PRIEST & ILLIDGE Overseeing New Superhero Line With 'Real World' Mentality In CATALYST PRIME

"Catalyst Prime #0" first look
Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)
Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

What is Catalyst Prime?

Readers will find out this Free Comic Book Day when the Lion Forge superhero universe launches with Catalyst Prime: The Event.

The line, which is overseen by former DC Comics and Milestone editor Joe Illidge and writer Christopher Priest, blends pure science fiction with superheroics but with a "real world" mentality.

The FCBD book will lead into a string of seven monthly Catalyst Prime titles launching on a monthly basis from June to December 2017, so Newsarama spoke with Illidge and Priest about their ambitious plans.

Newsrama: Priest, Joe – tell us about the Catalyst Prime Universe and the role you're playing in it creatively.

Christopher Priest: I think of myself mostly as a creative consultant, listening to and reviewing the work as it comes together.

Catalyst Prime has a room full of very talented people, among them Joe Casey, whose work I’ve admired. The last thing these people need is Grampa hovering and telling them how to use Microsoft Word. But objective viewpoints are always useful, and I’m happy to have tossed in my croutons for the Catalyst Prime Big Salad.

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Joe Illidge: I’m the Senior Editor for the Catalyst Prime line of books for Lion Forge, and the co-writer of the Catalyst Prime: The Event one-shot book introducing the universe for Free Comic Book Day.

We’re telling the story of what happens when five astronauts go into space on a suicide mission to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth and destroying all life as we know it.

Heroism has consequences, but it also creates new heroes.

Additionally, I assembled the various creators of the line, including the Catalyst Prime writers room: David Walker, Amy Chu, Joe Casey, Brandon Thomas, Alex de Campi, Sheena C. Howard, Ramon Govea, and Priest as the wise elder of the team.

Nrama: How did this collaboration come about? What was most intriguing to you about the concept?

Priest: Okay, those are two questions. [Laughs]

I made my first Comic-Con International: San Diego appearance in two decades, and this guy ambles up to me and says, “Hi, I’m Joe Illidge.” I’d heard of Joe from the Milestone group, as well as his stint as a DC editor, and was pleased to meet him.

After much difficulty finding any place to sit down, the two of us grabbed lunch and Joe caught me up on what he’d been doing. This led to, sometime later, my being invited to a writers summit Joe was planning for some secret, hush-hush project for Lion Forge Comics.

What is intriguing about the concept is how well-thought out it is. Catalyst Prime has a basis in almost pure science fiction and is carefully thought out such that all of the series connect like spokes on a wheel, as opposed to just having a bunch of individual titles each going their own way.

The books have a “real world” mentality, something that’s increasingly lost from a lot of the big publishers as the continuities become impossibly dense only to be rebooted into more complexity. I have a group who frequently send me synopses of what’s going on in Marvel and DC continuity, and I routinely stop them and say, “You’re kidding, right?” because so much of it sounds absurd.

Catalyst Prime stems from the world I live in. It is a bit heightened, of course, but it’s not gosh-darn silly.

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Illidge: Priest writes some of the most character-based, real-world, thinking person’s superhero - or supervillain - fiction in comic books today, so I made it a personal mission to have him aboard this endeavor.

Which is to say I didn’t give him an option to turn me down. [Laughs]

Nrama: And what niche are you looking to fill with Catalyst Prime in terms of the superhero marketplace, or comic book storytelling in general?

Priest: Oh, I’m just Grampa. Delighted to have been asked to co-write (and more than a little anxious about) the Free Comic Book Day one-shot launching this new publishing platform. There are plans for more down the road, likely next year.

Illidge: The niche Lion Forge Comics is looking to fill is the one allowing for accessibility without confusion. David Steward, the Managing Director and CEO, and I have talked at length about books that are both accessible and show consequences.

Everyone is invited to the Catalyst Prime universe, and the readers will be rewarded with stories that provide a roadmap to explore the new terrain. This is a superhero universe which will be both comprehensive and easy to understand without getting buried in decades of shifting, gelatinous mythologies or continuities.

The superhero marketplace has room for a new universe of books which are reader-friendly, retailer-friendly, and full of character-based stories with beautiful art by a diverse group of creators.

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Nrama: Tell us about some of the other creators involved with this.

