While reality hits like "American Idol" and "The X-Factor" keep a dominant hold on the minds and hearts of audiences across the globe, two of the UK's most prominent UK comic book makers are looking to strike the topic while the iron is hot with some super powerful results. As revealed yesterday on CBR, writer Jonathan Ross and artist Bryan Hitch will launch their new "America's Got Powers" series at Image Comics this April.
"Reality shows are everywhere, a part of this generations pop-culture. Some capture a nation's imagination, some are 'Love Island,'" Hitch told CBR while sharing an exclusive first look at the cover to issue #1. "'X-Factor' and 'American Idol' are huge obviously, and it's a good hook for a generation of kids who have powers instead of vocal talent. They still want to be stars – SUPER-stars – but aside from the talent show analogy, this is the year of the Olympics so it's also the biggest sporting event in the world and has connections with both the gladiatorial events of ancient Rome and the original ancient greek Olympics. In ancient Greece you needed to win; losers weren't tolerated, winners were Heroes. You can see the same thing play out on these talent shows really; it's almost as brutal.
"We are dealing with a world that has superpowers for sure but only one super team and the winner earns a place on it. It's easy to see how taking that reality show, gladiatorial framework and applying super powered teens to it can lead to all sorts of drama and massive action and I'm very much at home with that sort of thing!"
Ross, who originated the concept, added that there's an ugly undercurrent to the reality competition craze which fuels "America's Got Powers." "What interested me here is the exploitation of those who are encouraged to take part," he said. "In 'AGP' there's more than just a little pressure on them – these kids with powers don't have that many other options in a society that finds them fascinating and irresistible but ultimately scary. So it deals a little I hope with the dark side of these shows – the way talent is used up and, when it no longer feels novel or fresh, thrown away. As for superheroes, well, as readers we love to see them in action, fighting, protecting the weak and smiting the strong. In this scenario, thats a given. Like 'Rollerball' or 'The Running Man,' it's built into the format – a certain amount of danger, of blood and guts. But it's when it escalates and people get to see the REAL purpose of the show that things will get interesting.
"There are three men at the centre of the story, then three women who kind of mirror and complement their storylines," the writer added. "But outside of the core arc, there's room for any number of weird and wonderful guest stars – so i'm hoping they'll be lots of surprises!"
"America's Got Powers" was born of two moves in the comics world: Ross' continuation as a writer (alongside his TV hosting duties in the UK) after the success of he and Tommy Lee Edwards' "Turf" comic and Hitch's decision to wrap a ten-year run with Marvel Comics. Image Publisher Eric Stephenson expressed excitement not only for the pair to bring their wares to the company but also for them to find a simpatico project to make their mark on. "I think the most important thing is that Jonathan kind of knows that world better than most," Stephenson said. "He's a huge star in England, and he brings a perspective to this kind of story that not many other comic book writers has. Bryan brings that bigger than life scope that something like that this needs to work, but with a keen eye for all the little things the really bring the characters and situations to life...[They] make a good fit because they're both eager to make their mark with their own ideas. Even though they come from different backgrounds I think they both know what it's like to be tilling someone else's field for a prolonged amount of time. With Bryan it was Marvel, with Jonathan it was the BBC. But seeing them enjoy the freedom that comes with creating and working on something they've created on their own is really great."
The creators first met three years ago through mutual friend and creator Mark Millar. "Jonathan invited him and a few friends (me, Dave Gibbons, Brendan Mcarthy and Kev O'Neil) for dinner," Hitch recalled. "There was good steak and nice wine and lots of comics talk. Jonathan has an enormous collection of the '60s Marvel comics; the first Spider-Man, FF, Thor etc. He's a huge fan of Kirby and Ditko and he has loads of original art from those same issues. So we poured over it and left about 3:00 AM.
"In summer of 2010 when I was on holiday in the south of England, Mark called and said Jonathan was going to be doing more books after 'Turf' and could he hook us both up. I hadn't read 'Turf' then but I trusted Mark in his assessment of it so said 'Sure' though I was under contract until end of 2011 as he knew. Two minutes later Jonathan called from Florida, where he was on holiday and pitched a couple of ideas. We agreed to meet up and have a proper natter when he got back. I took another good look at all that artwork too."
Of all the ideas Ross had in development, "America's Got Powers" proved the biggest draw for the pair. "It's kind of a no-brainer really," the writer said. "I was pondering as to how society–- how showbiz in particular – would treat super-powered types. For example, if there really was someone like Spider-Man you can bet that every talk show would be trying to book him! With the current popularity of TV talent shows, it seemed so natural that a super-powered one would exist. Like most high-concept ideas though, it's going to be all in the telling. Thats what will either make it work or fizzle out. So from there it was a matter of working out what story we actually wanted to tell with that as a backdrop."
