The rumblings of prolific writer Mike Carey ("Lucifer," "The Unwritten") heading to BOOM! Studios picked up steam last week with the release of a Tommy Lee Edwards-illustrated teaser, featuring a police officer having a very bad day, with fiery carnage and shadowy super-powered figures looming in the background. The teaser simply stated, "When there are only villains, being a hero makes you a…"
Today, CBR News officially fills in the blank: It makes you a "Suicide Risk," the title of Carey's new book.
Debuting in May, Carey's new series is set is a world experiencing "its first wave of superpower activations." With most people opting to do evil with their newfound powers, police office Leo Winters is fighting the odds, putting his life at stake.
Carey spoke with CBR about the ideas behind the superhero epic he's developing on with artist Elena Casagrande and cover artist Tommy Lee Edwards. He also discusses the reasons behind his decision to launch a new ongoing series through BOOM!, his first monthly series published outside of The Big Two.
CBR News: The teaser image BOOM! released said, "When there are only villains, being a hero makes you a..." Now we know the answer: It makes you a "Suicide Risk." What can you tell us about the story, and the police character at the center of the teaser image?
Mike Carey: In our story, the world is experiencing its first wave of superpower "activations" -- and it's immediately turning into a crisis. Most people who develop powers use them for evil ends. A smaller number become heroes, but even the heroes often don't stay that way. After a few weeks or months of trying to defend society against the villains' assaults, they switch to the other side. So we're left with a few well-meaning guardians trying to stem a rising tide. They're outnumbered and outgunned at every turn, and as more and more supers appear the odds just keep on getting worse. Against that backdrop, our main character, Leo Winters, is involved in a police action trying to stop a group of villains from committing a robbery. But things go very badly for him and for the people around him. So he makes a fateful decision, which seems to make a lot of sense -- but which will put him and his family on the front line in a war that's bigger and wider than anyone suspects. I love superhero stories when they're true to their own logic. This is not a world where there are a thousand superheroes with a thousand different origins. There's a single reason for everything that happens in this story, and the uncovering of that reason is part of the main structural spine of the story. For Leo, it's going to be a pretty devastating reveal.
Is it set in San Diego? The buildings in the background of the teaser look an awful lot like the Hyatt--
It is set in San Diego, and that is the Hyatt. Tommy Lee Edwards has done a spectacular job with that cover, both in terms of realizing the setting and in setting the tone for the story. That picture really is worth a thousand words (which means I can clock off early). I was thinking two things, really. One was that if the emergence of supers is a global phenomenon, you want to show that by putting them somewhere that hasn't been much used as a setting for superhero stories in the past. We move to LA in our first arc, and there'll be a lot of other locations after that, both in the US and elsewhere. The other thing is just that I wanted to use a city I've actually visited a lot -- a city where I feel I can navigate inside my head. Probably San Diego and Los Angeles are the two places in America where I've spent the most time, because my wife has relatives in LA and we've visited with them a lot. So that was the thinking. New York is a wonderful town, but how big a superhero population can it take? Something's got to give, eventually...
When did you start talking to BOOM! about working with them?
The conversation actually started a long time ago. I was in New York for NYCC in 2010, and I met up with the BOOM! crew -- Ross Richie, Matt Gagnon and Ross's wife Johanna Stokes, who wrote "Station," among other things -- for a very memorable and very enjoyable dinner, which I think ended at around 3AM. We talked about me doing a series for BOOM! and I floated a couple of ideas -- one of which I then pitched to Matt after I went back to the UK. It wasn't called "Suicide Risk" back then. If I remember rightly, the first working title was "Faultline" -- for reasons that I can't go into without getting into spoiler territory. Matt liked the idea, but asked me some searching questions about the lead character and his arc, which I revisited in some subsequent drafts. There was a big question about structure, too, and about how some of the supporting cast would be handled once we revealed what the big picture was. Some tidying to be done, essentially, and a bit of re-imagining. But then there was an upheaval in my life that took me away from the pitch. My prose fiction sort of derailed my comic book writing for a while. I'd pitched a mainstream conspiracy thriller to Sphere in the UK, and they offered me a three-book deal -- at a time when I was also co-writing a fantasy novel with my wife and daughter. This was when I stopped writing "X-Men Legacy," because the demands of the prose writing were about as much as I could handle. The only comic book I kept writing through that time was "The Unwritten." Anyway, the thrillers duly came out, under the flimsy this-isn't-a-fantasy-writer pseudonym of Adam Blake, and when the dust settled, Matt and I started to talk again. I'd had time to think about the points he'd raised, which really helped me to turn the story from a conceptual oddity into something -- I think -- coherent and hard-hitting. I got the green light, and I started to write. Now, the first arc is pretty much in the can and we're plotted through to #12. And it has to be said, we're having a wild time.
You're launching an ongoing original series with BOOM! -- a smaller publisher than DC/Vertigo and Marvel, where you've done substantial work. Aside from hitting it off with everyone there, why was BOOM! a good fit for this story over any another publisher?
I'm happy to be doing this story with BOOM!. They seem to be an amazingly vibrant and varied imprint, putting out a lot of cool books. I guess this is a first for me, in that it's a superhero story with no debt whatsoever to an existing continuity. It's very much its own animal. So it's great to be writing it for a publisher that defines its mission statement in those terms -- in finding new approaches to storytelling and doing innovative, unexpected things with genre material.
What are you looking forward to most about getting back into the world of superpowers for the first time since your time with the X-Men ended?
The big challenge with superhero stories -- as with most stories within an established genre -- is finding ways to make the familiar unfamiliar again. You know that your readers are very well used to a set of core tropes and devices, so you use those tropes and devices as a starting point, but then you aim to bounce off them in unexpected directions. I love playing that game, both as a creator and as a reader. Venturing into well-explored territory and finding or making something new and strange and worthwhile there. All good stories should give you those two kinds of pleasure or pay-off, the ones you see coming and eagerly anticipate, and the ones that come out of nowhere and leave you wondering what hit you.
You mentioned you had twelve issues planned currently. How big of a story are you hoping this ends up being, both in scope and in length?
In scope, it's huge. I mean, it starts off personal and focused on a small group of characters, but it keeps on getting bigger and bigger. There'll be twists and ramifications that draw in more and more people and redefine the scale of what's at stake. Ideally I'd like to see it play out across six or seven years -- a canvas as big as "Lucifer" or "The Unwritten."
Elena Casagrande is the series' regular artist. What can you tell me about working with her? I believe she lives in Italy, so how does that affect your collaboration, if at all?
We're still in the early days -- defining the look of the characters and the world, working through some of the set-piece scenes in the first issue, and generally feeling our way towards a style that fits the material. Elena being in Italy won't be a problem. I'm used to working with artists whose day-night cycles are out of synch with mine. When I get up in London and hit the keyboard at 8am, I'm frequently having email conversations with Peter Gross, who's still working late into the night in Minnesota. Elena will be one line of longitude away from me -- piece of cake.
"Suicide Risk" is a superhero book, but do you see any thematic threads or links between this and any of your other long-form comics work like "The Unwritten" or "Lucifer?"
There are overlaps, yeah, because the same things still tend to fascinate me. One of the central themes in "Suicide Risk," which was also a strong element in "Lucifer," is the whole question of the dancer becoming the dance -- of the things we do defining and changing us. Leo, our protagonist, has very good reasons for doing some very dodgy and dangerous things -- and he believes that he can do them and then walk away and everything will be like it was before. Of course, that's not how life works. That's not how we work, as people.