Good at Being Bad: Mark Waid on Irredeemable

Mark Waid on Irredeemable

Irredeemable trade - collecting #1-#4, due in August

For Mark Waid, you can’t help but think writing Irredeemable is a little bit cathartic.

After years and years of being comics go-to guy for noble, shining heroes, Waid is knocking down the wall and going to the other side.

The first three issues of the series from Boom! Studios have started with a simple concept, that is, essentially, a Superman-type character gone bad, and exploded it to a much larger, richer picture, something that’s squarely set in a more realistic world filled not with black and white, but many millions of shades of gray.

From his former colleagues on The Paradigm to collections of supervillains, readers have seen The Plutonian wreak havoc on his world, apparently killing indiscriminately, and with malice. But is there a larger plan?

You bet.

We spoke with Waid about the series and it’s lead character.

Newsarama: Mark, I’m coming to this after just re-reading the first three issues, and the first question that came to mind is: is this something that’s taken you twenty-something years to prepare for?

Mark Waid: Oh, a lifetime to prepare for.

NRAMA: Right – this doesn’t seem to be something you could have written when you started, or even, necessarily, someone coming into comics now could’ve written with any kind of resonance. This is life experience for you, coming out in a story?

issue #6

MW: This is life experience. It took me the first twenty-five years of my life to build up my love for Superman and understand what makes him tick, but it took the next twenty years to get a hold of “What is that world like?” What is it like to live in that world every day, to live in a world of Captain America or Superman where, in this celebrity culture, you’re under the microscope all the time, and if you don’t have the emotional makeup for it, you’re sunk.

Frankly, a lot of this is inspired by all these tales of ex New Kids on the Bock or Britney Spearses or any young pop idol who have all of this thrust upon them, but yet don’t have the emotional stability to back it up. We say the same thing about superheroes all the time – we assume that people will become superheroes or super villains as opposed to say, wanting to be a superhero, but not having the emotional makeup to stand up there every day and know that no matter what you’re doing to solve a problem over here, there are other people in the world with just as bad problems who will only remember that you weren’t there.

NRAMA: So is that the case with the Plutonian? So far, we haven’t gotten the message that he was unstable or unable to handle the pressure – he was the golden, shining hero of his world…

MW: That’s the thing – the quote I stole from Smallville’s Lex Luthor is that “good and evil is not a lightswitch.” It’s not like he was this great guy, and one day he decided to become a super villain. It’s that slow, eating away over time…for instance, the secret identity thing in issue #2 – that’s not the key incident. It’s a key incident. There are a bunch of little steps.

issue #4

I also take a lot of cues from the idea that here’s a guy who, by his very nature is very isolated. You see in the beginning of #3 with the sex scene with his surrogates if you will, because here’s a guy who, at this point in his career, can’t even be with someone without running the risk of killing them, without spasming and snapping their neck. What an incredibly lonely life that must be. How distant must that make you, and as a result, how out of touch with humanity do you become?

So, that sense of loneliness is a huge part of what makes him what he is, but still, there are key incidents. We’ve seen one or two so far, but believe me – hearing his name disparaged at a stadium is nothing compared to the stuff that we’re going to start seeing in issues #5 and #6 where you really get a sense of “Oh my God - that’s what’s happened to you.” Plus, we haven’t gotten a sense of where he’s grown up and what his home life was. If you’re lucky enough to be adopted by the Kents, life is good. And frankly, if you’re lucky enough to be adopted by the Dillinger family, at least your life is pretty well mapped out there too, but there’s a giant gray area in between. And also, we haven’t said if he’s a mutant, if he’s from another planet, or what we do know about where he’s from. He’s so isolated from humanity, that he has his shields up.

NRAMA: And even his teammates, well, former teammates don’t know to much about him…

MW: I’ve really enjoyed writing the flashback scenes with his contemporaries on The Paradigm, and writing the scenes so it’s pretty obvious that they don’t know much about him. And it doesn’t occur to them that they don’t. He seems like such a nice, warm, friendly guy that it doesn’t necessary occur to them that there could be something more there. Everybody knows people like that, or has people like that in their life.

NRAMA: People that you see every day and talk to but later you think, “I don’t know where he lives or what he does…”

issue #5

MW: Exactly – the people that unfortunately the neighbors talk about on the news after something horrible has happened: “He seemed like such a nice guy.” Some people are just very good about being able to steer the conversation away from anything about themselves, and that’s the way that he’s managed to survive all these years.

NRAMA: Going back to touch on the scene in issue #2 – the reveal of the identity. It rang very true, in this TMZ fueled world of celebrity, that she would immediately run to the newsroom with it rather than be folded into his arms for a tender kiss. Given your association with Superman over the years, how long has that scene been in your head, waiting to come out?

MW: Oh, forever (laughs).