Hitch explained that his widescreen visual style was a fit for the idea from the get go. "All he said was 'AMERICA'S GOT POWERS, X-factor for super heroes!' That was all it took. I got the hook immediately and saw the full potential," he said. "I have to say that Jonathan's a very good writer and working to improve all the time. He knows story. He knows movies, pacing, drama. He knows TV and he knows comics. You can see a tremendous learning curve in 'Turf' as he worked out how to handle the medium. I certainly wouldn't be involved in this without an absolute certainty he could write and write well. He's not precious, neither of us are. We've spent months working this story out together and he's written the script for issue one fully twice at least. I have enough pages of art I've discarded to make a whole different first issue. This book is from two creators completely devoted to delivering the best work they can manage. Personally, I've only felt this twice before, on 'Authority' and 'Ultimates' so that gives you a little clue about the level we're playing at.
"We've all known my Marvel contract was coming to an end this year and really, over the last two years or so various things aligned that made this move both the most logical and most exciting," he added of his current career track. "Before Jonathan, my two greatest collaborators were Warren Ellis and Mark Millar and of course I've seen these two old pals work amazing magic on the creator owned front. It's something I've felt driven to do for many years now but of course I was always going to see my commitments to Marvel through first. Things were a little different there now and after an amazing ten and a half years I knew this was where I wanted to go next. To mention Warren and Mark again, Authority and Ultimates were great experiences for me and the two most accomplished projects I've worked on. Both were co-creations and I can't see that as a coincidence; it seems to bring the best out of me."
And the artist isn't the only one who sees parallels with his most famous work. Stephenson said, "Bryan's work made a huge impression on me back when he and Warren Ellis first started working together on 'Stormwatch.' Remember the 'Bleed' storyline? Amazing, next level storytelling, but even that was just a test run for how he upped his game with 'The Authority.' And then 'The Ultimates.' Bryan's approach to comic book storytelling back then – that whole 'widescreen' thing – changed comics.
"Planning this project out with Bryan and Jonathan – as well as Robert Kirkman – has been a real pleasure. Bryan's a consummate professional and very easy to get along with. Not everybody comes to us with a completely detailed plan of how they want to roll things out, but Bryan had a whole timeline and knew exactly what he wanted to do and when. We're both happy and proud to be working with him."
Ross noted that so far, the working relationships has been different than his scripting for "Turf," to the benefit of "America's Got Powers." "We work together very differently. Tommy takes the script and then does what he wants with it! But the script remains pretty locked. Bryan and I have backed and forth a lot more over the story. In fact there are at least two entire finished scripts to book one that we have now abandoned. We are working more in the old Marvel style now – I sketch out plot points and beats, he then works them up into layouts and we proceed from there. But I have tried writing specifically for him, giving him more space for those incredible detailed action splashes! For example there is going to be a huge kick ass fight scene near the end that contains several ideas I conceived just because I wanted to see Bryan bring them to life!"
"What I've enjoyed most about working with Jonathan is his passion and enthusiasm," Hitch said. "He has a tremendous energy and work ethic. The reason he's Britain's Howard Stern, Roger Ebert and David Letterman all rolled into one is that he's very smart, talented and very dedicated. He won't involve himself in anything unless it's to do it the best way he can. He's a huge fan of the classic comics that made the industry what it is but never backward looking. Neither of us want to do a retrospective, we have only a forward thinking approach but he's not coming into this without anything but a full knowledge of the industry and it's history."
Of course, the April release of his collaboration with Hitch won't be Ross' last comics project for the year by a long shot. "This is actually the first of several projects Jonathan is doing with Image this year," Stephenson promised. "If you were at our panel in San Diego last year, you may recall that he rattled off a whole list of books, including his next project with 'Turf's' Tommy Lee Edwards. Jonathan is one of the restlessly creative people I've ever met, and his love of comics knows no bounds. Both of those qualities are on full display in 'America's Got Powers.'" Ross even added a tease of he and Edwards' next book, saying, "In Golden Age I have given the bad guys a mode of transport that I just knew Tommy would have a ball with!"
But next up, fans will have a chance to lock in their votes for "America's Got Powers" and the entire scope of story Ross and Hitch have prepared. As the artist said, "We're world-building here. America's Got Powers is the name of the show around which this story takes place but it's also a statement in itself and that understanding can lead to something even bigger. This is like we came up with the Marvel universe in one go but needed to find a pathway into it we could build from. I'm confident we can entertain, interest and wow you, I'm also confident we will have you wanting much, much more."
Stay tuned for more on "America's Got Powers" and all the creator-owned work from Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch on CBR!