Normally we get commentary tracks for individual issues, but here Frank Barbiere talks The Precinct Collection, issue by issue, on sale now from Dynamite. Cover for issue #1 is by Joe Benitez; issues #2-5 covers are by Sergio Davila.
The opening to any story is always extremely important, but doubly so when you're establishing a new world. With The Precinct, my main goal was to quickly setup what kind of people Jo and Mort were, as well as the visual style of the world and the technology in it. As the series is a mystery, we also needed to seed some of those elements and setup a lot of foundation: who The Precinct is, The Alchemy Academy, and establish the threat. I made a deliberate choice to have the story narrated from Mort's POV as it was the best way to get into his head. He also has a very specific worldview that I wanted to set up early on, hopefully to subvert later. The real star of this issue is our art team, who do an incredible job of bringing this steampunk world to life. So many elements were designed on the fly and the team did an incredible job with all of them. I'm always a fan of a cliffhanger, and Mort throwing down with a steampunk minotaur is one of my favorites in recent memory.
I really enjoyed opening the second issue with Mort hanging from a ledge. It's a fun callback to the literal cliffhanger we ended on, and gives us a great chance to recap where we're at. I firmly believe in having to catch readers up month-to-month, despite writing towards a trade — I think the trick is to always provide it in a fresh way. We get to see some great action moments from both Mort and Jo in this issue, as well as building intrigue with The Senate vs. The Alchemy Academy (which hopefully starts readers down a path leading to a partial red herring). Seeing Jo and Mort do some actual detective work is also fun, as at its core this is a procedural and despite its steampunk DNA it was enjoyable to work in the genre elements. We end on another fun cliffhanger with the swarm of robot bugs, which Crizam just did an excellent job of portraying on the page.
I was happy to dole out some backstory about Mort on the opening page, giving some context to who he is and how he grew up. This all pays off, and we see it called back to, and planting things like that are one of the joys of writing. Crizam again does an amazing job with the double-page spread of the overwhelming sea of insects our heroes face. We get to see more action problem solving from both of our heroes, and by this point I really hope our readers have a good sense of who they are and how they individually deal with problems. On the bigger plot end, this chapter is all about escalation; we see the strange hooded man, a council of shady bad guys, a new murder, and reveal a hidden opponent within the Academy on the last page. I was hoping the murder within the Academy would throw readers off, or at least have them second guessing the intentions/who is behind the actual corruption in the Academy.
I really enjoy the opening scene with Jo, as we see Mort starting to get to her. She's always trusted her superiors, but now she's snooping around and doubt has taken hold of her. Turns out this is a good thing as she will discover the truth, but really this is a story about two very different people learning from one another. We get to see a beautifully drawn sequence of Mort finally stepping it up and taking down these steampunk monsters. It was great to think within the character of how he'd actually be able to do so, and it really goes a long way towards showing the grit of the character. Jo meanwhile falls into a trap and we see the murder of the Senate — this is where everything falls into place and we see really who's behind the mystery at the core of the story. We end with the inevitable — Mort and Jo squaring off against each other, forced to become enemies at the climax of our story.
Throughout the series, I was very pleased with how Mort's narration works in tandem with the art. I don't use voiceover a lot, and I wanted to be very careful to not simply state what was happening on the page. I think we get a really good sense of what really makes Mort tick, how he sees himself — and then we get to see a moment of clarity/quiet when he is "dead." Jo also comes to her senses in time to save him, and the two of them finally come together in an excellent fusing of their ideals. We get a nice, big climactic fight with the big bad, as well as city-wide stakes. I was very pleased to work in the Academy under Jo's leadership to help solve the problem, as well as Mort continuing to use his brute strength to fight off the big bad here. I'm extremely happy with how this series wraps, with Mort and Jo becoming partners and getting medals (an obvious nod to Star Wars). All in all, The Precinct was about two very different people coming together and learning to work together — I'm hoping its themes continue to inspire and excite readers for a long time, and I thank you for reading!