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Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

Comic Books

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in ‘Blood Syndicate’

The fourth title in “Milestone 2.0” debuts today.

In the story of ’90s comics, Milestone holds a special place for its promise and impact. The DC-ran “imprint” featured a slew of POC heroes at a time when the greater comics landscape was mostly white. (The line also bolstered its sense of inclusion by featuring several queer characters.) In a testament to its lasting impact and cultural significance, Milestone was relaunched last summer with a series of all-new books — Static, Icon and Rocket, and Hardware — from a slew of all-star talent.

Now, almost a year into the so-called “Milestone 2.0,” the fourth and final book is set to launch with Blood Syndicate: Season One #1 (due today, May 11). The original Blood Syndicate, led by the creative team of Dwayne McDuffie, Ivan Velez, Jr., and Denys Cowan, was something different even among the already innovative Milestone line. It followed members of two opposing gangs (Paris Island Bloods and Force Syndicate) in the wake of the Big Bang, as several newly-empowered survivors (including Fade, Flashback, and Tech-9) dealt with other gangs and the police in an attempt to save their home of Paris Island. It’s some times seen as the less celebrated of the original Milestone line, but it’s nonetheless a powerful commentary of race relations, ’90s-era politics, and the value of heroes who didn’t fit the “norm.”

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The new Blood Syndicate book will hope to live up to that very lineage. And with a creative team of writer Geoff Thorne (Green Lantern), original artist ChrisCross, and inker Juan Castro, that should be an easy enough task. But don’t expect the same story as this latest series follows Wise Son and Tech-9 upon a return from Afghanistan, where they become embroiled in a super-powered war against Holocaust for the very soul of Paris Island.

Ahead of the issue #1, we spoke with Thorne all about the project. That includes his early love of the original series, his work to update the story and maintain its integrity, the new look and feel of the book, how he built on the series’ politics, and what he hopes fans can gain from their reading. Whatever happens with Milestone from here on out, this “last chapter” should be an interesting addition.

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

Main cover by Dexter Soy. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On His Love Of Milestone

“The thing about Green Lantern is that I like John [Stewart]. But people always think he’s my favorite character. And I say this all the time: Oracle, Barbara Gordon, is my favorite superhero. Period. And certainly at DC. John is in my top 10. And so I was never worried about how it was going to go.

Milestone was the first comic book I ever wrote anything a letter to the editor about and I’ve been collecting since I was five. I wrote one letter ever in the history of comics to Icon.

I was lobbying to get the Blood Syndicate, before there even was a Milestone 2.0. I knew Dwayne McDuffie, and I would say, ‘If you ever reboot this, and you don’t give me Blood Syndicate? I’m going to find you and there’s going to be problems.’ So, yeah, I’m a little freaked out.

It’s all filtered through my point of view of who those characters are. And what Ivan [Velez] was trying to do with the original series, all that filtered through me and my understanding of it. If I get it wrong, it’s all on me. It’s not going to be on Reggie and Denys. I’m f-----g nervous as f--k.

But, hey, whatever. We’re still getting six issues. So there you go. Be mad.”

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

From Blood Syndicate #1. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On ’90s Comics And Racial Politics

“The big two comics were, at the time [the early ’90s], left leaning.

But at the time, the idea of what diversity or inclusion meant was wildly different from the point of view of those people we now describe as marginalized than it was from the point of view of either of the editorial boards of those two companies, even though we must give them the credit of doing their best.

The response was Milestone.

If you grew up in an East Coast city, or maybe even a Midwestern city — basically any giant urban American environment — you’d find Milestone’s universe very familiar. And it was just something that I did not know that I had been missing, until it showed up to fulfill this thirst that I had not known. The one that was closest to what you might call street level, or my experiences in regular life, was The Blood Syndicate. They mixed us reasonably authentic for the time street culture with superheroics.

So there were things like we had a main character who was a crack addict. And we had central figures that were queer. They introduced multiple versions of queerness, which had really not been done. It was a couple of years before Grant Morrison dropped The Invisibles. So Blood Syndicate, of all of the books that has ever been made in comics, was the one that was closest to my own life experiences. Not necessarily the gang aspect of it, but simply the kinds of people that were constantly coming in and out of the room. The arguments and humor were all the kinds of things that I just found extremely familiar. And only in a good way; there was nothing stereotypical or negative about it. So it just pulled me in.”

