If you found out you had the "gift" of immortality, what could go wrong? For most people the answer is probably nothing, but what if you just accidentally killed your best friend and no longer want to live yourself.
The upcoming miniseries Last Mortal answers that question as small-time hoodlum Alec King discovers his his "gift" by attempting suicide … and failing. King is a small-time hoodlum who got in too deep and causes the death of his best friend and partner, and he saw suicide as a way out – until he found out he couldn't die. With the simple facts of life – immortal life, in this case – in front of him, he's got to reconsider not only what his next five minutes are going to be like – but also his next eternity.
Last fall, Top Cow gave readers – and retailers – a first look at Last Mortal as well as six other titles in the innovative Top Cow First Look TPB, which was a sampler containing the first issues of each upcoming series. Last Mortal marks the second title in the rejuvenated Minotaur Press imprint for Top Cow, and its black & white artwork and less fantasy-based tone strikes a chord not often heard in the publisher's line of comics. But this eye-opening book comes from the Top Cow publisher himself – Filip Sablik – and his childhood friend John Mahoney. This story about a suicidal immortal is something the two of them have been bouncing around since elementary school, and now with artist Thomas Nachlik they've got their chance.
Newsarama: What can you tell us about Last Mortal, guys?
Filip Sablik: In the simplest terms, Last Mortal is the story of a suicidal immortal. If that hooked you, we can expand a bit. Alec King is a two time loser (or maybe even three times), who has made bad decision after bad decision, leading him from promising college student to small-time grifter and con man. Now he lives in a shipping container at the Philadelphia dock yard. His best, and only friend in the world, Brian, is the brains and the charm of their two-man operation. Brian gets in over his head with his bookie and ends up in a position where he has to kill a D.A. running for mayor to settle his debt. He guilts Alec into helping him and the fun kicks in when, just like everything else in their lives, they screw up the whole attempted assassination!
John Mahoney: So, I guess the fun ends then, at least for Alec, when he tries to go back to his old life and quickly discovers two things; 1) the guys charged with protecting the candidate are coming after him and 2) Alec can’t escape these guys, even in death. So, yeah, fun for us and the reader, probably not fun for him.
Nrama: Your lead in this, Alec King is a small-time criminal – but probably not small-time in his own mind. What can you tell us about him?
Sablik: Alec is a classic noir hero. He might not be a good guy by society's average definition, but he is our protagonist and in the right light a better man than those around him. It was a bit of a writing challenge to try and make a lead that isn't very likable to begin with, but it was an intentional choice. We meet Alec at his lowest point, but through flashbacks we get glimpses of the young man he was and as the story progresses we get a sense of the man he has the potential to become. Whether he becomes that better man remains to be seen, but it's the prevailing theme in the book.
Mahoney: We were interested in exploring how Alec arrived at the low level where we meet him at the beginning of the book, what influences led him to making the terrible, terrible decisions that resulted in him deciding to kill himself, and what, if anything, will motivate him to change now that he’s been given a second, and third, chance.
Nrama: How does Alec find out he’s immortal?
Sablik: He hits rock bottom, feels like he has no way out, puts a gun to his head, and pulls the trigger. We wanted to play with the idea of what happens to a guy like Alec, who is used to always running away from his problems, and taking away the ultimate escape. Where do you go when you've hit rock bottom and there is no way out? We know it's a dark way to start a story, but ultimately this is a story of hope and redemption.
Mahoney: We’re not going to let Alec off very easily. The bad guys are going to keep coming until he convinces us he has earned his peace.
Nrama: And just how immortal is he? We’re comics folks, so we have to ask – what exactly are the powers?
Sablik: That's something that actually gets explored in the series and comes out through the story. There are rules to Alec's immortality that John and I know, but it's something we're keeping close to the vest. To begin with the reader knows Alec can't die. He can however get hurt. When he gets shot, he feels it. And this guy is not Wolverine, he's like you and me.
Mahoney: It doesn’t seem to matter how much he gets hurt, be that shooting himself in the head, or someone else shooting him, he always wakes up afterwards. He always feels the pain of the death, but it never seems to be final. So I would say he has the worst type of immortality, the kind they haven’t invented a cure for yet.
Nrama: In stories there’s always a big threat the protagonist must face – it doesn’t have to be some big bad like most comics are, though. What is our lead here working against?
Sablik: Alec has several antagonists he works against in the initial story arc. From the outside, some folks might interpret that Alec is the villain. Others might see the mayoral candidate, Callahan, that Alec finds himself squaring off against as the villain. The idea we loved playing with is that "no one is the villain of his or her own story."
Mahoney: Alec is certainly operating in a world of powerful antagonists who seem to be constantly striving to grind him beneath their boots. When the book opens, Alec is a very small rabbit surrounded by some hungry wolves. Over the course of the story he’s got to figure out how long he’s going to try to run away before he tries to be a wolf too. Also, he’s going to have to figure out how many of those wolves exist only within his own skull.
