They may be the Expendables -- but when you're an elite squad of killers played by Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke, that doesn't mean you go down without a fight.
With the Lionsgate movie The Expendables due out August 13, Dynamite is looking to let this band of brawlers out early, with a four-issue miniseries by Chuck Dixon and Esteve Polls coming out in May. We caught up with Dixon to talk about what sets the Expendables apart from other suicide squads like the A-Team, what it's like to work on a tie-in, and to get just a tease of what's in store from this murderer's row of professional tough guys.
Newsarama: Chuck, can you tell us a little bit about the Expendables, who they are, and what sort of mess they've gotten themselves into?
Chuck Dixon: The Expendables is a collection of professional soldiers who share a history of dangerous military adventures. In the great tradition of these kinds of the stories, each of the guys has a specialty. Martial arts, handguns, explosives etc… This limited series is a prequel that shows them on an earlier adventure.
Nrama: Going back a little bit -- how did you end up working on this book?
Dixon: I’ve know Nick at Dynamite for a long time and he knows he can drop me into a franchise like this and I’ll write a convincing action-packed story with heart. And I’ll hand it in on time. All of these movie tie-in comics are deadline nightmares. And I work well under pressure.
Nrama: Now, you're no stranger to hard-hitting soldiers-of-fortune, having worked on IDW's A-Team book, but when you're working on a property that has professional tough guys like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Mickey Rourke, how do you approach a book like this? What do you feel sets the Expendables apart from suicide squadrons like the A-Team, the Losers or even the Inglourious Basterds?
Dixon: Star power. Stallone’s written a story that plays to each of his player’s strengths both as tough guys and performers. While they are playing characters with distinct personalities, he’s taken his cues from the “type” that audiences most associate them with. Stallone is, above all, a master showman. He’s going to give the audience what they want in spades. But he’s asked his cast to stretch their personas to match the intensity of the action.
Nrama: And adding onto that -- what does the Expendables allow you to do as a writer that other series can't?
Dixon: Lots of violence committed by guys who, while not morally ambivalent, they are certainly morally expedient. The restraints are off a bit more here. The action more bloody. The settings more realistic.
Nrama: Do you have a particular favorite soldier of the bunch? And what do you like best about them?
Dixon: Gunnar (played by Dolph Lundgren) is gonna steal this movie. I don’t want to say more because I wouldn’t want to spoil a movie. Especially a movie with this many real-life ass-kickers in it.
Nrama: Something else that links this book with the A-Team book you did -- the fact that they're both comic book tie-ins to feature films. How does that change your process or what you're allowed to do? Could you walk us through a little bit of what you have to navigate in order to get the final OK?
Dixon: Well, A-Team was a walk for me. I was a fan of the show and the producers of the movie, wisely, changed nothing about the attitude or the characters of the original. All they did was update it by twenty years. So I just wrote the characters I already knew so well.
The Expendables is more challenging as I haven’t seen the movie. I’m only going off the screenplay which is a huge help as it’s so clearly and succinctly written. But it’s hard to get a feel from a screenplay alone. But I think (I hope) I captured Stallone’s vibe. His dialogue here is very distinctive and there’s a kind of shorthand between these characters who know each other so well. Trying to capture that has been the toughest part. But it’s also liberating in a way because I’m free to use his language as a guide for improvisation. Stallone has perfectly distilled all of the tropes of what made 80’s action films so much fun but studiously avoided the dated clichés like all those takeaway lines. You know, stuff like “Stick around” after the hero has pinned a bad guy to a tree with a bowie knife.
Nrama: Let's talk a little bit about the art on this book. What do you feel Esteve Polls brings to the table in terms of his style?
Dixon: Esteve is my friend and I brought him to Dynamite for the run I wrote on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He knows the gear, understands the locales and knows how to block out action that’s wild but clearly presented. His opening pages in Africa are stunning.
Nrama: Lastly, for those who are still on the fence about the Expendables, what would you tell them to get them on board? Are there any moments you can tease that you're excited to see hit the printed page?
Dixon: Mickey Rourke, by himself, fighting a small army of thugs sent to kill him by a Mexican drug cartel.