What do the magnetism of cult leaders, the work of Steve Ditko and skepticism of the extraordinary have in common? They're all interests of creator Mike Norton, who combined them all into his new project "The Answer!", coming from Dark Horse Comics in January. The four-issue miniseries features art by Norton ("Battlepug") who also co-writes with Dennis Hopeless ("Cable and X-Force"), and follows the hyper-intelligent Devin McKenzie as she is suddenly swept out of her mundane, young-librarian lifestyle by the spandex clad superheroknown as The Answer. Comic Book Resources caught up with Norton and Hopeless to ask questions about "The Answer!"
Norton has been working on "The Answer!" for some time now, slowly fleshing out the world and characters of the book and bringing the project to Hopeless relatively recently. "I started playing around with this idea way back in the early 2000's when I was working for Devil's Due," said Norton. "My friend (and now 'Revival' co-creator) Tim Seeley and I would always throw around ideas, and The Answer was one of mine."
"You should see the insane scrawling Mike originally sent me," said Hopeless. "He had been jotting stuff down for years and just shot me over the folder. The more I read through it though, the more I started to see the through line. It looked crazy, but there was a cool story in there."
At times throughout book's long gestation period Norton felt discouraged, but he told CBR News it ultimately led to a better, more developed project. "I wasn't really confident in my writing when I started the project," Norton explained. "I learned something different each time I started, though, and by the time I met Dennis I knew exactly what I wanted it to be conceptually -- He came in, took what I established and connected all the dots I didn't even know existed. He made it live and breathe."
"Yeah, I'm awesome," joked Hopeless. "No, the concept and all of the big ideas in the book are Mike's. I just sewed it together and wrapped it around a character arc. Then we hashed out the plot from there. Mike's an amazing visual storyteller and this is his baby. My scripts are just an excuse for him to draw the thing. I kind of feel bad taking any of the credit."
In some ways "The Answer!" confronts the desire many people have for an escape -- to get swept away in an exciting drama and taken away from the mundane tasks of daily living. Devin, extremely intelligent, spends her working hours at a research library, solving crosswords and answering "Jeopardy" questions at the same time. Suddenly, as the anomalous The Answer comes into her life, she finds herself leaping off rooftops and dodging bullets.
"Devin likes puzzles, and The Answer is the biggest puzzle of them all," said Norton. "He's unpredictable and seemingly causes nothing but trouble for Devin, but it kind of fascinates her."
"The Answer is both the best and worst thing that ever happened to Devin," added Hopeless. "Now that he's around she finally feels alive, even though she'll be running for her life half the time."
Devin is caught between at least two parties vying for her trust and, presumable, her intellect. Somewhere in the background sinister forces are at work, and readers are introduced to the self-actualization seminar speaker Chip Carney.
"Chip Carney is a motivational speaker who teaches you how to unlock the power of the Apeiron," explained Norton. "The Apeiron is the idea that the world's natural state is to be unmade."
"Chip's a silver-tongued guru who spouts nothing but circular-logic nonsense," said Hopeless. "But at the same time, he's been wildly successful implementing and selling his methods. That's what makes him a great villain and an interesting character to write. How do you argue with the guy who put his money where his mouth is and won? Sure, it sounds like pure bullshit. But then again, the dude has a fleet of private jets."
"Basically, he's Tony Robbins," Norton said, "if Tony Robbins wanted to destroy everything in existence."
With Americans spending in excess of $10 billion per year on self-help products, including books, seminars, and life-coaches, Norton and Hopeless' Chip Carney is a timely villain, and perhaps more insidious than your usual blood-thirsty killer.
"The idea of having somebody reorganizing the way you think for you kind of creeps me out," Norton stated. "The secrecy of it all makes it even scarier. They usually don't want to tell you what the secret to happiness, in whatever system they've created, is because they want you to pay for it. If they give it away, then there's no hook. It's a weird combination of secret society and unseen power that personally creeps me out."
"We're all broken in some way and I think it's natural to look for the quick fix," Hopeless said. "It seems like some people will buy into these strange and elaborate philosophies if they get to come out the other end 'better.' What would you give up to be better, thinner, wealthier or whatever your thing is? The answer for a lot of folks is 'anything and everything.' That's fascinating and, like Mike said, also sort of terrifying."
"I know this probably seems like I'm bashing that stuff, but if that's your thing, I'm okay with it," added Norton. "It's just something that weirds me out. I thought it would be kind of neat to personify my fears into this character."
Though not a satire, "The Answer!" toys with superhero tropes, with the titular character carrying on with reckless abandon. Channeling a little bit of The Punisher here, a little bit of Spider-Man there, the character seems to be something of a stranger to the world he inhabits. However, Norton and Hopeless have approached the book not with the snark of the cynic, but with a sense of self-aware sincerity.
"We play things totally straight," Hopeless told CBR News. "This doesn't take place in a superhero universe where people shrug off masked vigilantes. Devin lives a normal, boring life. Then a superhero just shows up in it. That's weird. It's weird for a man with punctuation on his face to force you out a window and tell you to run for your life. We let Devin tell him just how weird it is."
"Many comics today are written in that cynical sort of style where superheroes doing superhero things is kind of a joke (even to the superheroes), but it's really poking fun at the genre as much as it is celebrating," said Norton. "This is my attempt to bring the fun of the superhero comics I loved as a kid into contact with the meaty stories I enjoy now from so many creator-owned comics. In order to do that, I think a little self-realization needed to occur. Also, our lead character is a very smart person, and for her to be injected into the situations we put her in, a little bit of questioning naturally had to happen. Add to that Dennis is a pretty self-aware writer. I think that's what is getting him noticed now at Marvel. He can write a comic that is both post-modern yet genuine."
"If there's any satire or commentary on superheroes in the book it comes from Devin, not us," added Hopeless. I think that lets us get away with pushing the limits of what can happen in a 'normal world' while also grounding the book some."
In classic superhero fashion, "The Answer!" takes its title from the nom-de-guerre of an insignia bearing, spandex clad body-builder with a utility belt. In the end, though, The Answer may be simply a catalyst for a different kind of superhero story, with a different kind of hero.
"Who you expect to be the 'hero' and who actually is in the story is very much something we're going to play with," said Norton. "It's a main theme of 'The Answer!' that I hope to explore in this series and hopefully others down the line."
"The Answer is a superhero who can swing between buildings, jump across rooftops and kick your teeth in," added Hopeless. "But Devin's mind is more powerful than any of that. She's capable of ideas that could change the world. That's real power."
"The Answer!" arrives January 23, 2013.