A life of crime is a hard road to travel; sure it has the allure of riches and an easy life someday, but it requires someone with a loose moral code and the ability to do things most other people couldn’t stomach. But just like an addiction, it’s even harder to quit.
In the upcoming Image one-shot Trailblazer a career assassin named Jacob turns his back on the criminal underworld that kept him fed when the loving woman that brought him up in the world is murdered by the very people that employee him. Turning a cold shoulder on the life he once had, he becomes the star witness for government prosecutors to bring down his criminal colleagues. But now he’s a marked man, for the rest of his life. But in this near-future story, the Feds have a way out for guys like Jacob – a unique kind of Witness Protection where the witness isn’t just squirreled away in a nondescript Middle-American hamlet but flung back in time where his past can never catch up to him. So Jacob signs on the dotted line and journeys back in time, to the Old West. But when you enter a place like this, you can learn a lot from a western – eventually, your past always comes a callin’.
Scheduled for release on June 15th, the Trailblazer one-shot comes from the minds and keyboards of the two cornerstones of modern western comics -- Jonah Hex writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. They have no plans of stopping their methodical journey with DC”s scarred cowboy, but this new concept gives them a chance to go off the reservation and into a genre mash-up of time travel and western.
Newsarama: You guys know your westerns (as evidenced by Jonah Hex), but Trailblazer is a time travel caper that ends up there. What can you tell us about this book?
Justin Gray: The central character is an assassin. When he crosses the wrong gangster his entire life is torn apart leaving him little choice, but to turn states evidence against his clients and enter the witness protection program. In this case his profile is so high that he qualifies for Operation Trailblazer.
Jimmy Palmiotti: This was an idea we had for a while .We did the comic ourselves because we felt it was a fun enough story to be told in a graphic novel format and not drawn out to multiple issues, and things started to come together when we were able to get Jim Daly and Paul Mounts involved. The book is wish fulfillment on a couple of levels as well. I am always interested in the idea of how a skilled person would work in the world if they were placed back in time.
Nrama: What can you tell us about this assassin who turns state’s witness?
Gray: Jacob is a character who is considered a criminal in the 21st century, but the same rules don’t apply to the nineteenth century. That was one of the underlying themes of the book – one man’s villain is another man’s hero.
Palmiotti: He is far from a saint, but he understands that the path he chose in life isn’t the best for him and somewhere in his head he will make up for the things he has done somewhere down the road. Jacob is likable, unless you are another criminal. He is an interesting case study, as should any character that takes this kind of position in life.
Nrama: We’ve beaten around the bush a bit here, but let’s dig into it -- what’s “Operation Trailblazer” exactly?
Gray: It is essentially a Witness Protection Program that, instead of relocating people within the United States, they’re are sent back in time.
Palmiotti: Its top secret and has its rules…which are all made to be broken.
Nrama: How does one acclimate from a futuristic lifestyle to living in the Old West?
Gray: As you might imagine some do better than others, but what makes Jacob interesting is not only his ability to adapt, but also the reality that he’s one of those people “born in the wrong time”.
Palmiotti: Take away TV, radio and modern distractions and it’s all about people meeting people and trying to get along. As Justin states…Jacob feels more at home in the past as I would imagine some people do from time to time in real life.
Nrama: You’ve really gone far and wide with Jonah Hex – what led you to come back to the Old West for this series?
Gray: The reality is we’ve been working on this book for a number of years, waiting for an opening in our schedule to start rolling out more creator owned books. It was essentially born from Jimmy’s idea of using time travel as a means of protecting witnesses. From there the character of Jacob developed and it fell natural to make it a western in both the modern and the classical sense.
Palmiotti: We love the genre and don’t understand people’s limitations of the era as far as storytelling goes. This time, with Trailblazer we get to totally mix it all up and have some fun.
Nrama: The artist on this is Jim Daly III – his name didn’t ring a bell for me, so can you tell us about him?
Palmiotti: Jim has done his share of comics and work outside of comics and right now is working on a lot of different video games. To best familiarize yourself, I say visit his web site: http://jmd3.typepad.com/. Jim is an amazing artist and storyteller…and even more important in this world, just a likable nice guy.
Nrama: Jimmy, I see your name here on the art duties as well – are you dusting off your inking pen for this?
Palmiotti: Yeah…I have been inking this on and off for years and finished it up 6 months ago…and had a great time working on it. I really have not inked anything else in a long time, but this is a personal project…and because it’s self published thru image, we had to cut costs…which means doing as much work as we can. anyone publishing understands every step you can do yourself you can save thousands. Next up is me just doing the art already. That won’t be for a bit though…no need to torture others.
Nrama: Before I let you go, lets say I put you two in Operation: Trailblazer – what would you do if you were relocated to the Old West?
Gray: I’d probably be wealthy or dead in a year. Not sure which.
Palmiotti: I would look for the great grandmother of Amanda [Connor, Jimmy’s wife] and hook up. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right…does it?