This year in sunny San Diego I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jimmy Palmiotti to talk about some very important topics: Time Bomb, which is his current project with Radical Publishing, the Jonah Hex film, and of course the story behind Power Girl’s cleavage.
Karyn Pinter: I’m sitting here with Jimmy Palmiotti, talking about Time Bomb.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Yup.
Pinter: I read it last night, stayed up to read it.
Palmiotti: Oh, you did? What did you think?
Pinter: It was pretty good.
Palmiotti: A lot of set up.
Pinter: A lot of set up? Well, I don’t know, not a whole lot of set up. It was like it just immediately started raining hell and fire from above. It kinda threw everyone into the middle of a shitstorm.
Palmiotti: Yes, but does it make you want to go to the next one?
Pinter: Oh, absolutely.
Palmiotti: Good, good.
Pinter: I mean who doesn’t love Nazi schemes and foiling Nazi schemes?
Palmiotti: I thought it was funny ‘cause there’s a lot of killing Nazis in this book, and I thought, well, that’s one audience that’s not going to buy this book. That might hurt my sales, that actual Nazis might not buy this book. But I’m willing to lose them as an audience to do this kind of title.
Pinter: Exactly. So where did this story come from?
Palmiotti: When I was a kid, I used to go away for the summer in New York. My dad and mom used to rent a bungalow in upstate New York just to get me out of Brooklyn as a young kid, because if you’d spend the summer in Brooklyn without school you’d usually get in trouble. We went to this, it was like a bungalow colony and people have these cabins in an area, and we go to camp and on Saturday night they used to show 16mm films against the back wall of the pool. So that was our movies when we were kids, and they used to show this one movie called Where Eagles Dare.
Pinter: Oh, fantastic movie.
Palmiotti: It was a Clint Eastwood movie, and I used to watch it — they only had six movies — every summer. So every summer they would show Where Eagles Dare. I saw it like thirty times growing up, and I loved the idea of the American spies going in and infiltrating the Nazi castle. So when I was 14 or 15 years old I came up with this story, like, wouldn’t it be cool if a bunch of hi-tech guys went back and messed things up a little. Like everything, I pitched a lot of ideas that no comic company wants because they’re way out there; with Time Bomb what happened was I met with Barry [Levine] at Radical and he said, pitch me some ideas, and I’m like, alright let me give you this one, no one ever wants it. The story is they’re building a subway station under Berlin, there’s a cave-in, they explore it, and they find a hidden Nazi city and accidently trigger a missile to go off.
Palmiotti: Spoiler alert, yes. Things happen and eventually by the end of the book we have a bunch of guys going from present day to the last days of World War II, and they have to infiltrate Berlin, try to find this underground city, and then hopefully take out the missile before it’s ever triggered in the future. So I pitched it to Barry with Justin Grey and I doing it, and he loved it. It’s was like, imagine Where Eagles Dare, and he [Barry] was like, that’s my favorite movie. Once a guy says that then you nailed it, you know. We knew [we’d have] three 50-page issues — how were we going to make this interesting? Justin and I dug in and we said we’re going to do the thing time travel movies don’t do; we’re going to say “who cares what you do in the past” because there is no future if they don’t do this thing.
Pinter: There isn’t a lot of mention of that in the comic, like if you kill someone now, it’ll fuck up the future.
Palmiotti: Right, that whole Bradbury thing. And we were like, well no, in this case there is no future so what do they care?
Pinter: So it’s left open to the possibility…
Palmiotti: There’s a conversation between them (the characters) where the reader needs to know what they are thinking, and then by issue two it’s balls to the wall crazy because they’re on a time clock and they still have to find the place, and we have a black guy go into Berlin and it’s not really a smooth transition unless it’s the Olympics going on. There are a lot of funny things going on, and we created characters that don’t really know each other except for two of them, but by the end of it they and we get to know them pretty well, and how crazy they are. You know, this was kinda an adventure comic. Something you don’t really see done too often, and not a superhero thing. It’s just action adventure with a little bit of history in it. I researched the history so I knew enough of what not to do. I didn’t want to make it by the word or by the letter.
Pinter: Yeah, because then you’re restricted.
Palmiotti: Restricted, especially when you get to book three, because in book three we kinda messed with the idea that not only is everything going insane, but we did a thing in the book that, like in a movie where there is usually an explosion and everyone saves the day in the end, we added another 20 minutes. We went and said “Okay, here’s the end, now the team goes ‘what do we do now?’ and then they’re “well, we’re here, let’s…” and then another crazy door opens. But it ends. It’s a finite story, and if you like time travel, and you like killing Nazis… and we got Paul Gulacy on art, who for me was the best guy I could get on the book.
