For the past 14 years Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming have written about crime from the point-of-view of a superhuman police squad in Powers and Powers Bureau – but now in a new ongoing series from Marvel’s Icon imprint, they’re switching to a life of crime. Just launched last week, The United States of Murder Inc. is an inside look at the American mafia in a world where the F.B.I. never pushed them into the underground. In this ongoing series, mob rules.
United States of Murder Inc. follows a new inductee in a world of crime, Valentino Mallo, who carried on his family legacy by becoming a made man then promptly finding out a secret about his family – and his life – that turns it all on its head. Valentino works alongside a hitwoman whom Oeming calls a “firecracker” named Jagger Rose. Newsarama talked with Oeming about this new series he’s doing with Bendis, and along the way he shares the Ten Commandments of the mafia as well as never before seen design sketches of Jagger.
Newsarama: Mike, United States of Murder Inc. #1 came out last week. For those that haven’t read it yet, what’s your vision of the book?
Michael Avon Oeming: A fresh take on the Mafia. It's something comics and film/TV hasn't seen in a while because the genre is so prolific. I know it may sound a little like we are tooting our own horn, but we stumbled on a fresh take and knew it was special because Brian and I love the genre so much. It isn't easy to do a mob story, we've seen them from all sorts of angles to the point that even a quality story about the mob has trouble getting any traction because so much has been done and said. Our concept started with me asking Brian, "What if the mob never lost the war with the FBI in the 60's?" Then we started talking asking ourselves what if they killed John F. Kennedy and it was them laying down the law- "back off" What would the world look like then? We were at Halloween party at Randy Bowen’s place, we liked the idea so much, we had to check with Matt Fraction that we weren't nuts.
Nrama: This takes place in an alternate history where the mafia didn't get taken down by FBI and actually beat the government. What’s it like to live in a world where the mob rules?
Oeming: In our take, the mob has taken over the east coast. After Kennedy, there were other attempts to lock down the mafia, but don't forget, we had Nam and other social clashes happening at the same time- race riots, giant social changes- so when the mob pushes back, there is a final clash/war on the streets with the mob until the feds give up, and then history is changed. The economic, social and technological history all changes. America is a very different place and the mob has new challenges to face. America is still America, but it becomes an alternate history.
Nrama: The lead in this is a guy who grew up in the mafia, Valentine Gallo. Who is he, Mike?
Oeming: He's raised by his mother, we won't say much about his father right now other then he was a made man, an important one too. Vincent grows up in this extended family, with these strict rules that are enforced with violence, but he starts out a bit pampered maybe, his hands are not completely dirty yet. Let’s see where that goes.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the family Valentine is a part of?
Oeming: They have a direct line to the Kennedy thing, and how that impacts the family defines them and Valentine.
Nrama: And as Valentine’s about to become made, he meets a hitwoman named Jagger Rose. Who is Jagger, on her own and in relation to Valentine?
Oeming: Jagger is the flip side to Valentine, her hands are plenty dirty already. She's a firecracker, hit her, she'll smile at the fight about to start. She loves mayhem and she can bring it. We went through a lot of iteration in her design. Especially her hair. Taki Soma is coloring the book in a stark neo-noir style with extremely limited color- I think of it as the flip side to black and white, almost a color negative. Black with limited bright colors punctuated by Jaggers hair design which we worked on a lot. Her and Deena would not be friends. Too much alpha between the two of them.
Nrama: From historical accounts and mafia fiction, I don’t know of too many female hitmen. What’s Jagger’s place in mafia’d up world?
Oeming: Like I said, things have changed for America, and the Mafia, they keep their core beliefs, but they grow with times. Jagger will be a modern mafia woman, like a viking shield-maiden she won’t need a man or men rules to define her.
Nrama: From the sounds of it, Valentine is about to be in the good life once he’s a made man—but that wouldn't make for a dramatic series. What happens to change Valentine’s outlook on things?
Oeming: Like all mob stories, everything is great until it isn't. Loyalties don't change easily, but they do change. Money, power, the threat of freedom will most often over rule loyalty and family rules. The mafia "Ten Commandments" as written by the Sicilian Mafia can be broken as the same ease as Moses' laws. These go:
1. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
2. Never look at the wives of friends.
3. Never be seen with cops.
4. Don't go to pubs and clubs.
5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty - even if your wife's about to give birth.
6. Appointments must absolutely be respected.
7. Wives must be treated with respect.
8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
10. People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.
Nrama: The first issue is double-sized but carries a single issue price -- $3.99. As someone who’s done lots of creator-owned work, can you talk about the decision to launch with a double-sized issue and not charging more?
Oeming: When you are launching a book with a new concept, something people haven't quite seen before or need a stronger springboard than a superhero book or another genre we know so well, a double sized issue is a great way to give people a real meal- a true taste of what they are about to invest in. We did this with Mice Templar and a few other books. I think all books should be a double sized #1. Not charging more is simple- we are asking people to invest in us, how can we do that if we don't invest in the readers?
Nrama: This is your third creator-owned project with Brian after Powers and Takio. With Powers doing so well and on its way to being a television series, why was pausing to create something completely new with United States of Murder Inc. so important to you?
Nrama: Brian and I are driven creatively. It's what turns us on. We only wish there were more hours in the day, especially me since I'm drawing roughly three books at once!