It's not easy being a superhero these days. In the good old days, you knew you'd win, you never lost sidekicks and no one really hated you. These days, as Alias Comics' "Hyper-Actives" will show you, heroes are much more like media starlets, and you just don't know who to trust. With the first issue of the series shipping in December, CBR News caught up with writer Darin Reid Wagner to learn more about the series (which CBR News brought you first in an interview with artist Clint Hilinski) and Wagner was happy to explain the origins of the series.
"'The Hyper-Actives,' as a series concept, came about during a sort of creative 'ping-pong match' between Clint and I, in which we were batting different ideas back and forth," Wagner told CBR News. "While Clint and I see pretty much eye-to-eye when it comes to what superheroes should be like and what concepts seem to work best in superhero comics, we had a lot of differences to work out in terms of what kind of comic we were going to do. Prior to this, the first attempt at a collaboration fell flat almost immediately... precisely because there was no actual collaboration. I had tasked him with a concept that he wasn't crazy about and it was then I found out that, while he's great most of the time, he's even better when he's jazzed about what he's doing.
"One of Clint's strengths is his ability to put a lot of characters in the same room on a page, so we knew from the get-go that this was going to be a team book. While I prefer teams of 4-to-5 members, Clint wanted more like 8-to-10 members. Clint wanted a team that looked like something from Image Comics' first generation of team books, I wanted a team that looked more like something from the Silver or Marvel Age. Compromises were made in such a way between us that our enthusiasm for the title never diminished. In fact, our enthusiasm was heightened by this.
"As for our 'mission statement,' well, one of them is definitely 'Give the reader his/her money's worth.' I've often felt that a comic in which the superheroes just stand around outside their headquarters talking for a full issue didn't give me what my hard-earned $2.99 was worth. Especially if that already happened in the previous issue. Even if it's the most dramatic, realistic and insightful dialogue ever presented in a comic book, I'm not completely satisfied if there's no action to balance it. As the writer of this title, I also wanted to reverse some recent trends that have been taking place in comics with superheroes, if even just to see what would happen if they were reversed. Folks will have to read the series and see if they pick up on any of that."
The breadth of characters have been designed to fit the outlook of both creators, explained Wagner, and said that the first "Hyper-Actives" mini-series won't pussyfoot around the selfishness of many of the protagonists. "This first limited series depicts a group of costumed, powered teens. They take on a new member who doesn't fit in with their implicit 'team concept.' When we first see the team, they are clearly not superheroes. They are supercelebs. Self-centered. Spoiled. In short, they have been corrupted by various societal factors, most notably the media. Their new member is Silverwing, a pure hero of the sort we haven't seen in any large number in comics in many years. Silverwing's origin, featured in the first issue, is reminiscent of superhero origins from decades past in that he earned his powers by already behaving heroically. Longtime Daredevil readers may recall that Daredevil's original origin had Matt Murdock get his powers while trying to save an old man from a speeding vehicle. Bruce Banner, in an origin story that had not yet been diluted by later insertions of child abuse and mental illness, received the power to become the Hulk when he attempted to save the life of Rick Jones. Silverwing has an origin that steps in that direction. He didn't have to have someone in his life brutally killed and/or raped to motivate him. Another character who plays a big role in this series is Alphaman. Alphaman is the first superhero (in this little pocket universe). He's the benefactor of the team and has a problem that many real-life parents today seem to have."
Still, many may look at the series and dismiss it as "another" teen superhero book, in a market where many recent hits, such as "Invincible" and "Teen Titans," have featured teenage leads. Wagner isn't looking to jump on a bandwagon, but to instead exploit something he sees as the core of successful superheroes. "I think teen superheroes have worked the best because, essentially, they are the audience. A portion of the audience may have gotten older, but even then, escapist fiction often works the best when it's about teens because to many older people, that's a time in their life they'd like to escape to. Adolescence. Teenagers can still maintain the innocence of childhood, while having some of the physical attributes of an adult. It's a dramatic period, full of change in both body and mind. I don't know if you can actually avoid the whole 'tortured and angsty teen hero' thing. If you remove the torture and angst, they'll end up being tortured and angst-ridden because there's not enough torture and angst in their lives."
Though the combination of fame and heroism is one that might scream "ripped from the headlines," Wagner's approach to that merging of ideas is the result of a long time interest. "I've always liked the idea of doing superheroes as celebrities and media darlings, but I've always felt that it's best to draw upon something like that only as far as you can take it without spoiling things. 'The Incredibles' movie did this well, by mixing the whole 'class action suit' and 'relocation program' concepts with that of the superhero. Those elements were there in a significant way, but didn't diminish the fun factor. Often I think comic book superhero concepts that try to infuse reality into them go too far and, consequently, cease to be enjoyable."
The extent to which Wagner and Hilinski will explore the world of "Hyper-Actives" is dependent on-- you guessed it-- the reaction of readers. So for all of those readers who might wait for a trade paperback collection, the Hyper Actives want you to support them monthly. "When the Hyper-Actives finish their first limited series, if the readers want more, they will get more. What readers will see is the continuing maturation of the Hypers. That much I can reveal. Whether I do this in increments or as an ongoing series is still up in the air. I'm one of those guys who doesn't like to give detailed forecasts of the goings-on in their comics. I also tend to be one of those writers who sort of sits back and lets the characters write themselves. That being the case, there's a lot about the future I simply can not predict."
That isn't to say that the book is all work and no play, as the first cover, a nod to the controversial DC Comics "Identity Crisis" series, shows that the book will make you smile, too. "The humor in the title is drawn from things that interest me. Trends in comics, media perception, fandom. That sort of stuff. I'm a big fan of the Giffen/Maguire team books and so when I do think of superheroes having a funny moment, I invariably think of that material first."
While Wagner's passion for the series is evident, he's equally passionate about working with Hilinski, with whom he shares a strong creative relationship. "Clint and I met at the 2004 Microcon in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. A nice little one-day convention. I looked at his pages on display and his pleasant, friendly demeanor and thought he'd be a blast to collaborate with. I'm very, very lucky to have hooked up with him. His work ethic when it comes to seeing things through is unwavering. What makes us a great team is what I mentioned earlier. We have enough similarities when it comes to comic book ideas to be cohesive and enough differences to keep things fresh and interesting for both ourselves and, hopefully, the readers."