What if you found a portal to a parallel universe? Where it’s the same year, same Earth…but there’s killer frog-men, techno-shamans, and pretty much everything is trying to kill you?
Grant McKay and the Anarchist League of Scientists found the gateway, and have been paying for it ever since. And while their lives are miserable, it’s resulted in some highly-entertaining adventure in the ongoing Image series Black Science, which concludes its fourth arc, “Godworld,” with issue #20 on Wednesday.
In “Godworld,” Grant’s found himself separated from the rest of his crew, and is forced to face the flaws that led him to this point. Now he’s got a new purpose and a chance at redemption…if he can pull it off.
We spoke to the book’s writer and co-creator, Rick Remender, about this point in the story, his process of creating the book with artist Matteo Scalera, why this isn’t like a certain 1990s SF show we quoted in the intro, and more.
Newsarama: Rick, with “Godworld,” the book feels rebooted a little bit – there’s a new purpose, the original concept is expanded, but there’s definitely a sense of catharsis after a year and change of the world getting bleaker and bleaker and…bleaker-er.
Rick Remender: Yeah, for sure! This is a period where the concept of the book is…it’s opened up to so many possibilities. That’s one of the joys of the foundation we’ve got here.
As the book is developing, one of the things I continuously bump up against is, “How far down can you take the characters before you let them back up for a breath of air?” We spent a lot of the first year beating the characters up and dragging them through the dirt.
Now, there’s a bit of an ascension coming, along with a bit of payback for some previous transgressions.
Nrama: It’s interesting, because I’ve been describing the book to people as “Sliders with an unlimited budget and body count – “
Remender: Well, I think there haven’t been a tremendous amount of dimension-travel stories, and that’s why people turn to the Sliders of it all, but it’s very dissimilar – it doesn’t have much in common with episodes of the show I’ve seen.
It’s like space travel – just because two books are set in space, we don’t assume they’re the same kind of story. But it definitely has, like you said, that unlimited budget, which is one of the appealing things about doing this as a comic – to allow Matteo to run wild, and for me to get to cook up new things and constantly be resetting the background and the set pieces.
Nrama: Do many of the worlds and creatures in the book come from ideas you’ve initially conceived that Matteo brings to life, or are they visuals he’s come up with that you create characterization and motivation for? Or, is it more of a mix?
Remender: Primarily, I’ll cook something up – I’ll cook up a world, I’ll cook up an idea – and something about that world will be tied to the characters, or move along some plot aspect.
A lot of the time, Matteo and I will talk plot – I’ll tell him ideas, and we’ll bounce around some ideas. But I feel like the worlds in the book are the result of me challenging him with X, Y, and Z, and him hitting it back and more than meeting the challenge.
Nrama: When you’re doing this most recent arc, where you’ve got Grant battling his way out of his own head, you have these very surreal visual elements, but you also have a lot of emotional material to deal with. As a writer, what’s powerful about doing a story from the perspective of a character who has to face their mistakes, and find a way to move forward?
Remender: Anytime you write a character who is human and flawed, which we all are, one of the most important jobs you have is to follow the root down to its core – why are they broken in the way that they are broken?
In the case of Grant, the specific type of broken that is his character had to come from a logical cause. When we were developing Grant, before the book even launched, I took a look at the character and followed the root back. Someone who’s an adulterer, who’s myopically focused – in this case, on work – doing things that keep him away from his family, you try to figure out why he’s like that.
Grant is someone with abandonment issues, and often, when a child is abandoned by a parent the way Grant was, they’ll seek ways to meet the expectation of abandonment. And in Grant’s case, he did that by abandoning his family first.
The interesting thing with anyone who’s flawed or broken is to emphasize the real human root cause. And if you understand the damage, it allows you to have a greater sympathy for who they are.
Nrama: It’s interesting because, throughout the series, you have these flashbacks, these moments where you get to know these characters – and it seems like when you do get to know them, they might be a bit closer to being on the chopping block, or at least going missing for a bit…
But speaking of the root causes, what you described, it’s particularly interesting with the character of Rebecca. Here’s someone to whom you’ve given a very sympathetic motivation for what she wants, and yet she commits what are probably the most selfish, destructive actions of anyone in the series.
Remender: Yeah, that seems to be true. In the case of Rebecca, that was the long con. We see Rebecca as she is willing to kill a soldier in issue #2 or 3 – we see then what she’s capable of. And then we see her background around issue #7 or 8, remembering when she was playing in the woods with her brother and he fell into a well and died.
It seems sympathetic, and it seems like Rebecca is someone we understand, and on some level, we do! But ultimately, the lengths Rebecca will go to in order to get what she wants makes her something of a villain. And I think that’s what defines people – the lengths that we will go to in order to achieve our goals cast us in either a positive or negative light.
