Writer Steve Orlando and artist Garry Brown discuss their upcoming series “CRUDE.”

Fans of DC’s Supergirl may still be reeling from the recent announcement of the series’ impending cancellation this coming April, but writer Steve Orlando will witness a rebirth of his own with the release of CRUDE #1 on April 11. Orlando is teaming with long-time friend and first time collaborator artist Garry Brown to tell the story of a retired Russian hitman traveling to a bleak Russian refinery city to avenge the sudden death of his estranged son–a journey that will reveal as much about himself as it does his son.

You may read the solicitation for the series and quickly be reminded of Keanu Reeves’s John Wick, another story about a retired assassin pulled back into a violent life to avenge a sudden death, but Orlando doesn’t think it’s that simple for CRUDE‘s grieving father, Piotr.

The difference is, it is Piotr’s old violent life that costs him the life of his son,” Orlando told AiPT!. “It’s the lie, it’s the stoic, stereotypically silent and unemotional man he presented himself to be, the hardworking blue collar monolith, that drove his son Kiril away.”

Whereas John Wick is an action flick through and through, CRUDE is a more human drama rife with themes of sexual freedom, fleeting masculinity, and personal liberty.

This is a human drama, a human tragedy, about the ultimate failure of father and son to communicate and the bloody swath the mourning of that loss cuts across an entire city,” Orlando said. “These things–homophobia, corruption, toxic masculinity, and manipulation are an ecosystem. This is where we grow drama with true, shocking stakes, where we can grow situations that test our leads and make them fight through pain and violence more than they ever would before.”

In order to explore these themes to their fullest potential and push characters to their limits, Orlando and Brown needed a setting that exemplified the toxic ecosystem mentioned above. This brought the story to Russia, a locale not often used as a setting in comics.

“We needed an ecosystem to create story, to create heroes,” said Orlando, “and the tensions presented against the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone outside of the norm, are certainly high in Russia, while also not being exclusive to the setting.”

CRUDE writer Steve Orlando

Specifically, CRUDE takes place in a fictionalized refinery-city called Blackstone, which is inspired by existing refinery structures found in Russia. When readers get their first glimpse of Blackstone they’ll see a sprawling city that looks simultaneously futuristic yet post-apocalyptic. When designing the look of Blackstone, Brown wanted to showcase all the classes in the city, from the refinery workers to the sky-level elites.

When explaining the design of the city, Brown told AiPT “It was a lot of fun to mess with. I wanted it to look like things were continually being built on top of each other. It’s mostly refinery structures and slum-like alleyways with the occasional steel and glass office towers pushing to the sky.”  

For narrative’s sake, Orlando felt placing the story in the context of an unrelenting refinery city was the only place to tell the story he had in mind for CRUDE, a story he’s been developing for years.

Setting the book in the Russian Far East, in a dramatized refinery city based off an existing structure, came from the hope to push the tensions inherent in any society to the extreme,” Orlando said. “As tensions against anything out of the mainstream grows not just in Russia, but any culture focused on harsh, regressive gender roles, you find a desperation for freedom that drives people to boldness an heroism.”

CRUDE artist Garry Brown

Orlando is no stranger to writing grand tales of heroism, his portfolio is stacked with acclaimed titles from DC Comics like Midnighter, Batman: Night of the Monster Men and his two most recent series Supergirl and Justice League of America. His experience with these triple-A titles not only gave him experience with heroism at the highest degree, but also taught him how to make his stories more accessible.

Supergirl and Justice League of America, and all my work for a broader audience, has taught me more than ever before to know exactly what I want to say, and to get out of my own way in saying it,” Orlando said. “Clarity and focus of vision–it’s something vital to any storyteller, and CRUDE has benefited amazingly from what I’ve learned both at DC Comics and from my editors at Skybound.”

CRUDE #1 hits shelves on Wednesday, April 11, from Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics. Head to ImageComics.com to learn more about CRUDE and find a comic shop near you to pick up the first issue. For a full transcript of the interview with writer Steve Orlando and artist Garry Brown, continue reading below.

AiPT!: What made you choose modern day Russia as the setting for this story?

