[Interview] The Creative Team Behind Action Lab: Danger Zone’s Upcoming Political/Conspiracy Thriller ABERRANT

Aberrant Interview

Debuting June 2018 from Action Lab: Danger Zone, ABERRANT is a truly filmic tale, the obvious brainchild of a creator who has for years been penning smart, testosterone-driven action movies for some of Hollywood’s biggest directors; folks like Ridley Scott, Justin Lin, F. Gary Gray, John Woo, and Luc Besson.

Creator Rylend Grant describes ABERRANT as a modern political/conspiracy thriller in the vein of MICHAEL CLAYTON or ENEMY OF THE STATE that explores how the United States’ military and geopolitical agenda would necessarily change if superpowered individuals (the “Aberrant”) walked among us. He gleefully refers to his book as the karmic cousin of groundbreaking 70’s mindbenders like THE CONVERSATION and MARATHON MAN.

“ABERRANT is a military-slanted THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR,” says Grant with a wry smile, referring to the 1975 Sidney Pollock-helmed paranoid spy thriller. “You know… if there was a snarling superpowered badass waiting around every corner, hell bent on stomping a mudhole in Robert Redford.”

From the previews alone, ABERRANT is a well-laid out, visually stunning comic that we’re certain is going to be a game changer. The ten issue series will deliver two, five-issue story arcs filled with action, intensity, and surprises behind every corner. Take a look at the preview for issue one, then enjoy our extensive interview with the creators of this exciting new title: Writer Rylend Grant, artists Zsombor Huszka & Davi Leon Dias, colorist Iwan Joko Triyono, and letterer Hde Ponsonby-Jones.

ABERRANT #1

Aberrant #1 Cover A
Aberrant #1 Cover A
Aberrant #1 Cover B
Aberrant #1 Cover B

Writer: Rylend Grant

Artists:
Zsombor Huszka (Artist),
Iwan Joko Triyono (Colorist),
HdE (Letterer)


Cover Artists:
Zsombor Huszka,
Iwan Joko Triyono (Colorist)

David, a U.S. Army Special Operations Commander, distraught after losing his entire unit to a superhuman attack, wages an absolutely brutal one-man war on the eccentric billionaire and former superhero, Lance Cordrey, whom he believes is ultimately responsible. That is until Nelson Little, the head of a clandestine paramilitary outfit called Article 13, provides David with evidence that Cordrey may be a patsy, and David’s men were killed as part of a vast and twisted government/military conspiracy.

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PopCultHQ Interview:

Rylend Grant, Zsombor Huszka, Davi Leon Dias,
Iwan Joko Triyono, and HdE
of Action Lab: Danger Zone’s ABERRANT #1

PopCultHQ: ABERRANT contains a terrific premise and narrative, offering the story of a highly-decorated Army Special Ops commander in Major David Colbrenner, having lost his entire unit, on a revenge mission against eccentric billionaire and former superhero Lance Cordrey, the man he feels is responsible. It also shows a world in which superheroes, refered to as the “aberrant,” walk among us and the real-life applications that would likely be necessary to put into place. Between the government, military, the outfit known as Article 13, the fact that the aberrant could be anywhere, and Colbrenner’s mission, your series is packed with action, excitement, and intrigue. Can you share a bit of background of the series protagonist and of Cordrey?

Aberrant issue #1 page 1
Aberrant issue #1 page 1

Rylend Grant: David is a U.S. Army Special Operations commander – the closest thing we have to superheroes in real life – whom, as you alluded to, loses his entire unit/his nearest and dearest friends to a superhuman attack. He then wages an absolutely brutal one man war on the eccentric billionaire and former superhero he believes is ultimately responsible… that’s Lance Cordrey. Ten years ago, Cordrey was Superman, essentially… a real deal crimebuster/man of the people-type… The rub? Heroing doesn’t pay too well. It didn’t take long for Cordrey to start taking shortcuts. He started using his vision-based powers to locate massive oil and gas deposits underground and then he built a Haliburton-like company around that enterprise. He’s filthy rich now and it’s corrupted him morally and ethically. He’s a real piece of work now, who very obviously need to be taken down a notch. Luckily, David comes along…

I don’t want to give too much away in terms of how the story unfolds, but suffice it to say it won’t take David long to find out that Cordrey isn’t quite as culpable as he initially thought. In fact, Cordrey might be getting kicked in the mouth with the same boot David is, if you get my drift. ABERRANT is very much the story of David trying to get the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

PopCultHQ: Currently in the world, we have seen superheroes dominate at the box office and the small screen. ABERRANT seems to take a realistic look at how super-powered beings (or the “Aberrant”) would in fact affect the world’s governments, military, and societies. What I find curious and appealing in your story is that superheroes take on two different forms: those who need protection by governments due to their abilities, and those whom are threats because of their enhancements. Which also makes the reader support the military’s response to this aberrant situation on one hand, but also leave you with trepidation as to the government’s influence and motives. Will we find ourselves loving or hating certain individuals while reading the series only to have us question some of them later or perhaps regret our initial reactions?

