Brendan Cahill Brings Back Two Classics in Marvel's "Sable & Fortune"

Thu, December 1st, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

Throughout life, we end up collecting mementos that help us vividly recall a bygone time. I have a few beaten-up Hot Wheels from the '70s, a Thompson Twins LP from the '80s, and from the early '90s…I have the first issue of "Silver Sable & The Wild Pack" with the foil-embossed cover.

Ah, there's nothing quite like a shiny mercenary with a headband.

Unfortunately, the character seemed to disappear around the same time the comic market went into slump (hence the numerous copies of said issue which are presently located in a quarter bin at your local comic shop). For those fans-- like myself-- who have missed Silver Sable's presence in the Marvel universe, good news is headed our way: Silver Sable appears to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts at Marvel. She appears in the Ultimate Spider-Man videogame, which was just released; she is the center of the latest "Ultimate Spider-Man" story arc which begins with issue #86 (whose story actually spins out of the video game); and this January, she will be teaming up Dominic Fortune (another Marvel classic) in the "Sable & Fortune" miniseries.

Silver Sable is back! (sans headband, regrettably…)

Writing the book is a newcomer to the Marvel universe, Brendan Cahill. Although his name may be new to many comic book readers, Cahill is known in certain circles for his webcomic "Outside The Box," which he both wrote and drew. As for how this book came together and why Dominic Fortune was teamed up with Silver Sable, Cahill was happy to share the details with CBR News.

"(Editor) John Barber and his editorial team at Marvel came up with the broad strokes and then asked me to pitch what I would do with their concept. I can only assume their interest in me was based on my work on 'Outside The Box.' So the overall concept of putting Silver Sable and Dominic Fortune together did not originate in my head, but the specific stories and circumstances you'll see, for the most part, did. From what I understand, I was in a competitive pitch situation with several other writers and I guess the editorial team liked my storylines best and deigned to hire me!"

In light of Silver's additional appearances in the videogame and Ultimate universe, it feels like a synergistic push is being focused on the character. When asked if this miniseries was spun out of some Marvel edict to shine a spotlight on Silver Sable, Cahill responded, "I don't think so. In fact, I think this was mostly a happy coincidence. There's a lot of Silver Sable-ness happening right around the time we launch 'Sable & Fortune,' which is great in terms of priming the marketplace.

"Right before we launch, Ultimate Silver Sable bows, and around that same time, they're releasing a collected trade of the old (early '90s) 'Silver Sable & The Wild Pack' series. Plus the videogame…which, no, I have not played. Not a big videogame guy-- I'm totally stuck on old Nintendo RPGs, and anything more advanced than 'Chrono Trigger' just looks like a bunch of crazy crap to me."

In revamping classic characters, there are several challenges a writer must face. You have to look at what works and what doesn't; what was relevant to the time period when the characters were created, and what is no longer of importance. Then there are also fashion issues to consider as well. After getting to know the two "stars" of his book, Cahill reviewed all of these factors.

"I was very familiar with Silver, not so much with Fortune," explained Cahill. "Marvel sent me a bunch of old comics for research…and research I did. Our Fortune didn't really have to be revamped as he's kind of totally a different guy (maybe…there's some mystery around his character.) He differs from the 'original' Fortune in that our guy doesn't seem to have the war hero/flying ace pedigree. He doesn't even seem to be very competent when it comes to the law enforcement side of his job. He's far better at talking his way out of trouble than shooting his way out. The 'original' Fortune was a macho '30s guy-- our guy is maybe a little more nuanced, maybe a product of living in softer times.

"With Silver, once we ditched the headband, we were done. No, actually, I think making Silver more contemporary has less to do with her look and more to do with her context. There's an overall shift in the world of spy literature (and, presumably, in the world of actual spies) from this big, Cold War, missiles-and-tanks mentality, to small, intimate, gritty stories where one person or a small group poses the threat and a similarly small group (with any luck) has the solution. The enemy isn't the USSR, it's one guy with an envelope of neurotoxin. So, with Silver, you ditch the Nazi thing and the Wild Pack thing and you're left with one woman who has it in her power to make a difference on this personal level, in stories with far-reaching implications.

"Hopefully I don't screw up happy Silver Sable memories for fans-- I think you'll like what we've done with her. She's still mean, uncompromising, greedy, and vicious, and, y'know, noble, when no one's watching."

As the comic book audience has changed drastically since Sable and Fortune's first appearances, this book is meant to reintroduce these characters to a new generation. So what do readers need to know about these two before picking up the book?

