In DMZ, Brian Wood told a fictional story about the end of the United States as we know it -- and this April, he's going back to the beginning.
Rebels is a new ongoing series by Wood and artist Andrea Mutti that takes on the American Revolution -- but it's like nothing you read in your school textbooks. The Dark Horse series takes on this first chapter in United States history on a micro level, starting with the country's first militia -- the Green Mountain Boys.
Featuring covers by Supreme: Blue Rose artist Tula Lotay, Rebels will take Wood's formula from Northlanders -- that of anthology-style arcs bouncing around the Revolutionary War -- and promises to not only cast new attention to somewhat forgotten American figures, but also future icons like George Washington and reviled figures like Benedict Arnold. Here's a trailer the publisher released to promote the upcoming series:
Newsarama: Brian, why did you want to do Rebels? What did it initially come from?
Brian Wood: It came from a desire to do another historical comics series following Northlanders, one that used that same "anthology format" but tweaked the formula and improved it. For a long time it just seemed a given that I would write more viking stories, but at some point I questioned that. Because when I launched Northlanders, it was a huge departure for me in terms of past projects. So why not take another leap and get out of my comfort zone? I kicked around a couple ideas but pretty quickly came to the decision to deal with American colonial times. It seemed both familiar to be as well as a creative risk.
Nrama: And once you figured out what it was, what did you see in it that other people -- namely, readers -- might latch onto?
Wood: Honestly, people have already latched on to it. This is already something with mass appeal - look at Turn and Sons Of Liberty on cable TV, look at Assassin's Creed. Look at the new book displays at Barnes and Nobles. Watch politics on TV. People are obsessed with this time period. Just not so much within comics. So I saw opportunity here, and based on early reactions, there seems to be a readership waiting for something like this.
Nrama: What is the first story-arc about?
Wood: Just like with Northlanders, the first arc of Rebels will be an entry level sort of story, one that establishes the concept and deals with some familiar topics and characters before I start to really dig into the history and venture off the beaten track. So we'll start with a story about the Green Mountain Boys, America's first militia, and how they grew from homegrown mountain boys banding together to fight local oppression to playing pivotal roles in the war. Our main characters are Seth and Mercy Abbott, a young married couple who get swept up in all of this.
Future stories - we'll have a big first arc and a few one-shots rounding out the first volume - will be more diverse. I deconstruct the Molly Pitcher folktale, there's one in there about the role of the press in these revolutionary times (a colonial Channel Zero, in a way), one that goes back in time a little bit to the frontier days, and a couple others.
Nrama:And beneath the big set pieces, who are the men and women that drive the story?
Wood: The primary cast is small: Seth and Mercy, Seth's immediate family, his best friend Ezekiel Learned, and Ethan Allen, the real life founder of the Green Mountain Boys.
Nrama: This idea of a revolutionary war in America isn't new -- you did a alt. history American revolution of sorts DMZ. Are there any lessons you learned from that series you think are applicable here?
Wood: I consider the two series to be opposite ends on the spectrum of my American experience. DMZ was me taking on the corrupt and abusive elements I see in modern politics and the press. It’s pretty brutal at times, but my targets were brutal as well. Rebels is a look at the aspects of American history that I love, that I find to be honorable and worthy of celebration. It’s the other side of the coin, so there's not much I learned in DMZ to apply to Rebels, except to understand that Rebels has nothing to do with DMZ.
I'm already getting hate mail on this topic, though, from people who don't understand how I can love some parts of what America is and have such negative feelings about other parts. And the fact I can hold both in my head at one time and not be a total hypocrite.
Nrama: So what do you think interests you so about a country divided?
Wood: Everything! As a writer, it supplies an almost endless amount of material. It’s also fascinating as an amateur fan of history... I love pivotal moments like that, when if someone zigged instead of zagged, the entire course of world history would be different now.
Nrama: Rebels is set in the past -- our past, for Americans. Real places, real people -- do you know if your family has any genealogical ties to the Revolutionary War?
Wood: Its unclear. My mother's side is what I'm most familiar with, and they come pretty recently from Scotland. I've done the online family tracking this on my father's side and can get back to 1600's Massachusetts, but I don't know anything about them beyond that. The name Mercy and the name Learned, I took those from my family at the time.
Nrama: There's a lot of patriotism coming out of America's founding, but in the time period this is set there is no "United States" as we know it. How do you deal with that?
Wood: For me it’s the idea of that, the promise of that. You know, I posted something online while back that earned me a lot of negative comments, and it had to do with what America meant to me. Not what I think it is now, or the things it's done, but what it is, fundamentally, at its core: a nation of laws designed to ensure every person’s life, love, protection, and opportunity for success. It's a rational, logical system based on law alone, completely free of religion or ideology or any of that bullshit. That's fantastic to me, something the world up to that point had never seen.
Of course, in practice is far from that. But all that shows is that humans are flawed. The idea isn't.
Nrama: People might remember from history books the Revolutionary War being a clear black-and-white issue, but there were many Americans who sided with the British. How will you be dealing with conflicting loyalties and that potential for demonizing one side or the other?
Wood: Well, it’s not my plan to demonize anyone here, but it is a black and white issue in some respects. The loyalists who wanted to remain British subjects were choosing a safer way over a more daring one, but the problems with the Crown were very real and pretty clear cut. But I am planning a story that shows a battle from the point of view of a redcoat, and another short story that talks about the fact that a lot of freed slaves - freed by the British - fought on the side of the British. That's when you get a lot of very juicy conflicts and complexities.
Nrama: Last question -- this is embedded in history, but how close will you get? You mentioned some smaller historical figures, but what about the big ones – Presidents, Generals and the like – will they show up in Rebels?
Wood: Yes. Unlike Northlanders, I'm using real people from history. So far: Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, George Washington, Henry Knox, and a few other minor players all make appearances. The goal of the series is to avoid the stories from this time that everyone already knows and approach the history from a different angle, but we will have these cameos.