Rylend Grant: You hit it right on the head here. With ABERRANT, I was trying to take a grounded, wholly realistic look at how our world, our military, or geopolitics would necessarily change if superpowered individuals existed. Obviously, certain governments would embrace and nuture powered-types. Others would try to exploit them for their own sometimes very wicked interests. And others, acting out of fear and ingorance, would try to exterminate them. All of these scenerios play out one way or another in the pages of ABERRANT.

Aberrant issue #1 page 2
Aberrant issue #1 page 2

Too often, art offers us simple black and white answers to terribly complex questions. This guy is bad. This other guy is good. This is right. This is wrong. But we all know that real life isn’t like that. In politics, and with social & economic engineering – strong focuses in ABERRANT – the truth always lies in some unsatisfying, ugly shade of grey. No one ever completely wins. Ultimately, EVERYONE ends up a little dissatisfied in the end. That was a guiding principal in crafting this book. Every character should be a little wrong. Every character should be a little right. Your enemy is much, much scarier when you can understand where he or she is coming from. I remember being about halfway through the recent BLACK PANTHER movie and thinking, “You know what? This Killmonger guy is really making some interesting points.” That’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Great character. Excellent villain. Great ride. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but at the heart of ABERRANT is a really likable, noble villain whom is absolutely doing the right thing for the right reasons…he’s just going about it in the worst way imaginable. We don’t see enough drama like that.

The other thing is comics too often move in a straight line these days. They follow predictable patterns. I’ve been writing scripts in Hollywood for 12+ years now. I know story backwards and forwards. Very little surprises me anymore. My wife gets miffed because five minutes into a Top Chef episode (great show, by the way) I already know who’s winning and who’s going home. But I’m not special. Audiences are CRAZY smart these days. They are always two steps ahead of the game. With that in mind, I’m trying very hard to actually surprise people with every issue of ABERRANT. The series is packed with meaty twists and wicked turns. You’re sure you know somebody, that you have them pegged, and then they take a violent left turn. The world of this book is populated with politicians, spies, and all-star military types…uber smart, wildly dynamic, and sometimes very manipulative people. It’s been fun to create and hopefully, it’s just as much fun to read.

PopCultHQ: Your new series features a wide array of topics while tying them all together: human experimentation, political influence, military response, war, conspiracies, and more. But from early previews, it feels as if ABERRANT is not about pushing any sort of agenda rather it’s about getting people talking. Having conversations regarding political, economic, and social issues. How important is that aspect in reaching readers to ABERRANT as a series?

Aberrant issue #1 page 3
Aberrant issue #1 page 3

Rylend Grant: Great question. You’ve identified our guiding prinicipal here, the key to everything. Again, with ABERRANT, we’re trying to take an honest, sobering look at how our nation’s military and geopolitical agenda would necessarily change if folks with superpowers walked among us. The truth is, things would get REALLY messy. You know why? Because even without superpowered badasses walking around, our world is already EXTREMELY messy. ABERRANT was our chance to wrestle with the bigger social, political, and economic issues of our day in a really fun and heightened way. Everything we deal with here has some real life parallel. An we’re definitely not trying to preach or push any social or political agenda. We’re not taking one side in any particular argument. If anything, we’re consistently saying here that folks on both sides of any issue are completley full of shit and desperately need to pull their heads from their bums if we’re going to make any real progress/catalyze any actual meaningful change in this world.

PopCultHQ: For the other members of the creative team, what excited you the most when being approached to come on-board as an artist on ABERRANT?

Zsombor Huszka: First and foremost, the writer. I had heard great things about Rylend, a guy with quite an impressive resume, so the opportunity to work with him was very appealing. Also, when he laid out his vision for art in the book, he was referencing almost all of my favorite classic comic book artists. It really was a match made in heaven from the very begining.

Iwan Joko Triyono: ABERRANT has excellent, very complex art and so I knew it would be a very fun and very challenging book to color. Also, I’ve worked with Rylend before. He has really good taste. He’s always gone out of his way to help me personally. I’d work with him on anything.

Aberrant issue #1 page 4
Aberrant issue #1 page 4

Davi Leon Dias: Working in the American comics industry has always been my greatest dream. The whole process of comics creation just fascinates me so much… pouring through the script, doing the layouts, tweaking those final inks. When Rylend asked me to draw Issues 2-10 of ABERRANT, that dream finally became a reality. It was a great honor to take over drawing for Zsombor Huszka, but also a great responsibility. I knew I’d really have to bring my A-game to match the quality of the work he did in Issue 1. Hopefully, I pulled that off here.

