A first impression about 30 years ago changed Greg Rucka's life.
Driving up from Los Angeles to visit Seattle on the Fourth of July, Rucka and his wife tuned into KMHD radio when they arrived in Portland, and then crossed over the Marquam Bridge and through the city just as fireworks went off for the holiday.
"The impression was profound," said Rucka, the comic book writer and now movie screenwriter for the upcoming "The Old Guard" on Netflix. "Both (wife) Jen and I were like, 'Yeah, we really like this city.' We finished the trip, returning to LA, and I finished grad school.
"My wife got accepted to grad school in Eugene (at the University of Oregon). And, when we lived there, each year we went to Portland for our anniversary, stayed in a hotel and had a nice time in the city and loved it. When we didn't want to rent anymore, and wanted a place to settle down, we knew moving to Portland was the logical choice," and it happened in 1998.
It was before the boom of the comic book industry hit the Rose City. Rucka considers himself a "native," because it's his city now.
Rucka's career has continued to trend upward. He worked on "Superman," "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" for DC Comics, and also penned stuff for Marvel ("Wolverine," "Elektra," "Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra").
He's worked on "Lazarus" and "Black Magick," published by Portland-based Image Comics, and has been published by Portland's Oni Press.
Published by Image Comics, he wrote creator-owned "Stumptown," which became a big success when ABC later made it into a detective drama starring Cobie Smulders. Rucka serves as creative consultant. Also, he and artist Leandro Fernandez have now hit the big-time with "The Old Guard," a series about immortal mercenary soldiers, and it has been made into a Netflix movie starring Charlize Theron.
Rucka wrote the screenplay for "The Old Guard," spent weeks on set in England alongside director Gina Prince-
Bythewood, and now he anxiously awaits reaction to one of his finest works. It airs July 10.
"There was always the pie-in-the-sky fantasy that I would be fortunate enough to create something that would make it into a larger world, that would have legs," said Rucka, 50, a San Francisco native who lives in Irvington with wife Jen Van Meter and their two children. "I thought I was going to be a novelist. I sort of slid into comics sideways, then from comics I got to a place where a movie has been made. That's magic, man."
Rucka and Fernandez have done two, five-issue series of "The Old Guard." And, a third and final series has been in the works.
The movie earned instant credibility when Theron signed on. She stars as the main character, Andromache of Schythia, aka "Andy," who leads a band of warriors who navigate being trapped in immortality and plying their trade for those who can find and afford their services.
"But, in the 21st century," as promotions state, "immortality is a hard secret to keep, and when you live long enough, you learn that there are many fates worse than death."
Rucka's idea for Andy and "The Old Guard" was born from some lines of thinking: The concept came from Methuselah, a long-living figure of Bible lore, and "it started with the idea that this woman was so incomprehensibly old that she would have experienced everything, that there wasn't a language she couldn't speak, a culture she did not know, a weapon she did not now how to use as an expert.
"It came out of the persistent global myths that crop up in cultures throughout the world of soliders who do not die and appear in times of need. And, another influence was the Stan Ridgway song, 'Camouflage,' about a ghost soldier," he said.
The story was actually written for comics with "Looney Tunes"-inspired characters, meant to be funny, debuting in February 2017. "The further I got into it, it was something else entirely," Rucka added, "about how I articulate for arguments of necessity of death. Why do we have to die? What is the value in the death?"
The movie wasn't written to be funny, because with violence in the script it would come out as "gross and mean-spirited." He added: "There is a weight to this ... and there's a very compelling argument that it kind of sucks not to be able to die."
Theron's Andy is a present-day warrior, having been born thousands of years ago and having died many times. She fights human traffickers, terrorists and other bad people.
"It was important to feel the weight of thousands and thousands of years on her," Theron told Vanity Fair magazine in a feature story. "The worst part for her is just feeling like she's not doing anything. So, what is the point, you know? She's lost faith, not just in herself but in humanity."
Rucka said Theron fit the role perfectly, because of her previous physical roles such as in "Atomic Blonde" and "Monster."
"Andy isn't an easy character. She's very complex, and not inherently immediately likable. She's cool, a badass. She's not sweet, and has no interest in being sweet," Rucka said.
"I couldn't ask for a braver actress for this part. Her physical mastery and professionalism ... it sounds cliche but I can't imagine anyone else playing the part."
The Netflix-Skydance Media production also stars KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Rucka said he enjoyed working with Prince-Bythewood, because the director literally allowed him to be part of the production. A lot of directors, he said, push writers aside when the script has been completed, but Rucka had plenty of input.
"The Old Guard" premiere comes after "Stumptown" has been re-upped for a second season by ABC. "Stumptown" adapts Rucka's characters and situations, but not plots. "And, there are desperate attempts to get actual filming in Portland," Rucka added.
Rucka has written hundreds of comics and more than 20 novels (including the "Atticus Kodiak" series), as well as for video games. He's currently developing "Lazarus," co-created with Michael Lark, with Legendary Pictures and Matt Tolmach Productions. "The Old Guard" takes off on the 180-million subscriber service Netflix, meaning it could be seen by millions of people. I've seen it several times," he said. "I'm really excited to see what other people think of it."
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