Familial conflicts are hardly uncommon in comic book mythology, but Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman give the notion of sibling rivalry a whole new meaning in "Haunt," their new Image Comics series that debuted this week. The title focuses on the brothers Kilgore: Daniel, a down-on-his-luck catholic priest, and Kurt, a highly trained secret agent. The two have fallen out with one another but are reunited, quite literally, in Kurt's death, as the spectral Kurt and the physical Daniel merge to form Haunt, the hero at the heart of the ongoing series.
Kirkman spoke with CBR News about both the individual and combined lives of Daniel and Kurt Kilgore, and what readers can expect from their evolving relationship over the course of "Haunt."
"Daniel Kilgore is a priest of the Catholic persuasion," Kirkman explained of the physical component of Haunt. "He is kind of downtrodden, down-and-out and depressed. He's at the end of his rope and he hates his life – and he's not really cut out to be a priest. He's not in a good place, trying to drown his sorrows in prostitutes. When we meet Daniel in the first issue, he's seen better days. As the series progresses, we'll get to know him more and we'll get to learn why he's in such bad shape."
Of the other brother, Kirkman said: "Kurt Kilgore is the world-saving, bad guy-murdering action hero – he is the greatest secret agent to ever live. He works for a shady government organization that does all sorts of black-ops missions all over the world to keep political stuff safe and do all these things for the greater good. But he has a wife that has no idea of what he actually does."
Kurt's successes and Daniel's failures don't exactly make for the happiest of brotherly relationships, but Daniel nonetheless allows Kurt into his life in one specific way: by hearing out his confessions. "Daniel is estranged from Kurt for reasons that are yet to be revealed, but he basically hates the guy," said the writer. "They don't speak, aside from when Kurt comes in for confession, because he's a secret agent. Daniel decides that he'll take his brother's confessions just because he doesn't want any other priest to have to bear the burden of hearing all the crazy stuff that Kurt does. They have this awkward relationship where they see each other regularly for confession, but Daniel refuses to talk to him on any other level because of whatever Kurt did in the past."
If only Daniel knew that, despite his brother's hardcore occupation, Kurt actually has a strong moral code. "The whole focus of the first issue is on how Kurt is actually a good guy, but to do the things he has to do for his job, you have to be willing to cross the line to get things done," Kirkman explained. "In the first issue, he's supposed to be saving [Dr. Schillinger, a scientist], but Kurt finds out that he's been torturing children. Even though his experiments will be useful to the government, he just thinks that this guy is a bad guy that doesn't deserve to live – and that kind of gets him into trouble. He's almost too good, so that would be his weakness. He's moral to a fault."
But Kurt's job isn't the only thing that stands between the Kilgore brothers. There's also Amanda, Kurt's wife, who knows nothing of Kurt's secret life and also has a shady history with Daniel. "Amanda has had a prior relationship of some kind with Daniel – whether they were friends or lovers, it's yet to be revealed," said Kirkman. "It's fairly easy to figure out in the first issue that Daniel has some kind of history with her, which is at least partially responsible for his current relationship with Kurt."
The nature of the relationship between Daniel and Kurt changes dramatically upon the latter brother's death. For reasons unknown, Kurt returns to the mortal realm as a spirit that only Daniel can see. That interaction turns up a couple of notches when Kurt's spirit invades Daniel's body during an intensely dangerous moment, resulting in the two of them combining to form the titular Haunt. Given the fallout surrounding Kurt's death and the discovery of the brothers' shared ability, Kurt is forced to stick with Daniel.
"They're estranged brothers who have tried to be as distant as possible in their lives. Now, Kurt is dead and there's a myriad of bad things happening because of his death, and the only way he can do anything about it is by sticking close to Daniel," the writer explained. "When he's in Haunt-form, the ectoplasmic shell around Daniel is Kurt's ghost entering the physical realm – so now, they're closer than ever. In order to sort his life out and continue his mission, he's going to be forced to eventually try and reconcile with his brother."
While suffering each other's company might be difficult for the Kilgore brothers, it's a complete blast for the book's creative team. "It's fun forcing those guys to interact," Kirkman admitted. "We're doing a lot of cool things in the second issue with exactly how Haunt talks. Kurt is the guy that knows the martial arts and the spy stuff, so he's able to move the body through the ectoplasmic shell around it, but Daniel is the one that talks. The only person who can hear Kurt talking is Daniel, but people watching Haunt are seeing Daniel do the talking and the fighting. That's kind of a fun dynamic."
Despite his death, Kurt's life will come under sharp focus throughout "Haunt" as Daniel is forced to interact with many of his brother's allies and enemies – including Kurt's wife. "As we move on in the series, we'll be pulling in more and more side characters from Kurt's life and government organization, so we'll see Daniel interacting with Kurt's people. In order to do that, he'll be fed messages from Kurt, so there'll be a lot of people watching him have one-sided conversations," the writer described. "Also, Daniel knows a lot about Amanda's dead husband due to Kurt's confessions. She eventually ends up finding out that she knows absolutely nothing about her husband, so she has a rough road ahead of her."
Daniel isn't exactly thrilled with his newfound status as Kurt's veritable errand boy. That dissatisfaction should show in the depressed Catholic priest's salty language and general outlook. "I like writing rotten characters," Kirkman said of Daniel. "I did that with 'The Irredeemable Ant-Man' and there have been plenty of rotten guys in 'Walking Dead.' And Daniel isn't necessarily a bad person per se, but it's fun to write a guy that has different behaviors than myself and thinks differently from other people."
Clearly, it would be easier on both Kurt and Daniel if they didn't have to rely on one another, but they are nonetheless attached at the spiritual hip, and the exact reasons for that symbiosis will be revealed soon. "Daniel is the only one who can see or hear Kurt," he said. "It'll be revealed in issue #3 as to why that is and what their actual deal and relationship is, how they form Haunt and how that all works."
But that revelation is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of "Haunt's" many secrets. "My main goal in 'Haunt' is to try and keep things compelling by showing you snippets of people's relationships and hinting at added depth," said Kirkman. "It's fun to dance around the issue of these people disliking each other but we don't know why, or these people are acting in a certain way and we don't know why. Because it's an espionage story, I kind of like the idea of making the storytelling of the actual book a little bit of a mystery.
"There are certain things that happen in the first issue that you don't necessarily understand, but if you stick with the book, as the series progresses, you'll learn more and more about the characters," he continued. "When you go back for a second read, you'll completely understand why Daniel was doing this or why Kurt was saying that. That's what I'm trying to do with the series – we'll see if it works out."
"Haunt" #1 was released on October 7, 2009. The second issue hits stores on November 4, 2009.