HdE: Well, I was offered a job! Seriously – it’s good knowing you’ll have money to pay bills and put food on the table with. The book looked pretty cool, too. 😉

PopCultHQ: You’ve had to go through what I can only imagine was quite a headache in gaining approval for the rights to music to accompany your comic book. How does music factor into ABERRANT?

Rylend Grant: I’m a screenwriter by trade. For years, I’ve made my living penning smart, testosterone-driven action movies for some of Hollywood’s biggest directors; folks like Ridley Scott, Justin Lin, F. Gary Gray, John Woo, and Luc Besson. I really wanted ABERRANT to feel like one of those movies. Well, obviously those movies always have REALLY GOOD soundtracks.

It wasn’t easy to pull off. Clearing music for use in print publications is costly and time consuming – there is a reason why you never see music used in comics – but it was well worth it in the end. We ended up with songs from Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Temptations, Bobby McFerrin, Wilson Phillips, and R. Kelly. The music is incorporated in a really clever way here. We’ve definitely produced something here that people haven’t seen before.

No lie, I’m still trying to get Kenny Loggins to do an original song for the 2nd trade, something in the neighborhood of Danger Zone (from Top Gun). CALL ME, KENNY! LET’S DO IT!

PopCultHQ: With the first issue of ABERRANT, there’s a real throwback feel. Not only did the interior artwork remind me of Marvel’s The ‘Nam series from the 80s, there’s also the “William Dee Williams – Aberrant Works EVERY time” variant cover by Davi Leon Dias and the “Stevie Doesn’t Wonder” old-school comic book advertisement. Though the lead character and his unit deal with an Al Qaeda-perpetrated hostage situation and present day scenarios, how do the older references factor in on the series?

Rylend Grant: First of all, great pull with the ‘Nam series reference. EXCELLENT book… and I consider it a sincere honor that you’d mention ABERRANT in the same breath. All the credit there goes to Issue 1 artist, Zsombor Huszka. I desperately wanted to set a hardnosed, shit-kicking tone for this series and he just knocked it out of the park.

Aberrant issue #1 page 5
Aberrant issue #1 page 5

To answer your question though…I’m an unabashed referential child of the 80s. I fell in love with movies, with storytelling as a whole back then. My art stands on the shoulders of films like Predator, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours…I could go on and on…I guess the references are my way of paying tribute, and kind of winking at the audience/readers, whom I think came up gorging on that same stream of badass media I did. Issue 1 is a pretty serious story, but folks in the know will no doubt notice a number of references to ‘80s films. Tweet at me (@rylendgrant) and let me know if you pick them out.

Davi Leon Dias – who did the William Dee cover, but also draws issues 2-10 of the series – is really the perfect artist to execute this sort of thing. He has a wonderful sense of humor and it always shines through in his art. He just really enjoys making people laugh, dropping those Easter eggs in. He and I have a lot of fun going back and forth with this stuff. Look, making comics is hard, sometimes very grueling work…sometimes a Coming to America reference is the only thing that’ll keep you sane.

My colorist – Iwan Joko Triyono – is key to all of this too. Sometimes these reference don’t find their way into these pages until the absolute last minute. A lot of times it ends up being Iwan that executes them. He is a kindered spirit, an unfettered perfectionist. He will revise and revise until a joke is hitting just perfectly. I’d be up the creek without paddle if I didn’t have a guy like him in the proverbial foxhole with me when the shit hits the fan. I think I just used three metaphors there in one sentence. HA! IMPRESSIVE, no?

PopCultHQ: I had seen online (halfevilcomics.com) that it takes David a full year, or twelve issues, to come to grips with the fact he is aberrant. How many issues are currently planned for ABERRANT? Would each issue represent an actual month’s time?

Rylend Grant: I originally pitched ABERRANT as a 12-issue series, which is kind of crazy when I think back on it. Message to anyone out there looking to pitch their first comic series to a publisher: STICK TO A SINGLE FOUR-ISSUE ARC. PERIOD. 12-Issues is a BIG ask for any publisher, particularly if you don’t have a track record in the business. If issue 1 doesn’t sell and your publisher has commited to 12-issues, they could really take a bath. You’re just begging for them to say “no.”

All that said, despite my initial misstep, the folks at Action Lab, after some back and forth, decided to give me ten issues/two five-issue story arcs to tell my story and I’m really grateful. The whole arc unfolds over just a few months of movie/book time. I think it’s a really tight narrative now. I’m very proud of how things ultimately unfolded. I think it’s going to be extremely rewarding for the reader.

PopCultHQ: Rylend, you’ve amassed quite a list of film and television credits to your name. How does writing a monthly comic book differ as opposed to screenwriting? What challenges have you faced?

