Getting 'Mysterius' With Jeff Parker - His New Series
Jeff Parker has earned a loyal fan base from such Marvel superhero books as X-Men: First Class and Agents of Atlas, but he’s about to take a trip outside the Marvel Universe to a Wildstorm series that’s…unfathomable. Mysterius: The Unfathomable, that is. The new miniseries, featuring art from Tom Fowler (Caper, Green Arrow), tells of a magician who’s more than he seems, and the new assistant who’s drawn into his world. Parker gave us a preview of this new series…and even a link containing some clues about this “Mysterius” new world.Newsarama: So, Jeff – Mysterius! What phantasmagorical flight of fancy is this? Jeff Parker: The turn of the 20th century was the heyday of the stage magician. America and Europe hailed the biggest names- Houdini, Carter, Mysterius...okay, so Mysterius wasn't as well known. But in some circles, he's grown quite a reputation since then. In truth, most of the popular stage magicians have always been exactly what they hinted at, real magic users. They pull off the greatest misdirection by telling audiences so it all seems like an act. With his original assistant, the lovely Delfi, Mysterius traveled the world for years in search of mystic secrets (he eventually found a way to thwart aging), and he has lent his talents for hire to people finding themselves in occult entanglements. With each decade he's taken on a new assistant who always adopts the Delfi name, and this is a relationship particular to him. With a true Delfi, things seem to align better for coincidences and mystic phenomena- his spells work better, his hunches more reliable. But in recent years, after parting with his last assistant, Mysterius has had no luck finding a new one. He's faded out of the scene and become disconnected to the world of today. It's finally while on a fairly demeaning job in Manhattan that a reporter for an indy-alternative newspaper tries to interview him, and Mysterius realizes that he's found his new Delfi. And he's right! By "strange luck" the new girl Ella loses her job and decides to give this magical assistant thing a try for a while. It may not have been the wisest career choice she could have made. NRAMA: How would you describe the relationship between Mysterius and Delfi as the series goes on? JP: Delfi's curious and spontaneous nature help propel her through a lot of things that a reasonable person should walk away from, but she is going to start being more wary of her boss. More than an assistant, she fills the role of his conscience – a very necessary role, because there's no sign that he has one! NRAMA: What kind of backstory have you built into Mysterius' world? JP: Mysterius has been around a long time, and we'll gradually find out more about his past. Whether he bothered to notice or not, he's made a lot of enemies. We'll also be meeting other stage magicians/real magic users who he often runs into since they tend to migrate to the same points of interest. But you're not going to find out his real name, because he keeps that closely guarded. Also, he may have forgotten it. Or if you’d like to know more, you might want to check out this website… NRAMA: How did this story come about? JP: I'd been wanting to do a couple of things for some time. One, write a book based in the supernatural. Two, create a lead character for once who not likable, at least in the sense that you would not keep this person as a friend. Because someone doesn't have to be likable to be interesting. Then, Ben Abernathy contacted me and asked if I might like to create something new at Wildstorm, to which I replied, "how about an unlikable magical guy?" NRAMA: Is it set within the ever-rebooted Wildstorm Universe proper, or is it stand-alone? JP: The cheese stands alone! In fact, you'll see right off the bat that the world of Mysterius is very close to our own, the same history, news and so on. I want the world of the book to feel very familiar and real to the readers, so when magic is used, it's not something you might take for granted like in a Zatanna story – it feels appropriately incredible. NRAMA: What's the appeal of doing something older-oriented, and outside of a continuity-heavy superhero universe? JP: I love writing all ages suitable material and established characters, but it would be a strange thing if as a creator that was all I wanted to do. Mysterius allows me to jump into some more mature subject matter, and that's very energizing for my work. The freedom of being able to build my own continuity is near-intoxicating. NRAMA: What’s the low-down on this Tom Fowler, and how you two hooked up on this? JP: Well of course, landing Tom is the greatest coup and what makes the book a visual powerhouse. Tom was quite happy drawing and painting for MAD Magazine, which pays handsomely, but I asked Ben if we could send him the proposal I had written. In it, I had talked about wanting to capture some of the quality of Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently novels. Lo and behold, what was Tom reading just as this arrived in his inbox, but Long Dark Teatime of the Soul! Synchronicity like that can't be ignored, especially with this kind of subject matter. Besides drawing the hell out of it (literally, as you'll see in issue one), Tom also calls up with lots of good story suggestions. If he has a strong sense of some character that's coming to him, I find a place to work it in, because I feel that's some intangible part of our gestalt that's kicking in. He brings the cast completely alive. Even in a quiet uneventful moment, watch their physical behavior. Everyone is always doing something that thoroughly fits their personality, down to the mico-level. Even when I try to save him some work and have people speak from off-panel, Tom will often still draw them in there, because he wants readers to see how they're saying the line. He might be insane. NRAMA: Stage magicians have been an increasingly popular subject in history, from Carter Beats the Devil to The Prestige to The Illusionist to Jim Ottaviani ‘s Levitation GN. What's the appeal of the history of stage magic to you, and its place in popular culture? JP: I enjoyed all those, except Illusionist, which I never saw. It's hard to imagine now, but in the early 20th century, when magicians were often sitting at the top of the entertainment food chain, they really were blurring the line between show and the paranormal, as far as audiences were concerned. Add to that the magician's code of silence, and the whole field takes on this fascinating mystique that's very appealing. NRAMA: What kind of research did you do for the mystic elements of the series, and what are the "rules" for magic in this universe? JP: In Portland, Oregon, all I have to do is go get coffee and I run into occult practitioners. We do have a chain here called VooDoo Doughnuts. As for the rules, I can't necessarily spell them out – showing the trick robs all the magic, you know- but there is logic to it, and after you see a few instances it should feel pretty intuitive. Also part of the fun is learning how magic tends to work here, and I don't want to spoil that. NRAMA: Also, what are some of your favorite magic tricks, and have you ever tried doing magic yourself? JP: At about 12 or 13, I checked out lots of library books, trying to give the whole magic thing a shot. I tried things like tricks where I had elastic bands up my sleeve, and quickly realized why magicians tend to wear long sleeve suits. I was never smooth enough to convincingly do a good routine, but in college I did learn one really good card trick from a roommate. I wish I could remember it, because I could make you pick your own card out of a shuffled deck, and it wasn't a rigged deck or anything like that. NRAMA: Is this miniseries self-contained, or do you see more stories in this world in the future? JP: Wildstorm know what a hat trick it is to bring new characters and books to the market, so they're seeing how it's received, letting us do a story arc at a time. Ideas won't stop coming to me for the book, so I'm hoping readers will really respond. I think they will if we can just get the word out- readers tend to be very supportive when they can tell creators are really into a book- which will be pretty obvious in issue one! Mysterius: The Unfathomable #1 magically appears in comic shops everywhere this January.