After proving to the world that “Mark Waid is Evil” with “Irredeemable,” an ongoing series about the devastating fall of the world’s greatest hero, the veteran writer followed up with another series set in the same universe, this time reforming one of Earth’s most deadly villains. Waid, who also serves as BOOM! Studios’ Chief Creative Officer, established “Incorruptible” as a counterpoint to “Irredeemable” in every way -- the heroic Plutonian’s murderous rampage and subsequent further descent into evil inspired Max Damage, who once thought nothing of wanton destruction and torturing hostages, to be the savior of a world desperately in need of saving. Max, though, is not sure what it takes to be a hero, other than not breaking the law. As a result, he’s still viewed with general suspicion, has alienated his former sidekick and lover -- the appropriately-named Jailbait -- and has set the supervillain community against him. But that’s only where his problems begin...
With “Incorruptible” #12 in stores next week, CBR News spoke with Waid about the first year of the series, how the story has evolved in the telling and what’s coming up for Year Two.
CBR News: Mark, let’s begin with a quick review--how would you describe Max Damage’s life over the past year? For those who haven’t been following the series, what do readers need to know to get up to speed?
Mark Waid: Max Damage was the world's greatest super-villain -- until his arch-enemy, the world-beloved Plutonian, snapped and became an angry god out to punish mankind. At that point, Max had a personal epiphany, a moment of clarity that made him step up to defend humanity when no one else could. Now, while formulating an ultimate "Anti-Plutonian" plan, he's re-training himself as a superhero with the aide of his sidekick, Headcase (formerly known as "Jailbait II").
Max's power is that his strength and invulnerability increase the longer he's awake. After a night's sleep, he's vulnerable for about an hour, give or take -- but soon after that, his skin begins to harden and his senses of taste, touch and smell begin to slowly evaporate. Given a few days of being awake, Max is strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Plutonian -- but given a few days of being awake, he's also not terribly focused, since sleep deprivation still has an effect on him.
“Incorruptible” is not only the flipside to “Irredeemable” in terms of “hero gone bad” and “villain gone good,” but also shifts the focus in supporting cast from super-people to regular people (with exceptions, of course, in both cases). Between the two titles, what do we know about the world following the Plutonian’s fall, and what might we not have seen yet?
What we do know about the world is that it's literally teetering on the brink of collapse. The world economy has all but fallen through, the general infrastructure of civilized nations has come to a screeching halt...the planet's at a standstill. And there's more to be seen, because now that the Plutonian's been taken off-Earth, it's up to Max and Plutonian's former teammates in the Paradigm to set the world right -- and, trust me, they'll have quite differing ideas as to the best way to do this.
You’ve said previously that “Irredeemable” does not necessarily have to be the Plutonian’s book, that its themes hold true for other characters and could continue without him (not that you’re getting rid of him, but that you could). Is the same true for “Incorruptible,” or does it not work without Max Damage?
That one doesn't work as much without Max, but what's interesting is how his moral transformation is a wake-up call to the supporting cast. His sidekick Jailbait seems to have come to grips with a need for change. His greatest ally, Police Lieutenant Armadale, a chronic alcoholic, is inspired to change ("If Max can be good, there's hope for anybody"). And the newest cast member, Alana Patel -- Plutonian's ex-girlfriend -- is proving to be newly incorruptible as well.
From some of your discussions on convention panels, it sounds like you are very willing, eager even, to let these characters lead you where they want to go. Have there been any instances where Max has really surprised you in first 11 issues? Or has Jailbait, or have the others?
Max certainly has. He's turned out far more taciturn and single-minded than I'd originally envisioned. He's more like Plutonian than he realizes -- the secret to both men is that they long for a vulnerability denied them by their powers, powers that disconnect them from the world surrounding them -- but Max's inflexibilty has shocked me. But the biggest surprise has been Jailbait, who grew up a lot faster than I'd predicted she would. I think that's a function of a hard, hard world.
What made me think of this idea of changing directions was actually the heroic name change--”Damage” to “Danger”--that was mentioned when the series was first announced but which still hasn’t transpired. Is rebranding still in the cards for Max?
I don't think so. That was the plan, but as I got into it, I realized the fundamental difference between Plutonian and Max. Plutonian's obsessed with what others think of him, so he'd be conscious of branding. Max, on the other hand, could not possibly care less what anyone else in the world thinks of him, and I found that he's just not that interested in rebranding. Alana might convince him otherwise.
In the first arc, we got to meet Max and Jailbait and see their... unusual dynamic. Given their past and the choices Max makes during her rescue, who are they to each other?
To Max before he reformed, Jailbait was just a hot piece of very inappropriate underage ass that he had because he could. And to Jailbait, who was very confused and very directionless, Max was exciting and protective and provided her with anything she liked. Once Max changed, he realized Jailbait was a real problem -- he couldn't rightfully be with her, but he couldn't let her just walk away because he'd become responsible for her. He knew it was wrong to keep an underage girl at his side -- but he knew it was even more wrong, in this post-Plutonian anarchistic world, to let her walk around unprotected, targeted by anyone and everyone who ever held a grudge against Max.
Now? Now Jailbait's off planning her own life sans Max -- but she'll be back, and soon, and her attitude will come as a shock.
You introduced “Jailbait II,” now Headcase, fairly early in the series. How did this character emerge? And what sets her apart from Max’s previous sidekick?
