'World War Z' creator takes on the Valley of Death

December 9, 2013 

The cover of World War ZLOS ANGELES ó With his novel "World War Z," author Max Brooks won over a legion of readers, weaving an epic tale told from the perspective of the survivors of a global pandemic that saw the dead return to life. Now Brooks is bringing his realistic approach to fantastic storytelling to a paneled page with "Shadow Walk." The new Legendary Comics release, co-created with comic creator-writer Mark Waid and artist Shane Davis, supposes that the Valley of Death from the Old Testamentís Psalm 23 does in fact exist, and itís a place where anyone who ventures there is confronted by his or her deepest fears.

In the first issue, John Raines, a soldier who allegedly killed his entire platoon after entering the valley, leads a group that includes a priest and an astrophysicist back to the mysterious locale. Armed with two arcane artifacts, the unit must try to determine if the road to hell has opened on Earth. It was Legendary Comics executive Thomas Tull who initially approached the creators with the basic question: What if the Valley of Death was not just a figurative term but a physical place? Brooks, a history major, took the idea and ran with it. We talked with him about the project.

Q. What did you do to try to bring this world to life?

A. A lot of homework. You have to start with logic, answering some of your own questions. So itís a real place ó where would it be? You look around and you say, "Well, yeah, Mesopotamia or Iraq." Then you have to go through the history of it and say, "Who has been through this country? Who used to own it? Who used to fight over it?" Then you just study the histories of these peoples and that gives you the idea of how to build a world around it. So, Mesopotamia. Before it was Muslim it was a Roman protectorate ... and it (later) was part of the Turkish empire, then the European powers came in and took it away from the Turks. Then it became independent and fought a war with Iran. Thatís fertile ground for doing world-building.

Q. Was there any one specific thing that helped the concept really take shape in your mind?

Thereís one specific compass needle, and I think this drives Thomas a lot. He loves looking at myths and legends and the actual root of the myth. Where did this come from? Like ... We go back to the story of the Cyclops. The Greeks would dig up woolly mammoth skulls. They didnít know what they were. All they saw was this giant skull with what looked like one eye. They didnít know that there was cartilage separating them. If you didnít know anything about science and you dig up this giant skull with one eye, you can see how that can morph into the legend of the Cyclops.

I thought there was one thing that Mark Waid did that was so brilliant. If you take nothing away from it ó there was one subtle piece of a realization ó one of the characters said, "You gotta realize that in an era before science, everything was supernatural. So what would shock us as a miracle back then is no more of a miracle than lightning." I thought, ĎOh, my God, what a great insight into the psychology of a pre-science people.í

Q. Assuming that everyone sees different things ó their worst fear ó when traveling through this valley, what might you see?

A. Well, thatís easy now that Iím a parent: My son in rehab 20 years from now.

I mean, when you become a parent, everything changes. I donít know what my nightmare wouldíve been before, but now that Iím a dad, and every minute of my life is spent trying to craft a human being? Yeah, I think thatís every nightmare of every parent, your (child) going into rehab. Thereís your 30-year-old kid with bandages around his wrists and he looks right at you and says, "Yeah, this is your fault." I donít know what parent hasnít had that nightmare.

Q. Are you a religious person?

A. I donít know. I literally donít know. Iíd like to think thereís an afterlife, and that when my body turns to dust, that thereís another world beyond this. Iíd like to think that my mom just got on an earlier flight than my dad. But the truth is, I donít know. Iíve neither found proof for or against.

Q. Do you think that this graphic novel, religious but grounded in reality, could usher in a wave of others like it?

A. I donít know. Religion is part of our society. I think thereís nothing wrong with questioning it. Iím not saying itís good or saying itís bad, Iím just saying that we need to embrace the debate. Religion is not a museum. Religion is a living thing. It moves, it changes with the time, it changes with the people and the cultures, and we have to embrace the debate. You canít just put it on the shelf and let it gather dust. Itís got to be taken down and taken apart and put back together again, and I hope people embrace the debate when they read this.



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