Writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi at a recent San Diego Comic-Con
It was a while ago that Joseph Mallozzi and his writing/producer partner Paul Mullie joined the creative ranks of Stargate SG-1. The show became one of the most successful franchises in TV history, lasting for 10 seasons and spawning two spin-offs, Stargate Atlantis and SGU: Stargate Universe. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and when SGU ended after two years, the writing duo went on to new professional ventures. Their latest one, Dark Matter, is a sci-fi comic book that debuts this month with Dark Horse Comics. The concept, which serves as the launching pad for a potential TV series, is one that Mallozzi had kicking around in his mind for some time.
“It was maybe three or four years ago that I started thinking, ‘You know what, we [Mallozzi and Mullie] should start prepping for the future so whenever Stargate ends we can transition into our own series,’” recalls Mallozzi. “One of the things I’m very excited about with this show is that there are a lot of twists and turns, and one of the biggest surprises comes at the end of the pilot script. The actual comic books break down quite nicely into two issues per script hour, which means the two-part opening pilot for the TV series would be the first four issues of the comic book.
“So I’d had this idea for quite a while and I just started thinking about it and fleshing out the characters as well as the twists and turns of the story that I wanted to tell. Every year, though, I had to put off going forward with it because Stargate kept getting picked up, and, of course, Stargate was my priority. One of the great things about having all that time to basically think things though is that it really allowed me to develop the characters, but more importantly the story.
“This is a series that’s built on mysteries, but it’s not going to be one of those shows where you set up all these mysteries and there’s never any pay off because sometimes the writers don’t know where they’re going. I know exactly where I’m going; I’ve got a beginning, middle and an end, not only for the TV series but for the different arcs of our various characters and their individual storylines. The benefit of that is actually being able to foreshadow and drop clues for the loyal audience member who is paying attention. They’ll be able to piece everything together and hopefully arrive at the conclusion, or some conclusions, ahead of perhaps the more casual viewer. I wrote the pilot script a year and a half ago and then Paul did his pass on it. We then decided to sit on it for a bit and wait to see what happened with Stargate.”
When it comes to the actual story of Dark Matter, Mallozzi is cautious not to reveal any of the twists and turns that he and Mullie so diligently crafted. “The story opens with a derelict ship floating in space,” explains the writer. “Inside it’s very dank and dirty - I describe it as more Nostromo [from the Alien feature film] than [Star Trek’s] Enterprise - and the ship is venting atmosphere. You hear a disembodied computer voice saying, ‘Life support at 40 percent.’
“Wandering through the hallways, you eventually come to this big chamber housing about a dozen stasis pods. One of the pods slides open and spews amniotic fluid onto the floor. A man, who we’ll refer to as One, also gets dumped out. I imagine him to be a Ben Browder/Farscape hero-type. This guy appears to be bewildered, but when he hears the alarm he rushes out into the hallway. He starts running down a corridor, then stops, turns around and goes the other way. It’s as if he doesn’t know where he’s going.
“One finally stumbles onto the bridge and starts pressing buttons to try to bring the ship’s systems online. Suddenly he hears something behind him. He turns and sees this beautiful Asian woman who’s dripping wet and also dressed in a stasis suit. She takes him by surprise, clocks him head first into the console, drops him, then takes over and brings life support back online. After a brief pause, he looks at her and asks, ‘What did I do?’ And she just says, ‘You were in the way.’
“Before they exchange more words, the two of them hear a ‘click.’ A third person appears behind them. He’s a grizzled, battle-scarred guy who’s also dressed in a stasis suit and pointing two guns at One and the woman. He asks them, ‘Who the hell are you?’ and at the same time they say, ‘I don’t know. Who are you?’ He says, ‘I have no idea.’
“That’s the [opening] teaser. Then we cut back to the stasis room and all the pods have opened. It turns out that there are six crewmembers, none of whom know who they are, where they come from or where they’re going. The first episode deals with these people and their quest for answers as they search this almost spooky ship for clues to what’s going on. The entire series is essentially a journey of discovery for them as they put together the pieces of their past lives. It’s a high-adventure show which I liken to Stargate in terms of the humor, although I don’t think the humor will be as broad as, let’s say, SG-1 in its later years. There will be kind of a darker element to it, too, but the key will be the main characters. I’ve always said that a premiere will draw viewers to a show, but it’s the characters and their relationships that keep viewers coming back.”
As the two writers waited patiently to make the next step with Dark Matter, the creative process took an unexpected turn. “I’ve always been a huge comic book fan,” says Mallozzi. “I think my love or passion for comic books has waxed or waned over the years. I’ll go maybe a year or two without reading anything, and then I’ll pick up everything and start reading again. I’ll drop whatever doesn’t appeal to me and keep reading whatever does interest me for as long as it interests me. Eventually I’ll drop the last title and go another two years without reading.
“I especially like creator-driven titles like, for example, Scalped by Jason Aaron and The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. What I like about those titles is that the writers can tell any type of story that they want and they’re not restricted by anyone saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ There’s an editor, obviously, but they’re not there to creatively shackle the writer. That really appealed to me and I thought, ‘I want to make Dark Matter into a TV series, but it would be great to establish it first as a comic book,’ given that established properties generally tend to be a little more attractive to networks and broadcasters.
“My agent, Jim Ehrich, has a relationship with Dark Horse Comics, and they do terrific creator-driven titles in addition to movie and TV tie-ins such as Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I pitched Dark Matter to Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse and not only did he like it, but he also championed the project for me and Paul at Dark Horse. We eventually got an editor, Patrick Thorpe, who’s fantastic, and a Scottish artist named Garry Brown.”
Did writing a comic book script differ from writing for TV? “Actually, it was very different,” notes Mallozzi. “To be honest, when we got the go-ahead to do the comic book, I thought, ‘Why don’t I just turn in the pilot script and leave it to the artist.’ I liken the [comic book] artist to the [TV or film] director, who more or less takes what’s on the written page and visualizes it for the audience. However, our editor said, ‘No, no, no. You and Paul better write the script.’
“I did a little research on writing comic book scripts and discovered that it’s quite unlike films and TV. You break it down into panels and have to be fairly descriptive. In fact, I wasn’t descriptive enough and at certain points Patrick said to me, ‘You need to help the audience envision what they’re seeing in terms of the ship, including its size.’ It was a bit of a learning curve but satisfying nonetheless, and it got easer as time went on and I found a nice rhythm.”
Once the Dark Matter comic book hits the stands, Mallozzi hopes it will not be long before he and Mullie can begin making plans to bring the story to life for TV.
“As I mentioned, I have a beginning, middle and an end, so a miniseries, hopefully a long miniseries, would be a possibility,” muses the writer. “Ideally, a TV series would be preferable. It would give us more time to tell our story and it would also be the type of show, like Stargate, where the episodes would be mostly standalone with the occasional two- or three-parter. New viewers could then step in and follow along, while loyal fans would be rewarded for staying on long term because we’ll peel back the onion on these characters and their back stories in addition to this world we’ve created.
“Right now we’re pitching the show and talking to production companies as well as networks. If we can get the green light we can fast track things, but in this business you never know. We’ve got the Stargate fans who I guess are looking for the next big TV franchise, and it would be wonderful if Dark Matter could be it,” enthuses the writer.
Please note that all comic book panel images above courtesy of Joseph Mallozzi and copyright of Joseph Mallozzi/Paul Mulie and Dark Horse Comics.