There’s the saying that the clothes make the man, but what if the “clothes” made you a target and you’re just a number in a long line of inheritors who’ve been killed while wearing them? Well that’s where writer Ed Brisson and artist Brian Level are going with their new Image ongoing series, The Mantle.
The Mantle debuted earlier in May, with a story of a power that passes from person to person at random that gives a host superhuman abilities. The downside is that for every person with a power there's an opposite, and its rival makes easy work out of the inhibitors of said power, giving the Mantle a high turnover rate. Nobody said superheroics would be easy, right?
Newsarama recently spoke to Brisson and Level about the series, and got to the bottom of what makes a hero in this world, and how the series takes a new twist on the superhero identity.
Newsarama: Ed, Brian, this sort of reminds me of Invincible the early years and even Kyle Rayner's first outing as a Green Lantern from back in the day. What were some of your inspirations going in for Robbie's first day on the job, so speak?
Ed Brisson: The inspiration for this series was drawn straight from legacy (Invincible, Phantom) and mantle (Green Lantern, Thor, Captain Marvel) characters/tropes. I like the idea of one character inheriting a power only because the previous host dies. That has to come with baggage.
With most of those books, the focus becomes how to deal with being ripped from an ordinary(ish) life and thrust into superhero-ing, which is something we do deal with. But, for me, I thought that it would be more interesting to focus on the idea of just staying alive. That our protagonist got these powers only because someone else died and the threat that he can now die is very real. The awe and wonder of having these incredible powers is completely tempered by the looming threat of death.
Brian Level: Green Lantern was certainly an influence but I didn't want it to feel too Lantern-y. I think we both really enjoy building The Mantle instead of running straight to cosmic level conflicts.
Invincible is definitely a solid comparison. There's a humanity I try to keep with all the acting, grounding them a bit. I'm trying to keep everyone relatable so we can all ride the wave together. That's something Invincible did beautifully.
Nrama: So...the ending to the first issue....
Brisson: Yeah. That's something I've been telling people since Brian and I started on this. The Mantle is not going to be about what it might seem from the outside. We've got several tricks up our sleeve.
Nrama: The Mantle has its own guardians too, can you talk a little bit about the peculiar triad?
Brisson: I like the idea of a team of heroes who should be out doing good deeds, but whose primary burden seems to be making sure that each new Mantle comes online and knows what's ahead. Although not explicitly said in the first issue, these three are the remnants of a superhero team that used to be a powerful force, but have now had their memberships whittled down considerably. Shadow, a dude who can travel from one shadow/dark room to any other in the world, and Necra, who can visit with and speak to the dead, are great for intel and transport, but are useless in a fight. Kabrah is a super-intelligent, super-strong woman who is the de facto leader of the crew. She can throw down with the best of them, but is really the only one who's any good when it comes to a good old fashioned dust up. There are still others that we've yet to meet.
Level: I really love the team. They all have such distinct voices and carve their own specific places within the team. And that's all. Ed came to me with some pretty specific character ideas that have worked flawlessly together. I've really enjoyed drawing them all as well. Their looks are all so distinct and varied that it's been a treat.
Nrama: Are we ever going to see the past lives of the Mantle? Since Necra can speak to the dead so that's almost an open invitation for that.
Brisson: Absolutely. We get to see them in full glory as we look at why the Plague (The Mantle's arch nemesis) seems so hellbent on taking out each new Mantle. Since there've been more than fifty Mantles who've faced off against him since the first tragic battle, it stands to reason that they may have some wisdom to impart.
Something else that we've been having a lot of fun with is comics history. Each past Mantle is rooted squarely in a different era of comics past. So, the 50’s Mantle is very much a Golden Age Mantle, whereas the 70’s is a little more psychedelic, the 80’s is gritty and 90’s era Mantle has so many pouches. We really wanted to make the book a celebration of comics as much as we wanted to make it a really interesting new take on old tropes.
Level: Yes! You'll also see me doing some stylistic gymnastics with these characters.
Nrama: Speaking of which, tell us some about the Plague. Every hero needs a good nemesis, but why is he out to destroy the Mantle?
Brisson: Not going to spoil too much here, as peeling back the onion that is the Plague is part of our journey. I will say that his mission is, not surprisingly, not as simple as it may initially seem. The Plague's got his own issues he's working through.
Nrama: Brian, I want to talk about your style some. The heavy blacks, but light feathering, I'm guessing a brush when inking, it's almost like you're letting the coloring really let loose here.
Level: It's a little cleaner than my work in the past. Primarily because of the nature of the story. The blacks are still there and some feathering if I feel like it's necessary, but overall I wanted the title to have a little more polish. My range of influences is so deep at this point that I wish I could say what you're seeing but I think it's just me at this point haha.
Regarding color, Jordan Boyd is a godsend. As soon as he came onboard I knew I wouldn't have to worry about anything but my own drawings. We've got a lot of similar sensibilities so I absolutely wanted to leave room for him to do his thing. He's been integral in the look of The Mantle and I really wanted people to enjoy his contribution. Leaving him some space was the best way to do that.
Nrama: Does the Mantle change power sets to go along with the person it's bonded to, or is it pretty much the standard stuff (flight, energy projection, strength)?
Brisson: The only limitation of the power is the imagination of the host. I like the idea that each new Mantle is going to bring something new to it. It's almost as though it's reinvented each time around. It's not until the above mentioned trio of heroes appear and start coaching each new Mantle that they start to access powers previously used. Without that coaching, they may have taken it in another direction.
That, to me, is one of the potentially interesting things to the power -- where each host takes it and the seeming limitations that come along with their own lack of inventiveness. Where each takes it and how is really going to be one of the interesting aspects going forward. There are some scenes coming up that I'm really looking forward to writing, specifically for this reason.
Level: Yeah, I've really enjoyed trying to make the powers feel fitting to the specific person bearing the Mantle.
Nrama: So who do you think the main character is? Is it the Mantle bearer, or is it the guardians? Whose story are you telling here?
Brisson: Right now, the main focus is on the new Mantle and their struggle to survive. But, like a lot of things in this book, things are not initially as they appear. The focus may shift and the rug may get pulled from under you -- more than once. We really want to keep readers on their toes throughout.
Level: I'd echo Ed here and add, we're also doing some things in the visual storytelling to give the book an extra coating of unpredictability.