"It's One Of The Short-List Of Things That Shaped My Sensibilities" – Mark Rahner Talks Twilight Zone
Dynamite Entertainment decided to do an annual for their new Twilight Zone series and they turned to writer Mark Rahner to do it. Troy Brownfield sat down with the writer to talk about his experience with the original show and what he is doing with the project.
TROY BROWNFIELD: What was your first exposure to The Twilight Zone?
MARK RAHNER: I don't remember a specific first exposure. Twilight Zone has been a presence – and huge influence – in my life from the start. It's on the short-list of things that shaped my sensibilities.
TB: Much has been written about the original TV series and its later spin-offs/remakes. One of the interesting things that I see is that most people think of the show in terms of its "twist endings", but there are a surprising number of actual episodes that don't employ that strategy. Is that the way that you recall the series, or do you have a different view?
MR: I'm glad you mentioned that. There are the episodes most people remember the best, but Twilight Zone had many different types of stories and all manner of protagonists. Not every single episode was a moral fable with a twist – not by a longshot. And not every protagonist was a sympathetic everyman. Not even close. It can be very limiting – not to mention just wrong – if you think Twilight Zone is only morality tales with twist endings.
TB: And of course, I'm obligated to ask: what's your favorite original series episode?
MR: Gah! I could never pick just one. I'd be frozen like Robby the Robot when he's ordered to kill! Not only are there so many great episodes, but I also revisit them all over the years, and different ones resonate with me as time passes.
I love "Time Enough At Last," "Eye of the Beholder," "To Serve Man," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" … those are like the Olmypics compulsory moves. Lately, I've been ruminating on "The Obsolete Man" and "Nothing in the Dark," for some reason. My advice is to go deep. Delve into the lesser-known ones, because there are some gems.
TB: You first made your writing reputation as a journalist. I did the same thing. What's it been like for you these past few years crossing over to the other side of the convention table?
MR: So you know the horror, Troy … the horror. Everyone says I look healthier. I'm no longer gobbling Xanax like they're Pez. People reading this may have heard what it's like for newspapers these days.
I love meeting comic fans. When you meet people and tell them you're a newspaper writer, the first thing they usually say is, "Your paper sucks!" Introduce yourself as a comic book writer, and they're more likely to say, "Oh, cool." Or at least not look openly hostile.
The comic work itself is hugely fun and satisfying. If you went back in time and told the childhood me that I'd write Twilight Zone comics along with Warlord of Mars, Vampirella, Army of Darkness … eh, who am I kidding? I'd still be getting thrown into detention all the time.
TB: Your Twilight Zone annual features three different tales. I'll ask a couple of questions about this, but first: what motivated you to do three stories rather than one larger one for the Annual?
MR: I liked the pacing better. A single story in 48 pages would have been like one of the hour-long Twilight Zone episodes, and I always thought the half-hour ones worked better. They're three completely different types of stories, and I'm curious to see who vibes with which ones. It feels like more of a complete experience, a meal with three courses. Also, I had a lot of ideas, and I didn't want to do just one! There's plenty more where they came from, by the way.
TB: Tell us a little bit about each of the three stories, and why working in those settings, etc. appealed to you as a writer.
MR: "Takers" is the darkest of the three. It's about a young politician making his bones by filibustering against benefits for the needy. He finds himself whisked to the Depression-era Dust Bowl, where his rhetoric about "makers and takers" takes on a grim meaning. It's the most pointed in terms of old-school Serling commentary on real-world events.
"The Secret Over-Sharer" is the existential one. A writer crusading against social media discovers that literally nothing is real unless it's posted and shared. That's the first one that came to me, because social media obnoxiousness is so widespread and annoying, and it's changing the way we perceive things.
"Not Faire" is the light-hearted one. A Renaissance faire nerd who brags about his play-swordfights gets a taste of the real thing. And it's not a pleasant taste. I really did share a grad school office with that guy, and it's always interested me when people get so invested in identities that aren't their own – and that includes cosplayers, Civil War reenactors and sports fanatics.
TB: In the case of this annual, three stories also means three artists (Randy Valiente, Andrea Mutti, Edu Menna). What particular strengths do they bring to the stories, and did their participation alter the shape of the scripts in any way?
MR: The scripts had to be locked down before the artists got to them, so they didn't shape the stories. But it was a real thrill to see them bring the tales to life in three different, very distinct styles, making it feel like a real anthology. Another advantage of doing three stories instead of just one longer one! I had worked with Randy on Army of Darkness/Reanimator and a Vampirella book, and liked his style a lot. I hope I get to work with Andrea and Edu again, too.
TB: A stand-alone annual with three different stories in it seems like a prime way to grab new readers. Give that potential audience your best pitch for picking up this issue starting . . . now.
MR: Jeez, the pressure! I hope you'll hear Rod Serling's voice when you read these stories. This comic's old-school and faithful, but no inbred fanboy homage. It's contemporary and original, a little edgy. And if I did it right, it's chilling, provocative and a lot of fun. And I should say it's relatively thick, since it's squarebound.