After wrapping his street-level-superpower Image series C.O.W.L., its creators are taking readers into space for Hadrian's Wall, a series he's calling an "intergalactic noir."
Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis reunites the C.O.W.L. creators, with the eight-issue Hadrian's Wall scheduled to debut in September.
The title pays homage to '60s and '70s sci-fi while also exploring the theme of broken relationships - both between two people and between two political entities.
The story centers on private investigator Simon Moore, who's called to the spacecraft Hadrian's Wall to investigate the murder of the man who's married to his ex-wife. The series is set in 2085, in a world where the Earth has colonized other planets, but there are tensions between the Earth and its largest colony, Theta.
Newsarama talked to Higgins to find out more about the new series, as well as talking about his new film, The Shadow Hours, which premieres Tuesday.
Newsarama: Kyle, Hadrian's Wall appears to be very different from what you three did with C.O.W.L.. Was that intentional?
Kyle Higgins: Yeah, we wanted to do something that felt different, but still in line with some of the things we explored in C.O.W.L., and this is a story idea I've had for quite a while.
A murder mystery on a spaceship was a concept that I always felt like it would be fun to do something with. I didn't really have a story for it, but once I came across the idea of investigator Simon Moore, who's navigating his own failed marriage, and she's a suspect in this astronaut's death - that started to unlock things for me.
And the backdrop to all of this being an interstellar Cold War between Earth and its biggest colony centers the story on this idea of broken relationships. And that was kind of my way in.
And Rod and Alec both liked the idea; the take really resonated for them both. So we were off and running.
Nrama: I don't think I've seen much that's called an "interstellar noir." Can you describe the story of Hadrian's Wall? This focuses on a murder mystery, with a backdrop of a bigger divided world of the future, right?
Higgins: Yeah, the main character is Simon Moore, an investigator with something of a checkered past. He used to be a cop for the Seattle Police Department.
When we meet him, he's filling prescriptions for a large amount of pain killers, and we establish very early on that he's kind of a bottle-a-week guy. He has a settlement with the city through which all this is paid.
So something happened during his time on the force, and we allude to that through his relationship with his ex-wife. What started splitting them apart is connected to why Simon is not a cop anymore.
When the issue opens, we witness the death of an astronaut aboard Hadrian's Wall, which is a survey ship that goes out to the far reaches of space, looking for different raw materials to exploit for the Anteres Corporation.
Simon is sent out to the ship to do kind of a cursory third-party investigation on the death of this astronaut, which has been deemed an accident.
When he gets out there, there's more going on than initially meets the eye. And a big component of that has to do with Simon's ex-wife and now recent widow, who is on the ship and is the wife of the deceased.
So Simon is navigating that dynamic while also looking into this investigation. And a lot of things that broke their marriage apart become very relevant in this case. And so we use that as a vehicle to explore their past and their relationship.
They become the heart and soul of the book.
Nrama: I know you like exploring political structures, and this appears to have that same theme behind it. Can you describe the time period in which this is set, and what's going on in the universe?
Higgins: This is set in the year 2085, but it's 2085 as envisioned in 1985. So when the book starts, we've got a preamble text that explains that in the year 1985, nuclear detonations occurred in New York and Moscow. And in the years after, the Soviet Union and the United States came to peace by developing a joint venture to colonize space.
Now, 100 years after that, in 2085, there is a lot of civil unrest on their largest colony, Theta, which is looking for its own independence. So it's kind of a new Cold War that's starting between Theta and Earth. There's a lot of paranoia and a lot of distrust.
It's like a cycle repeating itself.
So that's the backdrop to all this.
And what Hadrian's Wall is out on the far reaches of space looking for — as well as what it finds — are tied into some of that upheaval and those tensions between Earth and Theta.
If you think of Earth and Theta in the context of, like, the American Revolution, Earth is the British and Theta are the Americans, and there's all sorts of exploitation that occurs with the Thetans and with that colony, and a lot of it comes down to natural resources.
So you can probably connect the dots to guess how the Hadrian's Wall mission could tie into all this.
Nrama: This reunites the team from C.O.W.L.. Did you guys all feel like it was time to move on to a different series?
Higgins: We've been living in the world of C.O.W.L. for 10 years, Alec and I. So it was a combination of, "Hey, our sales numbers aren't great on the book and we're also creatively a little drained on it."
There was a point in the story that felt like a natural ending for now, and then if there's an opportunity to come back to it one day, we would definitely be open to that.
But we were all feeling like we wanted to do something different.
And it really just speaker to the strength of Alec and Rod and myself together, in that we were really interested in telling a bunch of stories together.
Hadrian's Wall is hopefully just the second of said stories.
Nrama: It feels like, even though it's a completely different setting and storyline, there are similarities in approach between C.O.W.L. and Hadrian's Wall.
Higgins: Yeah, there are similarities in the writing and the approach, and in some ways in the subject matter as well. Alec and I are very interested in political structures, as well as institutions in our country and in the world. Those provide really interesting vehicles to explore social and economic intricacies of life in 2016.
We like telling stories that aren't black and white, that have some ability to them. And I think when you start to see the relationship between Earth and Theta, as well as the corporation that owns Hadrian's Wall, Anteres Corporation, you start to see some of those similar motifs and points of interest that will be familiar to readers of C.O.W.L..
But beyond that, aesthetically, this is very different. On the art side alone, Rod is trying to do something that's reminiscent of '70s and '80s sci-fi films that we grew up watching.
Nrama: You guys obviously like working together. Is this a team where you guys just kind of click and get on the same wavelengths for these ideas you come up with?
Higgins: Yeah, that's a great way to describe it. We're looking to do a bunch of stuff together. It's a really good group of guys. And I include in that group Troy Peteri, who does all our letters, and Rich Bloom, who does all our design.
We all have similar interests and we like trying different things — different genres and also different style approaches.
And like I said before, with any luck, this will be the second of many books we'll do together.
Nrama: You've also go a movie coming out soon, right? At a film festival? The Shadow Hours? I saw you tweet about it. Back to filmmaking?
Higgins: Yeah, I am! It's been a couple years. I've been pursuing this career in comic books. I think anyone who's ever heard me speak before knows by now that I got into comics because of a film I directed, which C.O.W.L. is based upon, called The League. It was my college thesis film.
And I basically blinked and woke up one day and realized I hadn't shot anything big since The League. And so I wanted to change that.
So I put together this short film, which is both a short film and a group of concepts for a feature.
It's about these two identical twins who have this condition where only one can be awake at a time. So they pose as one person and work as private investigators, each awake for only half of the day.
And it's about this complicated relationship and the sacrifices that they make for each other.
It's a 19-minute films that my friend Omar Spahi executive produced. Omar actually is producing Hadrian's Wall with us as well through OSSM Comics. So I brought the Shadow Hours idea to Omar and he said, yeah, we should do this.
It's premiering next week, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, in Los Angeles at HollyShorts Film Festival. It stars Tom Riley from DaVinci's Demons, Britt Lower from Man Seeking Woman, Loren Lester, who was actually the voice of Dick Grayson throughout Batman: The Animated Series, and Elizabeth Hower. And it's got a killer score from Bear McCreary.
So yeah, we actually built a new website called theshadowhours.com, so people can check out more information there. It's got a two-minute clip from the film and a bunch of screen grabs, and there are still frames and a sample of Bear's score.
It was a lot of fun. It was just a part of my life that I'd hit pause on for a couple years. For as long as I've been doing comics, I've been always pitching projects for film or TV, but I hadn't actually made anything for awhile, so it was really nice to reactivate those muscles.