Digging In the Dirt: The Origins of Gravedigger

20140609-095549-35749839.jpgCharity Grace – aka Gravedigger – has appeared in two solo volumes so far and she played a big role in Gotterdammerung, the “crossover” novel that paired her with Lazarus Gray and The Peregrine . She’s become one of my most popular creations, thanks in no small part to the stunning costume design that George Sellas came up with. But where did she come from? What inspirations led her to spring forth from my fevered mind?

What follows is an essay that ran in the first volume of The Adventures of Gravedigger. If you’ve read it before, hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing it again — if it’s your first time, expect a few insights into my creative process. I’ve tweaked it from the original in a few places, removing a link to the blog and altering the name of Max Davies’ costumed identity.

And now on to the main event:

Hello, Faithful Readers! I hope you enjoyed the introduction to Gravedigger, the newest member of my New Pulp universe that began with the arrival of The Peregrine. Since The Peregrine’s first flight back in 2008, I’ve added to the universe with Lazarus Gray, The Dark Gentleman, Guan-Yin, The Claws of The Peregrine and many more.

But none of them are quite like Gravedigger.

To understand how and why I created the character, we first have to go back to the misty past. It was a time of optimism and a surging economy. We were well on the way to electing the first Democratic President since Jimmy Carter. Grunge was filtering its way into the public consciousness.

It was 1992. I was 20 years old and in college, where I was working towards an undergraduate degree in Psychology. Then, as now, I was a huge comic book fan. Then, as now, I was a huge fan of the Valiant Universe. I loved the tight continuity it possessed and the way that little background events and characters would float from book to book, building a cohesive universe.

One of my favorite characters in that universe was Shadowman, who debuted in May 1992. A supernatural hero, Jack Boniface was poisoned by an alien, allowing him to “die” before being resurrected as an avenger of the night. We would later find out that he was only the latest in a long line of Shadowmen. I loved the concept and the series but it eventually faded away with the rest of the Valiant Universe.

But like all good things, it would not stay dead. Shadowman and the rest of the Valiant heroes were recently revived by a new Valiant. The promo art by Patrick Zircher floated around for months before the first issue actually debuted and I adored the revised look of the hero. It got me to thinking… Perhaps I needed to add a new title to my pulp hero collection, one that would serve as a “connector” series. It would have ties to all that had come before and would be the place where fans of The Peregrine or Lazarus Gray could come to get a taste of the greater universe.

I decided I wanted to make the new character a female, to balance out the male-heavy universe that I already had, and that I wanted her to be heavily supernatural as a nod to Shadowman. Like Jack, she would be the latest in a long line of heroes and, as with Shadowman and Lazarus Gray, rebirth would factor large in her origin.

From there, artist George Sellas and I tossed a few ideas back and forth. I had the name Gravedigger but I was afraid it was too masculine for Charity. He convinced me that it could be a neat twist on the name and concept. I told him my idea of tying Charity’s past to Samantha Grace’s origin, which he liked. It not only provided a link to the Lazarus series but also furthered the Grace family’s role in the overall universe.

Once I’d come up with the full origin and George had done his initial character sketch, I thought it would be fun to have a “hand-off” in the story. When I wrote my first Lazarus Gray collection, The Peregrine appeared, as if giving his stamp of approval on the new arrival. With this one, I wanted to have both The Peregrine and Lazarus appear in ways that would bolster Gravedigger but not detract from her starring role. I was inspired by the way Star Trek used to do this – Dr. McCoy from the original series was on the first episode of Next Generation, then Captain Picard from The Next Generation appeared on the first episode of Deep Space Nine, while that space station was a jumping-off point for Star Trek: Voyager when that series began. I thought was a nice wink and nod to the fans.

The decision to use The Headless Horseman in the book came about because I recycle everything. A few years ago, I wrote nearly 20,000 words on a novel I was going to call “Headless.” It was going to be a sequel to Washington Irving’s classic and would introduce a new hero of mine, Mortimer Quinn. I eventually abandoned the project but I always wanted to use parts of that story… so it ended up here. Tying Mortimer to the Gravedigger legacy was easy enough and allowed me to bring the Horseman into the story.

