Ed Brubaker on Incognito

Ed Brubaker on Incognito

Of the handful of Marvel titles shipping in December that Newsarama previewed on Monday, one thing that raised many an eyebrow was Incognito #1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, slated to ship under Marvel’s creator-owned imprint, Icon.

The two have released a “teaser” for the new five-part story which sets the scene: an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection, living an average, mundane life. Can he do it? Will – or when – will he snap?

We spoke with Brubaker to learn more about the project.

Newsarama: Ed, we've seen the teaser that you and Sean have released, and that paints a pretty good picture, but let's hear it in your words - what's Incognito about?

Ed Brubaker: Incognito is a dark exploration into the nature of good, if that makes any sense. It's about a completely amoral guy with super-powers forced to pretend he's a normal law-abiding citizen, because he's in Witness Protection, and how that shapes what he becomes. It's also a brutal noir twist on the super-hero/super-villain genre that delves more into their roots in the pulps, and it's going to be pretty over-the-top and action-packed.

NRAMA: This certainly has a feel of Sleeper, that is, a rough, human story in a world where there just happen to be super-powered people. Was that the vibe you were going for?

EB: Not exactly, although I can see why you'd say that. But I think it'll end up feeling a lot different than Sleeper, which was more of an espionage story. Incognito is a noir pulp story about a bad guy hiding who he really is, but told from totally different perspective than we've seen before. It goes in a lot of different directions than anything else I've ever done, and does some things with the genre that I've never seen done.

NRAMA: What was the spark, the initial idea for this? Broader picture, you seem to be touching on/playing with the idea of "hidden hero" that psychologists tell us we all have...

EB: Well, after saying it's not intended to be like Sleeper, I have to admit this is an idea I've been kicking around since right after we finished that project. I was wondering what the flipside of that story would be like, because you never know what you'll find when you flip something around and look at it another way. So I was thinking... What would the story be of a bad guy forced to pretend to be good to survive? And then it hit me -- Witness Protection. And the wheels started spinning and I was thinking about a guy who used to be a super-villain or a henchman and he's trying to build this new life that he just despises... and pretty soon it was in the back of my mind all the time, trying to kick its way onto the page.

Still, as the story developed, it was as influenced by what I was doing on Captain America as much as anything else. Thinking about all the big Hydra-sized organizations, and the bureaucracy of government agencies, and writing about genuinely evil bad guys like the Red Skull... I started thinking more and more, what could I do in Incognito that I could never do in Cap? Because I could do an issue of Cap that was about the Red Skull's daughter living in Witness Protection. But what couldn't I have her do? A lot. And that's where the fun stuff begins.

NRAMA: Let’s touch on the one thing that’s come up since the announcement - to get the workload straight - you and Sean are suspending Criminal for the time being with Incognito?

EB: I wouldn't say "suspending" because that sounds so harsh. We're taking a short break to do Incognito for five months, and then we'll be right back with Criminal #8 and the next arc about Tracy Lawless.

NRAMA: What went into this decision to do things this way?

EB: A lot of thought. A lot. With Criminal, I'm always a little uncertain which story is going to come next, and Incognito just kept bugging me. Tapping the inside of my skull, trying to get on-deck, basically. I considered just doing it as the next arc of Criminal, since it is about a bad guy, but ultimately, it didn't feel right. Criminal doesn't have any sci-fi or supernatural elements, and it shouldn't. So I asked Sean if he wanted to take a short break and do something a bit different, and he said sure.

We've been at Criminal for a few years now, and sales are really going strong, so I think our Criminal readers will pick up Incognito because it feels like a very loyal following right now. Our numbers are rock solid the past five issues. And I hope since Incognito is a super-hero genre tale and will probably get a wider audience, that new readers who pick it up will follow us home to Criminal.

But I think we might do this every few years, take a break and stretch some different creative muscles. It's already paying off, I think. As you can see from the teaser, the way that Sean is approaching the art is really amazing. His use of negative space for panel borders, I think makes what's unique about his work really stand out here. And I don't think he'd have tried that if he didn't have a new project to play around on. It's good to have something to force your head in a different direction from time to time.

NRAMA: You certainly have some momentum building with Angel of Death and Sleeper being picked up with Tom Cruise and Sam Raimi attached, not to mention your other comics work. Was scheduling this now an effort to get the bright spotlight to shine on it now, rather than later?

EB: Ha. I wish you could schedule a project that quickly, but there's no way to go from idea to solicit that quickly. No, the timing is just pure luck. When I started talking to Marvel about this, the Sleeper movie was dead in the water. It had been on the verge of getting made a few times, but it had just fallen apart at Sony. I'm thrilled to see it suddenly fast-tracked at Warners, and to see that, you know, one of the biggest movie stars in the world is attached to star, but I didn't know that was getting announced until the day before it happened.

Still, I am more than happy to take advantage of the publicity to help us sell our new project, as you can see from the press release. I can't plan for rain, but I can make hay while the sun shines, right?

NRAMA: What about extras? Is Incognito going to have back-pages articles like Criminal does?

EB: Yeah, definitely. That's become one of the most popular elements of Criminal, and something that makes the book stand out on the racks as being really worth your money. So for Incognito, we'll be carrying on that tradition, but with articles about some different stuff. More stuff about the pulps, about Doc Savage or the Shadow. About the world that our comics industry grew out of.

NRAMA: What else can you tell us about the book?

EB: Not much, because I don't want to spoil it. But I would like to take a moment to ask fans to spread that teaser around for us. We put that together just to announce the project, as sort of a mini-commercial for it, and I'd love to see it all over the place.

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