The Hero Nation Index is a weekly column on sci fi, horror, fantasy, and superhero fare in Hollywood.
EXCLUSIVE: A new venture called Paper Movies will launch in December by publishing two graphic novels, the espionage thriller His Name is…Savage! and the sci-fi horror tale ha.i.ley, and you can see the covers for each (below). which appear here today for the first time anywhere as first-look exclusives. The upstart Paper Movies was founded by comics veteran Steven Grant (2 Guns), producer Shane Riches (The Fog), and Jeff Davison, and (as the company’s name suggests) they are eager to see their IP make the leap into screen entertainment.
The synopsis for ha.i.ley (created by Shane Riches with art by Jared Barel) is an intriguing one that centers on an android maid that has an affair with her married owner before trying to wipe out the philanderer’s family. But it’s the other title, His Name is…Savage (written by Grant, cover art by Timothy Truman) that will arrive on store shelves with a built-in legacy that stretches back five decades. I talk about that legacy with Grant below, but first a bit of background.
The term “graphic novel” surged in popularity in the 1980s with the publication of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, but the format had existed for years before those acclaimed Reagan Era arrivals earned it mainstream notice. Among those earlier pioneer efforts was a hard-boiled gem called His Name Is…Savage!, a violent and visceral espionage saga published in June 1968 but relegated to obscurity by smothering distribution woes.
His Name is…Savage was created and illustrated by the late, great Gil Kane, one of the elite comic book artists of his generation and the Silver Age co-creator of Green Lantern and the Atom for DC Comics. The magazine-sized, single-story epic featured a no-nonsense character inspired by John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir classic Point Blank (as the unauthorized use of Point Blank star Lee Marvin’s image on the cover makes fairly clear) while the story draws on Ian Fleming’s considerable bookshelf.
Tragically, ninety percent of the 200,000 copies printed of His Name is…Savage never reached magazine stands. Distributors fretted about provoking established comics publishers and merchants were leery of the lurid curiosity and wanted no part of it. No surprise, the crestfallen Kane abandoned plans for a second issue.
That hard-to-find first issue became an almost mythical collectible for comics fans until 1982 when Fantagraphics Books reprinted it in all of its original black-and-white glory. Kane brought his morose intelligence agent back in 1986 but it was a scant revival (just a four-page Dark Horse Comics story) so when the artist died in January 2000, Savage fans had every reason to assume that they had seen the last of Kane’s two-fisted man of action.
That changes in December thanks to Paper Movies. Not only is Savage returning, the 1960s era holdover is paving the way for a new generation to follow him. That next-gen spinoff arrives in 2020 in the form of Her Name is…Savage, a female-led franchise written by Katie Batchelor. (That cover is previewed here exclusively as well.) Deadline caught up with Grant to get the lowdown on the new company and the Savage revival it is banking on.
DEADLINE: His Name is…Savage has a fascinating but also frustrating history. Does that history help this project? And what do you see as the most compelling legacy of Savage?
STEVEN GRANT: His Name Is… Savage was certainly among the earliest American attempts at longform comics and was one of the original adult heroes in the medium. It became influential within the industry and in comics fandom. I bought the book when it came out, in my teens, and it’s difficult to adequately describe what an experience the book was in the day. Imagine you’d been drifting off in a still lake — and a bolt of lightning suddenly hits it. Gil had worked a long time to amp up the dynamism of his work and there was no one there to tone it down. It was more cinematic than what was being published in other comics. The book was much more like a movie than a comic book, and that intent is clearly there on the page. It was, frankly, a wake-up call, and I’m not convinced the changes that swept comics in the ’70s would’ve happened without it. The series’ most striking legacy is its message to mainstream comics: that you don’t have to limit yourself to what you’re told to do or what has been done in the past, that it’s vital to try new things, open new markets, break new ground, not simply stick to what you’ve been told to do or even with established publishers if something else is driving you.
DEADLINE: The original graphic novel featured Gil Kane, a true artist’s artist, at the height of his powers. As far as the look, texture and tones of the original, has that informed the revival?
GRANT: I wouldn’t want to speak for our artist, Jesús Antonio Hernández Portaveritas, but for my part Gil’s work hugely informed what I did. When I brought the Punisher up from nothing at Marvel in the ’80s, I cited His Name Is… Savage as a major influence on my approach. I worked with Gil on several projects and knew him well through the ’90s, and spoke with him at least once a week for six or seven years until he died. Gil was always looking for some way to bring Savage back, and I certainly wanted in on it.
DEADLINE: How did those conversations echo in this new Savage revival by Paper Movies?
GRANT: We chatted a lot about how to refit the character into a more modern geopolitical landscape, so I took many of the concepts we discussed and updated them further. I’ve kept the character and stories as much as possible in the spirit I know Gil intended. For the art, we avoided imitating Gil and instead encouraged Jesús to showcase his own dynamism. For covers, we utilized great talents who were influenced by Gil like Tim Truman, Howard Chaykin, and Eric Shanower, as well as updated and colored an unused Savage piece with the permission of the estate.
DEADLINE: The original graphic novel had a dark and unsettling portrayal of LBJ, who was the sitting president at the time of release. Is there are geo-political undercurrents to the new series?
GRANT: My work has generally had political themes, so this is fairly comfortable territory for me. The story takes place entirely outside America and deals largely with the outsourcing of international security to private companies, so, yes, I would say there are geo-political undercurrents, though it isn’t a treatise, we stick well within the action-adventure format.
DEADLINE: Kane’s original take seemed to live somewhere between James Bond and Point Blank in its sensibility and main character. Does that still hold with the new incarnation?
GRANT: You’re right that the original existed in a shadowland between James Bond and Point Blank. We go a little further; ours is more James Bond as a modern Point Blank. Savage is something of an outlaw and an urban legend in espionage circles, a man without a country with no organization behind him. He’s basically out there doing his best to limit the excesses of illegal covert ops; most of them have figured out it’s much less costly and painful to not cross him, though they wouldn’t mind if he turned up dead one day. While extreme action is much more tolerated in our culture these days, we try our best to keep up with Gil’s legacy. Personally, I prefer action sharp and fast, with as much immediacy and impact as possible, but then I learned pretty much everything I know about staging action from Gil.