Exclusive: Joshua Hale Fialkov Takes Flight With SKYMAN
Joshua Hale Fialkov is a man of the future. The writer is tackling the newest addition to Dark Horse’s superhero line with Skyman, he’s destroying the Marvel universe with Brian Michael Bendis as they try to rebuild from the ashes, and he’s doing his own creator-owned comic exploring the future with The Bunker. You’ve heard about that last series if you’re a reader around these parts. The Bunker is the smash-hit digital series that just recently got picked up by Oni Press to be released in print. With so many high-profile projects on his plate, Fialkov stays pretty busy.
Fialkov is juggling a lot of books, but I did get the chance to speak with the writer late last week about Skyman, the new series spinning out of the events of Joshua Williamson’s Captain Midnight. The first issue is…embargos be darned…great and you can read my full review on it this coming Wednesday. Ahead of the upcoming release Fialkov talks about his inspirations for the series, how he wanted to explore race in comics, and what sort of trouble our new hero will be facing. As you well know if you’re a regular reader, I’m a big Doctor Who fan so of course I had to ask him about his work on those comics. Read on for the full chat!
Dark Horse is really expanding their superhero line and bringing back some golden age heroes. Brain Boy and Captain Midnight are off to great starts, but how did you go about tackling Skyman? It spins out of Captain Midnight, but it seems like you maybe get to update and tweak things a little more since you’re dealing with the Skyman program.
Josh Williamson and I are good buddies. Josh had been the writer of Captain Midnight for a few months and he had a story idea he wanted to do for Skyman that is really cool, but it also makes it really hard for him to be the hero of the book. He’s a total and utter scumbag in Captain Midnight. What Josh and I talked about was ‘what are the repercussions of having this superhero kind of exposed, both his existence and the fact that he’s a total piece of sh*t?’
So what we came up with was the idea that they would have to replace him and replace him very publically. And then you combine that with one of my favorite tropes of comics, the joke that if you take off the masks of all the Avengers it’s just a bunch of white guys with blonde hair you can’t tell apart. So that becomes the joke- the Skyman project is something that has existed for years and they have a type. They have a stock type guy that they go to. A specific type of Air Force pilot. Suddenly all those guys can’t be used because the guy that did it before looks just like them and he does something in the first few pages that is pretty despicable. It becomes the story of how do they replace him? They do the most vile thing possible. They decide ‘We’ll just get a black guy! He’s going to look different, everyone will know it’s a different guy and they’ll know we’ve tried to clean up our act.’ That’s where we get our new Skyman, that’s where we get Eric.
The first issue is politically charged and really explores race, thanks in part to the PR nightmare that introduces us to Eric. Is that something that you plan to really explore with the series?
To some degree the thing that excited me about the character and the story we put together was writing about the sort of subtle racism in comics, especially over the course of 75 years that comics have really existed. There’s that part of it, but then we also see it in society. Racism is something that is pervasive and we can’t get away from it. It was also really important to me because Eric, in addition to being Africa-American, he’s also handicapped. He’s a veteran and you have the longstanding injury. I really took a lot of ideas and a lot of things that really excite me as a person and infuse them into the story. It’s funny because I don’t really think about it as being political, it’s really a story about right and wrong. I think right and wrong is bigger than Republican and Democrat or any of that stuff.
I wouldn’t say it’s overt, it’s more the nature of it just due to the fact that it’s a government project and things like that.
Yeah. When we started working it, it was before the whole government spying on us and being secretly evil thing. Now everybody…no matter how far left you are, people are like ‘Oh yeah, the government is kind of evil. Who knew?’ Oops! [Laughs].
Have you enjoyed the challenge of Skyman? It seems in the first issue that you really dive right into the characters where some of your other recent work has been more team oriented.
Oh yeah, writing team books is massively difficult. It’s so hard. Writing team books is similar to doing math. You have to get all those moments in there, but at the same time you have to make sure every character gets to do what they do, they get to use their powers, they get to have a dramatic moment, they get to have a personal moment. I look at the guys who do these big team books and I’m in awe. Writing The Ultimates is exhausting. It’s a very exhausting process. I just finished Cataclysm: X-Men over at Marvel. You’re just writing so many characters and you have to find ways to serve them all. To really get to go back and just focus on one character and explore him and explore his story and his journey, to focus through his eyes, has been really rewarding and a lot of fun.
Dark Horse is in the early stages of its superhero world, but we know we’re building toward something with Project Black Sky. What’s that process like where you’re working in that environment and pitching ideas and things to line up with this early shared universe?
It’s been great. It’s really Mike Richardson’s baby. He has the whole thing in his head. He and Josh Williamson talk to us regularly. Literally right before you called I was talking to Josh Williamson. We talk daily. It’s a conversation and it’s very much about telling our own stories that are separate and their own thing, but at the same time figuring out how we set up some things that will pay off down the road for the rest of Project Black Sky.
And continuity comes into play doesn’t it? Do you feel freed up that your continuity guide with Skyman and Dark Horse would be more of a pamphlet than the multi-volume editions with your Marvels and your DCs?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s part…when I was at DC, thankfully because I was writing a book that had so little to do with the rest of the New 52, I kind of also had that benefit. Working in the Ultimate Universe, which is sort of a double-edged sword because I love the Ultimate Universe and I know it so well, I constantly find myself like ‘Oh I should do this thing that is a reference to a 10-year old story that nobody but me remembers!’ So yeah, having the reins taken off and being able to just focus on telling the best story and shaping the history of these characters to get us to the best story possible is a lot of fun. It’s not quite the level of freedom I have with my creator-owned work. On a book like The Bunker I get to rebuild things from scratch and create these character whole cloth. This is pretty close. This has actually been a very freeing experience.
