Of the four flagship Milestone books, Blood Syndicate stood apart from the rest as the darkest. Chronicling the adventures of a collection of former gangsters and societal misfits, the series was a trailblazer in representation of racial, religious and gender minorities, blending superheroics with contemporary issues. Now, with the upcoming launch of Blood Syndicate: Season One, writer Geoffrey Thorne of Infinite Frontier and Green Lantern fame is teaming up with original series artist ChrisCross in bringing the Syndicate to the present with a new origin and a modern setting. We recently talked with the writer to get a sense of just what to expect, and as you’ll see, there’s a lot that the book offers for fans of the original and newcomers alike.
What was your familiarity with the original Blood Syndicate series?
Dude, that was my favorite Milestone comic. I own almost all of the original Milestone. I don’t own all of Kobalt and might not have all of Xombi. But the rest of it? 100%. Even Heroes. So, I’m very cognizant of the series. Blood Syndicate was my favorite of all the books because they were darker, and these characters exist in a world of gray.
Did you have a favorite character from the book?
Yeah! Ironically, she won’t appear in this first season, but I loved Kwai! Kwai was my girl! Milestone did a lot you never had seen in comics before. A Chinese/Korean Goddess who wandered around in the hood and joined the Blood Syndicate! Like, what the hell? But if we get a Season Two, you can bet Kwai will show up.
I also had a huge fondness for Fade as well. With the others, I liked them, but with the nature of comics back in the day, they were more action-oriented so there wasn’t as much character introspection compared to our standards now. I very much liked Wise Son. Wise Son, Fade and Tech-9 were the central figures of the original, so they’re the central figures of this book. And I want to do more with their dynamic than was done originally.
Early in the original series, one of the members of the team died, shocking the readers. Should we be on the lookout for similar losses in the first storyline?
In the original series, Tech-9 gets killed in issue #4. Tech is not getting killed in this one. Well, he’s not getting killed as early in this version. But this is all dependent on editorial. Because of the level of violence in which they operate, I consider every member of the Blood Syndicate as expendable. Don’t think just because you read the original comics and think they’ll make it to the end of the story that they will. This is not that.
What element of the original Blood Syndicate did you find fundamental to carry over into the present, and what element did you feel the need to change?
Well, for those who don’t really know what the first book was about, it could be like, “Oh, this is the Crips vs. the Bloods, choose your team.” That wasn’t what it is at all—it was humanizing different sorts of people in this hood situation. These were people. In particular, Flashback was addicted to drugs. The level of violence was based on the level of street violence, just with superpowers. So, the idea that violence was just for violence’s sake, that was not really in effect then and it's not in effect now. The violence is for keeps—definitely for keeps!—but it’s not the focus of the book. No one is clout chasing. Everyone has a point of view, even the gangsters.
Obviously, discussions concerning police violence and the debates on its depictions in the media have ramped up in the past several years. The Blood Syndicate were fiercely anti-cop, and the Big Bang incident itself was inspired by a real-life event. With the context of recent events, did you come into this book trepidatious or eager to be part of the conversation?
What you have to understand is, it’s not about the superpowers. What if a bunch of people in the real world were gifted with top-shelf military technology and an unlimited budget? If everybody in the roughest neighborhood in your city had tanks and anti-aircraft guns and stealth planes, what would they do? Would they go after each other? Their enemies? We’ll find out.
This is very much a story of the little guy gaining more power than they’ve ever known. So, the police are definitely a factor. A lot of the police’s behavior towards minorities and Blacks in particular comes from how the police were originally formed, largely as a slave-catcher operation back in the day, and a lot of it is brought over to the present day. But there’s also a government behind it which supports that and does not properly chastise—there’s no checks and balances where there needs to be. Well, there’s about to be a heavy check and balance on Paris Island. There’s now a whole bunch of people with superpowers who ain’t havin’ that.
This Blood Syndicate series is closer to DC than the Milestone original was. Did you receive any pushback?