Pinter: I was going to ask you about the art. Radical is known for their painted comics, they’re like 85% of all their comics. What made you go with the traditional hand drawn art?
Palmiotti: Well, when we were writing it we didn’t have an artist, and while writing it [Radical] asked me who would be the dream guy, and I said Paul Gulacy would be my dream guy because he could do this kind of stuff. And they were like, well why don’t we just get Paul Gulacy? I like the painted style, but if I were to critique the painted style I would say the characters need to have more of a soul. This story needed more traditional characters; you need to be able to read the faces and the acting, and a lot of times with the painted style it’s more about the world.
Pinter: How big and grand it all is.
Palmiotti: Right. This one, Time Bomb, even though it’s a somewhat big story it’s all character pieces. It’s like you’re looking in the eyes of somebody.
Pinter: Yeah, because you have your team of four people, and you really want to feel the personality of each character.
Palmiotti: Right, right, you want to feel like you know them so there’s at least something at stake when everyt
hing goes wrong — and it does.
Pinter: And speaking of things going wrong, how good did it feel to just completely annihilate the world within the first ten pages of the comic?
Palmiotti: Well, we knocked out Germany and the surrounding area. Honestly, our first instinct was to make this 80 pages of the world getting wiped out, because I’d love to write that. What we did instead, since we had only six pages to do this thing with the city and the bomb, Justin and I decided it’d be best to pull in and focus on one guy trying to get home to his family.
Pinter: Oh, that was intense.
Palmiotti: And everybody is dead along the way and you get home, and yeah, yeah, it’s an intense scene. We took all the lettering out; we said let’s just go, let the reader follow this visual.
Pinter: The emotions do all the talking.
Palmiotti: You know how you’d feel. When you see this guy you’re just “oh, he’s hopeless.”
Palmiotti: Nothing. I always say when you’re really in love with somebody you would really understand all of that stuff.
Pinter: There’s a mysterious doctor who puts this time bomb, time travel thing together — are we going to see him come back?
Palmiotti: I thought it was kinda obvious the way we did it, setting it up, and the city’s a little too modern for it’s time. It’s not a giant reveal, but it is to the characters. Like, we know Luke Skywalker is going to blow up the Death Star, but Vader doesn’t. There’s a point of view; we kinda know some of these things are going to come back up because we spent time with it, but it doesn’t stall the story. It’ll just become “oh yeah, makes sense.”
Pinter: So we’ll finally get to that point and say “oh, yeah, of course.”
Palmiotti: Again, when you write a story like this there’s a tendency of saying “I’ve watched a million movies and I’ve read a million books just like this,” so we tried to write sideways of that. Justin and I sit there and we know the reader is expecting this, so let’s just tilt it a little bit. So what you think exactly will be, will actually be a little more fucked up then you think it’ll be.
Pinter: Like a giant middle finger painted on the wall.
Palmiotti: And like I said, it’s time travel, but I don’t like it when someone is trying to teach me how it works.
Pinter: So we just already know.
Palmiotti: We just know it works. And again, for me to have any interest in anything I’m doing, I have to like or at least relate on some level to the characters. Even something like Power Girl.
Pinter: I got some questions about her later.
Palmiotti: It’s important to relate to these characters, otherwise why would you buy the next issue?
Pinter: I think the story itself drives the characters. You want to see them blow the shit out of a bunch of Nazis; you wanna see them save the world if they can.
Palmiotti: And there’s the funny stuff in there where we pictured ourselves. There’s one guy who wants to be armed, he’s not going into this thing weaponless, and I was thinking Terminator right, where the guy comes out naked. That’s crazy.
Pinter: Yeah, if you sent a robot through time, you can send a gun. What the hell?
Pinter: He’s made of metal.
Palmiotti: He’s made of metal, exactly! He’s a gun. He’s a walking gun.
Pinter: Um, let’s see what other questions I have to ask you. Oh, I had a request, this isn’t related to Time Bomb in any way, but a friend of mine wanted to know what your reaction was to the Jonah Hex movie?
Palmiotti: Ah, remember when we went to war and they called it Shock and Awe? No, I’m kidding. I kinda knew what was coming, I know it was nothing like Justin and my book, we knew it. So, I thought some of it was okay, and a lot of it a big miss. I wish they, Warner Brothers, had said let’s get the guys who wrote the book involved, but they didn’t, so that’s what they got I guess. That’s their movie. That’s the movie. I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone thought it was, but it definitely had its own thing going on. It’s not the book — I’m happy the book is still the book. I wish it was a hit, it would have really helped the book, but at the end of the day movie people know how to make movies and we know how to make comics.
Pinter: It just seems a lot of writers are like “what do I care, I got my paycheck, that’s it.”
