Justin Marks - Bringing Bionic Commando to Comics

Justin Marks on Bionic Commando

Screenwriter Justin Marks is rapidly becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for adapting both video game (Street Fighter) and comic (Devil’s Due’s Hack/Slash) properties to the big screen. Now in conjunction with Devil’s Due and Capcom , he’s begun work on his first comic book foray, Bionic Commando. We recently put a call into his Santa Monica office to talk about bringing the game to comics.

Newsarama: First off Justin, how did you get involved with Capcom and Bionic Commando?

Justin Marks: Bionic Commando is something that I grew up playing on the NES. I’m a big video game guy, and I’d been following it on Kotaku for a while - seeing the new stuff that Ben Judd [Producer on Bionic Commando] was doing in with the next-gen version. I got to see it at the Game Developer’s Conference in January in San Francisco when I was in the Capcom booth because I was doing the Street Fighter movie. I was like “What is that?” and Ben explained that it was the new Bionic Commando, and I saw that there were stories to carve out and I wanted to do it. There’s potential movie in there but there’s also a potential bigger broader pallet. I was doing Devil’s Due’s Hack/Slash for Rouge [Pictures] and it was a perfect marriage when Capcom and Devil’s Due made a deal to start doing comics together, I got a chance to do Bionic Commando.

NRAMA: Will the comic take place then in the classic “rearmed” Bionic Commando Universe or that of the next-gen release?

JM: Ben has created a great continuity between the two that the release of [Bionic Commando] Rearmed has to do with, they are bringing a newer generation into the mythology of the game. A lot of gamers never got a chance to play the original and now they get their chance to. Basically, it’s a chance to connect the Nathan Spencer [the eponymous Bionic Commando] of old to the Spencer of new, Andy Diggle [The Losers] is creating this really awesome webcomic , and this will take that and build a story that wraps around the events of the upcoming game but still sort of comes out of the events of the original game.

NRAMA: How much freedom is Capcom giving you with their property?

JM: It’s actually been total freedom, and it’s been really great. We had a lot of time at Comic-Con to catch up, put our heads together, and come up with new stuff. He’s been really generous as far as giving me elements, characters, pieces from the upcoming game and there is a timeline that we are working in. The timeline is something that I was really interested in, it thematically tells a really interesting story for the new game. For the most part, within that time I’m able to do what I want and it’s the kind of world I’m really enjoy telling a story in.

NRAMA: How long will the comic run? Is it a mini or a maxi-series?

JM: As with any new comic we intend to give it a really long run. The one thing I didn’t want to do to is create the traditional tie-in, or an ancillary marketing tool that will just serve to put the Bionic Commando name out there but won’t be a satisfying comic in and of itself. I see the world that Capcom’s creating with this one to be a really adult world, a really interesting, compelling and dramatic world. So to tell a comic in that space I don’t want it to be a casual build up to say ‘hey go buy the game.’ I really wanted the comic to be satisfying on every level, even if you don’t buy the game. The hope is in the end, to continue to spin it off down the line. There are characters that I’ve been creating with Capcom that will be in the series for a very long time and I think are going to be really cool characters to follow. But the initial run will be a one off, and hopefully be out soon, and then maybe a four or five issue arc that will spin off from there.

NRAMA: Will the comic include characters from Andy’s webcomic or new ones alongside Nathan Spencer?

JM: A lot of the characters that Andy’s created are going to be continuing on as they very important to the mythology of the Bionic Commando universe, so absolutely, you’ll definitely see some of those major figures, I don’t know if I should say specifically who, but ‘she’ will go on.

NRAMA: Who’s the artist on the series?

JM: I don’t know if it’s been announced so I don’t know if I can say or not, but he’s really great. It’s a very cool visual scheme that we’re going for. This is my first comic that I’ve gotten a chance to write, and you know, growing up on comics with the DC universe and now the Devil’s Due universe with their great books, like Hack/Slash as well as Spooks, and I wanted for my first be to catchy. I’m not saying it will be experimental, but it’s something kinda cool, when you’re talking about the visual scheme of the Bionic Commando world, that mixes high tech with organic tissue, there’s something that we can do that will be something special.

