Earth is barren, and Mars is already controlled by foreign governments -- so for those in the U.S. Allied Territories, they must find a new life in even harsher circumstances.
This week, BOOM! Studios debuts a new four-part sci-fi series called Venus. The series, by writers Rick Loverd and Filip Sablik along with artist Huang Danlan, follows a group of humans attempting to make a life for themselves in the harsh landscape of Venus. While the mythical Venus might be one of love, the planet Venus is anything but.
Newsarama talked with Loverd and Sablik about their new series, with a story they compare to The Martian and Lost -- while echoing the plight of global warming in the here and now of Earth.
Newsarama: Rick, Filip, how do you describe Venus?
Rick Loverd: Venus is a cautionary tale and an allegory. The planet itself could fairly be described as a “hellhole" by human standards. It’s over 800 degrees on the surface with the force of more than 90 Earth atmospheres pushing down on anyone unfortunate enough to be hanging out on its crust. The clouds are made of sulfuric acid, which falls as rain and snow. However, it probably wasn’t always that way. Billions of years ago, Earth and Venus may even have been sister planets, with liquid oceans of water—maybe even with similarly complex ecosystems. So what happened to Venus? Probably a runaway greenhouse effect caused by volcanoes. Are we talking about a class of greenhouse gasses like the kinds causing climate change on Earth? Pretty much.
In order for our crew to stay alive on Venus they need advanced technology and the wits of frontiersmen. Any small mistake could easily get them killed, so that’s the micro challenge. The macro challenge is their role in the greater politics of the humanity. Our characters volunteered to complete a mission in the advanced forward operating armpit of the U.S. Allied territories. What they didn’t know is that, at the start of the mission, things rarely go as planned. Even in the best of circumstances, things break—gear, base, and even crewmates. We like to tell messy stories. We hope you like to read them.
Filip Sablik: Venus is the type of science fiction storytelling Rick and I love—grounded in reality and science, built on a skeleton of interesting relationships and drama, and a vehicle to talk about contemporary issues we feel passionately about. I'd describe Venus as survivalist sci-fi, perfectly suited for fans of The Martian and Lost.
Nrama: Although a sci-fi story set in the future, this deals with a very real world issue: limited supplies of essentials for humanity to survive. Why’d you decide to root this future story in such a real-world issue?
Sablik: The best sci-fi stories have connective tissue to the present. Sometimes it's allegorical; in the case of Venus our future is a reflection of a potential path Rick and I see if our country continues to ignore issues of climate change and underfunding science, and particularly space exploration. Sometimes it's taking a universal human experience and placing it in a new setting like themes of manifest destiny, exploration, and pioneering efforts.
Loverd: Filip and I both enjoy looking to the real world for inspiration. I believe that, when you ground as much of your story in fact as possible, it helps in a variety of ways. Mainly, as a writer, it gives you a rule structure. One of the worst things you can do as a storyteller is violate your own rules. When you create a framework from the real world, it’s harder to make those kinds of mistakes than if you’re straight up anchoring your universe in magic or folklore. There’s so much creativity in myth and magic, which is fun to explore and think about; however, one can quickly become mired in contradiction.
Nrama: What’s Earth like in 2150?
Loverd: Take a look at a map of the Middle East from 1865—you can Google image search this—and you’ll see how much 150 years can change things. By the way, you can also try this exercise with the United States (though it gets even more pronounced if you add a decade and go to the 1850s). In our vision for Venus, projecting 150 years into the future, most of the world is consumed in a Cold War between the Pan Pacific Alliance and the U.S. Allies. Unfortunately for our characters, the U.S. has more or less lost the space race. There are Allied cities on the moon, but the most valuable colonies are on Mars, being used as a staging area to mine rare earth and precious metals from nearby asteroids.
Our Earth in 2150 has been ravaged by climate change. We’ve had wars over water. Robots perform much of the labor, creating an ownership class and an impoverished, unemployable, class. Rising sea levels have claimed land where cities couldn’t afford to build levees. Water that’s been displaced from more wealthy coastlines has poured into less affluent beachfront communities. For the 1%, life looks pretty fantastic—people live much longer, genetically design their own disease-resistant supermodel children, downloadable consciousness is a thing that creates a sort of immortality for those who can afford it, and technology has allowed for more men and women of leisure to gorge on the Earth’s remaining resources. For everyone else, life is a struggle. Also, President Trump’s face has been added to Mount Rushmore.
Sablik: And this is all just in the backstory! Except maybe the Trump thing.
Nrama: And all this leads the crew to go to Venus looking for a better life.
The Mayflower crash-lands on the way to a science base on Venus. Who is the crew comprised of, that survived?
