If Jessica Jones and Lois Lane had a Latinx adopted daughter, she would grow up to be Lara Dominguez, the main character of The Black Ghost. Sans powers, Lara is an investigative reporter on a cop beat by day and a not-so-secret masked vigilante by night. The series is a ComiXology Original co-written by Alex Segura (Archie and Friends) and Monica Gallagher (Assassin's Roommate) and drawn by George Kambadais (Firefly: Outlaw Ma Reynolds, Miranda Turner). At its core, The Black Ghost is about a hero with issues — but Segura and Gallagher’s writing is so relatable that you can’t help but root for her.
Segura is a fan of noir (Double Indemnity and Dressed to Kill are among his faves), and Gallagher loves fun female characters who fight (think Daughters of the Dragon). Their blended proclivities are evident on every page of The Black Ghost. The pair first collaborated on the iHeart Radio scripted podcast series Lethal Lit: A Tig Torres Mystery, about a teen who returns to New York to help exonerate her aunt, who has been accused of being a serial killer with a penchant for literary classics. Lara and her awkward heroism in The Black Ghost were born from that partnership. As Lara tries to solve her brother’s murder and root out the corruption in “The Dregs” of Creighton City, she realizes that she can no longer sit on the sidelines. She goes from reporting the news to donning a mask and becoming the crime-fighting story.
Lara has a moral code and a strong sense of integrity that we’re used to seeing in characters like Superman, but we rarely see that same sentiment fleshed out in female characters. Her vulnerability (she’s a depressed alcoholic), her gullibility (she’s continuously lured into danger), and her absent-mindedness (she forgets her keys, her mask, and even her codename) make her one of the most relatable superheroes in indie comics we’ve seen in a while. Lara is a tenacious accidental superhero with a wicked left hook, and The Black Ghost graphic novel serves as her origin story, and hopefully the foundation of a world that we see more of in the future.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Segura and Gallagher about the collaboration process, why we really need relatable superheroes, and the importance of Latin representation in comics.
How was The Black Ghost born from your Lethal Lit collaboration?
Monica Gallagher: I enjoyed working with Alex so much, we figured why not keep the party going!
Alex Segura: [On that project] we really learned how to collaborate and brainstorm together, and soon realized we not only had a similar story sensibility and work ethic — but were additive, in that we each brought things to the table that the other didn’t really consider.
Co-writing can be challenging; what was your process like?
Segura: One of us would dive in first, lay out the framework, then tag out and let the other come in and push the boulder up the hill a bit further. Then we’d each take turns reading it over and marking it up. The thing I love about working with Monica is that there’s no ego — we can each slice into the other’s work and know that there won’t be any hurt feelings and it’s all for the betterment of the project.
Gallagher: We go back and forth a lot. We’re discussing everything going on with the plot and the characters the whole way through. It’s a really lovely change to just working on stuff by yourself! Not that that stops me from talking to myself.
When writing noir, what do you flesh out first? The murder, the victim, or the hero?
Segura: Good story always comes from character, so that’s what I look at first — who are these people, what do they want/need/fear? The idea of noir is you put a person into an untenable situation and see how they react. Will they be heroic? Will they make bad decisions? What happens when things get worse? I’m a firm believer that character leads to plot, and while I do tend to outline — and I think it’s important to know the ending of your story when you start — I don’t think you need to have every detail mapped out. You need to leave little corners to explore along the way, otherwise you get bored.
Did you pattern Lara after anyone in particular?
Gallagher: She’s a combination of a bunch of influences of Alex’s and mine, for sure. For my part, Jessica Jones was a big one, along with Misty Knight and, oddly, Anna Lucia from Lost. Lara doesn’t have superpowers, and she has a buttload of her own personal demons. But she also has an extremely strong sense of responsibility and a drive to action that comes from within, even when things are completely falling apart.
She is also very realistic. Was that important?
Segura: Yes, Monica and I, along with series artist George Kambadais, didn’t want this to feel like a [story where] the protagonist has problems, but the second they put on the costume it’s all good. We wanted to explore the idea of what it’d be like for a real vigilante to survive in a real city — and you see a lot of that in the story. She has trouble keeping her identity secret. She gets messed up a lot. Not every investigation is smooth and direct.
Gallagher: I love exploring the messy! Characters who grow and change but they earn it along the way. I think sometimes we forget life is change and we want our characters to stay put and predictable. It’s fun getting to remind people not just that characters are flawed, but that they encompass just as many issues as we all do.
Monica, in Assassin Roommate you are both the writer and illustrator; was it fun letting George Kambadais take over the art in Black Ghost?
Gallagher: So fun! (Poor George!) He’s amazing, and his style took The Black Ghost to a whole other level — definitely inspiring Alex and me to keep up with him along the way. I do think it benefits me a little as an artist, because I understand the amount of work that goes into every comic page. And I know better than to be a jerk and put crowd scenes into the script!
As a journalist, Lara is a hero with a keyboard. Is that something that you inspire to be as well?
Segura: I have a background in journalism and find investigative journalists to be the closest thing we have to a street-level superhero. Where, instead of punching the bad guys, you shed light on the wrongs, and so it made sense for Lara to already have that embedded sense of justice and ability to piece things together. And there’s a moment that I’m particularly proud of in the first season where she realizes that, yeah, great, she can keep writing about these crimes — but at a certain point, someone needs to do something ... and then she puts on the mask. It might be one of my favorite moments in the entire run so far.
If Lara and Tig Torres met at a bar, what would they talk about?
Gallagher: Tig’s still a teen, so she’d probably only be at a bar to question someone ... I think Lara would respect her gumption (probably be a little like “s*** I didn’t have my stuff together when I was her age!” to herself) and help her find her mark.
Segura: Well, Lara might ask Tig where she got a fake ID to get into the bar! But I think they’d get along — they’d compare notes as reporters, maybe talk shop. I think Tig would be impressed by Lara’s resume and maybe suss out her true identity. They’d probably talk about Taylor Swift, too.
Alex, you regularly write Latinx characters into your work. What do you think of the recent push in the industry for more diverse characters? Is it genuine?
Segura: It has to be. If diversity is treated as a fad, we all lose. I think it’s important to show people an array of characters that represent the wider world we live in. As a Cuban-American, I wanted to see a character like me.
I wanted Lara to reflect that, too. I never had that as a kid, I never saw people like me in comics or prose, at least not to any meaningful degree — so the hope is that by writing more diverse characters honestly and thoughtfully, you’ll show readers that they do exist — and there can be stories about them. We wanted to have a strong, smart, vibrant Latinx character and not be preachy about it. She just happens to be from Miami and speak Spanish sometimes. The big win is showing a diverse character as a normal, expected part of the narrative, instead of something other or novel.
What are you working on next?
Segura: I finished a Star Wars novel, Poe Dameron: Free Fall, coming out next month from Disney, and I’ve got some comic book stuff happening — plus my next prose novel, Secret Identity, which is coming from Flatiron Books.
Gallagher: I’ve got a few projects in the works, but nothing I can announce. Let’s just say they could or could not involve fairy tale monsters, sea creatures, bumbling teens, musicians, witches, and/or spaceships. No, I’m just kidding — I’m total crap at drawing spaceships!