The ad for Dynamite's upcoming book reads like a Vietnam war movie poster: Bring the Thunder.
Created by Alex Ross, written by Jai Nitz and illustrated by Wilson Tortosa, Dynamite's Bring the Thunder promises to change the face of warfare beginning this December. Following the character of Air Force para-rescue jumper Wayne Russell, things go badly for the soldier in a battle in Afghanistan. Seizing an unknown weapon that backfires in his face, Russell will struggle with new power and new adversaries both at home and abroad.
We caught up with Ross to talk about his character, his concept and just what made Nitz and Tortosa the perfect team to execute his vision.
Newsarama: Alex, you came up with the concept for Bring the Thunder -- what brought this on for you?
Alex Ross: In general I wanted to create a character that was very contemporary for our times and to me that seemed like it should have to acknowledge the wars that we are involved with and be truly somebody who is engaged in that conflict and the simplest thing is to really follow the path of a soldier in active duty in one of the oldest wars we’ve had now in Afghanistan and taking that experience to the super-human level of trying a physical application of power that might seem different especially if played up for cinema so in a way we’ve imagined this comic book as a mini-movie and a lot of the things put into it have been ideas to think “This would really look good on film and wouldn’t necessarily look like the next thing over”.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the character of Wayne Russell? Who is this guy, what's his background as a military man?
Ross: The process of making somebody in this character of Wayne be a military officer in current active duty was very much driven with the sacrifice that is made by so many people who go overseas in service and leave their families back here and the tether between them and their families and the so the story we’re telling is very much about how that is this very strong tie because from the point of his superhero origin he is immediately brought back home and is up to looking for his family. So in a way action happens, power is gained and then once everything is settled back to normal he finds himself back home in Chicago.
Nrama: Obviously, with Wayne in Afghanistan, he's already got plenty of dangers to face, but considering there's an experimental weapon involved with this book, can you tell us a little bit about who he might be taking on as an adversary?
Ross: Since our first part of the journey for the character is what he’ll be encountering upon his return home from the war and the family that he has lost contact with because time has actually passed, more time since his transformation than he was aware he’s got the fate of his family in an area of Chicago that has a little bit more gang influence and trouble for his sons that they’re facing and so in effect bringing not just his fatherly guidance and support to his kids when they’ve been missing him or thought him dead but also facing off against some of the amazing forces that are against a lot of young men and women growing up in regular America. A lot of the bad influences and a lot of those overwhelming pressures especially when it comes to gang activity and then from there there is eventually the build up to “What about where you came from?” meaning the war and what was left behind. Was there an echo of sorts of the power that he gained left behind over there that should cause him to have to return.
Nrama: Something that interested me about this book was the tagline that it will change Wayne and warfare forever. Oftentimes, you get an experimental weapon malfunctioning, he becomes a superhero fighting in the streets, so I wanted to ask, what drew you to focusing on the "warfare" side of the equation? Is this sort of an Ultimates-style, weapons race kind of story you're telling?
Ross: No, this is much more of a humanistic story based around the experience of what happens with the separation of men and women who go off to serve and then return to a world that in many ways doesn’t know them or they can’t recognize, time has marched on and the adjustment is a bizarre one and taking that idea and putting it in a metaphor of a comic book superhero journey.
Nrama: I know you're the character designer as well as the creator of the concept, and I wanted to talk about the illustrative side of fleshing out these characters. Could you walk us through a little bit about how you approached this book? In terms of research or influences, what did you have to do to get yourself in the mindset for Bring the Thunder?
Ross: Bring the Thunder is kind of a mini-movie on paper and this genuinely came not as just the idea from myself working with Dynamite but from a very old friend who used to be my college roommate reaching out to me to create a property with their production company to potentially make a movie from or at least to have in the process of consideration and that was State Street Productions and my old roommate is Bob Tietel and the director he’s worked with on countless pictures is George Tillman and they’ve made the “Barbershop” movies “Men of Honor” and the upcoming movie “Faster”. This was a creative challenge that I’d never been given before to try and craft something that might play really well as a movie. The challenge is that if you do a really good movie it doesn’t always make for a great comic book but trying to find that middle ground that for me demanded a sense of grounding in the contemporary, and also the kind of things that I wanted to see, I wanted to see another project with a lead African American hero and I really pushed for that. I thought that given a lot of the kind of films that they had both created before it might be an appropriate fit, but nobody was demanding it of me it was more my agenda of trying to expand the base of the type of people that you represent as becoming on that classic Joseph Campbell’s heroes path, Hero With A Thousand Faces.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit about Jai Nitz, who you've been working with on this book. What sorts of strengths does he bring to the table here?
Ross: Jai and I’ve already worked together but nobody knew it. Because one of his full series that he’s worked on that I was doing covers for we’ve still yet to release and he’s been writing a great many books for Dynamite but I already knew that Jai was an incredibly solid writer with very thoughtful content and strong depth to his work so for me that’s all I needed. The exposure to knowing here’s somebody that would be a good fit for creating anything with and just a chance to build on this relationship and this will be the first project we’ve done that actually comes out but it’s actually the second we’ve worked on together. Hopefully in the next year what people will be seeing is The Ghost: Scourge of the Skies series that we’ve collaborated on.
Nrama: How about Wilson Tortosa? I know he's doing interior art, and I wanted to ask about the back-and-forth you've had with him, just as the creator of the concept as well as the character designer.
Ross: I have a great history with Wilson because of the wonderful work he did on Battle of the Planets with Top Cow that we did a number of years ago. He was the artist out of all that we were looking through and inquiring about who could actually match the look and style of the old shows and because of the wonderful way he can capture a quality of classic manga it was something I knew would feel very appropriate to this work even though it would seem to be a very American character concept, it’s certainly dealing with American issues but it’s also dealing with Middle Eastern issues so where does the manga style apply? To me it just felt instinctively right. I knew he would bring something very strong to it and I was very well rewarded by the energy and power of Wilson’s work he is just phenomenal I would absolutely love to work on more comics with him continuing from this. He’s taken all the design work as well as photographs of my live model and worked from those and brought his own interpretation to these things but with a project that calls upon as much real world research of places in the world that he’s never been I know as I believe he’s in the Philippines he’s definitely going out of his way for everything that called of him so it’s very impressive thing to be able to witness his work.
Nrama: Finally, for those who still aren't sold on Bring the Thunder, what would you say to get them on board? Are there any moments you can tease that you're excited to see?
Ross: Watching Wilson interpret the energy of the scripts is a very involved and inspiring thing because I feel that there is a quality to manga in what Wilson captures that is often missed in contemporary American comic books and we’re getting caught up so much in a density of storytelling that we’re kind of losing the visceral experience of getting sucked in and I feel that energy that I speak of is something akin to a Kirby energy it really does allow you to feel integrated and moved through the action of a story, it’s infectious and that’s a broad evaluation of all the work that he does but particularly when it does come to the action sequences so that would be my tease and my reason for saying “ I want to do more with this guy because I’m fascinated as a reader and as an artist.”What do you think of Ross's new concept?