If you dig epic action and pristine fight choreography, you just might want to check out Dead Legends. Published this week (August 11) via Wave Blue World, this sequel series comes to us from writer James Maddox, artist Gavin Smith, letterer Ryan Ferrier, and color assistant Milena Deneno. It’s a sprawling love letter to martial arts film history, from Bruce Lee’s ouvre to Riki-O, Ong Bak, and much more.
Volume II picks up with Yan, a young woman trained by her father, Jee Sin — one of the most deadly and experienced martial arts experts in existence. Yan’s already won the Dead Legends tournament and got the revenge she sought for her husband’s killer, but now she must flee the tournament’s overseer with her new daughter in tow.
To peel back the curtain on this kicking new series, I spoke to Maddox about the story, his inspirations, and much more.
AIPT: Hey James, David Brooke from AIPT, thanks for answering a few questions. Let’s start with an easy one, top three martial arts tournament films…GO!
James Maddox: Bloodsport. Enter the Dragon. Karate Kid.
AIPT: You’ve got Dead Legends Vol. 2 dropped on August 11, what did you take from or learn from the first five issue run that you’ll be applying to this sequel series?
JM: I learned how to balance fight scenes with character drama, and I’ll be pushing that quite a bit in the new volume. Fitting solid story content in with a series of satisfying battles is one hell of a tightrope to walk.
AIPT: Another quick one, a favorite sequel in any medium…GO!
JM: Godfather 2.
AIPT: One can see homages to Bruce Lee and martial arts classics, but what inspired this story that didn’t come from that realm?
JM: It was Gavin’s idea to tell a martial arts story with the hopes that he’d get to draw some solid battles, but my approach was completely driven by a focus on character and world-building. So while Gavin’s contributions lean heavily on elements like pro wrestling and old martial arts film throwbacks, my interests have revolved around themes of obsession, shadow governments, road trips, and adopted families. The result has several passions married into one series.
AIPT: How does the Dead Legends franchise improve on the martial arts genre?
JM: Between Gavin’s ability to choreograph fight scenes (leaning on his black belt in taekwondo), and my focus on lore and drama, we hope that DL is an entry into the martial arts genre that lets readers dig through more than just the punches and the kicks.
AIPT: When scripting good choreographed fight scenes, how much comes from you and how much comes from Gavin Smith?
JM: Most of the action comes from Gavin. I have specific plot points that will develop during certain fights, but the contents of those fights are mainly Gavin’s domain.
AIPT: There are some nifty layout designs in Dead Legends volume one (issue 4 has one of my favorites). How do you approach scripting layouts?
JM: My scripts are pretty detailed and include several links to photos or articles that help drive the inspiration or reference for a given scene, but once I turn those elements over to Gavin, he puts all that on the page as he sees fit. If we come across a hiccup in production, we are quick to jump on the phone or message one another to suss out the details. The collaboration process is one of the best things about making comics, and collaborating with one of my best friends has been one of my favorite experiences.
AIPT: What comics are you reading right now?
JM: I just finished up Middlewest from Young and Corona, and then made a big move to Louisville, KY. Now that things are settling down, I have a handful of horror comics I’ve wanted to finish off. Among those are stories like The Plot and Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.
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