Annie, a.k.a. Jailbait II, a.k.a. Headcase, is the series' biggest surprise to me. I'd never intended her to be an ongoing character, but I came to like her in her one appearance as "Fake Jailbait," and when I needed to show how loathsome the racist Diamond Gang was, it made sense to throw Annie's parents on the fire. I realized I had a true find here, a crimefighter with a unique motivation -- total denial. She's so traumatized by the way the Plutonian's destroyed the world that her parents' death put her over the top, and now superheroing is her escape. She's play-acting as "Jailbait," and deep down she knows it, and she doesn't care. It's like every day is Halloween to her; she gets to be someone she's not, and she's not interested in returning to the life she knew. Max, first-hand witness to this disturbing "coping" mechanism, has taken to calling her "Headcase."
That first arc also has the most amount of supervillain activity to date, and gives a few glimpses into Max’s past. As you see it, why does the story begin here, or what sort of groundwork does this story allow you to build from?
The heavy supervillainy in the first arc was necessary to really set up who Max was and why he turned. Following arcs are more about what the world has become and how Max's inflexible black-and-white attitude towards right and wrong is constantly challenged by a gray world.
During the second half of the first year you moved into a storyline featuring a gang of white supremacists, the Diamond Gang you mentioned earlier, who saw the Plutonian’s rampage as some kind of divine retribution. As tortured as their reasoning might be, it does seem like there’s always somebody talking about “god’s punishment” after an unthinkable disaster. Why, in your story, did this take the form it did?
Part of the mission statement for “Incorruptible” to set it apart from its sister series was that “Irredeemable's” about the superheroes in the world, while “Incorruptible” is the street-level view showing us how the rest of the planet is coping with Plutonian's madness. And it made perfect sense to me that there'd be a group of people who were so scared of the randomness of Plutonian's rampages that they'd convince themselves they were "safe" because they were "doing Plutonian's bidding." This is, of course, crap, but it was a truth the Diamond Gang invented because they needed something to cling to -- that they were somehow "protected" because they were Plutonian's "followers." Max disabused them of this notion of safety.
Something I’ve found really interesting about the series is the unlikely alliances it sets up -- Max and Armadale was a good start, and of course Jailbait was very nice -- but now he seems to be teaming up with Alana Patel, the Plutonian’s ex, and a new protege in Headcase. We know that Armadale is hoping for similar redemption, but what draws some of these other personalities to Max?
Alana just needs someone through whom she can find redemption. She blames herself for Plutonian snapping (and she's not totally wrong), so helping Max become the hero that Plutonian once was is her salvation. That's what binds her to him. Armadale, we've discussed. And Headcase knows deep down that without that identity, she has no purpose, so that's what ties her to Max -- delusion.
Following on from that, are Max’s relationships with such people (i.e., non-supervillains) as doomed as his relationship with Jailbait, or is there a chance he could really connect with them?
There's always a chance, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Again, while Plutonian longed to connect and couldn't, Max has never cared to and thus has no social skills. I bet Max, even as a villain, had very few friends, if any. Being a prisoner in your own body would tend to make you a prisoner in your own mind, as well.
Heading into the end of the first year, it looks like Max is being framed for the racist gang activity and the giant “Retribution” machine devastating his city (and I’d reckon he might have to fight it as well). Given his new noble persona, which might Max find more challenging: the giant tank or the well-meaning citizens and police after his head?
Oh, by far, the police and the people. Tanks are easy. Public sentiment is hard, particularly when you're conditioned not to care about it. Max's biggest challenge in Year Two will be trying to maintain a purpose now that Plutonian is gone, seemingly forever. Will his newfound morality suffer now that there's no opposition to it?
“Irredeemable” #19, of course, is a bit of a game changer, as the alien Vespa have neutralized Plutonian, and the solicitations for the next couple months suggest something major is coming in Incorruptible #12. Without giving too much away (obviously), what can you tell us about the playing field as we head into “Incorruptible” Year Two?
“Incorruptible” Year Two is watching Max be challenged in ways he never foresaw as his black-and-white attitude takes a real pounding by a world full of gray shades. Again, all Max knows about being a super-hero is "do the opposite of what I did as a super-villain," and that's a lousy recipe. He may, in fact, find a moral sherpa (if you will) during Year Two in the form of a most unexpected forgotten, retired hero with motives of his or her own.
What’s coming up in the next arc?
The next arc of “Incorruptible” is about Max's grand Anti-Plutonian plan, the one he's secretly been working on all this time -- and what becomes of his motivation once Plutonian's no longer around. Again, without anyone to push against, what will Max do, and what are the chances he'll fall from grace? Plus, Jailbait returns, Headcase goes crazier, Alana cracks out the checkbook and shows what it's like to fund a superhero (we were there first, Bruce Wayne!), and Armadale finds he can't cover for Max forever.
Is there anything you can tease about events further out?
I think that covers it, other that to once more laud the art in these books. Marcio Takara is a phenomenal draftsman and storyteller and I'm stunned by his work. And on “Irredeemable,” I can't say enough good things about Peter Krause and Diego Barreto (who steps in for the Earth-based subplot in the current arc so Peter can get ahead).
Finally, since they are so closely connected, what can readers expect as we head toward the third year of “Irredeemable?”
“Irredeemable” Year Three tells two stories. The primary focus is still Plutonian, but now that he's been captured and imprisoned by an alien race and removed as a threat to Earth, what becomes of him? How scary is he when he's a prisoner of his own mind? And how will his own self-destructive tendencies bring hellfire down upon him and his captors? Meanwhile, back on Earth, Survivor, Qubit and the others have the task of rebuilding the world, and Survivor's turning out to be scarier and more authoritarian than Plutonian ever was. Man, is anyone in this series redeemable?
"Incorruptible" #12 is in stores November 24, 2010 from BOOM! Studios