Greg Rucka has written stories about some of DC and Marvel's biggest comic book characters, from Wonder Woman to Daredevil, but his original series The Old Guard (2017, Image Comics) is the first to get a big-budget movie adaptation.
The story about a mercenary squad of ancient immortals feels tailor-made for the big screen (or the Netflix app on your iPhone), but even in an era when Hollywood studios dive into long boxes at Comic-Con looking for the next big hit, Rucka tells Inverse he never wrote The Old Guard with movies in mind.
"I set out to tell a story, in comics," he says. "The goal was never, 'and it will be a movie one day.' That's a whole different cake."
On July 10, Rucka and artist Leandro Fernandez's The Old Guard comes to life in a Netflix film written by Rucka. Starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Harry Melling, the movie follows a team of immortal mercenaries led by Andromache (Theron), a 6,000-year-old warrior from Scythia. When a U.S. Marine, Nile (Layne) discovers her immortality, she is recruited into the group as they evade a pharmaceutical billionaire who wants to kidnap them and study their biology for profit.
Rucka, who has seen several of his comics works adapted to the screen, such as his Oni Press series Stumptown (now a crime procedural on ABC), says "far too many people" treat comic books as a stepping stone into adapted media, like movies. He still sees his work as its own unique art form, and in a separate interview for Singapore outlets (via GeekCulture), Rucka said he felt the medium "is being prostituted in service" to films and TV.
Clarifying the difference between comics and movies, Rucka tells Inverse, "They're different animals, different beasts. There are too many people who have an idea for a movie that they make into a comic book. That's not what comics are. Comics is its own form. It is its own medium with its own strengths and weaknesses."
There's also the matter of rushing the creative process to score a movie deal. It's difficult, even a little foolish, to pitch studios on a concept when there's not much concept to show.
"Hollywood has a habit of harping on issue one," he says. "I like to wait until issue five. Until we actually know what the plan is here. I don't like going out with my material that my partners and I have created until there's enough of it people know what it's about."
That didn't stop Hollywood from knocking on Rucka's door for The Old Guard. The 50-year-old creator is foggy on the details, but he remembers "a late October phone call" with Skydance Media's Matt Grimm, Vice President of Motion Pictures Production, and Don Granger, EVP of Feature Productions mere months after the first issue of Old Guard hit shelves.
"It was very propulsive," he says. "I have properties from 2005 that still haven't been made. The Old Guard came out 2017 and here we are in 2020 with a movie on July 10. Yeah, this happened with pace."
It isn't lost on Rucka how important it is to directly involved with a movie based on his comics. For a long time, comic book writers were kept out of the million-dollar movies based on their work. Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld recently argued that the quality of the movies featuring his character went up dramatically after he became involved in their production. But for many comic book writers, the best they can hope for is a brief onscreen cameo.
It's an issue almost as old as comics themselves. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators who introduced Superman in 1938, famously fought a long legal battle with DC Comics. It wasn't until 1975, when both men were nearly impoverished, that they were in any way appropriately compensated for beginning a whole literary genre.
Rucka says things are slowly, but surely, changing. "When you look at the big budget Marvel and DC movies, people who created these characters did so under work for hire. They get little participation or reward when those stories get exploited. It's all well and good to get a 'special thanks' credit, but the people who created these stories receive no acknowledgment except in the most passive and really condescending way."
The Old Guard was published by Image Comics, founded in 1992 by industry heavyweights Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino, all of whom left Marvel in an effort to advocate that creators should own their works. The publisher has launched several massive multimedia franchises that heavily involve the creators, including Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead.
"What you’ve seen in the last dozen years are creators who are able to create their own works and as a result of the way rights works are able to benefit from greater participation," Rucka says. "And I think those things go hand in hand."
The veteran writer admits he doesn't know what the perfect relationship between comic books and Hollywood should look like, but he thinks he'll know it when he sees it.
"I think the acknowledgment that they're different is key to that relationship," Rucka says. "You may have the greatest movie idea in the world, so then write it as a movie."
The Old Guard will stream on Netflix on July 10.