Brian Lynch Brings Sanity To The Supernatural "Spike: Asylum"

Wed, September 27th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Pencils and finished cover to "Spike: Asylum" #1.
Of all the characters created by Joss Whedon in his "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" television programs, perhaps the most popular character was Spike, a soulless vampire who rediscovered his humanity by loving the titular vampire slayer. Originally intended to only be on "Buffy" for a short time, actor James Martsters won over fans and writers with his charismatic portrayal of an introverted poet turned into a representation of the worst in humanity. With his quick wit and bad boy charm, legions of fans were enamored with Spike, following him through his dark times through to his torturous quest to regain his soul, thereby proving himself worthy of Buffy. Since his redemption, Spike has appeared as a regular in "Angel" and been the star of his own comics from IDW Publishing. Today, Spike's adventures continue in the new mini-series "Spike: Asylum," in which the blond vampire is hired by a wealthy Los Angeles couple to rescue their daughter. CBR News spoke with writer Brian Lynch about the series and learned a bit more of what to expect from the latest adventures of that vampire with a soul.

"The daughter is being held in, in the most basic of terms, an asylum for monsters," Lynch told CBR news of the series' plot. "Basically it advertises itself as a rehabilitation center, seeking to cure vampires of their blood addiction, werewolves of their anger issues/schizophrenia, witches of their magic dependence, that kind of thing. When Spike arrives, he finds out it's more of a prison than a rehabilitation center. The asylum does in fact seek to cure the supernatural, but they believe in 'tough love': keeping their 'guests' locked in cages, having well-armed guards making sure no one acts up, performing experimental surgery, etc.

"Also, many of the patients know of Spike either by previous encounter or urban legend, so when he arrives, everyone wants to dust him. Spike has to rescue the young girl, fend off hundreds of angry supernatural prisoners, and escape a near-fortress, all in five lovely, action-and-group-therapy-packed issues."

"Spike: Asylum" #2 "Spike: Asylum" #3
Like many of the writers at IDW who've worked on various "Angel" and "Spike" projects, Lynch can trace his interest in the universe back to the mother of all things Whedon, "Buffy." Like many of those fans, Lynch too makes sure to buy/read/watch anything that involves Joss Whedon's influence and finding himself inspired to write within those universes. "IDW's Editor in Chief Chris Ryall is a friend of mine and I begged him for a shot at Spike," said Lynch. "We worked together back when he ran Kevin Smith's Movie Poop Shoot. I created and wrote a comic called 'Monkey Man' that ran for 100 weeks there. Ever since then we've been looking for something else to do together, and luckily, he finally relented to my endless barrage of sob-ridden e-mails about Spike, and asked what I had in mind. I told him the general idea for 'Spike: Asylum,' wrote up a ten page treatment, he sent it to Fox and Mutant Enemy, they loved it, and we were off."

Appearing in this series alongside Spike will be a diverse array of new characters, created by Lynch, but also faithful to the spirit of Whedon's previous creations. "Spike is sent to find Ruby Monahan, a half-demon with telepathic powers. She's a nice girl put in a terrible situation, and Spike sees her as a way of redeeming himself for years of evil deeds," explained Lynch. "Wiseau is an American vampire in the asylum, who has defeated and drained every creature in the book, just to see what they taste like. Years of downing a plethora of supernatural have done some wacky stuff to him. His relationship with Spike is a tumultuous one, Spike kinda sees him as the kind of vampire he used to be.

"Finally, Spike's support group in the Asylum includes a handful of demented misfits that make Spike's stay more interesting. I don't want to give all the characters away, but I can tell you about a few of them. There's Marv, a werewolf who is so doped up on Mosaic's medication that he can't fully transform into a werewolf during a full moon, so he's constantly hairy and moody. Next we have Anna, a demon-slash-actress from Los Angeles, who thought getting breast implants would distract from her giant demon horns. And finally, Betta George, a large fish with impressive mental powers. George steals much of the series, and I truly believe if there is any justice in the world he will have a stuffed animal by years end."

"Spike: Asylum" #4 IDW's EiC Chris Ryall makes a cameo in issue #3 as a Dr. Strange like character.
Looking at the wide array of comic book characters, there's no shortage of charming heroes with mysterious & dangerous pasts, so to some, Spike may seem like nothing new. If you look a bit closer, Lynch believes you'll see that Spike is anything but your conventional character. "Spike is an insanely fun character to write, as he's not your typical white-hat do-gooder," explained the scribe. "After decades of being an awful presence in our world, he's changed teams and now fights on the side of good, but he's not afraid to play dirty to win. There's a lot of inner conflict, which makes for a really layered, interesting character, and a lot of terrible deeds to atone for.

"Another appealing aspect about the character is the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve: he's the perfect romantic hero in the sense that everything he's done: become a vampire, gone bad, fought for a soul and become good, is for the love of a woman. And I think people can relate to that. Not necessarily the vampire stuff, I hope no one reading it can relate to sucking blood (and if they CAN, man, I hope they enjoy it), but we've all made huge decisions that were made not using our heads, but our hearts. Or a bit lower. No, lower. A little lower. Thaaaaat's what I'm talking about.

"Plus, he's a smart-ass, always finding a way to take the piss out of anyone around him, which means as dark as the book gets (and it does go to some dark places), there's always an element of humor because of Spike's reactions."