Illidge: Whoa, that’s a lonnnnnnnnnng list. I could gush about each and every one of them, but that would take forever.

Highlights involve getting Larry Stroman back into the monthly superhero book scene again, working with colorist Jessica Kholinne - and being eternally grateful to friend Greg Pak for introducing her to me - having Brandon Thomas write the superhero title that will make people remember how much fun, action, and intrigue can be packed into 20-plus pages, having the prime lettering skills of Todd Klein on a book…

You really want me to keep going?

Nrama: So what can we expect in the FCBD issue?

Priest: Incorrect math. [Laughs] And, yes, that’s kind of a spoiler.

The biggest challenge to the one-shot was credibly establishing more than a half-dozen new characters within the confines of 28 pages. As such, we tried to keep the pace moving while front-loading the issue with as much characterization as possible. Despite all the bang-zoom going on, the one-shot is a very character-driven story.

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Illidge: What he said.

The FCBD issue is the overture which introduces some of the heroes of the world in glimpses on the future, and tells the tragic story of the five astronauts and Mission Control who attempt to do the impossible.

Lorena Payan, CEO of The Foresight Corporation, is the woman who made it her personal mission to save the world, along with her science mentor Shep Bingham.

The story’s aftermath will impact Lorena and Shep a great deal, and set the stage for the new world that emerges into the 7-monthly title Catalyst Prime line of books.

The artwork by illustrators Marco Turini and Will Rosado, with great colors by Jessica Kholinne and lettering by AndWorld Design tells the story beautifully, showing the subtle character moments to be as important as the intense scenes.

Nrama: What can you tell us about the plans for the future of Catalyst Prime?

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Illidge: After the FCBD story, a new Catalyst Prime title will drop every month in stores and digital devices, so by the end of the year, the first phase of the universe will be launched for the readers to see.

Past that, building out the world and slowly showing readers how the threads meet, which is part of the fun.

Nrama: Priest, what's the creative experience been like so far? I'm also curious as to what the last few years have been like with your return to comic bookss versus your past experience – you've gotten quite a renewed profile from Deathstroke and the influence of your Black Panther work on the current titles.

Priest:Working with Joseph and his team has been great. These folks are extremely supportive of one another, as opposed to being, say, a team of rivals where everyone is plotting some Game of Thrones crap behind your back.

I’m always a little chagrined when people congratulate me for being “back.” I never went anywhere. I pitched stuff to DC and Marvel and they said “no,” they’d ask me to write things - usually minority characters - and I’d say “No thank you.” It was this dance we’d do every 18 months or so for nearly a decade.

I suppose I’m also just a little annoyed at how popular both my Black Panther and my Deadpool run have become. Where were these people back in the day when I was actively writing those series?! We couldn’t give those books away.

So I’m a little like Rip Van Winkle in terms of emerging into what the comics industry is today. I don’t know yet if I’m having much fun. There is occasional fun, like Catalyst Prime and working with Denys Cowan on Deathstroke #11. But there are also challenges, twice-per-month deadlines, and the ongoing struggles of turning “no” into “yes,” which is my least-favorite part of the job. Staying up half the night pacing the floor begging for an idea is no fun, either.

Credit: Marco Turini/Jessica Kholinne (Lion Forge)

Nrama: Obviously this is a free book, but still, what is a hard sell for Catalyst Prime as a whole?

Illidge:A diverse line of high-quality comic books by some of the best and most interesting creators in the business, showcasing a brand new superhero/science fiction universe.

Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?

Priest: I don’t read comics. I try to avoid reading my own comics. It’s distracting, like listening to other musical artists when you’re trying to compose. The political dynamics of the business killed off my ability to be a fan - to simply enjoy reading comics - long ago.

Illidge:There are soooooooooooooo many creators I’m following. Kelly Thompson, Magdalene Visaggio, Vita Ayala, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kwanza Osajyefo, Phil Jimenez, Tomm Coker, Matt Hollingsworth, Jamal Igle, Laura Martin, Patrick Zircher... the list goes on.

Books include Black, Deathstroke, Romulus, The Unstoppable Wasp, Horizon, M.A.S.K., Niobe, Lazarus…those are at the top of the stack.

Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

Illidge: See you on May 6, Free Comic Book Day, for the launch of Catalyst Prime!

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