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Zack Kaplan, Fico Ossio explain the love, mayhem, and journalism of 'Kill All Immortals'

Comic Books

Zack Kaplan, Fico Ossio explain the love, mayhem, and journalism of ‘Kill All Immortals’

‘Kill All Immortals’ is everything you’d want and more of what you didn’t plan on.

If you call your comic Kill All Immortals, it seems like you’re being obvious enough with your boisterous, bloody intentions. But as writer Zack Kaplan and artist Fico Ossio explained in a recent Zoom call, Kill All Immortals is anything but obvious.

“It’s a high concept action adventure about Vikings and about immortality and about family power struggles,” said Kaplan. “And there’s a lot of violence and a lot of fight sequences, but at its core, we’re hoping that readers will come for those glossy, over-the-top ideas and stay for really dynamic characters and these really thought-provoking themes.”

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(The FOC for Kill All Immortals #1 is Monday, June 3, with the issue dropping July 10)

To some extent, then, it’s a book about duality and dichotomy. Which is the perfect vehicle for a story in which the only daughter of an immortal clan of Vikings, a woman named Frey Asvald, must confront her family, who have long since moved from pillaging villages to ransacking boardrooms.

“The irony is, of course, they’re not just cutthroat and barbaric because they’re Vikings — they’re cutthroat and barbaric because they’re capitalists,” said Kaplan. “I think it’s an interesting landscape to try to take things like a billionaire family in modern times and [also] immortality and look at the implications from all that. That sets a very interesting stage for our protagonist.”

Kaplan described the Asvald family as “leading a modern lifestyle, like a Succession-style banking empire.” The goal was to fully explore that dynamic, but that process inevitably begins with the lens focusing squarely on Frey.

“They are absolutely ruthless in their quest to maintain their power and their empire,” said Kaplan. “But I think with Frey, we’re hoping to give readers a real complex character here. Because, on the one hand, we meet her and she is trying to use charity and she is trying to make a difference. And you get the sense that it’s her form of rebellion against her family. As they tear apart the world by war and corruption, she’s trying to slowly put it back together in her own way, but she’s equally tolerating the family. She has rules that she never goes against the family. And, obviously, circumstances are going to challenge her and those rules that she has for herself. She’s meant to be an admirable character in that she’s not adopted their ruthless lifestyle and she has remained above it all, but she’s also tolerated it all. So she has this kind of self discovery to go through as well.”

Of course, there’s a complication of sorts given that the whole family is immortal, which even Kaplan recognized is a familiar enough trope in comics. Ultimately, though, the use of immortality plays brilliantly into the larger focus on bloody business and the madness of modern corporations.

“I guess there’s a lot of comics that deal with it,” said Kaplan. “And I think maybe there are some comics that deal with it as it relates to power, and certainly there are a lot of comics that deal with it as it relates to how characters cope with thousands of years or hundreds of years of immortality. But we wanted to look at it through a modern lens, and as it relates to billionaire families and as an allegory for wealth inequality.”

Kaplan added, “When you really strip it away, and get into exploring what that means and how billionaires and how corporate America…I don’t even want to say corporate America. I think it’s more like global institutions and entities that are even larger than some corporation that’s done really well for itself. Like, this is even bigger than that. It’s about these generational legacy kingdoms that are hiding. I don’t think it’s too unbelievable that you take a family like the Asvalds that control so much wealth and power and yet no one knows about them; that’s very common in our world. I feel like there are a lot of very powerful families that the three of us have no clue or concept of their power or reach or what they do. They make whistleblowers disappear and all of these things happen. Privacy and secrecy is the ultimate veil of power. And so it’s a lot of fun to really strip back and explore those layers in a book like this.”

Kill All Immortals

Variant covers by Vincenzo Riccardi (L) and Rafael Albuquerque (R). Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

It’s an idea Ossio added to: they’re ultimately exposing something much more sinister than even the bloodiest Viking warlords.

“The power is more visual, or more visible, when it’s through politics,” said Ossio. “And I think that billionaires or corporations and those sorts of people have even more power, and it’s like Zach said, behind the scenes you just don’t get to see them. You don’t really know what they’re doing or how they can change things. I think that it’s interesting to see that family of that world a little bit exposed in the story.”

The Asvalds are so powerful, in fact, that they’re a kind of a collective boogeyman for the truly rich and powerful.

“[The first issue] opens with a business meeting where we have this other, very powerful family and they’re saying, ‘We’re CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; there’s no threat here,'” said Kaplan. “But I think the reality is…when there is barbaric blackmail and murder, and awful things that happen behind the scenes, [everyone] ends up victims all the same, even if they’re also millionaires or billionaires. When someone enters a room and says, ‘I will crush you and your life in my hand until I get what I want,’ most people, even successful people, just cave to that.”

To some extent, that adds a little touch of horror, or even further plays up the fantasy/sci-fi elements. But at the end of the day, a chunk of Kaplan’s career has always been about using these genre “devices” to tell deeply human stories.

