Wildstorm's A GOD SOMEWHERE: The 1st Real Superhero Tragedy

A GOD SOMEWHERE: Superhero Tragedy

In many ways, superheroes are a modern take on gods. The surface comparisons are easy — supernatural powers — but going deeper, having super-powered people living above normal human society while still dealing with the same problems is something that’s just as key now in this week’s Amazing Spider-Man as it was in Greek mythology.

In the DC/Wildstorm graphic novel A God Somewhere, released earlier this month, writer John Arcudi and artist Peter Snejbjerg take the idea of a normal person gifted with extraordinary powers and play it out in the broader concept of gods and how they’d be treated by modern man. When an aimless young man is gifted with extraordinary abilities, he finds a purpose in his life for the first time. At first, the public rushes to him for the spectacle, before realizing that they should run from him because of the consequences. For this unlikely god and his closest friends, coming to grips with it all is the hardest thing. Longtime Batman scribe Dennis O’Neil has called it the “first real Super Hero tragedy”, while Mike Mignola says it’s the most human take on superheroes he’s ever seen.

These creators are no strangers with gods and heroes, with Arcudi doing the recent Superman strip in Wednesday Comics and frequent Hellboy books, while Snejbjerg drew DC’s The Mighty and some Hellboy issues of his own. But as you’ll see with A God Somewhere, this is something different.

Newsarama: This book gave me some second thoughts on if I’d want superpowers — or if I wanted to be friends with someone who had them. Since you’ve worked with superheroes and supernatural characters for a large part of your adult life, did thinking through these real elements help you out in determining how this story ended up?

John Arcudi: You know, the idea of the meta-human has been around for millennia in religious and mythological contexts. The attendant narratives have occupied greater minds than my own (Joseph Campbell, for instance) and a larger overarching narrative has emerged about the human condition. Why we wish for these things, why we even conceive of them in the first place is fascinating to consider, isn’t it?

Nrama: There’s a ton of superhero and superhuman stories out there — with some creators avoiding the genre unless it’s work-for-hire. Why’d you feel this is a story you wanted to tell?

Arcudi: Well, there are no bad story ideas, right? Only bad writers. Though to be honest, for the most part I have tried to avoid writing for superhero characters because that road has been so well tread, and because I wanted to tell stories about people. Not the kinds of folks who normally populate superhero comics, but the kind of folks I meet everyday. That was wrong thinking on my part. There are always good stories to tell, no matter what the genre, and I saw an opportunity here to tell one. Something that didn’t involve a typical “world-at- risk” plot, or the predictable conflict with a “bad guy.” There are so many other stories to tell beyond the good vs. evil dynamic.

When you get right down to it, calling Eric a superhero is a bit of a stretch anyway. I certainly never thought of him as one. The only way I could imagine anybody possessed of these sorts of abilities in this world would be as a person divorced from reality. So it was through that prism that I saw things start to take shape. I realized that I could make a story about average folks more potent with the use of a god-like character, and I could make the story of a god-like character more potent with the use of very real, very average human characters.

Nrama: One of the key aspects of Eric’s slow withdrawal from society is how his relationship with his best friend Sam his brother changes. This idea of brotherhood, spiritually and literally, seems like a very real part of this. Why’d you decide to bring that element in here, and what do you think that holds over Eric early on and as the story progresses?

Arcudi: That is the story. Arguably, you could lift out the “super” part of the book and still have the same tale. Just make Eric an oil executive, or something. Seriously, the evolution of that brotherhood is the heart of this book. It’s what makes it accessible and (I hope) real. I never wanted to make some sweeping statement about the place of the superhero in comics, or speculate on the geo-political impact that a super-powered team might have on the world, or what have you. Other folks are better at that than I am. Me, I like telling stories about the everyday things that every one of us experiences. Brothers, friends, jealousy, loss — in this case we also talk about the loss of humanity, but that’s still a very human theme.

Nrama: Religion is brought up several times here, with Eric at one point considering himself a modern-day God here. You have others adoring him like one, but also Eric thinking that himself … but also dealing with how it sets him apart from society. Were the religious aspects of having superpowers something you consciously wanted to explore with this? And did you expect it to play out the way it did?

Peter Snejbjerg: Well, that was really all in the script, wasn't it? There were a couple of panels that John and I talked over, making decisions on emphasizing or downplaying the visual allegories. It was a really fine balance, trying to follow John's subtle hints without overplaying it. I think it's not so much a story about religion as a story in which the religious aspect is an organic part of the characters.

Nrama: Eric stands out as the main character here, but I see his best friend Sam as the real heart of the story — trying to be a safe place at first, then trying to reign in his friend and then going in a new direction. Can you tell us your initial intentions for the character of Sam, and how he developed in relation to the story?

