Veteran comics writer Mark Waid stepped down from his role as BOOM! Studios' chief creative officer earlier this year to return to a life of freelance, but he remains closely associated with the publisher due to his celebrated work on the interlocking, creator-owned superhero series "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible." The former tells the story of a hero who has fallen in the worst, most destructive way, with the Plutonian cutting a swath of destruction across the Earth before finally being banished by his former teammates in the Paradigm; while the latter finds Plutonian's former foe Max Damage stepping up to the plate to become a hero in a fallen world. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Waid met with fans to discuss the two series, joined by BOOM!'s Marketing Director Chip Mosher.
The panel got underway about 10 minutes late because the previous panel, celebrating the release of some classic cartoons on Blu-ray, ran long. Mosher thanked fans for their patience and joked, "The 'Tom & Jerry' fans were getting a little too excited about Blu-ray."
Waid began by saying his workload is lighter than usual these days in order to concentrate on "Irredeemable" and "Incorruptible," which he considers "my babies." The writer said he is very pleased with the success of the two ongoing series, reiterating a point he made at the previous day's ICV2 conference that launching superhero books is very difficult. "It's hard to launch an original, non-Marvel, non-DC property in this marketplace," Waid said, noting the exceptions of Robert Kirkman's "Walking Dead" and Joe Hill's "Locke & Key."
He then discussed the current status quo of "Irredeemable," which finds the Plutonian returning to Earth after escaping from alien jailers who had imprisoned him at the request of the Paradigm. "Now that Plutonian is back on Earth, and he's brought friends back with him -- after his yellow-brick-road journey -- things do not go well," Waid said. "Luckily [the Paradigm] have one, buried-deep-in-their-hip-pocket weapon that no one has seen yet," adding that it centers on the twin heroes Survivor (formerly Scylla) and Charybdis (deceased but walking) and a secret they haven't shared with anyone.
On spinoff series "Incorruptible," Waid said, "We've turned it into 'Deadwood' with less swearing." Reformed villain Max Damage has taken on the role of his city's protector in Plutonian's absence, even as he continues to discover what it means to be a hero. "Part of the reason for me taking Plutonian off the planet for a few issues was to give Max time to establish himself as the law," the writer explained.
Max's original sidekick Jailbait "will show up again very soon," Waid said, though he unsure how far off that would be in the publishing schedule. "When you write these things, you lose track of what's actually out on the stands right now."
After Max's second sidekick Headcase, a third will debut soon. "I'm very fond of her -- her name is Hate Crime. Her outfit is very simple; it has two words -- Hate, Crime -- because she hates crime. Why is that so upsetting?" Waid joked, to considerable laughter. "Max takes her under his wing because he doesn't want the hero to flounder,” he added, "especially if she's stupid enough to call herself Hate Crime."
With Plutonian returning to Earth, a confrontation with Max becomes inevitable, and the long-awaited confrontation will finally take place in "Incorruptible" #22-23. "You see them face to face for the first time in this changed reality," Waid said, "and it will not be pretty."
Asked about the possibility of another "Irredeemable Special," Waid said that the first one was an effort to give artist Peter Krause more room in his schedule. Waid said he was up for a follow-up and asked fans for suggestions for artists. Someone shouted "Gene Ha," and Waid replied excitedly, "Gene Ha would be great!" Then "Jason Pearson," to which Waid answered, "He's great, too!"
A question came up about a scene in "Incorruptible" that showed Max, after being awake for ages, scribbling madly upon a wall, somewhat reminiscent of Rip Hunter's chalkboard in the DC Universe or Reed Richards solving a complex problem. "It was gibberish," Waid said, adding that while Max becomes stronger and more invulnerable the longer he remains awake, he does not become smarter, and in fact is still susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation. "If it's a matter of staying up as long as possible and seeing what happens to your brain...as a freelancer, this is something I know very well," Waid said. "If you were to look at those scribbles, it would probably say something like 'Must have all fish crackers.' That's what my scrawl would look like at that point."
Waid noted that, as Max stays awake, his senses other than sight and hearing fall away, making the first hour he wakes up "the best hour of the day," when he can enjoy shaving and eating eggs. "You just have to feel something at some point," he said, adding that one factor in Max's previous life of crime may have been the physical isolation his power set engendered. "You become sort of anesthetized to the human condition if you can't feel anything. He was still a real asshole, though."
As to how long Max can stay awake, Waid said simply, "You'll see what happens when he's taken to the extreme."
