David Hine, Part II: Talking Silent War
By Chris Murman
Many see the current U.S. administration as having enough problems to deal with as it is. A war is raging halfway around the world, presidential approval ratings are at their lowest in decades, and their own people don’t trust them anymore. What if, on top of that, it managed to take possession of a foreign artifact valued so priceless by the owner, it was willing to go to war over?
Enter David Hine with Silent War. We know the story by now, the question is how did the talented British writer craft such charged story in today’s politics? In the second part of SBC’s interview with Hine, we learn that politics and comics do mix, how the story was crafted in his mind, and who exactly George Bush is. (If you missed Part I, click here.)
Chris Murman (CM): Editorially, when you started this assignment, Tom Brevoort was your editor, but then it transitioned to newly arrived editor Steve Wacker. How has the transition gone for you? How much of an impact does the editor have on your work in particular?
David Hine (DH): Steve just came in and tore up everything I had written and made me start from scratch. So the scene where Black Bolt uses subsonic vibrations to set off the entire American stockpile of nuclear weapons, and wipe the North American continent off the planet is gone. Sorry Tom. It was a great idea.
Silent War evolved over a fairly long period. I’ve been plotting it since the end of Son of M -- in fact the bare bones were in place when Son of M was started. You can’t start a war and leave it hanging forever, but there was a feeling that it should wait until Civil War was finished, or almost finished. I was told, "Civil War? It’ll be over by Christmas." Yeah, right.
Steve has a similar approach to Tom’s. He gives guidance on the global outline, points out weaknesses in plot or character development. All the things a good editor should do. It’s very much a two-way thing and we’re on the same wavelength creatively, so it’s working out great.
In general terms, working for Marvel does entail fitting stories into the overall scheme of things, which can be frustrating. That is one complex web of storylines that Marvel has going, running across something like eighty books a month. All the editors are performing a balancing act between keeping their books on the map in relation to the current events, while preserving the integrity of the individual storylines. But as long as no one asks me to have Black Bolt answer the question "Whose side are you on," I’m happy. (In fact if anyone does ask him, I’m going to have him yell "PISS OFF!" at the top of his voice. You’ve been warned!)
CM: So is that an official comment to the scheduling of Civil War? [laughs]
DH: I think that would be 'unofficial' comment.
CM: Take us through your creative process with a group such as the Inhumans. When Marvel came to you with the opportunity to write them, what about the characters appealed to you and creatively what did you set out to tell with your story?
DH: The key to the Inhumans is that they are a race apart. Although they share this planet with us they are very much an alien race, and they have always worked best when they are written that way. In our own culture we pay lip-service to the idea of uniqueness and individuality, but the reality is that if we don’t conform, the mob will be chasing us with the dogs and the flaming torches. The Inhumans genuinely view genetic diversity as the highest ideal of their culture. Every individual is expected to realize the full potential of their unique abilities. The result of this is that they tend to look down on the human race, reserving their respect for the super-humans who have risen above the genetic sludge of human mediocrity.
That’s something I’ve tried to put into every scene -- a sense that the Inhumans, rightly or wrongly, believe they are better than humans. There is an arrogance about them that prevents us from totally rooting for them, no matter how justified their cause may be. I'm constitutionally incapable of writing characters as an absolute hero or villain, so readers will probably find their sympathies switching around from one issue to the next.
CM: Take us inside Black Bolt's head when the council learned of Gorgon's failure. We saw him act a little out of sorts with Medusa and the council. Is it trepidation on is part or just pure rage taking over?
DH: I’m giving each of the six issues a different narrative voice, so that although Black Bolt is at the core of the story ¬ the dark star around which the rest of the Inhuman Universe revolves - we will be seeing him from a number of different perspectives, including Crystal, Medusa, Luna and
Maximus. The one interior voice we never hear is Black Bolt’s own. I want to preserve that mysterious silence. I would suggest though, that what is going on in his head is more complicated than pure anger. Black Bolt is the ultimate control freak. He is required to exert a rigid self-discipline over every moment of his life. He can never utter a sound of pleasure, frustration or anger. Now he sees events slipping out of his control and what is worse, he feels his own self-discipline failing him. His greatest enemy is self-doubt and he knows that if he crumbles, Attilan will also fall.