"Not much," replied Cahill. "I think we do a pretty good job of giving adequate background without ridiculous expository digressions. In short: Silver is a big-time mercenary queen whose empire is crumbling. Fortune is a small-time PI. You can pick it up from there.

"We're doing six issues to start with and, rather than a single six-issue arc, we're doing a three-issue arc, a one-shot, and a two-parter. There's a sort of hybridization we're trying to capture here (high espionage meets private investigation), so by doing more stories, we get to have more diversity. The opening story is about the end of the Wild Pack as we know it. Silver's grip on her mercenary empire is slipping and she's not sure she even cares about keeping it. Evidence of betrayal within the ranks makes up her mind: she'd rather go off on her own to take care of the traitors. She runs into difficulties in her search for the traitors, which is where Dominic Fortune saunters into the picture with the information she needs. But what's really going on behind the scenes is bigger and deadlier than either of them suspect. Does that sound enough like the trailer to a generic spy movie?

"The premise is that Silver, who is ultra-competent and has a storied legacy in the mercenary world, is becoming a has-been; and Fortune, who really has very little experience, is a rising star. It's in their interests to work together to capitalize on each other's strengths, but how long can they stand each other's deficiencies?"

Whenever you team a man and woman together in the detective genre, it seems that romance and wackiness ensue - you can look to "Moonlighting" or "Remington Steele" for examples of this. However, Cahill's description of the book seems to place it deep in the noir-spy genre as well. When asked about which of these tones the book would take, the writer offered an intriguing explanation - both.

"It's actually about half and half…and half detective-thriller. Wait, that's three halves. As I said, it goes from international espionage-- with spies, double-dealing and terrorist syndicates-- all the way down to a (seemingly) simple murder investigation. And throughout, Silver and Fortune bicker at each other in what is (I hope) a very witty and engaging manner. It's definitely a book about the two of them and the way they deal with each other. Silver is ultra-competent, but not exactly what you'd call a people person. Fortune is charismatic and quick-witted, but he really doesn't have any skills relevant to the job at hand. So at the same time they need each other, their egos will clash a lot. It's also about both of them adapting to a life and job neither expected to have. For Silver, it's a big step down, and for Fortune, it's a big step up. Unintended consequences abound."

The artist joining Cahill on this project is John Burns ("Zetari," "Judge Dredd," "2000AD"), who has been drawing comics since the '70s. In addition to a large volume of work, Burns is someone with plenty of experience illustrating spy stories, such as "Modesty Blaise" and "Dan Dare." Cahill said he was "blown away" by the cover for the first issue, and is excited to be working with someone of Burns' caliber. "[Editor] John Barber and/or his team got Burns, but I don't know the back story there. The little I know suggests that John [Barber] was looking at '2000AD' and thought, 'Hey, I wonder if Burns would do Sable and Fortune,' called him, and was pleasantly surprised when he [Burns] said yes. I haven't really interacted with Burns directly - we've been working through the (very capable) filter of our editors. I did prepare a big collection of reference photos to give him an idea of the sort of visuals I was thinking of for the art. You know, the kind of cell phones people have, what the guns look like, the main characters' hairstyles, things like that.

"I'm really excited-- I think his art is absolutely beautiful and it has a really nice blend of contemporary and retro style that I think fits the series really well. Also, since he's painting it (with a sort of hybrid of modeling and line-work), I think it's going to stand out from other Marvel books in a positive way."

As Silver Sable's past appearances are mainly tied to a certain web-headed hero, CBR News asked Cahill if any of Marvel's costumed heroes or villains appear in the series. "Not in the initial six issues," he responded. "If we sell enough of the first six, we'll get to do more (hint, hint), and who knows who may pop up then? But a lot of what we're doing here is designed to be on the fringes of the Marvel Universe. Stories that happen while all the big guys are busy doing big guy things. So while elements of the 'mainstream' Marvel Universe will certainly enter into the stories, the superhero/supervillain aspect of things will be present in a very limited capacity, if at all."

And now that you know what Cahill's plans are, a larger question may be lingering in your mind; more specifically - "Who the heck is John Cahill?" The writer was pleased to lay out his "origin" for all the comic book readers out there.

"My background is a pretty shallow subject. I've been drawing ever since I could, you know, physically draw, and that, plus an interest in fantasy, sci-fi and other fun flights of imagination, led me to comics. I started writing and drawing comics with my friends when I was nine or ten and, when all my contemporaries had cast them aside, I just kept doing it.

