“I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets excited by secret technology and fights on top of cable cars!” Lex McDonald on the inspirations for Assault on Fortress Doom
In an alternate version of the 20th century, the Nazis weren’t completely defeated in 1945 and a rogue general manages to activate a doomsday device. The only way the world can be saved is by a group of the Allieds’ best heroes. That’s the brilliantly old school set up for Lex McDonald’s Assault on Fortress Doom, so we catch up with him to find out if this is the start of a world war two comics revival or just an excuse for him to write over the top action sequences involving commandos and submarines!
Assault on Fortress Doom has a really old school adventure feel to it, what were the inspirations behind it? Classic British war comics or something more contemporary?
Lex McDonald: Warlord and Commando were definitely in my thoughts. But Assault on Fortress Doom is much less gritty than they are and probably owes more to classic war movies that are jam-packed with action and adventure like Where Eagles Dare and the Dirty Dozen. Weirdly, the other big inspiration was Dan Dare, which was the first comic I read as a kid. The mash-up of of a very British wartime yarn and a futuristic setting really fired my imagination…and probably accounts for some of the more sci-fi / alt-history parts of Fortress Doom.
An old fashioned war comic is a genre we don’t really see much of these days, do you think it was a risk picking that genre or is it just a story and group of characters you were interested in writing about? Is this the start of a WW2 comics revival?
LM: It’s always a commercial risk doing something that doesn’t fit neatly into the niches that are selling well – but you have to write what excites you. I basically became obsessed with a high-concept McGuffin: what if, as the world prepared for VE day in 1945, there was actually chaos behind the scenes at Allied HQ? What if the Nazis had built a gigantic doomsday weapon and holed themselves up in a mountain retreat… and what if a team of commandos drawn from around the world had just five hours to embark on the secret-mission-to-end-all-secret-missions and save mankind? I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets excited by the idea of secret technology and fights on top of cable cars! But I doubt there’s a WW2 comics revival on the way, as with each generation that passes, the connection to that era gets more and more distant.
There’s quite an eclectic bunch of heroes, who was your favourite to write and did any evolve and develop in surprising ways as you built the script?
LM: The Major was definitely my favourite to write because the unflappable British officer trope really amuses me. His old-fashioned stoicism is kind of laughable by today’s standards for heroes but there’s also something noble about it and I liked playing with that. It was also fun to have a badass French resistance operative tackle 1940’s sexism…as was coming up with numerous different ways to put Tank’s mammoth physical strength to the test. In terms of characters evolving as I wrote, yes, there are a couple of twists at the end – one probably a lot less predictable than the other – that definitely took me by surprise…I still haven’t forgiven one of the characters.
It has quite a modern feel to it with the language and group dynamics – did you try and make it a bit more contemporary and diverse on purpose?
LM: Yes, I didn’t want it to just be a pastiche of war films, although that is part of the story. Characters broadly talk and behave in a way consistent with people from the 1940s – but since the story is not supposed to be ‘realistic’, I wasn’t completely tied to the period. Some of the group dynamics and dialogue definitely observe more modern conventions in order to make it a bit more accessible.
How did you come to work with artist Edgard Machiavello – he’s got an amazing high impact style that works perfectly (and reminded us a bit of Steve Dillon?)
LM: We met on DeviantArt – I was looking for someone who had done some WW2 stuff previously and from the moment I got in contact we seemed to be on the same wavelength. He’ll love the Steve Dillon comparison! No matter what imaginary space, gadget or vehicle I gave him, he was able to breath life and detail into it and I really think he’s someone to watch.
It’s also getting a digital release via ComiXology is that right? Which is more exciting for you print or digital?
LM: Print is cool because it’s still lovely to physically hold the product in your hands and turn the pages. But I also like the look of the comic on a tablet: the colours really pop on Retina screens and I actually think Fortress Doom works well with ComiXology’s guided view.