Given Waid's vocal support for digital comics, one fan asked why "Incorruptible" and "Irredeemable" were not available simultaneously in print and online. Mosher explained, "There was a time where Apple had some problems getting approvals done, so we couldn't reliably go day-and-date. [But] we did 'Elric' day-and-date, that turned out very well; we'll probably do more of that."
Waid added that Marvel "tries to do more day-and-date than you think they do" but runs into approval problems, making the promise of simultaneous digital publication problematic. "It's still sort of a fine line to walk," Waid said, noting that there are also benefits to physical, brick-and-mortar retailers that don't translate as well online. "How many of you are reading the book because somebody at your store recommended it? If we did go day-and-date, you might have stayed home that day."
Mosher added, "We've been doing this for a year now, we have data about who's buying it. I can now confidently look retailers in the eyes and say, 'If we do this, you probably won't lose a damn cent.'"
This led a fan to ask about the "death of print," to which Waid smiled and glanced at Mosher. "Chip's waiting for the next words coming out of my mouth with cartoon sweat coming off his head," he joked before adding, "I see a long decline," emphasizing "long." Marvel and DC "have deep pockets" and will keep producing monthly print comics, he predicted. "I suspect there will always be, in the determinate future, things you can bring to Comic-Con and have Brian Michael Bendis sign."
Waid, still praising digital comics, said that, in addition to distribution and production benefits for creators, one of the advantages for some fans will be that of physical real estate. "If you live in East Stop Sign, Iowa, you probably have a large apartment for not a lot of money that can house your 10,000 comic collection," he said. "If you live in New York City, you're looking for reasons to get rid of longboxes."
On the subject of "Empire," Waid's early-'00s series that took place in a world where the villains had won, Waid said, "There's every chance you'll see more 'Empire' soon," but details have to be sorted out and co-creator Barry Kitson would have to be involved.
As to "Gatecrasher," which was published by Black Bull, a short-lived imprint of "Wizard" magazine, Waid joked, "Is 'Wizard' bankrupt yet?" and crossed his fingers. "If somebody hears that 'Wizard' is bankrupt, let me know, because then the rights are in the open." He added that the series' cancellation in the midst of a cliffhanger (as well as the cancellation of the whole Black Bull line) was simply a matter of, "Gareb Shamus one day decided, 'Eh, we're not making enough money, and we're going to stop this right now.'"
He is more optimistic about a former CrossGen project that recently re-emerged at Marvel. "I would love to do more 'Ruse,' actually," Waid said. "They've asked me to do more 'Ruse,' and if I can find time, great."
Shifting focus back to "Irredeemable" and whether Waid had a finite end planned, the writer said, "I have endings in mind, [but] as long as you guys keep buying it, there is no ending issue in mind."
As to whether the Plutonian is truly irredeemable or whether he might be rehabilitated, Waid replied, "No, I don't think so. When you write these characters, even the most mentally diseased of them, you have to get into their head," noting that there might be excuses for evil actions, such as childhood traumas and the like, but in the end, the Plutonian is too far gone. "No no no! He killed Singapore! He killed a baby! He killed a baby with heat vision!
"There's no hope for Plutonian," Waid went on, "but that said, I never actually said the title 'Irredeemable' refers to Plutonian."
Asked whether the genius hero Qubit is truly stranded after having destroyed his own teleportation technology, Waid quipped, "Give me $3.99 after the panel, and I'll tell you."
Waid described artist Peter Krause as the "moral compass for the book," and told a story about a scene in "Irredeemable" #3 that had originally been written to show Plutonian making out with Bette Noir, before "he snaps her spine, and drops her to her death and the wig falls off" showing that the woman was an actress playing the Paradigm heroine. Krause reportedly told Waid that the scene felt gratuitously violent. "[I told him,] 'You're right, and I don't know how to fix the problem,'" Waid remembered. "It took me two weeks to fix the problem, and what I came up with is much better and much creepier." In the revised scene, both lovers are actors -- one dressed as Plutonian, one as Bette Noir -- and the real Plutonian is "just standing there watching, because it's the best he could do."
He continued, "There's a difference between violence and evil. Writing violence is easy, but writing evil is much more interesting to me." Waid added that, especially since violence in comics had grown overblown, he prefers writing "quiet acts of evil" rather than continually one-upping the violence.
Which is not to say that there is not occasionally big violence in "Irredeemable." "By issue #4, I sunk the isle of Singapore -- which did not go over well when I visited Singapore…the very next month," Waid joked. When con-goers there reportedly asked why Waid would sink Singapore, to which he replied, "I did it because it had to be a country that we really cared about and was really important." Mosher added, "And they bought it."