Zenescope Studios are mainly known for the horror stories and retelling of fairy tales. They're taking a different approach this time around with Merc: Broken World, a noir story with a sci-fi edge. Newsarama recently had a chance to talk with the writer of the series, Jerry Brown, though managing and scheduling was interesting because Brown resides in city of Adelaide which is in the South Australia time zone. He gives us a peek inside the details and imagery of this out-of-this-world realm.
Newsarama: So, Jerry, take us through the basic concept of Merc.
Jerry Brown: On the surface, Merc is a pretty straight cyberpunk story. Noir characters, Fortune 500 industrial warfare, technology gangs, NRA approved cybernetics,all the elements people have been tooling with for years. My goal was to pull it all together in a fresh way.
The main character is Sonny Grissom. Sonny is a Merc, which is a cybernetically enhanced, industrial saboteur. Basically, he's a walking death machine, who gets paid to blow-up cola botteling plants, cap crooked CFOs and steal patent applications.
Mercs make a ton of money, live like kings, party like rock stars and every one of them dies in less than 10 years from all the neural stimulants and immune suppressors they need to perform their jobs. And those last few years of life are an utter nightmare. Failing kidneys, crippling arthritis. They live in constant pain, except for the few brief minutes when they get to fire-up the drugs and storm around like living gods,then it's back to being an invalid.
That's where Sonny is. He's one of the most succesful Mercs out there, but his body has been completely demolished from all the punishment. He has six months to live, and he knows that he's wasted his life.
He takes a contract to perform a pretty high-risk task, only it turns out to be much-much more than that. That's all I really want to say about the plot. The story evolves and has a few twists and I'd like to leave them for the readers to find out.
Nrama: What were some of your influences on the imagery and the design of the characters?
Brown: Merc is a study of self-mutilation. I am facinated by the human obsession with distorting our bodies.
Piercings, tattoos, steroids. It's one thing to dye your hair. It's another to push a plug of stainless steel through your face. And when it's taken to its extreme it's really interesting, because extremes are always interesting. The first time I saw someone with a phone looped out of their ear I thought, wow, we're really starting to Borg. It's actually going to happen.
Ray Kurzweil posed a facinating question about when augmentation crosses the line.
How many circuits can you add to a human brain before that brain is no longer human?
The characters of Merc reflect this question. Every character is a freakshow, either by choice or by circumstance. Some have lost their humanity, others hold on to it more dearly for having been denied normality by fate.
Nrama: Why did you choose to set your story in a cyberpunk realm?
Brown: The core machinery of the plot could certainly have been used in different settings, but the avenues
I wanted to explore with Sonny's character could only be realized in a cyberpunk world. To be honest, I haven't been the biggest fan of cyberpunk. I think the punk aspect of the genre drives writers to write about minor players doing peon jobs, who get caught up in big things. It's a perfectly valid way to go, but my eye was always drawn to the flashy stuff,the bodyguards and hit men, who've turned themselves into freaks so they can do their jobs.
The complexities arise when you meet these characters at the end of their cycles. Now they're paying the price for all that power. You see this in ex-pro football players, who look back and say, "I can't believe what I did to myself back then." I find it very compelling, and I wanted to write a character who's experienced a level of human performance far beyond what I could ever know, and is now paying the price. Cyberpunk was the best way to do it.
Nrama: Who is the artist you're collaborating with?
Brown: The artist is Daniel Schneider, and his work was built on concept art by Claudio Sepulveda.
Dan has done a great job, working on a very tight schedule. Because the characters are so physically mangled, there's a lot of room for interpretation. In a few cases I was quite specific about what was needed, but for the most part I've left it for Dan to decide how to achieve the desired effects. It's worked out great. The only change I've requested was on a panel he executed precisely the way I'd described it,which revealed a flaw in my approach and better way to do it.
Nrama: Now this isn't your first gig in comics is it? For those of you unfamiliar with your work, tell us a bit about yourself.
Brown: I actually come from the film world. I did a draft of Lobo for Warner Brothers (the draft prior to Don Payne's draft), worked on Romeo Must Die, worked with Alex Proyas and did bunch of other stuff that's stuck in development purgatory (which is a tad better than development hell).
A few years back I did a monstrously ambitious series of books for Humanoids Publishing, called METAL. Two of the books were completed (108 pages), but the artist (Butch Guice) has never done the art for the third book. Consequently, only two books were published and they were in in French (so, I can't even read them). Humanoids really wants to do a US release, but can't without the third book. It was an incredibly frustrating experience and turned me off doing comics for years. This is the first time I've come back to them since then.
Nrama: Who are some of your influences as a writer?
Brown: I'm real old school. Harlan Ellison would be my number #1 influence. After that, Robert Bloch, A.E. Van Vogt, Clark, [Isaac] Asimov, Bester, Farmer, Lovecraft. Frank Miller changed my sense of what was possible with Hard Boiled and Sin City, but I don't have a solid comic background.
In film, James Cameron is one hell of a writer. Critics take pot shots at his dialogue, but I couldn't disagree more. When you're writing sci-fi movie dialogue, you're always just two seconds away from utter idiocy. It takes incredible vigillance to keep your characters from sounding like Ed Wood creations.
Lately, I find games are really coming up fast as a true art form. I'm playing Fallout 3 now and I find the level of immersion, the level to which I care about what's going on, is approaching what a good book can do. It used to be games were just fear, but they're going after the bigger stuff now; hope, regret, situations with unintended consequences. Gears of War had some real characters too.
It's interesting that at a time when so much of the world is being reduced to porn, to the most stripped down components of ideas, that games are raising their standards and striving to tell more complex stories. I heard one game designer say that they feel a real pressure to try to hit it out of the park every time. I think that's exactly how it should be. It's what I strive for. Hopefully, Merc will deliver that.