CM: While there's seemingly a great deal of political subtext to Silent War, I was curious, do your current political ideas ever enter your mind when writing a story or is it just a case of fans making up stuff in our heads?
DH: The idea of the theft of the Terrigen Mists causing the Inhumans to declare war, was the basic idea originally presented to me and for which I was invited to pitch for the Son of M series. So although my own politics may inform some of the developments, the theme of war is definitely on the surface at Marvel as well as everywhere else in American culture.
America and Britain are countries at war. For America in particular this is a traumatic time. Unlike during the Second World War, when the USA never lost a single civilian, this time around some of the casualties have happened on American soil. I think that’s what caused the over-the-top reaction that led to the invasion of Iraq. In the past couple of years there has been a gradual realization in the States that maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do. There’s a moral confusion and a sense of events slipping out of control. To that extent current politics do inform the events of Silent War. Where the fans have gone into a tailspin is to interpret the series too literally. I’ve seen suggestions that the entire story is a personal attack on George Bush and that Black Bolt absolutely, categorically represents Saddam Hussein I won’t go any further. Black Bolt is Black Bolt. He isn’t Saddam, he isn’t Osama Bin Laden but he is a leader who has taken his people into a war, which is not going to have an easy end. Wars aren’t football matches. There is no final whistle and no winner. Everybody loses and the consequences stretch indefinitely into the future. And before anyone suggests it, Black Bolt isn’t George Bush either.
CM: Is Joe Quesada George Bush?
DH: No. Joe Quesada is actually a real person. But apparently George Bush is the Beast. If you convert his name into Hebrew and give the letters their numeric value, they add up to 666. This is true. I read it on the internet.
CM: Yeah, this is the wrong crowd to play around with internet rumors. So the F4 did their thing and took names pretty easily versus Gorgon's foursome. Story dictates that the mission was meant to be a quick in/quick out no casualties type of thing, but Gorgon's not a noob and Black Bolt is a part of the Illuminati renowned for their intellect. They weren't expecting at least a little resistance?
DH: A number of things went wrong with the mission. Gorgon misread Jolen badly. It’s not unusual for Inhumans to feel contempt for humans, but Gorgon didn’t understand how deep Jolen’s loathing for the human race goes. It was Gorgon’s ability to empathize with his troops that was flawed, rather than his strategy. Similarly the FF tracked them so easily because the Inhumans are just crap at blending with the local population. They really thought they could hide out among us in between attacks, playing the part of tourists, while in fact they stood out like four sore thumbs. Once the FF came into play that particular group of Inhumans never stood a chance. The real error was Black Bolt’s. He should never have ordered such an ill-considered attack. That suggests that his judgment is seriously flawed.
CM: I thought your use of setting to be a nice touch to the start of the book, with the Tempest and a rich New York opera house to be very symbolic. How do you come up with peripheral plot pieces and how important are they to the story?
DH: I knew the story was going to open with an attack on New York and I needed an appropriate setting. I wanted something that wasn’t too far fetched and attacks on the White House and the transport system have been done a few times. Other major real world targets of terrorist attacks in recent times have included a school and a theatre, both targets of terrorist attacks by Chechen rebels. There’s no way the Inhumans would attack a school but a theatre, packed with America’s social elite seemed ideal. The Inhumans represent an otherworldly magical culture, something Frazer’s artwork portrays brilliantly, especially in his depictions of Attilan. I had an image in my mind of the Inhumans, disguised as ordinary humans, transforming back into their Inhuman guise as they leapt onto the stage, crossing that line between the mundane real world and the magical world of the imagination. Once I had that in place I started looking around for the perfect play and The Tempest was the obvious choice.
