[Interview] Max Brooks and Shane Davis Talk ‘Shadow Walk’

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In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a special covert ops team is sent to Iraq to investigate a series of paranormal events. John Raines, an American soldier, is about to see some of the ugliest and nastiest looking demons released from Hell. But John has been to the Valley before and this time, he’s here seeking revenge. From Legendary Entertainment, join Raines as he revisits the road to Hell in “Shadow Walk” (our review here).

I spoke with co-writer Max Brooks (World War Z) and artist Shane Davis about their involvement in the project, their interests in John Raines as the perfect solider, and how each death scene is related to the type of demon Raines and his covert team are fighting.

Bloody-Disgusting: Tell me how “Shadow Walk” came about?

Max Brooks: I get involved as I always get involved with Legendary projects. Thomas Tull calls me and sends for me. And when Thomas sends for you, you go. Thomas pitched me a very simple premise. What if in the Shadow of Death, in the Bible, what if it was real? What if it was a real place? What would be the science? What would be the politics behind it? Where would we put it? What would its relation be to history? And so, that was our jumping off point.

My job was to create a whole world behind this Valley. And then I passed the torch to the writer, Mark Waid, who did all the heavy lifting. So if there is any real credit for this, I’m gonna give it to Mark Waid.

Shane Davis: I was contacted by Legendary. They had a pretty loose idea of John Raines and the setup for the book. You know, being a solider that made it out alive, what was the Valley, and then going back into the Valley, really nothing in the middle, and the ending. Basically a loose concept of the beginning and ending of the book.

BD: Tell me what interests you about John Raines and how his character design came about.

MB: I love the idea! Hopefully this will come true. He is a professional soldier that has just been through many long years of war. Even before this incident that happens in the Valley, I think Raines is a very good archetype of what real soldiers are going through. The last ten years, not ten…twelve years, this has been not only the longest war we’ve ever fought, but the longest war we’ve ever fought with a professional army. We’ve never done that before. It’s always been draftees for guys who come in, get their card, and go home. We’ve had this professional warrior path which we’ve never had. It’s taken a very serious toll among men and women. And hopefully we get to see that strain in Raines.

SD: Well because John Raines was a sole survivor from the first attack, when him and his troops in Iraq, or maybe it’s Afghanistan, they came across the Valley. Because it starts out with the whole troops and the camera footage, they basically found a jungle growing in the desert, I wanted to make sure Raines looked victimized from the attacks. I made sure to give him a gash across his face that he would carry through the rest of the book because most of the characters in the book are picked by scientists, a priest, and demonology major; a mixed bag of characters. I wanted him, through all the skepticism, to wear a mark. He knows he’s been there but I wanted the reader to see in Raines, every time you looked at him, through all the disbelief of the other characters around him, that you did know that he actually did confront this evil and was the sole survivor.

In drawing Raines, the main character, I wanted him to look very hard-broiled. He definitely had to always had that demeanor about him, cold and hollow. What would be the perfect solider, but not in my idea of a perfect solider. What would it take to be a perfect solider?

After the attack, he ended up being in Guantanamo Bay with no complaint. He was there until they accessed the situation. They shut him out from the outside world until they did the Intel, research on the Valley, and everything. That was the setup. I saw that he was a soldier and Uncle Sam told him to sit in prison. He was such a good soldier, he sat in a prison. I kinda respected that in a character. He believed in point, click, and shoot.

He also had a back-story with his father that I can’t get into to, but he’s very physical and sees things in a physical tense. What the enemy is, what the opponent is, and being the stronger victor. He’s not like a hollow solider, he’s very tactical.

BD: Tell me about building the world and look of “Shadow Walk?”

MB: My job was the background and to create the history behind it. The thing about Thomas is, he likes to have a lot of background information, even if the audience doesn’t see it. It’s when he did “Pacific Rim,” he helped design the Jaeger combat suit. And most people won’t know the stuff that goes behind it. Thomas needs a rational justification for everything. Thomas never puts anything in there because it’s cool. You should see him interrogate writers sometime. Sometimes, he’ll say to someone, “Why do we have that?” And they’ll be like, “Uhhhh….”

Someone will go like, “Thomas, so there’s an anti-terror organization.” He’ll be like, “Okay. Who funds it? What’s the oversight committee? Where’s its training? Where’s its base? How did it start? Why did it start?” Thomas needs to answer all those questions, which is what I feel too, which is why we work so well together.

