Last week, Marvel Comics made official the news everyone had been expecting since last summer: with the start of a new CrossGen comics imprint, the publisher would also revive Mark Waid's mystery adventure "Ruse" with the writer back at the helm almost ten years after his initial run with the title.
And while the four-issue series which launches in March may bring excitement for readers of the previous iteration of CrossGen, the newly freelance writer was quick to recall that the story hook is open and ready for new fans to jump on board with. "It’s about an arrogant, Victorian-era detective named Simon Archard, his partner, Emma Bishop, and their wild adventures debunking the supernatural," Waid said, saying "Ruse" at its core is "a steampunk Sherlock Holmes with romance, witty repartee, and a hint of magic."
Originally part of the stable of comics produced by Florida-based CrossGen Entertainment in 2001, "Ruse" was originally anchored by the team of Waid and artists Butch Guice and Mike Perkins. Despite its Victorian tone, the series took place on the planet Arcadia in the mystic-like London stand-in Partington to better match the requirements of CrossGen's "Sigilverse" concept. After a year crafting tough-to-crack cases and witty repartee for Simon and Emma, Waid left the book and the company publicly critical of how CrossGen was operating. The company eventually went bankrupt in 2004 and was bought out by Disney, the current owners of Marvel.
"The one conceit that never fit into the original series but was a necessary imposition in all the CrossGen books was that one of the leads was to have super-powers regardless of the book’s genre," Waid said of the main obstacle in his original "Ruse" series. "As you can imagine, that’s not terribly conducive to the high concept of 'Ruse,' and it was an element I started ignoring as soon as possible (I think with issue three) and this time have been asked to ignore from jump. Not that there won’t be an edge of supernatural to the series, but 'Ruse,' in this incarnation, stars two very human detectives."
That overarching theme of keeping the best of the first series qualities in tact came from his publisher, as the writer explained that "'Don’t fix what isn’t broken' was one of the few requests Marvel had. Partington's still the city of record – though this 'Ruse' takes place firmly on Earth, not 'Arcadia,' which was basically Earth anyway."
One other dangling plot thread from the era where "Ruse" was part of a larger cosmology was the unresolved issue of a secret Emma Bishop was keeping from her eagle-eyed employer, and Waid said that when it comes to reintroducing that tit-for-tat relationships in the March series, "She is still keeping a secret from him, but it’s not Sigil powers or anything that ties back into the decade-old CrossGen series." The series may also include a few other characters and elements familiar from his first 12-issue run – "I can’t say too much without exposing the central mystery, but I do love [Archard's former partner-turned-adversary] Lightbourne," Waid teased – but nothing will come without a clean, engaging and new story hook.
In fact, when issue #1 debuts, Waid will throw his readers right back into the more fast-paced crime-solving elements of the series – hopefully without missing a beat. "I’m very proud of the opening, in which Simon solves a seemingly typical parlor-room murder by issuing a very bizarre decree that makes him look like either an idiot or a lunatic, and the job of the book’s first scenes – as it should be with all first issues – is to introduce the characters and let us know what they want and how they function (or, in Simon’s case, dysfunction) in the world. My first priority is to cater to new readers, but if I can bridge the gap – and I can’t promise that I can, but I’m trying – I’d love to throw some Easter eggs in there for fans of the original incarnation. But Marvel's one edict, and a wise one, was to remember 'this isn’t issue #27 of the first run. This is #1. Write it as such.'"
And it wouldn't be a Victorian mystery series without a baffling mystery to be solved – one which Waid feels ready to pile the period details into. "First and foremost, there’s a bizarre gambling epidemic sweeping the streets of Partington. Men and women from all social classes are suddenly wagering far beyond their means on anything and everything, and it threatens to drag society to a standstill. What on Earth could cause that, and who’d be behind it? Is it the same mystery man who’s stalking Simon’s associates and whose identity can be deduced only by the seating arrangement of the dollies at a little girl’s pretend tea party? Or is it related to the murder of an untouchable flagpole sitter who dies in broad daylight while seated ten stories above the ground with no one in striking distance?" he teased.
Though original artists Guice and Perkins will be providing covers for the series, relative newcomer Mirco Pierfederici is handling the unenviable task of following the pair who were as much a part of the comics critical success as Waid as. "Mirco’s attention to detail is stunning, and he’s immersing himself in the look of the era," the writer said of his new collaborator. "I love what I’ve seen so far, and I think he’s a worthy successor to his indisputably talented forerunners."
Beyond these plans for a four-issue launch, Marvel has noted that more titles and stories may follow in their CrossGen imprint aside from "Ruse" and the other incoming relaunch title "Sigil." For his part, Waid is ready and willing to continue the adventures of Archard and Bishop should sales prove viable. "I’d like that," he said simply. "Vote with your wallets!"