Mark Hamill Interview
Creator of The Black Pearl
by AE Wright
The voice was unmistakable. Luke Skywalker. Wing Commander. The Joker. Hobgoblin. The Big Red One (hah, how many of you remember that one!). Mark Hamill. Okay, take a deep breath. Remember, you are a professional.
"Mr.-Hamill-Anthony-Wright-from-Mania Magazine-how-are-you-today." Oh, that was good. That was supposed to be a full sentence, not one word.
"I'm okay... now wait a minute, where do I know you from?"
Great, he thinks I'm a nut. Quick, think. "I'm calling from Mania! Magazine about a phone interview."
"Tony Wright... W-R-I-G-H-T. From American Entertainment."
"That's me." Oh that was brilliant.
"I'm with you now. I thought you said Tony Webb. This was set up through Dark Horse."
Actually, once my identity was established and Mr. Hamill was secure in the knowledge that I wasn't some crackpot, the interview went very smoothly. And I learned that, like most well known actors, he was just a regular guy trying to promote something he was very excited about.
That something is The Black Pearl, Hamill's first try as a comic book writer. A try that, surprisingly, was not all that bad. I say "surprisingly" because many former science fiction stars have attempted to make the transition to comic writer, and very few have done it well.
The Black Pearl tells the story of Luther. Luther isn't a hero. Not in the traditional sense. He isn't motivated by honor or justice. At best, Luther is just a regular guy, that just so happens to have a "thing" for a woman across the street. When he "accidentally" foils her kidnapping, in front of a tabloid TV camera crew, he finds himself being turned into someone he isn't. Now he's The Black Pearl. Hamill describes Luther as "not a traditional hero, because for someone in the real world to figure [becoming a vigilante] was a reasonable option would have to be someone that would be considered at the very least unconventional."
When I asked Hamill How The Black Pearl came about, he admits that "The Black Pearl was meant to be a film. It was written as a screenplay... in a manner that was meant to feel very much like a docudrama or have a realistic undercurrent." Hamill also admits that the screenplay was written in a manner that would make it more attractive to independent companies, ones that wouldn't be "slavish" to the standard Hollywood formula, and where they would be "more free with what we [Hamill and fellow writer Eric Johnson] want to get across." When Dark Horse Comics got a copy of the screenplay, they approached Hamill with the idea of converting it into a comic book. "And," says Hamill, "we are very glad it happened... because they seemed to get just what we were after."
The concept for The Black Pearl was born from an actual event that Hamill himself experienced. "It comes from my being in New York City during and immediately after the incident with Bernard Goetz in the subway car," explains Hamill. "There seemed to be a period in time when the entire city had lost its collective mind and everyone was reveling in this 'frontier justice' feeling in the immediate 24 hours following the incident, because people had been living in that kind of fear for so many years. It surprised me at how it crossed all demographic lines, that people secretly or outwardly, were so much in support of these thugs getting a taste of their own medicine. What we were trying to do is tell a realistic story in which the audience wouldn't blink when [Luther] decides to go out into the night and do what he does."
This desire to tell a "realistic" story can be traced back to the last time Hamill followed a regular series (his taste in comics leans more towards Golden and Silver Age; "Like cars, I tend to like classic and vintage more than modern models"), DC's The Crisis On Infinite Earths. "Remember when they were trying to get their continuity in order, because Marvel had grown up organically and integrated their universe and DC was the king of satellite books... I don't think there was anything wrong with [parallel universes]. It was the desire of so many fans to want their books to be more 'realistic.'" Which of course Hamill finds funny due to "the underlying premise of the whole series they may be reading is someone who might have a dual identity and wears skin tight spandex outfits and can vibrate through walls."
Still, Hamill and Johnson maintained that "realistic" concept by placing the story "not in a fantasy world, not in A Clockwork Orange kind of Gotham City that we have never seen before, but right around the corner of any urban city in this country," then adding a hero who "is without super-powers, he doesn't fly, he doesn't find some weird chemical, or radiation that gives him extraordinary powers."
What they were looking for was a solid story beyond the standard super hero fare already available on the stands. "You want something that is really going to be compelling as a piece of storytelling... which is what we were after. In a good story, as you peel away the layers, it changes and becomes something else. You can't get fixated on [Luther's] voyeuristic qualities, it is deeper than that and once you go deeper into the story, you discover things about him and about who the object of his obsession is, and they become deeper and more complex characters than you would have thought at first glance."
"The guy," Hamill goes on to explain, "is basically someone who has just become so inundated by the inequities of our justice system that he decides to become a behind the scenes manipulator in terms of helping people he thinks deserve that help. The piece as a whole, when you stand back and look at it, is taking into question what is a hero. It is not black and white. It would great to go back to the late '30s and early '40s where we could just say that this is the good guy. In real life it's not like that, there are just so many shades of gray and that is what we are exploring."
Asked if a film was still planned, Hamill was quick to reply. "We learned so much from the comic script, that rather than continue sending out the existing screenplay, that we have decided to do one last polish that reflects the positive changes we think we've learned while doing this as a graphic novel." Hamill also sees The Black Pearl as "my first and best chance to direct something. I'm not signaling a career change and that I want to direct for the rest of my life. I mean, who knows, I may really dislike it. What happened to me was like finishing a score and you think 'Jeez, I don't what somebody else to conduct this.' I am very covetous of it, but I am also pragmatic. Somebody could probably present me with a deal and present a director where you think 'Boy, he would be a good director.' But right know, I still see it in my head."
Still, Hamill does not simply see The Black Pearl as an end to a means. Rather, he sees comic books as "a window into the period that they were produced; the history of comic books is so intricately woven into the specifics of the time. What I would like to tell people who are reading this is to keep an open mind, know that it comes from someone who has loved comic books and is almost willing comic book mentality into real life." He also sees as a way of showing people that "violence is not pretty... which is sort of our motto. Crime isn't pretty and justice is hard. It's not easy to pull off Batman heroics in the real world where you could be considered a perpetrator yourself for becoming involved in that process."
"If [the reader] stops at one issue," Hamill points out, "then they haven't had a full taste of the stew."
And with that, the interview was over (okay, so we talked a little bit about his voice work --
which he loves to do, by the way, and Wing Commander -- which he and others consider a
"mega success"). He mentioned that he hoped The Black Pearl would be a success, and then
told me I could call him if I had any questions about anything he was doing in the future. It
was that statement that made me realize that Mark Hamill -- Luke Skywalker -- was in fact, just
a regular guy. No "have your people call my people," no "let's do lunch." Just a "call me." I
can just pick up the phone and dial. And I don't even need the force. Cool.