25 years after Jim Henson and Frank Oz's The Dark Crystal debuted in theaters, a long-awaited sequel has come to life in comic books.
This week, BOOM! Studios debuted the official sequel - based on plans by Henson and co-writer David Odell - written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Kelly and Nichole Matthews. Set a century after the events of the film, The Power of the Dark Crystal follows a new character named Thurma who is out to steal a Dark Crystal shard to save her race, the Firelings. Along the way she'll inadvertantly revive the Skeksis and the Mystics, but also reawaken the movie's lead characters Jen and Kira.
With The Power of the Dark Crystal #1 on stands now, Newsarama talked with Spurrier about this ambitious project 25 years in the making, and how he's adapting to following in the footsteps of Henson and Oz.
Newsarama: Simon, what’s going on in The Power of the Dark Crystal?
Simon Spurrier: Okiedoke, let’s assume for the sake of completeness that some of your readers might not have seen the The Dark Crystal - the 1982 puppet-fi masterpiece all this is spinning out of. Those poor, deprived souls.
First step: a world whose single greatest artifact is the Crystal: a radiant, godlike gemstone which glows with unearthly power. It’s somehow connected to the rhythms and fortunes of the planet itself. (I guess, in shaggy folkloric terms, imagine earthly leylines all got together and formed a big shiny knot.)
As long as the Crystal is whole and protected, the planet flourishes and its “people” (NB: they ain’t human) are broadly happy. But if the Crystal were ever cracked or broken - and that’s something which happened once long ago - the world gets plunged into strife and darkness. The hellish Skeksis, lizard-vulture-monsters with serious megalomania issues, emerge to rule the bleak, dying planet.
Okay, so the first movie, The Dark Crystal, is all about the Skeksis’ defeat after they’ve been in charge for an aeon, and the restoration of the Crystal to wholeness.
The sequel - our story - begins a hundred years later. It’s been a century of peace and prosperity, where new societies have blossomed. But all is not what it seems. There are traces of invisible darkness lurking unsuspected just under the surface.
The story begins with the arrival of a stranger from a distant world. Her tribe is dying - their whole land is undergoing a slow, deadly disaster - and she truly believes that the only way she can save them... is to shatter the Crystal.
Which, y’know, isn’t going to earn her any friends.
Her name is Thurma, and she’s a girl made of fire.
Nrama: David Odell and the late Jim Henson brainstormed on this sequel all the way back during the original film’s release in 1982. So how much of this for you is adaptation, and how much is writing?
Spurrier: Ha. Semantic dickery here, sorry, but it’s all writing. The question is how much of it is pure creation and how much is reflection. Honest answer: a balance of the two.
The screenplay’s been in development for quite some time, so one can almost see the lovely echoes of idea-mutation throughout it, like ghost-traces of an evolving plot. That’s a tacit acknowledgement, I think, that whereas the spine remains broadly fixed, we’re dealing with the sort of creative endeavor where the surface details are exquisitely mutable, and at least as important as the structure.
I guess the biggest thing I’ve advocated to change is a matter of perspective. To wit: We should experience most of the story through the eyes of a newcomer, who’s experiencing the wonder of this world for the first time. To me that’s a core tenet of the first movie, and something the comic book medium is very well tooled to handle.
The lucky side effect of that is that a reader of the comic needn’t necessarily have seen The Dark Crystal movie (though, of course, they should go get it right now), since our protagonist is encountering this world and its history with fresh eyes.
But yeah, on a detail level, there’s huge excitement to be had from re-establishing the world after a century away. What’s changed? What’s new?
The world we encountered in the movie is in a bad state - decaying, blighted - whereas now we get to reintroduce it in full blossom. Which means, pure inventive weirdness. It’s a delight to add new detail, new creatures, new cultures. I could cheerfully do that stuff all day every day, and - holy moly - there are some stunning visuals dropping into my inbox every day. This is a really art-led project, as you’d expect.