Nrama: How did you two meet up and end up doing this story together?
Sablik: John and I met in middle school, on the first day of sixth grade. We were both in the same English class. John was a big comic fan already and saw I was reading a Batman novel so he introduced himself and introduced me to superhero comics in a big way. I think without him I may have ended up in an entirely different career all together!
Mahoney: True, if Filip had ended up bonding with the kid on the other side of him in class he would probably be popping his collar on some schooner right now and calling everyone “lovie”. I kid. Really I think our friendship has survived so long because neither of us can see a movie or read a book and just enjoy it. We always have to find a way to extend the story, or use the work to inspire some new story we hadn’t previously thought of writing. Plus, we quickly realized that we had such different perspectives on life that we could always add something unexpected to each other’s work.
Nrama: For The Last Mortal you’re working with Thomas Nachlik – and readers will immediately notice his stand-out black & white work in comparison with the typically full color Top Cow comics. Why was he a good fit for this story?
Sablik: I first met Thomas at WizardWorld Chicago when I was VP of Marketing and Sales and doing portfolio reviews. He had this unique, stunning style that was similar to guys like Alex Maleev and Michael Gaydos, but at the same time was able to convey so much emotion and movement in his work. I remember he had these sample pages with a car chase sequence, which impressed the hell out of me. I told him at the time I didn't think he'd be a good fit for our mainstream Top Cow books, but asked him if he'd be interested in collaborating with me on another personal project.
Ironically, when Matt Hawkins saw Thomas's work on Last Mortal, he asked if we could get him to draw Pilot Season: Forever which ended up being a great fit. I expect Thomas will do great things.
Mahoney: When we were first looking at pushing forward with this book, Filip sent me the art samples of several artists. None of them really seemed to fit the story we were trying to tell until I saw Thomas’s work. Now I can’t imagine the book without him, He has really added a new dimension that wasn’t there before he began working with us.
Nrama: Filip, although you’re best known as Top Cow’s publisher you’ve been branching out in creating comics , most notably with the 2010 one-shot Pilot Season: The Asset. Why’d you decide to push into the creative side of things, and how long has writing comics been in your mind?
Sablik: I've always played in the creative side of comics as time allowed, primarily as an artist. I've done short work for Image, Dynamite and Ait/PlanetLar among others. My first published writing work was actually a short story in the back of Larry Young's Black Diamond #5. So I guess writing, drawing and creating comics has been on mind since before I started working in comics professionally back in 2000. Matt Hawkins and Marc Silvestri have taken a shine to some of my ideas and have been gracious enough to let me move forward with publishing a few of them. In many ways, this one is nearest and dearest to my heart. John and I originally came up with the idea in middle school and have been developing it ever since.
Mahoney: As awesome as Filip is as a publisher, it’s strange to think of him as anything other than a comic book creator, The two of us have been reading each other’s comics for more than 20 years and it’s really great to see his ideas beginning to get a wider audience.
Nrama: This is the second title in the rejuvenated Minotaur Press sub-imprint of Top Cow. What makes this book a good fit with Minotaur, and vice-versa?
Sablik: Tonally it's perfect fit for Minotaur. It's a relatively grounded, gritty story heavily rooted in reality with one supernatural element (Alec's immortality). The story is really about character and the character's journey. We had been envisioning it as a black and white title ever since Thomas Nachlik came onboard a couple of years ago. Thomas brought such a distinct graphic quality to the series that when we were looking for a home for it, Minotaur felt like the natural fit.Mahoney: Really, once we saw the pages Thomas was turning in, well, they were like a classic black and white movie, and this format just seemed to fit his art so perfectly. I’m sure our writing took a darker turn as well once we knew we were going to be working in black and white.
Nrama: How did you come to find these more cerebral and down-to-earth notions of immortality?
Sablik: I think I've always been drawn to move grounded stories. I find them easier to write and explore and easier for the reader to get drawn into. The more fantastical and disconnected from reality story becomes the harder all that becomes to manage.
Mahoney: Despite Filip and I growing up reading standard superhero comics, we never seemed to write that type of book. This may have started out as a superhero book but it quickly evolved into a horror story. The story of this man who can’t escape his mistakes and not even death can save him. We felt like this type of story would only work if we kept it as grounded in reality as possible. The cerebral aspects just came from us spending too many nights reading when we should have been out getting into trouble.
Nrama: What would you two do if you were immortal?
Sablik: I think I'd probably take a lot more chances physically. Go jump out of a plane or try some crazy skateboard stunt. I’d probably also take the time to figure out how to invest in the stock market in a smart way. I think I'd actually prefer the ability to not have to sleep! I could get more stuff done that way...
Mahoney: Oh man, not having to sleep would be a great ability! But if I knew I was going to live forever I would probably turn into that Burgess Meredith character from The Twilight Zone (“Time Enough at Last”) who just wanted to spend the rest of his life reading…then broke his glasses. Wow, even my fantasies are horror stories…