Ron Marz: CrossGen readers have seen a hint of what's to come in The Path in the first couple issues of The First. In those issues we had some scenes that took place on the world that The Path will call home. That will at least give long-time readers some familiarity with it. However, we don't want anybody who didn't look at those issues of The First to feel like The Path is going to be somehow obtuse for them. We're doing a Prequel issue to lay a groundwork so everybody feels like they're up to speed right at the beginning. In general, it's a samurai epic, though it's not historically accurate feudal Japan. It's a world in which countries like a feudal Japan or a feudal China exist. We're very much gonna do a story that's in keeping with the look and the kind of stories people might be familiar with from Shogun or from Akira Kurosawa films, but it'll have some twists so that it's obvious we're not trying to do straight historical fiction.
Westfield: Did you do any research into the samurai culture before you started on this?
Marz: Oh yeah. Penciler Bart Sears and I went on a bit of a shopping spree, both online and in some of the local book stores here, picking up everything we could get our hands on having to do with the subject matter. I took Asian History classes in college, so I've got an interest in this sort of material and I've got some background knowledge, but obviously every nugget that we can get from research is going to help us make the book feel a little bit more fully formed.
Westfield: Who are the main characters in the book?
Marz: One of the main characters is actually dead already - the Warlord Todosi, who was introduced and then slain in the first two issues of The First. His presence, at least for the first few issues, will be felt in the book because a lot of the impetus for the story comes from him and his death. The characters who will move into the starring roles in The Path were all characters who were in orbit around Todosi. The main one is Todosi's brother, who is a monk; a man of religion as well as a warrior. It's really going to be his story as he tries to figure out where, literally, his path in life lies. He's been a man of faith and duty all the way through his life, up to the point where he actually sees his brother slain by the very gods to whom he prays. So he's a conflicted character in that the operating structure of his life, his duty to his religion, his duty to his nation and his emperor, are suddenly in question because of what's happened to his brother. The story is very much the monk's story in terms of him being the motivating character. For him, it's a quest to determine whether the individual good or the group good has to take precedence. In Japanese culture, it's always been the group good that has taken precedence. So we want to deal with that dichotomy - in an adventure/action setting, of course - but have that as an underlying theme through the book.
The monk will be accompanied by a couple of Todosi's closest friends. One is essentially a Viking-style warrior who is a man misplaced from his land. He's gonna be our 7-foot ass-kicker. Accompanying him will be a female samurai who might have had some sort of relationship with Todosi, but who now may be pointing toward a relationship with the monk. She's a semi-love interest in the book. We'll also have an army general who is the representative of duty over all; the sort of loyalty that demands you do as your emperor commands, even if you don't personally believe in it. He'll be, in a lot of ways, an opponent for the monk, but he's not a bad guy. He's doing the wrong things, but for the right reasons. We'll also have the emperor himself as a character, and I don't want to give away too much, but the emperor will be more than he appears to be. There's something going on with him that will become apparent as the series goes on. He's not the same person that the other characters expect and know him to be. Lastly, we have the emperor of the opposing country. If our primary nation is analogous to feudal Japan, the opposing nation is analogous to feudal China, just a huge empire. The emperor of that nation is gonna be a recurring villain through the series.
Westfield: Is there anything specific that you want to tell people they can look forward to in upcoming issues, or do you want to steer clear of specifics?
Marz: I don't know if specifics really mean anything to anybody at this point because they don't really know the characters or the world. In an overall sense, one of the things that we're going to be seeing is that the monk finds himself in a position of choosing between civil war vs. blind obedience to the emperor, who more and more seems like he might be mad. It's a samurai book drawn by Bart Sears, so readers can expect lots of battles, lots of action.
Westfield: What is your working relationship like with Bart Sears and how much story input does he have?
Marz: Everybody on the team has story input. I'm ultimately the guy responsible for putting the words down on the paper and figuring out where the story goes. We all sit down and talk about it so that we're all comfortable with the direction. On a personal note, Bart's one of my best friends in the world, as are Andy Smith and Mike Atiyeh. We all knew each other before CrossGen. All of us worked together prior to CrossGen on a run of X-O Manowar issues for Valiant, which are actually some of my favorite things I've done. I was really thrilled with the way that stuff turned out. It's great for us to be able to get back together on something that we all feel is a good fit for us. The samurai warriors and epic battle stuff that we're going to be doing in the book is definitely up everybody's alley. It's a treat to be able to work on material that you're excited about, doubly so when you're working with guys who are not only friends, but whose work you respect to the highest degree.
Westfield: The sigil is central to all the CrossGen titles. Do you find that this helps or hinders in the storytelling process?
Marz: It's certainly not a hindrance to me. It's just a facet of our universe, like mutants in the Marvel Universe or kryptonite in the DC Universe. I hope nobody sees the sigil as an impediment to reading our books. The sigil isn't such an overriding factor in all the books that they can't be understood separately. I've tried to make sure that any book that I write is completely understandable in and of itself. And the sigil is just this mysterious mark that gives the character a bit of power that they wouldn't have had otherwise. One of the real mantras around here is make sure your books stand alone. Make sure that they make sense whether taken by themselves or as part of the overall universe. I do hear that's one of the raps that we have out there: "All the books have these sigils and I don't understand it." I think, to a great extent, people who pick up the books and read them understand everything that's going on; the sigil notwithstanding. The sigil is the linking device that makes our books a universe rather than completely separate entities. Beyond that, there's really nothing that should stand as a barrier. In the case of The Path, the monk has been branded with the sigil. It's seen as a symbol of the gods, as an aspect of being touched by the gods. But the monk has sworn vengeance against the gods, so he doesn't even want the damn thing. That's something new and different than we've done in any of our other books.
Westfield: Is there anything you'd like to tell us about the other CrossGen books you're writing?
Marz: I couldn't be happier with them. I'm extremely blessed to be working with pencillers like Greg Land and Jim Cheung who, along with Bart, I think are doing absolutely the best monthly work that's being published. Collectively, my books tend to be the "sword" books - guys with swords. Or in the case of Sojourn, girls with arrows, I guess. We've touched upon other genres - science-fiction, mystery - but I really like this kind of material because this is what I read as a kid growing up. I didn't read a lot of comics, I read a lot of heroic fiction, the kind of stuff a lot of people grew up on: Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tolkien. So, in a lot of ways, the stuff that I read as a kid is coming back out now after a decade of me writing superheroes. I'm having a ball. It's very liberating for me to be able to tell stories each month, to tell the next chapter of the story. If there's a fight scene, great. If there's action, great. Or if it's a character driven issue, that's fine too. There isn't an edict that everything's got to be the fight of the month here at CrossGen, whereas in a lot of superhero books, that's kind of what things turn into. It's intriguing for me to be able to sit down and tell more of a long-term story that's got a definite beginning point and a definite direction rather than just a monthly punch-up.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Marz: As much as I enjoyed doing Mystic and helping build that book, I really feel like The Path is gonna be something I can sink my teeth into. The subject material is pretty close to my heart and a lot of my interests. There's a definite magic that happens when everybody on the team is excited and headed in the same direction. I think you can see that with a lot of CrossGen books. The Path is gonna be no different. We're gonna show people some stuff in this book that they've never seen before.