No New Beginning For The Ageless Old Guard
Dec 18, 2016
by Vince Brusio
At first, you may think they’re helpless automatons on the battlefield. But what are they thinking? Do they pray for a fade to black? Or is what some call hell their heaven, which they dare not acknowledge. In Greg Rucka’s The Old Guard #1 (DEC160622), we’re faced with old soldiers that may not want an end to war. Not because they don’t want peace. They may relish the idea. It’s a neat concept. But maybe they wouldn’t fit into it? And for all intent and purposes, maybe these soldiers are better off not thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel because they wouldn’t know what to do with it. Immortality has a way of dulling the senses, as well as morality. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, Greg Rucka insinuates that immortality can lower the IQ as well. Because these people that are immortal can’t figure out why sometimes…they CAN die.
Vince Brusio: The Old Guard’s solicitation ties into a timeless adage of “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Your group in this book are those soldiers who “cannot seem to fade away.” Would it be a stretch to guess that some of the characters in your story don’t WANT to fade away?
Greg Rucka: Eh…suppose it depends on what exactly you mean with regard to the “fade” versus die thing, I suppose. The question of mortality is a driving one in the story — I make no claims to tilling new soil here, by the way — and it influences and informs pretty much every character in the series, not just our core five “old soldiers.” We all have to face death, and we all have to make some sort of peace with that, even if that peace is ultimately refusing to actually acknowledge or reconcile with the fact that it’s going to happen. For Andy, our lead, it’s a very pointed, specific issue — she’s old, and she’s feeling it, and she’s tired, and she’s feeling that, and together it’s made her very numb to the world; she’s less a part of the world than she is just moving through it.
Vince Brusio: Give us a breakdown on the players in this series. What are their names? What do they look like? What skills do they possess?
Greg Rucka: We start with a core four, and add a fifth by the end of the second issue. There’s Andy, the oldest of the crew, as I’ve said — she’s somewhere between five and six thousand years old, and has quite literally lost count, and can’t be bothered to add it up again. By dint of age, and thus — theoretically — experience, she’s in charge. The next youngest are Nicky and Joe, or Nicolo and Yusuf, if you want to use their “original” name s— they’re about a thousand years old. And then there’s Booker, who’s practically a baby at a paltry two centuries. In the first issue we meet Nile, and we follow her for a bit as she is rather rudely awakened to the fact that she can’t die. Nile is all of twenty-four, so, logically, while she may not be the greatest fighter in the group, she’s the most adept at negotiating the modern world. It is, after all, her world.
All of them are soldiers, of one era or another, and they share that skillset, for lack of a better way to put it. But quantifying skills is kinda useless — Andy, for instance, has been around a very long time. She also has the benefit of never suffering from a fatal mistake. There’s hardly a language she can’t speak, or read, or write; there’s hardly a tactic she hasn’t mastered, or a weapon she cannot use. You can extend that to the rest of the crew, minus Nile,
Vince Brusio: What are some of the shortcomings of the characters in The Old Guard? How are they not perfect? Do they admit any of these flaws to themselves? Are they in denial?
Greg Rucka: I’m not giving away the store here, so you really shouldn’t ask and expect me to answer. I’ve no interest in writing about perfect people—they’re boring as hell, to begin with. They’re all flawed in their own ways, and all of them are self-aware enough to know it. Some—like Andy—don’t give a rat’s ass, but that’s the core of Andy’s conflict. She’s old to the point of not giving a damn about anything anymore. Or, at least, to working very hard to pretend that’s the case. With the others, they’re people, and no matter how old they may be, at the end of the day, they’re still people. People are flawed.
Vince Brusio: These individuals are said to be “trapped” in immortality. And there is no explanation. It would lead one to believe that perhaps these individuals are just dead, and they don’t know it. Could we also guess that maybe this is their heaven? Or hell? Do you leave any Easter eggs in the story that could help us further advance our own theories?
Greg Rucka: You could conclude that from solicitation copy alone, but by the time you hit page five, I’d hope you’ll have left all such theories behind. It’d be a hell of a cop-out if I pulled a “it’s all in their heads” rabbit out of the hat. Neither Leo nor I have any interest in telling that kind of story. We’re not looking to “gotcha!” the reader. They’re immortal, and they don’t know why, and they’ve never figured out the reason for it, or — and this is more important, I think — why it is that sometimes they can die. Because that’s the thing: they do die. But they never know when it’ll happen, nor how, nor why. Andy’s seen a lot of people come and go over the (many, many, many) years — but she’s still around. That’s the kinda thing that’ll give you sleepless nights, trying to understand that ineffable “why.”
But the story isn’t an overt metaphor. It’s set in the “real world,” or as real as the world can be if I’m saying these five people don’t die. There’s no lurking river of fire for them to cross, nor a demon to vanquish.
Vince Brusio: How long have you and artist Leandro Fernández worked on this book? Do you already have a few issues in the can?
Greg Rucka: Leo’s finishing up issue 3 as I talk to you, so we’re doing pretty well on that front. I think, at this point, Leo and I have been working on this in one way or another for about two years, almost, each of us wrangling our separate distractions as we’ve progressed. But the work has been consistent, if slow. Obviously, we’re moving more quickly now that we’ve got a launch-date. But it’s a nice feeling to know that we’ll have that last issue finished and finalized before issue three hits the stands. Always better to be ahead of the schedule than to be behind it!
Leo and I have known each other a long time, now, and over the years we’ve talked numerous times about “finally doing something else together,” and for the most part I think the delay was due to us each pursuing our own work, and each of us wanting to find the right story to tell together. When I proposed the series to him way back when, I didn’t realize just how perfectly it fit his sensibilities, and it’s kinda like hitting the jackpot, honestly. Each issue touches on the characters’ histories, and their travels, their experiences, and as a result we’ve bounced throughout time, depicted a variety of places and moments. Leo just makes a meal out of each and every one of those—from the First Crusade to Napoleon’s army to the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate. I’ve always known his skill as a storyteller, and his skill at depicting “our modern world.” He’s got a terrific eye for detail. But this is just miles beyond anything I’ve seen him do before, and it’s a pure delight to get pages in from him. Every single time I get an email, I’m wowed. He’s incredibly passionate about it, and that, in turn, spurs me to keep upping my game, to keep delivering for him.
But, you know, at the end of it all? We just wanted to tell a story that would be fun. I’ve got a reputation for writing a lot of “serious” work, and while this certainly has its gravitas, it is, at the end of the day, meant to be a fun action-adventure, in the spirit of the pulps, to a lesser extent. All I can hope is that people will enjoy reading it as much as we’re enjoying making it. I know that’s cliché, but right now? In all honesty? I think a little fun is in order.
Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.