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DF Interview: Through time’s mists, Steven Grant brings readers the return of The Rook
By Byron Brewer
One of the most well-known heroes of Eerie, from Warren Publishing, is taking up his mantle as a time-traveler again. As a protagonist built to incorporate cross-genre elements that hint at the western, the spy-thriller and the science fiction of time-travel, the Rook is above all things an action hero with plenty of attitude.
Writer Steven Grant and artist Paul Gulacy are bringing the character to vivid life again in The Rook, a four-issue miniseries from Dark Horse Comics which already has that team of creators working on a possible sequel.
Dynamic Forces chatted with Steven Grant about the return of this popular property and where Gulacy and he plan to take it.
Dynamic Forces: Steven, before we delve into today’s comic book era, can you give readers just a little background on The Rook, which was at one time, I believe, the most popular series ever introduced in the pages of the well-remembered Eerie.
Steven Grant: The Rook was a time-traveling adventurer created by Bill Dubay in Eerie magazine while he was editor at Warren Publishing in the 1970s, the most popular of his many creations there. Dressed in western gear he jumps around time in a one-man time machine that looks like a castle piece from a chessboard (conveniently called the Time Castle)… hence the name the Rook. The character was at one point the most popular Warren character, getting his own magazine, something previously unheard of at Warren. It was one of the first great genre mashups, and certainly set the tone for a lot of things to come.
DF: Tell us how this newer version by you and the great Paul Gulacy was born at Dark Horse.
Steven Grant: Paul and I had been talking for a while about doing something together – we’ve created a couple of features we’re shopping around -- and meanwhile Paul had been in touch with Ben Dubay, Bill’s nephew and heir to his estate, including the properties he created at Warren. In the ‘90s, Bill jumped through hoops to recover rights to those properties, had done it and was gearing up to relaunch at least some of them when he unexpectedly died in 2010. So for Ben, reviving The Rook, the most important of Bill’s creations, became a labor of love. Paul had done a Rook cover for Eerie magazine back in the day, and they’d been in touch, and Ben asked Paul to draw a new Rook series. Paul suggested me as writer since we were already teaming, and Ben jumped at it. It came a bit out of left field for me – I hadn’t thought about The Rook much since Warren stopped publishing in the ‘80s – but when I started working out the possibilities, I jumped on it. (Plus, you know, working with Paul …)
DF: Can you tell us about the storyline for this iteration of The Rook?
Steven Grant: We pull sort of a fast one out of the gate, completely changing up the series. There were aspects of it we felt were no longer appropriate, like the cowboy motif. Not that I had anything against it, but the cowboy-SF mashup, unknown when Bill did it, has become something of a horrid cliché now. (Three words: Cowboys and Aliens.) But that was sort of an important aspect of the character, and I figured we needed a really good excuse to replace it. So it starts out with the Rook being cornered by, effectively, the Rook Revenge Squad, four enemies who’ve teamed up to destroy him and have got a way to implacably track him across time. I picked up on the chess motif: being cornered, he effectively “castles” himself and reboots. It basically creates an alternate Rook trying desperately to come to grips with his new situation (as seen in the Dark Horse Presents story, though that takes place sometime after the events of the miniseries) as he journeys to places like Victorian England in search of the first time traveler and the distant post-human future. We’re rebuilding a modern Rook, using many of Bill’s pieces along the way. Ultimately, we’re trying to preserve Bill’s legacy, not replace it.
DF: Tell us about the rest of the protagonists. Any new characters longtime readers have not met?
Steven Grant: Yes and no. The heroes in the first run are Restin Dane, the Rook and Adam Dane AKA H.G. Wells’ Time Traveler. Wells himself is a character in the story. Longtime readers know both Danes, but they don’t know these versions and the events of their meeting go differently than they did the first time around. There are new villains but only a couple of them get any real play. Longtime fans will be pleased to “see” Manners back, except they won’t see him; he’s in the story in voice only, but he’s also our main anchor to Bill’s original series.
DF: Without giving much away, can you tell us about the immortal terrorist who is this piece’s big-bad?
Steven Grant: I assume you’re speaking of Quarb (or Qwarb; the spelling varies), who was a focal point of Bill’s run. He’s an immortal man from prehistory, a man of the future who was born at the dawn of mankind. He’s the counterpoint to the Rook. Restin Dane has a normal lifespan but can jump back and forth through time. Quarb is extremely long-lived – I wouldn’t necessarily say immortal but from our perspective as close to it as is possible; he lives long enough that he can cause a change he loses interest in before it finally occurs eons later – but he can only move through time like the rest of us, forward, a second at a time. Matter of fact, there are reasons he can’t time travel, even if he had the means. Quarb isn’t exactly a villain. His role varies with the timeframe. In a couple of issues, he ends up being the Rook’s ally against a common threat, and he has reasons to make sure the Rook stays alive, but in another issue, in a different era, he’s a criminal mastermind. Mainly, as I think anyone who has lived millions of years would do, he’s just trying to keep from getting bored.
The real “ultimate villain” of the miniseries isn’t Quarb. Quarb’s a pivotal player, though.
DF: A lot of writers just do not like time travel. Obviously a big part of this property, how do you feel about this aspect of sci-fi?
Steven Grant: I’m not terribly fond of time travel, mainly because the paradoxes can drive you nuts, but writing the Rook I’ve learned to embrace it and them. I find them a lot of fun now. Everything becomes interesting interweaving loops of cause and effect; the miniseries is really built on them. The conclusion of the miniseries doesn’t take us back to its beginning, but it does make it inevitable. It’s fun playing with the Rook/Quarb relationship, since their relative timelines are different; the Rook first meets Quarb hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years after Quarb’s first encounter with the Rook, and anytime their paths intersect they’re at different paces of experience with each other, so that the Rook might know something about Quarb that he’ll only learn far in Quarb’s future, or Quarb might have gleaned information from a much older Rook. Keeping those elements straight’s something of a challenge, but it’s entertaining.
DF: How is it working with Paul? Did he do designs for this new book?
Steven Grant: He did. They’re great. Working with Paul has been one of the breeziest times of my career. I send him scripts and think, man, Paul’s going to kill me when he sees this. He never bats an eye (well … he didn’t want to stay in Victorian England any longer than necessary, but we were on the same page there, as we mostly are) and the stuff comes in and it’s so gorgeous your breath stops. Then Paul’s colorist of choice, Jesus Aburto, finishes the pages off and it’s just spectacular. The art makes the story new to me; that doesn’t happen very often in comics, at least not to me. I love working with Paul. He really should be regarded as an industry treasure.
DF: So what else new is coming from the Grant keyboard upcoming?
Steven Grant: A lot, but not a lot I can talk about right at the moment. As I mentioned, Paul and I have developed a couple of projects we’re shopping around, and we just started working on the second Rook miniseries, which picks up from the first but otherwise goes in a completely different direction. We want to keep shaking things up. Back in ’93, I created a book at Dark Horse called Enemy that generated a Fox pilot a couple of years later. I’m reviving the book at Dark Horse sometime next year; no word on an artist yet. I’ve got several TV projects in the works and am working with several producers, but given the nature of that business it’s anyone’s guess if or when any of it will ever air. Finally, I’m slowly working on a new miniseries for BOOM! So lots of things going on. I’m always in discussion with lots of people about new projects. I won’t be vanishing anytime soon.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Steven Grant for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Rook #1 is in stores now!
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