Interview: 'Red Spike' Writer Jeff Cahn On Super Soldiers and Ultraviolence

Earlier this year, we had a chance to speak to artist Mark Texeira about his work on the Benaroya/Image comic Red Spike, and with the release of the trade comprising the first arc, "Adrenaline," on the way in January, we took the opportunity to speak to the book's writer, Jeff Cahn about bringing the story of government super-soldiers to the page.

Here's the official synopsis of the series:

It’s been over 70 years since the world first began its research into creating a Super Soldier. In 2011, the United States successfully created not one, but two. The latest in US Black Ops, Project Red Spike discovered that through the manipulation and regulation of the adrenal glands the super soldier was one step closer. The first (surviving) successes of the program, two close friends Matt Cutler and Greg Dane, have been proven on the field to be everything that was wanting in the program. But what happens when an adrenaline regulator malfunctions? What happens should one man refuse to follow orders if he finds out the true price they had to pay for these abilities and goes AWOL? How do we stop him? What price becomes too high?

So how did the story reach the page and where's it going next? And what about Cahn's next project from Benaroya, Redeemer? We spoke to the writer about this and more in our interview.

MTV Geek: Why was Benaroya the right home for Red Spike?

Jeff Cahn: Truthfully, Benaroya was the only home for this project. The idea for the adrenalized super-soldier who ultimately became Matt was Michael Benaroya’s. He came to me with it and then let me sort of run wild and develop a world around it, so there was really no other home for it.

Geek: There’s a little 80’s Canon Pictures/API action movie feel to the story (I mean that in a good way). What were some of the influences for Red Spike?

Cahn: Well, I think whenever you are dealing with a super-soldier, the first thing that springs to mind is Captain America. I’m not very familiar with Captain America. He never interested me, so it’s hard to say whether or not that influences Red Spike because I don’t really know anything about his comics. I do like the [Greg Pak/Mirko Colak] Red Skull Incarnate mini-series, though. Weapon X was also a comic I read as I was preparing to write Red Spike, so some ideas from that may have percolated and made their way into Red Spike as well.

As far as the 1980s, I guess the idea of a rogue super-soldier is also in Universal Soldier, which technically is early ‘90s, but is still rife with 1980s coked-out machismo. Red Spike does have some similarities, I suppose, insofar as there’s a lot of testosterone and it’s also about a soldier who learns about the deplorable things the program he is a part of does and then escapes, but a lot of the dynamics are totally different. In Red Spike the “good” guy is the one who is left in program, still doing the bidding of his evil overlords whereas in Universal Soldier, the good guy is the one who flew the coop. The way we handle Downey and Greg is also very different from Ally Walker and Van Damme’s relationship.

Geek: Tell our readers about Greg and Matt. As the series progresses we see exactly how damaged Greg is going into the program.

Cahn: Greg and Matt are fairly different. Matt is a well-adjusted guy with a good head on his shoulders. He’s had to go through some tough stuff in life—like his father dying when he was a boy—and just the general hardship of being raised by a single mother who is struggling to make ends, but he’s become stronger and more centered because of that. He’s a good kid. He has a positive attitude even in the face of negativity and he is very trusting. Probably too trusting.

Greg has also had a significant amount of trauma in his life. He lost both his mother and father at a young age, but it was through an act of extreme violence and those scars still linger with Greg. He’s full of anger and rage. These are the two primary emotions in his life. Once he met Downey these sort of buried themselves because Greg was finally happy, he finally had someone who cared for him and who he cared for and he no longer felt like it was just him against the world. But once he starts to learn about some of the nefarious stuff going on at Red Spike, he begins to doubt himself, what he knows about the world, and even to some extent his love with Downey. Then the rage rushes back to the surface in a hurry.

Geek: Why was Greg a good candidate? Matt I can understand—he’s a good, all-American soldier.

Cahn: Well I’m not sure if Greg is a good candidate. I think that might have been a fatal mistake on Moyer’s part. Moyer and Coughlin knew Greg’s father. In the open of Issue 2, Coughlin is there when Greg’s dad kills Greg’s mom, and it’s Coughlin’s SWAT team that then kills Greg’s dad. Moyer also knew Matt’s father and both Greg and Matt’s father were excellent soldiers but for drastically different reasons. Moyer explains to Matt that he thought that he could give Greg a better life after the loss of his family, which to a certain extent is true, but mostly I think Moyer thought that he could control Greg, that he could mold Greg’s anger into something that he could use.

