Born at Marvel’s Epic imprint, re-birthed at Image comics, the character Phantom Jack returns to the word of comics after a four year absence with a collection of new stories in the TPB Phantom Jack: Nowhere Man Agenda. In this new volume, the story of a city reporter with the power of invisibility learns that he can’t hide when a man with his powers – and more – comes looking for him.
Phantom Jack might be familiar to longtime Newsarama readers, and with good reason. It’s writer & creator Mike San Giacomo wrote for this site for several years, and has been writing for longer than that at the Cleveland Plains Dealer. Original Phantom Jack artist Mitch Breitweiser has become an in-demand artist, currently working on Captain America, so San Giacomo enlisted artists Andy Belander, Sean McArdle and Andy Finlayson to tell one 66-page story and four companion tales
With the book on finally on shelves last month, we talked with Mike San Giacomo about the story and the long road back.Nrama: For people that may’ve not heard of this book during its original incarnation, how would you describe it?
San Giacomo: Jack Baxter is a reporter for a New York Daily Bugle-type newspaper who has one, simple superpower - invisibility. He's not a hero, far from it, but he's a guy who tries to do the right thing. But, unlike Captain America or Batman who would sacrifice himself for another, Baxter would (and has) not. Twice in his brief career he did nothing when a person's life was in danger. He might have been able to help, but feared for his own life and made a conscious choice to save himself.
To be fair, he has done a lot of good when able to muster up the courage. In this way, I think Jack is a much more realistic character than most. He's like you or me.
The events of this book, Phantom Jack: The Nowhere Man Agenda come (in comic time) about a year after the stories in Phantom Jack: Director’s Edition which came out in 2008 from Atomic Pop Art Entertainment. An earlier version of the trade came out in 2005 from Speakeasy Comics. Both editions are available on Amazon and good old eBay, and downloadable via Drive-ThruComics.com, Visionary Studios and other sites.Nrama: People might remember that original story-arc from its debut at Image, but this new series is all-new for most people. What’s going on in this second arc?
San Giacomo: It's 110 pages of all new stories. In Phantom Jack: Nowhere Man Agenda, Jack is forced to step up and be a hero, with tragic consequences.
A friend from the earliest days of the series who was long believed dead, re-emerges as the villainous Nowhere Man, who has invisibility powers 100 times stronger than Jack's. And now, because his liver is failing from using "the fade," he demands Jack's liver, which has better adjusted to the powers than anyone else's. People have asked how invisibility can be stronger. For example, Jack can turn himself and anything he touches invisible for brief periods of time. The Nowhere Man can turn entire city blocks invisible for as long as he likes.
It's a 66-page adventure featuring the battle between evil and the-guy-who-wants-to-be-good-but- is-afraid. It's our story, a story of regular guy who steps up and does what he has to do, in spite of his fear. Now that's a real hero. I'm also proud of the other five stories in the book which show Jack at his finest, using his invisibility and journalistic skills to bring down the bad guys.Nrama: For this, you take on the power of invisibility – probably one of the first superpowers thought of in the genre - - going back to the Invisible Man, and in comics most famously with Sue Storm-Richards. Why’d you choose to tackle this power, and develop it?
San Giacomo: Phantom Jack was originally written for Marvel's previous Epic Comics line. When I pitched it, I wanted to show what could be done with the weakest powers in the Marvel Universe in a real world context. So, it was either shrinking or invisibility, I went with invisibility.I tried to show that If anyone had this power in the real world, he could be an amazing force for good or evil. The judicious use of such a "weak" power could be effective. And in the first series, he actually used it to take down Saddam Hussein.
Nrama: This book is knee-deep – or rather, neck-deep – into the ink-stained world of journalism, with Jack Baxter being a big city newspaper reporter. With your own career in the industry spanning 20+ years and comics having a rich history of reporters from Parker to Kent and even Spider Jerusalem, why’d you reach into your own field of journalism?
San Giacomo: Like the best teachers always say, "Write what you know." There are so many horrible, totally inaccurate, portrayals of reporters in movies, newspapers and novels, I owed it to my profession to show what reporters are really like. Just about all of the characters in Phantom Jack are based on friends I've known over the years at newspapers in Philly, Chicago and Cleveland. Most of the storylines and scenarios, especially in Nowhere Man Agenda, are pulled from my own career. That includes how Jack goes his powers and his escape from capture in Baghdad, a version of those events actually happened to me.
Also, we reporters are strange people. Even as we cover an event we put ourselves outside of it. We try to be unobtrusive, like flies on the wall. We're there to observe, not affect the outcome, like the Watcher. For all intents and purposes, we are invisible.Nrama: Why do you think journalism is such a popular career for superheroes when they’re in their civilian disguises?
San Giacomo: Just as Superman became Clark Kent to keep an eye on breaking news and know where he needed to be, Jack Baxter's profession puts him in the perfect position to be as much of a hero as he can be.
Nrama: This collection is a long time coming – Like you said, this all started back in 2003 as a series for Marvel’s Epic line before being serialized at Image. What’s the long road on this project been like for you?
San Giacomo: Was it that long ago? Geez. It's been a wonderful learning experience. What slowed down the release of Nowhere Man was a number of false starts from publishers who put it on their schedules, and then reneged or went out of business. I wanted the book out, but more importantly, I wanted the hard work by the artists, inkers, colorists and letterers to be seen!Nrama: You finally got this collection out through IDW; How did that come to be?
San Giacomo: As I said, I didn't really go through too many companies, but those I approached tied me up for years before cutting the book loose. I have been reading IDW's books for years and admiring their consistent quality. One day just gave editor Chris Ryall a call. He knew about the book and said he was interested. I sent him the book, he read it and liked it. And eight months later, it was released. Now, THAT'S how a publisher is supposed to operate.
Nrama: If people had to ask what your single most identifying work in comics would be, this is it – what do you think about Phantom Jack being your tell-tale story?
San Giacomo: Certainly Jack Baxter says a lot about me as a person, though it would be a close tie between Phantom Jack and Tales of the Starlight Drive-In, which was voted the Best Graphic Novel of the Year by the readers of Comic Buyer's Guide Magazine. Bless 'em. As with the Phantom Jack series, many of the stories in Starlight are embarrassingly true.
But if people identify me with Jack, I'd be happy with that. At least in the beginning, Jack was more of a regular guy with superpowers than a card-carrying superhero. But that changes in Nowhere Man Agenda and I would be honored if that story is the one people think of when they hear my name.Would you want to be invisible?