Dynamite Entertainment has recently announced that they will be releasing a four issue mini-series of ‘Reanimator’ and we’ve had a chance to sit down with Keith Davidsen and pick his brains about what it was like writing the series.Davidsen is known for his run on the cult-favorite comic book series ‘Poison Elves.’
ScienceFiction (SF): Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today. First off I have to ask – What drew you to work on Dr. Herbert West?
Keith Davidsen (KD): I’ve always been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft — or, I should say, the themes explored in his work. Looking at my own history of writing, one of my very first efforts at a short story, written in high school, involved a team of American explorers delving into the elaborate tunnel system of a civilization that seemingly predated the continent’s human population. This exploration inevitably lead to a confrontation with an inhuman monster and a gruesome death for all involved. That description alone is probably the summary of half the Lovecraft stories ever written!
Regarding my specific interest in ‘Reanimator,’ I suppose that developed thanks to continued exposure simply to the idea throughout my adolescence. I was always fascinated by horror concepts – whenever I’d go to the supermarket with my mother, I’d always ask permission to break off and roam the movie rental aisle. We never rented any films, but my imagination would be stoked at all the scary movie boxes on the shelves. The film ‘Re-Animator,’ starring Jeffrey Combs, was often on the shelves. There was something very appealing to the name itself; it had power and allure, much like the similar-sounding titles of ‘The Terminator’ or ‘Predator.’ References over the years to ‘Reanimator’ and other Lovecraft concepts (like the infamous Cthulhu Mythos) eventually lured me to the original Herbert West – Reanimator prose story, which serves as the basis for Dynamite Entertainment’s incarnation of the character.
SF: With Dynamite Entertainment having previously used Dr. Herbert West in ‘Army of Darkness vs. Reanimator’ and a one-shot of ‘Reanimator’ in 2005, will we be seeing the same West here from either of these or a different iteration of the character?
KD: There’s a character arc that Dynamite Entertainment created for Herbert West, first in his debut appearances written by James Kuhoric (the ‘Reanimator’ #0 one-shot and the ‘Army of Darkness Vs. Reanimator’ series), then in the event miniseries ‘Prophecy’ by Ron Marz, and most recently chronicled by Mark Rahner in the ‘Army of Darkness / Reanimator’ one-shot. When introduced into comics, West was clearly the science-obsessed medical student as originally depicted in Lovecraft’s writing, but was quickly drawn into the violent – and somewhat wacky – supernatural world of ‘Army of Darkness.’ Over the course of his several appearances, he evolved into an occult expert and quirky sidekick, of sorts, to the anti-hero Ash Williams. Mark Rahner’s one-shot, however, returned him to form after he was thrown through the time stream to the early 20th century, where his disposition grew much darker.
My contribution picks up from the more serious tone of Rahner’s tale, although any reader should be able to pick up the upcoming ‘Reanimator’ #1 without having to worry about previous continuity. Dr. Herbert West’s personality now more accurately reflects Lovecraft’s prototype. He’s a morally ambiguous character, fiercely dedicated to his personal goal of conquering the medical condition called “death” through purely scientific means. While he’s still adept in occult knowledge, he’s rejected those experiences completely, considering them a distraction from the true focus of his work.
SF: What can you tell us about the series without spoilers?
KD: The new ‘Reanimator’ series is really two interwoven stories. The first involves his need to acquire resources (bodies, equipment, chemicals, etc.), and the extremely dangerous way he does so: by supplying zombie brain fluid as a narcotic to a drug cartel — much to the chagrin of their powerful rivals. So Herbert West inevitably becomes the linchpin in a New Orleans power struggle, and – even though he has renounced supernatural power himself – it seems that both of the criminal organizations are aligned with sinister forces of the occult variety (i.e. Elder Gods and Louisiana Voodoo). So there’s some Science vs. Magic at play.
The second story revolves around Susan Green, West’s new assistant, who uncovers a terrible secret – one that threatens everything that she and West have been working towards. So there’s a lot going on in this series, as we build the mystery and its explosive payoff.
SF: With this take on the character also incorporating both the Cthulhu mythos and Louisiana voodoo will we see different forms of the undead compared and contrasted as they go up against one another?
KD: That’s one of the main reasons that the New Orleans setting appealed to me. I’ve long been fascinated by that city, its dual reputation as both a lively, colorful tourist destination and as sinister, mystical place. The Louisianan Voodoo culture, or more appropriately, our bastardized perception of that culture, has created the perfect sandbox for the Reanimator to play in. We’re going to see zombies of the pre-Romero variety… and West’s reaction to those shambling-yet-living killers should be pretty amusing for fans.
SF: You’re mixing a couple of Lovecraft’s mythos here. Will we see hints or references to any of his other work?
KD: A portion of Lovecraft’s tale, ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ is set in Louisiana, so it’s natural to have elements of that story mix with Herbert West’s new adventure. I don’t want to spoil it for readers, but there will be at least one established Cult of Cthulhu human character as a cast member, plus the Elder Gods will have their presence felt.
SF: West often strongly relies on his assistant. What can you tell us about his new one?
KD: Susan Greene is a young, wide-eyed pharmacologist, a likeable and ultimately good person who is wrestling with some inner demons. Having suffered a personal loss, she’s drawn to the Reanimator’s mad research because she’s looking for something to fill a void in her life – and with zombie experiments and the tension of a growing turf, she certainly has a lot to deal with.
I really wanted to introduce a strong female character into the Lovecraft world, and Susan fulfills the role preceded by the unnamed narrator of the original Herbert West, ‘Reanimator’ story: namely, an “every woman” character that can look upon his mad work with both fascination and terror.
Also, I’m a huge fan of the television series ‘Doctor Who,’ and see parallels between the West/Greene relationship and the prototypical Doctor/Companion partnership. In a perversion of the ‘Doctor Who’ premise (i.e. that the Companion’s role is to keep the Doctor morally sound), it seems that the Reanimator’s influence on the young Miss Greene may tempt her to his own amoral view of the world…
SF: You are working with Randy Valiente as the artist on this book. What strengths do you feel that he brings to the book?
KD: I love Randy Valiente’s work, mostly because we can immediately tell that he has a passion and flair for Lovecraftian storytelling in each panel, on every page. ‘Reanimator’ fans will revel in his interpretation of Herbert West, a character that visually gives off a creepy, unnerving quality… even when he’s at his most charming or sincere. Randy also has great attention to detail, and his character work is very expressive. I’m very fortunate that Dynamite placed such an exceptional talent onto this project!
SF: The upcoming series is set to be a 4 book mini-series, are there plans to further explore the Lovecraft universe down the line?
KD: While I’m not at liberty to give away too much regarding Dynamite’s horror plans, I can say that ‘Reanimator’ throws open more than a few doors to hellish worlds… and who could say what evils will crawl through, and where those diabolical fiends will show their faces (or many-faces, or lack-of-faces)? Considering that the ‘Reanimator’ has been established in the shared Dynamite universe (with previous crossovers involving characters from ‘Army of Darkness’, ‘Vampirella,’ ‘Dracula’, and more), the groundwork for future carnage is certainly there.
SF: What other projects do you have in the works that fans of Lovecraft and horror would be excited about?
KD: I’m planning to make appearances at several comic book and horror conventions this summer, and to coincide with those shows, I’ll be unveiling a few new projects to send chills down the spines of Lovecraft fans. For now, though, I’ll just leave it that the Reanimator’s not the only person with secrets. Would it be okay if I insert a maniacal laugh in here? Cool, thanks. Mwa-hahahahahahaha!