The opening chapters (necessarily) revolve round the societies which have grown around the crystal, and the Matthews sisters are killing it on art for that. But I’m jumping and down in excitement to see their take on the Wilds we’ll be heading out into, ‘round #3.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about Thurma and Kensho?
Spurrier: Don’t want to give too much away here.
Kensho belongs to a race which will be familiar to viewers of the first movie. He’s quite deeply embedded in the baroque cultures which have grown up ‘round the Crystal in the century since the first movie, while still being an outsider of sorts. He’s an innocent in the purest sense: positive, forgiving, always ready to see the best in people. Unfortunately, that means he’s experienced more than his fair share of bullying.
Thurma... she comes from another world made of fire. It’s a utopia of plasmas, superheated gases, and luminous architecture. Her people are called the Firelings, and they’re totally at home in this scorching environment (which would, of course, be unbearable to any of us). They’ve built a rich culture, full of art and wildlife and meaning, in this strange, fiery place.
Butit’s all going wrong. The great fires are suddenly cooling, and so the Firelings are dying.
All they have is a piece of ancient text, barely understood, which tells them how they can save themselves. It involves sending one of their own out into the “normal” world - a place which, to them, is impossibly cold and deadly - to retrieve a shard of the Crystal. For this task, they choose Thurma.
Nrama: Where do the original lead characters, Jen and Kira, fit into this?
Spurrier: Well, for starters they’re a hundred years older. The Crystal has sustained them, but they’ve sort of stepped back from reality a tad: They spend their time slumbering in a dream of peace, leaving their world in the hands of later generations. It’s not until things get hectic in our new story that we’ll encounter them in the heroic light we know from the movie.
One thing worth mentioning: They’re (obviously) no longer children, no longer naïve. Hence - in my fussy obsession with narrative perspective - they’ve graduated away from being point of view characters. That’s not to say they aren’t still creatures of wonder, it’s more that there’s a nice twist in what you’d expect of a sequel. Jen and Kira spend some of the story in direct opposition to the goals of our main protagonist, Thurma. Hence, the heroes of one story come to be partial antagonists in the next.
(I say “partial” because by no means are Jen and Kira the villains of the piece. We have plenty of those to play with, including - as you’d expect - the familiar lizard-vulture-monsters I mentioned before.)
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with this?
Spurrier: I mean, I’d be lying if I said there’s no part of me vibrating at the notion of trying to impress the Henson dynasty, but frankly it’s just a responsibility to the franchise that means so much to me. The Dark Crystal got me at a very young age, and set in stone a whole bunch of ideas about world-building and genre iconoclasm which have underwritten a lot of my work as a grown-up [laughs] writer.
In story terms my goal’s pretty simple, and that’s to try and capture the same controlling concept which - I believe - underwrites literally everything in the first movie. For my money when you peel off all the incredible surface detail - the exoticism, the adventure, the sheer technical brilliance - the unifying denominator is this: child-like wonder.
Literally every character in that film is a version of childhood. That’s obviously true of the main characters, both of whom are clear ciphers of innocent youth, but also all the rest. From the slow and dreamy mystics (the high-functioning kid in every class who stares hazily out the window all day?) to the tantrum-throwing bullies of the Skeksis. Beneath the utterly original aesthetic they’re all very recognizable childhood tropes. And that’s been done for a very specific reason: This was a movie which introduced an entire new world, not some shitty take on Tolkien-esque high fantasy, but an alien reality full of novelty.
The genius is that the central characters are experiencing this stuff for the first time, just like us. Going out amidst it all is a journey of discovery just as much as a heroic quest. Hence our sense of wonder is 100% earned and earnest, because we’re taking it directly from the main characters - and that’s true even when the “wonder” takes the form of something scary.
In other words, the movie succeeds because it makes its audience encounter this world with the same astonishment that none of us have truly experienced since we were kids. That’s extremely clever. And, to answer your question, it’s something I’m striving with every panel to achieve in the sequel.