By now you know Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti—not just from the quantity of titles on which these two talented writers are associated, but the sheer variety. From Westerns (Jonah Hex), to tongue-in-cheek superheroics (Power Girl), to, most recently, a WWII time travel thriller (Time Bomb), this writing duo can never be accused of repeating themselves. In May, they’ll be presenting the superhero-horror one-shot, The Tattered Man, which finds its lead, David, cursed with the responsibility to right wrongs thanks to an entity that exists inside a bundle of rags.
Justin and Jimmy talk to MTV Geek about the story, and more broadly about the challenge of trying to bring something new into a comic book landscape dominated by capes.
MTVGeek: Tell us a little bit about David. He’s not exactly hero material is he?
Justin Gray: Not exactly. He’s more of a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone whose life is spinning out of control due to the decisions he’s made and the people he’s surrounded him self with. In most cases a superhuman or supernatural ability is bestowed upon someone good. What we wanted to do was approach the concepts of salvation and redemption with a character that is forced to change his life for the better.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Having a goody two shoes as a hero has been done a million times… and we wanted to do something a bit different with David… give the hope that someone who has made all the wrong decisions in his life can still have a chance to turn things around. I have always believed in giving people a second chance (except ex-girlfriends) and the theme of redemption and making hard choices have always interested me. It’s my human nature to believe there is some good in even the worst person… and this story takes an interesting idea/concept and runs with it. That said, there is a lot of simply horrible people in this book that die in horrific ways… but we make sure, at least, that they have what’s coming to them.
Geek: Then again, the thing he becomes isn’t exactly heroic, is it? What does it want and who does it target?
JG: The concept is that human suffering on a historic scale has given rise to a force or an entity bent on balancing the scales. It isn’t so much a question of heroism as it is a creation to bring some kind of justice to the victims of crime and suffering.
JP: The spirit of vengeance meets the spirit of lost souls and so on… the entity known as The Tattered Man has its roots in the horrors of genocide… and as we travel to present day, we see on a different scale that mankind simply hasn’t stopped and learned from the past. It’s weird to think that on some level, in the middle of a war, killing someone else can be heroic… but it’s the cause and the fight that define that… a soldier has to believe in what he thinks is right and plunge forward into the abyss. The Tattered Man exists to level the playing field, to defend the weak and consume the evil.
Geek: Do you think The Tattered Man is about justice or retribution? How do you think the character of David feels about it?
JG: David is both the hero and victim of his story, a man who is paying for his crimes of selfishness, indulgence and indifference to life. He clearly sees himself as a victim and the work he does is essential to restoring any semblance of humanity and normalcy. If that’s even possible given the size of the challenge in front of him.
JP: This is super heroics meets horror and there are truly shocking things that happen in this story and no way can anyone balance this out… but the Tattered Man tries to… and on some level, even, trying is better than doing nothing. The part of David that knows he has done something bad lets this monster into his being, because somewhere inside, he knows he screwed up and has to pay for his crimes. Being David, he still tries to hold on to his humanity but it gets harder and harder as he sees what mankind is truly capable of.
Geek: In the book’s afterword, you talk about having a story to tell and no place to tell it. In what format was The Tattered Man originally pitched and why did the comic format end up being the best?
JG: It was always intended to be in comic form because that was where we had the greatest range of freedom with both content and the special effects elements. The problem we face with a number of our ideas is that they don’t fit the mainstream mold and unfortunately that is where the vast majority of comics are comfortable. I see and read material by people standing up and asking for greater expansion in the medium, the growth of genres and support for books created outside of the dominant interest in the industry, but the reality is there’s not a large audience for that kind of material inside the comic’s community. And that’s what it is, a community as opposed to an open market. At best you can hope you’ll get people walking in off the street out of curiosity, but what you don’t have is a wide array of demographics where support for any non-superhero title becomes anything more than a cult hit in terms of generating revenue. That’s why it is difficult to find a place to tell certain kinds of stories like The Tattered Man. With a limited number of exceptions, much of the indie book market is not a viable long-term financial plan. Indie books exist because people have stories to tell and the desire to tell them outstrips the money and time it takes to tell them. That’s why we become so vocal about support for those titles and creators who are creating material out of love for the medium and story. This is one of those books.
JP: Justin, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Geek: Justin, in your afterword you say that the story was originally to be a period piece set in WWII—why the move to the present?
JG: It just made more sense to move it to the present. That and the fact that we’d just finished a lengthy period piece in Time Bomb for Radical Comics. The concept could exist at any point, but we wanted to tell a modern story about people that were familiar in a familiar setting.
Geek: What’s next for The Tattered Man?
JG: Hopefully we’ll be able to expand on David’s life and quest for redemption in the near future, but right now we’re concentrating on several other creator owned projects. If the response were positive, we’d return to Tattered Man because there are a number of stories for the book squirreled away in our computers.
JP: As Justin said, if the book sells where we can actually break even and maybe do some more, we will do it right away… but the market is tough and books like these don’t reach most people because comic shops generally don’t order these to have around… they play it safe and order what they can sell… which we totally get… that’s why we ask everyone interested in this book to please let your retailer know you would like to order it in advance to guarantee that you get it. We hit a wall with Random Acts of Violence … it was under-ordered and when people came looking for it, it was sold out. Worse, we really can’t second print unless we hit a certain number of copies… so without pre-orders, you will just be out of luck… which we hate to happen. The digital downloads make this easier, but it’s only a part of the order.
Don't forget to pre-order your copy of "Tattered Man," which comes out in May!