Unholy Crossings

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If blending the grim reality of police work with anything but real ghosts looks like an unreal combination, that’s because it is. Who believes in ghosts, right? Tough cops sure don’t, but Michael Avon Oeming and Ivan Brandon will make them open their eyes to the world of the supernatural in Cross Bronx , a new four-issue limited series from Image Comics going on sale next week.

Cross Bronx teams the artist of Powers and the scribe of NYC Mech for a grim, non-sparkling and spandex free ride through the New York borough. BF got them together, not in the Bronx, but in cyberspace, for a chat.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Cross Bronx is about two detectives, Rafael Aponte and his partner Tico Ortiz, who investigate a series of mysterious gang slayings in the Bronx and find themselves up to their ears in supernatural stuff before they can even do as much as blink. That begs the question: why would anyone suddenly want to take out a gang of urban misfits? 

MICHAEL AVON OEMING: It’s a revenge story, the inciting action of the story requires some dudes bite it, and that’s what kicks off the story.

BF: How much of the actual Bronx will readers get to smell in the book? The grimmer parts?

MIKE: Not really, have you been to the Bronx? It’s very mixed, the nice parts are nice and the bad parts are bad. Caslte Hill, where most of the story takes place is actually a pretty good neighborhood.  

IVAN BRANDON: I don't know, probably what you call "grim" I call NY.  The Bronx still has that heart that some of Manhattan has lost to so-called "gentrification".  It still feels like the NY I was born in.  I hope we're able to recreate that feeling somewhat, that's definitely a goal.

BF: I’m sure there was enough food for a very noirish and ‘true’ urban story set in the Bronx. Why did you opt for a different course and add a supernatural element, then? 

MIKE: The area itself, the CROSS BRONX is a section of 1-95 that cuts through (or “across”) the Bronx, and that term just shot the imagery into my head. My wife told me stories of Santeria and assorted strange happenings in the Bronx that also fed into my imagination. 

BF: The supernatural element in Cross Bronx takes the form of a beautiful female ghost, Santaria. Does that mean that the supernatural isn’t bad per se? Or is it more like the devil taking on a beautiful form to suck you in and fool you big time? 

MIKE: Actually, that was a misprint that’s lived on. The ghost isn’t named Santaria, nor is that the actual spelling of the religion, Santeria. The Ghost may or may not be the spirit of a victimized girl from the beginning of the series.

BF: Ivan, I’ve read that you’re immersed in Santeria. Can you detail a little bit what the specific facets of this religion are?

IVAN: I’m actually not at all immersed in Santeria.  Mike made that joke in an interview, and it has now officially come back to haunt us ever since.

BF: Aponte and Ortiz are in part based on Mike’s father-in-law and on a younger version of Ivan, respectively. Does that make it easier to write the characters more vividly? 

MIKE: No, because they are only based on them visually, but not characteristically. Especially my father in law, he isn’t going to fight crime if there’s a good game on, or something in the house that needs fixing. 

IVAN: For the record, I am the younger version of Tico Ortiz.

BF: Was the decision to model Tico after you something you came up with as a prank, or did it come about somewhat organically while fleshing out the story?

IVAN: It was entirely Mike’s decision, actually.  I think it was an excuse for him to ask for pictures of me. 

BF: Ok. [Laughs]. So, Mike, how did the two of you end up working together on this project? 

MIKE: I met Ivan at some cons and we just hit it off. I read some of his writing and I knew he would be the guy to work on Cross Bronxwith.

BF: Over the past few years, you’ve done a lot of writing, of different sorts even—mainstream titles (Thor), graphic novels (86 Voltz, Blood River, Parliament of Justice, Six, Wings of Anansi), licensed properties (Red Sonja, Highlander), a blend of a comic and a novel (Quixotica) and mini series (Ares, Hammer of the Gods, Bastard Samurai). How much do you feel you’ve grown as a writer over time? 

