JMS Weaves a Superhero Murder Mystery in PROTECTORS, INC.

Credit: J. Michael Straczynski
Credit: J. Michael Straczynski

In a world without supervillains, when a superhero is murdered there are questions to be answered. Big questions. And in the upcoming 12-issue limited Protectors, Inc. a humble Lieutenant Detective named John Riley is out to search for the truth behind the murder and uncovers a dark secret that his world’s superheroes have been hiding for fifty years.

Set to debut on November 6, Protectors, Inc. is the newest release from J. Michael Straczynski’s Joe’s Comics imprint of Image. Written by Straczynski and drawn by comic book veteran Gordon Purcell, Protectors, Inc. follows a superhero team that’s less Justice League and more National Football league – except they don’t have any opponents. Created in the final days of World War 2, Protectors, Inc. has morphed into a superhero franchise with corporate sponsors, celebrity acclaim, licensing deals and trite rivalries that end up in the supermarket magazines. With no supervillains to speak off, they have the market cornered – that is until one of their own is murdered, in a way that only a fellow superhero could manage.

Described by Straczynski as a murder mystery and procedural police story set within the framework of the superhero genre, it hits on the famed writer’s strong suits but in an expansive, no-holds-barred way that only creator-owned comics like this could offer.

Credit: J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski: It's a world very much like our own, up to a point. During World War 2 something from beyond Earth smashed into the ground during a battle between German and American forces. The American soldier closest to the impact received extraordinary powers as a result, and his appearance on the scene helped to change the course of the war. In the years following, others -- all Americans, all well off, all heroes -- also began to manifest powers. After a while, a corporation was formed to organize these individuals. Thus was Protectors Inc. born, a company that for over fifty years has been working with them, licensing them to various cities, taking care of their finances, PR, management, appearances, you name it.

Nrama: In the promotion for Protectors, Inc., they say there’s no supervillains in this world – so what do the heroes of Protectors, Inc. do when it comes to, well, being heroes?

Straczynski: They've become something very much like sports franchises...they represent certain cities, they stage big fights for charity or for publicity, they have licensing and merchandising operations...while at the same time in many cases performing actual heroics, saving lives and the like. That there have never been any bad guys with powers seems to indicate that whatever entered the world that day during WW2 is being very selective in terms of who gets those abilities. The question, of course, that true, or is it simply a cover for something else? Is there a conspiracy at the center of Protectors Inc. that has been there almost from day one? If so, they've been able to cover it up pretty well, and might be able to do so indefinitely...unless something goes terribly wrong.

Credit: J. Michael Straczynski

Nrama: But that all changes when one of their own is killed. Heroes being murdered isn’t new in comics, but having it happen in a world like this is pretty shocking. How do the heroes and the world at large take it?

Straczynski: This is the aforementioned "something" that goes terribly wrong. Which is why Protectors Inc. initially does everything they can to attribute the hero's death to accidental or natural causes. The last thing they want is anyone poking into their files and talking to people who might expose the secret at the center of the company. They want this to go away, and if the lead investigator were anyone but our hero, the attempt might succeed.

Nrama: And the person tasked to track down the murderer is a common police detective named John Riley. How’d he get the job of doing this?

Straczynski: He ends up with the job partly because it's a hot potato and nobody else wants it...and because they think he's not smart or capable enough to get to the bottom of the situation. They figure he'll hit some brick walls, bounce off, and give up. They're wrong. He'll follow the truth no matter where it takes him, even if it threatens his own life.

Credit: J. Michael Straczynski

Nrama: On the hero side here, who are the main players?

Straczynski: There's the Angel, beautiful and powerful, for whom John begins to feel an attraction that he considers to be strictly a dead-end; the Shrike, one of the most recent additions to the ranks of the powered, whose hot-headedness may end up revealing more than he wants; the Patriot, the first guy to get powers, who refused to join Protectors Inc., disappeared over a decade earlier and has not been seen since; and the Huntsman, a boon (and a pain in the ass) to law enforcement, who hasn't changed his look (or his attitude) much since the 70s when he got his powers.

Nrama: What’s the closest analogue in our world to the way heroes are seen in this book?

Straczynski: Probably professional basketball or football teams...or, depending on where you live, the long tradition of Mexican masked wrestling.

Nrama: In the press release artist Gordon Purcell is quoted as saying he had all 12 issues of the script in hand. If that’s true, it’s astonishing – can you talk about that?

Straczynski: Not much to say...he has the whole thing, and is illustrating it. We got him started mid-Summer, and he's well into the book as I write this. Should have issue 3 in hand by the time issue 1 hits the stands.

Credit: J. Michael Straczynski

Nrama: Speaking of Gordon, this team-up between you two is a bit of a reunion – he drew one of your earliest comics – an issue of DC’s Star Trek series back in 1991 called “Worldsinger.” How’d you two reconnect here 22 years later to do this?

Straczynski: I've always had a soft spot in my heart (and probably my head) for that issue, and have thus been aware of Gordon's work for quite some time. I wanted the book to have a fairly traditional, realistic look, accessible but also with a sense of style and flair, and strong emotions in the faces of the characters, especially since there's also a fair amount of humor in this thing...and he was the perfect choice.

Although the book doesn't debut until November, we'll be debuting a convention exclusive of issue one at New York Comic Con in October, and like all the other debut issues from Joe's Comics, there will be a QR code that will take readers to a audio performance of the book.

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