Eduardo Risso and Brian Azzarello, the creative team behind the acclaimed 100 Bullets comic from Vertigo, is in the midst of another critical success for the imprint with their current mini-series, Spaceman.
But Spaceman breaks away from the crime noir style of 100 Bullets, showing off this team's ability to create a post-apocalyptic world that feels so realistic and possible that it approaches social commentary on where we're all headed.
The story centers on a character named Orson who was genetically engineered by NASA to sustain long stints in space. But images of his space flight are juxtaposed with his more "grounded," post-NASA adventures on a disturbingly dystopian Earth.
The series, which is less than halfway through its limited run, is getting added attention lately because of the other high-profile comics Azzarello is working on now. Along with artists Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins on the New 52 title Wonder Woman, Azzarello has built the iconic title into a Top 20 book by changing the character's origin and supporting cast. And in this summer's Before Watchmen: Comedian and Before Watchmen: Rorschach, Azzarello is writing part of a much-anticipated summer event that builds the background of the best-selling graphic novel of all time.
Now that Spaceman is about to enter its second half, Newsarama talked with the writer about the themes behind the series and what comes next for the team of Azzarello and Risso.
Newsarama: Brian, this series feels like such a realistic portrayal of what the future would be like, not only because of the text-based language these people utilize, but also the way the media has become, and society's general attitude. It's as if you took the present and just extended the line in the direction things could logically go. Was that the thought behind it?
Brian Azzarello: Yeah, it was. It was like, let's take some of the more dire predictions that scientists are making about what the world is going to be like in the next hundred years, if all these climate changes were to pass, and how would that affect things? Well, it would change society. And it would change politics too. So that's the thought behind the world.
But people kind of still always act the same, you know? We love, we hate, there's jealousy, people want to be famous, they want to be respected. That was just playing out some of the obsession we have right now with reality television and that kind of stuff.
Nrama: You took the ugliness of that obsession and extended the thread even further.
Azzarello: Yeah. Because I don't think that's going away either. It just seems to be getting more and more extreme. And a lot of this stuff, you don't know, is it real? Or was it staged? I mean, did Kim Kardashian really get married? Or was that just, you know, was the plan to get married and live happily ever after? Or was the plan to get divorced before the new season begins, to drive ratings?
But then, you know, take one more step back and it's like, well, then, that is the reality. The reality isn't what we're watching. The reality is what they're doing and they're controlling. But that's reality.
Nrama: Orson feels like such an innocent in all this, even though he's hardly a saint. He has clearly imbibed in things that aren't innocent, but there's still a childlike feeling about him. When you were creating him, did you have that in mind?
Azzarello: I wanted to, and this is going to sound weird, I wanted to create a really good person. I haven't done that very often.
And I think he is. I think he's good. You know? His heart's really, his heart's in the right place. And just his life and, you know, what was promised him. He's been, you know, he's such a victim. But he doesn't really let it get him too down. You know? He deals with it.
I mean, he's got a shitty reality that wasn't supposed to be his reality. But this is the hand he's been dealt.
Nrama: I think it's kind of telling that, not only do you get the feeling he's not of this world, in that he's a good person, but he literally is not one of us. I mean, he was genetically engineered. You know what I mean?
Azzarello: Yeah, yeah.
Nrama: You not only have him symbolically rising above humanity, but it's literal. He's like a different species. You couldn't make one of us humans be good, could you? [Laughs.]
Azzarello: [Laughs.] That wouldn't be realistic!
Nrama: I like the relationship that we see between him and Tara. Does that represent anything in particular, when you were thinking through that part of the story?
Azzarello: Yeah. I wanted to show two characters that are kind of the polar opposites of one another that look for similarities in each other. It's like, we're so different, but there's got to be something that makes us, that we've got to find some common ground.
Nrama: They've almost been forced into having to find that. They didn't have a choice in being together this way.
Azzarello: Right! But then, she's an innocent too, a lot like Orson. She's not like the other kids that are in the book: Rico and Jodi and Liz. I mean, those kids are, they're street kids.
Nrama: Is there any tease or any general description you want to give for where the book is going, or what people should be looking for now that we're heading toward the ending?
Azzarello: As you can probably tell, it's really building up right now. Something's got to give. And Carter, the other spaceman, is not a good person.
Nrama: Yeah, and I love how you're taking the story back and forth between the space story and his life on Earth. When you conceived the idea, you knew that's what you would do?
Azzarello: Yeah. His story in two places.
Nrama: What touched off the idea for Spaceman?
Azzarello: It started where most of my ideas start. Sitting on a bar stool. I was with a friend of mine who's a bioengineering professor at Northwestern University. And we were talking. There's this group of barflies who just get together with our politics and science and what's going on in the world. And at the time, what was on my mind was the NASA and Russian space programs had just announced the joint mission to Mars. And I was kind of excited about that. I've always loved the space stuff and followed that with interest.So then the professor was more skeptical about it. He says, "Ah, it probably can't happen. Not right now." And he explained that in the long journey to Mars, the human body would lose too much bone mass, so that when they actually got to Mars, they wouldn't even be able to walk. Their bones would be so compromised.
And then I said, "Isn't there some way to deal with that? Can't they make artificial gravity in the ship?"
And he says, they don't know why bone mass is affected. They don't have an explanation for it.
So I said to him, I said, "Well, you're a bio-engineer. Couldn't we genetically alter some fetuses so that we could create these people with enormous, dense bones that would be able to make the trip?"
And he kind of went, "Eh, yeah, we could do that."
And that's where the idea came from.
Nrama: It feels like it also has some political commentary. But are you really just telling a story? Is there a big message behind it? Beware the destruction of the English language? Watch out for reality TV?
Azzarello: [Laughs.] There's no message. I'm not preachy. It's just, you know, it was creating the world. And then having these characters feel realistic to the world I created. I just asked myself, what would people be like? What would the world be like? What would our society be like? Would it be even more splintered? I definitely think it's getting that way, where the wealthy are getting wealthier, and the poor, we're getting more of them too. The middle is shrinking.
Nrama: We haven't even talked about Eduardo's work on this and how instrumental he is to the story.
Azzarello: What can you say about Eduardo's work? It's amazing, you know? And that word doesn't even do it justice.
Nrama: Well, he's always been an outstanding storyteller, but this comic really showcases his ability to create a new world and make these realistic characters within it.
Azzarello: Right. Oh yeah. He established a reality so quickly that you're immediately sucked in, and you don't even notice how different it is. You know? Unless you slow down and study the art and look at what's going on. But I mean, it's just, it's such a believable world that he's creating.
Nrama: Is there going to be a Spaceman 2? Or do you guys have something else?
Azzarello: We're going to do something else first.
Nrama: Is this another bar-spawned story?
Azzarello: This is something that he and I talked about. We were in Spain two years ago. Yeah, we were in Spain. There's a festival there in the summer, in Gijón, called Semana Negra, which is "Black Week." And it's a celebration of, like, crime fiction and you know, crime movies. That kind of stuff.
In an art gallery, they did a show for 100 Bullets, so it was Eduardo's pages and stuff. And they created a catalog for it. It was a really great thing. And they brought us over.
Nrama: That's fantastic.
Azzarello: Yeah, so we were there for a week. And we got to talking. At that point, we were already set to do Spaceman. That was going to be our focus. But then it was like, Eduardo, at one point, said, "You know what I'd like to do?" And I can't tell you what he said, but by the end of that week, we had our next project. I can't say anything about it though.
Nrama: Will it be Vertigo, you think?
Azzarello: Oh yeah.
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