Green Arrow will take a "shadowy" turn in June, as novelist Benjamin Percy brings his dark aesthetic to the comic.
A contemporary of DC's novelist-turned-comic-superstar Scott Snyder, Percy has published several novels and short fiction collections. Like Snyder, he's won praise for his work from Stephen King, who called one of his novels "wonderful writing and compulsive reading."
A screenwriter and author who's also a long-time comic fan, Percy wrote his first comics for DC last year with Detective Comics #35 and #36. That gig served as an audition of sorts, and Percy was offered the chance to pitch Green Arrow for its return after the two-month Convergence break.
In June, he unites with artist Patrick Zircher to revamp DC's Green Arrow title, which has been taken in several different directions since it re-booted in 2011. In Percy's approach, which starts with Green Arrow #41, Oliver Queen will be back in Seattle with his sister Emiko, and he'll be trying to make Oliver "as human as possible."
The writer told Newsarama he'll be "playing around with time/chronology to enhance suspense," as well as injecting "ingredients of horror." Percy's also honoring Ollie's progressive past with story that has "some incendiary parallels to what's happening in these politically, culturally dangerous times."
Readers already saw an eight-page preview for the new Green Arrow run, which featured art by Zircher and colors by Gabe Eltaeb that Percy calls "shadow-soaked and rain-swept."
And although the writer's on a book tour for his latest novel, Percy took some time to talk to Newsarama about his plans for Oliver Queen, his collaboration with Zircher, and what else readers can expect from his upcoming run on Green Arrow.
Newsarama: Ben, as a successful writer of prose novels and screenplays, what interested you about writing comic books, and what brought you to working with DC on Detective Comics, and now Green Arrow?
Ben Percy: Some of my favorite stories — The Sandman, The Dark Knight Returns, Saga of the Swamp Thing — are comics. The intersection of image and text makes for such a layered, dynamic reading experience.
And they're so much damn fun to write. The joint storytelling that occurs between writer and artist is the most rewarding collaboration I've ever experienced. It's like making a movie — except the actors are always available, the special effects budget is unlimited, and the process is so wonderfully swift and unburdened of the development hell I've experienced in Hollywood.
Nrama: Did you grow up reading comics? Any favorite titles? And do you think any influence the way you're approaching Green Arrow?
Percy: I did. I vividly remember visiting the mercantile in the small town where I grew up, spinning the rack of comics, pawing my way through Warlord, The Thing and Batman, getting to choose just one issue every time my mother bought groceries.
I've been a lousy collector my whole life, because I can't help but read and read and read my copies until they're ragged and bent and stained. To this day, I have wrinkled stacks of The Punisher, X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, Thor, and Swamp Thing. The ones I read the most: the re-issued EC titles: Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. They scared and thrilled the hell out of me.
And you'll notice that darkness — ingredients of horror — in my Green Arrow run.
Nrama: We've seen the eight-page preview of Green Arrow that ran earlier this month. There seems to be a parallel between Ollie and the Drowned Man, who "cared about his home so much he'd die in defense of it." Was the point that Ollie can't escape who he is, even if he wants to be "untethered?" That he is the archer, like the stars depict, and it comes as naturally to him now as breathing?
Percy: That is exactly what I intended. The Drowned Man is not only an awesome, freaky, haunting device — he's also a metaphor.
My comic scripts are always going to read like this: You'll have the surface thrills — the entertainment — and then there'll be an undercurrent of meaning, thematic resonance.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want readers to take away from Green Arrow's trip to Alaska, and his run-in with the murderous trucker?
Percy: He's 25, as I've written him, and when you're 25, you screw up. You think with your dick and with your gut and with your heart, but not always your head. You resent responsibility even as you want to be taken seriously.
Patch Zircher and I want to make Oliver as human as possible. This guy's a hero, but he's also a businessman and he's also a young man. He's complicated, fractured into many pieces that don't always align neatly.
Nrama: As the preview ends, Seattle is burning, and Emiko needs her brother. Is that where the story kicks off in Green Arrow #41 in June? What can you tell us about the set-up as we pick up Ollie's story?
Percy: This is where I rub my hands together and laugh mischievously. In other words, I ain't telling. But I will say this: You will learn what happened with the skeletons. I won't tell you when, but they're an important adversarial force in one of the arcs. I'm being coy, but you can probably already tell that I'm going to be playing around with time/chronology to enhance suspense.
Nrama: Besides Emiko, who's going to be Ollie's supporting cast in your run? Any existing characters, or new characters you can tell fans to anticipate?
Percy: Again, I'm going to be sly here, but I will say that our run begins with #41 and not Issue #1 because we're continuing (and reinventing) some elements of the Jeff Lemire mythology (which I really admired).
There's one new, essential character I think readers are going to freaking love — and he'll appear at the end of #41.
Nrama: That preview also had a dark feel to it, and you mentioned earlier that the darkness of the EC titles informed the way you're writing Green Arrow. Do you plan to approach this comic from a more macabre angle, as opposed to the spandex superhero direction?
Percy: I'm not big on bright colors or spandex. Just look at the way Gabe Eltaeb is coloring this — it's the color of Seattle, the color of crime, shadow-soaked, rain-swept.
Anyone familiar with my novels will know that I have a dark aesthetic, and that's one of the reasons they brought me on. Patch said, when he read the pitch and then the first few scripts, "This is like when Daniel Craig took over as James Bond." Gritty, shadowy, haunted, muscular storytelling. "Longbow Hunters" is without question my favorite Green Arrow storyline — and you'll see shades of Mike Grell in the way we're approaching the character.
Nrama: Your Detective Comics story played off the fear of terrorism, which echoes a fear that permeates our world. Will Green Arrow have a similar "fictional-fear-related-to-real-fears" theme?
Percy: Green Arrow has a rich history as a progressive, political hero. In the first three issues, you'll see some incendiary parallels to what's happening in these politically, culturally dangerous times. I love taking a knife to the nerve of the moment.
Nrama: You mentioned Patrick "Patch" Zircher. How's it been working with him, and what do you think his art brings to the comic?
Percy: Patch and I get along really well. Every issue is a conversation. I love the back-and-forth, the way we make each other better. He challenges me — I challenge him — and I think the rich, strenuous collaboration is going to result in a comic unlike any other out there right now. The way he draws and arranges panels is brilliantly cinematic: I think of him as an artist but also as a director.
Nrama: What else do you have coming out now? What else are you working on that's coming up? Any other comics?
Percy: I'm hoping to go all-in on comics. While working on Green Arrow, I'd love to write some one-shots or short arcs for other series, and I'm also pitching several original ideas. Fingers crossed that something works out.
Otherwise, my new novel — The Dead Lands, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark saga — just released, so I'm on book tour for that now. I also just sold a crime show, Black Gold (set in the North Dakota oil fields), to Starz, and I'm presently polishing up the pilot.