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

From Blood Syndicate #1. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On The Novelty Of The Blood Syndicate

“I think that must have been some kind of a mandate across the line.

The power sets were interesting; they weren’t the same old same old. Tech-9 could manifest weapons. Third Rail has electrical powers that make him into the Hulk. These are interesting wrinkles. Where there was a sort of weird science fiction-y underpinning to all of it. That sort of made it cohere without having to come up with, you know, the metagene or the X-Gene or whatever. t was an event that caused it rather than something you were born with. Like, there was no specific. There wasn’t anything genetic that separated you from anybody; you just were in the right or wrong place at the right time, depending on how you look at it.”

On His Creative Approach

“This is definitely a reboot remix, right? We’re not saying everything happened in the original version, and we’re just continuing on 30 years later — we’re saying all it’s starting fresh now.

Blood Syndicate comes fourth of four, so I had all these other seasons to look at. What are they doing with Hardware? What are they doing with Icon and Rocket?

The thing about Paris Island is, yes, it’s a borough of Dakota, but it’s also its own thing.

So what we’ll see is you see an issue when the advent of superheroes is a big deal. Icon and Rocket are certainly present in all of Dakota to some degree, but in the same way that Superman isn’t down there handling street gangs and muggings. It’s not a crime free zone ’cause Superman lives there.

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

From Blood Syndicate #1. Courtesy of DC Comics.

What we were able to do with this issue is to show, that at street level, things are always different. We put a man on the moon, but what does that do for me being able to feed my kids this week? Zero. You know, we won World War II but I’m really having a hard time getting a job as a black guy in Detroit.

So this is sort of the birth of the blood syndicate. So once they become the blood Syndicate, they will be a presence in in everybody’s story to some degree, someone will have to factor them. But at this point, they don’t the syndicate doesn’t exist yet. So I’m just sort of getting their feet under them.

Reggie [Hudlin] and Denys [Cowan] let me have my head. Unless I break something, or do something that’s off to the left of whatever’s going on another book, they’re just letting me do what I do.

I would say it was the first true successor to Len Wein and Dave Cockrum on X-Men. Because that book was, ‘Hey, we’re all over the world. Look at all the different flavors, different cultures, different ages, different people.’ And then the X-Men sort of basically still became mostly white people from the United States.”

On Added Changes To The Series

“You can start cold. If you do know the old stuff, you will have a good time going. Like, ‘Oh, he changed that.’ Or, ‘Oh, I can’t wait till that shows up.’

The hardest aspect of this gig, right now, is the balancing act of [how much] I love the original. So even though this is a remix, I don’t want to do anything that makes it, even in an implied way, that I have anything but love for the original. Like, this is not, ‘They did it wrong back then. So here’s how we do it.’ This is not, ‘I feel things were missed. And now I’m going to correct for anything.’ This is, ‘Holy crap, that amazing thing gets to come back. And they asked me to do it.’

So there are a couple of fundamental changes to characters that I felt the times modern times warranted.

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

From Blood Syndicate #1. Courtesy of DC Comics.

The biggest change, really, was that Reggie and Denys reshaped how the Big Bang happens. It’s less centralized and less connected to a single moment than it was in the original Milestone, which is both constraining and also sort of freeing. It allows for a wider range of things to be dealt with.

Two of the characters are returning from military service. Well, that didn’t happen in the first one. But there was also no ’20 years of America running around the Middle East, generational shooting.’ And that conflict definitely affected lower middle and poor people, as usual. The military’s a good way to get out of poverty in some way and in some situations or to get away from bad trouble happening in your neighborhood in other situations. Those two characters obviously did not have military backgrounds in the first version, and so that’s changed.”

On Recontextualizing Character Arcs

“The Fade character, who was really one of my favorites from the original, was queer. And that was a bold move back then: a central queer figure as the leader or co-leader in the superhero team. And for all intents and purposes, Fade was out. Like, he wasn’t a ‘Pride Parade, float dancing’ kind of out. But he was out in the sense that everyone around him knew he was gay. He was not gay for people and not in the closet.

But he was also sort of always pining away for the straight boy, who could not love him back because he was straight. And then he died, and so you never got to resolve was he straight was he bi, and so Fade spends a good deal of a time in the book sort of mourning the loss of his great love that he never really consummated and never really got to be with. And I was like, ‘I’m not doing any of that. Fade’s going to have a love interest and Fade is going to be a happy person.

