After not just breaking but smashing his way onto the scene with “The Strange Talent of Luther Strode” #1 in 2011, Justin Jordan has made quite a name for himself in the industry. Whether it is for the brutal “Strode” book, his help in relaunching “Shadowman” for the modern era or his current acclaimed work in “Green Lantern: New Guardians,” Jordan is keeping himself busy and his talents are frequently visible on the comic shelves.
Next month, however, Jordan returns to the world of creator-owned comics with his new book with Matteo Scalera, “Dead Body Road,” a modern-Western/crime mini-series in which one man takes to the highway to enact vengeance upon the men who tore his life apart in a bank heist gone wrong. It’s a dark thriller of a book full of intense action and the appropriate levels of melodrama in a complete change of pace from what we’d seen Jordan work on up until now, and let me tell you that it’s a debut not to miss.
What makes “Dead Body Road” so intriguing is that it actually does a fairly decent job of setting itself apart from what we’re currently seeing in comics. While the crime genre has never left us and we do see the odd Western here and there (“The Sixth Gun” certainly comes to mind), “Dead Body Road” is like what you’d get if you were given a modern day Clint Eastwood film during his heyday and not so much the “get off my lawn” grumblings. It’s terse at points and verbose at others, both showing just enough to intrigue but never enough to let you in on the full scope, and what we’re given is something where the lead character feels more like a force of nature than just a broken man seeking revenge.
Which is to say: whatever you expect about this book based on the genres it assumedly seeks to emulate, you’re probably wrong. “Dead Body Road” goes a bit farther than that.
So as first issues go, there’s a lot that is set-up in “Dead Body Road” similar to how “Luther Strode” kicked off its epic adventure. Read on as we chat with Justin all about “Dead Body Road,” mixing up genres, working with Matteo and car chases.
I’ve seen you talk a bit about how the book is your ode to crime fiction along the lines of Justfied, but I sensed a few other influences at play. Now that you’ve done a good deal of for-hire work, how does that reflect on you for your new creator-owned title?
Justin Jordan: Good question. Well, no, it’s a terrible fucking question, because now I have to think. I’m not sure how the work for hire changes the creator owned stuff. I’m pretty sure it DOES, mind you.
I do know that I’m very consciously doing stuff I feel like I can’t do (or know I can’t in some cases) in my work for hire stuff. It’s definitely more experimental, if I can say that without sounding like a raging douche.
It’s also allowed me to out a lot of pages out. I’ve written somewhere close to two thousand pages of stuff since the first Luther Strode came out, and I hope that’s made me a better writer.
In terms of genre, I tend to see you skew more towards horror than crime, despite your notable love for Elmore Leonard. Do you find yourself mixing in any non-traditional to crime tropes to the series as it goes?
JJ: Well, there’s definitely and intentionally a western influence to it. It’s meant to be, and I hope is, a modern western mixed with a heavy dose of crime and noir. It’s not especially horrorific, except maybe for that thing that Cobb does in issue one. That’s sort of horrory.
But, you know, I get influences from a lot of stuff. Take Cobb, for instance. Cobb is, although I don’t use the term in the book, a standover man, which is an Australian thing, where a criminal basically makes his living finding criminals who have pulled off a big score and robbing them.
I first became acquainted with the concept when I read Idoru, a William Gibson sci fi book fifteen, twenty years ago, which featured an exstandover man as a minor character. So you can draw a line from that book to this comic in the person of Fletcher Cobb.Continued below
So as Dead Body Road begins, we’re treated to a bit of a horrorshow that informs the later events of the book – but looking at it, the splash page of death, I’m a bit reminded of Luther Strode. Is that on purpose, or an accident based on circumstance?
JJ: It’s on purpose – they both serve the purpose of (hopefully) surprising and hooking the reader right away, and giving them immediately a sense of what the book is about. Just felt like the right way to go, for this book.
In terms of starting off with a bloody bang, how was this approach to storytelling initially inspired?
JJ: Fear and desperation?
I know in Luther Strode it was partly inspired by Goodfellas, of all things. Goodfellas opens with that bit with the guy in the trunk before going back to earlier, better times. Now I don’t know why Scorcese did it, but for me it was a good way to get attention and establish tone.
And that was, at least in part, because I wanted to show Image something big when I pitched them, and there wasn’t anything that spectacular until later in Luther Strode. But it was a thing that seemed to work, so I did it again here.
Kind of, anyway – in Dead Body Road everything plays out chronologically.
The book’s premise is easy enough to follow, but we start with the lead already having made his mind up on how events will unfold. Did you find it particularly challenging to start with the character’s story already underway, as opposed to watching it unfold?
JJ: Let me answer with that with what seems like a non sequiter. Do you know what’s wrong with the Punisher Thomas Jane movie?
I mean, aside from being set in Florida and him largely not really killing the shit out of dudes?
It sends a looooooong time setting up his family, who are then killed, which turns him into the Punisher. There’s nothing particularly bad about the sequence except that it’s completely unnecessary. They’re his family. We know he loves them. We see by what it does how much their loss fucks them up. Feeling like you NEED to show people that in detail is just assuming your audiences is made of sociopaths or Eagles fans or something.
