At this year’s New York Comic Con, Aspen Comics premieres its brand new series “Dead Man’s Run” with a special #0 issue. Announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego earlier this year as the newest collaboration between Aspen and Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla, the Grek Pak-written series features art by Tony Parker and centers around a prison break from Hell and a man who will do anything to save his sister. While the actual #0 issue launches the adventure at comic stores across the nation in November, NYCC attendees can get their hands on the beginning of the tale this weekend.
CBR News spoke with Pak about “Dead Man’s Run,” the cast of characters that populate the jailbreak and rescue, how his world-building experience working on “Planet Hulk” helped add to the book and why comics are the perfect medium to tell this story.
CBR News: Greg, tell us about “Dead Man’s Run.” What’s the idea behind it and who are the key players?
Greg Pak: It’s a prison break from Hell. Literally. Hell is a place on Earth — specifically, a maximum security prison in the California desert. During the course of our story, a young cartographer will take on all the forces of the underworld to save his sister, the only innocent in Hell.
So far, not much has been revealed about the main character of the book. What can you tell us about him and his support team as they head on their mission?
In issue #0, which hits stores in November, we focus on Captain Frank Romero, a decorated war hero with a dark past who’s now the head of security of the Andrew Jackson Maximum Security Prison in Los Olvidados, California. It’s a done-in-one tale that establishes the world and ethos of “Dead Man’s Run” while setting into motion the catastrophic events that launch our story.
But we’ll learn in issue #1 that the true hero of our story is Sam Tinker, the young cartographer who works for the Captain. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but Sam, a guy who’s spent most of his adult life trying to stay out of trouble in order to protect his sister Juniper, will end up diving head first in the worst trouble imaginable in order to save her.
The mysterious female Warden is the other major player in the opening chapters of our story — and her total commitment to her mission may be as tempting as it is terrifying to our heroes.
Fear of spoilers also prevents me from describing the rest of the cast, but I’ll just say that Hell is chock full of intriguing sinners of every type from every period of history. Issue #2 may blow a few minds.
What’s going on in this world that you’ve built with Valhalla? How is it different from our own and how did it get to be the way it is?
“Dead Man’s Run” takes place in our world, with one key difference: when they die, sinners end up in a maximum security prison buried beneath a giant pyramid in the middle of the California desert. No one can tell you if the cause of all of this is scientific or supernatural, but it’s real and it’s here and it’s not going away, so there’s an entire legal and political system set up around this prison, both above and below ground, accompanied by all the idealism and corruption you might expect from any human institution.
One of the characters you’re best known for writing, The Hulk, is also in many ways a tough loner with a support crew. How did your experiences working and exploring that type of narrative help inform your work on “Dead Man’s Run,” if at all?
The experience of creating the world of Sakaar for “Planet Hulk” has definitely prepared me for the world-building aspects of “Dead Man’s Run.” We’re creating what we hope is an entirely new vision of Hell in the book — something real and relevant, fantastical and horrific all at once. We’ll reveal it all bit by bit, but there’s a complete vision behind this whole thing, in which every working part makes sense in terms of the Warden’s ethos and aims and the upper world’s political machinations. So there’s a big world coming together here. But at the same time, the real heart of the story focuses on Sam and Juniper and asks big questions about the nature of heroism and the price of a soul. That’s another lesson from “Planet Hulk,” I suppose — that all that fantastical world-building only matters if there’s a compelling human conflict at the heart of the story.
What are some of the more challenging aspects for you in working on a project like this?
It’s always a huge challenge to begin an entirely new story with entirely new characters in comics. But that’s exactly what makes this kind of project a huge amount of fun. My big challenge to myself has been to invest each and every scene with a small, real, revelatory moment about one of our key characters. I’m shooting for utterly human, believable drama in the middle of this giant, fantastical action story. Wish me luck!
Could you take us through your creative and/or collaborative process with the folks over at Valhalla and series artist Tony Parker?
I’m kind of in love with everyone working on this book. Valhalla’s Ben Roberts is a kind of a genius — he’s the guy who originally had the idea of a prison break from Hell, and I’m just thrilled he lobbed the ball into my court. Gale Anne Hurd, the legendary producer behind Valhalla, is simply brilliant, with a fantastic eye for story and character. I’ve been talking and emailing with Gale and Ben throughout the process and I’m learning a huge amount from working with them. And Frank Mastromauro and Vince Hernandez and everyone at Aspen know exactly what they’re doing and have been sharp and supportive and totally on the ball every step of the way.
Finally, Tony Parker is just a dream — totally committed to telling the story in the best way possible, with endless ideas and a real love of collaboration. And he’s insanely fast. He’s inking this thing, too, and I strongly suspect we’re not going to miss a single deadline.
What appeals to you about the plot and characters of “Dead Man’s Run” as a creator and why do you think it’s especially well suited for comics?
One of the big attractions of the story was the chance to work in a fresh genre (for me) in comics. Comics is a fantastic medium for a multitude of genres — I’m a big supporter of using comics to tell horror stories, romance stories, Westerns, sci-fi tales, fantasy yarns, or anything else that intrepid writers and artists might dare. As a kind of supernatural action story, “Dead Man’s Run” is packed full of the kinds of intimate human moments and fantastical action sequences that comics can deliver like nobody’s business. So I’m thrilled to be on the job and couldn’t be happier watching Tony’s amazing pages rolling in.
What excites you the most about getting to write this book?
The thrill of collaborating with folks like Gale, Ben, Frank, Vince and Tony. The ridiculous fun of this kind of world-building. And the chance to fall in love with new characters and really dig into their emotional stories.
Finally, as a writer, what are some of the most enjoyable aspects of working on “Dead Man’s Run?”
This sounds crazy, but I’m loving the rewrites. The notes I’ve been getting from Ben and Gale and Frank are so good and on point that I can’t wait to dig back in and make the scripts better. I’m always looking for new challenges as a writer, for new ways to learn and get better, so collaborators as sharp as this are a dream come true.