When the entire world has superpowers, sometimes being special means not having any powers at all.
This April, writer Rob Williams and artist D’Israeli give us a tour of this world – and the side effects – in a new three-issue creator-owned series titled Ordinary. Published by Titan Comics, Ordinary posits the idea that in a world where everyone has superpowers that every argument, fight and conflict has the potential to go nuclear at any moment. This plague of superpowers makes every disagreement potentially a fatal one, for both the people involved and the people that happen to be caught in the crossfire. So the key for saving the world lies in finding out the cause of the plague, and a way to counteract that; unfortunately, it all comes down to an a poverty-stricken, newly divorced New York plumber named Michael Fisher who’s got his own problems. But when his own personal problems have to compete with a world of superpowered citizens including his co-worker-turned-bear, skyscraper-sized baseball players, and some hotheaded criminals who can literally burn you with a touch, he’s got even more to worry about.
Ordinary is Williams’ first creator-owned work since his breakthrough debut in 2002 with the nihilistic superhero series Cla$$war. But now after stints on Ghost Rider, Judge Dredd and a new Vertigo series Royals: Masters of War, Williams is re-teaming with his frequent 2000AD collaborator D’Israeli for a second spin on their own in creator-owned and superpowers.
Newsarama: Rob, for a series titled Ordinary it sure seems overflowing with superpowered people. What can you tell us about this series?
Rob Williams: Ordinary is a story that tips the basic superhero origin story on its head. In every Spider-Man style tale the premise is: in an ordinary world, one person becomes extraordinary. In our story, a zombie-style plague suddenly gives every person on the planet superpowers, apart from one guy. So, how would you deal with that? And our 'hero' was something of a loser to start with - a divorced plumber living in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. He's always been ordinary but now he's the most ordinary human being alive.
But what seems hopeless becomes a journey to find this guy's worth. Against this amazing, incredibly dangerous backdrop, our ordinary guy has to travel across an armageddon-like New York to try and rescue his son. And in the course of his journey he's going to find something special within himself. Or die trying.
And it's drawn with phenomenal verve and imagination by D'israeli (Lazarus Churchyard, SVK). A world where everyone has a completely different superpower is an amazing thing. A book like this needs world-class art. And we've got that.
Nrama: In a world full of superpowers, your central character is one without them: Michael Fisher, a plumber. What can you tell us about him?
Williams: Well, Michael's something of a bum. The type you'd walk past on the street and not look at twice. He smokes and drinks way too much, he was married and had a son but he blew that and is now living in this crummy, hygiene-apocalypse apartment where it is always the maid's day off. And he's kind of working with his friend Brian on plumbing jobs, when he feels like it. Which isn't often. And he owes $200 to the local dealer, which is going to come back to bite him.
Michael's a nice guy but he doesn't do responsibility. He's living a life without purpose. Ordinary is his journey towards finding that. If it doesn't kill him first.
Nrama: Why is Michael the key to this super-powered plague?
Williams: Initially it seems like this is the ultimate insult to an already pretty worthless life. Everyone on earth gets powers apart from you? How much of a karmic insult is that? The plague initially seems like the beginning of a new age of wonders. A party that everyone is invited to, aside from Michael. But human beings aren't going to deal with superpowers in a noble 'with great power comes great responsibility' manner. Human beings can be petty and angry and mean, and suddenly every argument becomes a 'mass fatalities' disaster. Every war zone around the globe suddenly goes nuclear. As the Vice-President of America says in the script, every terrorist that hates America suddenly has super powers. It looks like the world is going to blow itself to hell unless a cure can be found.
And the only way you can find the cure to a plague is if you have a person unaffected by it. Michael goes from being the most ordinary person alive to the most extraordinary. He's hunted by different factions: some want him alive to make a cure; some want him dead to prevent a cure.
Nrama: How did the idea of superpowers being such a problem come to you, Rob?
Williams: It's really taking things to their logical conclusion given the set-up. You give Peter Parker, Hal Jordan, Steve Rogers super powers? They're good, noble, heroic guys. You give ordinary people super-powers and it's all going to go off. And we're not talking black and white here. There's a lot of good people in Ordinary's super-powered world, and there's a lot of people who just go about their business, albeit with super powers. But you give criminals and terrorists and religious fundamentalists super powers and... the world had better watch out.
Nrama: Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t part of this serialized in one of Titan’s anthologies?
Williams: No, we serialized Ordinary originally in the Judge Dredd Megazine's creator-owned slot in the United Kingdom. But this is the first time that it'll be released as an entity in its own right in comics shops and Comixology etc. Serializing it initially was purely a way to bring in a little money while D'israeli and I were working on it. The realities of doing creator-owned work.
Nrama: For many people you first broke out as a creator with creator-owned with the series Cla$$war. So what’s it feel coming back to it here with Ordinary?
Williams: You're right. My first work was creator-owned with Cla$$war and I've done only work-for-hire since. And it was great. Very freeing. For whatever reason, whether it was the feeling that this was 100% ours, the lack of a hands-on editor, or just the fact that I felt the concept was strong and I knew who the central character was, I had a blast writing it. It had a lot of energy that can, for numerous reasons, sometimes get knocked out of you with work-for-hire. The characters' voices all seemed to sing (occasionally literally).
Also, working with D’Israeli on it was huge. We've worked together for years now on Low Life for 2000AD and, because I have 100% confidence in his ability to sell things like body language, the characters' acting, big imaginative visuals, I know it frees me to write pretty much anything. I know he'll sell the silent little character beats and the crowds of a hundred people, all with disparate powers and looks. He's a bit of a genius. That was part of the drive of Ordinary too. I felt like the work we did together on Low Life was the best of my career, and we play to each other's strengths. I wanted to bring that to a creator-owned book. I'd not have done Ordinary without an artist capable of delivering on the concept.
Nrama: D’Israeli known to be particular about what he works on, so how’d you convince him to do this creator-owned project?
Williams: We were coming off the back of Trifecta and I mentioned the possibility of doing a sci-fi, deep space thing next. We met up in a London coffee shop to discuss it and knock ideas around. During the course of that, I mentioned Ordinary and initially he turned it down. I think he emailed me that night to say he couldn't stop thinking about it on the way home and was in. I'm very glad he changed his mind. I can't imagine anyone better suited to creating a vast imaginative world like this. Every character has a unique super-power. That's an amazing challenge, but he's made it look extraordinary.