Palmiotti: Yeah, well, I didn’t get a paycheck, but you know they don’t tell me how to make comics, thank God, so I don’t tell them how to make movies. I would have liked it to be more accurate, but they thought they knew what would sell better than what I would have. I definitely would have given me 50 million dollars to see what I could do, and it would have been a little different.
Pinter: Anyone reading this, you should buy the comic, because it’s probably better.
Palmiotti: Yeah, there you go. There are people who like the movie, so I don’t discount it. I just say “oh well.”
Pinter: Okay, now for my Power Girl question.
Pinter: What’s with the tits? I asked the same thing of Amanda.
Palmiotti: Okay. When the character was created Wally Wood was the artist that drew Power Girl, and he was convinced that the editors were not paying attention to anything he did. So, his inker said every issue I’m going to draw the tits bigger until they notice it. It took about seven or eight issues before anyone was like hey, what’s with the tits? And that’s where they stopped. True story.
Palmiotti: As far as the tits, um, as far as what’s with the tits, all I can say is I didn’t create the character. I created Pain Killer Jane, and she has a B cup. With the tits, when we got the book we — me, Amanda and Justin — sat there and said, alright she’s this character that’s always angry, with giant tits and she’s muscular. Let’s go against the grain, let’s make the book a little silly, a little fun — she’s normal, but everyone around her is a little nuts. So we wrote twelve issues, and what we wanted was for the reader to like this girl, feel for this girl, relate to her cat problems, relate to her job problems; we’re going to give her a personality which I felt she never had.
Pinter: So she’s not just superpowers and a pair of breasts.
Palmiotti: And our biggest challenge was that we were going to make girls want to read it.
Pinter: I hav
e to say I spent, I think, an entire year before I actually picked up the book, just making fun of it. I was just “oh my God looks at this. There’s cheesecake all over the cover. Who the hell, what the hell is this character? All she is, is a white outfit with a window cutout of her boobs.” And then a friend of mine who also works for the site (Chris Power, I’m pointing at you) said if you read Gotham City Sirens then why aren’t you reading Power Girl? And then another friend of mine told about the issue with the pregno ray and the contraceptive bomb. Then, well…
Palmiotti: Ha ha, Vartox.
Palmiotti: I think the book is sweet.
Pinter: There’s a lot of heart. Good action, but still some emotion going on.
Palmiotti: Yeah, and with Terra, we created Terra, and Justin, Amanda and I thought Power Girl is new to this world, but we all want to have that power to show someone else something new, and having Terra hang out with her was Power Girl finally being able to step up and show someone else something in the world. So we showed them going to the movies, and IKEA, we did all these goofy things. I’m not so sure the company loved all the things we did, but the fans got where we were going with it.
Pinter: I appreciate it. You get to see more of a human side to her.
Palmiotti: And she never had it. I honestly think she was written so angry and muscular, and her breasts were weird. Guys can’t — Amanda understands the gravity of breasts. When you lay down they go to the side kinda and guys, they just draw them like BAM and BAM you know? Amanda never put a nipple on Power Girl. Amanda’s funny, she’s like “no, she’s going to have real girl stuff.” Sometimes Power Girl’s going to be on the toilet, sometimes the cat is going to put it’s ass in her face. Like real human moments. For a year our job was to make people feel like they know this girl, and watch her going through all this crap and come out of it. So much so that with Vartox, he’s kinda like a male chauvinist, but deep down he’s just a guy. He doesn’t really know what else to do and Power Girl sees through it a little bit, and it’s actually very sweet and it makes for a lot of funny moments. We set out to make a really sweet, cute book, and I think we did.
Pinter: I have to say I’ve read and reviewed all the Wonder Woman comics for… I don’t even remember how many issues, but it was never really consistent. The best parts of her current series are when she’s more human, the way Power Girl is. So when I compare the two, Power Girl is the stronger comic because of that sense of grounding.
Palmiotti: And we put her in a business, and we put her in an apartment and we’ve spent time with her shopping. When I was a kid I used to read Spider-Man. I loved the Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Mary Jane stuff, and I loved that he was getting a job. I have a tendency, when I write superheroes, of going there. It’s probably why Justin and I aren’t more popular writers, because we do what entertains us. I don’t really know how to write the other books; I don’t know how to do the fight fight fight books or their art because it’s exhausting to me. I like human moments that happen all day.
Pinter: Those help us connect to our characters.
Palmiotti: With Freedom Fighters it’s an action book, we have a new one coming up, but there’s moments. Not as many as Power Girl, but we tried to put in stuff like in Time Bomb. Honestly, when you’re a writer, especially in comics, you tend to write what you like to read. I tend to write, like in Random Acts of Violence and Back to Brooklyn, they’re horrific stories, but there’s real character moments that you understand, like “yeah, it’s 3:00 in the morning and all that guy wants is a cheeseburger and to be left alone.”
