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AICN COMICS/HORROR Book Q&@: Mike Baron is interrogated by Masked Man on his new book SKORPIO! Plus a review from BottleImp!

@@@ What the &#$% is AICN COMICS Q&@? @@@

Q’s by Masked Man!

@’s by SKORPIO Writer Mike Baron!!!

Masked Man here. Mike Baron is one of those comic book writers who really defined the 1980's era. As the medium was finally being allowed to grow-up and take on more mature concepts and characters, his work was starting to make a splash. He has written original comics like NEXUS (co-created with Steve Rude) and BADGER and has worked on characters like the FLASH, PUNISHER and even STAR WARS. MIKE also holds two Eisner's for his work on NEXUS. Recently Mike has gotten around to his first love, novels. So we decided to catch up with him and talk about his latest novel SKORPIO.

MASKED MAN (MM): First off, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

MIKE BARON (MB): Sure.

MM: Now I'll go out on a limb here and you are probably best known for your work on NEXUS?

MB: Yeah.

MM: You and Steve Rude have been working off and on NEXUS for like 30 years now. How have you managed to keep such a good working relationship with Steve?

MB: Initially I drew every page out by hand in my crude art—complete with all dialogue and descriptions. Dude and I would go over each page and he would make thumbnails in the margins. Since we moved apart I work full script. We'll take a break from it all and at some point I'll just call him up and say it's time to pick it up again. Like we are now with the new series in DARK HORSE PRESENTS. There are about four more issues to go in that story.

MM: Then that's all for a while?

MB: Yeah. But I assume we'll work together on NEXUS again.

MM: We all hope so. Now, taking this all back a step- when did you first think, I can be a writer? What got you headed in that direction?

MB: When I was about 10 or 11, growing up in Mitchell, SD. I remember going into the local smoke shop, which is where they sold paperbacks on a spinner, grabbing a John D. MacDonald novel and going outside. I saw MacDonald’s picture on the cover and I realized he was getting paid for this and I thought hey that's what I want do.

MM: And when did you start? Did you take classes or anything?

MB: I started writing in High School, for the school newspaper and then through College. My friend Mark Knopf ran an “alternative weekly” called TAKEOVER. And he had all these records. I asked him where he got them, and he said record companies just gave them to him- and that I could have some as long as I wrote something about them. Well I wanted those records. So I just started doing it and I've been doing it ever since.

MM: So what do your prefer, writing about music or fiction?

MB: Fiction. I was a big novel reader, it's something I always wanted to do.

MM: And comics?

MB: Oh yeah, I was an avid consumer, I used to read lots of comics. Back then it was easy to keep up with it all. You could buy all the main, important ones and not sell the house.

MM: Unlike today with so many versions of X-Men, Avengers. Back then there was only one X-Men book.

MB: Yeah.

MM: Now, like any comic book writer, you've worked on many different characters. One of particular note is the FLASH- and not just the Flash, but you established Wally West as the Flash for DC after the big- first reboot from CRISIS ON THE INFINITE EARTHS.

MB: Well I only wrote 13 issues.

MM: Yes, but it's often those first issues that really set the tone and direction for a characters, especially during a reboot. How did that come about and what was the goal of the new series?

MB: Mike Gold called me up and said he wanted a fresh take on the Flash. So I got to thinking about the character's super powers, super speed, and got to thinking that he must consume a lot of energy to do what he does. So I felt he must consume a lot of food to keep it up. Then I added the devil-may-care attitude because I felt it all fit.

MM: All of which is pretty much still use today- since you say you only wrote 13 issues. To a degree, Wally West is the character he is today because of your work.

MB: Well, thank you.

MM: Even in the return of Barry Allen, they've pretty much kept the fact that he must eat a lot. Speaking of which, have you kept up with DC's New 52 big reboot?

MB: No, I'm sure there's a lot of great talent and a lot of great stories there, but I can't keep up with everything. I'm just one unit and I read mostly books now.

MM: Which conventional wisdom would say is better for you.

MB: No I wouldn't say that, I still love comics.

MM: Another one of your big runs, if not the biggest was on the PUNISHER. Which let's face it, you pretty much made him who he is. Yours was the first real series of him.

