Alien invasion stories are popular in science fiction, but the upcoming Image Comics series Horizon turns that trope upside down by making humans the ones who are invading.
Created by writer Brandon Thomas and artist Juan Gedeon, Horizon follows a young military officer from the planet Zhia as she attempts to circumvent Earth's planned invasion of her homeworld.
But what would lead humanity to forcibly take over another civilization's planet? With Horizon #1 coming out this Wednesday, Newsarama talked with Thomas and Gedeon about the motivations of Earth, Zhia, and their own with this Skybound series.
Newsarama: Brandon, Juan, what is Horizon about, and just who is Zhia Malen?
Juan Gedeon: Horizon is about an alien invasion...where humans are actually the invaders. Zhia Malen comes to Earth to prevent us from going to their planet and destroying it like we did with Earth.
Brandon Thomas: Horizon is an alien invasion story that casts human beings as the main aggressors, completely willing to conquer and occupy another planet to replace the dying husk we’ve made of our own. Time is finally running out for us, but fortunately, we’ve found the perfect new home. Unfortunately for us, our interests haven’t gone unnoticed, and Commander Zhia Malen isn’t just about to let us take her planet away without a serious fight.
Malen, a senior officer in her home world’s planetary security services, was finally adjusting to a more peaceful existence when she discovered humans living in secret on her world, and it wasn’t long before she found out why. And having encountered only the very worst of us, and quickly learning some of our checkered history, she knows that allowing humanity anywhere near her people means the end of everything.
So she puts together a strike team of her closest friends and allies, and comes to Earth to trap us on our dying planet. Sounds simple, but on top of them being hopelessly outnumbered, our planet has built up an extensive conspiracy apparatus that Malen and her squad will have to contend with at every turn. Also, there are some lingering issues, call them personality conflicts, which successfully travel along with them to Earth. Once everything starts exploding, and the twisted morality and justifications begin to pile on top of each other, we’ve got some really interesting space to play with, as we deal with just how awful and regressive human beings would actually look to outside observers.
Gedeon: Zhia reminds me of Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She's smart, tough, brave, but she can also be vulnerable, and she makes mistakes, so I think that makes her a cool character. I wanted her to look simple, but cool. For the armor I took elements from Evangelion, Blame!, Dead Space, Raiden from Metal Gear, Tron, etc. So I'd say she'd make an awesome action figure or would look great in a live action adaptation, but that's just my humble opinion.
Nrama: Just what is Zhia's world called, and how would you describe it?
Thomas: It’s called Valius, and it’s essentially what the Earth could’ve become if we’d gotten our act together. This is the main reason we’re interested in it to begin with, and though we won’t be spending a ton of time exploring it in the first few issues, what’s happened to our characters there before even coming to our planet looms large. Especially once the pressure and intensity of their campaign takes hold, and drags all of their interpersonal issues and long held beefs to the forefront.
Nrama: What is Earth like that it would forcibly occupy Zhia's?
Thomas: Well, some of the planet looks pretty good and is chugging along with some minor “advancements” to help us deal with the bad air and the declining reserves of safe drinking water. Other spots have been completely decimated by environmental disasters, terrorist attacks, etc., but the thing we’re really trying to express in Horizon is that “nothing is as it appears to be.” There’s this obvious thread of shifting identities and changing faces we’re always playing with through the lens of the main cast, but this idea even extends into the world itself.
If your average person on the street really knew how bad and dire the planet’s situation really was, society would’ve long ago descended into complete anarchy. When the series starts that clearly hasn’t happened, and the reasons why not are big plot points that’ll be revealed in the coming months. But like our own current society, where sometimes it feels like we’re being held together by popsicle sticks and old tape, it’ll only take the slightest coordinated push to knock it all down. Zhia is here to deliver that push.
Nrama: I feel a lot of parallels between this and actual history of colonization here on Earth. Is that a conscious choice? Can you talk about this?
Thomas: Absolutely conscious, especially in the sense that there’s always something about us that just wants to take and take and take until there’s nothing left. Finally, we’re experiencing some real consequences from our actions (and inactions) and there’s nothing about our situation that’s inspiring any sympathy or understanding from Zhia. We want her world and based on what little she knows about us, we’re some animalistic conquering race that’s burned through every second chance we’ve ever gotten. Can she maintain this hardline, unflinching perspective after spending some extended time here? Well, that’s one of many big questions we’ll be exploring as the story and the scale of what they’re really up against is revealed.
Nrama: Is this a creator-owned project you brought to Skybound, or something they brought you in for like some of their other projects?
