Many a story has begun with a cop unfairly gunned down and resurrected in superhuman form. However, they don’t usually involve the Frankenstein family.
Made Men, the new Oni Press series from Paul Tobin with artists Arjuna Susini and Gonzalo Duarte asks some dark questions, including “How far would you go to save your friends?” and “What happens when you owe the Mob your life…in more ways than one?”
For answers, we spoke to Tobin about the book, which premieres September 6.
Newsarama: Paul, tell us about the premise for Made Men.
Paul Tobin: It’s inspired, obviously, by the Frankenstein mythos, though I’m taking it waaay beyond Mary Shelley’s writings. Jutte, the main character, is a direct descendant, and though she avoids it at first, she’s a talented member of the family. Circumstances force her to embrace her heritage, though, when her entire elite police squad is ambushed and murdered in a conspiracy, leading her to remake them (sort of) and turn to the only ones who will take them in, the mob. The title, of course, is a play on both how her squad is 'made men' in two ways: the slang term for a mobster who has killed, and also in the literal manner of speaking, as Jutte actually made these men and women.
Nrama: What was the initial inspiration for this idea?
Tobin: The Frankenstein mythos has been in my head since probably before I was born, but it wasn’t until I was writing the Prometheus section of the Prometheus / Aliens / Predator / Aliens vs. Predator event for Dark Horse Comics that I really began to think about the themes of Frankenstein, as Frankenstein was an ongoing inspiration for the collective group of authors on that project.
From there it just sort of blossomed, as I began to think of the ethics of resurrection. The whole “working for the mob” angle sprang from that, and the idea of a group of people who could be called upon to solve murders… solve them the whole way, actually bringing the dead back to life and everything… was there from the start.
Nrama: What made you want to do this book at Oni?
Tobin: It’s been a combination of me really respecting what Oni has been able to put together as a company, with a strong line of incredibly diverse titles and creators, and then the fact that they’ve been great friends to me personally over the years, so I’m comfortable working with them.
That’s a huge thing for me; I like to know that if I’m going to have ideas, I’m going to be able to implement them. Oni is really good at saying, “Okay. Here’s a blank page. Cut loose!”
Nrama: How did you develop your main character, Jutte?
Tobin: I knew from the start that I wanted a female lead. Since the story is entwined with the Frankenstein mythos, it felt important that the star of the show wasn’t Victor Frankenstein 2.0. In fact, that’s a large part of the story, in that Jutte denied her heritage for years, wanting nothing to do with it. Now, her hand has been forced, and she’s taking alternate ways of expressing what being a Frankenstein means.
Once I had her locked in place, I started to flesh her out. I have a whole dossier of things she likes to do, memories of favorite moments in her life, her likes, and dislikes, little personal things that make Jutte into who she is. Most of this stuff will never make it onto the page, but I like to know where a character is coming from. It informs their actions in a much more tangible way than just a scribbled mental note of, “She fights for justice!”
Nrama: So, without giving too much away, the first third or so of the first issue is about violently dying in gunfire. That had to be a... unique writing experience. How did you figure out the details of how that scene would work, in terms of the location, layout, how to describe what the character's experiencing, etc.? Because that does not seem like a fun task.
Tobin: The first thing I needed to do was think in terms of how the bad guys would set things up. Too often I talk to writers who only think of their stories from one perspective, that of the lead characters. But if you’re going to write an event, you want all the characters involved to have life/individual thought.
So, I considered how I’d go about ambushing an elite police unit, ran it all through my mind, and then flipped it to have it happening through Jutte’s perspective for story purposes.
Nrama: Without spoiling too much, what are some of the directions where you want to take this story?
Tobin: The Frankenstein mythos is, of course, a huge inspiration, but, in this series, I want to take it even further. In the original story, things go crazy wrong for Victor from the start, but one of the themes I want to explore is… what if raising the dead wasn’t the culmination of knowledge for the Frankenstein family? What if that was only one of the first steps of what they could do?
More, I’m currently exploring what it means to the Made Men to have been brought back from the dead. It’s much more complicated than just a life interrupted.
Nrama: What's it like working with Arjuna and Gonzalo on this?
Tobin: Fantastic! Arjuna Susini and I first combined on a pitch I did a few years back for BOOM!, a work called Small Change. The pitch, unfortunately, didn’t make it through, but I really loved Arjuna’s artwork and was looking for a chance to team up with him, so when I began developing Made Men I got him in as part of the team immediately, and he’s been amazing.
I was just doing the lettering proof of issue fou,r and noticed how hard of a script I’d given him - I do like to push my artists to bring out not only their best but the story’s best – and he came through in glowing glory.
And Gonzalo has been adding layers to Arjuna’s work, helping craft the feel of the world.
Nrama: A strange and ugly question: If those you were closest to were killed like in this story, and the options available here were available to you, what choice would you make?
Tobin: I would absolutely go for it. My grief would be too much for me to make proper decisions. And, who’s to say a little resurrection would be the wrong choice anyway?
People always talk about the whole “playing God” angle of the Frankenstein family - which is a big thing in the current Made Men storyline I’m scripting – but stringently adhering to the gospel of death is a bit religious, too: it debunks free will. Or at least that’s an arguing point.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Tobin: I enjoy a lot of what Matt Rosenberg is doing, especially 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, and Steve Lieber’s The Fix over at Image. And pretty much anything Jeff Parker writes. I think Black Mask Studios is producing a lot in interesting comics. Black Hammer over at Dark Horse. Yumi’s Cells over at Webtoons is fantastic. A lot of Korean and Japanese comics are on my reading list. I love the way they tell stories.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Tobin: I’ll be continuing work on some of my ongoing projects, such as Bandette, which just won its third Eisner award, my New York Times best-selling Plants vs. Zombies series, and my Genius Factor series of novels.
The next couple months should see an announcement of another online series I’m doing, something I’ve been working toward for a couple years, now, and that I’m really excited about. And there’s another series in the works that will return me to some of the horror themes I explored in Colder, which will be released in a collected omnibus, quite soon.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Tobin: Hulk would beat Thor. Dogs are better than cats. Somebody [cough cough] should hire me to write a Mary Marvel series.