So that idea applies directly to this. You don’t need to see Gage deciding on revenge, and I don’t think you need to see him with his wife. The fact that he does what he does tells you everything you need to know about that. So why not start with the meat?
With this being your first creator-owned book after Luther Strode and its related success, is there anything in particular you find yourself doing based on what you did with Strode?
JJ: Well, one of the key lessons from Strode was work with artists who make you look awesome. So, you know, mission accomplished.
Probably my biggest takeaway from Strode was that what made that book work, I think, was the reactions and interactions of the characters. The plot there is maybe slightly unusual, but it’s not all that complicated.
Same here. This is, in fact, a revenge story. It’s pretty simple. What makes it interesting, if I’m doing my job, is less the machinations of what is a fairly basic plot and more the crashing together of these various personalities and their separate agendas.
A small part of me sees a bit of a Tarantino influence in here, at least in terms of pacing and dialogue, if not more. What did you find as the challenges in terms of finding specific voices for these characters?
JJ: I was a teenager when Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and True Romance came out (the latter just being written by Tarantino) and they are a pretty heavy influence on not just this, but my writing in general, I think. Reservoir Dogs and True Romance in particular probably figure most directly into how I treated this.
Generally speaking, the character voices were pretty easy for me – they usually are. The toughest one, and this relates to the next question, was Gage. The problem with Gage is that he is fundamentally broken. He is. When you decide to kill a bunch of people, something is busted in your head.Continued below
So Gage is sort of monofocused on revenge, and he is suppressing a lot of rage and self loathing, and so he’s not really chatty. And since the book doesn’t have captions I had to work hard to make sure he has a visible personality.
We learn a bit about Jimmy in the first issue, and while I’d say the archetype is familiar, Orson is largely a blank slate. Do you have plans to go further into who Orson was, or is this pretty much a case of what we see being what we get?
JJ: No, there’s more to him. He’s maybe not what you think he is. There’s a very specific reason why he is so fucked up over what happened to his wife, and it’s not JUST that he loved her. So you’ll get to know him better over the course of the series.
Comics have tended to shy away from things like car chases just because it can be difficult to convey motion on static pages, but I think Matteo really knocks it ouf othe ballpark with this one. Can you talk a bit about working with Matteo on the action aspect of the book?
JJ: Hah, issue four is, essentially, one long car (and van, and motorcycle) chase, which is a direct result of Matteo killing it with that car chase in issue one. So if he loses his mind drawing it, you’ll know why.
Matteo is just killing it. One of the reason there IS a car chase in there is that Matteo has an incredibly kinetic style. It just looks like it’s moving, which is an amazing thing to accomplish in a static image.
So that changes how they book itself is written. Not so much plot, but the way things play out. Whenever possible, I try to write to the artist, so I’m trying to take advantage of the motion aspect of Matteo does.
From your initial plans or thoughts on the book to where it is now, how much of it has it riffed off your collaboration with Matteo, let alone just what you want to see him draw?
JJ: The overall shape of the plot is pretty much the same from the get go – the how of stuff has changed to do stuff I think would be cool if Matteo did them. With any story choice, there are usually a lot of ways it could play out, so you can fit a lot of different possibilities in one story. So, you can still get from point A to point B while having a fistfight instead of a firefight.
Also, how did you and Matteo initially get involved on the title?
JJ: Kirkman, who liked Luther Strode, emailed me and asked me to do a book for Skybound. Man, I wish there were a better story there. Matteo got involved the same way, I think.
I remember talking to you about this on a previous project, but looking at the lettering here is a bit untraditional in that the word balloons aren’t just regular circles, which seems to convey more gravely character voices and dialect. How did the decision come about to go with a non-traditional lettering route?
JJ: That one is down to Skybound and the editorial staff. I was a little wary of it, but I think it actually does exactly what you said, in visually conveying a certain sound. So I think from now on I’m just going to take credit for it.
So is Dead Body Road a tale of revenge that can be wrapped up in the mini’s length, or do you have larger plans for this series, the characters or the world?
JJ: This is pretty much it. I can’t say I won’t come back to the same world for future stuff – there’s at least one minor character I could actually see supporting a book (Yab! I love that guy) but this story is done when the mini is done.
So in terms of placement, where do you think a book like Dead Body Road fits into the greater scheme of where comics are in 2013? Is it the perfect time for a book like this, or the right time to utilize a genre like this?Continued below
JJ: I don’t know that there’s a perfect time for anything, but it’s definitely a good time. One very good thing is that Image is still on a big upswing. Pretty Deadly and Velvet just sold nearly sixty thousand copies apiece, for comics that both have female leads and are not superhero books.
That is a big deal. And that’s a big deal that’s good for me, and a big deal that’s pretty specific to Image right now. DC and Marvel don’t do great when they launch things that are not superheroes, or even superheroes that aren’t well established already.
But Image can. And I think that’s expanding the audience for stuff that isn’t superheroes, and since this is a crime/western/noir thinger, it’s pretty grand.
“Dead Body Road” #1 hits stores December 11th, 2013 from Image/Skybound.