'Hall' Of Justice: writer Jason Hall talks current projects

Thu, April 10th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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[The Yellow Menace]
The Yellow Menace
When CBR News last spoke with Jason Hall, it was regarding his duties as writer on DC Comics' "Beware The Creeper" with artist Cliff Chiang, but since then he's acquired a lot more creative responsibilities. Since the first issue of the aforementioned Vertigo miniseries is just around the corner, CBR thought it would a great time to catch up with Jason Hall and get a summary of his current projects.

"I've been trying to keep busy," laughs Hall. "First there's 'Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace' which is in stores now -- artwork by 'Pistolwhip' co-creator Matt Kindt. The first issue of 'Beware The Creeper'is out on April 16th - artwork by Cliff Chiang, but you all knew that, right? A 'Star Wars Tales' story I wrote for Issue #15 called 'The Sandstorm' is also out now -- artwork by Sunny Lee. Coming up in May, we have a back-up story in 'Detective Comics #782' called 'The Mourning After' - artwork by Craig Rousseau & Dan Davis, and then 'Justice League Adventures #20' is out in June - artwork by Rick Burchett and John K. Snyder III. And I guess I eat and sleep and drive my wife nuts somewhere in there too..."

Of his current work, the graphic novel "Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace" has received a lot of positive feedback and though mainstream press is lauding the series, a lot of comic fans still haven't gotten to know the characters in the Pistolwhip series. But Hall is glad to provide an introduction to new readers and explain why he was so attracted to working on this franchise. "If you held me over a giant vat of acid and made me choose one project I wrote that I was most proud of, I'd have to say it was 'Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace.' It's the newest tale in the Pistolwhip series of books, with amazing artwork by Pistolwhip co-creator Matt Kindt. It's kind of hard to sum up the story, because while it appears simple on the surface, there's really a lot going on -- lots of layers and parallels. The basic premise involves 'Jack Peril' -- the beloved fictional hero of radio, comics, and the silver-screen -- and a series of grisly murders committed by someone impersonating Peril's fictional arch-enemy, 'The Yellow Menace.' And these crimes may have something to do with a new book and lecture-series that's condemning Jack's pulse-pounding parables.

The Yellow Menace, Page 11
The Yellow Menace, Page 12
"Private-eye Mitch Pistolwhip and femme-fatale (of sorts) Charlie Minks are back from the first graphic novel (the self-titled, 'Pistolwhip,' which Matt wrote the story for -- with some 'additional writing' by me, most of which sets up my story for 'The Yellow Menace'). And there's also Isla the maid (who may be too smart and inquisitive for her own good) and Ray the cop (who may be too clueless for *his* own good -- heh). And then there's 'Jack Peril,' who I'd say is the central character to the narrative. But since he's actually a fictional character within the 'Pistolwhip-world,' readers will just have to pick up the book to find out why he's seemingly come to life. There's also Roderick Loom, who is the author of the book, 'Enticement of the Nave,' which is about the supposed 'inherent evils' of the various forms of entertainment of which Jack Peril is the star. Each of the main characters have their own story, and while they may not realize it, most share similar emotions and/or life situations. They all tend to tell themselves lies of various degrees to cope with what's happening or has happened to them in their lives -- and this is one of the many themes that runs through the story. What's great about all the characters in the 'Pistolwhip-world' is that while they may seem like 'types' on the surface, there's a lot more to them on the inside -- something deeper.

"(On a side note, Jack Peril was created back when I was in college. I had made a short student movie where I played him in 'Chapter 9' of a non-existent 12-part movie serial. In it, I got hit by a car (for real!) and rode on top of said car at 40 mph without being tied down as I traded blows with a badguy through the passenger-side window!)

"'The Yellow Menace' represents many things in the story. In the fictionalized world of comics, radio programs, movie serials, and pulp magazines that exists in the 'Pistolwhip-world', 'The Yellow Menace' is the arch-enemy of Jack Peril. Historically, it's also a derogatory term that was used during the '20s -'40s. And then there's the slang usage of the word 'yellow' for someone who is cowardly. All of these 'meanings' come into play in the story on various levels.