“I think a lot of my books end up having this quality where the sci-fi or supernatural skin that’s over it, you could almost take that away and the metaphor persists,” said Kaplan. “So Mindset was about mind control, but our devices are controlling us so much that you could almost take out the mind control and we can still accept that we’re all addicted to our phones. Here, you could almost take away the premise of immortality, and you could take away the violence, and replace it with business practices and the essence of the story would still ring true. This is about the way people seize and manipulate and control power and wealth in our world.”

Immortality is cool, after all, but as Kaplan just noted, there’s already a deeply powerful story in the halls of big business.

“This is the way of the world,” said Kaplan. “And anyone who believes that this is not how wealth and power are accumulated is living a naive fantasy. This is the nature of the world. If you see billionaire empires, there are bodies in their wake. And the mighty take power and they live atop the mountain. And so what do you do when you’re the face of family? How does someone like the only daughter handle that sort of dilemma, even if she decides to gather the courage to face it? Because she’s not just challenging her family — she’s challenging an institution. That really makes for some very fun thematic character exploration as we enjoy all of our like John Wick-style action.”

Even if the action truly is extra bold and bloody, there’s a larger point to it.

“Well, I think that was a key element in depicting these characters as barbarians and as Vikings — the fact that they had to be brutal in a way,” said Kaplan. “So the gore and the blood and all that was informative of that aspect. For the action scenes and such, we talked a lot about that and we wanted to make it more cinematic but not too flashy. So we worked a lot on giving that a more grounded action scene, more like you were watching a movie or a series.”

Kaplan added, “The layouts are very frenetic. I mean, there’s a lot of intensity in the way you’re taken across the page. And we have a lot of fight sequences. There’s a lot of action in the first issue and there’s a lot of action to come. Each action sequence is, I think, different, and not just in the location or in the kind of fixtures, but in the way Fico brings different kinds of visual intensity. I feel like every fight sequence that I see in this book becomes better and better. It really is like John Wick at its best.”

Kill All Immortals

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

For Ossio, this rather specific work proved especially interesting as he tried to be both extra engaging and still totally direct in his efforts.

“That was a challenge that Zack presented to me,” said Ossio. “I was doing a different art style at the time [when] [Kaplan] came to me. He wanted to do something more realistic, and more of a passionate style to represent the lifestyle of this billionaire family and also bring back some of that Viking background. So I think it resulted in why you see so many details here and there. I didn’t want it to make it too obvious, and so we added some jewelry and also the hairstyles. I went more Viking [with the hair] than in other things…Also, tattoos were a big thing for the characters.”

Luckily, Ossio had some help with the tattoos especially, as he has a Viking-themed tattoos, calling it “a happy accident.” That truly personal connection really informed how the team further made something drenched in violence and yet never any less engaged with that shimmery nougat of humanity.

“I think that the brutality of it was important for the characters,” said Ossio. “So I wanted to make it look very raw even when they were cutting their own hair or something like that. I thought it was important to the story of these characters.”

For his part, Kaplan thinks that Ossio (alongside colorist Thiago Rocha) gave him the balance and support needed to fully lean into the family’s very specific dynamic.

“They can’t feel like they just came out of their swords and sandals,” said Kaplan. “And so they’re dressed so well, and Fico really brings this authenticity to the fashion, the houses, and the vehicles. It all feels very modern and very elevated, but then they are — because of their tattoos and their hair and the way they look and carry themselves — very Viking. It’s a cool world to step into. And it’s real, and I don’t think you know what’s going to happen. I feel like there’s a lot of elements of surprise in the art and it doesn’t just feel like punch, punch, kick. There are moments where you don’t know if she’s going to get out of it and this and that. So it’s a real feast for the eyes for sure. This is absolutely a violent bloody book…but I don’t think that this is grotesque. It’s just that the level of conflict that these characters are facing is so high stakes and intense that the violence corresponds to that.”

Still, it’s not all about Frey’s development and kickass fight scenes. Kill All Immortals also gives ample room to the brothers and their specific personalities and what they contribute (or don’t) to the family itself.

“We get into meeting all the brothers, and in the first issue, you get a taste of this family and their world,” said Kaplan. “There’s three brothers: Thor, who is the mountain of a man; Steinn, the small, reckless joker of the family; and then Leif is the perfect middle child. But as the story unfolds, we get to meet each of them and understand how they rationalize and live in this world.”

Kaplan added, “There are politics amongst all of them and…who is closest to father’s favor and who is most on the out and this and that. And Frey has been completely removed from all of the brothers and all of the business. So she’s coming back into this world after a very long time and engaging with them all again. So we get to meet them through her return to the family and they’re all very, very interesting and multifaceted in their relationship with her. And it’s really, again, another fun thing in collaborating with Fico and getting to really create these different characters who are not just stock villains, but they are characters that have a lot of personality in the way they’re drawn and the different kinds of facial expressions and the way they present themselves at different moments in time. Even the different weapons and means of fighting that they use. We put a lot of heart into thinking about those characters for sure.”

