by Brian Truitt)
One guy has a modern-day reality TV show, another has an 18th-century wood shop, and a family curse connects them over three centuries of New York City history in Thomas Alsop.
Both a social satire and a supernatural horror story, the upcoming Boom! Studios comic book focuses on Thomas Alsop and his great-great-grandfather Richard, both of whom are magical caretakers of Manhattan as "The Hand of the Island."
"It strikes the perfect balance between scary and fun, and stupid and profound," Danish artist Palle Schmidt says of the eight-issue series launching June 18.
With a look and personality inspired by Keanu Reeves and Chris Cornell, Thomas Alsop is the latest enigmatic warlock type to hit comics, following in the lines of Doctor Strange or John Constantine. One difference: Thomas has his own supernatural TV series, the result of a video gone viral years earlier of him taking care of a threatening demon.
Thomas' body is covered by tattoos, half of which look like magic symbols and the rest like something a sailor would get, according to Schmidt. There are some important Easter eggs hidden in them, says series writer Chris Miskiewicz, "and then others he was probably so trashed in the East Village at one point that he got the heart with an arrow at the same time."
Like with all the Hands in his family, the actual island of Manhattan communicates with him to veer Thomas toward situations that need his paranormal expertise, but though there's often drunkenness involved and perhaps the hashtag "#ThomasAlsopIsTheKingOfMagic" thrown onto a few tweets.
His father, who was the Hand for a few decades starting in the 1960s, was the second-best protector the island's ever had, but what appeals to Schmidt about Thomas is he's the black sheep of sorts — his TV show is essentially a big middle finger to the family business.
"Everybody's had that college friend who says things at the wrong time, does whatever they want, has something within themselves that they're burning through and it totally affects their actions constantly," Miskiewicz says.
"He is probably the worst possible Hand that could be in New York at this time," Schmidt adds. "Yet at the same time, he's the best — he's the only one who can do this.
"But we definitely don't play him up as a hero. He battles demons outside and within."
The major unsolved case he's faced with 2011 actually originates in the 1700s with Richard Alsop.
He's the first Hand and head of a noble Dutch family who's given these strange abilities by a Native American shaman, and in his time Richard finds himself dealing with Messiah Bliss and a murky, weird cult called the Black Ring. Bliss has brought a slave ship to New York filled with old curses, incantations and nightmarish conflicting spells, and the vessel plays a role later on in Thomas' time, too.
Both Alsops wind up working on this same case in their own eras, and in the second issue there is "a fairly controversial" reveal where in the last two pages "Thomas uncovers pretty much the worse thing he could ever uncover in New York," says Miskiewicz adding that the next six issues will show "what kind of a hero he is, what kind of a person he is and can he measure up."
There is a large supporting cast over three centuries, and if the first miniseries does well, Miskiewicz envisions a five-volume arc that explores various Hands, such as Mary Jenkins Alsop's work in the rough 19th-century Five Points neighborhood and the Serpico-esque stuff that Thomas' father was involved in during the 1970s.
Thomas is surrounded his share of modern allies, too, such as his show producer Marcus Rogers, his girlfriend Susan and an actor-turned-cabbie named Cal who gets involved in the adventures as Thomas' driver. Plus an ex of Thomas' from the '90s, a witch named Emma Caldwell, comes to town to help him with the big case uncovered in the second issue.
The one constant throughout the Alsop eras is Manhattan, and it acts as a main character of the series as well as a huge historical influence on the series.
New York City "is a really, really strange place when you start digging deep," says Miskiewicz, who resides in Brooklyn.
Finding a grave site in Queens' Cavalry Cemetery for a 1-month-old Richard Alsop — that location was actually the family plot of the real-life Alsops in the 1600s — sent Miskiewicz's imagination running in the beginning. And he continues to finds the town rife with stories to tell, such as recently wanting to put something in about Captain Kidd after reading that the pirate buried treasure at Liberty Island in the early 1700s.
It's all a great place to put Thomas Alsop, a brash, sarcastic New Yorker who just happens to be from one of the most bizarre families ever.
Even with all his faults, Miskiewicz says Thomas is the type of lovable jerk where "you're always rooting for them to figure out whatever the hell it is. There's a reason you love them.
"He's a guy with a really great heart — you've just got to get to it."