Thomas: I brought it to them after being invited to pitch things directly to Skybound’s Editorial Director, Sean Mackiewicz, who remembered my Miranda Mercury book fondly. The kernel of the project, “Earth invades an alien planet,” has been in my notebook for years and years, but this very simple, uncomplicated premise exploded in so many new and interesting directions once they got fully involved in its development. It’s the first time that I’ve ever partnered with a publisher on this level, and I’d already learned so much about the characters and the world around them before I even started scripting, that I felt really prepared for it when the time came.
There’s very little time spent “feeling out” the book, and I think it’ll make for an opening arc that’s more confident, concise, and better developed on several fronts.
Nrama: Juan, how did you get involved?
Gedeon: Our awesome editor Sean Mackiewicz put us together. I was living in Mexico and got an email from him when Ghost Racers #1 came out. He asked if I was interested in Horizon. I thought about it for like two seconds and then said yes. When I read I'd get to draw aliens, weird guns and tech and stuff I got super excited. Also, Skybound, dude. How could I say no to that? Plus, I realized that if they liked Ghost Racers, they'd probably want me to draw some crazy stuff, so I thought Horizon was gonna be fun. This was before Comic-Con International: San Diego 2015, before I lost my hair. Then I met Brandon in person at Comic-Con and he was super nice. We found out we liked the same stuff, so I got even more excited. The fact the Horizon felt very different from what other creators were/are doing seemed cool, so I'm doing my best to translate it into images.
Thomas: Everything with Skybound has been a huge collaboration, though I did specifically ask for letterer Rus Wooten because of the amazing work he’s been doing on Outcast and Deadly Class, among other great books. Putting together the team was something else that was done with great care and patience, and there were a lot of names we tossed back and forth before Sean said, “What about Juan Gedeon?” I’d been reading Ghost Racers from the start and knew exactly who he was and how amazing his artwork was, so I immediately said to get him. Then there were some nervous days on my part before everything went official, and then we got to work. Love his art, love his work ethic, and like me, he’s hungry to get fully established as a comics “name” that retailers and fans can rely on to deliver good comics.
Frank Martin was like a bolt of lightning, someone that I’d never imagined we could get but somehow we did, and Jason is bringing such artistry and style to the book’s covers. I get this great Saul Bass/abstract vibe from them and it’s something that I never imagined, but am so thankful we have leading us out. It’s an amazing looking book from cover to cover, and I’m taking the task of giving everyone fantastic imagery to rock out on personally.
Nrama: Eagle-eyed comic book fans know your name well from writing comics and writing about comics for years, but you've racked things up in the last few years, and now this. How do you feel about what you've accomplished in the last few years?
Thomas: Well, this is a tremendous opportunity, easily the biggest creative platform I’ve had in comics, and while I’m extremely excited and thankful for it, I’m not resting on it for one second. Every script is approached with a personal mandate to be noticeably better than the one before it, and if anything, the knowledge that Horizon is going to have both the Image “I” and the Skybound logo on it inspires me to keep working harder, to dig everything out of me and get it into the stories.
Image has always meant so much to me (Spawn #1 was one of the first comics I ever bought) that it’s hard to predict how it’s going to feel to get the actual book in my hands. There’s something unique about this book that feels different from other things I’ve done. The emotional investment is pretty high, and I’ve already turned in twelve scripts, so I’ve been living and breathing Horizon for years already, and now we get to bring everyone else in and transfer those feelings of excitement and anticipation.
Nrama: Juan, what can fans look forward to with your art in this series?
Gedeon: I hope they find a crystal-clear storytelling, interesting designs and believable characters and environments. The scripts from Brandon feel like the screenplay for a movie, so I tried to make Horizon look like a cool comic, but also I wanted it to feel like the storyboard for a TV series, movie or videogame. It's the best stuff I'm capable of doing at the moment so I hope fans like it!
Nrama: And big picture, what are your goals for Horizon and your future going forward?
Thomas: I want to do more Horizon and really dive into the depths of this idea and these characters because I think they deserve it. I want more Miranda Mercury, whose imminent return to comics feels right on time, instead of being slightly too early. I want more outlets to keep getting better, because there’s no greater teacher than experience.
Ultimately, I want to contribute something positive and memorable to a relationship that’s consumed and at times dominated my creative aspirations since I was twelve years old. I just love the mechanics of creating comics---how a story evolves and changes and improves as it passes like a baton through everyone’s hands. How you can start from one point with a very clear idea of what a book is really about, but by the time everyone touches it and it circles back around, you learn what the book is really about.
That is why I love making comics, and that’s what I hope people get from Horizon - constant surprises.