As for Charity’s allies… one thing that I learned from the Lazarus Gray series is that I like having a steady cast of characters to supplement my protagonist. But I didn’t want to create another Assistance Unlimited, who was inspired by Justice, Inc. Instead, I looked to another favorite pulp hero of mine – The Shadow. While Lazarus has a group of partners, The Shadow had a group of agents. There was never any doubt that Harry Vincent and Burbank were lower-ranking than The Shadow. That’s what I set out to do here – Mitchell, Cedric and Li all get their ‘origins’ here and we see what skills they bring to the table. All of them, however, are agents – not partners. Our heroine is the one that stands on center stage during the final conflict.

So where do we go from here? Obviously, the arrival of Mortimer on the last page suggests that there are more stories to be told here. The first Gravedigger book appeared in 2013, with a second in 2014. I hope to continue to update her adventures regularly, just as I have with Lazarus and The The Peregrine.

Speaking of artwork, I have to say thank you to George Sellas, for designing Gravedigger’s look and for the incredibly awesome cover he whipped up. Also, Will Meugniot’s interior illustrations perfectly captured the mood of the story, pairing Charity’s obvious beauty with her deadly nature. Thanks, guys.

Lock your doors, everyone. Gravedigger is hitting the streets.

What’s Going On?

Gravedigger_06_smallThat’s a good question!

I just sent off a mummy story that hopefully will appear in Flinch Books’ RESTLESS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF MUMMY HORROR, an anthology that will also feature work by John Bruening, Sam Gafford, Teel James Glenn, Nancy Hansen and Duane Spurlock. It was an honor to be asked to contribute.

I’ve started work on the third and final volume in the Gravedigger series, as well. This one will be titled KING’S JUDGMENT and will resolve the questions surrounding Charity Grace’s ultimate fate. I hope to have George Sellas back onboard for the cover and art chores on this one.

I also have something involving a new character – Babylon – that will be in the works soon. Steven Wilcox has been working up some nice images, based upon character designs from George Sellas. Stay tuned for more details.

I’ve been told that Lazarus Gray Volume Six should be out before the end of the year — and Volume Seven is written and turned in so hopefully that will appear sometime in the middle of 2017. If I can get Gravedigger written at a quick pace, maybe we could see it next year, too! Fingers crossed.

Our art today is from the interior of the first Gravedigger book and is by Will Meugniot.

New Review

img_7617An Amazon.com user named Brett L. has posted a review of The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One. He gives it 5 stars:

Entertaining and lively. Ok a little too gruesome for me at times, but the author really put their heart into these stories, great throwback to pulp tradition of the Spider and the Shadow. The hero was flawed but just enough – didn’t wallow in it with every page. Killed the first Omnibus in a weekend at a resort and am not waiting to go back to the resort before I start Volume 2.

Thanks for the kind words, Brett! Sorry it got a little violent for you – I try to keep my Peregrine stories in the PG-13 range but it might sometimes veer upwards from there. If you felt it was a bit gruesome, you might want to avoid Rabbit Heart — I definitely go ultra-violent there!

Looking forward to hearing your comments on Volume Two.

The Black Terror

BLACK TERROR_col_smaller.jpegThe Black Terror is a character that dates all the way back to Exciting Comics # 9, published in January 1941 by Nedor Comics. His secret identity was pharmacist Bob Benton, who formulated a chemical he called “formic ethers”, which gave him various superpowers. He used these powers to fight crime with his sidekick, Tim Roland, together known as the “Terror Twins”. The character proved popular enough to survive until 1949 and his distinctive costume made for some truly memorable covers. After the Golden Age, the character eventually fell into the public domain – which led to a whole host of publishers reviving him for various projects. Over the years, he’s appeared in books published by AC, Eclipse, Wild Cat, Image, Moonstone and, of course, the Reese Unlimited imprint of Pro Se Press. I first wrote the character for Wild Cat back in 2008 as part of a book called Legends of the Golden Age and later used him in a couple of stories for The Peregrine. More recently, I’ve gone further back into his continuity to incorporate him into my Lazarus Gray stuff. Because his “later” appearances were written first there are a few discrepancies in how he’s portrayed.

In my universe, we first see The Black Terror in 1934 and learn that he’s the creation of a United States military operation overseen by General Arbogast and a scientist named Kenneth Butler. The Black Terror was, in fact, a plant-human hybrid — he had literally been grown in a tube. His memories (all the “facts” from the Golden Age comics) were implants designed to create a backstory that would make him a better soldier for the United States government — Jean Starr was there to give him a woman to fight to get back to and Tim gave him a sense of family. Neither actually existed, except in his own mind. When Bob found out the truth, he broke free and went rogue — but his programming was strong enough that he decided to continue fighting as The Black Terror. In 1936, this led him to Sovereign City in search of a man named Maxwell Schmidt. The German was running Omega Solutions. In conjunction with another product of the same government program that created The Black Terror — a man named McIness that was codenamed Titan – Schmidt hoped to transform himself into an entity dubbed Prometheus. In the end, Schmidt died for his hubris and The Black Terror was forced to kill Titan, the only other entity like him in the world. When all was said and done, The Black Terror used the technology that had created him to grow versions of Jean and Tim — he implanted similar memories into their minds and gave them life. All of this was recounted in “Making of a Hero” from Lazarus Gray Volume Two.

The next time we see Bob is in 1938, nearly two years after the previous story. The Black Terror was now well-known as a scourge of the underworld and this brought him into conflict with two superhuman criminals: The White Worm and Cassandra, the witch. During the events dubbed Gotterdammerung, The Black Terror confronted these two and learned that something greater — and more dangerous — was at play. Bob didn’t have much of a role in the affair beyond that. This was shown in the Gotterdammerung novel.

black_terror_01_smallThree months after this (still in 1938), Bob is approached by Assistance Unlimited and offered a spot with the team. With Tim’s encouragement, he accepts and begins splitting his time between an apartment he shares with his young ward and a bedroom at 6196 Robeson Avenue. Jean gets a job as secretary to the new Sovereign mayor, Mortimer Quinn. Bob becomes the team’s scientific expert and also serves as the muscle in most battles. He forms close friendships with the team though he struggles with Eun’s homosexuality. Over the course of 1938 and 1939, The Black Terror aids Assistance Unlimited in battles against Princess Femi, The Librarian, Nemesis, Mr. Death, The Torch, Heidi Von Sinn and El Demonio. These stories are told in Lazarus Gray Volumes 6 & 7.

The events of the next few years are still to be told. We do know that in 1943, Tim is approached by The Flame and Madame Masque – they say they need his help with some sort of emergency and he departs with them (“The Ivory Machine,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). While this is happening, The Black Terror is working for the United States government overseas – he confronts a Nazi scientist that is trying to recreate the Formic Ethers (“Terrors,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). Once Bob finds out that Tim has gone missing, he becomes more violent in his dealings with criminals and is briefly wanted by the authorities for his actions. He is finally reunited with Tim in 1946 and aids The Claws of the Peregrine team (along with The Flame and Madame Masque) in defeating the threat of Rainman and Dr. Gottlieb Hochmuller (“The Ivory Machine, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Two). In the aftermath, Bob and Tim are offered a place with the Peregrine’s Claws team and they agree to aid them when possible. During these 1943-onward appearances, Bob doesn’t mention Assistance Unlimited so we’re not sure if he’s still associated with them.

I really like my version of Bob — he’s a solid, steadfast hero that occasionally gives in to his baser instincts. He’s sometimes troubled by his non-human origins but he’s too well-adjusted to dwell upon them.

Outstanding mysteries – what happens to Bob between 1940-1943? Did he ever have any follow-up encounters with the agency that created him? What becomes of him and Tim (and Jean) after 1946? It should be noted that the Tim of 1946 doesn’t look much different than the Tim of 1936, implying that these plant-human hybrids may not age the same as normal humans. Also, The Black Terror of 1946 doesn’t seem very familiar with The Peregrine, despite the fact that Assistance Unlimited and The Peregrine were allies. Is it possible that The Black Terror we saw in the 1946 story (and possibly the 1943 one) is actually a second version, grown at a later point? Or is it simply a case of an author writing stories out of sequence and screwing up?

Only time will tell!

Our artwork today is by Anthony Castrillo and George Sellas.

Audio Version of The Damned Thing Is Here!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
REESE UNLIMITED ON AUDIO AGAIN! THE DAMNED THING
NOW AVAILABLE AS AUDIOBOOK!
Award winning author Barry Reese’s hard-boiled supernatural detective thriller, THE DAMNED THING, features one of his most unique characters. The book introducing Violet Cambridge is now available as a top quality audio book produced by Radio Archives!

