Greg Weisman holds a reputation amongst animation fans for delivering big stories over multiple seasons. However, as the creator and head writer behind the '90s Disney superhero toon "Gargoyles" as well as the recently wrapped Sony production "The Spectacular Spider-Man," Weisman's knack for building characters and mythologies over many years of TV has led to some final episodes that came too early for his fans' liking.
But with his next project – the Ape Entertainment series "Mecha-Nation" which debuts in comic shops next month – Weisman and fellow "Gargoyles" collaborators Victor Cook and Greg Gruler are launching a comic that combines their traditional love of epic stories with a creator-controlled twist that they hope will carry the teen superhero team to stories for years to come. And much like his previous work, "Mecha-Nation" kicks off with a kid-friendly high concept.
"It's 'Freaks and Geeks.' It's 'Breakfast Club.' It's this idea of 'Okay, we're on a superhero team together, but don't sit next to me in the cafeteria. Please,'" Weisman told CBR about the core of the three-issue series which will be penciled by Antonio Campo. "It's the irony of that kind of thing because school can be so cliquey and so mean. That stuff's very relatable, even from the point of view of one popular, cheerleader girl in the book. Sure, she's a decent person, but she's sort of trapped in these social conventions. Can she rise above them? Is she willing to? What's she willing to sacrifice in order to be popular, and what sort of popularity is she willing to sacrifice to do the right thing?"
In the series, Weisman's cheerleader is only one clique-breaking character in a team of five high schoolers from different social backgrounds who are mysteriously transformed into "mecha-sapiens" – mechanically-powered superheroes. Over the course of the first three-issue miniseries, readers will be introduced to the teen team and their superpowered alter-ego names, including Stealth, Tank and Blast! "It's a real mix of characters in the group, and I think it creates some really interesting dynamics," the writer said. "We've got a kid who's your basic comic book geek – a very bright, nerdy kid who's skipped a grade or two. So he's not just younger than our other kids – who range from a Freshman to Juniors – but he's already younger than the average Freshman. With our Sophomores, we've got our art chick and the slacker guy with the garage band that he's kind of serious about, but he never really does anything with. They have to live their lives with secrets and undercover [identities], and that's part and parcel of being a teenager, but we get to amp it up because some of their secrets have to do with whether or not they're actually human."
Ape is using the miniseries as a kick-off for its KiZoic all-ages imprint which will soon include ongoing series based on DreamWorks properties like "Shrek" as well as more creator-owned concepts such as "Scratch9." However, for Wesiman and company, the story stretches back much farther than the past year. "'Mecha-Nation' is something that ['Spectacular Spider-Man' director and producer] Vic Cook created. It was his brainchild, and he brought ['Gargoyles' designer] Greg Gruler and I in – Greg to do designs, me to flesh out the story – and the three of us partnered up on it years ago. I'm thinking it had to have been 2003. We were developing it as an animated series.
"We've tried on and off to pitch it around town at different places, and people were interested in it, but no one actually bought it," Weisman explained. Though the series bible and designs created by the trio were ready to be sprung into an ongoing cartoon series, the project didn't come to life until the writer hooked up with artist David Hedgecock on SLG Publishing's comic continuation of "Gargoyles." While SLG was originally planning to publish "Mecha-Nation," the series was brought to Ape after Hedgecock's status as co-publisher allowed him to bring the project to print in a quick manner. "We got on board with them and found this terrific artist, Antonio Campo, to do the book. I wrote up three scripts pretty fast, actually. In between animation stuff, while I was finishing up 'Spider-Man,' I cranked those puppies out pretty fast."
Weisman, Cook and Gruler quickly set about fitting their TV pitch into comics form. "We talked about what we wanted these three issues to be. 24 pages isn't an awful lot of room to tell a story when we've got five lead characters, and we've got to set up a world," the writer recalled. "So the first decision was that this was going to be one, three-issue story. The second decision was that we wanted this to not be their origin. We decided to save that for some later date. If you do the origin, you spend a lot of time with these kids before the changes start to take place, and you want to do justice to that story. But we felt that would have more meaning if the audience was already invested in these characters. So we decided this is going to be a story from the middle of the school year. The origin happened a few months ago, and we spend a few pages filling people in on what they need to know. We won't spell everything out right up front, so people will, I hope, be going, 'I wonder how they got this way?'"
In lieu of the origin story, "Mecha-Nation" #1 opens right in the heat of battle with the team facing off against another set of superpowered teens called First Wave, though there's more to the set up and series than has been seen in the released preview pages. "The First Wave is an important subplot, and they absolutely introduce the first issue. The conflict that opens up issue #1 is between our mecha-sapiens and the First Wave, but they're not actually the main villains of the first three-issue story. What they do is create a sense of paranoia amongst our kids towards getting outed as Mecha-Sapiens. And it's that paranoia and another villain who drive our three issues. The other team is very important for the overall picture of what this series will be, but they're a minor chord in this three-issue series."
Though Ape currently remains a smaller company in the comics industry, the publisher has stated lofty goals for getting its all-ages series into the hands of younger readers, including this year's Free Comic Book Day offering. For his part, Weisman knows that if the first chapter of "Mecha-Nation" can prove a success, he's ready and willing to continue it on his own terms without the worry of network and studio dealings pulling the plug. "Being in the business I'm in, I try to manage my own expectations to not get too disappointed, because you never know how things are going to work out. You hope for the best - I like to think of myself as being cautiously optimistic. We've got plenty more stories to tell, and we'd absolutely love for this to be an ongoing part of KiZoic. A lot of that's dependent on how well the book sells and a lot of things that to some extent are out of my hands. We've got great designs for the book and great art and, I'd like to think, great characters and stories. It's an all-ages feel. There's no shortage of Mecha-Nation stories, so in success if they want more, we've got more to give them."
As for whether the process could spin back around and find the creators taking their comic to bigger media while owning and controlling the rights, Weisman doesn't want to think about it too much, even though the prospect is enticing. "I've done plenty of work, obviously, where I didn't own what I was doing, and it's not that it wasn't creatively fulfilling, but there are some frustrations. Monetarily, you're not getting what you feel is your fair share for what your contribution was. But I try not to get too far ahead of myself in terms of going 'What about animation or live action? We could do this as a show! It would make a great movie for $100 million!' What I'm focused on right now is 'Did we make a great comic book?' and I think we did."