Not yet! So far, what I’ve been allowed to do is what I’ve been allowed to do. And it’s not my intention to be controversial, but I’m getting as real talk as I can get. They told me to make it a PG-13 book, which determines a whole lot of what I put into it. Swearing is implied. Sexual activity will be treated how it’s done in a PG-13 movie. And the violence is the violence, but it’s not gratuitous.
Similarly, the original series was a trailblazer regarding its characters of different ethnic identities and sexual orientations. In 1993, many sexual minority members of the Blood Syndicate were very much in the closet from their team (but not the readers). LGBTQ+ acceptance is now more normalized in America. Should we expect less conflict with the new version of the LGBTQ+ characters?
There are a lot of gender politics that were edgy and bizarre back then, but nobody realizes that Milestone had the first out gay couple. First trans man in comics history was in Milestone. Fade, a gay character, was the leader of the group! No attention was paid to that back then. It was downplayed in deference to fairly negative press about what they were trying to accomplish, and that was only that everyone gets a chance to play. They didn’t do things like, “Hey, look at all my queer characters! Look at all my Latin characters!” They didn’t do that. They just put them into the mix where they would naturally be and played the relationships the way they would naturally play.
So, I’m doing that too. Not in the exact same way. For instance, there’s a homophobic lead character. He’s going on a journey. There’s gonna be some static about that. He’s not mean necessarily, but he’s got issues.
So, there’s an evolution, but the LGBTQ+ characters aren’t exactly getting a smooth ride.
We still have Fade, this time an unapologetically out gay man. He’s just comfortable in his skin, which is something you can do now. He’s not always talking about what it’s like to be gay. It’s just, that’s him. He’s gonna be him. All the characters are gonna be that way. Conversations about faith and warfare, conflicts in the Middle East—there’s a lot going on. We couldn’t do what we’re doing with modern sensibilities if they hadn’t done what they did regarding the sensibilities of their present day.
There were also things that didn’t get resolved (in the original series). Fade was a bit grimmer in the original, partly because of the way his powers worked. Also, I don’t believe Fade had a man back then. I plan to give Fade a love interest. I don’t want him to be morose and walking around in anguish—he’s got enough problems without worrying about his love life! And the Masquerade character was sort of played as tragic and conflicted. He was the betrayer at one point. That was the time, that was the place, and Ivan Velez Jr. did a masterful job with these characters, but Masquerade isn’t going to be played like that. Not that weird shit, not that self-hate. Again, they’re gonna have a lot of problems already. They don’t need more!
I have queer people in my family. I have queer people in my close, personal friendships. I’m gonna do my people right. Nothing’s going to be exploitative in this. It’s gonna be as real as we can make it.
Even though he didn’t last long in the team, Holocaust is one of the more popular Milestone characters and Blood Syndicate members. Will he hang around the book longer than he did back in the day, or is he just not fit to stay with anybody for too long?
I don’t know how to answer that question!
Holocaust is the bad guy of this piece. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that. But the Blood Syndicate does not exist at first. A large part of this book is how they come to be. You’ll see Holly. Holly does his thing! But he’s not the same from the ’90s. There are a lot of differences. This is a remix and so is he.
What has the working relationship been like with ChrisCross?
I was amazed that we got Chris. That was the clincher for me. I love working with him. He visually created most of these characters. I usually give fairly detailed descriptions in my scripts, but with this, I basically waited to see what Chris’ designs would be. The only things I would give notes on were skin tones, to really get it across that certain characters were Afro-Latino.
Finally, for new readers, what sets the Blood Syndicate apart from Static, Icon and Hardware?
These are not heroes. Virgil is a good kid trying to be a good kid. Raquel and Icon are superheroes. But the Syndicate—they’re about Paris Island. They’re not about any of that other stuff. Occasionally they’re gonna do superheroic things, but when they solve a problem, it stays solved. They’re not trying to put you in jail, they’re solving the problem. They will straight up kill you. Are they villains? Heroes? It depends on who’s on their wrong side. Situational ethics is sort of the watch-word.
Blood Syndicate: Season One #1 by Geoffrey Thorne, ChrisCross and Juan Castro is now available in print and as a digital comic book. Are you unfamiliar with the Syndicate? Well, allow us to introduce you...