Dynamite Entertainment got two of their writer’s to sit down and talk to each other about their current projects and the writing process and shared those interviews with us. Today we’re giving you the discussion between Genevieve Valentine, writer of Xena: Warrior Princess and David Avallone, the writer of Twilight Zone: The Shadow. Here we have Genevieve asking the questions, tomorrow it will be David’s turn. Art for this article is by Francesco Francavilla (cover) and Dave Acosta (interiors).
DAVID AVALLONE: I approached this issue with a vague idea that it would be fun to see how the Shadow would react to being in our world, forced to play a pastiche version of himself. I didn’t know where I was going with it, but the overall arc of the series is about showing the Shadow how he looks from the outside, and getting him to examine that. Then, suddenly, in the last few pages, my father (a thirteen-year-old in 1937) strolled up to “Preston” and started asking him the hard questions. My father introduced me to the Shadow (though he preferred Doc Savage by a little bit), and I had no particular plan to include him in the series, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Quite often, I have the key beat first, and nothing else. Sometimes it strolls up, unannounced, while I’m working things out.
GV: Kent Allard’s bruised ego and dimensional vertigo aside, he spends a lot of this issue wrestling with how story both inspires others and holds its heroes accountable. How much of this is noir, and how much a Twilight Zone horror story? How meta do you hope to get about the impact of story?
DA: One of the things that most appealed to me about the key beat I mention above is that it feels like a very Twilight Zone moment to me, in all it’s glorious cliché. A guileless child gives our adult hero second thoughts about his existence. For me, noir is about learning the lesson too late or not at all. Twilight Zone is about learning the lesson just in time (or again, not at all.) In this issue I think I’m leading the audience towards “just in time”, but we’ll see if that holds out until issue #4.
As for “how meta”, I think the last page of this issue answers that question with “extremely meta”. This character has persisted in the pop culture for over eighty years, and I would be happy to write another fine story about how the Shadow fights crime… but I love this opportunity to write a story about who the Shadow IS, and why, and what that means. Not just to us, but to himself.
GV: Despite the amount of ground you’re covering, the pace of this issue is really contemplative; the situation is unsettling but everyone has a very mature approach to a nightmare scenario. Is this some of that Twilight Zone stylish remove at play?
DA: The Twilight Zone is such a formative influence on me that it’s hard to separate its “stylish remove” from my own. Your questions are so good I am actually learning something about myself. Maybe I have internalized the stylish remove: I lean towards mature approaches/characters. I think it’s incredibly dull to watch a character scream “HOW IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!” for twenty pages, and the audience gets sick of it pretty quickly. The Shadow lives a strange life, so while this is all quite fantastic, his intelligence and inborn coolness would prevent him from freaking out. (Though I push this to its limit in issue #3 …) In any situation he is going to try to understand it, try to survive it, and try to escape it… though he doesn’t get around to that this time. As for Madge, she spends most of the issue believing her precocious and talented pal Preston is playing a prank on her, and she’s humoring him out of fascination. Where is he going with this?
GV: You mentioned Preston is modeled on Orson Welles, which seems a natural fit. How do you go about casting everyone else?
DA: Madge is modeled on Orson’s costar, who famously played very plain and unattractive women… but I did photo research on what she really looked like in 1937 (when not playing a witch) and she was gorgeous. Dave Acosta captures her beautifully. Dave and I have a private Pinterest board where we suggest casting to each other. He found the models for Lamont/Kent/The Shadow (I’ll let people guess on those.) Sometimes I have a clear idea in advance, sometimes Dave asks me if I have a template or “type” in mind for any character, otherwise I let him loose on the designs. He’s terrific at casting.
DA: You won’t believe this but it’s true: his nose. I liked that he didn’t have the generic cookie-cutter “hero face”. He didn’t look like Superman. He had a big nose and scary intense eyes. That’s intrinsically more interesting than just another square jawed slab of hamburger.
The deeper answer would be the second thing I loved: his brains. I loved that his real superpower wasn’t invulnerability or invisibility. He can’t fly. Mostly he’s the smartest guy in the room, always. I couldn’t ever aspire to be a flying man who can throw cars. I could aspire to be smarter, at least.
GV: And what was the first thing about him that broke your heart? What were you most excited to tear down when you put him through the ringer in this miniseries? (AKA, How unfair is the Shadow?)
DA: Two things about the Shadow broke my heart. One a misdemeanor, the other a crime. The misdemeanor: he’s mostly a jerk to everybody. He pushes his agents around. He makes people – even Lamont – scared of him. He’s a bully. The crime? In my heart, I don’t believe in vigilantes. In fiction it works, because he (say it with me) knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. But in the real world he’s a psychotic serial killer with no respect for due process.
I tear down both of these things in the series, with equal enthusiasm, not because I hate the character but because I love him. I let him wear Lamont’s skin and see, “Wow, I’m kind of a prick to this guy”. I let a little kid ask him why he shoots folks “alla time.” And does he learn the lesson? Keep reading.