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Moving Heaven and Earth

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Page four of Samurai: Heaven & Earth Vol. I #4 summed the story up pretty well: we see Shiro kiss his beloved Yoshiko, after which he says: “I survived the massacre at our lord’s castle. When I found that you’d been taken, I followed. I’ve followed ever since.”

Two years have passed since Dark Horse released Samurai: Heaven & Earth upon an unsuspecting comics audience. The limited series featured a romantic tale that put the noble samurai Shiro on the trail of his beloved Yoshiko, who has been abducted and taken halfway across the globe. Fans and critics alike watched in awe how martial arts took a backseat to love, not in the least due to Luke Ross’ breakout performance on art. Ron Marz gladly put Ross in the limelight, and in the following interview the veteran scribe attests more of the same will follow come November 15 when the first issue of Volume 2 arrives.

BROKEN FRONTIER: At the end of the first volume, Shiro leaves Paris still in pursuit of Yoshiko. Where is he headed? Spain seems like a logical option, as it’s the native country of his lover’s kidnapper, Don Miguel.

RON MARZ: Right, initially we pick up the story in Spain, to where Don Miguel flees for familiar territory. But it's really just our starting point. The rest of the story moves across the Mediterranean and finally into Egypt. 

BF: Does the theme of ‘adventure’ and ‘chase’ form the backbone for all of the five issues, as it was in Volume I, or have you added some new wrinkles to the story?

RM: The story is again a chase, but we don't want to simply repeat ourselves. Shiro has company this time, in the person of the slaver who brought Yoshiko to Europe from China. And we're going to be spending more time with Yoshiko. We want to continue the story, not just cover the same ground, both literally and figuratively. 

BF: The overarching theme of the concept is obviously romance, embodied by the undying love Shiro and Yoshiko feel for each other. How will we see their relationship unfold now that Yoshiko knows Shiro is still alive?

RM: Each issue is going to begin with a flashback sequence, so we can go back to Shiro and Yoshiko's time in Japan and see them together, see where this relationship came from. And then in the present, Yoshiko is absolutely certain that Shiro is alive and pursuing her. Whatever happens to her, wherever Don Miguel takes her, she knows Shiro will come for her. 

BF: You contrasted Shiro’s love towards Yoshiko—a noble one, that makes him move heaven and earth—with a tyrannical, and possessive type of love in Don Miguel. Was that the main reason why you introduced him in the series?

RM: I think you always want your story to have a worthy villain. When Don Miguel was first introduced, it really wasn't with an eye toward making him a recurring character. But the more we used him, the more that role fell into place, especially with his obsession with Yoshiko. I really don't see him as loving Yoshiko in any real sense of the word. He wants to possess her. He's driven in equal parts by his lust for Yoshiko and his hatred for Shiro. Hopefully, Don Miguel is the character people will love to hate. 

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BF: The lush historical settings and Luke Ross’ breakout performance on art were easily the most breathtaking aspects of the series. Do you agree, or is there another quality you, as the writer, prefer?

RM: The series wouldn't be anything close to what it is without Luke's involvement. Working with Luke is easily among the two or three best collaborations I've had in my career, probably the best. As a writer, you're dependent on your artist to bring the story to life, so I feel very, very fortunate to be working with Luke. I know anything I envision is going to wind up looking even better by the time it hits the page. I truthfully don't think there are a lot of artists in the industry who could handle this kind of historical material and do it justice. I mean, I knew Luke was a great artist when we started working together. Now everybody else knows. 

BF: That’s for sure, and the preview pages indicate that Luke has taken another step forward, as his polished pencils and washes look better than ever.

RM: The first Samurai volume was really the first time Luke had done his finished pencils. Once we'd finished the first mini, Luke did six issues of Jonah Hex and refined the technique even more. Now he's putting all that to use in volume two of Samurai, and it's really breathtaking work. As wonderful as Rob Schwager's colors are over Luke’s art, I'd love to do a black-and-white edition sometime so people can get a sense of how beautiful Luke's pencils truly are.

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BF: Since Samurai: Heaven & Earth debuted this time two years ago, it makes me wonder: did your busy schedule combined with Luke’s work on Jonah Hex and various other DC titles cause a delay to revisit the characters and their world, or was a long wait between volumes intentional?

RM: Luke had to finish his Hex commitment, and we wanted to give ourselves a better head start this time. The level of work Luke is doing is definitely more time intensive, more than if he was just penciling to be inked. Assuming we get a green light to continue the series beyond this volume, I think you'll see a little bit less of an interval between volumes, but we'll definitely take a break between each so we can catch our breath. 

BF: To revisit the ‘historical settings’ aspect I mentioned earlier, the first series featured Versailles and the three musketeers; with the story taking us to Egypt, will Shiro find any other ‘epic elements’ on his path? 

RM: Luke and I drew a lot of inspiration from the work of David Roberts, who was a 19th-century Scottish artist who traveled to Egypt and produced a large number of paintings that were made into hand-colored lithographs. They have a real epic feel to them, and we're going to incorporate that in some of the later issues when Shiro is among the ruins in Egypt.

I think one of the pleasures for us with Samurai is putting Shiro in settings that are visually arresting, whether it's outside Notre Dame, or Versailles, or Egyptian ruins. 

BF: If the second mini proves to be as popular and successful as its predecessor, are there any plans to revisit Shiro and Yoshiko down the line, even if they end up reunited at the end of the current book?

RM: Luke and I definitely have more stories to tell, at least two more minis that we have figured out, if everything goes as planned. But we could probably even go past that.

Truthfully, this story we're telling now, the journey to Egypt, was not something we initially planned. We had a different story in mind for this volume. But Luke mentioned that he wanted to draw some "Lawrence of Arabia"-type scenes, and the whole thing grew from that. So, what we originally had planned will be Volume 3. 

BF: Next to Samurai: Heaven & Earth, you’ve also got another project in the works at Dark Horse, called Pantheon City. Can you tip your hat on what that story will be about and when readers can expect it?

RM: It's more of a science-fiction story, about the first city to be built by artificial intelligence. It's supposed to be the "city of the future," with a lot of automation and robots, including something no one expected—a robot protector. Clement Sauve is the artist, and he's doing amazing work. People will know Clem after Pantheon City, just like people knew Luke after the first Samurai volume. We've started on the book, and it'll be out 2007, but we haven't nailed down a specific month yet.  We want to get a decent amount of work in the can before we solicit it.

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