Can a truly evil person ever change? And can the people he wronged ever forgive?That’s the question Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo are asking in their new ongoing series Bedlam from Image Comics. Scheduled to debut on Halloween October 31, this haunting story follows a seemingly reformed serial killer named Fillmore Press as he tries to live a normal life after being caught for his crimes. Years ago, under the moniker of Madder Red, Fillmore performed a one-man crime spree in the town of Bedlam. Now he’s trying his best to move on with his life… but will Bedlam let him? And how did he avoid a life (or death) sentence in the first place? That’s the question.
Newsarama: Nick, most stories about serial killers are about their crimes, but for Bedlam you and Riley Rossmo are skipping past the murders and past rehabilitation and into what happens next. What can you tell us about Bedlam?
Nick Spencer: Well that’s part of the fun, right? These characters already have a past, they have history. There’s a lot to explore not just in terms of where they’re going, but where they’ve been.Nrama: The reformed serial killer who acts as the focal point for this series is named Fillmore Press. Who is Fillmore Press now, and how is he different from when he killed people under the moniker of Madder Red?
Spencer: The big question is, is he different? If we do our jobs right, you should never be quite sure how you feel about Fillmore. Is he sincere in this attempt at recovery and redemption, or is the old Madder Red just hiding, waiting to re-emerge? There could be any number of possible answers here. But, if we take Fillmore at his word, he used to be sick. He got better. This is what happens next.
Nrama: How did Fillmore manage to avoid prison time or a death penalty and be able to live on the outside with you and I?Spencer: How it happened is something we cover in the first issue-- the why of it is the really interesting part, though, and we’ll take some more time with that. Beyond that, the really interesting stuff is the dynamic he has with all these people who spent years working and sacrificing to bring him to justice-- they have no idea he is who he is, but he obviously does. Lot to play with there.
Nrama: If you can’t answer that, can you tell us how Fillmore goes from being public enemy number one to working alongside the Bedlam Police Department?Spencer: The how of it is really the big story of our first arc-- but the bottom line is-- Fillmore wants to help. He wants to, in his own way, atone for what he’s done. He cares about the karmic balance of it all. In light of that, he really only has one skill left worth using-- he knows how killers think, how they operate. So his expert analysis is obviously going to have value to the Bedlam Police Department.
Or maybe that’s giving Fillmore the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he doesn’t want to help-- maybe this is an excuse to feel those thrills again. Maybe just being close to other killings is a half-measure of release for a psychopath like him. That’s the kind of thing the jury is still out on in this book.
Nrama: The title of this book is taken from the city this takes place, Bedlam. The word “Bedlam” was first said as a nickname for asylum in 1600s England. What does it mean for this story?Spencer: Yeah, I thought it would be fun if you took the best-known name for an asylum, and applied it to an entire city. What better way to say the whole place is nuts, right?
Bedlam itself, the city really becomes the star of the book as we go on. It’s my first real experiment in long-form world building... mapping out neighborhoods, defining the interest groups and power brokers, navigating the politics both at city hall and in the projects-- I want this to feel like a defined, real-world environment. It’s this rust belt metropolis that takes all the things we associate with that part of the country-- the industrial decline, the sprawl and segregation, the crime and poverty-- and builds it up on a mythic scale.
Nrama: For this book, you’re partnering with Riley Rossmo. The two of you made your comics debut around the same time, but your careers have gone two distinctly different directions. How’d you to come together for Bedlam?
Spencer: I’ve been a fan of Riley’s since Proof. I think I have everything he’s ever worked on, actually. He’s got a style that really speaks to me-- I love his sensibilities, I love how distinct his work is. A Riley book just instantly and immediately stands out on the shelf. And I think here, he really is doing the best work of his career. Every project he’s done, he’s tried new things-- and the pages here really like the culmination of all those different styles, all those different directions. It’s the work of a pro at the top of his game.Nrama: Is this a miniseries or ongoing?
Spencer: Ongoing. If the audience is there and Riley is up for it, I’d like to spend many years in Bedlam. This is definitely a book with an ambitious lifespan, not unlike Morning Glories in that sense. We’re in it for the long haul. So, you know, pre-order.
Nrama: Getting to the core of it, this series seems to be about fighting against the reputation people build for themselves. Am I wrong?
Spencer: I think it’s a little more internal than that. I think this is, at its core, this a story that asks whether or not people can change. Are we just who we are, or are we capable of real, substantial transformations in our lives? Is the course of our behavior determined by chemical responses in our brain, or something deeper? Are people who undergo major personal ‘reforms’ just pretending? That’s the kind of stuff Fillmore gives us a chance to explore.