Sylvester Baladine blew his mind out in a laboratory at the conclusion of Image/Shadowline's thrill-packed miniseries "Existence 2.0," but while Sylvester's journey may have ended in his decision to forfeit his mind for the life of his dying daughter, Jenny, that doesn't herald the end of the "Existence" universe — there's still plenty of mind-hopping action to behold.
Writer Nick Spencer and artist Ron Salas are giving the franchise an overhaul in "Existence 3.0," a four issue Image Comics miniseries that kicks off on November 18. CBR News spoke with Spencer about the new series, and the writer admitted that there are some complications to deal with given the way that "2.0" ended. "Well, for all practical purposes, we killed our protagonist at the end of '2.0,' so we sort of dug ourselves a hole there, didn't we?" he said. "We pick up five minutes later, with Helen rushing to Sly's lab per his final instructions — and what she and others find upon arrival sets the wheels of our whole story in motion, really."
But Sylvester's fate isn't as clearly cut as one might think. At the end of "2.0," Sylvester, trapped inside the body of the sultry assassin Marina, brought his dying daughter to his laboratory and used the mind-jumping technology on her. As a result, young Jenny is behind the wheel of Marina's body, but Sylvester's mind should actually be buried beneath hers. "Now, that's perceptive," Spencer said in response to that notion. "In a very technical sense, Sly's not really dead at all, is he? According to the rules we set up for the transfer process, his consciousness should be pinned underneath Jenny's. So obviously, there are some huge potential ramifications there."
For now, however, the story of "3.0" belongs to Jenny. "It's a few years later, and she's a teenager trapped in a twenty-something assassin's body, so she has that adolescent temperament — those first painful pangs of teenage rebellion — but also the natural instincts and physical abilities of a professional killer," Spencer described of "3.0's" main character. "Beyond that, when it comes to the transfer process, Jenny is the only living prototype. We find out very early in '3.0' that, before moving his daughter into Marina's body, Sly essentially destroys the technology itself in an effort to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. What this inadvertently does, though, is make Jenny a target for anyone looking to re-create Sly's invention. The secrets of the process are in her brain somewhere — actually, in more ways than one. And there are some very powerful, very dangerous people looking for her because of that.
"For Jenny's part, she's been running scared from those people for a long time now," he continued. "She's stuck in someone else's body. There's this guy she can't stand — Marko — hanging around her and her mom, telling them what to do. All this makes for one angry teenage girl. And on top of that, she's her father's daughter in many ways, so the moral compass is maybe a little shakier than her mother would want it to be. [Those] casual influences we saw Sly deal with in '2.0' go for her as well, and she has some of Marina's darker and more violent tendencies on top of that."
Jenny isn't the only character from "2.0" stepping up for the new series. "Her mother — and Sly's widow — Helen plays a big role," said Spencer. "She's trying to raise her daughter in the toughest of circumstances. Helen is not Sarah Connor; this is not her natural environment by any stretch. For her, this is all about just finding a normal life for her and her daughter again. So there's a lot of confusion and frustration there, and nothing she can do with it. We also get to know Marko a lot better, and that's a lot of fun because obviously he's very recognizable visually to readers of '2.0,' but now this is the real him, someone we barely got to know in the last series — and he's a very different person than Sly was. He's trying to protect Jenny and Helen out of a sense of duty to Sly, who basically gave him his life back. The problem is, Marko is not a nice guy. He's one of the most feared killers in the world, and now he's forced into all these roles he's not used to. He has a strong sense of honor, but it's being tested by all this."
