In a year when blockbusters were in short supply, Netflix’s The Old Guard made a massive impression, introducing millions around the world to the immortal warriors of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s comic book series. These characters have seen the world go through seismic changes, from the fall of ancient empires to the Crusades to the modern digital age. The Old Guard: Tales Through Time, a new six-issue anthology miniseries debuting in April, explores their expansive history with the help of a starry roster of comics talent.
“I’ve been there alongside Greg and Leo since the beginning, when we thought The Old Guard would be a tight five issues and done,” says editor and writer Alejandro Arbona, who joins artist Kano for a story set in 19th-century Paris. “Next thing we knew, each issue was swelling in page count, and we were plotting a sequel and a threequel, and it became a movie. We all got really attached to Greg and Leo’s immortals, and they inspired so much affection from us and from readers that we just couldn’t get enough.”
Rucka’s network runs deep after decades in the industry, and he views Tales Through Time as a celebration with writers and artists he admires, a sentiment shared by the contributors. “I love Greg,” says writer Brian Michael Bendis, who reunites with his Powers collaborators, Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma. “I love his worlds. His writing. His spirit. I have watched him build these amazing worlds with good-hearted envy. And now to be a tiny part of one, even for a few pages, is a huge honor.”
The concept of immortality opens philosophical doors for the writers on Tales Through Time, who pull different meanings from the cast’s endless struggles. “There’s been a lot of coverage calling [The Old Guard] a superhero story, but what is it that they do?” says writer Robert Mackenzie. “They don’t die, until they eventually do. Well, that’s true of all of us. So rather than living or dying, I think of it as a story about aging — and how age turns all of our lives into history, even while we’re still living them.”
Mackenzie’s story with co-writer Dave Walker and artist Justin Greenwood takes readers to a monumental moment at the end of the 1960s: the moon landing. “It’s a period of profound change and conflict,” says Dave Walker. “The Chicago Seven, Stonewall, Vietnam, Woodstock, Manson, and of course, the space race — seem such a great lens for these world-weary characters who have to feel they had seen it all.”
“The world of The Old Guard, especially when viewed through the specific lens of this kind of anthology, gives us all the chance to tell stories about these more-than-human characters throughout the totality of human history,” says writer Matt Fraction. “If what’s past is prologue, any story about where we’ve come from is ultimately a story about where we’re going. And I think these characters, in the specific, radiate out from a core of humanism: if dying doesn’t matter, then all that matters is how we live.”
“The characters are, by virtue of being immortals (and thus living through many cycles of beliefs), not bound by ‘regular’ human hangups (sexuality, nationalism, and to some extent racial bigotry), while still being deeply grounded in an empathetic moral code of their own,” says Vita Ayala, writer of a present-day heist story with artist Nicola Scott.
From 13th-century Japan to the Old West to post-WWI Berlin, Tales Through Time ventures across various time periods, settings, and storytelling genres. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, who reteams with her Bitch Planet collaborator, Valentine De Landro, took the opportunity to veer away from the ’70s-influenced work on her previous book. “Val mentioned Kurosawa and we settled very quickly on 13th-century Japan. I think it was about 10 seconds after that that we both groaned audibly because of the amount of research we knew we had ahead of us.”
“I’ve always been a sucker for a good Western,” says writer Eric Trautmann on his collaboration with artist Rick Burchett. “There’s the mythology of it all, but with characters like the heroes of The Old Guard — sort of permanent outsiders — and with the benefit of hindsight, we get to tweak and twist that myth a bit.”
“Germany between the wars was a vibrant time for queer culture,” says writer Andrew Wheeler, who follows lovers Nicky and Joe through post-WWI Berlin with artist Jacopo Camagni. “Our story is set at the twilight of that time, as the rise of fascism sweeps away the few institutions, supports, and freedoms that queer people had established for themselves. There is never a time for queer people when the victories don’t feel fragile.”
For the artists working on Tales Through Time, the dynamic between oversized action and intimate character work is a major draw. “The Old Guard is the kind of book that reminds me of how special comics can be,” says Justin Greenwood. “The story exists across many centuries, walks between massive explosions and stark violence, but never misses out on the small moments that remind us what it is to be human.”
“The privilege to observe their relationships change and evolve over the centuries opens several interesting paths on a narrative level,” says Jacopo Camagni. “This is not as common as we may think.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the capes, but sometimes drawing the everyday-looking people doing cool heroic acts is just as rewarding,” says artist Matthew Clark, who tackles the American Civil War with writer David F. Walker.
“The characters are a kind of guardian angel of humanity, and they take the work of justice further, trying to save humanity from itself,” says Kano. “The work of superheroes is usually quite poor, fighting local crime or supervillains, without getting involved in social plots. And this hardly makes a difference.”
Other creators on Tales Through Time include Jason Aaron, Steve Lieber, and Horacio Altuna. All of the new voices bringing their own perspectives to The Old Guard impact Rucka and Fernandez’s approach to the world they’ve built.
“I’m always a little stunned when people want to come and play with our toys, to be honest,” says Rucka, who reunites with Fernandez for stories in the anthology’s first and last issues. “And it helps me with my own writing. It’s easy to get set onto a track with a character or an idea — having someone come in from outside for a visit, so to speak, allows a fresh perspective, and pushes me to rethink my own assumptions and conclusions about these characters.”
“It’s amazing, and a beautiful exercise, to see how other minds conceive, understand and even suggest something over what we’ve done from scratch,” says Leandro Fernandez. “This opens a new way to understand how these characters could be seen from other eyes. All of a sudden, they have a life, a voice of their own.”