Comic-Con: Mark Waid’s ‘Shadow Walk’ — ‘Indiana Jones’ meets ‘Aliens’

July 17, 2013 | 10:41 p.m.
Shadow Walk #1 (Legendary Comics)

“Shadow Walk” No. 1. (Legendary Comics)

At last year’s Comic-Con International, comic creator-writer Mark Waid, alongside Max Brooks and artist Shane Davis, announced an upcoming graphic novel titled “Shadow Walk.” Today, as fans gather in San Diego for Comic-Con 2013, Legendary Comics is unveiling the cover drawn by Davis in advance of the debut issue’s Nov. 27 release.

The idea for the project was sparked by the famous Old Testament verse from Psalm 23 –”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Legendary leader Thomas Tull approached Waid with the idea: What if the Valley of Death was not just a figurative term, but a physical place?

The notion took hold. In “Shadow Walk,” Waid says the Valley is “a sort of nightmarish realm that tests your faith and tests your mettle when you enter it and it’s sort of a forbidden land that people don’t normally come across.”

In the book, John Raines, a soldier who allegedly killed his entire platoon after entering the Valley, leads a group — which includes a priest and an astrophysicist — back to the mysterious locale, as the unit, armed with two arcane artifacts, must try to determine if the road to Hell has opened on Earth.

Hero Complex caught up with Waid — writer of such other thought-provoking titles as “Kingdom Come” and “Superman: Birthright” — to discuss the origins of the graphic novel and his personal perspective on matters of faith.

HC: How did “Shadow Walk” come together?

MW:  Thomas came to me a couple of years ago and pitched the idea. There wasn’t a real story around it at that point, but he had the basic concept and the basic through-line. I love it. It struck me as “Indiana Jones” meets “Aliens.” I loved that idea of using history as a backdrop — also using the Bible and using matters of faith as a backdrop for what is essentially a science-fiction horror story. At that point, Thomas brought in Max Brooks, who is not only a writer but also a whip-smart historian. Max then did the world-building and ended up going through history and pulling out real-world examples of times and places where something like this really truly could’ve manifested and built a back history around this area that we called the Valley. From there, it was up to me to give it texture and to give it a story.

HC: This is actually your first graphic novel …

MW: I’ve written things that have been collected into graphic novel form, but this is the first time I’ve ever written “Page 105″  at the top of a manuscript page. I’ve always worked in comics in smaller increments. While it was great because it gave me a lot of elbow room to tell the story, it was also very daunting in a sense because I had to keep my eye on the long game throughout the entire process. Part of the fun of writing a serial monthly comic is that when I get to the end of a book, I can throw something new in if I want. I can just surprise myself and say, “I’ll figure out how to get out of this next month.” But with something like this, you don’t have that luxury.

HC: Was that your biggest obstacle in writing “Shadow Walk”?

MW: [The first obstacle is] making sure that the overall tone in it stayed consistent and prominent throughout the whole piece. Another big challenge is that I’m used to writing established characters like Superman and Batman, or my own characters. I’m not used to writing non-superhero fiction where I have to introduce everyone to you in a fairly quick amount of time in an ensemble piece like this and make sure that everyone has a distinct personality and a distinct goal and a distinct voice. And do that all within a very short period of time.

HC: Are you a religious person?

Shadow Walk #1 (Legendary Comics)

“Shadow Walk” No. 1. (Legendary Comics)

MW: What’s funny is that I am not much of a spiritual man in any way on a personal level. It is odd for a guy that wrote “Kingdom Come” to not be much of a church-goer or much of a spiritual man, but I have respect for people who believe in whatever they believe. From that outsider point of view, I really enjoy writing about characters of faith — characters who are invested, whether it’s religious faith or scientific faith or any sort of belief system — because I generally believe that one of our survival instincts in this world, regardless of what we believe, is that we have a need to process the world around us in a way that makes sense to us. We have a very human need when confronted by things that don’t seem to make any sense to find a way to explain them to ourselves in a way that makes us feel empowered and a way that makes us not feel subject to the whims of an angry god. So being able to write a long-form graphic novel that really tests this, that really tests people of faith, but of different sorts of faith — an astrophysicist and a quantum scientist and a priest … Only in this instance, they’re literally walking into the gates of Hell. How do they process this world and how does it test your faith?  The priest looks at it as a validation of everything he’s ever fought for and everything he’s ever believed — that there must be a god. But, if there really is a god, what kind of god has he been worshipping all these years that would visit such a horror on the planet Earth? The quantum physicist looks at the topology of this place that doesn’t follow any kind of Einsteinian physics and is desperately trying not to lose his mind because it challenges everything that he believes too. It’s simply about a nightmare realm that tests your faith.

HC: Assuming everyone sees different things when visiting this place, what might you see upon entering the Valley?

MW: I think it’s fair to say that once you’re in there, there’s something in there that tends to sense exactly what your hot buttons are, and if your faith is being tested … well, not everyone believes the same things as individuals. Hmm, what sort of nightmares might I see in there? Something that involves Comic-Con.

HC: Well, let’s stay on that. Since you’re reintroducing the book there, what are your overall impressions of Comic-Con?

MW: Having gone to every Comic-Con for the last 30 years — I missed maybe one or two in the last 30 years — watching it grow from a dealers’ room into a pop culture mecca has been equal parts splendid and terrifying. Every year — because it’s gotten so big — I feel as if I’ve been airlifted and dropped off in the middle of downtown Tokyo when I stand on the floor. It’s noise and lights and blaring and I don’t get my bearings, but at the same time there’s something really exciting about it. It’s a meeting of the minds, and there’s 100,000 fans in that room. Some of them are passionate about “Babylon 5,” and some of them are passionate about “Doctor Who” and some of them are passionate about anime and some of them are passionate about comics. What’s really awesome is that nobody’s there to be a cynic. Nobody’s there because they just don’t like stuff. They’re there because they have a passion, and that energy is what buoys and lifts you when you’re trying to make it from Hall H to Room 6DE in 15 minutes.

– Jevon Phillips | @LATherocomplex

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