In the wake of increased terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has put in place a plan to eliminate any American from committing a crime. How? A broadcast signal sent from space – consider it a brainwashing from Big Brother. But when that news leaks just days from its implementation, panic ensues in the streets and towns of America – forcing people to decide whether to fight back, get out or hunker down for what's coming next. But for one entrepreneurially-minded criminal, he's using the chaos as smokescreen to try the biggest heist of all time – before it's too late.
Scheduled for a December debut, The Last Days of American Crime is the latest in a long run of stories from the mind of Rick Remender. Remender, who worked for years as a comic book inker and storyboard artist on such things as The Iron Giant, really broke out as a comics writer several years ago with Fear Agent and Sea of Red. He's ridden that rising tide of success to other titles such as XXXombies and The End League, even becoming a regular writer at Marvel on such titles as Punisher and the upcoming Doctor Voodoo. But this series finds Remender back on his own turf telling his own stories, with help from publisher Radical and artist Greg Tocchini.
Newsarama talked with the busy-writer from his California home for more.
Newsarama: From what we’ve read, this sounds like the ultimate heist story. How would you describe Last Days of American Crime, Rick?
Rick Remender: At its heart, this book is a classic heist story, with touches of science fiction around the perimeter. The story takes place in an America eight or nine years in the future, where a few spats of domestic terrorism has caused another spike in public paranoia. In this climate, the U.S. government institutes the reassuringly named American Peace Initiative, which involves broadcasting a signal throughout the country that would neuro-chemically inhibit any of its citizens from knowingly breaking the law. Not wanting to cause alarm, Uncle Sam decides to keep this under his hat until the signal is ready to go, but two weeks before its scheduled launch, the Washington Post breaks the API story.
Well, everyone goes nuts, many trying to pour out of the country into Canada and Mexico, prompting those countries to shut their borders. Without a way out, the country divides into those trying to squeeze a last bit of debauchery before the switch is thrown, and those who hole themselves up, hoping they can fend off the onslaught of crime.
Now, at the center of this whole thing is Graham Brick, who has been long planning the heist of his life, which involves another big government plan…the migration of all paper money to government issued fiduciary charge cards.
Nrama: Kind of like pay-as-you-go credit cards.
Remender: Right. The government rolls out these fiduciary charge cards to replace paper money so every dollar can be tracked. It’s another anti-terrorism initiative, allowing them to follow criminal money trails to their sources.
Nrama: So the whole story is kicked off by mass panic over the government’s mind control device. It sounds righteous on one hand (stopping crime) and horrifying on the other. What would you do in that situation, Rick?
Remender: If I found out that in two weeks it would be impossible to commit a crime? Hmm. I have a wife and daughter, so I guess I’d be one of the guys held up at home with a shotgun at the door. I misspent my teens and twenties, so I got most of my criminal impulses out of my system.
Nrama: Or at least you’ve been able to funnel them into the pages of your books. Tell us a little more about Graham. What’s he about?
Remender: Graham has a long history of debaucherous behavior. He's been in and out of penitentiaries and rehab facilities most of his life. A broken down human being. His one redeeming characteristic is that he takes care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. Since his last stint in the pen he’s tried to clean up his act, but soon comes to realize how hard it is for a hardened career criminal to get normal, legit work. He’s essentially un-hirable, and that forces his hand back into his old life, where he concocts this scheme.
Nrama: What is Graham’s plan exactly?
Remender: Graham’s plan is to steal one of the charge machines, hack into its CPU to circumvent the logging and tracking systems, and live the rest of his life charging endlessly. He works at the bank responsible for distributing the machines, so he’s got everything worked out. All he needed was the time to plan everything right…but now with knowledge of the signal hitting in two weeks, his entire timeframe has been pushed up, which means he needs help he wasn’t planning on needing.
Nrama: Who does he bring in to help, and what do they bring to the table?
Remender: Kevin Cash and Shelby Dupree; two young, slick safecracking computer hackers who give Brick the technical edge he needs to get this job done quickly.