SD: The first thing I suggested was that “Shadow Walk” have multiple environments. I didn’t want the book to flip through and always have the same settings and the same background. There’s multiple environments with temperature climate , gravity, swampland, jungle where there shouldn’t be jungle, until it centers to a certain point that is their destination, which I can’t talk about.
Because of that, how about we have different environments, and I said, “What if we build the most hi-tech weaponry that the government could fuel?” Because I saw these guys as a secret unit op team with special weapons, I didn’t want everybody to have the same weapon or the same offense. I wanted everyone to do something different. I’m a big videogame fan. I really looked at it that way.

With the suits, I wanted it to be like astronauts. It was a government operation where they would be sent where nobody has been sent before. Because of that, the suits would modify their body temperature to survive in zero temperature. They would also allow their bodies to jump. In the suits themselves, there’s a lot of sensory devices but there’s actually a type of tape that athletes use to enhance muscle performance. You’ll see them put it on in the Olympics and stuff. It actually takes pressure between the muscle tissue and skin and allows the muscle to move easier. I was thinking more like that how these suits would actually enhance your muscle performance and stuff like that, but adjust your body temperature to make you invisible to thermal vision, and just make it possible to survive in multiple environments.

BD: The story is fictitious and has horror elements in it, but because of its setting in Iraq, do you worry about the book being viewed as political?

MB: I mean I think people are going to find politics anywhere they want. I mean if you’re looking for a political controversy, you’ll find it in anything. I had plenty of that in “World War Z” where people who thought I was trying to say something where I wasn’t. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I think you have to tell a story that just makes sense to you.

Like it would be in Iraq. I know it’s going to be a shock to many Americans but Iraq did have a history before we invaded it. There actually was a country called Iraq, before that it was Babylon, before that it was Samaria. Iraq is one of the oldest cradles of human civilization. So if you are going to put something like the Valley somewhere, it would be in Iraq. You’re not going to put it in Michigan.

BD: Was it a challenge to illustrate the action sequences?

SD: Yes! The Valley was the hardest. I call it the Valley but “Shadow Walk” is the name of the book. It was hard in a way because you start off with like nine or ten characters; a certain unit were the scientists, Raines the main character, and another group was actually the special ops tactical team that are their chaperones, sharp-shooter, sniper, a blade guy who throws magnetic blades who come back to him, a guy who looks like a walking tank, and stuff like that.

Each action sequence was a little bit harder than my normal superhero stuff because it was all gunplay. That’s also why I wanted to give them all different type of weapons. It made each action sequence different. My tank guy actually has rocket packs on his shoulders and a huge Gatling gun. He actually had locks in his ankles that actually put him down and lock him into the ground, so he can fire and the pressure doesn’t push his body back. At the same time, that made him not movable. If somebody wasn’t protecting him, he can actually be a target. He’s very vulnerable to attack, but he’s the biggest offensive guy they have.

I built a lot of scenes around that which was fun, but knowing that I was going to kill these people as we went. Lot of action sequences were built around the way people died. That stemmed from the demons they were fighting. Some go internally, some are huge, some are giant Godzilla sized Kaiju-type worms. Some were built based off how I wanted the character to die. Some were built off what a character could do. Some based off the demon itself. Some all three worked in one nice, fluid sequence.

What was hard about “Shadow Walk” was probably I ended up with five or six different scenarios. That’s hard in a graphic novel like this because they all had to feel different and feel climatic. Everyone had to die a different way. One guy has these bugs crawl in through his head and into his brain, taking him over. So I got to do some nice X-Ray panels. I had internal villains as much as external villains.

BD: What other projects are you working on now?

MB: Other than “Extinction Parade,” we got nine more issues to come out. I got a graphic novel coming out in November. It’s based on a true story that I’ve been working on for thirteen years I think. It takes place during the first World War, where a unit of American soldiers where literally set up to fail by their own government because of the color of their skin. The United States government did not want a unit of African-American soldiers going over to France, admitting glory, and having a heroes parade down Fifth Avenue here in New York, and showing other black people, “Yes we can!” So they did everything they could to trip them up and to make sure they never got into combat. So they ended up fighting with the French. I’ve been wanting to tell that story since…Oh God! All my life! Finally, I paired up with Avatar and Canaan White is one of the greatest artists ever. They did a bang-up job on this graphic novel.

SD: I am working on another project now that hasn’t been announced yet. So I can’t really say anything about that. I do have another project that I’m working on now with Legendary but we haven’t announced anything about that yet.

“Shadow Walk” is in shops now.

Interview by Jorge Solis