We talk to Prototype 2 lead writer Dan Jolley, about the comics, Mercer and punching helicopters

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Comics are a big business these days, and unlike other forms of traditional print media, one that is all too willing to explore the waters of digital publishing. One such publisher that is doing so, is Dark Horse Comics, who have begun releasing tie-in issues to Prototype 2, just in time for the upcoming April release of the gory sandbox game.

Fleshing out the events of what exactly motivated and transpired between the two games, the Prototype 2 comics are written by Dan Jolley, who also happens to be the lead writer of the game itself.

We recently asked him a few questions about the comics, and boy, did he have some interesting answers for us.

If there is one trend in comics today, it’s that they appear to be quite willing to adapt video games into that medium, which would possibly indicate that this might be a potentially massive market. We asked Jolley what he thought about this trend

Video games have been getting their fair share of published tie-ins recently, is it safe to say that this is the next big market for the comic book industry to explore?

I don’t know that it’s THE next big market, but it’s definitely a good direction for the comics industry to explore. And there definitely needs to be some exploration done, since the traditional, print, mainstream comics market has been dwindling steadily for a long time.

Something has to be done, and tapping into the video game market might be a part of the solution. Digital comics are definitely another part, one that I’m very happy to see a lot of comic publishers embracing.

I know there are some fans out there that really hate digital comic publishing, but seriously, why not offer stories and characters to a potential audience of millions or billions, as opposed to just an exclusive, dedicated core of two or three hundred thousand? It’s not as though publishing in digital alongside print has made The Flash run any slower.

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While Alex Mercer was essentially a gray canvas in the first prototype game, he wasn’t exactly a likeable character, and not much of a hero. What kind of effect did that have on his tale in the first issue, the Anchor?

It provided the entire basis for it. Mercer was definitely a polarizing character in the original PROTOTYPE – one part of the audience accepted him as a gritty, tough-as-nails badass and loved him for it, while another part thought he was an amoral creep who slaughtered thousands of innocent people without feeling the least bit bad about it.

What we wanted to do with this story was marry the two concepts, try to get into Mercer’s head a little bit, and see what his feelings and thought processes were as he tried to come to grips with who and what he’d become.

The story also answers, or at least partly answers, the question of why Mercer has shifted from protagonist in the first game to antagonist in the second.

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Mercer is essentially an unstoppable character with a diverse range of powers from the first game. How do you keep a character like that vulnerable and human, or does he abandon his humanity quite quickly in the series, in order to set up the new Status Quo in PROTOTYPE 2?

The level of Mercer’s power at the end of the original PROTOTYPE is another reason the decision was made to bring in a new protagonist for PROTOTYPE 2. I don’t think there was any realistic way to make Mercer the central character in a new game.

You’d either have to set him up against enemies so god-like that the story would end up being unrelatable, or you’d have to invent some reason for his power level to drop back down, which would feel like a cop-out.

The question of Mercer’s humanity is one that’s directly addressed in The Anchor. I don’t want to say much about the story details, but I think we dealt with that particular issue pretty head-on.

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The protagonist for PROTOTYPE 2, Sgt James Heller, is a character with an air of mystery around him. Can we expect to see more of his origins in the comics?

Definitely. I think one reason why not everyone who played the first PROTOTYPE felt connected to Alex Mercer is that they just plain didn’t get to know him; if you’re given virtually no details of someone’s personality or personal life, how can you decide whether you like or dislike them?

And, once you get into PROTOTYPE 2, you will get to know Heller, but we wanted to take the opportunity in the comics to give the reader even more information about this guy – who he is, what he wants, what he holds dearest.

Plus, when you see someone under intense pressure, their true character inevitably emerges, and we put Sgt. Heller under some pretty freaking intense pressure.

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The PROTOTYPE 2 comics are initially a digital release. Is this a better way to reach new readers where such titles would have been harder and more cost-prohibitive, to distribute before?

Well, as I touched on earlier, releasing them digitally makes them accessible to a far wider audience than if they had only shipped to brick-and-mortar comic stores. At this point I’m not sure dedicated fans of print comics and readers of digital comics have all that much overlap, demographically speaking, but one thing the comics industry has needed to do for decades is bring in new audiences and new readers, so I can’t see digital releases as anything but a good thing.

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Will the comic create an accessible jumping on point for newcomers to the franchise, or will some prior knowledge of the first game be needed?

Nah, you don’t have to know anything about the first game to jump into the comics. That was one of the goals, to bring everyone up to speed from the start, and I think we pulled it off pretty well.

In making a tie-in comic for a video game, how much freedom are you allowed to tell a story, or are there certain parameters that must be adhered to for the sake of the game?

Well, the whole process is incredibly collaborative. Writing comics is collaborative to begin with, but the degree of that collaboration increases dramatically when you move into writing video games.

In comics, there’s the creative team – writer, penciler, inker, colourist, letterer – and editorial, which typically involves an editor you work for directly and that editor’s boss or group of bosses.

When you’re writing for a video game, the list of people you’re working with gets huge. From the top down, there’s the publisher, which has an array of approval layers built in; then the development studio, which can go from studio head to department heads to level designers, programmers, artists, animators, sound designers, dialogue directors, you name it.

And down at the bottom of the chain there’s someone like yours truly. So yeah, there were things I had to avoid, and certain directions I had to follow when working on the PROTOTYPE 2 comics, but that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re writing for games: everyone has a say, and you take all of it into account and move forward.

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How do the events of the latest PROTOTYPE comic tie in to the actual game itself, and will we see any ramifications from the series reflected in the game itself?

It’s a fine line to walk: you want the comics to matter, but you don’t want to make them something you have to read in order to understand the game. I know I’d be pretty pissed off if I bought a game that turned out to be complete only after I went and bought some comic books to go along with it.

So what we set out to do, and I think accomplished, was to make the comics an enhancement on the game experience. If you read the comics, some of the things in the game will have greater resonance, and maybe have a greater impact; we also have cameos from several game characters in the comics, so they’re like little previews or maybe Easter eggs.

Ultimately, if you want to get the utmost PROTOTYPE 2 experience, yes, you should read the comics. But the game stands on its own without them.

What did your three artists, Paco Diaz, Chriss Stags and Victor Drujiniu bring to their issues stylistically, and was it a challenge to write stories for the three of them, keeping in mind their differing visual abilities on the medium?

We had a selection process where we all went over a ton of samples from different artists, and we all voted. Paco and Chris and Victor were at the top of the heap from the beginning, and I couldn’t be happier with the work they’ve done.

All three of them are consummate professionals, and they really took my scripts and ran with them, so no, there was no challenge at all. I just sat back and watched the beautiful art roll in. I’d be honoured to work with any of them again in the future.

And lastly, but maybe not least, can we expect Mercer or Heller to pull off a certain signature move, that involves putting a foot or well timed punch to a military helicopter?

DJ: Yes. Often. And with great gusto.      

Want to follow the rest of the story? The first Prototype 2 issues are out right now on Dark Horse Digital Comics. And it’s only just over R7 an issue. That’s a steal at that price!

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Author:Darryn Bonthuys

Because he's the writer that Lazygamer deserves, but not the one it actually needs right now. So we'll hunt him. Because he can't take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a loud-mouthed journalist, a watchful procrastinator. A dork knight.

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