It’s official – Mark Waid is no longer evil.This week, issue #37 of Waid’s BOOM! Studios series Irredeemable concluded the story of a world under siege by the Plutonian (aka “Tony”), the world’s greatest super hero turned demented, vengeful man-god.
Though many of Waid’s best-known works are such optimistic superhero titles as The Flash, Captain America and Fantastic Four, Irredeemable and its companion book Incorruptible veered into darker territory in its saga of superhumans shaped by all-too-human insecurities and tragedies – and the world that suffered as a result.
From its initial launch with the “Mark Waid is Evil” marketing campaign to the final issue, we’ve been following Irredeemable to its end, and we got Waid on the phone for a special two-part interview about saying goodbye to Tony, Qubit, Kaiden and the other characters of this universe.
Spoilers ahoy if you haven’t read the series!Newsarama: So Mark, it’s all over – well, there’s one Incorruptible left, but the saga of Tony and friends is over. How does it feel?
Mark Waid: It’s a really bittersweet feeling, because I always knew the story had to come to an end someday, but it’s very odd to have divorced myself from those characters and say my farewell. I’d really grown to enjoy those characters, and Qubit and Tony had become especially close to me. So it’s very bittersweet.
Nrama: What led to this point being the ending? Were there any external circumstances, or did you just feel that this was where it should end?
Waid: There really weren’t a lot of external factors, other than starting up my line of digital comics, which has become very demanding on my time. That’s part of it, but the bigger part is I always knew I was coming to the end of the series.
I kept escalating the stakes of the series, and once I’d taken Tony off-planet and had him return to Earth, I sort of knew at that point that we were in Act III. And it is true; the characters really do write themselves, they push you in different directions. And there was a certain point, around issue #31, where I knew we were winding down toward the end.
Nrama: Is that why you started going into Tony’s origins at that point?Waid: Yeah. I also felt at that point, BOOM! had asked if we could bring more attention to Incorruptible by doing a crossover, and I felt that was the way, telling those origins and showing how they were intertwined.
The trick in doing a multi-part crossover that way was structuring it in such a way that you could read either ongoing series without being forced to read the other, but if you did, you got a lot more out of the story.
Nrama: Between Irredeemable and Incorruptible, I think this is the longest run you’ve had on any series since The Flash…almost 70 issues.
Waid: Yeah, that’s true! If you count Incorruptible in there, that’s by far the longest run I’ve had on anything next to The Flash. And it’s very difficult not to get yourself immersed in a universe like that, and very freeing to know I can architect it in any direction I want, and that really gave me room to explore it.
Nrama: How much of the storyline did you have mapped out in advance? I got the sense that there was some spontaneity in how you created the story, but did you always know the series would come down to this?Waid: I always knew the basics of it. I always knew this idea of Tony really being sort of a golem, a creature that is sort of imprinted by idea, and where that would take us with the ending – he’d have to be reduced back down to a pure idea.
I always knew it’d have to come down to Qubit and the Plutonian. The actual beat-for-beat specific of those last two pages I didn’t know 100% until about a month before I sat down to write it, and in one afternoon in all fell into place and I got a big smile on my face.
I always knew the mechanics of where it was going to go, it just didn’t fall into place until I was near the end, and I was really happy with it.Nrama: And that concept of Tony as the golem – that’s interesting to me because you show how ideas are really formed by people who have these very idealized views of everything from what a child to a hero should be, and how the living embodiment of that’s twisted into this adult that becomes this force of destruction.
I’m curious as to how you came to that idea, and what you wanted to say with it.
Waid: Well, I’m going to fall back on the Mark Twain sense of “any meaning you find in the story is what you want to find,” rather than my projecting to any degree. But the story has always been at least in part about how what superheroes are is defined by the people around them – by the people who worship them, the people who are in their world, and the people around them, and how their identity is defined in large part by ordinary people.
You know, it’s there in the first issue – the Plutonian is worshiped by everybody, except for one jerk who mutters something about “underwear perverts,” and that gets to Tony. There’s something to that concept that if you’re a hero who can hear everything and see everything, you can’t help but be affected by everything in equal measure.
And that goes back to the idea of Tony as a golem – as a creature that is forged and formed by the beliefs of everyone around him.
Nrama: And one of the cruxes of Tony is that old adage of “Is it better to be loved or feared?” He seems to sense that he can’t be loved, so he goes for feared, but there’s that sense that he’s still looking to be loved up until the very end.