MB: Well Steven Grant and Mike Zeck had the first series, I just ran with what they did.

MM: Well theirs was just a mini-series, testing the water if you will. You ran the actual series for many years. What did you enjoy the most about working with Frank Castle for so long?

MB: The Punisher is such a pure character, unencumbered by the superhero universe. I wrote him as a crime story, with all the firepower and explosions. Like later in movies from the 80's. Still grounded in reality though. Just a gritty character that plays to my love of dark Darwinism. I saw him as a failed Catholic, dealing with a lot of Catholic guilt.

MM: Does that come from a personal angle?

MB: No, I'm not Catholic- but Castle is an Americanzation of Castiglione. Frank comes from Italian family, possibly Sicilian. The Vatican used to run Italy. So- it was never really brought up, but that was my take on the character. Though I did have him go to confession in one issue.

MM: One of the things I feel made your Punisher work so well, is your talent for writing superheroes with an evil twist, if you will. They are not the typical straight hero- and I'm also referring to your own creations NEXUS and BADGER.

MB: They all have problems. It’s their flaws that make them interesting. I often base characters off of people I know, but then give them surprises- something that gets them off the couch. Something that will surprise the readers as well. Something that keeps the stories moving. Story dynamics. The dynamics are those elements that keep the reader wanting more. The dynamics are the green light, the sudden quickening of the tempo, the appearance of a gun.

MM: With that view, how is it that you never wrote a Batman story?

MB: I did write an annual years back, along with a two-parter in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT that Bill Reinhold illustrated. It was about a crazy architect.

MM: Well that's not enough if you ask me, it's unfathomable that DC hasn't asked you for more.

MB: You're too kind. But Batman doesn't need me, he has a lot of good talent working on him.

MM: With all projects you worked on, not counting current ones, which are the ones you look back most fondly on?

MB: Working on my own characters, like NEXUS and BADGER.

MM: Nothing beats working for yourself?

MB: Yeah, I can be more creative. I can do the story I want without editorial restrictions.

MM: As they used to say, “But Batman wouldn't do that!”

MB: Yeah.

MM: Now getting more current, you've moved into novel writing. Was this because you were sick and tired of dealing with artist?

MB: No. I've often said if I could just get away from those annoying artists- I'm joking. No, as I said it's something I always wanted to do for 30 years, but I just had no clue how to do it. So I worked on it and worked on it and then one day I woke up and found I had the power and I was like this is hot shit. I'm just so excited by it, I wake up every morning excited to get to work. I've done four so far, and am currently working on a new one.

MM: So your books are BIKER, HELMET HEAD, WHACK JOB and your newest SKORPIO. As someone who wrote serials for so long are these connected in anyway.

MB: No. Two are Horror Fiction. Josh Pratt, the biker detective from BIKER is my recurring character.

MM: Actually I kind of see them all as supernatural thrills- not just straight horror. Did you always want to work in that genre?

MB: Yes, I've been a big fan of horror writers, like Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon. You know books like the SHINING. King writes with a very close point of view which is the way to go. You hear what they hear, see what they see. Make it visceral and that’s how you scare the shit out of people. That's what I like. I’ve read the classics, Poe, Lovecraft et al and I love that Victorian vibe but for what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to make it fresh. I’m trying to create new monsters not dependent on the vampire/werewolf/zombie universe.

MM: Right, though I feel SKORPIO, was more of a thriller- a supernatural thriller, than a straight up horror story or creature feature.

MB: Well I don't mean visceral like chopping up a cheerleader or torture porn. But you need to get know (the main character) Vaughan Beadles ('Bee-dels') before you can appreciate what happens to him. That’s what I mean by the close point of view. You’ve got to travel with Vaughan every step of the way to appreciate the depths of his fall and his redemption.

MM: Tell us about Vaughan, as he seems to get in over his head in SKORPIO.

MB: Vaughan Beadles is a successful scholar, he's had a few specials on the Discovery Channel. His main claim to fame is his thesis about a lost Amerincian tribe known as the Azuma who lived on the Arizona Plateau. Vaughan is the recipient of a collection of lost Indian artifacts that may have belonged to the Azuma. The rancher who gives the university this collection has known about them all his life. His family kept them secret for fear of having their remote valley overrun. Now he gives them to the university, partly because his granddaughter is there.