While many of the characters in "3.0" are familiar — "Marko's information guy is back along for the ride, and is apparently as bulletproof as always," Spencer teased — there are certain aspects, such as the scope of the book's villains, that are getting revamped. "In '2.0,' you saw a mobster trying to cheat cancer through the transfer process, but that's an incredibly low-level use really," the writer explained. "In '3.0,' the vultures are swarming. The big corporations are eager to get their hands on the technology and make full use of it. Even then, there are even bigger forces at play here, so the scope and scale of this just keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Additionally, the practical uses of Sylvester's mind-jumping technology will be explored in greater detail. "By the midway point of '3.0,' people are going to see [that] we are dealing with a lot more here than just the 'freaky Fridays,' as Sly once called them. It's like, whenever a new technology emerges, it can take years for people to realize all the potential applications and uses," said Spencer. "We're going to look a lot deeper into where Sly got his inspiration from. The answer will take us beyond science, and then maybe back again. If you look at '2.0' and the basic premise of the transfer's nature as Sly laid out in the closing pages, you can probably see there's something much bigger on the horizon. One of the fun things about this book is the way we get to touch on concepts in physics and psychology and biology without getting too tied down in it. There's definitely a lot more of that in this one."
Even as Spencer pulls out the lens on the "Existence" universe in terms of the players involved, the technology at hand, and more, "3.0" will focus on the smaller stuff as well. "In many ways, '3.0' is very much a family drama about the relationships between Jenny, Helen and Marko," he said. "'3.0' is very much about repercussions. In a lot of ways, this one is about the fallout of everything Sly did and the people he left behind. People like his wife and his daughter, they treat these things very, very differently from how he did. I also think a lot of this story is about step-parents. Growing up, my parents stayed together, but most of my closest friends had to deal with divorce, so I really tried to call on that here. Jenny is struggling with the loss of her father, and here's Marko, who kind of represents everything that went wrong. He's spending a lot of time with her mother and telling her what to do. None of it feels right or fair or appropriate to her, so those tensions become a major driving force in this story."
Jenny's teenage angst, combined with her body's killer instincts, makes for an incredibly enjoyable character by Spencer's standards. "She's been incredibly fascinating to write," he said. "Popular fiction has no shortage of 'La Femme Nikita' types — there's always something intriguing about that dichotomy of a young girl thrust into a violent and dangerous world and wreaking some havoc of her own. But a lot of the time, I read these characters and they seem more like what adults want teenagers to be, rather than what they are. I really tried to capture the moodiness, the awkwardness, the frustration that comes with those years, and how that would play out with so many guns and katana blades laying around."
But none of that will be captured by way of monologue, as that noirish narrative device died with Sylvester. "I think the book reads pretty differently from '2.0,' just as a result of not having Sly around to narrate and guide us," said Spencer. "That in and of itself puts the reader in the same place as all those people Sly left behind. We could have had Jenny or Helen narrate this, but I think this will be more effective — hopefully, it creates the same sense of absence and loss that his family has."
There are also some visual distinctions between "2.0" and "3.0" as well, particularly in how the opening sequences of each miniseries unfolds. "I'll say [that] our opening sequence plays with timeline and structure in a way that I haven't seen in a comic before, and to my eyes, Ron just killed it — in fact, the first eleven pages of '3.0' #1 might be the strongest sequence I've ever had a hand in creating," said the writer. "I'm always looking for new ways to structure a story, and if you don't have the right artist, that can blow up in your face pretty easily. But Ron is such a gifted storyteller, he really pays attention to what you're trying to do, and adds his own elements to really take it up to a new level. As such, I can ask him to do stuff I might normally be nervous about with a different artist, knowing he'll get it. For a writer, that's incredibly liberating."
With "3.0" launching so closely after the conclusion of "2.0," it wouldn't be unrealistic for fans to hope for a continued "Existence" past the upcoming miniseries. "Obviously, a lot just depends on fan reaction," Spencer said of the title's future. "We try to craft these endings so that they feel like fulfilling stories in and of themselves. I feel like, if '3.0' had never happened, "2.0" offered a very intriguing and satisfactory conclusion — albeit a surprising one — and we're going to try and do the same thing here. As for a true conclusion, again, I just refer back to most major technological innovations: you can never put the genie back in the bottle, so in that sense, there will always be stories to tell, here."
For now, fans will have to be satisfied with "Existence 3.0." If Spencer's own words are any indicator, there will be plenty of satisfaction to be had and then some: "Death by necktie; a husband and wife living in the same head; a murderous and clinically insane Richard Branson — and that's just the first issue!"
"Existence 3.0" #1, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Ron Salas, hits comic book stores on November 18, 2009.