Issue #1, Page 1 Issue #1, Page 2
Fans flocked to "Buffy" and "Angel" not just for the engaging characters, but also because both series tackled some very serious and relevant issues. Similarly, readers will find that "Spike: Asylum" is similarly minded, never sacrificing the same heady subtext that made Spike's story so compelling. One of the most integral themes is redemption, one that Lynch addresses quite directly is the first issue of the mini-series, making sure that readers don't forget Spike's checkered past. "When I had the chance to work on the character, I thought you have to address the issue of redemption. If not, you're short-changing the character and missing out on some great dramatic potential," explained Lynch. "And in 'Spike: Asylum,' Spike's on his own, which we really haven't seen before. In both 'Buffy' and 'Angel', he got to be the little devil on the heroes' shoulders. Now that he's the star, there's no one to keep him in check. He drives the story and decides to what to do, for better or for worse. He's not Buffy, he's not Angel, and he definitely doesn't handle problems the same way.

"As for redemption in our world, absolutely it's possible. Some people are way beyond it, of course. Osama couldn't put on a cape and stop a bank robbery and all would be forgiven, but people are constantly changing. Folks that are generally good can slip, and people that have done awful deeds can have moments, be it fleeting or life-changing, where they change their way for the better.

"Okay, this got heady for a second. Vampires, huh? Vampires are fun. They bite. Necks, mostly. Man do they love to bite necks."

Issue #1, Page 3 Issue #1, Page 4
A unique aspect of Spike's growth as a character was that fans first saw him at this worst, embracing evil and the basest emotions while battling Buffy. This was a stark contrast to Angel, Spike's old vampiric comrade, who was cursed with a soul and didn't struggle for it in the same way as Spike. This journey kept the topic of rehabilitation at the forefront of Spike's journey, which is something that will also be addressed in "Asylum." "In the series, some of the rehabilitation works for some of the characters, and for some it makes their situations worse," said Lynch. "How the characters arrived at the asylum differs: a number of them checked themselves in to better their lives, others did it for more devious purposes, and some were dragged there kicking and screaming, so they're all in different places in their heads. We see some patients are seeking change, some aren't. Those that didn't, yeah, they cause all sorts of problems. With fangs and claws and destruction and what-have-you. And a few fall off the wagon. Big-time."

When writing "Asylum," Lynch didn't face any real restrictions besides not being able to set the story after the end of "Angel." "That's a storyline that Joss and company want to tell," he revealed. "I made sure to make it the best Spike story I could, continuity be damned. When writing it, I didn't declare "this takes place during these episodes" or "this takes place after the series", really, it's a solo Spike tale that would fit right into any part of 'Angel' season 5, or after the show, whatever the reader wants to assume."

While Brian Lynch's name may not be familiar to some, he's a very experienced writer, whose worked with everyone from Fox to Warner Bros to The Jim Henson Company. That experience, along with a story in "Spider-Man Unlimited," has come in handy on "Asylum," which he wants to be worth reading monthly, not just in a trade paperback collection. "I love going to the comic store every Wednesday, but it kinda sucks to buy a single issue wherein not much happens," explained Lynch. "A lot of books are written for the eventual trade paperback or hardcover collection, not much happens in the single issue because it's just a small part of a larger tale that has to be read with the surrounding chapters to enjoy. 'Spike: Asylum' is a five issue mini series, but it's definitely written for the reader going in every Wednesday to get each issue one at a time. I want to give people their money's worth."

Issue #1, Page 5 Issue #1, Page 6
Joining Lynch on "Spike: Asylum" is artist Franco Urru, whose work the scribe described as "perfect" and with whom he has a lot in common. "I am shocked at how well he handles the dark moments and the comedic moments with equal expertise," said Lynch. "Just to let you know how into his work he gets: a character dies in one of the later issues, and Franco said he felt terrible drawing it because he liked the character so much. So, he took extra care making sure the reader felt as bad as he did. He also e-mailed me concerned over the fate of another character, wanted to know if they were going to be okay. I'm the exact same way when I write, I get attached to characters, fictional or not."

Fans of Spike will want to check out "Angel: Auld Lang Syne," in which the vampire nicknamed "Blondie Bear" will play a role, and fans of Lynch's work will be happy to know that he's going to be quite busy for the foreseeable future. "I'm currently writing a movie for Dreamworks, and a TV show for the CW," revealed Lynch. "Both are going well, more on them as soon as I'm allowed to say. In the world of comics, I'm publishing Monkey Man's final adventure in a full-color comic one-shot that goes by the name of 'Monkey Man 2-D.' Art is by Joey Mason ('Gun Fu'), and it's pretty spectacular.

"Also, might be kinda sorta too early to say, but I think Franco Urru and I aren't quite done with Spike just yet. We have another story we want to tell, and it looks like that's a go. I've got SpikeE-fever, I just want to keep writing that character."

If you're one of those "Buffy" and/or "Angel" fans who have been reticent to check out the comic book adaptations of your favorite vampire with a soul, Lynch understands how you feel and recommends "Asylum" because, "It's a great way to see new adventures of the characters they love, written and drawn by people who love them as much as the readers do. The show was ended way before it's time, and the books are a great way (and really, one of the only ways) to see any kind of new stories in Angel and Spike's world. 'Spike: Asylum' was written to be the big 'Spike' movie that unfortunately was never made, and truly, anyone that enjoys the shows, the character of Spike in particular, will enjoy the mini-series."

 
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