Mike Richardson has a rather unique history with his choice of protagonists. With Boris the Bear and The Mask/Masque as the peak examples (and even 47 Ronin), the writer and founder of Dark Horse Comics tends toward leads that are a little different. But with his latest project, Cloaked (f/k/a The Icon), he turns his eye toward a hero (or two) unlike few others.
The story, which features art from Jordi Armengol (Rogues!), focuses on a city that’s still grappling with the loss of a gun-toting, Batman-meets-Punisher-style vigilante some 25 years earlier. When a local business mogul hires him, P.I. Jake Stevens is put on the case to uncover the vigilante’s disappearance and what it means for the city (and likely himself). The resulting story is a perfect slice of pulpy noir, with the narrative and visuals uniting to tell a tale of good and evil, truth and perception, and the differences between heroes and villains.
Before the book hits shelves this week (December 15), we caught up with Richardson via email. There, we talked about the story’s inception, working with Armengol , his love of pulp stories, and much more. Richardson also discussed recent rumors of Dark Horse being acquired by an outside enterprise.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for Cloaked? How did it come together?
Mike Richardson: Once, a major America city had a real-life costumed crimefighter. Of course, he caught the public’s attention, and then one day he vanished. In the years that followed, no clue as to what happened to him or what his real identity was. Was he killed? Did he just quit? Who was he? Twenty-five years later, an unlikely P.I. is hired to solve the mystery.
I’ve been planning to write it since the early 90’s. Originally it was called The Icon, but I found out that DC was planning to use that name again so I changed it to Cloaked.
AIPT: Did being a publisher impact your approach or the kind of story you ended up telling?
MR: No, not really. I’ve been writing stories since I started Dark Horse. In the beginning, Randy Stradley and I wrote a good portion of our books. I think we saw Dark Horse as a way to tell our own stories without interference, and to offer other comic creators the same opportunity.
AIPT: Similarly, it’s (seemingly) been a few years since your last big comics project. Given how quickly things happen these days, have any industry trends or changes or whatnot impacted how you make comics like this?
MR: Well, I don’t know if you mean that my last few books have not been big projects, but I’ve always have a writing project in the works. Recent books include Echoes, “Creeping” (story with script by Zack Keller), Father’s Day, Jia and the Nian Monster, and on and on all the way back to our beginning.
As far as industry changes, they haven’t had much effect except to make it easier to choose an original graphic novel over the month to month serialization in the traditional 32-page comic book. The vast majority of our sales happen in traditional bookstores, making that a viable option. That was not always the case when sales were focused on the “floppies” in the comics market.
AIPT: There’s some obvious inspirations here in terms of the vigilante and the world at-large (i.e., Batman, Punisher, etc.) But are there any other inspirations or influences you’re playing with? I get a real pulp-y vibe from issue #1.
MR: Well, as you will see, I’m definitely trying to put a pulpy, noir feel to the story, with a nod to traditional costumed heroes, but the story goes in a very different direction as the protagonist peels back the layers I’ve toyed with the idea of what would happen if one of these characters appeared in our real world before. Would someone really sacrifice their lives in the service of justice without any interest in compensation, publicity, agenda? It’s hard to find those people. Particularly in our world today. And what part does the media play in creating the false images that may serve someone’s “hidden” agenda?
AIPT: What drew you to telling this specific story, a kind of superhero mystery? I’m curious if you think given the story — a well-received vigilante goes missing — if you’re commenting on the nature of the medium? Or maybe the value of heroes nowadays?
MR: It began with the idea of wanting to explore the motivations behind “super-heroes” and there seemingly selfless devotion to truth, justice, and the American way. In real life, we often discover that our heroes have clay feet, and what how does the media help create these heroes. What part do politics play? Unfortunately, I tend to be a little cynical when these ideas come to mind.
AIPT: What was it like working with Jordi Armengol? I feel like he really nailed the story vibes and delivered something really beautiful but also gritty and textured.
MR: Jordi’s art is stunning. His first project for us was a science fiction story coming soon for Academy Award winner John Bruno and his art was spectacular. He got excited when he heard the premise for Cloaked and made an “effortless” transition from one genre to another, nailing the tone of two very different stories. His next project will be a western, believe it or not.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite panel or moment from issue #1 — something that speaks to the story or the message or your overall goals?
MR: My favorite art revolves around the Lunatic character, threatening and more than a little “mad.” A character who actually turns out to be something other than the one portrayed by the media.
AIPT: Because when else might we have the venue, some rumors circulated recently that Dark Horse is looking to be acquired. Can you shed any light on those, and how (if it all) might the move impact Dark Horse and its fans in the future?
MR: All I need to say is that the stories are not accurate and Dark Horse will continue as it always has. As for me, I plan to be at the helm as long as good health and good fortune continue. We’ve seen spectacular growth during the last two years, we are thriving in all three parts of the company, we number of exiting announcements to go along with recent releases, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for the future. Creators moving to Dark Horse along with new licenses bode well for the future.
AIPT: Without spoiling too much, what can we expect from issue #2?
MR: New revelations as the mystery deepens and hopefully a great read with a twist or two on expectations.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
Anyone who likes a good mystery, enjoys a story that blends superhero tradition in a noir world, searches for something a little different than they expect, will enjoy this book, or so I hope. A self-serving answer but a genuine response.
The following images are courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.
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