Vaughan breaks protocol by allowing a student to see the collection. A scorpion crawls out of a pot and stings him. At first it looks like the student’s going to be okay. The dept. head hates Vaughan because he overheard Vaughan doing an impression of him. After the annual faculty party, police roust Vaughan from bed accusing him of stealing from the collection. They find stolen artifacts in his basement. He’s just about to get out on bail when the police arrest him again for manslaughter, for the death of his student.

MM: So it's not like Vaughan gets in over his head; it's more like he's a man of desperation, trying to get his life back.

MB: Yes, but Vaughan isn't just a victim. I like characters with flaws, so Vaughan causes some of his own problems. He’s not the nicest guy in the world. Everything came easy to him. They find porn on his university compute. He mocked the department head.

MM: I see. What about Summer. She has some serious grief of her own (being chased by a pyscho boyfriend). What made you bring these two characters together? Was it just misery loves company?

MB: I think a romance is part of any good story. Assuming it's not just a guy story, like the DIRTY DOZEN. They’re star crossed lovers. Each of them is a flawed character and it's by being with each other that they can redeem each other.

MM: I see, and what about the Azuma and the mythology of SKORPIO, is it based on anything?

MB: The original idea comes from a dream I had as a kid. My family had visited Mesa Verde National Park. I was alone in a cliff dwelling and I could feel the age oozing out of the cave walls, sucking the life out of me. I wanted to do story with a ghost that only appeared under the blazing sun.

MM: That's an interesting concept to me. In such harsh conditions, I can see someone being vulnerable to the supernatural. The opposite and also kind of the same as the dark of night.

MB: In the desert you can see for miles, there's no place to hide, you are vulnerable. The horizon shimmers with heat distortion so you’re not sure at what you’re looking. Heat, dehydration can lead to hallucinations.

MM: Yeah, I like that angle. So now, putting SKORPIO together, what did you find the most enjoyable?

MB: I get satisfaction from good dynamics. Like how different pieces of the story click together. It should just keep moving the reader forward. Green light! Green light! I wanted to come up with an original monster concept.

MM: Yeah, it seems like there has been no new type of monster since the 1800's.

MB: Right, it's all just zombies and vampires. I would like to declare a ten year moratorium on vampires.

MM: Amen. Without trying to give anything away- will we be seeing this monster again then?

MB: No. This is a self-contained story.

MM: Ok, dreaming big, when Disney buys the rights to SKORPIO, because it's not going to the Syfy Channel...

MB: Ha, I hope so. You know a I wrote a Syfy movie - Barffalo. It's about a bulimic buffalo that terrorizes settlers in 1880s Nebraska.

MM: Wait- you messing with me?

MB: Yes.

MM: Ah (laugh)… Well, who do you see playing Vaughan and Summer?

MB: Bradly Cooper and Jordana Brewster, the actress from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS.

MM: That sounds good. Is there anything else you'd like people to know about SKORPIO?

MB: It will make your head explode.

MM: Wait wouldn't that kill future sales.

MB: Ok, it will blow your mind.

MM: Now before I let you go, what have you got planned for the future?

MB: I'm working on my 5th novel now, it's a haunted house horror story to end all haunted house stories. First Comics will publish a new BADGER next year.

MM: Wait, First Comics is coming back?

(The Masked Man admits to not hearing about First Comics announcement at 2012's Comic Con)


MB: Yup, they are flying a little under the radar now, but I assume they will kick it into high gear soon. I also have another project with them about a werewolf detective, though that's kind of all I can say.

MM: Well very cool, I look forward to seeing those. And for my final question- what ever happened to GINGER FOX.

MB: Funny that you mention that, because a friend of mine bought it up a year ago. And I actually wrote another script. I talked with Mitch O'Connell, and he was interested in doing it. So we reached out to Comico, but unfortunately they needed a kickstarter campaign to move forward with it, but for a variety of reasons I wasn't interested in doing that.

MM: Wow that's crazy. Well I wish you growing success with the novels and again thank you for spending some time with us.

MB: You're welcome.

