You know how the theme song goes: "Gotta get back, back to the past. Samurai Jack." But what if getting back to the past wasn't the problem? What if Jack wasn't even in the right dimension anymore?
That’s the premise of the new comic book series Samurai Jack: Quantum Jack, a new series from IDW Publishing and the creative team of Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell. The writer and artist behind Helena Crash have come together again, this time to send the foolish samurai warrior across dimensions. Throughout the journey, he inhabits various alternate versions of himself, beginning with the leader of a notorious biker gang in the first issue. It's a wild, imaginative ride that's perfectly in the spirit of the legendary cartoon while adding something wonderfully new to the concept.
Rangel and Johnson-Cadwell spoke to SYFY WIRE about the series ahead of the first issue's release this Wednesday and discussed what makes Jack who he is, Genndy Tartakovsky's artistic influence, their favorite Samurai Jack episodes, and more. So check out the interview below, along with Johnson-Cadwell's incredible variants for the first three issues.
Tell me how this project came about. IDW has done Samurai Jackcomics in the past, but not like this. Did they come to you with the idea?
Fabian Rangel, Jr.: They asked if [Warwick and I] wanted to pitch for it. Being a huge fan of the show, it was a no-brainer to go for it. It's funny, because Samurai Jack was the biggest influence on Helena Crash, so it was really crazy to find ourselves in that position. The direction they gave us was that it had to be different from the comics that came before, and that it had to feel like its own thing separate from the show. They made a couple of suggestions about Jack playing different roles, like jobs, and so I came up with this kind of multiverse/Quantum Leap angle that would allow both of those things to be accomplished, while also giving Warwick and I a chance to just go wild. Luckily, the powers that be went for it.
Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: They came to us wanting something that would be different and new. There were a few suggestions but Fabian realized we could try all of them instead. So we did.
The first issue opens with a Samurai Jackstaple, with the serenity of nature being shattered by machines and violence. Was it important to you to open with something familiar, since the setting and Jack are not what readers are used to?
FRJr.: For sure! I've always loved those quiet openings, in Samurai Jack and the Clone Wars series that [Samurai Jack creator] Genndy Tartakovsky did. It reminds me of a song, the dynamic of a soft and quiet moment giving way to a loud chorus. The serenity makes the chaos that much more exciting.
What can you tell us about the villains of the story? I assume we'll see some form of Aku?
FRJr: Even though Jack finds himself hurling through different realities, the evil of Aku is ever present. There isn't a reality where his evil has not taken over. So, just like in the show, the villains of the comic will be various characters of ill intent. From warlords, to crooked businessmen, to mindless monsters of destruction, to slave drivers, to politicians, Jack is up against beings who exist to enslave and make the innocent suffer. As far as Aku, he's one of the best villains ever, so it would have been insane of me not to write him in there. Though I did want to build up to his appearance, that way when he does show up, it's like a bomb going off.
Might we see alternate universe versions of other characters from the show pop up? If so, I want you to know that I don’t think I can handle a version of the Scotsman without bagpipes and a kilt.
FRJr: For sure. Just wait, it'll be a blast. The series will be different, but feel familiar. And I know that sounds like it's not possible, but I think we pulled it off.
Warwick, with his various cartoons, Genndy Tartakovsky left a pretty big impression on a whole generation of artists. How much of an influence on your art was he? And are there any aspects of his style that you’re looking forward to emulating or putting your spin on for this series?
WJC: There are a few artists who have left an indelible impression me and my work and Genndy Tartakovsky is one of those. Seeing the work he did was the sort of work I’d aspire to produce and the sort of work that excited me and made me want to create something of my own. I didn’t want to try to emulate the look of the Adult Swim series (I wouldn’t be able to) but I wanted to show […] their influence had encouraged me to draw.
Tell me a bit about your process for designing the alternate Jacks. How did you balance making him recognizable, but still distinctly different?
WJC: Because of the way Fabian had designed the stories in this series I get to draw the Original Jack and fantastic fun it is. But again because of the way the series plays out I get to try him in a variety of guises, which is amazing. I was happily kept on track by the great team at IDW so we tweaked a few elements here, making sure under beards, masks and helmets that true Jack could shine through.
In this series, Jack is displaced across dimensions rather than time, inhabiting alternate universe versions of himself. What makes Jack who he is when he isn't a samurai?
FRJr: His spirit is still that of a samurai no matter what happens. He's honorable, tenacious, clever, and, above all else, good. Jack will always do the right thing, he will always protect the innocent, and he will always kick a whole lot of ass if need be.
WJC: As Fabian says, he is true to his nature. He is good at heart, where he may not have the Samurai Code to guide his way he still has the heart in that right place.
What is your favorite episode of Samurai Jack? Did that episode influence your approach to this series in any way?
FRJr: Man, I should really take some time to try and figure that out. It's really hard to pinpoint one in particular, but the one where he gets turned into a chicken springs to mind. Action, humor, it's all there. And yes, that episode would be a good example of what we're doing. I mean, there are a handful of episodes where Jack isn't the normal version of himself, but with this series, we're taking that scenario further, showing what his life would be like if certain paths had been taken.
I'll also say that the last season contained what I'd call master classes in storytelling. It aired after we came up with these story ideas, and I would love to do more so we could incorporate certain elements.
WJC: I think I have a different favorite episode every day. There is such a wealth of inspiration to get from the series but it’s the spirit of the show that influenced me the most.
Samurai Jack: Quantum Jack #1 is on sale September 20 from IDW Publishing. All art by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell.