I recently got the chance to get an exclusive interview with comic/screenwriter Rylend Grant about his involvement with Action Lab Comics. You might recall the interview from last year discussing his series Aberrant as well as his interest in the comic industry. Since then Grant has been working on getting Aberrant on screen with the project being optioned for television. In addition, Aberrant second season is releasing this Wednesday wherever comics are sold. Grant has another series, Banjax, releasing in June. In this interview, I explore the status of those two series and the difference between comics and television.
LRM: What is the basic concept of Banjax?
RG: Disgraced former superhero, Laird Mason (AKA “Banjax”), is diagnosed with terminal cancer brought on by years of using his powers. Defending what he has deemed an ungrateful and ultimately unworthy city is literally killing him. With just months to live and a legacy hanging in the balance, Mason launches a violent and misguided Death Wish-like campaign to purge the city of scumbags before he dies.
LRM: Where did you get the idea for this comic series?
RG: Well, I’m a screenwriter by trade. I spend my days writing big poppy action movies for folks like JJ Abrams, Ridley Scott, Justin Lin, F. Gary Gray, John Woo, and Luc Besson. So, most of my early comic work was really just an extension of that. I’ve done a lot of crime stuff, sci-fi, political thrillers and the like… but everyone who writes comics has to do superheroes at least once, no?
The twist is, I never do anything in a straightforward way. I figured, if I was going to do the cape story dance, I better get more than a little funky with it. Superhero books tend to break fantastic, almost operatic, these days. I’m just not terribly interested in that. I like to tell grimy, wholly grounded tales.
Banjax is an almost morbidly realistic look at what would actually happen if there were folks in our world running around with superpowers. It’d certainly be the wrong people – remarkably flawed people with a ton of baggage – that would end up with powers. The fame, the money, the ability to influence that came with heroing would almost be debilitating. Let’s just be honest… if you or I woke up with powers tomorrow, we’d never be the point-and-wink superhero ideal. We’d be total jerks. I mean, we might not go so far as to break supervillain, but we’d definitely just do whatever the heck we wanted… It’d get ugly fast.
LRM: There seems to be a certain psychological approach in Banjax. Viewing the mental state of heroes has been a recent trend in comics like DC’s Heroes In Crisis. What is Banjax’s mental state like going forward in the series?
RG: Well, Banjax is an Irish slang term that means, “to ruin, incapacitate, break, beat to hell, or destroy.” Our protagonist, Laird Mason, could have taken on any moniker when he kicked his way into the heroing game years back and this is the one he chose. It says a lot about him.
Mason isn’t exactly ideal hero material. He’s a deeply flawed human being, wrestling with all sorts of psychological ugly. He’s the kind of guy – and we all know somebody like this – that just destroys (banjaxes) everything he touches… relationships, the lives of the people he loves. For a brief moment, however – when he was wearing that proverbial cape – he was able to channel all of that destructive energy and point it like a laser beam at those who meant to do harm. It was the only time his life made any sense, the only time he was ever worth a damn. When he realizes here that he only has so much time left, he decides to strap the cape back on, to harness that rage once again for what he believes is the greater good.
We REALLY dive into that psychological deep end as Banjax progresses. Issue 2 is told from the point of view of a man whom is literally being driven mad because he hasn’t slept in seven days. He’s starting to see things. Action figures and statues start to talk to him. He (and we, the reader) has no idea what’s real and what isn’t. It’s an absolutely bonkers ride and I promise you, things just gets more and more twisted from there.
It is interesting that there is a ticking clock on Banjax from side effects of his powers. Is facing his own mortality with an ongoing countdown the main force behind his actions?
Definitely. It really amounts to a question of legacy, of what we leave behind. Mason is dying and he’s really struggling to find meaning in the life he’s led. He has a daughter that barely speaks to him, a City that has turned against him for various reasons. He realizes that he stopped being a hero a long time ago and became something else entirely, something pretty terrible. This little mission of his – misguided as it might be – is a last-second Hail Mary attempt at righting all that wrong, at changing his narrative.
LRM: Congrats on the success of Aberrant. Picking up off of last season where is the second season leading towards?
RG: Well, Season 1 followed David Colbrenner, a U.S. Army Special Operations Commander whom, after losing his entire unit in a superhuman attack, waged a brutal one-man war on the eccentric billionaire and former superhero – Lance Cordrey – he believed to be responsible.
Season 2 starts with the realization that Cordrey was a patsy, that David’s men were actually killed as part of a vast government/military conspiracy. The nasty second season twist? If David is going to peel back the layers of said conspiracy, he’s going need Cordrey’s help.
It ultimately plays like an edgy ‘80s buddy cop movie. If you look at it under a microscope, you’ll definitely spot some of that Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, and Beverly Hills Cop DNA. David and Cordrey HATE each other with an unrivaled passion, but they kind of NEED each other. They are forced to walk through these next five issues hand-in-sweaty-hand. It’s almost never pretty, but it’s almost always wicked fun.
LRM: Action Lab has been successful in transcending the comic medium to film and television with Spencer & Locke as well as your series Aberrant. How hands-on have you been through the process?
RG: Well, as Collider announced last July, Aberrant was indeed optioned for television – by 24 & Felicity Executive Producer Tony Krantz – about two weeks before Issue #2 hit comic shops.
Again, I’ve been a steadily working screenwriter for a dozen-plus years and the last six film/TV projects I’ve set up in Hollywood have actually been based on IP (intellectual property: books, short stories, comics) I’ve written/generated. Turning IP into movies and TV shows is kind of my day job, so I have very much been steering the ship here… both in terms of the shopping of the property and the crafting of the television show. I put together the original pitch, I’m writing the pilot and the series bible, and I’ll co-run the show if and when it gets up on its feet. It’s rare to get that opportunity – most comic creators have their proverbial babies taken from them when they get optioned – but it made sense for me to take the lead here because I have that Hollywood pedigree.
David Pepose (creator of Spencer & Locke) will tell you the same thing, though. Action Lab has been a tremendous partner in all of this. CEO Bryan Seaton has a uniquely fabulous vision for that company and everyone around him is buying into it. The day-to-day support form folks like Nicole D’Andria, Shawn Pryor, and Shawn Gabborin has really been a godsend. It’s no coincidence I’m doing a second title with them. Action Lab is a great company and I’m proud to call it my comic home.
LRM: Having been in both the comic and film industry are the two mediums more similar or different than most people think?
RG: Well, they are similar games in a number of ways. Both industries are run by a precious few hyper-intelligent, hyper-vigilant individuals that only have so much bandwidth. You have thousands of writers – many very talented, many not so very talented – vying for their attention at any given second. It can make for a really rough go. It can be extremely tough to stand out in that crowd as a creator, even if you are among the best.
The main difference I see, right this moment, between the two mediums/industries is this…
You are so limited in what you can do in Hollywood right now. They basically only make three or four different kinds of movies these days… and they expect you, as the screenwriter, to execute those movies in a very specific way. Well, I got pretty damn good at mailing those movies in. It’s how I bought my house. But man, that dance gets boring quick.
The beauty of the comics business is that there are, for the most part, very few rules and expectations. You can do most anything and everything, as long as it is entertaining and is executed well and that’s wildly exciting.
LRM: Anything else to add?
RG: Preorder Banjax #1 with the Diamond item code APR191268.
Preorder the special “mugshot” variant edition with Diamond item code APR191269.
Look for both in comic shops in June 2019
Aberrant – Season 2 – Issue 1 hits comic shops on April 24th, 2019
AND PUT BANJAX AND ABERRANT ON YOUR PULL LIST!
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