Aberrant - Stevie Wonder AdRylend Grant: Writing is writing. Good drama is good drama. I’m ultimately flexing the same muscles/using the same skillset whether I’m writing a movie, a TV pilot, or a comic. What makes the comic scene so interesting to me right here and right now is the freedom that comes with it. It seems like Hollywood is only making three types of movies right now. I’ll let you figure out what they are. Short and sweet, if you’re not writing those movies, you’re essentially wasting your time. It’s really limiting. It’s really ugly and disheartening. The comics business is wide-the-frak open right now. Publishers like Image, Boom!, and Action Lab are putting out some really important and challenging stuff. Indy publishers like Fanbase Press and Black Mask are taking it a step further. No matter what story you want to tell, no matter what sort of protagonist you want to feature, you will find a publisher bold enough to run with it these days, as long as it’s well-crafted. It’s a wonderful business… and a wonderful time to be in that business. Movies pay the bills, sure… but comics are feeding the soul right now.

PopCultHQ: Is there an aspect of the story, or of a particular character, that you’re looking forward to exploring artistically?

Zsombor Huszka: The down and out Dirty Harry-type with chiseled features has always come pretty easily to me… And while David (ABERRANT’s protagonist) doesn’t exactly fit that archetype, he’s very similar, especially after the major turning point of the first issue. The extremist-mutant-monsters that pop up later in the book were a very intriguing task to tackle as well.

Iwan Joko Triyono: I like that, underneath everything, ABERRANT’s message is one of inclusion. I’m a devout Muslim and I’ve seen my faith attacked and maligned too often in popular culture. ABERRANT isn’t preachy at all, but it very much takes the position that all cultures and all religions are beautiful. I really think the world needs to hear that right now.

HdE: ABERRANT has already posed a fair few tricky challenges for me as the letterer. There’s an awful lot of different tricks I’ve had to yank out of my little black box of ideas for this one, because there’s such a diverse range of content in it. Truthfully, I’m wondering what I’ll see next…

Davi Leon Dias: There are two characters that I’m really excited about in ABERRANT, our reluctant hero/protagonist, David, and a big, snarling Jason Voorhees-inspired villain/monster named Rook. Man, when these guys start fighting, look out! They literally destroy everything in their path. There is nothing more enjoyable or more challenging for me as an artist than drawing a good fight scene. There’s a really great two-page spread in Issue 3 where these guys are trading punches that I’m really proud of (pictured below).

 

ABERRANT #3 page 18-19
ABERRANT #3 page 18-19

PopCultHQ: What type of reader or comic book fan will ABERRANT appeal to the most? Why should ABERRANT be added to people’s pull list?

Rylend Grant: Every new FAST & FURIOUS movie makes about a billion dollars worldwide. EVERYONE sees them… and EVERYONE walks out of the theater smiling. I’ve written for the directors of 5 of those movies. I’ve got the formula down. I’d like to think that anyone who gets excited about those movies will flip for ABERRANT. We tried very hard here to marry the poppy swagger of those Fast movies with the commitment to weighty discourse we see in a film like Michael Mann’s The Insider. If you like badass action movies, if you like complex character drama, if you dig books with a sick and twisted sense of humor, this is the one for you. Just give it a chance, huh?

Zsombor Huszka: Who doesn’t enjoy diving into a great political conspiracy? Whether you think there’s truth behind them or not, they are always exciting to discuss and entertain. So, for that reason I think this series is going to be attractive for quite a broad audience.

Iwan Joko Triyono: Everyone loves a great action comic and frankly, this is one of the best ones I’ve read. The story is very complex and challenging. You’ll never know what’s around the next corner. It’s going to be a really fun read.

Davi Leon Dias: This is a really well-written story. Each character is wildly complex and hopelessly conflicted. It’s just a really deep and thematically ambitious story. Not at all what readers are used to. The visuals are always interesting, the colorist (Iwan Joko Triyono) has really elevated mine and Zsombor’s work here. If you’re looking for action, mystery, thrills, and chills, you’ll surely love this comic.

HdE: Is basically a book for mature readers, that’s been written with real grit. There’s a lot of meat on the bone in this one. So if you were to ask me who the target audience would be? Well… I think the answer is ‘people who like good comic books.’

A very special thanks to Rylend, Zsombor, Davi, Iwan,
and HdE for taking the time to speak with PopCultHQ!

Be sure to follow the creators online for more on ABERRANT, as well as their other projects!

 

Writer – Rylend Grant

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Artist – Zsombor Huszka

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Artist – Davi Leon Dias

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Colorist – Iwan Joko Triyono

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Letterer – HdE

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Publisher – Action Lab: Danger Zone

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About Jason Bennett 3656 Articles
Jason Bennett is PopCultHQ's chief editor, a contributing writer, and comic book reviewer/reporter. One with the Force. Browncoats Unite! So say we all! Follow Jason on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @TahoeJBennett