Nearly a year into Mark Waid and Peter Krause's “Irredeemable,” readers now know the true horror of a superhero gone wrong. The Plutonian, a Superman-like hero who snaps under the pressure of constant media and popular scrutiny, has destroyed his home city, terrorized and murdered his former teammates in the Paradigm, and cut a swath of destruction across the planet. The surviving heroes search desperately for a way to stop him, and may have their best hope in the Survivor, a hero formerly known as Charybdis who absorbed his brother Scylla's power upon the latter's death. But the cure may be worse than the disease, and Charybdis isn't the only member of the Paradigm harboring a secret.
“Irredeemable” #10 is in stores now, and the spinoff series “Incorruptible,” starring reformed villain Max Damage and his sidekick Jailbait, reaches its third issue later this month. BOOM! Studios has recently announced that April will see the release of the “Irredeemable Special” #1, written by Waid and featuring stories illustrated by Howard Chaykin, Emma Rios, and Paul Azaceta. CBR News spoke with Waid about the special, why this story shouldn't be told at the Big Two, and balancing dark stories with light.
“The special is serving two purposes: first off, it's a way of spotlighting, in short solo stories, some of the other Paradigm characters we haven't been able to explore as much, like Kaidan,” Waid said. Another story will focus on Max Damage and Jailbait from “Incorruptible,” while the final story has yet to be finalized but will most likely feature Qubit, the Paradigm's master scientist. The writer added that the stories will primarily be flashback tales chronicling the heroes' adventures before the Plutonian went rogue. “The other purpose, as you can tell by the Max/Jailbait inclusion, is to serve as a primer for new readers for the 'Irredeemable' universe.
“It's a good jumping on point if you've not been there with the characters before, but at the same time, if you have been following ['Irredeemable'], it's integral reading.”
The three artists for the special will be Emma Rios, Paul Azaceta, and Howard Chaykin, providing very distinct styles for each story. “Emma just blew us all away with 'Hexed,' which she did with Michael Alan Nelson,” Waid said, “and then when I found that she was available for 'Strange' with Marvel, I leapt at that chance. She never disappoints. Her work is so unique and her storytelling is just exemplary. [She is] probably on Kaidan, though it's still a little up in the air.”
On Azaceta, who previously worked with Waid on “Potter's Field” and “Amazing Spider-Man,” Waid said, “What I like about Paul's work is that he knows how to do the superhero pyrotechnics, but it's also a very street-level look to the characters, very grounded reality. He's good for sort of giving us the world view from the common man's point of view.”
Working with fellow industry veteran Howard Chaykin, though, for essentially the first time, Waid is taking care to make his Max Damage/Jailbait story worthy of the artist's talents. “The only thing I've done with Howard before this was a two-page Black Canary origin for '52.' This is a whole different animal,” Waid said. “Of all the stories I'm working on for this special, that's the one I'm working hardest on, because I want to make sure I play to all of Howard's strengths and give him something that he really can be excited about drawing.”
Waid has written most of comics' greatest heroes, from his famous run on “The Flash” to “Superman: Birthright” to “JLA” to “Captain America,” and is currently on the writers' rota for the thrice-monthly “Amazing Spider-Man.” He said, though, that “Irredeemable” offers storytelling opportunities not available when working with these classic characters.” “Besides the obvious fact that I can go off in whatever direction I want to go off, [which is] probably the most exciting thing about it, it's also the notion that I'm able to tell what I feel are very personal stories with these characters and explore emotions and realities that aren't as easily available to you as a writer if you're writing within a shared universe where everybody gets a say about who this character is, or a bunch of different writers and artists have their own interpretation of these characters,” Waid said. "The fact that I'm able to define them myself makes my own personal investment in them stronger.”
He added the caveat, though, that this should not be taken to mean that he would like to tell “Irredeemable”-type stories on the Marvel or DC canvas. “I see online from time to time somebody saying, 'clearly, this is the story he wanted to tell in the DC universe but couldn't,' and that's just patently not true,” Waid told CBR. “I wouldn't want to tell this story in the DC universe, I wouldn't want to tell this story in the Marvel universe, because it's a much grimmer, darker reality than I think the standard superhero characters of Marvel and DC deserve to be put through.
“It's really been, I think people would be surprised that there's really been very little of, 'gee, I wonder what it would be like if Captain Marvel did this instead of what we're used to him doing.' There's very little of that,” the writer continued. “It's not about how they use their powers or the violent things these characters do, it's more about what is going through your head that you have to be in the public eye 24/7 and never disappoint.”
Despite what might be seen as a cynical concept of a “Dark Superman” wreaking havoc, Waid's long history in the superhero business and his love for the genre show through in the series and make it something other than the usual “deconstruction of the superhero.” “The good news is, the pendulum has swung back to where I'm more comfortable,” Waid said of the current popular feeling toward superheroes. “Clearly, when superheroes first debuted, they were held up as paragons of virtue and they were certainly role models for kids. It got very cynical in the '80s and '90s about how dumb superheroes could really be, if people really walked around in spandex all the time how dumpy they would look, and people would focus on that. But that's not what I'm interested in writing about. Anybody with a keyboard can write a story about how stupid superheroes would be if they really existed. So that just flatly doesn't interest me. What interests me more is writing about people, and that they are superheroes is secondary to their personalities, secondary to their makeup. I'm sort of looking at the book as, not what happens with superheroes, but what happens with celebrities. It's more of a comment on celebrity culture than it is a comment on superhero culture.”
Which is not to say that “Irredeemable” is not dark, especially when compared to Waid's other regular series, “The Incredibles” on BOOM!'s kids imprint. “It's a constant spinning of plates, it's a constant running around and trying to adjust my mindset,” Waid said of writing the two titles, along with taking his turn on “Amazing Spider-Man.” “It's not that hard to make the shift, but every once in a while when I have to write an 'Irredeemable' scene that is really dark and really ugly and really forces me to look underneath some rocks in my own soul and see what's there, I'll admit I've written a couple scenes—one in issue 12 is by far—by far!—the darkest thing that I have ever written in my entire life. I had a dream earlier in that day of finishing that scene up and then moving on to do some 'Incredibles' stuff, and by the time I was finished writing that dark dark thing I just wanted to go take a long, hot shower and crawl into bed. There was no writing the 'Incredibles' at that point.
“It was sort of that weird psychic hangover of having looked at some really dark, ugly things. In order to write this stuff, I really have to go to those emotions. I can't write Plutonian or Max Damage or any of these characters and get to the heart of what they're all about without going there with them, you know?”