Last month I posted the trailer to THE LOSERS movie. Coming April 23rd to theatres. Today, I'm posting the very illuminating intro to the recently published THE LOSERS Vol. 1 and 2 by none other than writer Andy Diggle.
Check it out:
SHOOT TO KILL.
PLAY TO WIN.
NOTHING TO LOSE.
“Have you ever heard of THE LOSERS?”
I’ll be honest — I hadn’t. This was back in 2002, and I was still the new kid on the block at Vertigo. Editor Will Dennis had offered me my first job in U.S. comics, scripting a four-issue LADY CONSTANTINE mini-series that spun out of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, and now I was trying to figure out what to pitch next.
I wanted to write a crime caper, something with a bit of snap and crackle, but I didn’t yet have enough professional weight to swing a creator-owned book at Vertigo. Instead, I figured I could dust off some old forgotten DC Comics character and revamp him for the 21st century, as Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso had done so masterfully with JONNY DOUBLE. The question was, which character?
I ransacked my comic collection and scoured the online encyclopedias, but I was coming up blank — until Will Dennis rang me up one evening and asked, “Have you ever heard of THE LOSERS?” I confessed that I hadn’t — but it was one hell of a title. I knew right there and then that I could do something with a title like that.
So I started researching it. Turned out the original Losers were a rag-tag platoon of hard-luck heroes, created by writer Robert Kanigher in the pages of various DC World War II comics of the 1960s and ’70s. And as a kid who pretty much learned to read with British war comics like Battle, Warlord and Commando Picture Library, I loved the idea of revamping the title.
There was just one problem: the Losers were dead.
According to DC Comics continuity, they were killed during the closing stages of the war while taking down a German missile site. I could have written a flashback story set before their deaths, but where’s the drama in that? And that’s when it hit me — what if they didn’t really die? What if they were just missing in action, presumed K.I.A. — but the bodies were never found? And what if this rag-tag platoon of disgruntled ex-servicemen got back together in the ’50s for one last mission...?
Almost immediately, the rough outline of a snappy, high-concept crime caper downloaded itself straight into my skull, full of missing Nazi gold and German rocket scientists at Los Alamos and guys in sharkskin suits calling each other “Daddio.” It was perfect.
I never even pitched it.
You see, Vertigo already had those bases covered with Garth Ennis’ excellent WAR STORIES and Howard Chaykin and David Tischman’s AMERICAN CENTURY, a ’50s-era crime series. It seemed there was no place at Vertigo for the original Losers...
So I just took the title and tossed the rest.
To this day, I’ve still never read a single issue of the original LOSERS. I just took DC’s trademarked title and ran with it, cooking up something completely new for them. New characters, new premise, new story. The one thing that did survive from my own ’50s-era concept was the idea of disgruntled ex-servicemen, listed as K.I.A., re-teaming after the war to pull a heist.
And in the interests of full disclosure, I did include two tips of the hat to Robert Kanigher’s team. We both had characters called “Clay.” Maybe my Frank Clay is the grandson of Sarge Clay; or maybe it’s just a coincidence. And while the original Losers had a dog called Pooch, that became the call-sign of Linwood Porteous, my team’s transport specialist.
So I pitched Vertigo my new, contemporary version of THE LOSERS, a four-issue military heist caper that owed more to Three Kings and The Way of the Gun than it did to the blazing combat comics of old. And Vertigo liked it — enough that they asked me to re-tool it into an ongoing series.
Now this was one of those good problems; but it was a problem nonetheless. The thing about a heist caper is that it’s finite. They plan the job; they pull the job; it either works or it doesn’t, and that’s that. How do you keep a story like that going indefinitely?
What I needed was an ongoing series of capers. What I needed was something to tie them all together.
What I needed was a bad guy.
Remember this was back in 2002, when America was still raw from 9/11 and George W. Bush was at the height of his popularity — on his home turf, at least. The Neo-Cons were holding the reins of power, and they were already using the worst terrorist atrocity in American history as an excuse to further their openly-stated agenda — namely, regime change in Iraq. The message coming out of Washington was, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” It was called “unpatriotic” to question the actions of those in power, even as they tore up the Constitution that safeguarded the very freedoms they were sworn to protect.
