Interview: Steve Grant | 2 GUNS

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Interview with Steve Grant

With the Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg-starring 2 Guns now available on DVD and Blu-ray, Starburst got the chance to spend the best part of an hour talking to comic book royalty, Steve Grant. Grant is the man responsible for the original comic book 2 Guns series, not to mention having worked with some of the all-time great comic book characters like Spider-Man, Hulk and The Punisher, as well as creating several successful characters and stories of his own.

Starburst: When you first wrote 2 Guns, did you ever envisage it working as a movie?

Steve Grant: I kind of tend to view the stories as stories, so I was writing for comics obviously, but I don’t specifically try and write comics as comics. It’s not like someone’s wanting you to write for some specific comic. When I’m writing for myself, I try to just write good stories.

With the movie adaptation of 2 Guns, how hands on were you? Did you assist with the screenplay at all?

No, not really. I got asked questions once in a while. It really doesn’t work that way, and I’m kinda glad that it didn’t. I got paid just fine without having to do much for it. And I also kind of hate writing the same story twice. Basically, everything I had to say about the story was in the story. If they didn’t get it from what I wrote, they probably did it wrong. So I wasn’t really that concerned about it. Also, Ross Richie, who is a good friend of mine, was in there constantly. He was one of the executive producers, so he was there looking over things. He was looking out for my interests, and I pretty much trusted him to look out for my interests.

In terms of the story, what was the inspiration behind that?

It was just something, for some reason… I was researching undercover cops. It just kind of occurred to me that these guys could all be… you could have an entire gang of undercover cops that don’t know the other guys are undercover cops. Secrecy is your greatest friend when you’re undercover; you don’t go round telling people you’re undercover. The CIA will not call the FBI to tell them that they have someone undercover. Maybe they should do, but they don’t. It’s very dangerous work, and it just struck me as a certain situation… I actually started out with a whole gang that were undercover, but that was completely unworkable. We needed to tone it down to just two guys, and that became more workable. It just stuck with me as something that I’d always wanted to write. I couldn’t sell it anywhere, so I finally just wrote it for myself.

As for the movie, are you happy with that?

Yeah, it’s great. I love the movie. Obviously there’s a lot of it that is different to the book, which is fine. I had a background in film - I was a film major – and studied film a lot. If it weren’t for the hassle of working in film, I’d probably be working in film. I’m familiar with… I think it would be a bad idea to take any comic and just do a cookie-cutter version, a copy of it for film. That’s something that a lot of people who read comics don’t really get. It’s two different mediums and there’s a lot of different considerations. If you can take advantage of the things that you can do in a movie, there’s no reason not to. In terms of the major plot points and the spirit of the book, they got that filmed perfectly. It’s completely my sensibilities on the screen. They managed to capture things really well. It was my favourite film of the year, and I’m pretty sure it would’ve been whether I had anything to do with it or not. When I was watching the film, I was just spotting my fingerprints all over it. So I have no problem with the film whatsoever – it’s great!

Whenever you adapt something for a new medium, there is always likely to be changes. Were you disappointed that certain things didn’t make it to the big screen?

I think they have everything in it that I’d want to see out of the story. They didn’t miss any major points… they added some nice stuff. Early on in the film, there’s a bit more background to the characters that I really liked. I think they cut that down really well; they didn’t go overboard on it. A lot of things that I did in the story were consciously done in the knowledge that they weren’t things that you were supposed to do. Like I left out backstories for the characters. You really didn’t need to know what they ate for breakfast when they were 12. A lot of stories really go hard on that, but I wanted to focus on the story that was going on… and I think that they caught that very well. They didn’t load it down with lots of character backstory or motivation, anything like that.

It’s a very fast-paced, sleek, smooth adaptation, massively helped by the chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

That was great! That was stuff I never could’ve pulled off in the comic books. That’s entirely based on personality. That’s the huge difference between comics and movies. There was an interview with Bill Kane that he did years and years ago, where he said that if you see a fight scene on film, there’s a certain veracity to it simply by the fact that you have two guys punching each other. Whether it’s good or bad, there’s a certain reality to it that you don’t get when you have lines on paper moving towards each other. The thing is, you simply can’t capture a personality just in words. Even with the pictures, there are limitations. So you take that, you translate it to screen and you get a whole different dimension to things. That was the thing that really made the film. I’d love to say my story was responsible for what made that film, but what really made it was the interaction between those two guys.

