There's been a steady stream of top-name creators trying their hand at self-publishing through Image Comics, and the latest is Shane Davis, whose October-launching series Axcend blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
Written and drawn by Davis, Axcend is based on the idea of a group of gamers being pulled into a video game — and what happens when they bring their game-based powers back to reality.
In Axcend, Davis is working with his wife, Michelle Delecki, on inks, and colorist Morry Hollowell. But the biggest challenge for Davis was the chance to write the story from his own concept.
Davis said Axcend addresses the question of what happens when "somebody is losing sense of what's real and what's fantasy — and how dangerous that is." Newsarama talked to Davis and Delecki to find out more.
Newsarama: Shane, I know you co-wrote the two-chapter story for Legends of the Dark Knight with Brandon Montclare, but how did you come up with the idea for Axcend?
Shane Davis: I don't honestly remember how I came up with it, but I wrote it spontaneously, basically all in one sitting, then I sat on it for a couple years. I tweaked it a little, but it hasn't really changed much since that first time when I wrote it down. That really surprises me, looking back now.
Michelle Delecki: You know, because we're married, I get to see all this stuff from the beginning to the end. I've saw his designs in the beginning and his brainstorming. It's like watching something grow, like a tree. From seed to tree.
He's been doing a lot of stuff with Marvel and DC and all these other companies, but at the same time, we were talking about doing a project together at some point, because we've done a lot of covers together over the years.
So we decided to go to Image so we could work on something together.
And he had me inking it, but besides the inking, he ran a lot of the concepts by me, asking what I thought of them.
Nrama: Who's the main character?
Davis: The main character is Eric Morn. We meet him during his day-to-day life as a senior in high school, but it's a year after the tragic death of his twin brother, Erin, in a car accident.
After the loss of Erin, he feels like he's half of a whole. So much of his social structure was built around being a twin, and for the first time in his life, he feels like he's dealing with everything alone. Now he doesn't feel comfortable relating to anyone because of the loss, and that leads to him playing online games a lot. He pulls away from people socially, at school and everything, and starts playing more online video games.
And that's where he comes across the game Axcend. Or rather, he's approached by the computer A.I. dog from the game. And that's where Axcend kicks off.
Nrama: And the adventure begins, as Eric is pulled into the world of the video game along with a few others.
Davis: Yes, three unique players get pulled into the world. They're physically pulled into the game system — the A.I. system explains that they've been given a new body and a power class — a certain power or ability they can do. And they each have a core, which is kind of like an energy soul. And it can grow, the more they do and the more they achieve.
Right away, of course, they want to start growing. And they have to defeat bosses to get more XP and grow it.
That's the basis of the story.
The other two people with Eric are Rayne, who's kind of like a Miley Cyrus/Amy Winehouse-type who's a big gamer. She has a digital audience that loves her for gaming, but she's also a pop star at the same time.
And then there's the main antagonist, Ruin. And he becomes very powerful in the game.
Nrama: Let's talk about the way this book looks. I see elements of what you did in Superman: Earth One, although it feels brighter and even more superhero-inspired — particularly inside the game, where the characters have very bright costumes. What was behind your approach in Axcend?
Davis: Yeah, I definitely wanted to play with silhouettes, but I purposely wanted them to be colorful. I wanted to make it more like a game, and of course, make them really stand out in the real world, with the colorful outfits. For example, with Rayne, she has these free-floating shards of metal around her head that are just floating, that aren't attached but give her a pigtail look. And then with Ruin, he's got a kind of bomber jacket with flames coming off of it.
So those are things that aren't really pulled from superheroes that make it look different.
And there's no capes. [Laughs.] I've had my share of drawing capes.
And I wanted to keep them all young looking and lean. Nobody's super muscular or anything like that. I feel like there's a more natural anatomy in this story than a lot of the body types I draw in superhero comics, especially since everyone in this book are age 17 to 21.
Nrama: How much input did you have on the characters, Michelle?
Delecki: He ran all these ideas past me. And because I'm a girl, and I'm pretty feminist and pro-woman, I think he wanted to run things past me about Rayne in particular, just to see what I thought about it and to bring a woman's perspective into it.
Rayne's actually my favorite, because she's into music, and that's something I can relate to. I used to play in bands a couple years ago, before I met Shane.
Nrama: Eventually, these characters and their powers end up being brought back into the "real" world, right?
Davis: Yeah, and Morn and Rayne have to unite to stop Ruin, because the first thing Ruin wants to do, once he gets into the real world, is find a boss or leader of something and kill it so he can get more XP and grow. It's like he doesn't know he's out of the game; he's very delusional and thinks he's still playing the game.
Nrama: Would you call these kids "heroes"?
Davis: At first, it's all about winning the game. Even when they're trying to prevent Ruin from coming to the real world, they're thinking about it from their own self-interest.
But when he comes into the real world and they see what he first goes and does, then it becomes a global threat, and things change.
And that's the other layer of the story. There's a nuclear program in the world of the comic book.
In Axcend, there's a global nuclear police system called the R.U.N. program, which was basically built off the Star Wars program from the President Ronald Reagan era. It's seven nations that formed an alliance to stop global nuclear threats. And they put seven nuclear capable satellites in space.
It caused global peace, because at least six out of seven have to agree to use these. It ended the Cold War to an extent. It forced a lot of world resolutions.
That's the world they live in.
So with Ruin trying to take out the heads of governments, there becomes a global nuclear threat.
Nrama: It sounds like the story is also about bending reality.
Davis: Yeah, my tagline for the book is, "where fantasy ends and where reality begins."
It's not so much about gaming, but when somebody is losing sense of what's real and what is fantasy and how dangerous that is.