Brian Wood shows no mercy -- at least when it comes to storytelling. Setting his stories at the edge of civilization, temporally or geographically, he pits his characters against extreme environments, hoping to reveal in the process a little bit of what it means to be human. January 2013 marks another big month for the Wood when his "Conan the Barbarian" #12 with artist Declan Shalvey, "The Massive" #8 with artist Garry Brown and the launch of his third ongoing comic book series with Dark Horse Comics, "Star Wars" with artist Carlos D'Anda.
These are books set in vastly different worlds, from the long ago, far away galaxy of "Star Wars," to the sea-faring, sword-slinging world of "Conan" and the not-too-distant ravaged and flooded future Earth of "The Massive." Comic Book Resources spoke with Wood about his growing workload, upcoming developments across all three titles and the narrative interests that thread through his disparate projects.
"Conan The Barbarian" #12 arrives January 16 and features the conclusion of the two-part "The Death" storyline. Conan, his lover Bêlit and the crew of her ship, the Tigress, are facing down a deadly illness contracted after the pirates brought aboard a castaway sailor. As Wood ramps up for the conclusion of "The Death," he's tight lipped about the story's repercussions.
"Suffice to say, ['The Death'] will test [Conan and Bêlit] to the maximum, in the maximum way a couple can be tested, and that will continue into the next arc as well," Wood told CBR News. "Sorry to be vague, but I actually worry I'm not being vague enough in this case."
Wood's take on Robert E. Howard's Conan is set amongst sword-wielding pirates, and is appropriately action-packed and blood-soaked. However, outside of any familiar genre trappings the arc has ultimately revealed itself as the story of doomed lovers. This period of Conan's story and his relationship with Bêlit is something Wood latched onto in the vast Conan backlog.
"I'm not really changing anything," said Wood. "I'm just filling in the middle of the story that wasn't detailed in the original. It's always been the story of Conan's first love."
That relationship at the heart of "Conan the Barbarian" provides the story with "a human connection, an access point for the reader," said Wood. "I mean, a lot of things do that, and sometimes action can do that, but I've always found that matters of the heart are almost universally relatable. Not that I just made some huge revelation -- this is what makes the world go around, and why it's an element in virtually every single movie or book you've seen."
"The Massive" #8 goes on sale January 23 and marks the second chapter of "Subcontinental." Callum Israel and Ninth Wave, his crew of militant eco-warriors, have stumbled across a newly declared sovereign nation -- a vast community of people living aboard derelict oil platforms hoping to start a new life in this post-crash world.
"The crew of the [Ninth Wave ship] Kapital come across this place called Moksha Station, which is a self-described new community of post-Crash humans -- a social utopia that aims to leave the sins of the past in the past," explained Wood. "You can imagine that the reality won't quite match up to that ideal, but it's interesting to see exactly how. Each of the main cast comes aboard this Station, which is built from a bunch of mobile drilling platforms lashed together, with their own agendas. Callum and Mary are the visiting dignitaries, Callum finding some common ground with the Station's director until Mary peels off and starts causing some trouble. Mag is on a secret mission, following up a plot point from issue #3. In the middle of it all, a huge storm hits and their ship, the Kapital, is moved away from the station for 'safety.'"
Moksha Station "shows a different aspect to post-Crash life that ties into the whole region," said Wood. "We get more crucial character background, and two huge story elements get introduced by #9 -- both of which are great red narrative lines that we'll follow from here until the book ends, around issue #30...A couple characters make some significant moves that have big repercussions."
So-called utopian societies are often, in fiction and reality, idealized communities that eventually collapse under the weight of inequity, hubris, or egomania. "The Massive"'s Moksha Station, it seems, will likely not fare much better.
"I think human nature -- our base instincts -- always wins out over ideology," said Wood. "Corruption will always happen, people will always sin. I think striving for a utopia, or just a better way of living, is admirable and we should all do that, but giving it a name and following it like dogma is not a productive way to go about it, I don't think."
While Wood's "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Massive" are set in very different places and times, there are similarities to the stories he's telling in each: characters grapple with moral ambiguity, isolation and finding themselves stranded in strange, hostile worlds.
"That's basically what I do, and have done in past series like 'DMZ' and "Northlanders" as well," Wood said of his past Vertigo projects. "I like putting characters in situations like that because, in addition to it just being great drama, it tends to expose the core of the character: unraveling all the layers of their identity until you find some deep truth. I also like it visually -- I like rugged, harsh landscapes, where it's the elements versus people. Great stuff, it gets my blood moving."
Wood is unsure whether these characteristics of his past work will carry over into his upcoming title, "Star Wars," which, like "Conan," presents the additional challenge of being an existing property with its own history of past narratives, writers, and artists.
"I don't always recognize the similarities until they're pointed out to me," said Wood. "Sometimes the writer is just too close or too wrapped up in the making of the separate parts of a story to see it as a whole. 'Star Wars' may be a different case, as I'm really dropping into an existing storyline where the future is already written and known to us all, so I don't have the same opportunity as I have in other books where I can run amok. But we'll see -- I still think it'll read as a 'Brian Wood' book to some degree. I'm having a blast writing it. It's one of those rare jobs that are both fun and easy."
"I know 'Star Wars' better than I know 'Conan,' by a long shot," continued Wood. "I find the world of 'Star Wars' a much easier place to work, to know my parameters and how to tie things in. The world of 'Conan' is no less complex, but it's more of a mystery to me as a writer, and I have to do a lot of research and consulting with editors and so on. The tone of the two books is different, as is the scope -- I'm telling a 25-issue story in 'Conan,' but my first foray into 'Star Wars' is a year long. 'Star Wars' has a huge cast, but I'm keeping the focus tight with Conan and Bêlit."
Wood has his hands full in crafting the stories for each book but he has a solid team backing him up at Dark Horse.. Wood had high praise for his editors, citing the 20 years the publisher has invested in the "Star Wars" franchise. "I can't imagine anyone being a better caretaker of 'Star Wars' comics than Randy Stradley and Mike Richardson at Dark Horse," Wood said.
With different artists on "Conan the Barbarian," "The Massive," and "Star Wars" -- Declan Shalvey, Garry Brown, and Carlos D'Anda, respectively -- each book has its own tone and aesthetic sensibility. There's a reciprocal relationship between Wood and his artists, as Wood finds his writing influenced by each of the artist he writes for.
"Every good comic book writer tailors their scripts to the artist -- I don't know how to do it any other way," said Wood. "No great mystery -- you just study their art, identify what they do really well, and write to that. I learned this really early on, possibly my first useful lesson as a writer, and I treat it like gospel."
Despite the workload and a bustling family life Wood is faring well, even if he is, perhaps, a little sleep-deprived.
"I like to think I have a rhythm down, but that doesn't mean it's not still crazy," Wood laughed. "I'm a stay at home dad on top of the writing, so I tend to not spend a lot of time with the wife, since my most productive times are evenings and on into the night. So, that's tough, but it's mostly been working out. In the long-term it's not a very sustainable situation, but I was just offered too many jobs that I couldn't turn down. I just turned 40, so I gotta keep an eye on my body, make sure I'm sleeping enough. A couple times I've fallen asleep at the dinner table."
"Star Wars" debuts January 9, "Conan the Barbarian" #12 arrives January 16 and "The Massive" #8 goes on sake January 23, all from Dark Horse.