Incognito #1Today, the award-winning team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips change channels with their output, pausing their creator-ownedCriminal, published by Marvel’s ICON imprint, and starting up Incognito, a five-issue miniseries about a former super-criminal that is living in a Witness Protection type program…and having second thoughts about hiding out.
We’ve first interviewed Brubaker about the project back in September, and the Best Shots team has already given the book very favorable review, but with the first issue of the opening arc hitting today, we caught up with Brubaker one more time for seven things you need to know before you open the cover on Incognito #1.
Incognito started small, a while ago.
Ed Brubaker: It started as the germ of an idea as Sean and I were winding up Sleeper. As you know, Sleeper is about a spy forced to live among the enemy for so long that he loses sight of which side he's on, lost in the shades of grey of his world, losing his moral compass. So I was thinking, what about someone having to go the opposite path? What would that story be? And I thought, it'd have to be about a bad guy, a real villain, who's somehow put into a position where they start doing decent things, accidentally saving people... stuff like that, and then you'd see what happened next -- how that changed them, and what it would do to whatever life they're living.
And from there, Incognito grew over the next few years. I would just come back to it every now and then, realizing it had to be a guy in Witness Protection, then asking myself... okay, why is he in Witness Protection? And the story just built from there.
The influences for Incognito were mainly pulp in nature.
Brubaker: I'd been thinking about how comics grew out of the pulps, in many ways. That many of our superheroes, if not all, have their roots in pulp characters - Doc Savage, the Spider, the Shadow - these harder-edged characters inspired Batman and Superman and a lot of others. And at the same time, I was thinking it was funny that noir in many ways grew out of the pulps, too - since Hammett and Chandler came out of Black Mask - but that no one had ever written a noir story in the worlds of Doc Savage or the Shadow.
And it just clicked -- had no one ever done a noir pulp hero story? Taking two pulp staples and slamming them together? Was that possible?
And how is the only way you could tell a story like that? Through the eyes of a bad guy, a fallen character, someone with a past...
The whole pulp hero world the story takes place in just grew from that point on, trying to envision a world that grew out of a Depression era that had pulp science heroes and evil demon cult organizations running around it... It's mostly background to this story of one guy, and won't be part of it, but it's all figured out anyway. And since this is a noir and a pulp-style hero/villain story at the same time, there's some real weird and alien stuff going on right next to these dark shadowed scenes of despair and sex.
It wasn’t so much that he and Sean Phillips wanted to write a superhero story, but rather, this was a good story that they wanted to tell that happened to have a superhero in it.
Brubaker: It's always just about having a story to tell. We're fortunate enough that Criminal has developed a nice steady following, and I hoped that most of them would follow us to another project, and then come back to Criminal after we're done. I hope that some people who maybe haven't tried Criminal yet will pick up Incognito, too, since it's a new book,
and since it's got masks on the cover. And hopefully we'll hook them to our whole body of work.
And it's good to take a break and do something else - push yourself in some different directions. It's already broken some of my bad habits, and cleared out some cobwebs. I even managed to outline almost the entire next Criminal story last week, while working on Incognito. Sean
and Val have been trying some new stuff with the art and coloring, too, and the design, even.
Want to know who Zack Andersen is? You’ve got to read the series.
Brubaker: What we learn almost right away is that he was once one of The Overkill Brothers, and that he's been living in a kind of Super-Witness Protection program for about three years now. Everything about who he is when the story begins is a lie, he's living a lie, and he's starting to lose his mind because of it.
The program Zack is in is a little more than “Witness Protection”.
Brubaker: It's a bit of a combination of Parole and Witness Protection, since they're dealing with people who have powers. So they have to monitor them more closely, and try to reform them. It grew out of something very similar to Doc Savage's Crime College, where he would operate on criminals' brains. In this world, the government now runs this program, turning super-criminals against their big bosses and protecting them, giving them new identities and trying to help them fit into society. But they're dealing with bad people, who aren't used to rules or restrictions, so it's a tough job.
Zack’s in the program voluntarily.
Brubaker: But that doesn't mean he's enjoying it. How and why he ended up there is revealed over the first several issues, so I don't want to spoil it too much. You can get a good idea from the preview Marvel released, of what he's going through. He's not from this world he's living in, basically. He feels out of place and untouchable, but not in a good way. He's living a lie, and he's desperate for a way to live something else, without getting himself back into the fire.
This isn’t the Marvel Universe by any stretch of the imagination.
Brubaker: Incognito is Apocalyptic Pulp Noir. It's a modern era, but shown through those lens. There are some public heroes, but they're not out in the media a lot, it's more controlled. Back during World War 2 there was more widespread media and public talk about heroes and strange characters, but it's less talked about now. When you see the heroes on the news, it's more like when you see astronauts on the news in our world -- they're heroes, not rock stars or actors. There are contingents that are obsessed with them, and conspiracy theorists that believe the government is covering up what the heroes do (which they are).
The biggest power player on the scene for the good guys is the organization that Professor Zeppelin formed after WW2 - the SOS. The Special Operations Service. They're kind of like a pulp version of SHIELD or the FBI - and the heroes that do exist in this world mostly work for them. There are several leagues of bad guys and evil bastards, as well, but this story is mainly concerned with the cult of the Black Death, a globe-spanning organization of death and murder that Zack was once a part of.
No, Zack is not Brubaker talking in some kind of cathartic thing.
Brubaker: The bad guys are definitely a lot of fun to write, but I think it's just figuring out what character you're going to write, and getting in their head to tell the story that drives me. And there are really messed-up things in bad guys heads.