@’s by MERCILESS: THE RISE OF MING
Writer Scott Beatty!!!
MERCILESS: THE RISE OF MING premieres this April, and I got a chance to put writer Scott Beatty under my own thought transmitter and pick his brain about the upcoming series.
BOTTLEIMP (IMP): First off, let’s talk about your history with the characters. When and how did you first become familiar with Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless and their universe?
SCOTT BEATTY (SB): I'm dating myself, but I really can't recall which came first for me, the 1980 film with Max Von Sydow as Ming or THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLASH GORDON animated series from Filmation, which came out just prior to the movie. I think I saw FLASH GORDON (the film) on Betamax or Laserdisc after reading about it in STARLOG... when I was just learning to read, of course. :)
IMP: It seems to me (and correct me if I’m wrong) that the character of Ming the Merciless has always been depicted as just that: the merciless dictator of Mongo, existing solely as a foil to Flash Gordon’s heroism. Was there ever any hint of Ming’s life before his ascension to power given in the original Alex Raymond comics, or did you have a blank canvas on which to create Ming’s backstory?
SB: Oh, there are definitely hints about Ming's rise to power in the old strips. Alex Ross pointed me in the direction of one bit of classic dialogue that explains Ming's law for all male hairstyles (or lack thereof) on Mongo. Mostly, however, I'm extrapolating from established character bits and letting Ming's "origin" grow organically from that. ZEITGEIST is forging a new path for the character without losing the basic elements, so I'm striving hard to make this a revelatory story rather than a rehash of what you know... or think you know.
IMP: How do you see Ming’s character arc as he comes to power? Is this a case of someone evil from the get-go, or do you see him as more Darth Vader-like, choosing an evil paths because of the circumstances life hands him (not that young Ming would be as whiny or annoying as the prequels’ Anakin)?
SB: Let me be clear: Ming doesn't turn to the Dark Side. He's not a super-genius who goes bad because his best pal Superboy humiliated him or ruined his greatest invention. Ming is the original bad seed, and please forgive the gardening metaphors. Ming is THE VILLAIN. Ming is THE ANTAGONIST. He's not an anti-hero. He's not a character fallen from grace.
Ming emerged fully-formed. He is who he is. Did you ever see NO ESCAPE with Ray Liotta and Stuart Wilson? Wilson plays a villain who empties a bag containing the heads of his enemies and tells the assembled masses: "I really want to be in charge." Ming wants nothing less than dominion over Mongo (first)...and then everything else. And he has a plan. To understand Ming, one also has to explore the various ruling houses of Mongo. Second to Ming's untold history, MERCILESS is an exploration of Mongo and its diverse populations.
IMP: Though two-dimensional, mustache-twirling evil villains can sometimes come across as flat and cartoony rather than truly menacing, I’ve found that attempts to flesh out such characters can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the writer is giving the villain depth, dimension and motivation that explains why he commits those evil acts. One the other hand, by showing the reader these motivations the writer runs the risk of diluting the villain’s power by making him a more understandable—and sometimes even more sympathetic—character. How do you walk that fine line in showing how Ming became so merciless?
SB: I don't think the quest for power is in any way sympathetic. Ming doesn't want to be a leader. He wants to be a RULER. His motivations are all about Ming. Selfish. Narcissistic. He isn't a guy who was wronged in high school and now wants revenge on everyone. Ming sees what he wants and takes it, sometimes without you even knowing it. MERCILESS isn't just the story of Ming, it's very much the MYTH of Ming.
IMP: Will we be seeing younger incarnations of other characters as well, such as Prince Barin, Vultan or Klytus? SB: Anyone in Ming's current sphere of influence will be seen in some way. But there are quite a few other characters that are instrumental—“stepping stones," if you will—in Ming's rise.
IMP: Since it has been revealed in the FLASH GORDON: ZEITGEIST series that Ming has been in contact with the Earth (in order to manipulate none other than Adolf Hitler!), will our planet play any role in THE RISE OF MING, or will it be all-Mongo, all the time?
SB: I don't want to give too much away. There's a definite through-line from MERCILESS to ZEITGEIST. Alex, Eric, and I are working closely to create a shared universe of characters and settings. One hand washes the other, and elements introduced in MERCILESS are germane to the stellar stories Eric and Daniel Indro are telling in ZEITGEIST.
IMP: Let’s talk about the art for a moment. Who will be handling the visual aspect of the series?
SB: Alex Ross is contributing covers and character designs as well as creative input for the Flash Gordon universe. Alex really is the architect of everything in the universe. Ron Adrian is providing the interior art. I've seen layouts for the first issue already and they look amazing.
IMP: Will THE RISE OF MING take a visual cue from the more retro Alex Raymond-influenced costumes and settings, or will the series go a more flamboyant direction, such as the look of the Flash Gordon movie from the ‘80s? Or will it be something else entirely?
SB: Again, MERCILESS is tangential to what's currently happening in ZEITGEIST, so the basic look of Mongo and its citizens comes from the designs Alex has done there, which are heavily influenced by Alex Raymond. However, MERCILESS takes place over the course of several decades previous to the events in ZEITGEIST, so the book and characters have a definite "retro" feel to establish another place and time within the new Flash Gordon tapestry.
IMP: Nerd question time: if a Ming the Merciless movie were to be made today, who would you cast as your leads?
SB: I'd cast Max Von Sydow as Krang, Ming's father. No, wait. Daniel Day-Lewis.
For Ming...jeez, that's tough. Tom Hardy? Timothy Olyphant?
Robert Pattinson as Klytus. I mean it.
Rachel McAdams or Mila Kunis or Haylee Atwell for Auranae. Who else is gorgeous, curvy, a redhead, and dipped in gold?
Ian McShane as the voice of King Selak.
Charlize Theron as Queen Qroze.
It'll all make sense when you read the series. :)
IMP: And with that tantalizing tease, I’ll give a big thank you to Scott Beatty for taking the time to field this Flash fan’s questions. FLASH GORDON: ZEITGEIST is on the racks now—a great read for both newcomers and old-timers from Mongo—and be sure to look for MERCILESS: THE RISE OF MING #1 when it hits the stands this April from Dynamite Entertainment.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G