The toughest detective in 1939 Atlanta is a woman by the name of Violet Cambridge. And she knows her job like she knows herself. All the shadows and alleys, the light and the dark. But when the search for a missing sister and the brutal murder of her partner take her into territory unfamiliar, Violet finds herself on the road to Hell in search of The Damned Thing. Noted for pushing the boundaries of Genre Fiction, Reese takes the classic tropes of the Private Eye tale and gives them his own imaginative, bizarre twists and turns in THE DAMNED THING. Fans of Reese’s work will recognize characters and themes that run through Reese’s work and new readers will find intrigue, mystery, action, and terror on every page. From machine guns to magic spells, from mobsters to monsters, Violet Cambridge will face them all in the unholy quest for THE DAMNED THING. 

Featuring a provocative cover by Adam Shaw and an intense performance by Ferdie V. Luthy, THE DAMNED THING is available now at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/The-Damned-Thing/dp/B01IIPZLMK/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1468867518&sr=8-12

This most unique private eye mystery audio book is also available on Audible and Itunes.

THE DAMNED THING is available in print and digital formats at Amazon and http://www.prose-press.com.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital eBook copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions’ Director of Corporate Operations, Kristi King-Morgan at directorofcorporateoperations@prose-press.com.

Check out Radio Archives and the fantastic audio books, classic radio collections, and the fantastic variety of classic Pulp eBooks they offer at http://www.RadioArchives.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to http://www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

The Crossover Novel Gets a 4-Star Review!

black_terror_01_smallMichael H. Campbell has posted a review of Gotterdammerung over at Amazon.com. Here’s what he had to say:

4 stars – A Great Summer Read!

I enjoyed the story. It was a slow start, but once it revved up, the pace was quick and exciting. I was aware of the Peregrine (or at least I was when he was the Rook – I still don’t understand why the name change) and Lazarus Gray having read a collected set of each’s adventures. Well, I read the Rook Volume One and Lazarus Gray Volume One, so I guess that counts. I enjoyed both characters but Lazarus Gray was my favorite because I grew up reading the paperback reprints of the Avenger, whom Lazarus Gray is patterned after. When I saw this was a collection of Reese’s characters, I bought it and don’t regret it. I enjoyed seeing characters like the Black Bat, the Black Terror and others interspersed throughout the story. It is a great summer read!

Thanks, Michael! I tried really hard to make the novel accessible not only to folks that have read all the Peregrine, Lazarus and Gravedigger books but also to readers that were a little newer to the universe — it sounds like it worked for you, which makes me happy. The Peregrine’s name change came about when the old Warren Publishing character was revived by Dark Horse Comics. Rather than engage in any sort of legal dispute, it was easier for Max Davies to adopt a new identity — after all, the Warren character did come first! Besides, I think The Peregrine is just as good a name!

Glad to meet a fellow Avenger fan! We need more of them.

Thanks again for the kind words!

 

The Peregrine Flies Into Audio!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE! THE SOUND OF ADVENTURE! ‘THE PEREGRINE OMNIBUS ONE’ NOW AVAILABLE IN AUDIO!

Award Winning Genre Fiction Author Barry Reese, known for creating such fantastic characters as Lazarus Gray and Gravedigger, revitalized one of his greatest creations for fans old and new in 2015! Max Davies lives on as THE PEREGRINE, now as a top quality audiobook from Pro Se Productions produced by Radio Archives!

An adventurer. A man of mystery. A hero. Max Davies, newly moved to Atlanta, Georgia, finds himself unable to avoid danger, intrigue, and death. Donning the mask of The Peregrine, Davies seeks to bring justice to a world dying for it and peace to his own troubled spirit. And the only price he may have to pay is his soul. The Peregrine Omnibus One brings the first three book length volumes of this classic New Pulp hero’s adventures together into one massive two fisted collection. Fly again for the first time with Barry Reese’s The Peregrine!

Featuring a striking cover by George Sellas and a thrilling performance by Peter Milan, THE PEREGRINE OMNIBUS VOLUME ONE is available now at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/The-Peregrine-Omnibus-Volume-One/dp/B01I5TMGXG/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1468342585&sr=8-1-fkmr0

This classic New Pulp audio book is also available on Audible and Itunes.

THE PEREGRINE OMNIBUS VOLUME ONE is available in print and digital formats at Amazon and http://www.prose-press.com.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital eBook copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions’ Director of Corporate Operations, Kristi King-Morgan at directorofcorporateoperations@prose-press.com.

Check out Radio Archives and the fantastic audio books, classic radio collections, and the fantastic variety of classic Pulp eBooks they offer at http://www.RadioArchives.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to http://www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.