Mankind might one day leave Earth for space…but the darker side of human nature is something that we might never be able to leave behind. That’s the premise behind Image Comics’ new SF crime drama Roche Limit, premiering this September from writer Michael Moreci (Hack/Slash, Hoax Hunter) and artist Vic Malhotra (X-Files: Year Zero). We spoke with Moreci about the world of this new book, his favorite SF and crime tales, and why it’s fun to bring crime noir to outer space.
Newsrama: Michael, what is Roche Limit about? I presume it has more to do with the extent to which a celestial body can expand before disintegrating, typically associated with formation of orbital rings, than the number of delicious hazelnut-filled Ferrero chocolates one can eat without getting sick (personal record: 7).
Michael Moreci: (laughs)Mmaybe it’s both? You’ll have to read it to find out!
What I can say, for now, is this: In a nutshell, Roche Limit is a sci-fi noir that blends Blade Runner with 2001. The Roche Limit is a colony situated on the cusp of a strange energy anomaly—formerly a hot spot for the wealthy, the place has devolved into a melting pot of crime and lawlessness. When a young girl goes missing, a cadre of underworld figures plunge into an odyssey that will reveal the dark secrets of the colony.
Nrama: Tell us about the setting for this story.
Moreci: Basically, in the not too distant future, mankind discovers this dwarf planet, Dispater, which is somewhat habitable. It’s not Earth, but it can work. A man names Langford Skaargard, billionaire who fancies himself an explorer of the cosmos –think Richard Branson crossed with Carl Sagan – pours his entire worth into making a habitable colony on Dispater, seeing it as a galactic outpost to reach even further into the cosmos.
He achieves his goal, but goes broke in the process. His dream degrades into this broken colony; the wealthy briefly used it as their own space Club Med, but crime has taken it over and the once promising outpost is now just another slum.
Hanging over it all is the specter of this energy anomaly that is situated just beyond Dispater. That’s how the colony gets its Roche Limit title—a Roche limit is the space where one body will disintegrate when pulled into the gravity of larger body. The anomaly plays an important, vital role in the book. You’ll have to read it to find out what, exactly…
Nrama: And who are the main characters and their respective deals?
Moreci: The two leads are Alex and Sonya. Alex is the one and only person who knows how to make this drug, Recall, which is manufactured using a plant native only to Dispater. He has a unique relationship with Roche Limit in that he isn’t wanted there anymore, and he doesn’t want to be there, but he can’t leave.
When he discovered the formula for this drug, he became a superstar…then he wore out his welcome. His goal in life as never to make drugs, but if he gives up his formula, he’s a dead man. So, he hangs on.
Sonya is a police officer on Earth who comes to Roche Limit looking for her missing sister, Bekkah. She firmly believes foul play is involved, but since the colony has no law enforcement, there’s no one to investigate the case. She takes it upon herself to find her sister. Sonya is tough, smart, and fearless—where most people would be afraid to tread in this dangerous place, she kicks down the door and gets what she wants.
Nrama: Why was the subject matter of this interesting for you?
Moreci: Honestly, this is the story I’ve wanted to tell my entire career. Not this specifically, but this kind of story. This is a bold, ambitious story, I’m not afraid to say that. It’s going to challenge readers; it certainly challenged me writing it.
The whole point of Roche Limit is to explore the existential relationship between mankind and the cosmos—where we’ve been, where we’re going. Finding Dispater, this habitable planet, is a landmark in human history. The question, then, is what do we do with it? Can we, as people, pull in the same direction and make this opportunity a chapter of greatness in our existence, or will it all go to waste?
I don’t have the answer, of course, but Roche Limit explores what this potential future would look like.
Nrama: What sort of scientific research did you have to do for this story?
Moreci: Some, but not much. I found myself really digging deep into black holes and space anomalies and…you know, you get to a point where you’re bending your story too much to adhere to science, which isn’t a good thing.
There’s nothing silly in the book—no one gets into a fist fight in space—but I wanted to adhere more to the story and less to the factual nuances of space.
Nrama: And what were some of your biggest influences in terms of SF and crime noir?
Moreci: I’m pretty wide ranging. I love the visual medium more for sci-fi—Dark City, 2001, Gattaca…those deeper, more existential sci-fi works tend to click more with me. Moon, Solaris. I love that stuff. In prose, nothing beats Bradbury and Lem.
For crime, I like work in the similar vein—Memento, Thief, Drive. Stuff that’s stylish as hell, but also drenched in strange philosophies. Hammett, Lawrence Block, the classics. Then, of course, there’s Blade Runner, which does everything and them some by mashing sci-fi and noir together.
Nrama: How'd you get your artist Vic Malhotra on this, and what's he bring to the story?
Moreci: Vic and I had been dancing around each other for a while, wanting to collaborate. He was busy, then I was busy, and so on. Then, out of the blue, Vic emailed me and asked if I had anything in mind and, luckily, I did…a book that was not Roche Limit! We kicked around that idea a bit, but it never took hold.
Then, I showed him Roche—being honest, I didn’t think he’d be into it. But he loved it, and I cannot imagine the book existing without him. His work on this is a revelation. Seriously, he leveled up to a point I didn’t even know he was capable of—and he was damn good before that, even.
His attention to detail and character nuance are bringing this story to a brilliant level. He’s building this Roche Limit world, and it’s beautiful and unique. Plus, he passionate, so passionate about the book and what we’re trying to achieve. I can gush for some time here…
Nrama: What's it been like working with Image on this?
Moreci: Image, as always is amazing. Like I said, this isn’t an easy book, necessarily. I think people will really enjoy it, truly, but it is a risky book. But Eric Stephenson recognized something in it, and he’s a man who is willing to take risks (thank goodness).
And inherent in that risk is creative control—he doesn’t bring you in to control the book. Image puts their trust in you, and Roche Limit is a book that, being honest, can’t be influenced by anyone outside the book. There’s a true vision here, and the path to achieving it has to stay true. Image gives you the freedom and support to do that.
Nrama: If terraforming made living on any planet in the solar system possible, where would you want to live and why?
Moreci: Ha, Earth. I think Roche Limit makes my philosophy clear: wherever humans go, we bring our bullshit with us. I might as well stay here; at least I have a garage for my car.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're enjoying right now?
Moreci: Sixth Gun continues to be great, same with Unwritten. Southern Bastards is off to a promising start, and Waid/Samnee’s Daredevil is a revelation, every month. Action Comics is a lot of fun, Dead Letters, Velvet, Revival, Five Ghosts…lots of good stuff out there, across the board.
Nrama: What all do you have coming up?
Moreci: I am, thankfully, a busy man. Hack/Slash is rolling along, with issue #2 coming next month. I have two books coming with BOOM!, both unannounced, some Dynamite stuff, ummm…oh, I have a story in the Vertigo anthology series, out this July. Working for them was a dream come true.
Take it to the Roche Limit with the new series this September. The first issue is currently available for pre-order with Diamond code JUL14043.