Death's Head may be the lone hold-out in promised "All-New All-Different Marvel" revivals, but his creators, Simon Furman and Geoff Senior, are taking their own road to a return with a creator-owned webcomic titled To The Death.
Set in the year 2647, Earth is running out of time in To The Death. Corporations have drained the planet of his resources and the entity known as the Tri-Corps controls everything in the land. A highly-skilled team of enforcers takes up the mantle to take them down, and restore the planet.
Furman and Senior are stalwarts from the UK comic book scene, with Furman even being considered one of the most prominent and prolific Transformers writers of all time. With To The Death, they are teaming up once again to immerse fans into new web-comic that harkens back to gritty sci-fi of 2000 A. D. and Heavy Metal. There’s even a Kickstarter campaign for the duo to release a prequel comic that gives readers a larger view of this world.
With the webcomic launching September 10, Newsarama talked to Furman on working with Senior again, this world they’ve created together, and some of the influences behind the distinctive visuals of To The Death.
Newsarama: Simon, take us through the world of To The Death. I'm getting a solid old school Shadowrun vibe from it. Did you have any specific influences?
Simon Furman: There are plenty of influences to be found in To The Death, most notably Dragon’s Claws - the ten-issue series Geoff and I did for Marvel UK back in the 80s. But I hope it’s something new and relevant to today too. In a nutshell, it’s one man of ideals against the system, a battle he can’t possibly win but he’s determined to make the attempt - which may be enough in itself - because the bad guys have taken away from him the reasons to keep on living. The world of 2674 is this: governments have collapsed and become irrelevant and the Corporations have taken over, and in the way of corporations they’ve bled the planet dry to line their own pockets first and foremost, to the point where Earth’s days are numbered.
The populace are kept in a kind of sensory stupor by an all-consuming, immersive/interactive game that allows them to “join” the off world wars that are being waged to keep Earth going in terms of energy sources, raw materials, etc. But one subversive organisation is fighting back, because the stakes are even bigger than anyone imagined, and our lead character, a combat vet of the off world wars – Aleksy Dryagin - is a symbol they hope will act as a rallying cry to the sedated masses, and his doomed tilt the spark to a flame.
Nrama: Now on the website, you have a roster of characters ready to be revealed in the story. So are we going to get all of these characters at once or will they slowly come into play?
Furman: The series is in 18 digital/downloadable parts with the first being free-to-view, and we don’t waste any time getting to the meat of the action. So pretty much by the end of part 3, you’ve met everyone who matters in the story. There’s no slow tease/burn here, the story kicks off with some pretty savage off world action and then hurtles to its fiery conclusion (and we do mean conclusion – To The Death will be a complete entity with a proper finale) in part 18. So, between the website and Facebook page, where there's copious background material on the series and characters to be found, and the first few episodes, you’ll have everything you need to just sit back, plug in, and go with the wild ride that To The Death is.
Nrama: You put in a lot of world-building into this and a long timeline and history of this universe. Did you create this by yourself or did Geoff Senior contribute to it?
Furman: To The Death has been a real team effort. Initially we talked a lot about the kind of story we wanted to tell, and the overall intent. Geoff’s at his best when it’s kinetic and full on, so we knew we weren’t going to wait around or pull any punches. We wanted future war of the gritty, non-slick Aliens variety, a somewhat dystopian Earth, a central character pushed and pulled by events out of his control until he takes charge and control of his own destiny. Then we built the world and the characters around that. Me fleshing out in words and Geoff bringing it all to life in that gobsmacking way of his. That always kind of inspires me to look again at what I’ve done and see if I can’t raise my game to match the visuals.
The world building is what I love, and like with all good sci-fi I wanted it to point a finger at the world we live in today, where the corporations dictate to the governments and have their own set of rules, and the population just plugs into the latest interactive experience and sticks its collective head in the sand, and point a cautionary finger.
Nrama: Speaking of Geoff Senior, you've worked on things in the past ranging from Death's Head and you both have worked on things like Transformers as well. What is it about Geoff that keeps you wanting to work with him?