"Personally, I wanted to tell a story that worked on a very emotional level -- a story that maybe readers could connect with in that same inexplicable way that I find myself connecting with certain movies, songs, books, and comics that seem to touch my soul. I don't know if anyone will get anything out of the story like that, but I hope so. I think readers will each bring something different to it and get something different out of it. There is a subtle blending of fiction and reality in the story -- and there are some emotional and ironic parallels between the two that tie into what's happening throughout. I'd like to think it's a book that people will enjoy reading more than once -- getting something more or new out of it the second time through."

The Yellow Menace, Page 15
The Yellow Menace, Page 16
While Hall's passion for the Pistolwhip world runs deep, he's been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception that "The Yellow Menace" received, but can't quite put his finger on what made it such a success. "It's so great to see the books getting recognition from both critics and fans. 'Pistolwhip' was named one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Comics of 2001, 'Mephisto And The Empty Box' (which I wrote) has been optioned for feature film, and both books were named Wizard Magazine's Top Indy Books of 2001. And now, 'The Yellow Menace' is getting some great reviews from the likes of Artbomb.net, iComics.com, and TheFourthRail.com -- saying it's the best one yet. And I have to say that it's all truly rewarding to see happen.

"But who can say why the books are so well-received? I hope the reason is because they're good! I'm sure there are people out there who don't like them -- and that's okay too, as long as they don't mind me hating them with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns, that is! But seriously, it's very nice to know that so many people are enjoying them and getting something out of them. I think the books are truly unique -- from the stories, to the artwork, to the design, to the keen promotional items we cook up. Both Matt and I go out of our way to make 'Pistolwhip' an interesting experience all-around. And Matt does an amazing job of designing the covers -- and we both strive to make the art direction of the books something special (and with 'The Yellow Menace,' the way the book is laid out even works on a few different symbolic levels with what's going on in the story). We like for the books themselves, as objects, to be as compelling as the stories inside.

"In a way, I think the 'Pistolwhip' books have the best elements of both 'indy comics' and 'mainstream comics' all rolled into one. And what's neat about them is that readers don't have to read them all. Each is its own individual story. But if you do read them all, you'll really start to see a larger picture and realize that this is actually a 'world' that Matt and I are creating."

While "The Yellow Menace" is more of an indy book, Hall's work at DC is anything but that. One of his more unique stories will be "Justice League Adventures #20" in June, which actually came about as a result of "Pistolwhip." "I was pleasantly surprised to discover that editor Steve Wacker was a huge fan of the 'Pistolwhip' books and wanted to work with me," says Hall of how he got the job. "I gave him a list of about seven ideas for different stories, he really liked five of them and told me to pick which one I'd like to do. I thought the Psycho Pirate would be a lot of fun, and an ideal villain for me to use, so I went with that story idea. I had a great time working with Steve and hope to be doing more with him in the future."

The Yellow Menace, Page 17
The Yellow Menace, Page 85
The Psycho Pirate is one villain that fans don't often see in DCU stories any more and it makes him an odd choice for Hall's story, but the writer explains that the villain is the right choice for the story. "Just like the title says, the story is about both the Psycho Pirate and the JL members dealing with their 'Emotional Baggage' -- and I think this is an issue of 'Justice League Adventures' that's going to really get the readers talking. I'm very close to the vest with the details of any story I write, because I hate it when a story is ruined for me ahead of time. It doesn't matter if there's a twist or not, I just like to experience any story completely fresh, and so I like to have the stories I write experienced the same way by the readers. That's a huge part of the fun! But I will say that I think the Psycho Pirate is a very compelling character, and it was neat to create the 'Animated Universe' version of him. In doing so, I think I've added a very tragic, yet compelling side to his character. And this new back-story for him logically goes along with the premise of him having the ability to control emotions and explains why he's be obsessed with doing so. And, hey... any 'second tier character' has a 'first tier story' in them if you look hard enough!

"Another neat part of the story is getting to see what the various members of the JL *really* think of each other! And on top of that, there are a few *very* brief "cameos" (sort of) by some characters that I don't think anyone thought they'd ever see in the 'Animated Universe' -- including my personal favorite super-heroes of all time... But that's all I'm saying!"

While this is definitely a lighter endeavor than "Beware The Creeper" or "Yellow Menace," there are some psychological undertones to the tale and Hall explains that any story he writes needs to go deeper than readers would expect. "I've never been a fan of comics that are just characters either simply moving the plot forward or just punching each other, page after page, for the sole purpose of having 'action' in a story. No one relates to that on a personal level. For me, the stories I enjoy most are those that not only have an interesting plot, but also make me think and feel -- stories that give me something I can relate to, or even be opposed to, but on an emotional level. Whether it's a song, a book, a movie, a painting, or whatever -- those that mean the most to me, and that I get the most enjoyment out of, are the ones that affect me emotionally.