To move away from 2 Guns, you’ve worked for the likes of DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and IDW. What style do you prefer?

I mean they all have their plusses and their minuses. Working for BOOM! is kind of the best of both worlds. Working for Marvel and DC, you get a lot of attention and you have to start working within their framework. I always get asked whether there are any Marvel and DC characters that I never got to write but that I’d like to write. I’m always like, “No, I want to write my stuff.” You can’t do that at Marvel and DC. For little companies, a lot of them try to behave like Marvel and DC, which kind of makes it pointless for you to do anything for them. The only virtue of working for small companies is that you’re doing things that you want to do, which hopefully is your own stuff. I think a lot of people should start to do their own thing, but it’s a hard thing to do. Most publishers are very resistant to that. But any way you do it is a good way to do it. It’s like people asking how do you write a comic strip. It doesn’t matter how you write it, it’s what it looks like at the end. Any way that you can do it is a good way. There’s no good or bad way to do it. The results are the only thing that matters, really. I’m in a situation where they’re basically paying me to create whenever I want, so that works out nicely. I’m not sure how many people could get that opportunity in comics. But I got it, and I’m taking advantage of it.

One of your most famous works was your mid-’80s work with The Punisher. Was working with that character something that you wanted to do?

Oh yeah. Actually, the first time I was ever at Marvel… I’d gone to a convention in 1976, sleeping on the couch, travelling very light, sleeping on the couch of a guy that was working in production for Marvel… and he insisted that I should pitch stories to Marvel. I hadn’t really thought about doing that, but I took a day and worked on a typewriter. One of them was the Punisher story, which was done 10 years later. I’d been pitching it for 10 years but they weren’t remotely interested in it. The only reason that they got interested in it was that Mike Zeck came aboard, and he was hot coming off the Secret Wars. So yeah, that was something that I had always wanted to do, as it was an angle that… First of all, that was a character that they weren’t interested in. I wanted to create an angle and make a name for myself.

What was your initial plan of attack with The Punisher, and what did you hope to achieve with that character?

Well first of all, he wasn’t a superhero. I liked the idea that… he’s a very curious character. He is shallow when he wants to be; he’s not a very deep character. But I liked the idea of doing it. I viewed him, and still view him, as being emotionally dead. That’s the problem everyone has always had. When you write a character, you’re supposed to examine their inner life. Well Punisher has no inner life. This is a character who functionally has no inner life. He has no emotional depth because he has no emotions. It’s like he’s burned out. So that was something that attracted me. I was more interested in crime fiction, he was a crime character, and he was just a good vehicle to say things that I was interested in saying that were more difficult to say in any superhero comics. The story that I wrote for Spider-Man in the ’90s… they wanted a Punisher/Spider-Man team-up. I said they could be in the same story but I’m not going to have them team up. There’s a point where The Punisher has momentarily trapped Spider-Man in a closed-up police van in an old police station, and Spider-Man’s on the other side, imprisoned in a cell. They have the one discussion that they have in the entire story, and Spider-Man is going through his usual ‘thou shalt not kill’ riff, and The Punisher just looks at him and says, “Well that’s good if you can bend steal in your hands, but what do the rest of us do?” And that was always what appealed to me about The Punisher. This is a guy that’s out there just trying to get the job done. And he’s very working class – I always viewed him as working class. Clinically, he’s a psychopath; he has no emotion. People think psychopaths are screaming lunatics, but that’s a psychotic not a psychopath. But he has no emotional connection. So that fascinated me. We had a character that I could write as a clinical psychopath.

With the likes of the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Avengers, these characters with these huge histories, how was that, as a writer, to contend with?

Well, I mean, you have things that you have to keep in mind but you don’t have to refer to them. I mean, you shouldn’t contradict them. I tend to find continuity… it’s easy enough to work with, in general. The problem is, for most of the characters, it’s been so twisted and mutilated and blown out of proportion and internally contradicted, etc, etc. So at a certain point, you just have to kind of ignore them. The best way to approach it is to ignore anything that you didn’t want to deal with, but then you have an entire fanbase who lives for that stuff. There’s a certain point… once you’ve contradicted a character enough, you simply have to ignore the contradictions. You have characters that have their own books, then the books get cancelled, then they become secondary characters where people are coming up with any stories where God knows what can happen to them. Then they revive… characters come back… and you start with a whole new continuity. It’s too bad that when they do things like the New 52 they don’t just start completely from scratch. I know why they don’t, because their fanbase doesn’t want them to. But they keep creating these opportunities for themselves but never take it. I like to refer to it as the New-ish 52. You have the fanbase that are like, “You mean that all of those old Batman stories never took place?” Well they never really took place in the first place.