Pinter: Which brings us back to Time Bomb and the smoking weed part. Of course, if I were going on a suicide mission, I’m going to get high. Because this might be the last time I’ll be able to do it.
Palmiotti: Right, of course — and everything short of sex they’d probably want to be doing in that locker room, and that’s why the guy kinda came on to the girl. Those kind of moments are what make comics fun I think, and as a reader, you would put your own imagination into it and can relate.
Palmiotti: Back to Power Girl for one second. We did this one thing with a kid, Black Helena, and we did a bonus with it. Everyone was going to be a supervillain, and there was a kid, and there was a thousand ways she could have dealt with the kid. A real mature woman though would have understood it was a child.
Pinter: Yeah, it would be like, “don’t do it again.”
Palmiotti: Yeah, don’t do it again. I loved the idea of Power Girl going to a comic store. And in the book we do the T&A stuff, but we do it charmingly. We don’t do it in a disgusting way. Amanda can’t help but make it look charming. She loses her clothes running down the stairs and it’s funny, you know?
Pinter: Amanda’s answer to the “what’s with the tits” comment was who could honestly give a Kryptonian woman a breast reduction? No one. Her two cousins could and that’s it.
Pinter: You know what, no. I don’t think so, except they’ve got that —
Palmiotti: And the package doesn’t always — sometimes is way too –nothing. If comic artists started drawing revealing packages, how freaked out would everyone be?
Pinter: As the spandex starts to get wider and bigger.
Palmiotti: You know what I mean, the real defining fold. So is that right way to say that? I guess that’s the best way. That’s the title of my new book, Defining Fold.
Pinter: I’d read it.
Palmiotti: I think, actually, a female artist needs to do it. If a guy does it… I don’t know. If a gay guy does it it’d be great. I think somebody should do it. Just call it The Package. That’d be the superhero name.
Pinter: Haha, well, I think people should come out and read Time Bomb. It looks spectacular, it looks like a movie. Any whisperings about that?
Palmiotti: I heard there were some people interested, and I kinda let them do the shopping movie thing. All I worry about is if the comic is any good. It’s gotta work as a comic otherwise I don’t care. If they sold this movie, awesome. I would go see this movie in a heartbeat. The time travel thing, it’s nothing new; it’s just how interesting is the story? There are a lot of time travel movi
es, some are good, some are bad. Time Cop was kinda fun. Final Countdown, did you ever see that?
Pinter: No, don’t think I saw that one.
Palmiotti: Final Countdown, it’s during World War II, the bombing of Hawaii when the Japanese come in. There’s this giant destroyer tanker with jets on it that just comes out of this time warp thing and they start battling the Japanese over Hawaii.
Pinter: See, that’s what makes Time Bomb fun. Who wouldn’t want to go back in time and kick the shit out of a bunch of Nazis? If you had the chance to go back and put a bullet in Hitler before the whole thing started.
Palmiotti: Exactly. I would like to go back in time and see the moment my parents met. How cute would that be? Like the first time they went out. Or go back to Coney Island in 1910.
Pinter: Totally. I’m from San Francisco and to go back right before the big earthquake happened in 1906…
Palmiotti: And enjoy it.
Pinter: Yes, and then go back right after. There are pictures, but to really witness something monumental like that…
Palmiotti: We have video now and there’s pictures, and it’s devastating to see, but you don’t get the whole scope.
Pinter: Or to see something constructed like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Eiffel Tower.
Palmiotti: True. I did see something monumental on the way to the Con. I flew from Florida to Los Angeles and went over the Gulf. The pilot said that it was a clear day and if you wanted to look out you could see the oil spill.
Pinter: Oh, wow.
Palmiotti: So we look out the window and you can see that it’s a billion miles wide. We were flying over it for fifteen minutes. And he [the pilot] goes “if you look down you can get the scope of how big it is by the ships.” The big tankers cleaning it up, you know how big they were? I would say they were that (Jimmy makes a tiny pinhead size mark) big, and the spill was like this (really big hand gesture).
Pinter: Holy crap.
Palmiotti: We were over that for a while, and I’m like and Amanda’s like, oh my god. Nobody sees this shot of how giant it is. Five to eight ships there and they’re tiny grains of salt. It’s scary. This is a disaster. Just because they stopped the pipe doesn’t make it go away. Eh, this isn’t related to your piece.
Pinter: It’s all time travel.
Palmiotti: Time travel.
Pinter: It’s rooted in time travel. I guess that’s pretty much the end of it though.
Pinter: Thank you very much.
Palmiotti: It was my pleasure.
Writer’s note: I know this ended pretty abruptly, but people kept interrupting the interview and it was getting annoying. I hit the stop button before Jimmy properly parted ways.