What do superheroes do when there's nothing left to save? And what drives villains when the world they sought to conquer lies in ruins? "Extermination" sees costumed crusaders from both sides of the moral divide teaming up against a threat that does not merely threaten humanity, but has already vanquished it. Written by Si Spurrier, the series debuts in June from BOOM! Studios, just as the publisher's long-running dystopian superhero epic "Irredeemable" draws to a close. "Extermination" is a different sort of beast, taking place in a world in which an alien incursion has already decimated the Earth's population, including its superpowered community. Former nemeses Nox and the Red Reaper strike an uneasy truce in an attempt to drive out the invading force and begin to rebuild society -- of course, their motives for doing so could not be more dissimilar.
CBR News caught up with Spurrier for an exclusive interview on the project and a first look at John Cassaday's cover to "Extermination" #1.
CBR News: First off, Si, I'd love to get a sense of the world of "Extermination." Has the invasion already taken place when the story begins? If so, what did the invasion look like and what sort of shape is human civilization in now?
Si Spurrier: Yeah, the apocalypse is over and done with when we first arrive in the story. It wasn't even an "invasion" in the conventional sense -- no overwhelming attack by big wibbly UFOs or unimaginative hivemind gribblies -- but a brutal corruption of the planet itself, wiping out millennia of history in one fell swoop and leaving the aggressors to merely mop-up what dregs of resistance remained. At the story's start find we ourselves on a broken Earth -- a cinder, an apocalyptic waste of tortured terrains, deadly meteorology, fractured cities and horrific sights. The vast majority of the populace died in the upheavals -- continental earthquakes, mega-tsunamis, solar storms and toxic rains -- and certainly all traces of government, culture and military have been systematically decimated since then.
Of course, part of the beauty of this story lies in juxtaposing this hideous new status quo with the big, simple boldness of "regular" superhero activity -- punchin', flyin', spoutin' one-liners -- as it was before the cataclysm occurred. So we're going to be using a lot of cleverly-deployed flashbacks, segueing and resonating in unexpected ways with the action in the "present." Part of that will be exploring the period of the invasion itself. How it started, who died, who survived (and how), and above all why the invasion occurred at all.
So these invaders have overwhelmed the planet immediately. What sort of powers or abilities do they possess?
They're unlike anything you've seen before. Like I hinted already, I'm kinda bored seeing the same old tropes used in contemporary sci-fi -- "aliens" tends to be either these humanoid guys from other planets with advanced technology and an unhealthy interest in hacking up cattle, or a lazily-obvious version of some vaguely exotic earthbound wildlife (squid aliens! insect-colony aliens! whaliens!). Or, at a pinch, a heavy-handed analogue for a persecuted ethnic tribe. In blue.
In 'Extermination' these beings -- I'm referring to them as the EDDA, for reasons I'm not at liberty to divulge -- are almost transcendentally unknowable. They don't come from "another planet," they're not even "biological" in any sense a human scientist would understand. Their bodies are just physical manifestations of their true selves -- their cosmic, dimensionally-unstable selves -- which underpin and inform everything they do. Their "technology" is purely psychic: glittering astral engines -- in one moment solid and functioning, in the next intangible and ghostly.
Part of the tale will be about our heroes uncovering why the EDDA have come to Earth -- why they did what they did, what they get out of it, etc. -- so I can't say much about that. But they're hugely intelligent, utterly deadly, and -- in the truest sense of the word -- profoundly alien.
Before the invasion, was there a decent-sized population of super heroes and villains?
We're basically assuming this world -- pre-catastrophe -- was analogous to the tropes you'd get in a Marvel or DC comic. Heroes and villains, some organized in leagues or groups, some operating alone. Science-origins, magic-origins, tech-origins, etc. There's no limit or defining characteristics because -- frankly -- the "superhero" part of the tale isn't the point -- except in as much as it informs and juxtaposes the present-day stuff. The vast majority of the heroes and villains, just like the human race itself, have been... well... exterminated.
As for how many have survived? Difficult to give a number -- undoubtedly there are a few out there who don't even show up in the first couple of arcs -- but we'll be meeting a handful along the way. The key is that, while they may have survived the fall, none of them has emerged into this new world unchanged.
What can you tell us about our two protagonists, Nox and Red Reaper? Powers, skills, personalities, friends and allies, whatever you're able to reveal.