On the flip side, how is it to see somebody take a character you’ve worked on and change things that you’ve done?

If you’re talking Marvel or DC, it’s not my character. It’s their character, and they can do whatever they want. I don’t read other people’s Punisher stories. That’s not to say that I think they’re particularly bad, more there’s no reason for me to bother. I’m not passing judgement on the stories; I’m just not interested. This used to drive me nuts, when you’d get guys who create work-for-hire books for Marvel or DC and then they leave and someone else takes over, but then they do interviews saying look what they’ve done to my character. It was never your character! Once you sign that paper… it’s okay to feel close to it while you’re writing it, but once you sign that piece of paper to say that the company owns the character… it’s not your character! You have no right to complain about what anybody does to it. With the books that I’m doing, I wrote a book called Whistler for a while… I had a clause in there saying nobody else can write this book. At first they were very grumpy about the clause. Eventually we negotiated a deal where the character can be used elsewhere but not for more than 5 panels, which is completely unworkable for them, or they can use her in other books but I have to be given first refusal on writing it. It was in my contract that nobody else could ever write that character or that she could guest star in any other books. I wanted a specific world for her, not crossing over… it just wouldn’t work.

With characters and stories like Whistler, Edge, and Enemy, do you find more enjoyment working with your own creations?

There are things that I’m perfectly willing to create and turn over to other people, but there’s other things that no one else is… no one else is ever going to write a 2 Guns-based story. I’m simply not going to allow it. If anything would have ever happened with Edge and it expanded… there’s limits as to how much I would want to be involved in it. I had a very specific story that I wanted to tell. Once that story was done, it’s like what’s the point? Like I say, I tend to think in terms of stories rather than a world. Whether it’s specifically for comics or not… because I tend to think visually anyway, so it’s not like I really have to worry too much about what medium it will go into. Besides, these days it can go into any medium. If you can make a Hulk movie, you can make anything. I mean, they were biting off more than they could chew, but that doesn’t…

It’s a hard one to juggle with The Hulk…

The problem is, the Hulk is just a boring character. This is what made me laugh with The Avengers, that everyone saw it and thought they’d figured out how to do the Hulk. Yeah, the way to do the Hulk is to have him as a character among a group of other characters. Don’t make him a solo character. You give him a situation he can interact with well, and you’ve got a good character. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he can hold up solo movies.

With The Avengers, he has limited screen time and short bursts.

And also in his own movies, he’s a tragic figure. In The Avengers, he’s comedy relief. I mean, he works for comedy. It’s not like slapstick comedy and he’s not the butt of the joke, but he’s a comic character throughout the whole Avengers… which is the way to play him.

Currently we’re working on a RoboCop issue of the magazine for the New Year. You were involved with adapting Frank Miller’s RoboCop 2 script to a comic book. How hard was that?

Well it wasn’t very hard. They gave me all the room I wanted. Bill Christiansen at Avatar [Press] said, “You know Frank, right?” I said, “I know Frank, yeah.” “Do you wanna adapt his screenplay?” I said, “Well…” Actually I’d already adapted RoboCop 3 for Dark Horse. Adapting films for comics is a pain in the ass, as they never give you any room. To get the essence of the film across, you generally need a lot more room then they’re willing to give you. Film has a lot more action and dialogue than comics. Comics are very short, and films aren’t. You can just, y’know, have as much as you want visually… so you’ve got the scope in films that you don’t have in comics. I mean physical space. And you take a, well it’s like a… if I can use an example, I’ve also done wrestling comics. Everyone wants wrestling. When they discuss it, they want wrestling. To actually have wrestling in comics, without the movement you lose it completely. Do you know what a Frankensteiner is?

As a bit of a wrestling geek, I do indeed…

A Frankensteiner… you take a guy, you grab a guy by the arm, you throw him into the ropes, his back collides with the ropes, the ropes bounce him back to you. In the meantime, you do a handstand with your back towards him… catch him around the neck with your legs in a scissor grip… then do a forward split, bringing him over you, so that by the time it’s done you’re sitting on his chest and he’s got his back flat on the ground. This takes about 1 ½ seconds on television. The first time I ever saw a Frankensteiner, I was, like, “Holy shit! What was that?!” You see it and it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever saw, and it’s happened so quickly and looks so effective that you just think, “Holy crap! What was that?!” You do it on television, it takes 1 ½ seconds. You do it on a comics page, it takes about 2 ½ pages.