Moyer places a certain premium on animalistic rage, and Greg definitely has that, but it’s like trying to ride a tiger. Even if you have some success at first, eventually he’ll buck you off and maul your face.

Geek: At the same time, what keeps Matt and Greg together as friends (in the beginning, at least)?

Cahn: To some extent it’s convenience. It’s like if you go to camp or you go to a foreign place where you don’t know anyone. Sometimes in those situations people wind up being friends with people that they would never be friends with in their ordinary life, but because of the unique nature of both their positions, and the universal human need for interactions with other humans, they become friends.

That’s especially true in a program like Red Spike, where you are not just cut off from the outside world, you’re essentially dead to it. What you do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is completely secret. You can’t talk about it, and even if you could, no one would believe you. Your communication with your family is halted, your access to news and outside information and points of view is extremely limited. It’s enough to make you go crazy, so people develop relationships that they might not otherwise develop. Same thing applies to Greg and Downey.

Geek: Colonel Moyer: What motivates him? It almost seems like he has some affection for Matt and Greg, but then that flips pretty dramatically.

Cahn: In his mind he is motivated by doing what is best for protecting the country. He views Red Spike as the first and last line of defense for the US. He views it as the future of the US Military, so he’s willing to do anything to achieve its goals. But after a while he begins to conflate what is good for him with what is good for Red Spike and the country. He starts to view Red Spike as something that belongs to him instead of something that he is a steward of. And once he starts to do that, it’s all over and he becomes just like any other despot and starts to believe that any challenge to what he’s doing is an existential threat to Red Spike.

Of course, this is only in his head and in fact he, himself, is the true threat to Red Spike. But since he is the one with all the power, he is able to avoid being displaced, at least for a while. It’s like Stalin, Gaddafi, anyone who has been corrupted by too much power for too long a time. After a while they begin to believe that the power is rightfully theirs and that the wellbeing of their nation is tied to their personal wellbeing, and from there they do things that are not in anyone or anything’s best interest other than their own.

Geek: Why can’t Army scientists in stories like this learn that if you create a bunch of super soldiers, at least one of them is going to go off the reservation?

Cahn: [Laughs]. Because then there wouldn’t be any good super-soldier stories. But to try to seriously answer your question, I think it’s man’s nature to always push the envelope. Be it physically or intellectually, we are always trying to achieve more. This is what allows us to create amazing things like skyscrapers and airplanes and space stations. But sometimes we don’t fully understand the ramifications of what we do.

I think the scientists in these stories are really smart and have gotten where they are by understanding the world and how things work in it. So there’s some arrogance there, where they believe that they’ve covered all the angles and that they have a solution to any problem that may arise, when in fact they don’t. It’s a “man’s reach exceeds his grasp” situation that gets blown out to the nth degree because of how smart Fairfield is and what it is he’s trying to grasp.

Geek: Could you tell us a little about working with artists Mark Texiera and Salvador Navarro?

Cahn: It was a lot of fun. I honestly didn’t work particularly closely with them as we were making the comic. I just wrote my scripts and then shot them off to them and let them do their thing. But it’s pretty awesome to have Mark, someone who my friends and I grew up being fans of, working on a comic I wrote.

Geek: What else do you have coming up?

Cahn: I have another comic called Redeemer in the works. The first issue should be out next year. The way I’ve been pitching it to people at conventions is it’s a supernatural western, like The Crow in the world of Deadwood. That isn’t exactly what it is but when you only have thirty seconds to capture someone’s attention that does the job.

Basically, a stranger, Mr. Mendac, rolls into this small, for the most part very religious, desert town and he tells the people that he’s struck gold in the hills and he gets everyone, even people who are generally frugal and moral, excited about the prospect of all this wealth. Then he invites some miners and prostitutes and generally undesirable elements into the town and finally the preacher, Ezekiel, has had enough. He and his most loyal followers try to kick Mendac and the miners out. Instead of leaving peacefully they lock Ezekiel and his followers, including his wife, inside his church and burn it to the ground, killing everyone. Then Ezekiel comes back from the dead to get vengeance and redemption. He also learns some secrets about Mendac and the town in the process.

Geek: How about a tease of where the story in Red Spike will go next?

Cahn: I think anyone who has read Issue 5 will have some idea about where we plan to go with subsequent issues of Red Spike. And I don’t want to ruin the surprise in Issue 5 for those people who haven’t.

Check out some of these preview pages from the upcoming Redeemer:

Red Spike Vol. 1: Adrenaline will be on sale in January from Image Comics.

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