Reaver ain’t your typical fantasy book. Yes, it has swords, sorcerey, and all that – but it’s a lot bloodier than what you’re used to.
Launching this week from Image Comics/Skybound, Reaver follows a group of the fantasy world’s worst people as they’re recruited to stop things from going to bad to worse. Their mission? Investigate what the darkness is boiling in the continent of Madaras and put a stop to it.
Jordan and Isaacs spoke to Newsarama about the upcoming series, how it was created, the way Isaacs creates great visuals for their world, and more.
Newsarama: Jordan, Reaver almost feels like Dungeons & Dragons meets Suicide Squad, how far away is that assessment?
Justin Jordan: I did pitch the first arc as the “Dirty Dozen meets Game of Thrones”, so, you know, not far off. The tricky bit is that while that’s the first arc, that’s not what the book as a whole is about, which is not as easily summed up in an elevator pitch.
But basically it’s about what happens to a world when the major nations figure out bloody sacrificial magic works. It’s not pretty.
Rebekah Isaacs: Yeah, that definitely sums up the spirit of the first arc! But with a hefty dose of classic Wild West ensemble movies thrown in.
Nrama: You folks introduce all the major players in this issue, who are these characters and what do they bring to this team?
Jordan: They were all selected for a specific role. Basically:
Ash is there to make sure everyone else doesn’t kill each other and to help them infiltrate the enemy.
Styrian was chosen so that he could smooth out any problems that can be taken care of by talking at people.
Rekala was picked because he understands the Rael, the native people whose territory the team has to travel through. And it’s just about possible she has one other quality the really observant reader could figure out that will be really important down the road.
Thes is there to make sure Marris survives, and to serve as a living battery for magic. In theory anyway. The real relationship is a little more complicated.
Marris is there to actually fulfill the mission. Everyone else is there to get him and Thes into position.
And Breaker? Well, he’s just there to kill as many bastards as possible.
Nrama: Visually, how did you make sure each of them stood out?
Jordan: For my part, they needed to be visually distinct and give a sense of a lot of different worlds happening at the same time. Which maybe doesn’t mean a lot to the reader.
So, for instance, take Ash. He is a citizen of the Empire, and a soldier. But his parents are from the Escalene Protectorate, which is the Empire’s big rival. Think England and France for, oh, several hundred years. And to the people in the world, these are ethnicities. Ash looks like he’s from the Escalene Protectorate and Stryian looks like he’s an Imperial. But to us, they all just look like white dudes.
So their appearances and the comments in universe on it are meant to show that this world is different than ours. That’s the same deal with Rekala. She’s a different culture than either, and so she’s visually different.
Plus, you know, I wanted them to look cool.
Isaacs: Visually, we were going for a pretty grounded, utilitarian look from these characters. They’re on the run for most of the arc so they don’t have access to flashy, shiny armor or crazy weapons. Giving your characters unique silhouettes is kinda Character Design 101, but I tried to really push it with this book, making their size and shape differences really fun and disparate.
Nrama: Speaking of looking cool, what was it about Rebekah’s art that drew you into this world as you were creating it?
Jordan: Rebekah created a world that’s not just Earth with different names, which I think really gave the series a sense of being somewhere else. I could go on at length about Rebekah’s general awesomeness as an artist, but she really helped cement the personalities of the characters in their visuals. Her sense of body language is amazing. You can tell exactly what these characters are about at a glance. Again, everything just looks cool.
Nrama: So what’s at the heart of the story, because “survival” is too broad of a term here?
Jordan: The real meat of it is trying to stop a bad world from getting worse. What’s happened around the time the story starts is that the big empires of the world have realized that magic exists, but it’s (always) fueled by blood and suffering. But they’re more than willing to make other people pay that price.
The way you could look at it is that the characters are trying to stop the magic equivalent of a nuclear arms race before it starts. But on an individual level, they’re all trying to prove something. Ash wants to believe he isn’t a coward. Breaker wants to believe he’s not just a monster. Marris and Thes want to prove that their warnings about magic are true.
Nrama: Justin, as a guy who prides himself on taking on several projects at once when did Reaver start really coming together?
Jordan: Probably the early part of 2018. It’d be been brewing for a while before that. I’m a big fan of grimdark fantasy, which is an actual term and not something I just made up on the spot for this interview. And basically anything I think is cool I want to do.
But I also wanted to do some other stuff. One was looking at what introducing magic like this would do to a world, but another was mixing fantasy with other genres. So Hell’s Half Dozen is obviously fantasy mixed with military action, whereas the second is fantasy mixed with noir.
Which, happily, Skybound thought was cool.
Nrama: A thing right now is creators making playlists for their books that fans can listen to and you can see sort of where their head was when they were making a comic. Did either you or Rebekah have a soundtrack when creating this? If not, what would it consist of?
Jordan: I didn’t. I don’t listen to anything when writing, because I don’t hear it. But it would totally be heavy metal.
Isaacs: I mostly keep trash TV or comedy podcasts on when I work. But there are a couple of combat scenes that make me hear that Karen O & Trent Reznor cover of “Immigrant Song” in my head. So maybe just play that on infinite loop? Not a bad life choice in general.
Nrama: Both you and Rebekah are coming up on a decade of working in comics, how do you think creator-owned comics like Reaver and the model for such books has changed in that time?
Jordan: Hm. That’s a good question.
There are a few more outlets for them, but the market has gotten harder for them to succeed. I got very, very lucky to get Strode out at Image just when the Image surge was starting to happen, and it’s gone really well for me. But the market has changed.
One thing that is very different is that’s much harder to get a book noticed. Social media has become a lot harder to use for promotion, for good or for ill, and a lot of the old outlets like CBR just don’t have the reach they once did.
That’s made it a lot harder to make a book work long term. So I’m experimenting with different models to see what I can make work for creator owned work. But it’s harder now than when I started.
Nrama: Lastly, there’s been a resurgence of fantasy titles across the field, how do you think Reaver stands out?
Well, yes, that, but I think also we’re doing a lot of stuff with genre and worldbuilding you won’t see in many other books. There are some very excellent fantasy books out. and more coming, but I think we’re doing something different with the kind of mood and concept we’ve created.
Isaacs: We’ve got Rekala, and the rest don’t have Rekala.