This May a troubled young man becomes entwined with a long-lost spirit of vengeance in Image Comics' one-shot, "The Tattered Man," the latest original creation from writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by Norberto Fernandez. The spirit's story begins in the concentration camps of Germany during World War II and continues in modern day New York City. When the spirit awakens, it discovers its work is far from done. CBR News spoke with Palmiotti about the characters, the idea of redemption and how he and Gray pooled money from other projects to get this book made at Image.
The spirit of vengeance concept is familiar to readers of books like "Ghost Rider," but "The Tattered Man" takes a different approach. "It's the idea that when something so terrible happens to a bunch of people, it can conjure up a spirit of vengeance for the people who can't speak, for the people who can't fight back," Palmiotti said. "We thought of how we could tell the modern day telling of that and involve history as well, which is why the middle part of the book is in a concentration camp and then the modern day stuff happens in New York."
Though main character David becomes the subject of the story toward the second half, a man called Isen takes center stage for the first. An old man on the wrong end of a misguided attack in New York City, Isen relates to the tale of the Tattered Man, how he rose from a pile of corpses in the boy's WWII concentration camp and how Isen came to hold the tattered rags in the present day.
"It's sort of a horror story slash -- I won't say superhero -- spirit of vengeance [story]; it only falls into the superhero category at the end with this entity getting rid of bad guys. We just had a cool idea and we thought rather than beating around the bush, we'd just do it ourselves and hook ourselves up with a good artist and a good crew and tell the story," said Palmiotti of the decision to do the book at Image. "It does have a beginning, middle and end, but if the book does well we're willing to do more stories. When you read it, you'll see that there's a million possibilities."
While Palmiotti noted that most of the violence takes place off panel, readers will see the aftermath of the Tattered Man's attacks. He also explained that, while David is conscious of the Tattered Man's actions, he's along for the ride more than serving as an active participant.
"We believe in redemption, if somebody's done something bad, you can make up for it," Pamliotti said. "David is a character who has had a pretty tough life. He's been involved in stuff he really wants nothing to do with. He's kind of pulled in and because he's there, he's just as guilty as everybody else. We kind of follow his character as he has to, in his own way, make up for his crimes, he has his own demons to deal with as the spirit of the Tattered Man consumes him and kind of becomes one with him. Towards the end of the story he's got to make up for the bad he did. He's an interesting character because he's not a horrible guy, he's just a guy involved with drugs and morons.
"His is a story of redemption, how his life went to shit and he has to pull himself out of it and the Tattered Man is there to help him along the way in a very creepy and wild way."
As David navigates his road to redemption, the Tattered Man -- who has never had a human host before -- has another goal in mind: vengeance.
"The Tattered Man looks around at the people in the room and sees that there's still hope for David, there's still a chance that David can get back and save himself for what he did," Palmiotti explained. "The Tattered Man grabs on to that little bit of hope that's left in him and decides that he's the perfect vessel for the Tattered Man to continue on what he started [during WWII] in 2011. He's actually not so much about redemption, but [he wants] to get rid of the people beyond it.
"The Tattered Man is drawn to the criminals and the evil elements, the stuff that's beyond redemption. He's this monster that kills these people doing horrible things and there's no gray area at that point," continued Palmiotti. "With David as his vessel, [the Tattered Man] thought he was someone he could save. The people he's attacking are just beyond help. He goes in there and does some pretty horrific things with David as his host. He's cursed and blessed at the same time."
The idea to do this story as a one-shot came organically from Palmiotti and Gray's creative process. The pair decided to just just start writing and see where they wound up as far as page counts go.
"With Justin and I, we had this idea and it didn't fit with a Marvel or DC or Dark Horse," Palmiotti recalled. "Even back when we did 'Back To Brooklyn' it didn't fit really with what other people were doing; with 'Random Acts,' the same thing. We've just been taking our money that we make off '[Jonah] Hex' and the other books we do and we're putting it into this one. We kind of bank our money -- we put comic money into comics which is what we're always doing these days. Hopefully we can break even. 'Random Acts' is a tough one because it was a lot of pages. We'll break even maybe next year.
"A lot of times with this stuff, it's about expressing yourself and getting your ideas out there. If we can make money, great, if not we just try to break even so we can do another one," Palmiotti said. "I don't have that much faith that it's going to be a big hit, I just know that the audience determines whether something is a hit or not, not us. The best we can do is put out something we think is a good product and hope for the best."
After getting the script together, the duo had to find the right artist to handle the project. After sifting through a list of about ten or so, they landed on Norberto Fernandez who had done work on "New Exiles" for Marvel and a few "Grimm Fairy Tales" books for Zenescope.
"His agent showed us his work," Palmiotti said. "He gave us this sample of some historical stuff and it was beautiful black and white work. Honestly, we just thought he was the right guy for this book and we waited until he was available. Then he did the book for us and got other work. Now he's [moved] on to two graphic novels. We were able to get him at a good time and we couldn't be more pleased. He did pencils, inks and the colors so it was all his art. As the pages came in we started relaxing because he got better with every page and he really did some beautiful designs. Half of everything in comics is getting the right artist for what you write. That's what we do on 'Jonah Hex' every month -- just figure out the best guy to tell a certain kind of story. In the modern day -- he lives in Spain, I think -- he draws New York like he lives in New York. He researched everything, so everything's pretty accurate."
With a solid team, a compelling story and a concise telling of it all, Palmiotti hopes that audiences will give "The Tattered Man" a shot when it comes out in May.
"It's the hardest market there is because unless you have a big name, people don't buy it unless the concept really bowls them over," Palmiotti says of original concepts in comics compared to superheroes or licensed properties. "It's a very risky time. I don't think the companies themselves need to expand so much, my thinking is that the audience needs to try new things. I think they do, as they get older they say, 'This was okay for me when I was younger, but I don't need to have every issue of this book any longer, I want to try something new.' I grew up as a heavy metal kid, so I always liked the adult stuff, the edgier, more art savvy stuff. I think the market is changing. I think the audience is broadening; social media is definitely helping. Like anything, we're all inundated with stuff every day -- TV, movies, comics. It's hard to have a voice out there but I think it's slowly happening where the audience is finding guys that click with them. I know when I was younger I bought anything by certain writers or artists and I think that's what's happening again. I could be wrong, but that's what I see happening."
Image Comics unleashes "The Tattered Man" one-shot in May.