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Keith Davidsen Talks Expanding The Herbert West / Reanimator Story

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  • Keith Davidsen Talks Expanding The Herbert West / Reanimator Story

    Frank Barbiere, writer of Solar: Man of the Atom #12, talks with writer Keith Davidsen about Reanimator #2, both on sale now. Covers by Francesco Francavilla and Andrew Mangum.

    Reanimator02CovAFrancavillaFRANK BARBIERE: Keith, what kind of research have you been putting into the book? We’ve got mad science, Cthulhu-worshipping gangsters, and a whole slew of monsters… is there anywhere specific you’re turning for inspiration? Anything you want to see that you feel has never graced the world of Reanimator?

    KEITH DAVIDSEN: When the infamous H.P. Lovecraft provided the source material, thankfully I really didn’t have to go much farther than his library! The original Herbert West – Reanimator serial prose was self-contained, not considered part of the larger Cthulhu Mythos… so what’s great about the Dynamite incarnation of the character is that they’ve already established him – in the pages of Army of Darkness and Prophecy – as being engrossed in a world of mysticism. For me, incorporating the Elder Gods and black magic into the new comic series was a tantalizing prospect.

    FB: Reviving (pun partially intended) old properties can be exciting and challenging. What have you read from Reanimator to get ready, and what elements (without spoilers) have you brought to the table? What has inspired you to create new characters?

    KD: I’m a continuity freak, so researching everything about Reanimator in Lovecraft and Dynamite sources became my focus for a while! I’ve probably experienced the original Herbert West – Reanimator tale a hundred times, thanks mostly to a variety of excellent audiobook recordings. I watched the film trilogy once through, but since Dynamite’s incarnation of the character is not affiliated with the films, I didn’t let that steer my course… aside from putting me in the right frame of mind. I researched all of Herbert West’s Dynamite appearances — the Army of Darkness vs. Reanimator storyline written by Jim Kuhoric, Prophecy by Ron Marz, and the Army of Darkness / Reanimator one-shot by Mark Rahner – to get a feel for the character arc created (intentionally or otherwise) by those writers.

    And I definitely read lots of other Lovecraftian tales to set the mood. The Rats in the Walls, The Outsider, At the Mountains of Madness and many others. I think readers will find lots of hidden references to those other works, if they keep a close eye out, when they read the new miniseries.

    As for the characters I’ve introduced into the story, many of them are pulled directly from Lovecraft. Obviously, I’ve incorporated big daddy Cthulhu himself into the storyline, accessible to one of the mortal villains Croceus Rex through the psychic plane (as the Elder God is open to folks who are “psychically hypersensitive,” as Lovecraft put it). As for Croceus Rex (meaning “Golden King”), he’s a reference to The King in Yellow, the supernatural story written by Robert W. Chambers but incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos by Lovecraft himself. Another character that pulls from both Lovecraft sources and elsewhere is the hulking half-human, half-alligator Valusian – who is a reference to the Valusian Serpent Men of Robert E. Howard’s fantasy fiction, again name-dropped by Lovecraft in his later works.

    I suppose the farthest departure from Lovecraft’s original world as seen in the new Dynamite Reanimator series would be the Louisianan Voodoo elements – namely, the hitman Samedi (named after the loa of Vodou tradition, Baron Samedi) and his weird, entranced slaves, the “Voodoo Girls.” These are elements I’d studied for an as-yet-unpublished project of my own, so it was nice to have a place to put them while I re-work my original content. Still, Lovecraft made a provision for the introduction of Voodoo into this story in The Call of Cthulhu, as he described a Louisianan branch of the Cthulhu cult to have ties to Voodoo tradition.

    FB: Susan Greene is a great entry point for readers, and we see some big developments for her here. Is it deliberate to make her more of the protagonist vs. West? Do you feel it allows for more mystery, or is there something specific you want to say with Susan’s character?

    Reanimator02CovBMangumKD: For as popular a character (or brand) as Herbert West is, Dynamite had never published a Reanimator solo series. Instead, the character had only appeared as a supporting cast member or adversary in other titles, most often as a foil to Ash Williams in Dynamite’s flagship title, Army of Darkness. As I understand it, Dynamite had always been hesitant about developing a solo series, simply because Herbert West is such a cold, calculating villain. He’s rather despicable, after all! Would the audience be able to connect with someone like that?

    The way I see it, there were two ways to counter that concern. First, have Herbert West face off against powerful rivals – so we see villain-on-villain action, and fans will root for West. The other counter was by creating Susan Greene.

    In keeping true to Lovecraft’s original work, I wanted to have a capable medical assistant at Herbert West’s side, someone who is both fascinated and horrified by the mad scientist’s experiments. The original prose story is narrated by West’s unnamed assistant, who is a good deal more relatable to the audience than West could ever be. Throwing Susan into the mix as an “everywoman” character – the only person in the Reanimator miniseries whose inner monologue can be experienced by the audience – just made it easier for readers to get into the story.

    Making West’s new assistant female was an attempt to diversify the cast a bit, but for West purists, don’t worry – West is wholly devoted to his scientific pursuits. Susan Greene is not a love interest, she’s a means to an end. And as for what I specifically want to say with her character – wait until issue #3. Mind blown, guaranteed…

    FB: Randy Valiente has a great style and fills the book with so much energy. What do you look forward to him drawing most from issue to issue?

    KD: What I love most about Randy’s work is that he can take a scene intended as eerie… and turn it into something truly unsettling. In a good way, of course – this is horror, after all! Seriously, conversations between Herbert West and Susan Greene take on a more menacing air when Randy illustrates them… and scenes of true horror (Elder Gods making an appearance, zombies attacking, etc.) are downright spine-chilling.

    Case in point: I wrote a scene for an upcoming issue where a group of zombies attack, and Randy delivered an indescribably awesome page layout with a massive zombie swarm. He brought so much intensity to the scene, you couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by it… but sadly, for story reasons, I needed to cut back on the sheer scope that he’d presented. It was such a hard choice to make! But Randy’s so enthusiastic about delivering the horror, that’s just what you’d expect – you ask for something, and he can bring so much more to the table.

    FB: What (or who) is your favorite monster and why?

    KD: Well, if you’re asking about my favorite beastie from the Reanimator comic series, it’s going to be The Valusian… who takes the spotlight in issue #2. Half human, half alligator… a zombie hybrid that lumbers around at Herbert West’s side, dutifully taking care of hard labor and seemingly only capable of saying hello (“ ’Lo.”). Covered head to toe in rags, with only a few glimpses at the patchwork of reptilian and dead flesh underneath, he cuts a threatening figure while displaying a gentle demeanor. But in issue #2… readers are going to see what he’s capable of!

    Now, if you’re asking about my favorite monster of all time, that’s a doozy. Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Godzilla, The Thing, The Fly, Cthulhu, Dracula, the Gillman (The Creature from the Black Lagoon)… there’s so many terrifying prospects. I’d have to go with the Xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise, though. From their fearsome, inhuman design from H.R. Giger, to their acidic blood as the ultimate defense mechanism, to their various stages of development (queen to egg to facehugger to chestburster to human-sized drone), there’s no monster in film, literature, or whatever that gives me shivers quite like a Xenomorph.

    For more on Reanimator #2, click here.