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Forging Iron with a Maiden

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Jason Rubin ditches video games for another medium he loves to death—comics! In August’s Iron & The Maiden, Rubin packs 28 pages of story per issue, making for a new series that its publisher Aspen Comics is marketing as an ‘industry standard breaker’. Marketing ploy or not, it does break Aspen’s standard for sure, since it’s officially the first creator-owned property at the Michael Turner-led company.

It’s the year 1930, albeit in an alternate universe, and three big organizations are battling for control over their metropolis. Enter Michael Iron, resident strong guy and killing machine for one of these corporations, The Syndicate. Iron’s always been a loyal fellow, looking to shoot the other two corporations in the foot whenever he can. However, his path changes when a mysterious angel comes calling…

BF spoke to the creator of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter to find out why he made the leap to comics… and why the heck it took so long.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How did you find your way from video games to comic books?

JASON RUBIN:After leaving Naughty Dog, the video game company I co-founded and had run for 20 years, I started taking meetings around Hollywood. Many of them involved educating people on the video game world. But one meeting, with Barry Levine who was working for Dark Horse at the time, was exactly the opposite. Barry ended up explaining the comic book industry to me, and challenged me to put a treatment on paper.

I told him I would have something for him in two weeks. I think he had heard that promise made and broken a million times before, but two weeks later I gave him "Mysterious Ways", a horror treatment. He liked it but said it wasn’t right for comics. Again two weeks passed and I gave him "Iron and the Maiden", which was actually an older and much more thought out idea of mine. He loved it. I started writing the scripts.

BF: Comic artists turned video game designers Joe Madureira and Jeff Matsuda did the character designs for the book. How did you get them aboard?

JR:When I was leading the design of "Jak and Daxter", the last video game I made, I had been inspired by Joe Madureira’s work on Battle Chasers. I ended up giving him credit in some of the game magazines after the game came out, and he had sent me an e-mail saying that he didn’t see the connection, but thanked me for the credit. He then mistakenly added "if there’s anything I can do for you drop me a line".

I took advantage of this mistake and called him first for Iron and the Maiden! Joe is a great guy, he gave me incredible advice, and he loved the story, but he is also one of the busiest people on the planet, so he could only design the two heroes. I told him that I could live with that if he would introduce me to someone whose design sense inspired him. Without a moments hesitation he offered Jeff Matsuda. The rest is history. Joe set the initial direction, and Jeff fleshed out and balanced the universe.

BF: In the press release, you said that the idea for Iron and The Maiden had been in your head for over 8 years. Did the initially idea differ from the fleshed-out version of today?

JR:I have a dozen or so ideas percolating around in my head at any given time. Most of them involve worlds and characters, and sometime names and broad story arcs, but not specific plotlines. The story specifics and supporting characters for Iron and the Maiden have all been written and created in the last two years, but the basics remain the same. And the artists I have worked with on the project have influenced me as well.

Probably the biggest change from the original idea is that Big Daddy, the Syndicate crime lord went from a large fat mob boss stereotype to the much more interesting diminutive killer that he is today. That change can at least partially be attributed to wisdom in character design handed down by Jeff.

BF: What caused you to hold off on putting it in print for so long? And, did you plan to tell this story as a comic from the start?

JR: Well, I was pretty busy with video games until a couple of years ago! I have a huge respect now for the amount of effort involved in making a comic mini-series. I’m glad I didn’t try it while I was working at Naughty Dog. Something would have broken!

BF: How did this series find a home at Aspen?

JR: Joel Gomez, one of the pencillers on the story introduced me to Michael Turner during early production. We really hit it off. And Francis, the lead penciller is also very tight with the Aspen guys. It just felt like the right home for Iron.

BF: The ‘Iron’ in the title refers to Michael Iron, while ‘The Maiden’ refers to the girl named Angel he meets on his path. What can you tell us about both characters?

JR: This synopsis does a good job of introducing the characters:

The Great War changed much in The City.  

The Technology developed by the super secret military R&D arm, Section 67b, spilled out into civilian life when the peace broke out.  By the late 1930’s one in ten cars were of the Photon Hover type, hair loss had been eradicated, and the Syndicate had men on the rOid who were 8 feet tall, could lift a ton, and carried hand held rail guns that could rip a hole through steel.

Michael Iron was prince among these men.  As Big Daddy’s right hand man and adopted son, Iron was the Syndicate’s top muscle.  So long as he didn’t mind killing a man or three, stayed clear of the Cops and Order Priests, and kept one eye opened while he slept, life was relatively easy.  Yet he found himself strangely unsatisfied.

Angel Chase was perfectly happy.  The eldest daughter of one of the most decorated members of the Special Forces, John Chase, Angel was looking forward to another wonderful Christmas with her family.

Neither of them knew they were about to meet, or that meeting would change their lives forever.

BF: How do they come to cross paths, and what kind of chemistry do they have?

JR: Iron meets Angel on a routine debt collection from her father. Unfortunately for all involved, this is precisely the moment when their lives start to unravel. Angel and Iron definitely have chemistry, but as you will see, they are from different worlds, and are very different beasts!

BF: The story itself is set in an alternate-universe 1930’s metropolis. What are the threats facing the city, and where do Michael and the Angel come in?

JR: The technology that spilled out from Section 67b during the war has completely changed the City. There is an odd mix of technology, like flying cars, super powerful guns, and the rOid, competing with horse drawn buggies and the like. This technology sparked an economic boom that avoided the downturn we call the great depression in our universe.

One result of this is that prohibition is still in effect in Iron’s universe, and with it the mob has gained unheard of power. Their corruption has spilled over into the Government and the Order, the predominant religious sect of the city. These three powers now compete for the hearts (and purses) of the citizenry. Their competition often gets rough, and Iron is a foot soldier for the Syndicate, doing whatever it takes to further the mob’s interests. At least he is until he meets Angel…

BF: The comic is also a little bit ‘outside the box’ in the sense that each issue comes in at 28 pages instead of the regular 22. Is that your way of giving readers a little bit extra each month, or is the story so big that 6 extra pages are necessary to move it along?

JR: Iron will definitely give the readers more for their money, but it isn’t only the extra pages. The books were designed more like a movie, with Character Design (Joe Madureira and Jeff Matsuda), Color Design (Chris Lichtner), and Set Design (Blur Studios), done before the pencilers (Francis Manapul and Joel Gomez) and the Colorer (Danimation) first touched paper. And Francis and Joel spent an incredible amount of time panel per panel.

The books are some of the most detailed out there. And yes, they are 28 pages long, but that’s mainly because I just couldn’t get the story down to 22 pages an issue… lets just say I now have an incredible amount of respect for comic book writers!

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