What can you tease us with for what’s coming up with Skyman? What sort of threats and problems will our hero be facing?
A lot of the book at its core is ‘What does it mean to be a hero?’ The very simple idea that the man underneath the suit has to be a hero in order for the suit to be a hero. The legacy he now holds is a legacy of darkness and he has to find a way to overcome that. And you might get a Captain Midnight guest appearance. Captain Midnight will be appearing in the back half of the miniseries.
Bouncing off of that, is there anything you can say about how that meeting will go considering how things went down the last time the Captain met a Skyman?
I don’t want to spoil it. I just did lettering for that script, and it’s a lot of fun. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Writing Captain Midnight is fun. My wife and I are big 1940s film fans, so getting to kind of channel a little bit of that energy and to create this duo dealing with each other has been so much fun.
You have a great artist for this series. As you’re getting pages in and seeing how things are progressing, what are your thoughts on that side of things?
It’s great. Manuel [Garcia], especially when we get to a lot more of the flying stuff, Manuel is amazing. Ariel stuff, for how much there is in comics and how important flying is to the history of superheroes, it’s incredibly hard to do flying in books because there’s not a lot of background. There’s not a lot of landmarks to guidepost you on. Manuel has done a great job. We’re doing a lot of big, expansive, things with a lot of airplanes going crazy as the story goes on. It really tracks and reads really clearly. You see a little of that in issue one, but you really get to see it in two, three, and four. Writing aerial combat is a lot of fun. It’s fun to do because you don’t have to worry about physics as much because they are already breaking physics. You get to have fun with positioning, what they do with their bodies, and how they get out of problems.
As we start to wrap things up, I have to ask you one question while I’ve got the chance. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and I really enjoyed the story you wrote last year called Space Oddity. That was when we started to get toward the end of IDW’s time with Doctor Who. Can you talk a little about what you think about Doctor Who comics and what it may have meant to you to get to write for the series?
I was fan of Doctor Who from the time I was a kid. That means for the 10 years that it was off the air, there was a vacuum. That vacuum was filled by big expanded universe stuff. Whether it was the comic books, the radio shows, or novels or whatever. Even down to the fanzines that Moffat and Paul Cornell and all those guys were working on that would eventually become canonical. Getting to kind of help continue that tradition of expanding the universe and building out more Doctor Who, and having it be in the canon, means a lot to me. I got to write 7 issues total of Doctor Who I think, and I’m sad I didn’t get to write more but I’m incredibly grateful I got to write any at all. Getting to be an American who got to write Doctor Who is pretty cool.
I have to say I really love The Bunker. You recently released the fifth issue and it seems like things have been going well so far. How do you feel about the reaction you’ve gotten and can you talk about what’s coming up for all things Bunker?
It’s been great. It has really been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my entire life. Joe [Infurnari] and I really bust our asses and kill ourselves on it, but it’s a book that is 100% us. It’s all ours. We took a huge risk in even doing the book in the first place. Now it’s in previews right now and is coming out from Oni Press with the first print edition. We’re actually moving the book out colored. Joe rebuilt the pages from the ground up to work in print.
We’re going to be moving to a monthly print format with a digital component, obviously. It’s going to be more story and we get to just do more. The best part is that now that we have Oni’s support, it means that it’s something Joe and I can commit way more of our time to. It’s Joe’s main job now. He doesn’t have to take other stuff, he can just work on The Bunker. Honest to God, it’s a dream come true to get to work on it. That’s up for pre-order and if you don’t pre-order it, you will not get it. Pre-order it!
So for the print edition you’re going to be coloring things and making it more print friendly. Is that an odd process? The Bunker is relatively new, but you’re going back and updating it already for the print edition.
It’s weird to be redoing work that you just did. Luckily Joe did most of the work. Ha Ha! I showed him! Joe and I both have exacting standards and he really killed himself. He went mad. He went in and he didn’t just take the pages apart, he went panel by panel and rebuilt the comic from scratch. He took these five separate chapters and wove them into one coherent story. It’s four bucks for a 48-page book and it’s like a 20 minute read. We really give you value! It is such a thick book. I don’t know if I’ve read a comic this dense in a long time. In a good way. I think it really works. It’s such fun and it’s so, so pretty.
You’re working in the Ultimate Universe and there has been some rumors and rumblings about the future, or lack thereof, for that particular corner of the Marvel Universe. Can you tease or reveal anything about what you may be doing next? [Editor’s Note: This took place less than 24 hours before the big Ultimate relaunch was revealed!]
I love working in the Ultimate Universe. I love working alongside Brian Michael Bendis. That is quite literally wish fulfillment. I started out in comics as a kid on his message board and he was always super encouraging to me while I was doing webcomics and minicomics. Now to work with him…I like to think of myself as a junior peer because he is VERY old. He must be like 80. I’m pretty sure. If he’s not, the physical amount of books that he writes is going to age him. Getting to work alongside Brian has just been amazing. We are going to blow up the Ultimate Universe in the very best way.
Our thanks to Mr. Fialkov for taking the time to talk with us about his many, many projects. I could definitely tell by speaking with the writer that he’s very excited and happy with what he’s doing with Skyman now. I think that comes across in the written word as well. You’ll have to wait for our review of the new series Wednesday, but as I said above you will want to check it out when you head to the shops. The Bunker is also one you should definitely be paying attention to. Like Fialkov says, if you don’t pre-order it, you’re not going to get it. You can check out a preview of that and Skyman below. Because we spoke to the writer less than 24 hours before Marvel’s big Ultimate Universe announcement, he couldn’t say anything about that. He couldn’t tell me a single thing about it, but you could tell he is excited for what we now know is Ultimate FF. You can keep up with everything the writer is doing by following him on Twitter (@JoshFialkov) and checking out his website TheFialkov.Com.