Nox was a street-level vigilante. As the name suggests: a man of the night. Driven by an unquenchable fire in his belly, he was compelled to fight crime, punish evil-doers and clear-up his city. An honorable guy with perhaps just a touch of the humorless do-gooder about him. Never used lethal force, never rested until an injustice was made right. He's first and foremost a man of action, but also has a brilliant mind: using tools, tricks and technology to bring criminals to justice. There's even a bit of room in his sharp-edged soul for romance -- as we'll learn. For years people have assumed Nox is one of the few "un-super" heroes -- just a normal human, getting by on his senses and skills alone. But his new traveling companion -- who happens to be his mortal enemy -- isn't entirely convinced...
Speaking of whom: the Red Reaper is basically a tyrant. Outwardly he's not an impressive specimen -- in his late middle-ages, not much of a fighter, with a gloriously sarcastic urbane wit. But the culture-vulture schtick hides a flinty soul of extraordinary ruthlessness and pragmatism. He's spent his life attempting to bend people to his will -- building empires and slavedoms in his own monomaniacal image. He too has no overt super-powers; coming instead from the Super! Science! school of costumed villainy. In former years his doomsday devices, hovering fortresses and ingenious weapons have all served in his relentless pursuit of power. Now? Now he's reduced to rooting through salvage and jonesing for the gleaming tech of yesteryear.
Alas, I can't say much about friends and allies. It's probably not giving too much away to suggest a large part of the story revolves around one such person, but we're going to meeting all sorts of characters: both in times of former glory, and in the mangled ruins of Today.
From the teasers we've already seen, it looks like Nox and Red Reaper have very different ideas of how to save the world (and why). How does their partnership work?
You're assuming it does work.
I can't say too much here, because the ups, downs and explodo-moments of these guys' relationship form the backbone of the tale: part buddy-movie, part power-struggle, part hate-fueled vendetta. But it's not difficult to see why -- for the simple sake of survival -- they find themselves clinging to each other. Infuriatingly, it's their utter distinction from one another -- their completely opposite strengths and weaknesses -- which makes them jointly far greater than the sum of their parts: the fighter and the thinker, the destroyer and the creator, the righteously moral and the selfishly amoral.
This sounds like a superhero story set in a fallen world. What sort of issues or conventions of the genre are you looking to explore in "Extermination?"
I don't think it'll come as much of a shock to people who know my work that I'm a contrary bastard who likes to take things in uncomfortable and unexpected directions. I'm a huge geek for superhero fiction, but I do worry sometimes it's becoming so ubiquitous -- and so much of it deals with morality in a very simplistic way -- that it risks creating this really unhealthy and frankly rather naïve industry-wide view of how people think and act. For me the best superhero fiction is about exploring the motives behind these costumed-gods, with their self-imposed quests for justice or power or wealth or peace or whatever-it-is.
'Extermination' is an opportunity to really dig into those questions -- and all against a completely visual, thrilling backdrop. I tend to believe you can't really know anything about yourself until you've been in a situation completely outside your own experience, then see how you react. Similarly, you can't truly know what lies at the core of all these characters who define themselves according to abstractions like law, morality, civilisation and justice -- until you take all those things away from them. What do they do then? What's the good of a justice-bringer in a world without law? Where's the harm in a dictator in a world without civilizations?
At its core, 'Extermination' is about seeing old tropes through very new -- broken, scarred and ugly -- eyes.
What can you tell us about what Nox and Red Reaper deal with in the first arc?
I can't tell you a great deal without spoiling a lot of devious surprises. Let's just say the story opens with these guys' unlikely alliance having been built entirely on a need for survival, which soon mutates into something far more important -- and far-reaching -- which gives them a sense of renewed purpose.
Although, perhaps, not quite the same purposes as each other...
Your work in comics is pretty broad-reaching--you've been appearing in "2000 AD" for years, have done superhero comics with "X-Club," and get into some gruesome horror with the online "Crossed: Wish You Were Here." Where does "Extermination" fit in terms of the stories you like to write?
Like I said before, I'm generally drawn towards stories which appear to be one thing then twist expectations. That's the "2000 AD" vibe through-and-through: shaking conventions apart and putting the pieces back together in unique, challenging ways. The "Crossed" webcomic (which goes live on March 14th, by the way -- completely free online at www.crossedcomic.com) is a perfect case in point. On paper "Crossed" looks like a survivalist horror story built around excesses of violence and gore -- but beneath the surface is a whole festering panoply of far richer -- and sometimes far nastier -- notions about humanity, civilization and life itself. Similarly, "X-Club" was a balls-out romp through pop-science masquerading as a superhero comic, and I've been hugely lucky that all my Marvel gigs to date have been about subverting, corrupting or recontextualising the "get powers, become hero" formula in crazy ways. That's essentially what lies at the weird, wormy heart of "Extermination" -- a chance to cram the square peg of superheroics into a rusty, jagged-edged circular hole.
"Extermination" begins in June.