The Next ‘Walking Dead’? A Walled-Off USA Crumbles In ‘Undiscovered Country’

This week a New York Comic Con edition of Hero Nation Index, Deadline’s weekly round-up of Hollywood news from sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and superhero fare. Also, at the bottom of this post you’ll fid an exclusive excerpt from the Image Comics series Undiscovered Country.

EXCLUSIVE: It’s rare to see a Hollywood bidding war for a comic book series that hasn’t been published yet so there was considerable pent-up curiosity at New York Comic Con over the weekend regarding Undiscovered Country, the Image Comics sci-fi saga that doesn’t launch until November 6 but already qualifies as a Hollywood hot property.

New Republic Pictures won acquisition auction with a seven-figure deal with an eye toward a feature film franchise that would evoke post-apocalyptic epics such as The Walking Dead and Max Max. That franchiser would be rooted in the same intriguing (and politically timely) premise as the Image series: Thirty years after the United States walls-off its borders and severs international relations, the fate of the once great republic is a mystery. That changes when a deadly pandemic threatens the globe. A team dispatched to find the cure at any cost follows a trail that leads them past the fortified California coastline and into the dangerous landscape that was once known the “home of the brave.”

The synopsis from Image: “Undiscovered Country takes place 30 years in the future in a territory once known as the United States that has been walled off after a global pandemic. Journeying into the interior, a diplomatic expedition in search of a cure is force to reckon with the truth about themselves and their mission as they traverse the strange land.”

Not everyone has to wait until November to find out what’s on the far side of the wall. There were 1,000 special, NYCC-only preview copies printed up by Image for the big weekend and, needless to say, the $10 issues were highly coveted and quickly sold-out.

The Undiscovered Country is a creator-owned property  — the creators in this case being writers Scott Snyder (Wytches) and Charles Soule (Curse Words) as well as artist Giuseppe Camuncoli (Amazing Spider-Man) — but its promising launch is mighty good news for Image. The Portland, Oregon, publisher lost its flagship brand and bestselling title when The Walking Dead series ended abruptly in July after 16 years and 193 monthly issues.

Can Undiscovered Country step up as the inheritor of The Walking Dead mantle? Following in the footsteps of The Walking Dead isn’t for the faint of heart in most any circumstances but the Undiscovered Country team has their mind on the horizon ahead of them, not the shadow cast by the past.

Undiscovered Country feels like the right book at the right time, to me,” Soule said. “A huge concept that lets us look at the great American experiment through an action/adventure lens, and a premise that gives us the ability to use the massive mythology, history and iconography of the US to do just about anything we want.”

That “anything we want” attitude may extend beyond the comic book realm: Snyder and Soule are attached to write the screenplay for the New Republic Pictures adaptation. The pair are also executive producers along with artist Camuncoli. The illustrator said the project already has the aura of something special.

“This is not my first foray in creator-owned territory, but it definitely seems different—with Undiscovered Country, I immediately sensed that the scale I was measuring myself with was unprecedented,” Camuncoli said. “It’s such a thrilling and ambitious premise, with such a spectacular and sick world and cast of characters to design and build, the one that Scott and Charles came up with, that it felt like an irresistible call to me. Looks like I’m working on something special every day, and it’s electrifying.”

Like The Walking Dead,  Undiscovered Country is planned as an open-ended monthly series. That raises interesting questions about the narrative independence of the comics series and film project. With the same writing team handling both the screenplay and the Image series, a loyal adaptation certainly seems likely but, still,  I asked Soule if he and Snyder had a gameplay as far as tethering the script to the events was depicted in the comics.

“The overarching setup and story for both film and comic will be the same, or at least very similar,” Soule explained. “The small beats will probably change between each medium. The truth is, though, telling a story as a monthly comic over several years versus a film, or even a trilogy of films, requires different emphasis and pacing. It’s not the same experience. And we’re not trying to make it equivalent.”

And what about the characters?

“The main characters in the story are a brother and sister, Daniel and Charlotte Graves, who were sent out of the US as children just before the nation sealed itself off from the world,” Soule explained. “Their parents seem to, possibly, have been involved in that event, known as the Sealing, and there’s a big mystery around it all. They are part of the seven-person expedition that re-enters the closed US to see what’s happened to it, and their story is central to everything. We also have Dr. Sam Elgin, the American scientist who issued the original invitation to the expedition, who seems to be dramatically changed once our crew meets him in the US, and the primary villain of the story’s first arc: the Destiny Man, a.k.a. the “black god of the desert.” Lots of amazing characters to meet in the story.”

Synder, who became a superstar Batman writer at DC Comics, after a stint as a protege of Stephen King (who, but the way, is having a big year). Snyder has several properties that are being developed around town (including two other Image series, A.D.: After Death at Sony and Wytches at New Regency) and is a real talent who (like King) has a flair for grounded characters caught up in over-the-top situations. It’s clear he’s enjoying his work on Undiscovered Country, too.

“It’s the kind of series I loved as a kid—over-the-top, epic adventure,” Snyder said. “An expedition of explorers traversing a weird, wild unknown land… Monsters, mutants, every new territory a new wonder or terror. But it’s also a deeply personal book, an exploration into who we are, and who we could become.”

UNDISCOVERED DEFINITIONS: The name of the series is a familiar one for fans of both Shakespeare and Starfleet. The evocative term is from the most famous speech in literature,  Hamlet’s soliloquy, and is clearly a reference to the unknowable landscapes that await in the hereafter.

But that the dread of something after death,—
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns,—puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

The phrase was also memorably used for the title of a Hollywood Enterprise in 1991: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the underrated Federation film with the cast from the original television series as well a memorable infusion of new faces to the franchise (Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Kim Cattrell, René Auberjonois, Iman, and Brock Peters).

It was co-writer and director Nicholas Meyer who pinched the Shakespeare reference. The erudite Meyer is also a novelist (The Seven-Percent Solution) and student of literature, which perhaps gave him the poetic license to warp the phrase’s original meaning. A Klingon leader named Gorkon (played by Warner) offers a conciliatory toast during an uncomfortable dinner with Starfleet officers. “To the undiscovered country…the future!” Not long after, Gorkon is assassinated so maybe the reference  works both ways.

I asked Soule about using a title with so much history. His answer offered an intriguing insight into the themes of this latest Undiscovered Country: “We’re very aware of the way this term has been used in other works of popular culture. Can I call Shakespeare pop culture? I guess it was at the time… Giving our story this title was absolutely intentional, and we hope that someday down the road it’ll be considered just another way the words “Undiscovered Country” can resonate. Our altered USA is definitely full of mysteries, including death, as well as its future and its past. The book is about rediscovering a United States that was one thing and is now another… and what that will mean both for itself and the larger world.”

Exclusive excerpt from the issue No. 1 of Undiscovered Country… 

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