Loverd: 83 people survived the crash, so it’s actually a fairly sizable crew. Everyone who signed up for the mission is running from something. It’s not the kind of assignment you take on if you’re a homebody who puts family first. I’m thinking your readers won’t want a full breakdown of the main characters, but here are a few:
- Pauline Manashe is the most famous commercial pilot of her generation. She’s an exploration of the cult of celebrity and what can go wrong when your heroism thrusts you into the spotlight. Pauline is a mix of a few real-world characters: Charles Lindbergh, Sully Sullenberger, with a sprinkle of a few other people who fascinate us. Her backstory is dark. She’s not always right. She’s passionate and aggressive, if not a bit controlling. Behind it all, she’s a wreck, but she’d never show that to anyone. It’s only in private that she allows herself to be vulnerable.
- Alejandra Reyes is the head engineer—and the highest-ranking, surviving military official on board Mayflower. She’s had numerous synthetic mods that have dramatically altered her body and the interface between her brain and A.I. Some people think of her as a freak; she knows she’s super human. She’s cold, calculated, and very by the book—she will not always see eye to eye with Pauline. She’s always been an outsider, and she’s mostly comfortable with that. Mostly.
- Tim Thorne, the security chief, is the model military officer. A tough-minded Texan, he knows the rules forwards and backwards along with all military procedures. He didn’t write the manual, but did memorize the hell out of it. Tim’s confident and self-assured, charismatic, and comfortable with taking on authority. He’s someone on whom Pauline can rely, which will make it an even bigger gut punch when she learns about his past.
- Dr. Chad Park was the guy you knew in school that never seemed to care, yet always aced the test. He grew up very much a prodigy in the ivory tower of academia, and it made him arrogant. It’s hard for him to suffer fools. But, when you’re the smartest guy in the room, sometimes everyone else looks foolish. He’s on this trip to win a Nobel Prize, which means at times his motivations will have nothing to do with the good of his crewmates.
Nrama: The Mayflower is an iconic name for a ship of explorers. Why’d you choose to evoke the pilgrims?
Loverd: Filip has always been a big fan of pilgrims. Their hats. Their belt buckles. Their belt buckles on their hats. But there’s another reason as well. The crew of Mayflower has a much bigger and longer story that we hope to have the opportunity to tell over time. These characters will not be religious refugees, as the pilgrims were; however, they will most definitely have a massive impact on an accidental new way of life. They will create incredible opportunities for the human race, and play a critical role in unimaginable conflict.
Sablik: When we first started chatting about Venus, Rick and I were really aware of the survivalist nature of the story we were building. As we got deeper into developing the characters we started to ask the question, What kind of person signs up for a mission like this? As we dove deeper into the psychology of our characters there was an organic connection with early explorers—the Pilgrims, frontiersmen and women in the Wild West, and so on.
Nrama: For this, you two enlisted Huang Danlan as artist. What made her the right artist for Venus?
Sablik: Our terrific editors at BOOM!, Eric Harburn and Jasmine Amiri, proposed a number of artists to us at the beginning of the process. Huang clearly stood out from the pack. She brought a completely unique tone and style to her work that felt grounded but also otherworldly. Out of the gate, we knew it was important for the technology in the series to look right, so we had her submit test designs for the Mayflower spaceship, the lander, and various spacesuits.
Loverd: Huang’s take on the character designs and technology designs prompted us to ask her to join the project. She understands our desire to stay grounded in reality, but at the same time try to show the audience a future that’s not too familiar. This project has many strong female characters in it and Filip and I both felt that it was important to find a dynamic female artist as a visual partner for Venus. I’m extraordinarily impressed with her ability to draw Pauline, Alejandra, and Dr. Gold as tough, intelligent, and savvy without sacrificing anything that might be referred to as traditional femininity. Pauline is based on women at the center of my real life, who matter the most to me, and having an artist as skilled as Huang Danlan, who brings her immense talent to every page, has been critical to the human drama of the piece.
Nrama: Filip, you’re best known as an executive at BOOM! – but you co-created this. Can you tell us how Venus came together?
Sablik: It's true, most of my time is spent on the business side of comics, but like many of us, my original interest in the medium was to create stories. I've had the privilege to write, draw, and have some of my work published over the years. Rick is one of my closest friends, a relationship that sprung up from working together on his first comic book, Beserker. For years, we would do a weekly hike up Runyon Canyon in Hollywood before work. The conversations often turned to creative ideas one or the other one of us was percolating at the time. The core idea was Rick's and he immediately had me hooked just with the fascinating scientific backdrop. He pitched me the rough idea for what eventually became the first two issues of Venus and my immediate response was, "This is the best idea I've heard from you." He surprised me by asking me to develop the idea with him from the ground up.
Nrama: Rick, what’s your side on Venus’s origin story here?
Loverd: Frankly, I came to BOOM! thanks to my relationship with Filip and to the team there that greenlighted the project! As for Venus, I think our society will have to meet a great engineering challenge to combat climate change in the next hundred years. The story of Venus started for us when we asked, "What if, in the future, humanity made fleets of drones that were designed to scrub the carbon from the atmosphere in order to combat climate change?" If we had the ability to geoengineer the climate on Earth, where else could humanity apply that power? Venus was a natural choice as it and Earth were once sister planets, likely both with temperate climates and liquid oceans of water. If Venus went from haven to hellhole, why couldn’t it go back?