Furman: It’s the unchecked energy Geoff brings to everything he does/draws. In that, he reminds me of the late great Jack Kirby, who could draw the Fantastic Four having breakfast and yet infuse the scene with dynamism and sheer oomph. I find it pushes me to think bigger, do better, and raise my storytelling game to match what I know Geoff’s going to do on the page. I say “page” because I wrote To The Death as a massive screenplay, which Geoff then broke down into the equivalent of a widescreen movie shooting board, albeit in full colour and a lot more detail, etc. We wanted something that wasn’t a comic turned into a digital comic, but rather something that was ‘meant’ to be viewed on a screen for the optimum experience whether it’s a monitor, a laptop, a tablet or a phone. I think we both felt relieved to be freed of the constraints of the printed page/panel format of traditional comics.
Nrama: To The Death is pretty hardcore sci-fi, and with properties like this, there are times where it's inaccessible to new readers. Do you think that the series could be a hard read?
Furman: I think that’s where the relevance to the world today kicks in. Sure, there are alien worlds, fantastical elements, a monstrous contract killer, a reimagined Earth, but at its heart I think, and hope, To The Death will resonate with people. It’s a fairly simple story. There are twists and turns and revelations along the way, but this is an archetypal story carved out of the same cloth as the Greek myths and legends, of a flesh and blood man pitted against god-like forces. And the great thing is, there’s nothing before or after. You’re joining us at the epic start and then thundering to the epic conclusion, and we kind of hope readers will be swept along by the sheer pace of the story and Geoff’s art. So is it a hard read? The opposite I believe. It’s a plummeting roller coaster of a ride, one which I hope will make people kind of stop and think after they’ve finished it.
Nrama: Can you tell us a bit about White Noise in the series and what it means?
Furman: White Noise are the subversive element in our story, no less manipulative than the Tri-Corp (the main villains of the piece) but maybe better intentioned. I’m not going to tell you everything about them, or their raison d’être, which is the big reveal of the series, but suffice to say they see the true stakes, the terrifying endgame of the Tri-Corp, and they’ll do anything, sacrifice anyone, to stop them. They’re the ones who have dropped off the grid, fallen through the cracks, and now they’re organised and incentivised. But their figurehead, Deacon Snow, has a deep dark secret of his own.
Nrama: Do you think any of this that takes place during To The Death is plausible 300 years from now?
Furman: I think some of it is maybe inevitable unless we find a way to muzzle and leash these huge mega-corporations, put in stops and checks on this insatiable quest for more and more profit. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is already vast, and getting bigger by the year, so maybe it’s less 300 years and more like 30 years before governments become effectively irrelevant in terms of the global and economic picture. Space travel to far-flung galaxies and worlds, I’m less sure about. But that’s why we pushed To The Death’s dateline to 2674. 500 years ago we were still getting around on horses, so - given the pace of scientific process - maybe much of To The Death is eminently achievable. How worrying is that?
Nrama: How do you think it's different from a creator's point of view from working on something digital like To The Death compared to published works on comics from your experience?
Furman: The freedom that web-publishing done this way is vast. Rather than think we have four to six issues to tell our story, we just let it expand to its natural length, shape and form. Geoff was free to condense or expand the action as much or as little as he liked, and the story too feels like it has room to breathe and expand. And more, we had the latitude to let the story find its own way, to evolve a little bit as we wrote and drew it. We gave ourselves that room to add in extra elements (like our contract killer Killatoa) and maybe indulge ourselves a bit. You take away the panel borders and page counts (and turn it into episodes and frames) and something magical just seems to happen.
Nrama: What are you hoping fans get out of To The Death when it finally launches?
Furman: I hope the kind of blockbuster experience of going to see a movie with the biggest budget you can imagine at a multiplex on your own personal digital device. This is an entertainment medium first and foremost, and I always tell the kind of stories I’d want to read/watch myself. But maybe there’s food for thought too, once the end credits have rolled.