Waid: Yeah. It wasn’t until I was very near the end of this that I realized one of the things I was taking away from the Superman mythos, certainly the Mort Weisinger years of the Silver Age, was that in Mort’s universe, the worst thing that can happen to you as a superhero is that you can have the love taken away from you.
In Marvel Comics, the worst thing was always that your loved ones could be attacked, or you could be horribly beaten in a knock-down, drag-out fight, but in the Superman comics, you would be run out of town with people throwing rotten vegetables at you and waving a sign that said, “Superman, Who Needs You?”
As funny as that sounds now, I think that made a very dark and lasting impression on me as a kid when I was reading those comics – how sad those moments made me as a reader, and how evocative they were, and how they touched on my own life, because I bounced from parent to parent and didn’t have a very stable home life.
And so I think that’s a large part of where this whole aspect of the Plutonian came as well -- if you try to be a superhero to make people love you, you’re doomed to failure because a) you can’t please everybody, and b) there’s always going to be a huge number of people out there who don’t love you for who you are, but what you do.Nrama: Of all things, you’ve reminded me of a line from the movie Talladega Nights, where Will Ferrell’s character explains that his belief is, “You’ve got to win to get love.” That seems like Tony’s perspective, and it trickles down through a lot of other characters in the book.
Waid: Yeah! And I find it really sad. It’s heartbreaking, because it shouldn’t be the case. We’re brought up to believe in a fairy tale romance sort of way that true love is out there, and true loves don’t care about what you look like and stuff, just what’s down inside. And that’s probably true, but what’s also true, sadly, is that true loves are very rare and very hard to find.
And if you’re a superhero who is, by nature of your power, very distanced from the world around you, I imagine it’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing you’ve found true love, but the reality is you’ve really just found someone else who wants to see what you can do for them.
And that cannot help make a character like Tony or some of the other characters in the book turn into cynical creatures.
Nrama: I was chatting with Peter Krause (the book’s initial artist) at Heroes Con last year, and he mentioned one thing he liked about the book was that every character believed they were doing the right thing, or had the right perspective – which is one of the most tragic things in the book, so many characters have the wrong perspective.
The Hornet helps commit genocide on the level of Tony, in part so he can be the hero. Kaiden doesn’t necessarily choose the wrong brother, but she’s oblivious to how much she’s hurt the other. You’ve got Bette, you’ve got Gil…hell, you’ve got Modeus.
There’s something so sad and disconnected when it comes to these people, because they’re so deeply flawed and making themselves unhappy, and then millions of people suffer because of that.Waid: Yeah, I think everybody can relate to that. Everyone knows what it’s like to make the wrong decision for the right reasons. For me, wrong decisions are the heart of drama – a character who’s always making the right decisions is boring.
For me, it’s infinitely more interesting to read or watch a character making decisions they think are right, but the audience knows differently, and seeing that disconnect. The only way characters can grow and learn is by making the wrong decisions and then learning from them.
In the cases of some of the characters, like Kaiden, the decisions they make throughout the series ultimately make them better, while with other characters like Bette or Gilgamesh or Modeus…not so much. They made bad decisions, and they stuck with them. But that’s the way the world works sometimes.
The most important thing for me about this book, the thing I was striving for at the end, was that despite people making bad choices, despite people doing bad things, despite certain acts of unforgiveable evil, I wanted to strike that balance where at the end of the day, at the very end of the story, it is not a cynical story.
People come up to me all the time and try to guess at the ending, and always assume it would be one person telling another about this giant act of destruction, or the Earth explodes, or whatever they felt meant “evil wins.”
And I look at them and go, “Have you ever read my work before?” I can go to some pretty dark places, but I’m not capable of writing something that cynical. I just don’t have it in me.
Nrama: Even with, say, Empire?Waid: Even Empire!...okay, I don’t have it in me anymore, how about that? I worked that out of me with Empire. You’re right, Empire is a dark and cynical book. But that’s the exception to the rule.
I think what I meant to say was – when it comes to superheroes, I can’t be cynical. I can’t write a cynical superhero story. I don’t believe that superheroes are a cynical construct. I don’t believe that by nature, superheroes are anything but a symbol of hope and inspiration.
And so to write a cynical story about them either takes an enormous amount of skill that I don’t have, or it belies the very nature of what that genre’s all about.
Next: Waid talks about the themes of Irredeemable, whether there’s a future for the characters in this universe, and more.