The Tempest is a wonderful piece of theatre. It’s the story of Prospero’s quest to take back the throne that was usurped from him by his brother and how he controls others to achieve that end. It’s about magical powers and above all about transformation and what distinguishes a man from a monster. The parallels to Silent War will become increasingly obvious as the story progresses.
None of that is vital to the plot but I like to think it adds another layer to the story. I also get to quote lines like "Nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange." That’s a pretty good evocation of Terrigenesis, courtesy of Bill Shakespeare.
CM: Each relationship between writer and artist is different depending on the duo. Describe your "team" if you will on Silent War and how you personally approach each new chance to work with a new artist.
DH: I try to adapt my scripts to the artists if possible but it’s often a case of gradually altering the tone of my scripts as I interact with the artist over a period of time. I’ve worked with a lot of artists who have English as a second language so I have to be careful with the descriptions. Irony is often lost in translation. I think this is my first job for American comics where I’m working with an English artist so I can relax and write more naturally. Frazer knows the difference between “pants” and “trousers”. None of this is evident on the printed page of course because you’re only reading the dialogue, but for me the conversation that takes place with the artist in the panel descriptions is at least as important.
This is the first time I’ve worked with an artist I already knew personally. I’ve gotten to know Phil Tan while we worked on Spawn and I’ve met Yanick Paquette and Adi Granov at conventions but Frazer Irving is the first I’ve already supped beers with prior to working together. When I started on Silent War it was with Roy Martinez in mind as artist and I can see elements of the first issue that I might have written differently if it had been written specifically for Frazer. You tend to write scenes to an artist’s particular strengths and preferences. Roy was great on elegant costume and architecture. Frazer has an amazing ability to project personality through atmosphere and mood. He paints a mean Torch too.
CM: Now, one could believe from not only issue #1, but the solicits as well, that as far as the Inhumans are concerned, it's on. War is coming and our friends from the dark side of the moon, so to speak, have quite a few horses in their stable to use, but nothing compared to what's left in your creative quiver to pull from. With the current climate of the Marvel U in this particular book, who can the U.S. count on to be on their side? Would be fair to assume the Yanks wouldn't be that worried about a few aliens coming over?
DH: Is that a subtle way of asking if Captain Marvel will be appearing? He isn’t, but we do have Sentry, Madrox, Layla, and sundry Avengers.
CM: What I meant was--Should the American citizens be all that afraid about being at war with the Inhumans? They have a ton of studs to throw at them. If I knew we had Cap, Iron Man, the F4, etc., I wouldn't be that worried.
DH: Don't forget that there are several thousand Inhumans, and most of them have powers. They have telepaths, warriors of all kinds and they share a fanatical dedication and loyalty to their King. Black Bolt himself is one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. I'd be worried.
CM: Issue #2 is almost on our doorstep. What should we be on the look out for that we aren't expecting? In that same vein, tell me about your philosophy on twists and cliffhangers. How do you feel your way through that process?
DH: I like to have a cliff-hanger, or at least, a significant moment at the end of each issue, so you actually want to come back next month. Plot twists are vital but I try not to force them. If they work, they usually come as a surprise to me too. It’s always nice to be scribbling away and find that your characters have deviated from the intended plot line. It drives editors crazy of course and can play hell with solicitations but sometimes you just can’t argue with it. Professor Cartwright is a character who took control of his own destiny and pushed himself forward into the limelight. I kept telling him he was a throwaway mad scientist but he wasn’t having it, and by issue four he’s become a major character. At this rate he’ll end up with his own ongoing series.
To answer your first question, "What should we be on the lookout for that we aren’t expecting?" In order to know what you’re not expecting, I’d have to know what you were expecting, and if I knew, then I still wouldn’t tell you because, well, then you’d be expecting it wouldn’t you?
CM: Then quick version, what's to come in issue #2?
DH: Luna reveals more of her developing abilities. We learn how the Terrigen Mists effect humans and Black Bolt personally leads a raid on Earth only to find himself face to face with the Sentry.
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