to not put contract killers on us after we went back and forth with him so much.
Barring his forgiving nature, he’s a powerhouse of palettes. I expect he’ll be in high demand after this too! Also he’s freakin’ FAST.
Jarrell: Kevin is a sweetheart, and used to live around here, too- there’s NC all over this book. As for his coloring skills, just look at that cover. I drew some tiny black lines, and he made magic! He also willingly put up with us, which was not an easy thing.
Nrama: Say nice things about working with Oni.
Parker: No, f*** those guys.
Oni are the Alpha and Omega of Meteor Men. James Lucas Jones and Charlie Chu (the book’s editor) kept popping out of holes in trees and random hall doors to ask if I had a story they needed to publish, until I did. They were pretty patient.
More importantly, they realized really fast that this wasn’t a traditional story with expected beats and an uplifting message – it’s an honest perspective on some hard truths of life, even though it involves an alien takeover. It will be hard to explain to people and put in a category, but still they believe in it and have supported our direction. Being trusted by your publisher is huge, by the way.
Jarrell: Oni took a big chance on me – in 2011, I was a complete unknown. They took me on anyway, and have been super-supportive throughout the project. A great bunch of folks to work with, and they send out great comps boxes.
Nrama: Are you in any way worried about competing with the memory of the 1994 Robert Townsend superhero classic The Meteor Man, a film so beloved it is still broadcast in off-network syndicated digital packages at three in the morning?
Jarrell: Boy, do folks love to bring that movie up! I’ve never seen it, but Oni legal made sure we weren’t going to run into trouble.
Parker: I vaguely remember the movie, but I haven’t seen three in the morning in a long time! No, I figure 20 years is long enough for a passing similarity in names. When you read our book, the name has a few levels of significance.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Jarrell: I’m buying more comics than I have in ages, but don’t have time to read them all. I love Starlight, because Goran Parlov. I always read Daredevil, gaze at Immonen’s All-New X-Men. Flash Gordon’s a new favorite, and I read all of the My Little Pony books with my daughter.
Parker: I just really dug Southern Bastards by The Jasons, Aaron and LeTour!
Nrama: What's next for both of you?
Parker: I’ve got a lot more Aquaman coming up, as well as Flash Gordon and Batman ’66. I also am going to do a horror story with Mike Norton in Rachel Deering’s next Near Dark anthology.
Jarrell: My next thing is a short with Alex Segura and Justin Aclin for Rachel Deering’s In the Dark II.
Nrama: Anything else either of you want to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Parker: One of my big goals with Meteor Men is to create a story that requires some real consideration and rethinking once it’s done. Working with licensed characters, it’s often necessary to give readers a strong cue on how to interpret the text. But this is a case where I will be happy for the audience to debate some of the choices, and why the characters do what they do at key points.
I know why everyone chooses their paths here, but I’m not going to tell the readership what to think.
Jarrell: Please stress that this is totally YA friendly!
Meteor Men is available for pre-order now, with an official release in October.