Writer Brian Wood and artists Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire approach the end of their journey with Mara Prince -- super-powered athlete turned god -- in the upcoming 6th and final issue of the Image Comics miniseries.
Set in a plausibly dark future where society's desire for war has been intentionally manipulated into a carefully constructed obsession with competitive sports and star athletes, "Mara" follows the story of the brightest volleyball star of all-time: 17-year old Mara Prince. With citizens disenfranchised, angry and powerless, fixating on professional athletes has transcended escapism and is now the only thing that matters. Even the armed forces have changed their objectives and now seek out young talent to join the ranks of fellow glory-seekers. When Mara is caught running at inhuman speeds by one of the cameras constantly filming her, it's revealed that her athletic abilities are actually super-powers. Her popularity quickly melts away, leaving her hated and reviled by her former fans -- and that's when the military steps in. Offering Mara a chance to unlock her true potential, the government assists her in faking her own death to escape the backlash of her fall from grace. Unfortunately for Mara, those seeking to exploit her gifts take away what is most important to her. With her ties to humanity severed, Mara's unleashes the fury of her potential, launching her from teenage girl into a vengeful god. At the end of issue #5, we find our girl about to unleash nuclear weapons on the earth and her betrayers.
With the final issue hitting stores October 2, CBR News spoke with writer Brian Wood about the conclusion of Mara's story.
CBR News: With "Mara" coming to a close, do you feel like you've told the entire story? Or do you have more kicking around for this world?
Wood: Well, we told the story I planned to tell, and "Mara" was always intended to be a finite, 6-issue story. That said, the way it ends, it could go either way. That could be it, or it could rev its engines and turn into someone else, something with the potential to be a much longer story, even an ongoing. So who knows. No plans right now to continue it but the series did well financially (which is always nice, and bodes well were we to do more) and the critical reception was very positive, even if it sort of lived under the radar over there at Image. So I guess what I'm saying is I don't know. Maybe? But there's been no conversation about it.
We don't see a lot of comics about sports in this country -- what motivated you to write about an athlete?
It was all about how I saw it being connected to superpowers, the common ground that both those things occupy. We've always seen plenty of comics that cross superpowers over with celebrity, but very few or perhaps none at all that do it with professional sports. I just felt like I had something to say about it, that I could use that context to tell an unconventional superhero story.
The choice of sport, volleyball, is something we're often asked about. When I was thinking this up initially, Mara was a MMA fighter. When I decided maybe it should be a team sport, by that point Ming was on board and I wanted to make sure whatever we went with was something she wanted to draw. I gave her options: volleyball, floor hockey, and indoor soccer. Which to me are all gym class sports, all possible to be indoor sports, and not typical mass media sports. While I think indoor hockey would make for a killer comic, all those crisscrossing sticks would be hell to draw!
It seems like a natural progression for an athlete to become a superhero, since they tend to already possess they physicality, endurance, etc. The public perception toward Mara changes throughout the story as she transitions. Does this speak to the nature of celebrity? How a person can be loved when they fill the role the public wants them to fill, and when that role changes, suddenly that response dramatically changes?
I enjoy watching Olympic sports, but at the same time I find some of it really uncomfortable, especially when the athletes are very young, and when their competitive careers come to a conclusion when they're still young. Those biography reels they show that detail a 5 year-old girl waking up at the crack of dawn to start down the path of a grueling training program that will entirely consume her youth. And how many of these women, barely into their teens, are being dragged through the media and subjected to all sorts of scrutiny, criticism, exploitation and sexism. Remember the stuff about Gabby Douglas' hair? I felt I had something to say about it.
Mara's progression is obviously different, but based on that reality. I was very keen to write that moment when everything pivots, where one day she is the darling of the world, cherished by all, and the next people are spitting on her on the street.
What do you see as being the similarity between sports fervor and patriotic fervor, both in Mara's world and in ours?
I mean, I created this future world -- we created it, I should remind myself and everyone else, Ming and Jordie and I -- where the two are one and the same and its way amplified over reality. In the story, it's the ultimate diversion, and the lines between sports and war are so blurred that everything's a competition worthy of running commentary and instant replays and corporate endorsement. God help us if the real world ever starts to look like "Mara."
Mara only has two close relationships -- her brother and her teammate, Ingrid. Is Mara's isolation a side effect of her success, or is it an intentional choice that's part of what makes her great?
Mara was intentionally written coolly. She is a woman of few words and its all a preparation for the final issue when finally, finally, we get a perspective on what's happening to her in her own words, and man, it's a doozy of an issue. I haven't done many interviews for "Mara" partly, primarily, for that reason. I'm really anxious for that sixth issue to hit and close the loop, for the story to complete and the context to click in. I'm immensely proud of this series. It reminds me of the best of "DEMO," where it's lean and personal and very targeted in what it shows and doesn't show, and in that leanness it can speak volumes. It can encourage after-reading thinking and interpretation.
Mara's evolution toward becoming a god finds her pointing nuclear weapons at the world at the end of issue #5 -- is this how gods start? With destruction followed by creation? Or are we going to see another side of her desire for vengeance?
Going back to that bit I said about being spat on on the street, I like this idea that the public can be so dismissive of Mara and feel so superior to her in their disdain. How must they feel when she starts circling the globe and tossing missiles around? Maybe that is how gods start, but Mara's not one of them. At the end of #5, she's done with the planet. She's out.
You're working on several big licensed properties, and your own series "The Massive." Do you have any other creator-owned projects that you plan to pursue?
At least a half-dozen. You know, this may sound a bit funny but it's harder than it looks to get one of these off the ground. Some of my creator-owned ideas are rather eccentric or at least less-than-perfectly marketable, and I don't exactly have artists or publishers knocking down my door to do them. So I'm thinking about it, about what's the best way to proceed. Some of my company-owned projects are ending so I'll have some room in my schedule to do something new. Maybe a couple new things.
"Mara" #6 by Brian Wood, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire is on sale October 2.