Watch the skies and cover your heads – this November, Archaia releases the technological sci-fi war epic "Titanium Rain" by Josh Finney and Kat Rocha, creators of "Utopiates."
A war epic tackling a Herculean amount of concepts and issues, "Titanium Rain" was inspired by a number of modern classics, including "Apocalypse Now," "Casablanca," "Blade Runner," and "Ghost in the Shell." "I wanted a story that operated on multiple levels," says Finney. "Granted, there are going to be a number of readers who pick it up because it's got explosions and jets dogfighting, but there are multiple things going on in the background. It brings up a lot of questions about man's relationship with technology. It has a lot about the relationship of warfare. It has some stuff about evolution. It even takes a look at concepts of religion."
At its core, "Titanium Rain" is a war story, but Finney seeks to give readers more than just a typical war story graphic novel. "In comics, there seems to be two types of war stories out there," he says. "Either the war story that takes the stance that war is bad, or the action story. I felt that, frankly, on either side, it was too easy. The message that war is bad i,s frankly, like saying Nazis are bad. Obviously. I felt that it would be more compelling [to explore the idea] that, first off, war is terrible, but are there instances where a response of force not only acceptable, but necessary? For the story I'm telling, I don't want to reveal whether it is or not, yet. But I feel as though it would be a really strong contrast to what's happening right now. We've got two wars happening, and I think right now everyone can agree that Iraq's a complete and utter mess and failure. We've obviously been given some really strong examples of war for the wrong reason, but is there another side to the coin?"
In addition to the in-depth look at war's effect on the human psyche, "Titanium Rain" delves into the relationship between man and technology by introducing the new technological marvel of Prometheus – a program that engineers humans and hones their skills in particular areas. Almost all the pilots of "Titanium Rain" have taken part in Prometheus and have the skills to show it, but is the program all it's cracked up to be? "The bit about Prometheus is pretty literal. It's not the Titan Prometheus, but the metaphor is there," says Finney. "I had a number of ideas running through my head about our relationship to technology. There seems to be a real conflict within our own culture right now regarding that. I think a book that did an excellent job of capturing that weird love/hate relationship is 'Surrogates.'"
"'Surrogates' did a really good job of highlighting the issues of alienation and the disconnect that we have through technology. I wanted to do a book that took another angle on that, and explore the fact that the human being probably never would have happened if it weren't for the fact that the creatures that preceded us were, in fact, tool users. We probably never would have evolved if it weren't for the fact that they had been tool users. So, in a sense, we've always been like this, we've always been using tools – the technology preceded us. I wanted to do a story where the relationship of man and technology and that weird love/hate relationship kept coming up, and would tackle some of the more questionable or disturbing issues of man and machine, and possibly come out of it with a less commonly explored aspect to it. Like it or not, this is kind of our natural state. In that sense, Prometheus is pushing that as far as it can go – taking that idea to the extreme, to the point where Prometheus is modifying DNA and adding cybernetics. Essentially, as one character said, he was going to improve on God's design. Take it from there – what happens next? Is he right? Is he wrong?"
Much of what informed Finney's creative process was a harrowing experience when he was nineteen. Like a character in the story that bears an uncanny resemblance to the writer, Josh Finney was shot at age nineteen. "I think one thing that's come out of the writing process, for me, was coming to terms with what happened," he says. "It was really just this bizarre random act where one minute, I'm heading off to Denny's with some friends, and the next thing we know, some nut is chasing us around. He runs us off the road and starts firing. I spent most of my twenties trying to process and make sense out of all that. The immediate experience after the fact was, I felt okay. Of course, that's something that you want to believe, that you can handle that. As the years went on, I went through progressively getting worse and worse with post-traumatic stress syndrome. The real moment of clarity for me was my first series, 'Utopiates'. I was writing about this character that has post-traumatic stress disorder, and [I'm] doing all this research on it and went, 'Oh my God, this is what I'm going through.' I think the absolute, most difficult part of having that happen – getting shot – was having that moment in which, one second, I'm nineteen years old, out of school, floating around, having a good time and that youthful sense of being completely immortal, then the moment I realized I was bleeding, that realization that it could be over in seconds. There was that moment where I realized and knew that it could be over in a few seconds. At first I just pushed it to the back of my mind and didn't think about it, but it progressively started coming back. One thing I never saw coming was that it would come out in the writing process."
Another huge part of the creative process for Finney was not only drawing from personal experiences, but also the exhaustive research and attention to detail the project demanded. "One thing I've done with 'Titanium Rain,' as I did with 'Utopiates,' was that I really tried to get out there and research what I was writing about. For 'Utopiates,' there was a lot of drug culture and police. I went on police ride-alongs and I talked to police officers. For 'Titanium Rain,' I had gone out of my way not to just read memoirs of pilots, but went and talked to marines. San Diego's a military town, so it's easy. I've gone out and talked to pilots. The one thing that keeps coming up with guys who actually served was that they get it. They get it better than I do. Clearly, they have a much better understanding of it than I do. I got to wake up in a hospital. I'm not sure what else I can say about it, other than that reason and that reason alone is why I think that if I'm going to do a story with this kind of violence and this kind of violent imagery, that it be honest. I'm not saying that I won't eventually write some kind of action story that's just for fun, but for things like this, it's got to read true to me."
However, the biggest challenge for Finney as a writer wasn't the content or the issues the comic deals with, it was the incredible scope of the story he wanted to tell. "It was triggered from having this drive to tackle so many different things that had been wrapped up in my head," he says. "It came about after 9/11, essentially - a lot of the tension the country was feeling, and all of the things we had to come to terms with. I felt that one side of the country wanted to run away from the issue and not look at it at all, and then the other side that we allowed to take control of the issue was so hyperfocused on agendas and rebuilding the Middle East, that we kind of lost sight of what was really important. My own feelings about our relationship to technology had come into it, trying to weave together a story that could operate on all these levels and remain coherent and have a very solid story to it. Before that, the only thing we'd done was 'Utopiates,' which was specifically written to vignettes. They were either one-and-done or two-and-done stories, so getting everything accomplished wasn't that difficult, it wasn't such a juggling act."
At its core, "Titanium Rain" is a story for all types of readers, and Finney hopes every reader will read the book a little differently than the next. "As I'm finding, everyone comes to the story with their own ideas, and it's often amazing how people read the story and get something completely different out of it," he says. "I think, to speak broadly, I'm hoping that I'll hit two audiences: one that thinks this is just a really cool looking action book and realizes there's so much more going on, and also maybe getting some people that wouldn't necessarily read a war story to come to it as well."
Look for "Titanium Rain" on shelves this November from Archaia Studios Press, and read the first issue on CBR now.