Kill All Immortals

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

The brothers may seem like big, nasty Viking bad guys, but as is a running theme with Kill All Immortals, the real answer is far more interesting and nuanced.

“I like the fact that they [the brothers] are complex characters and are multi-layered characters,” said Ossio. “They’re not good or bad. I don’t think of them as villains. I think when you get into that black and white situation, it’s kind of obvious where the story is going to go, and what the characters are going to do. There’s no real challenge or anything that’s not going to really surprise you. So I don’t see them that way. I think that all of them have redeemable qualities and also awful qualities. The reasons why they make the different choices that they make in the story make them interesting.”

For Kaplan, it’s about making the family utterly relatable — albeit in a decidedly modern sense, where morality is often a touch more complicated.

“You admire their commitment to family,” said Kaplan. “Family is the most important thing. And I think in a weird way, Erik, the patriarch of this family, is doing this all for his family. The irony is that most patriarchs, when they’re building an empire for their family, they will lie and say that one day they will die and pass it on to their children and let their children take over and he never will. So there’s this dark lie that this family is telling themselves that one day the children will get a chance, but they will never when the patriarchy is also immortal. I cannot help but feel that these kinds of ideas are very relatable to readers when we look at the news..and we see these older patriarchs who rule these kingdoms and who never seem to go away.”

But this book goes deeper still than just the Asvald brothers (and father). Frey is also involved with Owen, a globetrotting journalist who is then pulled into her otherworldly existence and long-boiling family drama.

“I think that he represents the search for truth,” said Kaplan. “And I think that a journalist is more modern than any of the other situations [the family] has faced.”

The decision, it seems, is about answering the question of how you really threaten or confront a family of billionaire immortal Vikings.

“I think if you were to take this story 50 years prior, the presence of a journalist doesn’t have the same impact that it does now,” said Kaplan. “There’s so much secrecy and privacy and media control that having a journalist driven by truth is a real threat to this family. That, and modern technology and the ability to use your phone and send [information] almost instantaneously and be connected to the world. These are things that this family has not had to face. I don’t think they’ve ever been challenged by the mere presence of a journalist so close to their orbit. And that is the catalyst that ends up throwing this whole family into war, essentially.”

But it’s not just about truth and justice as it extends to this book’s interest in transparency, corporate domination, and how certain things grow in the dark. Kaplan and company always tie these largely intellectual concepts/explorations back firmly into the book’s wealth of emotionality.

“Frey is an idealistic character, and she values things like truth and independence and she values the same sort of values [of Owen],” said Kaplan. “And so you can see why they connect. It’s also kind of pushing her, right? He’s putting her in a difficult situation where he has to make a choice — a different choice than she has done before. It gets complex because their values are aligned, but their interests are not necessarily aligned.”

Kill All Immortals

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Their specific relationship is also another repeating theme in Kaplan’s larger career and bibliography.

“I love relationships and character dynamics where the duality of people’s motives make it hard to understand which way they’re going to go,” said Kaplan. “What Frey is going to do and what Owen’s going to do and what her family’s going to do…it makes for provocative drama to see unfold.”

He even connected Kill All Immortals to another of his more recent releases, Beyond Real.

“There’s a couple of interesting romantic relationship dynamics that I like to explore,” said Kaplan. “But no matter what, it has to be a mirror that the characters find themselves facing and they’re either confronted with things they don’t like about themselves or they’re reaffirmed about things they like about themselves that their partner does not understand. And so I feel like when you meet a couple in a story, you can feel why they could be in love and why there is that deep connection. You can see that there is also a chasm between them.”

Kaplan added, “In Beyond Real, you have an artist and a scientist thrown together, and here we have a billionaire’s daughter who lives in secrecy and we have a journalist who suddenly find themselves together. While they both value the same things, they both come from completely different worlds. But I think that [Owen] is inspiring to [Frey] because he dares to question authority and he dares to challenge people with truth. And that is something that she has lost in her life. A thousand years of losing battles to her barbaric father who cannot die — she has given up on that battle and she’s chosen to fight it in a far more isolated way. So this experience of being with Owen is allowing her to rediscover some things about herself.”

At the end of the day, Kill All Immortals is so wonderfully hard to definitively pin down. It’s a love story, a dissection of modern society, a credo against money-grubbing and greed, and even a map for a better, more transparent world. Mostly, though, it’s a lot of fun.

“People complain a lot lately that stories are too flashy or done just for the sake of it and have no real substance,” said Kaplan. “We are hoping that Frey offers readers who love Erica Slaughter [from Something Is Killing the Children] and have another outlet for a real strong-willed heroine that has a lot of dimension and a lot of journey ahead of her. We had a lot of fun terrorizing. I’m excited for readers to come with us and get terrorized a little bit.”

(Once again: the FOC for Kill All Immortals #1 is Monday, June 3, with the issue dropping July 10)

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