NRAMA: It felt like a loving throwback in a way to the classic Superman strip of, “Where’s Lois? Oh, she fell out the window”…

MW: Exactly! Again, the original comic characters were written for adolescent boys back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, so the idea of what it really must be like to keep a secret identity is not something that a twelve year old can wrap his head around, but as you get older and you start to think about this…how? How could you possibly be intimate with somebody, how could you possibly be that close with somebody and yet not know that?

It’s not even a matter of being honest or choosing to tell a lie. That’s the crux of all secret identities: I want you to love me for who I am, not who you think I am. If you really want to find out if they love you for who you really are, you’ve got to be honest. That’s the risk you run every time. I think that’s the part of the story that everybody can relate to – whether you can lift a tractor over your head or not – everyone knows what it’s like to have that horrible moment of risk where you put it out there and are completely open and honest, and jeez, I hope it doesn’t bite me in the ass.

issue #3

NRAMA: We’ve seen in the first three issues that the Plutonian seems to be taking some revenge in response to the reveal and the key moments, but does he have an endgame or a plan at this point, or is this just the tragedy that is his world now?

MW: It’s a little bit of both. He has a bit of a plan, but it’s not like he has a big master plan, or that he’s building some big, super world-paralyzing cannon. It’s more that he knows what his endgame is, but – and this is one of the tricky things about writing the story, too – I have to make it clear that there is an endgame and it’s not all about him just being Mr. Mxyzptlk with an evil streak in every issue. I have to be careful so that the things that he does build and begin to tie together. You’ll start to see that more in issues #5 and #6 – you’ll sort of start to see these little petty acts of revenge, some of them are actually around a specific idea. And as the layers peel back, you’ll start to see that there’s more of a method to his madness.

NRAMA: The world of Irredeemable, so far, has been pretty analogous in ways to the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe. Will that start to break away as the story continues?

MW: Oh, it really does. In the first issue, the Justice League or Avengers analogues weren’t terribly specific analogues, and I really didn’t need them to be in that first issue. I needed you to be focused on the Plutonian. As we get into it – I mean, I really don’t have any interest in writing a book that’s just analogues. Supreme was one of the greatest Superman stories of all time, but it feels very self-defeating to writ an analogue over and over, month after month – and I’m not casting aspersions on Alan Moore by any means – but not many people can do it that well without people eventually feeling, “Hey, this is just second rate Batman.”

So by the third, fourth and fifth issues, it’s going to be a lot harder to draw the lines to characters that you may have seen before.

Irredeemable #1

NRAMA: We get to see more of the dark world in your head?

MW: (laughs) That’s right, but some of what really allows me to sink my teeth into this is that, weirdly enough, I don’t see this as dark as Empire, even though bigger stuff happens in Irredeemable as you’ll see in issue #4 where millions of people die. With Empire, there was no one who was a good guy, and I took pride in that, but in Irredeemable, at least there are people who are trying. And one of the big arguments the team has and will continue to erode them away as we go on is: Are we trying to kill him, or are we trying to save him? What kind of heroes are we if we’re just working reactively, and all we want to do is put this guy out of our misery?

I couldn’t write an entire team full of people whose sole objective was just to go out there and kill him. I want there to be more of a moral debate among the team itself, like “What are we doing? We’re the good guys and he was our friend. He saved our lives many times, and we trusted him. Now he’s a rogue god. How far does our loyalty lie?” And everyone has a different answer to that question.

NRAMA: Let’s not let this end without a tease for issue #4 – what’s going on in that issue?

MW: (laughs)

NRAMA: I just want to say that it’s not a particularly good thing to hear you laugh about what’s coming up after what we’ve talked about…

MW: Oh, I know. The sad irony is that I was actually contacted by the city of Singapore a few weeks ago, because they’re having a big writer’s conference out there, and they wanted to invite me to Singapore as their guest. And my first thought was, “That’s awesome – I sure hope they don’t read Irredeemable #4 before I get there,” but that issue will be out long before I get over there. That may not go well.

But also in issue #4, you get a closer look at the Quibit character, which should come as a surprise to no one that the super genius is the character that enjoy writing the most. But you get more of a sense as to why he’s friends with this character.

And of course, I have to mention that Peter Krause is doing just amazing work on this book, and Andy Dalhouse, the colorist…I know everybody says this, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart that I couldn’t have asked for a better team.

NRAMA: And finally, as Editor-in-Chief, you’re probably required by Marketing Law to give a plug for the collection…

MW: That’s right – for those folks coming late to the game, or folks who are unable to find the issues in their stores, which is pretty phenomenal, and I have to mention that issue #4 numbers are up to issue #1 numbers – which doesn’t happen very often in comics. But if you managed to miss with what we’ve had so far, we’re got the collection of issues #1-#4 coming out on the same day as issue #5 comes out. The collection will be $9.99 and issue #5 will be $.99, so if you want to catch up, it will cost you all of ten dollars and ninety eight cents for all five issues, and we hope you jump on.

Twitter activity