by Robert Greenberger
The unfortunate fact of life is that people are resistant to sampling new characters and comics unless they directly spin out of or have direct connection with some event. As a result, readers may have missed out on The Monolith, which DC Comics released in 2004-2005 but canceled after a dozen issues. The concept of a golem as a protagonist may have been done before, but not set squarely in the DC Universe and certainly not done with a rich supporting cast.
As Jimmy Palmiotti told Newsarama recently, “They can expect something a bit different than the usual, that’s for sure. We have a monster created in the 20’s that has been alive and bricked behind a wall waiting to be released back into the world with a single mission…to right what is wrong in the world. We have two main characters, Tilt and Alice, that are trying to keep themselves away from their old habits and start a new life together and last, we have a backdrop of a city in constant turmoil.”
Too bad that so few readers supported it because the book was a terrific read. Thankfully, you cannot keep a good golem down. Recently, Jimmy negotiated to gain the rights to the character and is bringing those stories back to print. Image will be Monolith’s new home as the stories will be re-presented in oversized hardcover collections resembling the European album format beginning this summer with the first three issues.
I had the chance to chat with Jimmy about this in late April and he explained how the idea finally became a reality. “Dan DiDio had just become the editor in chief of DC Comics and had told me that there were looking for some new ideas and more to the point, a monster type character,” he said from his Florida home. “I remembered an idea I had from my college days, spoke to Justin [Gray] about it and we pitched The Monolith as a miniseries. Dan loved it and assigned it to Joey Cavalieri, to work with us developing it. Looking back, it still wasn’t exactly the right time to launch the book, but here we are again, giving it another shot at finding an audience. In comics, like most media, timing is everything.”
The two writers have been working well together for a number of years and Jimmy explained, “What he brings to everything when we work together…another way of looking at things and telling a story. Our styles are a bit different and at the same time they complement each other. We are both research nuts and have a love of history, so it all worked out great. The initial pitch was my idea, but Justin came in and built on it more and more till it became the book that it is. I really think everything we do together has a style of storytelling that is unique to our individual work. He always brings his A game to everything he does.”
Visually, the series needed someone who could convey the real world effectively and the choice of the British Phil Winslade may have sounded odd but he admitted “we originally had another artist lined up and doing designs and such and for some reason, the Vertigo office literally took him from the project and put him on one of their books without the editor’s knowledge. We were in a bit of a panic at this point when Joey suggested Phil to us. We were familiar with Phil’s work already and I personally thought Phil was a much better choice than the first artist we had lined up.
“Phil does research better than any artist I have ever met. His attention to detail was something that we knew would make the period jumps in the story believable. We already knew he was an amazing storyteller, but as the pages came in, we were shocked how dead-on everything was …from the clothing to the street scenes…it was amazing. What he also does is dig in deep into the story and relate to the characters. They have a soul, and in this case, Alice and Tilt were perfectly casted by his art. He is a hard worker and every page he really tries to impress the reader. The reason for the larger format in the first collection is to show off his skills and detail.”
Jimmy added, “Because the book is set in Brooklyn past and present day, we had a lot of fun reflecting Brooklyn’s past in the characters. This city is known for its immigrants and we wanted to present a well-rounded cast to make the story more believable. The contrast of characters, lifestyle and religion always makes life more interesting and creating this mix for the series makes the book more realistic and as well, credible. With Alice and Tilt, we wanted to show a group of people that most books do not usually spend time on…people who are lost souls in our world, the underprivileged few who roam the streets doing anything to get by. The rest of the characters introduced are as colorful as we could make them and we felt that this mix is what a city, any city, is all about.”
Meantime, Alice was a drug addict and Tilt a former prostitute, both trying to become better people. The writer/artist allowed that they were not your typical characters but editorial never gave him trouble for their backgrounds. “They understood that we were presenting characters that had problems in their lives that were trying to take a step in the right direction and that alone made them admirable. Later in the series we put Tilt though an experience that was a real life situation, and we tried not to sensationalize it…and it was a few months later that another book did exactly that. We always felt ahead of the curve with the series and that’s probably why we are so proud to introduce a new group of people to these collections.
“A ton of research was done when we were telling the story in the past. The actual idea of the tunnel under the east river came from a painting teacher showing me the sub-basement of his home downtown. As far as making Brooklyn part of the DCU, well, not everything happens in Metropolis and Gotham.”
Speaking of the Dark Knight’s home, Batman guest-starred in three issues in the middle of the run and the deal will not let those pages be reused. As a result, Jimmy, Justin, and Phil are exploring ways to adjust the story to remove the hero without destroying the rhythm. Something like that won’t derail Jimmy, whose affection for the character and miniseries remain palpable despite its commercial disappointment.
“It’s a story that is personal and at the same time a project that didn’t get a fair shake when it first came out,” he said. “No fault of the publisher, but at the time, I think my name didn’t carry much weight as a writer as it does now and maybe it wasn’t the right way to sell the character. I really don’t know. Right now we have a lot of projects that are inspired by stepping out of the expected from us including Creator-Owned Heroes from Image comics and projects like Retrovirus currently on Kickstarter. We really are looking forward to getting The Monolith out there and hopefully telling more tales in the future.”