Nrama: That’s something that’s being explored a lot in fiction, especially serialized fiction these days – how far a character can go in pursuit of their goals and still maintain a degree of sympathy from the audience. Thinking Breaking Bad, The Shield, etc…
Remender: Yeah, and I think if you do your job – and I think we’re seeing it more in television now, but it applies to all writing – that the heroes and villains don’t just diametrically fall into each camp. I don’t think anyone believes anyone is 100% good or evil. And I think you can earn that sort of a thing, that ambiguity.
One of the things I wanted to do with Black Science was focus on very human characters who, when you discover some of their motivations, their choices, seem completely rational…but before you knew their motivations, their choices seem evil.
Nrama: And that’s an interesting thing to work with given that you have an infinite universe to work with – it’s not just about you-as-a-person could have been different, but how the world around you could have been different, and how that could have affected how you turned out.
Remender: For sure. And in some cases, we use the worlds to do that, like in the “Godworld” arc, and sometimes we can focus on it through the characters themselves. It’s all pulp, high adventure, and I think we’ve done a good job of sort of balancing that line.
Nrama: Without getting too spoilery, where do you see the book going from here? Because there’s now a specific quest and a built-in bit of missing time that can filled in, on top of the “get back to the initial Earth” storyline and the question of what’s going on with the multiverse.
That’s at least…top of my head, four major plots going on there.
Remender: It’s a long game! And it’s been outlined for a long time. I’ve written up to issue #28 at this point, and there’s more complications to come. The series is turning back to a high adventure tone for a while as Grant goes to track down his missing crew members, but that’s going to shift after a bit, as those different plots come to a boil.
Where Grant and crew find themselves when things start to fall apart…and when Grant starts to fall apart…obviously play a big role in what we’re building right now.
Nrama: What’s your collaboration process with Matteo like?
Remender: We talk on Skype probably twice a week. I’ll write up ideas and story, and I’ll pitch them to him, and he’ll pitch his own stories, and his own tweaks and ideas, and we try to collaborate as much as possible without sharing out own space.
I think it’s one of the healthiest and most productive collaborative experiences I’ve had in comic books. We’re pals, and we like cooking up ideas, and we like collaborating. The book is a joy; I think there’s an energy that comes out in it, and people can sense that in a book when it works.
Nrama: Among the different books you do, what does Black Science mean to you personally?
Remender: When I started writing it, my daughter was three and my son was two. And as a new father, I was having to work way too many hours to pay the bills and to keep the lights on. And I always made sure to find two or three hours a day for the kids, and started keeping weekends off, and getting away from the anxiety and stress of being an adult in order to focus on being a dad.
But Grant was always the cautionary tale of what could happen if I wasn’t careful. And as I developed the character of Grant, I used that as a window into the world of somebody who went the other way, and made different choices. And it was always a cautionary tale to me, to explore that, and to explore the ramifications and damage to the people around him.
So that’s what’s personal to me. Grant’s somewhat adolescent adherence to no authority but yourself, and liberation from bureaucracy, and disdain for the general system where he finds himself living – as a punk rock kid, that’s still kind of cooked into my DNA. Even as an “elder gentleman” raising kids, I still have that freak in me, that independence that Grant exudes, even when it has consequences.
It’s something I wanted to explore in the character, for its pros and its cons, for him and everyone around him.
Nrama: About the other characters in the book – was there anyone who was particularly painful to kill off, even knowing you could introduce another counterpart later on.
Remender: [pause] You know, the hardest one was actually Ward, and that was early in the series.
We spent so much time developing Ward in the outlining and the character development stage – this soldier who had broken away in a Edward Snowden-esque fashion to reveal that drone strikes were killing civilians in the Middle East, and who had come home in disgrace, only to be given a job by Grant – this character for whom everyone in his family for generations had died on the battlefield, and had this strange depression that this wasn’t going to be his fate.
Grant and Ward, in some of the early outlines, were best friends, and Ward was the burly protector of the entire team. It was really a zero-hour decision to kill Ward – it was not until the first issue was done, and we had gotten into that second world they had hopped to, when it became very clear to me that Ward had to die, because the team couldn’t have this big, burly, protector/man-of-action.
As a character, Ward made them all too safe. So killing Ward was the most difficult decision, because I had done so much to build Ward, and I knew the relationship he and Grant had, and I would never be able to fully dig back into that, because we were kind of killing him prematurely.
So it surprised me because it came later in the writing, and hopefully it surprised and set some stakes for the readers as well.
Nrama: Anything you’d like to say to readers about what’s coming up in Black Science, and why they should check out the series if they haven’t already?
Remender: If they haven’t checked it out already, the first trade is more than 150 pages for only 10 bucks, and I’m very confident that if you read the first trade, you’ll get a taste for what the series is!
I don’t think this is the kind of series where you can hop on with the third or fourth trade – this is one giant story. I tell anyone who goes to buy that first trade paperback – if you buy Black Science Vol.1 and you don’t like it, I’ll Paypal you your money back the next day.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
Remender: We’re concluding the fourth arc, and we’ll be back for the fifth arc in July. And I think you’ll like where we’re going.