"When I was in college, I had my first bona-fide paid art gig, which was, first, illustrator and, later, graphics editor at the on-campus newspaper. This familiarized me with deadlines.

"The only thing I've really published is 'Outside the Box,' which I wrote and illustrated (and programmed). I've started lots of other things, but I get bored quickly, so I end up having problems with follow-through. I'm working on that.

"Most people who know me think of me more as an artist than as a writer, but I've always been keenly interested in both - I was an English major when I started college and only later transferred into the Art program. So when my first professional opportunity came up as a writing gig, some people were surprised, but not me. People often underestimate the abundance of endeavors at which I excel."

The pros and cons of publishing comics on the web have been debated ad nauseam on the internet. Some question its viability as a business model, while others are just happy to get their work in front of readers. When we asked Cahill whether or not he felt "Outside The Box" accomplished all the goals he had laid out for it, the answer was a resounding "yes"…with a couple of caveats.

"From a business standpoint, the whole goal of 'Outside the Box' was to publish something. That was really it. To me, that means make something that got in front of people I don't know, and for which I received money. I didn't make a lot of money, but it was much more the principle of making money than it was the actual dollars. It was a transition from amateur to professional, as I defined it at that time.

"From an artistic standpoint, I was mostly really happy with 'Outside the Box,' but there are definitely things I would have done differently.

"First of all, from the artist's point of view, webcomics have a lot of advantages over print comics. Animation. 'Free' color (meaning it doesn't cost any more to produce a webcomic in color than it does to produce it in black and white, which is not the case in the print world). Nonstandard document boundaries (meaning not everything has to be fit into a certain page size - you can use infinite canvas, or animation, or click-throughs to change the 'rules' of what you're doing from panel to panel if you like). It's a very rich, unstructured world.

"So, in the sense that I got to use digital tools (most obviously, Flash) to help expand what comics are capable of, that was a big success. In the sense that I got to tell a story that I really love and that people responded well to it, that was a big success. I've mentioned before that I wasn't completely happy with 'Pieces of Each Other,' the second big story arc in 'Outside the Box.' I jumped into it too fast, without enough structural work on the front-end and I think it came out a lot weaker in certain respects than it could have been.

"Also, in hindsight, I maybe shouldn't have mentioned Ayn Rand in direct connection with the work-- as soon as you mention her name 'aloud' (in print, on a message board, whatever), people's preconceptions tend to completely take over the debate. If you look at the themes in 'Pieces of Each Other,' I draw just as much from the other work I cited ('The Illuminatus Trilogy') as I do from Rand, and, I think, construct an individualist concept that rejects Objectivism as much as it rejects Anarchism, even while it draws from both of them. These are not distinctions most people are interested in. So in the sense that 'Pieces of Each Other' became a flashpoint for a very silly right-wing/left-wing debate, I consider that something of a failure. And in the sense that I may not have made my case clearly enough in the work itself (the above-mentioned 'weaker in certain respects'), that may be something of a failure as well.

"…wait, wait, I feel a Rumsfeld moment coming on-- Did I make some mistakes in 'Outside The Box'? Sure. Would I do some things differently? Of course. Do I think it was worth it? Absolutely. But overall, I'm very proud of 'Outside The Box' - both from a personal artistic standpoint and in terms of it carving out a little tiny niche in the greater history of webcomics."

As we ended the interview, Cahill filled us in on his future plans and gave all comic readers out there an assignment. Regarding his next project, he said there's "nothing concrete. I'm talking to John Barber about another thing but it's in very (very) conceptual stages and may not ever become anything real. Then there's a more personal-level project that I'll be drawing that's been in start-and-stop production for years, but which has nothing to do with Marvel (or any other publisher) and isn't close enough to a concrete starting point to really talk about. If that project gets going, it may appear as a webcomic, a print comic, or both.

"But mostly right now, I'm just focusing on 'Sable and Fortune.' I'm more or less done with the scripts at this point and am trying to do as much publicity as I can, because I think it's a really good book that people will like a lot if we can just get them to pick it up in the first place. So, everyone reading this, go to your comic store on January 4th, 2006 and buy as many copies of 'Sable & Fortune' #1 as you can reasonably afford. Pass them out to friends and family. Then write Marvel and tell them how much you love the book, how brilliant I am and John Burns is, and how much you want to see more. Okay? You have your mission."

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