We didn’t realise you were actually involved in any of the wrestling comics. Did they happen to be the World Championship Wrestling comics of the early ’90s?

No, this was the Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind and Chyna and The Rock… Chaos! Comics. I purposely didn’t do wrestling in those, and I was surprised that I was doing them. I’d actually been… over the years I’d had several discussions about doing wrestling comics. Everyone thinks superheroes are colourful characters, wrestlers are colourful characters – this could be like superheroes! No, not really. I always use the Frankensteiner example, that you can’t do… but then they always go, “Yeah, I see what you mean, but there’s gotta be some way to do it.” And they keep trying it with me. There’s a new WWE comic out that Mick Foley’s involved with…

Are they trying to get you on board with that then?

No, no, no. I just discussed it with Mick Foley for a couple of minutes in Chicago.

From what we understand, you’ve been working on a 2 Guns sequel…

Yeah, I’m actually just finishing up the last part of it… the big final fight scene.

Can you reveal anything of what we might get to see?

It’s a little more complicated. They haven’t seen each other since the event of 2 Guns. They’ve both kind of been ‘on the lamb.’ Keeping their heads down. They’re both, without knowing it, they’re both itching to get back in the game. They’ve been out of action since that night, and they both end up on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington on opposite sides of international gun-running. Without realising that they’ve been… this situation is being manipulated, to some extent, by a third undercover cop who knows the both of them have criminal pasts but doesn’t know they’re undercover cops. The difference between 2 Guns and 3 Guns, for Bobby and Marcus, is that in 2 Guns neither of them knew the other one was an undercover cop. In 3 Guns, both of them know that neither of them can be an undercover cop at this point, so the level of trust is even lower. They both seem to be involved in criminal activities, but they both suspect the other one is going native because they can’t be working as an undercover cop. It gets… hilarity ensues. In a perfect world, there will be two more series.

When will 3 Guns be brought to a close?

Actually, it’s coming out already. I think issue 5’s coming out next month in the States. There’s only six issues, and I’m just finishing up the sixth issue.

And then what’s next on your slate?

Well I’m doing a similarly-themed, but not similar, book for BOOM! called Deceivers, which actually takes place in Europe involving Americans who have gone there to recreate themselves. There’s a line in the book that it’s funny how Europeans came to America to recreate themselves but now Americans have to go to Europe to recreate themselves. It involves a guy who is a frontman for a mysterious billionaire. It’s kind of a throwback, in some ways, to old British TV shows, like The Avengers and The Professionals… where you have guys, the characters were more footloose and lighter. It’s my way of trying to do a light-hearted hero. It’s a dark story… it’s a darker story, but it’s a lighter hero. I don’t want to write tormented characters all the time. It’s one guy who is a frontman for a billionaire, who inter-mingles with European society and basically lives off the back of… he goes to parties, travels on private planes… basically lives for nothing by being a popular guy… and it’s all a con. He’s not a con-man, but then there’s another guy who is a con-man and they end up becoming involved in… So, anyway, it’s called Deceivers and it’s my fun comic; it’s my idea of a light-hearted comic. I think that’s coming out in January.

To wrap things up, with the stuff you’ve done – the stuff with Whistler, The Punisher, 2 Guns – what was your favourite work?

You’re kind of asking a dad to choose between his kids. My favourite, I think, will always be Badlands. It’s a crime story set in 1963 involving the man who really shot John Kennedy. But when I say favourite, other things are incrementally lower… there’s a book that BOOM! created called Damned. It’s a very straightforward crime story that I did with Mike Zeck in the late ’90s, and it was extremely simple and it doesn’t really have a twist. The hook is simply a guy gets out of prison and goes to fulfil a promise that he made to a cellmate… and then finds himself in a world of trouble because of it. It’s a very straightforward pulp story. I really liked that. 2 Guns, of course. Badlands would have to be the favourite but the other ones are only incrementally behind. There’s things that I like and that I dislike about anything that I’ve done. I think if I had to pull one thing off the shelf and shove it in front of someone, it’d be Badlands.

2 GUNS is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, and be sure to keep an eye out for Grant’s sequel series, 3 GUNS.

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