"A huge appeal of writing an issue of a book like 'Justice League Adventures' was writing the different character 'voices' -- I really strove to capture the JL'ers individual personalities in both their dialogue and their actions. What's fascinating about any character, whether they've got super-powers or not, is what makes them tick. What makes them do what they do? And how do they feel about themselves and those around them? That's the stuff of great stories. And that's the kind of thing that's going to bring in a reader that perhaps doesn't normally read comics. I think that holds true for 'Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace,' I think it holds true for 'Beware The Creeper,' and I think it will also hold true for my issue of 'Justice League Adventures.' What's nice about my issue is that it's a story that anyone can read and enjoy. It's the perfect comic to pick up for someone who usually doesn't read comics and treat them to an entertaining and moving story. And if you're a long-time comics reader, there are plenty of little 'bonuses' in there that I think you'll get a kick out of!"

JLA Adventures #20
Joining Hall on "Adventures" will be veteran artist Rick Burchett, who many have come to associate with the " DC animated" look of comic books. "Rick Burchett did an amazing job of bringing the story to life on the page," says Hall of his creative partner. "I've always been a huge fan of his artwork -- especially his 'animated style.' His run on 'Batman: Gotham Adventures' (with writer Ty Templeton) has some of the best Batman Animated stories ever. He manages to capture that Animated look while remaining completely original and retaining his own unique style. And fans of Rick's run on 'B:GA' are going to be very pleased with his work here. Plus, the inks of John K. Snyder III are adding a truly unique flare to the artwork."

Speaking of the Dark Knight Detective, Hall will be going a bit noir with his back up story in May's issue of "Detective Comics." "It's called 'The Mourning After' -- and only being an eight-page story, I again don't want to give too much away," admits Hall. "It deals with a Gotham City street cleaner who has realized that somebody is making annual visits to the infamous Crime Alley. He's got his own theory about it and decides to find out if he's right. Unfortunately, his plans could very well put Batman's secret identity at risk!"

Being a long time Batman fan, Hall's very excited to be writing about the character and even more excited to be involving so much of the Batman family. "It's incredibly exciting to have a story in 'Detective Comics,' as both a writer and a fan. Come on, it's Batman! And this is my second time getting to write the 'Bat-Family' -- the first time being my Mister Freeze story in 'Batman: Gotham Adventures #51.' It was truly an honor when editor Matt Idelson called me up and asked me to do the story.

"It's a nice little tale that has an emotional side to it (of course!). On one level, it deals with the idea of 'family,' which is why it features not only Batman, but also Alfred, Oracle, Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. So there's a lot happening in these eight-pages, which was a nice challenge. I hope readers enjoy it.

"And I'd love to do more Bat-related work -- of course! But I think my dream assignment has always been anything with the JSA, especially the Golden Age characters. They're my favorite 'super-heroes' of all time!"

With all work he has currently, Hall's not feeling overwhelmed - in fact, he's just excited to get started on even more stories! "Besides everything we've mentioned above, I have at least three more stories coming up in 'Star Wars Tales' -- one a quasi-follow-up to a story I've done before, one a dark and scary tale, and one taking a unique look at a certain well-known bounty hunter. I'm also writing one of Dark Horse's new Rocket Comics titles called 'Crush' -- which has been a lot of fun. That starts up in October with artwork by Sean Murphy. Plus, I'm talking with some folks at DC about some other potential projects -- nothing I can talk about yet -- but I hope to have some news to report on that front soon!

"And it looks like I'll be returning to a character that I've written before, but I don't want to say what that is yet because I just turned the script in this week and it is, so far, unscheduled -- but I'm very excited about it and I think readers who liked my take the first time around are going to be happy with what I've got planned!"

So why's Jason Hall doing so many different types of comics? Some might think it's luck of the draw and others might think he's doing it on purpose just to sharpen his skills, but he admits neither is wrong. "A little of both, actually. You never know what work is going to come your way, but at the same time, you also look for specific work you want to do. I really do strive to do a wide-variety of comic projects. Not only does it help to stretch and add to my writing skills, but I like the idea of having a body of work where there's something for everyone to enjoy."

 
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