From the ruins of World War II into the modern streets of New York City, he comes. A supernatural force set in an all-too-real world – a force born a man but made into a monster.
In the upcoming Image one-shot The Tattered Man, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti eschew the superhero genre to explore the broader horrific implications of tortured souls and the idea of a real spirit of vengeance. No flaming skulls or bike gear to be found this book – instead the titular character is a ragged soul, clothed in true rags, who awakens after a 60+ year slumber to find the same horrors as those in the concentration camps that birthed him. On the side of the average Joes like you and me is a man named David – a hero by no stretch of the imagination, caught up in the human condition and who’s allowed himself to go down the wrong path. Gray and Palmiotti posit a world where life is judged in black and white but where the people living in it might just be shades of grey.
Set for release in May, The Tattered Man is the latest in a string of creator-owned projects this writing duo have come out with over the years. While keeping up with their long-running series Jonah Hex over at DC, the pair have done new work such as Time Bomb, Random Acts of Violence and The Last Resort. In this new $4.99 one-shot, they team up with relative comics newcomer Norberto Fernandez to bring this story of a haunted host to life.
Newsarama: What can you tell us about the guy at the center of it all, the Tattered Man?
Justin Gray: He isn’t so much a person, but rather the manifestation of suffering. Essentially haunting the remains of holocaust victims.
Jimmy Palmiotti: He has a goal and a purpose for being…and time means nothing to him.
Nrama: Although The Tattered Man is the title of the book, he’s not the only star – you also have a man named David that gets beset by this spirit of vengeance. Set up for us just what kind of person David is before he gets involved with this?
Gray: David is a man whose life has spun out of control, each little mistake he’s made has snowballed into a massively destructive future. He’s not so much a bad guy as someone who doesn’t take control of his life, but instead allows addiction and the people around him to guide it.
Palmiotti: : David is like a lot of people you meet who just have taken the wrong road in life …and it all seems almost impossible to come back from it. Someone who might believe no matter what he does to redeem himself, he can never make up for his faults…which is something he deals with in the story.
Nrama: And what makes David someone to get involved with the Tattered Man?
Gray: He doesn’t become involved with the Tattered Man in the traditional sense. David, who is a selfish stupid and person, must redeem himself if he’s going to regain control of his life. His lack of action at a crucial moment in the story is what burdens him with a seemingly impossible job.
Nrama: This is comics, and there’s commonly a villain or adversary for any hero. What are David and the Tattered Man up against here?
Gray: I suppose we should point out that this isn’t a traditional superhero book, there isn’t a classical antagonist because it is more about the human experience peppered with supernatural and pulp elements. It is about fighting personal demons rather than a single villain.
Palmiotti: They both are up against the world around them and the fact that not much has changed in the world in 60 years…that we still haven’t learned life’s lessons yet.
Nrama: This isn’t the first story you two have done that comes out of the Second World War. Why would you say that period in time is so pivotal for you two?
Gray: The idea came from looking at ghost stories, about how certain inanimate objects can be haunted. We wanted a haunting force that was both instantly recognizable and extremely powerful. That’s why we started with the first draft in the 1940’s, but it made sense to move it forward to modern day.
Palmiotti: We deal with a lot of history in the titles we write and a lot of research goes into these stories and when reading so much about the past, you stumble on little details that are completely new to you…and in the case of The Tattered Man, it is as Justin said. It’s a time that is instantly recognizable and at the same time still in the framework of the world where it is not such a forgotten thing.
Nrama: Although birthed in 1940s Germany, the book opens in modern day New York City. Those opening pages set it up specifically – west of 6th avenue in the West Village. Both of you spent a lot of time in New York, how important was it to not only set it there – but get it down to the actual buildings so authentically like this?
Palmiotti: It’s important to pay attention to details when telling a story so they resonate in the readers familiar with the areas and surroundings. Norberto did his homework and for the story it was important that the old man lived in a certain area of New York where trick or treating is still done door to door and at the same time a place where an elderly population co-exists with the new generation of people in the city. I just love when I read a book about somewhere I have been and can see the research put into it.
Gray: You always strive for some kind of authenticity even in stories that contain supernatural elements.
Nrama: From setting to general mood, you two are well-known for creating an authentic and stylized world for your stories to inhabit – through your words and with the artist’s help of course. You’ve done it in Jonah Hex, Time Bomb and even something far different from this like Power Girl. What were your conversations like in this respect?
Gray: We naturally try to give every project its own voice and style one that hopefully suits the characters and settings. I liken it to music where some bands will have a signature sound that they repeat over and over regardless of subject matter, but we like experimenting and branching out. We usually discuss the world and mood we’re setting up ahead of time and then there are some times when everything is organic and just happens.
Palmiotti: I think the best fantasy has roots in reality and setting these books in the real world , to me, makes them feel like there is a chance that thy could actually happen…that something as fantastic as the Tattered Man might somehow be possible. With Time Bomb, we were dealing with events that happened already, so our homework was important there and with something like Power Girl, we knew we had to establish a special place for Karen, so we dug in and made her character work in the real world setting of Brooklyn and Manhattan, which gave that book its own flavor.
Nrama: You mentioned your artist Norberto Fernandez. I haven’t seen his art much before, but he’s been an inker for a long-time collaborator of your Juan Santacruz. Can you tell us how he ended up drawing the book, and what made him right for this?
Gray: The end product in comics is driven by the art. Matching the right artist with the right story is something we both subscribe to. Probably the most consistent example is Jonah Hex with its revolving artistic teams. Norberto has a unique style that is hyper-real and very flexible. This means he can draw convincing scenes based in reality and fantasy with equal enthusiasm. Much of what we asked for in The Tattered Man required a sense of being able to tweak the world we know into a familiar yet strange place. Norberto excelled at this and then exceeded our expectations, which is all we can ask for as writers.
Palmiotti: And he is a dynamic storyteller. Simple as that…you can read and get what this book is about without ever having to read a word balloon. We are drawn to these types of artists.
Nrama: So if The Tattered Man one-shot does well, where does it go next?
Gray: Obviously if enough people connect with the book and the sales are solid we’d be happy to keep delivering stories. At this point our focus is on delivering a quality book and being able to break even on all our production costs.
Palmiotti: Exactly. If it sells well, we will do another. Every dime that went into making this book comes from our pockets, so we have a lot at stake making this the best book we can. It’s why we suggest that people pre-order the book with their retailers and not get caught not being able to get one. We have had that problem with Time Bomb and Random Acts of Violence and hope we don’t have it again.
Nrama: You two are welcome, smiling faces at cons – I’ve even known you to show off some advance pages in books for fans that come by. Will you be attending any cons in the near future that people could come up and ask questions about this book and maybe get sneak peeks?
Gray: I think I might do one or two shows this year depending on how things work out. We have so many new creator owned projects in the works it makes it hard to get away for any extended period of time.
Palmiotti: Amanda and I are trying to do some shows we haven’t done before and some ones we love. Up next for us is MegaCon, Armageddon con in New Zealand, then Dallas, Calgary, San Diego, DragonCon and a few more to be announced. For those that can’t make it to the cons or just don’t want to wait, I have the first bunch of pages up on my blog at jimmypalmiotti.blogspot.com.