Arcudi: As far as I’m concerned, Sam is the main character. When I first conceived the story I think the one line pitch I gave to DC was something like. “This is not the story about a god-like superman. This is the story about everybody else.” And obviously I narrowed that “everybody” down into one family, Sam being a de facto member. But his role expanded from mere participant to full-blown narrator. That happened before I started writing even a single word, but it certainly filled out along the way as I typed through it.

Nrama: For this you’re working with Peter Snejberg and colorist Bjarne Hansen, whom you’ve worked with in the past on War of Frogs … but didn’t your work on this book predate that work at Dark Horse? How’d you and Peter get together originally to do this book?

Arcudi: I wanted Peter and Bjarne right from the start because of their amazing work on Light Brigade (a graphic novel written by Peter Tomasi) but they were otherwise occupied. So we sought out other artists who — for one reason or another — didn’t work out. These delays allowed us to come back and ask Peter and Bjarne again, and by that point they were available. It slowed things down a mite, but we ended up with the right team for the book.

Nrama: What was your initial idea for what became A God Somewhere?

Arcudi: Pretty much what it is now. The “ground level” view of how a super-powered entity would change the lives of those closest to him, and of course, his own life. That seemed to be the way I could best tell a story of this nature. It grew out of a lot of influences that really have nothing to do with the final plot, but that’s the way I saw the story right from the beginning.

Nrama: How did the graphic novel develop once you sat down to write the script?

Arcudi: The first few pages were the toughest, of course. I knew all along that Sam would end up as the reporter following Eric around, but it took a couple of false starts before I realized that Sam’s reports would provide the perfect structure for this book and that was the device that would form the narration itself. Duh, right? Well, we can’t all be smart all the time. I’ll settle for some of the time.

Eric’s appearance also was an idea that developed as I wrote. The transformation from decent average Joe to… well, whatever it is he finally becomes, had to be reflected in the art. Unbelievably I didn’t consider that until I started writing, but it came together over the course of my work so that we were able to craft distinctive but relatively subtle changes in his appearance over the course of the story.

Nrama: Peter, this story takes place over several years, and the characters change — none more than Eric. When you were doing the different variations of Eric from before he got powers, to when he first had them and as it developed, what were you thinking in the way you changed the way you portrayed Eric in terms of design but also angles and lighting?

Snejbjerg: I guess I though of it mostly in terms of his eyes. He's focused on something off-panel, looking through or past the other characters. He's not all there, like a madman or a prophet.

Nrama: Talking about angles and such, even though there’s not a cape or cowl in sight you are able to easily transition from more human layouts to those iconic superheroic dramatic poses there. Were you conscious of laying them out and drawing these superhuman moments differently that the more human realistic moments like Eric and his brother sitting around?

Snejbjerg: No, I really just tried handling it all as realistically as possible, if that makes any sense when you're talking about a flying man. I tried to avoid the well-known superheroic poses as much as I could, to see if I could imagine what it would look like afresh.

Nrama: When the decision was made to change it from a mini to a graphic novel, did you make any changes to the pacing since you weren’t dealing with an end every 22 pages?

Arcudi: That decision was actually made because of the way the book ended up. Peter and Bjarne and I had finished up the series by then, but as we looked it over we saw the way the book came together at the end — the last two issues, really. But you’re right; we had planned on there being a break in the story every twenty-two pages and composed the material accordingly. When we put the graphic novel together, we included chapter breaks to ease the most abrupt transitions. As it turned out, those especially abrupt breaks came every 44 pages.

Nrama: Digging through the archives, I discovered this project was many years in the making – originally going by the title “The Chosen” and drafted as a miniseries. Can you tell us how those elements changed to what we have here?

Arcudi: Some of the delay in getting this book out was due to what I talked about earlier (finding an artist, etc.). We even lost our first editor over that time. Peter Tomasi did a great job helping me through the first bunch of issues, but he left his position as an editor at DC to pursue writing. That’s when the book switched from DC to Wildstorm and to editor Scott Peterson’s hands. This pause in the production gave us an opportunity to look over the material and arrive at the decision to “collect” the series and release it as an original graphic novel. When that happened, DC Marketing VP John Cunningham, thankfully, saw real potential in this project. He and Austin Trunick have made a huge difference in getting this book out there. I’m not sure that would have happened if this had remained a miniseries, so it looks as if we made the right decision.

As for the title change, once we were over at Wildstorm, we all took a harder look at “Chosen” and it no longer seemed right. It was somehow misleading, or at the very least not a particularly unique title. We arrived at “a god somewhere” after a lot of spit-balling, and it really fits so much better. So in many ways, those delays really paid off.

Nrama: Peter, you recently did another book of a superpowered man who goes down a dark path in the DC miniseries The Mighty, although this played out far different. But since you have those two things in your bibliography — and in your mind of course, what are your thoughts on people exploring these more sinister deviations of superheroic characters?

Snejbjerg: Surprisingly enough, I miss more simple, fun superhero books. They are really needed, otherwise there's nothing for us twisted people to wreck havoc on, is there?

 

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