Steve Orlando: Setting the book in the Russian Far East, in a dramatized refinery city based off an existing structure, came from the hope to push the tensions inherent in any society to the extreme. Much like Barrow, Alaska, was presented in 30 Days of Night, the Blackstone Refinery City is a place people go to be left alone. While in Barrow, the struggle was against the elements, here, the trade-off is hard work. As tensions against anything out of the mainstream grows not just in Russia, but any culture focused on harsh, regressive gender roles, you find a desperation for freedom that drives people to boldness and heroism. We needed an ecosystem to create story, create heroes, and the tensions presented against the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone outside of the norm are certainly high in Russia, while also not being exclusive to the setting. It’s a mirror for the tensions we all face any time we leave the house.

AiPT!: Do either of you have personal experiences in Russia that helped you craft the world of CRUDE?

Orlando: I do! I lived in Russia for six months, in the city our leads are from: Vladimir, a much more blue collar city than Moscow or Peter, and less Americanized. I value my time there, having seen extremes of human behavior both shocking, checking, as well as heartwarming and moving.

AiPT!: Piotr has sort of a John Wick vibe to him in that he’s a boogeyman-esque assassin who left that life–was Piotr influenced by John Wick at all? And what other influences went into the creation of the world of CRUDE?

Orlando: CRUDE has actually been in development longer than John Wick has been existing for the public (like me), comics can take a long time to get right! But I think there is still that spiritual guidepost there–someone who didn’t want to return to his old life. The difference is, it is Piotr’s old violent life that costs him the life of his son. It’s the lie, it’s the stoic, stereotypically silent and unemotional man he presented himself to be, the hardworking blue collar monolith, that drove his son Kiril away.

Another influence of CRUDE are the great Russian painters, including Ilya Repin’s iconic 1885 “Ivan the Terrible killing his son,” which is one of my favorite paintings, and a strong influence on Piotr’s journey. Piotr is a man lost in himself until it’s too late, much like Ivan, who in a madness murders his own son.

“Ivan the Terrible killing his son”

AiPT!: As far as I can tell, this is the first comic series the two of you have worked on together–how did the two of you get connected on this project?

Orlando: Same circles! I’ve been following Garry’s work for a while, since he guested on our mutual friends Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham’s book Five Ghosts, and joined my friend Genevieve Valentine on Catwoman. We’ve known each other for a while since then, just waiting for the right moment and the right project.

AiPT!: Many comic fans know you from your work on titles like Supergirl and Justice League of America, is there anything you learned from working on those two titles that you’re able to apply to CRUDE?

Orlando: Accessibility is the main thing I’ve learned, and it’s vitally important. Supergirl and Justice League of America, and all my work for a broader audience, has taught me more than ever before to know exactly what I want to say, and to get out of my own way in saying it. Clarity and focus of vision. It’s something vital to any storyteller, and CRUDE has benefited amazingly from what I’ve learned both at DC Comics and from my editors at Skybound.

AiPT!: The first issue brings up themes like homophobia in Russian society and corruption in the oil industry, can you elaborate on other themes that readers can expect to see tackled throughout the series?

Orlando: You can absolutely expect these themes to appear, presented starkly and without reserve. That said, this is a human drama, a human tragedy, about the ultimate failure of father and son to communicate and the bloody swath the mourning of that loss cuts across an entire city. These things–homophobia, corruption, toxic masculinity, manipulation, are as I said above–an ecosystem.

This is where we grow drama with true, shocking stakes, where we can grow situations that test our leads and make them fight through pain and violence more than they ever would before. They’re the stressors, pushing our characters to the limit, as we watch them claw through the meat and blood to overcome themselves… or die trying.

AiPT!: Garry, CRUDE #1 offers a gorgeous look at the refinery city of Blackstone, which looks simultaneously futuristic yet post-apocalyptic. What went into the design of the city? And what influenced the design of the interior of the city that readers will see in upcoming issues?

Garry Brown: It was a lot of fun to mess with it. I wanted it to look like things were continually being built on top of each other. It’s mostly refinery structures and slum-like alleyways with the occasional steel and glass office towers pushing to the sky. I’m trying to show the ground-level workers and the sky-level owners.