Nrama: Your partner-in-crime on this book is artist Greg Tocchini. I’ve seen his name on some impressive books out there, Spider-Man, X-Men, Green Lantern, but I haven’t really found much about him personally. How is it working with him?
Remender: It’s a treat. I’ve been fortunate to work with some brilliant guys in comics, and I find it always makes you step up your game. I can’t let myself waste a page when someone of his caliber is illustrating it. Luckily, Radical has allowed Greg and me to devote a lot of time to this, and the work shows. Greg has lavished a lot of love over every page. It’s a very European approach to doing comics; it’s more product-oriented. Greg’s producing the work of his life because he’s been given the time to do so.
Nrama: How did you come to work with Greg?
Remender: When I was first putting the creative team together, Rafael Albuquerque mentioned Greg to me. He said—literally—“This is the guy”. l checked out Greg’s blog and it blew my head off. I contacted him and explained how the book was to be a wide-open, stylized modern crime book; real gritty, real dark and fast-paced, with a lot of sex…He was into it.
Nrama: What about the rest of the art team?
Remender: It’s all Greg. He’s not just penciling – he’s painting it, using both a physical brush on paper and computer coloring. There’s a lot of mixed media and digital work going into these pages.
Nrama: Where did the story originate?
Remender: I came up with Last Days of American Crime the same year I came up with Fear Agent: 2004. It was an interesting year for me; I was penciling a book for Dark Horse and working at Electronic Arts storyboarding, and then at night I would come home and work on pitches. In that one-year span, I fleshed out the stories for Fear Agent, Strange Girl, Sea of Red, Night Mary, Sorrow and The End League. Last Days of American Crime is the last of that batch of ideas being produced – and I feel it’s for the best. The previous work I’ve done has seasoned me well for this particular story.
Nrama: Getting back to the story, it sounds like a dour world, people either fearsome or fearful, the government bringing down Orwellian style control on its citizens. What gets you thinking on this wavelength?
Remender: This idea was born in 2004, right in the middle of the Bush administration. 9/11 had spooked people so much that they were willing to give up their civil liberties, and Bush was glad to take them. Now, when you throw into that an element of sci-fi, it isn’t hard to imagine a situation in which another act of terrorism on our shores could spur the government to implement a mind control ray to keep people from ever committing crimes. (Of course, where would stop? If Bush demonstrated anything quite clearly it’s that one leader’s idea of what’s best for the people can differ greatly from what is actually good for the people.)
Nrama: In much of your work I've noticed a tendency to depict good guys who aren't all good – anti-heroes, if you will. How do these characters reflect you?
Remender: Heroes are imaginary – mythological, all different versions of Beowulf, because there are no heroes. Even the greatest and most noble among us embraces some kind of selfish purpose. And the most villainous and vile among us at some point performs a selfless act. When I develop and design characters, that duality is key. I try to write humans, and try to avoid falling into the trap of pitting good against bad. Strong against weak. But when I examine it closely, I see more bad in our collective hearts than good, hence the dark and gritty tone of my books.
Nrama: Between this book’s initial announcement and the upcoming first issue, Radical also announced that you were already at work on a screenplay version. Is it a common practice to do the screenplay so early, even before the first issue is released to the public?
Remender:Well, it depends. I’m fortunate that Radical’s President, Barry Levine, really likes my stuff and believes it has a life beyond the page. It was very liberating to be able to open up the scenes and let them breathe. Doing it for film allows you to get more comfortable with dialogue. This is actually my second time doing a screenplay based on one of my comic books. I wrote a screenplay earlier this year for XXXombies (news on that is forthcoming) and I liked the process.
Nrama: How was it a liberating experience?
Remender: A screenplay allows me to flex my dialogue, dig into the scene and really let loose.
Nrama: Sounds like you’re really taking to the film format. Do you have any others in the wings?
Remender: Once I’m finished up with Last Days of American Crime, I hope to do a couple screenplays per year – preferably on my own ideas.