When the world’s greatest hero falls in battle, one man steps up to take his place…. His greatest enemy. In Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver’s comic series Edison Rex, the titular star begins to get into the groove of filling the shoes of his long-time foil, the stalwart superhero Valiant, but just as it’s starting to all make sense he begins to get some backlash from the fellow super-villains he once called allies. This digital-first series is published monthly by Roberson’s MonkeyBrain Comics, and this March IDW Publishing is releasing a second collection of those stories in a squarebound book titled Edison Rex, Vol. 2: Heir Apparent.
As this second print collection nears release and the digital release of the third arc is already underway, Newsarama spoke with both Roberson and Culver about their villain-turned-hero and why people on both sides of the law don’t trust him.
Newsarama: Edison turned over a new leaf in Edison Rex #1 and went about becoming a hero, but in this second volume we’ve seen him push that further and come at odds against other villains who once considered him an ally. What would you say is the central theme of #7-12, collected as Edison Rex: Heir Apparent?
Chris Roberson: Well, as you mention, one of the major themes in the first trade was Edison Rex deciding to make the transition from villain to hero, and attempting to put his house in order, while dealing with issues of public perception. With this second batch of stories, we see what happens as Edison and company move out into the larger world, and start dealing with people who knew him in his former career, as it were. Villains that considered him an ally, as you mentioned, but also heroes that considered him an enemy. And along the way we find out a little bit more about how Edison got to this stage in life in the first place, the mistakes and choices he made.
Dennis Culver: I would say legacy is the central theme of this volume and possibly the whole series (with a dash of actions having consequences.) We dive deeper into the origins of Edison and his arch nemesis, Valiant, and their mentor Gladiator Gladstone. We also learn about legacy hero the Eclipse and explore her origins and investigation into what exactly happened to Valiant. And like you said not only are the other super heroes unhappy with Rex’s change in status but so are the supervillains. Things are heating up!
Nrama: In one of the issues collected in this run, Edison Rex meets an extra-dimensional character named Rofl who looks like a muppet but has more in common with something like Mr. Mytzlplk or Impossible Man. He gave Edison a year to really become a hero or face the consequences – what’s that kind of time table do for Edison?
Culver: It gives everything a deadline which as anyone working in comics can tell you can be a blessing or a curse. Rofl peaked ahead and his reaction was not encouraging for Rex.
Roberson: I think that in fairly short order Edison will, if not forget that threat is looming out there, at least not dwell on it as much. Which is liable to cause him grief in the end…
Nrama:For this series you didn't just create an ensemble with Dennis but a whole world of heroes and villains. I think you have nearly 60 characters so far in this series that have appeared. Why was it important to have such a heavy and colorful cast?
Roberson: Ideally it helps to give the setting a sense of depth and richness, as though this were a place where stories had been going on for quite some time, and we’re just joining the action as it happens. And for me, personally, that’s in part a conscious attempt to recreate the sense of picking up a superhero comic as a kid for the first time with very little familiarity with the rich universe the characters inhabit, and having to work out who everyone is and what they’re about from context. Too often when people are creating superhero universes from the ground up they start at the very beginning, but I think that runs the risk of losing what I find so appealing about the comics I grew up reading, which was that sense of deep backstory and legacy that informed and influenced the characters. We’re just reverse engineering our own legacies and backstories, and pretending they were always there.
Nrama: Dennis, for Edison Rex you’ve seemingly been designing new heroes and villains with each issue – sometimes entire teams all at once like the Warmongers and Teenpeace recently. What’s it like designing so many, so quickly?
Culver: For me it was just Tuesday.
Nrama:[laughs] That being said, which design would you say you’re most proud of?
Culver: It’s hard to say as I think they are all pretty good. I guess Cerebella is my favorite overall. I think she really stands out on the page.
Roberson: And, I should point out, Dennis and I both have a blast coming up with new characters, and can’t seem to stop doing so. We’ve got loads more than haven’t even appeared on panel yet!
Nrama: It seems as of late there’s been a lot of super villains reforming in major comic series like Lex Luthor, Loki, Deathstroke and others. In some cases it can be a bit of a cash grab, but Edison Rex is using it to explore some interesting territory on what makes a man become a villain and if there’s room to be a hero in all that. What do you think about the oft-used plot device of a villain becoming a hero, and how to approach it without it becoming cliché?
Culver: Well it didn’t exactly happen that way. When Chris Roberson and I started talking about working together, I told him I wanted to do a story in the vein of the Parker novels where the protagonist is a very competent bad guy. I had some sketches and ideas in my sketchbook with a character called Doc Doublecross which I basically described as Lex Luthor meets Doc Savage. Coincidentally, Chris had a similar pitch in a drawer called Edison Rex which had nearly the same premise. It was meant to be. Chris sent me the pitch and it was essentially a longer version of what you see in issue one. The thing that was most interesting to me was what happened next though and that became our series.
Roberson: I think one of the central ideas we’re exploring in Edison Rex is about consequences and choices. About how our actions and our decisions affect the lives we lead. If you look at the origin stories of many heroes and villains, many of them are motivated by similar sorts of loss or trauma or grief. But the distinction is that villains are those individuals who respond to that loss negatively, using it as a justification for doing evil, while the heroes are those who are motivated by that loss to try to do something positive. In Edison Rex #7, the first issue in this second trade, we see the moment that Edison Rex essentially became a villain, having up to that point been on track to be one of the best and brightest of the good guys. It isn’t the thing that befalls him that makes him a villain, it’s how he reacts instinctively to it. And then he spends much of the remainder of his adult life justifying to himself that instinctive reaction.
Nrama: Going from the story inside to the behind the scenes stories, beginning in issue #9 Dennis is credited as being co-creator and given a “story by” credit in the series. What led to that change?
Roberson: Dennis was always the co-creator of the stories, since our process involves collaboration at every stage of the process, from generating story ideas to outlining plots to doing page-by-page breakdowns, etc. I suggested adding the “story by” credit because too often I saw readers and reviewers giving me sole credit for story points that had been Dennis’s suggestion (and, occasionally, giving Dennis sole credit for layout approaches that had been my suggestion). Putting that shared credit first and foremost is an attempt to make clear to people that the division of labor on Edison Rex isn’t an assembly line process, but that Dennis and I are equal partners in making this book.
Culver: Well it is my opinion that the writer and the artist are the co-authors of any comic. In other words, it’s impossible to tell what part of the pig you’re eating once the sausage is made. I had been talking about this idea among others on my twitter and tumblr and Chris offered to adjust the credits to something similar to what Mark Waid and Chris Samnee do on Daredevil and Matt Fraction and David Aja on Hawkeye. I appreciated the gesture by Chris and honestly his ideas and attitudes about comics and the comics industry has more to do with me working with him than anything else. We’ve got pretty good chemistry. All the best comics do!
Nrama: Last question: Edison Rex is in many ways the flagship title of Monkey Brain. What’s it like doing single issues, but doing them digitally, and then going to print for the collection?
Culver: I gear all my work for print no matter what so there’s not a huge difference for me on the production side of things. I’m not sure our book would have found our audience if we started out printing single issues. I always tell Chris that our book is like the tv show Cheers which was on the air for a bit before it became a ratings juggernaut. Digital allows that sort of thing to happen in a way that print doesn’t right now necessarily. The overhead alone might have killed us in the beginning. Digital has allowed us to tell our story and gain word of mouth and readers along the way and we enter the direct market with a lot more momentum which continues to build with each new volume. It’s a solid system.