Wrapping Up The Violent Journey of Luther Strode [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: You're wrapping up a franchise that seems to have played a pretty big role in your careers. How do you feel about where this journey has taken you, and what's it feel like to finally wrap up Luther Strode?


I mean, yeah, we're wrapping up the book of our own volition; this is the place we always wanted to get to. But, you know, we broke in on STRODE. This was the first thing and wrapping it up is difficult.

LUTHER STRODE changed my life, entirely. I pretty much instantly had a career. I've traveled all over, made a lot of friends, and got to do what I love for a living. So, you know, ending the book is weird.

TRADD MOORE: Yeah, it's weird.

I was 21 back when I drew the first design sketch of Luther Strode, back in 2009. I'm 28 now. I haven't worked on STRODE for 7 years straight. Since that first drawing I finished college, I did work with Marvel, etc., but LUTHER STRODE has nevertheless been a big part of my life for all that time.

I'll often come up with some cool fight scene choreography while out on a walk or doing the dishes or whatever, and I'll think, "Oh, I gotta put that in STRODE somewhere!" Or, "I gotta tell Justin and Felipe about this!" It's become part of my thought process. The three of us are emailing all the time. Honestly, I don't know if or when that tick in my mind will go away.

I'm excited to be finishing the story that we planned all those years back, and I'm thrilled with the work we've created over the years, but yeah, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at this series and not feel wistful.

IC: You play with time a lot in this series, such as when you slow down a fight scene so that every kinetic ripple on impact or moment of a single punch can be examined at length. It feels like a Luther Strode hallmark at this point—where did this technique come from? What do you feel it gives you as storytellers?

JJ: That is mostly Tradd. While we work full script, Tradd and I bounce the script back and forth to write it, and the added panels and sort of manga-esque decompression are largely his doing. But I think it gives us the ability to control the flow of the action more than we could otherwise.

TM: For me, it comes from trying to be as clear and straightforward with my storytelling as possible.

Breaking down singular movements into multiple panels, going into the decompressed slo-mo-type imagery, that highlights what the characters are doing, displays how they're doing it, and reveals how it is affecting their environment. It can give the illusion of fluid motion. It can look like one long shot, so to speak. So, when drawn successfully, it makes the characters seem really incredible. It's one thing to write, "That character dodged a bullet!" It's another, and much more exciting, to watch that character dodge a bullet.

I don't want readers to have to assume too much, and I don't want them to get confused. I want them to see the environment, to understand where the characters are within it, and to watch how each character travels through it. I want to show you exactly how these characters move. I want the fight scenes in THE LEGACY to look like a performance, you know? Like you're watching someone dance, or skate, or play a sport.

I try not to rely on genre/storytelling tropes; I want my mom or aunt who've never picked up a comic in their life to be able to pick up one of mine and know exactly what's going on at all times, not because it's being explained, but because they see it unfolding right there in front of them. I'm not always successful in my attempts, of course, but that's always my goal. Pure clarity!

Strangely, it's a lot of work being obvious. You have to pick your panels and compositions with purpose and foresight.

I'll read through Justin's initial script pass a couple times and basically adjust and build the scenes and environments in my head. I have to be able to see a sequence in full motion in my imagination, and then deconstruct it or "snapshot" it into panels from there. I'll add/subtract/move/merge panels in a way that I feel best displays what I'm thinking. I sketch little blueprint layouts of the environments to make sure that everyone gets from point A to point B feasibly. I try to make sure that each character and element that will be brought up or used throughout a scene is revealed and understood before they're actually used.

IC: On a similar note, the span of human history is on display in the whole of the series. THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE digs deep into this, revealing even more about our secret history. How does where we are with the story now compare to where you originally thought this tale was going to go?

JJ: Actually, yeah.

Back when we did THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE, I had this idea about where the book could go, if the book succeeded, and this was pretty much that place. I knew that in the end the book would lead us to Cain.

And there's a thematic arc. The first series was a tragedy, the second was "What do you do if you survive said tragedy?", and the third is pretty much about making a future versus being owned by your past.

Now, some of the specifics have changed. THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE is meant to be our James Bond kind of story, with a much bigger scope and much bigger action than the other books, and that wasn't in the original plan, which was basically Luther versus Cain.

TM: Yeah, to parrot Justin, this really is right where we wanted to end up!

From very early on we knew that these other historical and mythical figures were going to be woven into the tapestry of the comic, and it's great to get there. The flashback sequence where we follow Delilah from her childhood through time, showing her interacting with characters like Cain, Samson, Hercules, and Joan of Arc and stuff was a lot of fun. I had been looking forward to that sequence for a long time.

IC: This series has always had a very high level of violence and gore. What was the reasoning behind going so intense with it early on, and how do you feel about it now?

JJ: In comics, in general, we're desensitized to violence. We're used to seeing Batman beat up some dudes and then they're arrested and that's pretty much that. But the thing, that sort of violence is really awful in real life. If someone beats you unconscious, you've got a very good chance at being permanently broken by it. Or dead.

So, that's the baseline. We wanted the violence in STRODE to have more of an effect, and to do that we needed to go bigger. The idea of STRODE is getting what you want and it not being like you thought, and so depicting violence this way was part of the theme. Part of this, too, was reframing it, so that we could get readers into it and then pull the rug out from under them.

The very first issue of THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE, for instance, starts with Luther slaughtering him some dudes. Offered out of context, this is just some cool Kick-Ass-style ultraviolence.

We see this again, later, from Petra's POV, and it completely changes people's perspective. What was cool has become horrifying. And that, from what people have said to me over the years, absolutely worked as intended.

But to get even more writery for a minute, one of the major overall themes of Strode is the allure of violence and the repulsion of its reality. Which, you know, I get. When someone screws with one of my friends, some part of me wants to bash the person upside the head. But another part of me knows that's stupid and counterproductive.

IC: Felipe, you've been doing these cool posters in the back of the issues, homages to other posters from the past. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that project a little? How are you choosing the posters to homage?

FELIPE SOBREIRO: The guys were kind enough to let me do something in the back cover of every issue and I initially floated the idea of perhaps doing "lutherized" homages to classic comic covers. Tradd rightfully suggested doing homages to movie posters instead, which I loved! The art in our book is so dynamic and cinematic we all thought it made sense. As for the choice of each poster, I went for both something that would relate with the plot of the issue and also had a strong design.

TM: Back with THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE, Felipe did a bunch of back covers that I thought were really great. One of them, the one for issue 3, was this horror movie-style poster of THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE, which featured Luther as the slasher villain. This was, of course, thematic to the series. That's what got me thinking of movie poster homages.

LUTHER STRODE is a genre fiction that amalgamates a couple popular genres at a time, but there are different genres highlighted in each volume. THE STRANGE TALENT is superhero meets slasher horror. THE LEGEND added vigilante justice and crime thriller into the mix. THE LEGACY still holds to a number of the previous genres, but it's very distinctly a martial arts/kung fu comic to me. That's how I've approached it.

So yeah, once Felipe shared the idea to do comic homages, I suggested he do all kung fu movie homages. We didn't stick to that (we decided that picking movies that matched the visual dynamic of each issue would be better) but three of the six ended up going the kung fu movie route.

I love all the back covers Felipe's done!

A favorite sequence from THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE, as chosen by the creative team:

THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE #5 is out 3/16. If you're curious about the series, start with THE STRANGE TALENT OF LUTHER STRODE, read THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE after that, and then pick up THE LEGACY OF LUTHER STRODE.