MM: To keep more up to date with Mike Baron and learn more about him, be sure to check out his blog here. And his novel SKORPIO, published by WordFire Press, can be found in digital or paperback on Barnes and Noble or Amazon- along with his other novels and comic book work.

Learn more about the Masked Man and feel free check out his comic book GOLD STAR, CINDY LI: THREE OF A KIND and CAPAIN ROCKET at www.Toonocity.com


SKORPIO novel (2013)

Written by Mike Baron
Published by WordFire Press
Reviewed by BottleImp


The human tendency to categorize—to put labels and names to things—can be a negative when it comes to literature. Books and stories tend to be viewed with preconceived judgments based upon their categorization. Sometimes a book may be labeled as “horror” but contains elements of “science fiction,” or a “crime thriller” could instead be a thinly veiled “psychological drama.” Having said that, however, I do believe that it is necessary for the author of the book to be confidant about the direction his or her work takes… which brings me to Mike Baron’s SKORPIO. Though ostensibly a horror novel, SKORPIO is equal parts murder mystery, crime suspense novel, psychological thriller and supernatural horror. Unfortunately, the whole of the book never quite gels as a unified sum of its parts.

Anthropology professor Vaughan Beadles lives a life of personal and professional success—a beautiful wife, a well-respected position at Creighton University, and critical and popular renown for his work in bringing to light a previously unknown Southwest Native American tribe called the Azuma. Then, almost at the flip of a switch, Beadles’ life is turned upside-down. A student that Beadles allows (against University regulations) to handle the Azuma artifacts is stung by a scorpion and dies. Beadles is accused of criminal negligence, and soon after is accused of theft as priceless artifacts from the collection are found in his home. His wife leaves him, taking their son with her. Beadles is fired from his post at the school, his resources dwindling as legal fees mount. He becomes obsessed with the one thing that he believes can save him: finding definitive proof of the location of the lost Azuma tribe. The trouble is that Beadles’ quest soon brings unwanted attention… not to mention the threat of awakening the curse of Skorpio.

All the elements are there for what could have been a classic supernatural thriller, if Baron had chosen to focus on the idea of the cursed lost Indian tribe. Instead, the majority of the story is taken up by matters less ghostly. Beadles’ search for the Azuma winds up attracting threats of a more material—though no less dangerous—nature. The first three-quarters of the book are filled with petty criminals, uncouth cyber hackers and Tarantino-style violence. It’s only the last few chapters which reveal the curse of Skorpio in all its horror. If this disparity of dangers had been more elegantly combined, I don’t think that I would have found the real world/supernatural split so jarring, but Baron’s attention to the “crime thriller” aspect of the story is so prevalent for so much of the book that when Skorpio finally does appear, it seems almost like Beadles has stumbled into the plot of a different story altogether.

I also had a hard time rooting for the book’s protagonist. Vaughan Beadles, to put it bluntly, is a bit of a shit. He’s a womanizer. He’s arrogant. He winds up stealing cash from a one-night stand he has while on the road, justifying his theft in his mind by basically saying, “She can afford it.” At first I found his personality intriguing; the fact that I was rooting for an unlikable “hero” to redeem himself and expose the ones who framed him for theft was an unusual situation that had some novelty to it. As the story progressed and Beadles remained just as unappealing, however, I grew tired of finding myself supposedly in support of this character that I’d begun to rather see lose than win.

The sad part about this is that SKORPIO has some extremely effective moments of horror. The climax in the desert is both nightmarish and surreal, and Baron’s idea of a ghost that only appears at the brightest part of the day is an interesting and welcome change from the old cliché of ghostly hauntings in the middle of darkest night. Baron also uses his arachnid assassins, the scorpions, as effectively as the classic horror writers used rats and spiders in both establishing atmosphere and giving the reader a jolt of the good ol’ gross-out factor.

In the end, I found SKORPIO just took to long to get where it was going with its plot. The supernatural horror elements, which were the strongest and best-written parts of the novel, were dulled by the overlong preamble of all-too-familiar violence and Dan Brown-style puzzle-plotting. Those looking for a disposable, pulpy potboiler of a book to distract them for a short while might enjoy SKORPIO. But if you’re looking for more straight-up supernatural horror rather than a Whitman’s Sampler of genres, this one won’t be for you.

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.


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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