Geoff Thorne talks new politics, nostalgia, and violence in 'Blood Syndicate'

Variant Cover by ChrisCross. Courtesy of DC Comics.

And the Masquerade character was, I believe, the first trans character in comic book history. He was also carrying a lot of intense self-dislike for as much as we got to see him. And that caused some bad behavior. So we’re not doing any of that self-hating queer people. I’ve grown up with queer people constantly in my life, and for the most part, although some have struggled with being in the closet, I didn’t detect a note of self hatred in any of them. So I’m not going to do them like that.

Again, that is not a criticism of the original work. At the time in the U.S., that made the most sense. All of those things were absolutely right for that time period. But times have moved forward since then. That trope has been just beat to hell, and there’s just nothing in it for me to use. So I think it’s much more interesting to portray all of these people as people.”

On Proper World-Building

“My biggest issue here is where I want to portray these people realistically. Let me rephrase that: I want to portray them naturalistically, and plausibly so that people can feel them as real. I want the reader now to have the same experience of this story as I had in 1993 or 1992. My biggest hurdle was, are Reggie and Denys even going to like this pitch? When I pitched what I wanted to do, there was a little bit of, ‘Go on…’ Is that a good go on? Here’s some more rope, and we’re going to be over here building the scaffold, and when you’re done you can hang yourself. But they were really intrigued by the things that I was saying about how Paris Island works.

‘Cause here’s the thing: I think the way comics were back then, with the world building aspect of it, you didn’t need to be as ridiculous with it. Because, there’s been the advent of video game culture, where you have games like Grand Theft Auto, where we can drive around the city, and Assassin’s Creed, where we can go anywhere. The audience, the potential audience, for these books has come to think, ‘They’re not movie sets; someone’s in that alley. Someone’s in that barbershop, and if I go by that again, I expect to see the same extras. And so that’s sort of the world building for how Paris Islands works.

The hardest part was how do the gangs interact with each other? Dakota is based in Detroit, but I’m an East Coast and Los Angeles kid. And I know all about the Crips. So that sort of flavor, my experience, is in the book for this version of Paris Island.”

Blood Syndicate

Variant Cover by Nikolah Draper-Ivey. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On Sharing More Of The Spotlight

“A couple of characters from the original didn’t get as much light on them because I think they just ran out of time to do it. In this story, those characters are going get a lot more [time], and some of those characters are going get a lot more light than they got. They get to talk and be more active within the central part of the story than they were in the first version.

Aquamaria will have more to do. Probably Masquerade will have considerably more to do. So there are a couple of characters that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to use, but I just got a script approved, that has some scenes in it that I was like, ‘Will this get over?’ And they only talked about some other stuff f that I might need to rework. ‘But did you guys really read that big thing?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ So some characters I didn’t think we were going to get to see in this first book, we’re going get to see little sort of teases of them, which I think is fine.”

On The Art Style

“ChrisCross, the guy is a monster. I’ve been lucky enough to work together on the Vixen thing that we did, for Truth and Justice. And he did a couple of villains for the Green Lantern run. So we got a little bit more familiar with each other workwise than I normally would be on a book. Usually, I’m going in cold with creators.

So this was really easy in that I will give guidelines in my scripts. I will sometimes put visual imagery in but the artists always know ‘Here’s what I’m thinking about and not, ‘Draw exactly like this!’

So, for instance, Fade was a guy who I described as a fashion plate. He’s not just going to randomly thrown on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. And then I forget about it. Because Chris is gonna come back with some awesome stuff. And I’m not worried about some of the redesigns he’s done for the for syndicate characters aren’t well — all of them are great, but I’m really impressed with the Third Rail redesign.

I feel like working with Chris, anytime he puts a piece of art that makes my 12-year-old comic book fan go, ‘Oh, that’s dope,’ that’s going in the book.

It’s s kind of like your car got the best sort of upgrade, the best paint job. It’s still your car, but it’s better.”

On What Fans Should Take Away

“I would like them to be excited for whatever’s going to happen.

I would like them to have a sense of I don’t know what’s going to happen. The thing that I think might get overlooked sometimes in the overall violence of comics, the physical violence, is that these are not superheroes. These are people with superpowers, which is not the same thing. Static and Rocket and Icon are superheroes. All of them are just folks who got superpowers and are in a bad situation. And some of them are straight up villains prior to having superpowers and they’re still villains now that they’ve got superpowers. So the thing that I would say is no one at Paris Island is trying to put you in jail.”

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