NRAMA: You did say “he’s really great,” so we can narrow it down from there!

JM: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess we’ve narrowed it down to that 90% of artists.

NRAMA: You said that this is your first comic, did you notice any special challenge in writing comics opposed to your screenplay work?

JM: It’s been interesting, but since I also straddle other stuff, I also write video games, so I’ve not been boxed in with screenplays. I’ve always been a comic reader so you started to develop what the pulse of that writing is, but I’m still learning now that I’m actually applying it. It’s been really fun, because as a screenwriter you just write out the story, write out the characters, write out the dialog, and cross your fingers and hope for the best as far as the “creep-in” from the direction is concerned. In a comic, you’re the director of the material and that’s been a really fun, fulfilling process, since I can hold its hand all the way though production.

NRAMA: You mentioned that you’ve written other games, since there’s no real database for that kind of information; can you share a few of those titles?

JM: Yeah, I’ve been writing games for a year, year and a half so as you may know, with the traditional game style, those are at least another year away from coming out, so I can’t really say, but it’s a testament to modern games that they can spin out their own mythologies, giving you a chance to explore the story with other missions, side missions, rather then just following one character or an ensemble through a story in a movie.

NRAMA: With so many movie or comic to game translations, are you concerned that gaming will just become a part of the marketing mix with toys and lunchboxes?

JM: I worry about the same thing, but there are games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and Portal that are some of the best because they’re not like that. I think as we move forward to more user-created games, using Flash or open game engines, those sorts of games are a sign for the future, sort of like is Sundance for movies. Then that talent will get a change to create the big games for the public, moving forward the notion that games are an independent, autonomous art form. Bionic Commando will continue to help that as well. [Laughs]

NRAMA: You mentioned Street Fighter, now there’s a great example of game to movie that didn’t work…

JM: What? You didn’t like Jean-Claude Van Damme? [Laughs]

NRAMA: I was going to ask if he’s returning as Guile…

JM: No he won’t be reprising his role in the next Street Fighter movie, I think I can say that!

NRAMA: Do you think the issue with that movie was that the creators of that movie didn’t grow up with the game?

JM: Well the guy who wrote it, Steven E. de Souza was the writer on Die Hard, and directed it [the 1994 Street Fighter movie] too, I think it was just a function of what you see with movies like Batman and Robin opposed to Batman Begins, the creators of the former had a different Batman experience when they were young the 60’s TV show, and now in the Nolen era, the influence are things like Millar’s The Dark Knight Returns, and so that example is taken into the stratosphere. While I’m definitely not comparing Street Fighter to Batman Begins, I grew up with the Street Fighter games, and I don’t see them as cheesy or funny, but as serious characters that deserve to be explored in their own right.

NRAMA: You are also writing the Hack/Slash movie, can you share what storylines are going to make it into the film?

JM: It won’t be an origin story, per se, but the origin will be covered. I think you’ll see the Lunch Lady as well as Cassie and Vlad. But we wanted to do something very different, because this is the first chance to see a slasher movie where there is more then one slasher! Because it follows a hunter, you’re going with her and her accomplice as they go from one to another, and building out the mythology of how this world works with its undead slashers. Cassie is a wonderful character, the one that Tim [Seeley] created and this is a character based movie, your going to get to know the people who are surviving or dying. I’ve been pulling lines, moments and scenes from the comics leading up to the numbered run that fans will notice.

NRAMA: Are we looking at a rating of “R”?

JM: It was written with that mentality in mind, yes, and the creator is involved and working intimately with the production.

NRAMA: Finally, is there any property out there you’d like to sink your teeth into?

JM: Oh yes, and there are those I’ve already sunk them into that I’d like to work with in different media. Voltron is a great one and would make a great game; He-Man’s got a huge world that would be great to see. You know what it’s like when you’ve been on a one lane highway and the suddenly it’s opens up to five lanes? That’s what it feels like right now creatively.


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