I’ve never liked being told what to do, or what to think, and that’s just one of the many, many reasons I would have made a lousy soldier; but I have enormous respect for the men and women of the military. What must it have been like for them, being told to give their lives for a lie?
That’s where I found the theme for my new version of THE LOSERS:
Sometimes, being a patriot means refusing to follow orders.
And that’s how I came up with Max, the ultimate Neo-Conservative power player; Rumsfeld meets Blofeld. He’s the guy who tried to have the Losers rubbed out, when all they were doing was fighting for their country and trying to save innocent lives. In my “ongoing series of capers,” the Losers would be fighting to clear their names from Max’s secret C.I.A. death list. If they wanted their lives back, they’d have to steal them.
Now it wasn’t just a throwaway caper; it was about something. I wanted to try and marry the sheer kinetic entertainment value of Hollywood action movies with the paranoid smarts and social relevance of a ’70s-era political conspiracy thriller. Aim high, miss high, that’s my motto.
Most of all, THE LOSERS was my man-crush love letter to Shane Black, the screenwriter of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and more recently, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — and, let us not forget, the bespectacled joker in Arnie’s squad who was first to be eviscerated by the Predator. Along with John Wagner and James Cameron, he’s one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer in the first place, and to write stories that move — even on the printed page. I wanted to write a comic for people who don’t read comics, but love a great action movie. A comic you could put into the hands of the average Joe — someone who doesn’t even know that such things as comic shops exist, let alone would ever set foot inside one — and he’d get it, and get a kick out of it.
I’ll leave you to judge whether we succeeded.
Looking back on it all now, I appreciate how lucky I was. Lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Lucky that editor Will Dennis was brave enough — or dumb enough — to take a chance on a couple of unknown British creators. But most of all, I was lucky to be working with Jock.
None of this would have happened without him.
I’d first met Jock when I was an editor at 2000 AD, and we worked together on my first published comics work — a sci-fi crime caper called LENNY ZERO. We just clicked, right from the start; he instinctively knew how to make the images in my head, and in my scripts, pop out and smack you in the face. His talent for page design is unparalleled.
More than anyone, Jock is the guy responsible for breathing life into the Losers, giving each of them a distinctive visual signature that makes them instantly recognizable — from Pooch’s paunch to Cougar’s hat to the curly cord that’s perpetually sticking out from behind Jensen’s ear.
And damn, he made those images move — just like they did in my head.
So now it’s years later, and we’re in that strange transition period between THE LOSERS being history — we wrapped the series in 2006 — and it becoming a whole new thing, with the movie adaptation bringing our story to a wider audience than we ever could have imagined.
It’s been a strange experience, watching our baby go through the Hollywood machine. Jock and I visited the set of The Losers movie in Puerto Rico during the final days of filming, and it was downright surreal, seeing these characters we’d dreamt up walking and talking and blowing shit up. Looking exactly the way Jock designed them, saying lines I wrote, pulling heists that I planned out in meticulous detail while sitting in front of the computer in my spare bedroom all those years ago.
Of course, our Losers smoke and swear and fight the power a damn sight harder than those guys in the movie...
But hey, that’s why I love comics.
— Andy Diggle
Andy Diggle is a freelance comic-book writer. Formerly the editor of the legendary British sci-fi comics magazine 2000 AD, he now has over a dozen graphic novels in print.
His work includes THE LOSERS, BATMAN, HELLBLAZER, SWAMP THING, ADAM STRANGE and GREEN ARROW: YEAR ONE for DC Comics; Daredevil, Thunderbolts and Dark Reign: Hawkeye for Marvel; Judge Dredd vs. Aliens, Snow/Tiger and Lenny Zero for 2000 AD; and Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper for Virgin Comics, the film adaptation of which is currently in development at Warner Bros.
He lives in the U.K. with his wife, two children and a clinical addiction to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.