MIKE: It's taken a bit, but through my studies, lots of reading and working with other writers, I've finally found my footing. I feel I can write anything I put my mind to, I've even found a bit of my own way of telling stories and writing. I still have lots to learn, but I feel I can walk on my own now. I have my first ongoing writing assignment from Marvel that scares the bejeesus out of me—that’s going to be the real test. It’s not announced yet, but within the next few weeks it will be, and hopefully Cross Bronx will benefit from that.

BF: Did you ever imagine that one day you’d find yourself writing more than you’d be at the drawing board, especially after starting out as an inker? 

MIKE: Not at all! I wish I did though; I would have started studying the craft of writing years back, readying myself for when the time came.

BF: As indicated earlier, most of your writing gigs thus far have been one-shots or mini series, as is Cross Bronx. The same holds true for you, Ivan. Do you guys prefer them over ongoing storytelling? 

MIKE: Yes and no. I like the finite story. But ongoing has its advantages as well. Most of the one shots are simply because of time restraints. 

IVAN: Every story has a length that works best for it.  For The Cross Bronx, it was more like a film, where it has an arc and then it ends.

BF: Have you got any feelers out in Hollywood to someday pursue this project for production on the silver screen? 

IVAN: Well, nothing we can talk about… but as with most of Mike’s projects and my own there are always conversations being had, somewhere, about additional venues to tell these stories in.   

BF: Getting back to the ‘preference’-type question, what about mainstream vs. independents? A lot of your work is published at Image, so I guess that pretty much gives away your preference, right? 

MIKE: I don’t have one. I love both, as long as I'm treated with some respect, I’ll work for anyone. 

IVAN: I'll echo that sentiment somewhat.  My mind more naturally gravitates towards my own thing but I would never rule out mainstream work.  Hell, without Daredevil as a kid I probably wouldn't even be in the business.

BF: Like Powers, Cross Bronx also starts out as a police detective story. Aside from sporting two male leads and not featuring spandex in any way, how different is it from Powers, both from a creative point of view and in terms of scope? 

MIKE: It's actually fairly close to Powers. If I wasn’t me, I'd accuse the Cross Bronx team of being another Powers-like book.  Creatively, tough, it has a more somber vertigo vibe to it than Powers

IVAN: Mike draws just like that Powers guy.  I dunno, I think it obviously speaks some of the same language in that they're cops and they're dealing with some exceptional circumstances... but the beauty of The Cross Bronx is, it's grounded in reality, even the religious and supernatural elements reflect to whatever degree the perceptions of real people.  There are some incredible stories out there that someone will swear to you are true. 

BF: Now that I’ve mentioned Powers… anyone who thinks of the title thinks not only of you, Mike, but of Brian Bendis too. Would you say Brian has had the biggest creative influence on you? 

MIKE: Totally. Working from his scripts does that, but I don’t really write like Brian. He’s much more about character than I am. I learned a lot from Brian, not just from working with him, but simply through discussing stories and writing with him.

BF: Following Cross Bronx, you’re going to sink your teeth into Mice Templar, collaboration with Bryan J.L. Glass. Is it too early to give anything away at this point? 

MIKE: No, in fact you can see a new Mice Templar short at this year’s Baltimore con (held next weekend, September 9-10 – ed.). A new short appears in the ACTOR fundraiser book, and as soon as I finish this last issue of Bronx, I start on Templar. It’s going to be a series of ongoing series. The first arc is about 20 issues, too big for a mini and that’s more than a lot of series go.

After that, we take a break before the next thing. Mice is going to be a pretty big project for us—it’s been around for me about 8 years and we’ve been working the “world” for the past two or three years.

BF: And what about you, Ivan, what are you working on now that writing Cross Bronx is in the can?

IVAN: I’m working on a second volume of 24seven and am in preproduction on a couple new titles at assorted publishers. Two are ongoing, the rest are all self-contained. Also, I’m putting together another trade paperback for NYC Mech.

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