Writer Simon Spurrier finds it boring when stories about alternate worlds only change one thing about the Earth. In Motherlands, his new series from Vertigo, the possibilities of what people find on alternate earths are endless - and delightfully weird, with insane cultures and technologies.
The story centers on the idea that humanity has not only mastered the ability to visit all these weird worlds, but have been dealing with the types of crime that inevitably follow such power. Bounty hunters now achieve fame and fortune tracking criminals through the multiverse, including the two main characters - a mother and daughter on the hunt.
With the second issue coming out this Wednesday, Newsarama talked to Spurrier to learn more about the story's genesis, how artist Rachael Stott is sharing the load in upcoming issues, and what readers can expect next.
Newsarama: Simon, the premise for this world is a pretty wild concept, yet it seems to speak to our issues in the present-day. How did you come up with the idea for this series?
Simon Spurrier: In as much as there’s ever a single genesis for an idea (usually there isn’t; it’s more like a gas cloud of interests and conceptual tidbits swirling together to form an unlikely planetoid), I think it arose from my general disappointment at depictions of the Many Worlds theory. Stories like Sliders spring immediately to mind, where the idea is that key events in history turned out differently. The Germans won the war! The Roman Empire never fell! The Russians got to the moon first!
That sort of thing strikes me as a really limited way of thinking about interdimensional travel. Our earth’s been here for 4.5 billion years, give or take, so if there are endless alternate versions of it, then the proportion of them that have life - let alone recognizable human life - is so pathetically tiny as to be non-existent. The idea that we’d be able to find one so unerringly similar to our own that the only difference is there’s a Hitler statue in Washington is sort of laughable.
I started thinking about how it would really be if you had a gadget that let you jump parallels. Like, if you just hit a random destination, it’s pretty likely to be an airless rock, or a meteor-pummelled hell. Even the ones with life are going to be unrecognizably alien, and probably uninhabitable. So the smart approach is that you can only ever safely visit other dimensions - or “strings,” as we call them - which are known to have something similar to human life already there.
Immediately I found myself thinking about a world with this crazy network of realities where the primary technologies are telepathic, since that’s the only way you can detect a human-esque society from the next dimension over.
So in Motherlands we’ve ended up with this wonderful network of frothingly insane realities called “the trawl,” connected principally by telepathic and extrasensory technologies. Each string has its own alt-human species, similar enough to us to be psychically recognizable, but having evolved differently over the several million years of Homo genus.
As with all ideas, you start going down the rabbit-hole of how it really would be to exist in that world, and before you know the cracks and loopholes start to appear -– in my case it was criminal activities, science terrorism and how the hell you go about policing such a seething mass of different realities.
But at the same time as all that, I was zeroing on wanting to tell a very human story about a relationship which I think is very under-represented - a mother/daughter story, where both characters are functional and independent women in their own right.
The two trains of thought slammed together and hey presto: Motherlands.
Nrama: Let's talk about the mother and daughter you mentioned.
Spurrier: There are two main characters, really, and they both get roughly equal screen time. One of the lovely things about Motherlands is that readers can sort of choose - or even chop and change - as to which they think is the more sympathetic.
So first we have Selena. Back when the network of alt-Earths was still quite new she was the most famous, universally adored bounty hunter there was; star of her own TV show and an ultra-flirty, camera-savvy celebrity. But now, as our story starts, she’s elderly, lonely and feeling abandoned. So she’s either an obnoxious fame monster or a vulnerable little old lady (with a fantastic talent for cussing), depending on your point of view.
Whereas Tabitha, her daughter, is this big block of cold professionalism and ambivalence. She almost certainly ended up like that because of the emotional neglect she suffered as a kid - always playing second fiddle to her mom’s adoring fans - but that doesn’t make it easy for people to warm to her while she’s blowing off their kneecaps.
Needless to say, the two don’t get along at all, and haven’t had anything like a functional relationship for years. But then: inciting event! Something happens that forces them together, and forces them to reexamine the burnt bridges of the past...
Nrama: And then you also mentioned this idea of networked Earths. Can you describe what this world is like?
Spurrier: The really cool thing about the network of connected alt earths (which is politely referred to as “the trawl,” but informally known as “the clusterf*#k”) isn’t just about how differently alt-humans have evolved in physical terms, but how each of them have built cultures and societies based around very different ideas and forms of technology. Electrical, nuclear, clockwork, fungal, biomechanical, ameobic, psychic - no two societies are the same.
And now they’re all in contact with each other, sharing mad ideas and deregulated hybrid science with no real way to keep a lid on it all. As one guy put it during issue #1, "turns out you just can’t trust folks to play nice in an infinite sandpit."
Short version: the multiverse is a f*#king mess. And when you’ve got an infinite number of competing police jurisdictions, plus an infinite number of opportunists and smugglers bouncing from string to string, you’re going to need to set up some sort of interdimensional agency of professional bastards to fill the gaps.
Which is why being a bounty hunter - a “retriever,” in our parlance - is such a big deal.
Nrama: Let's discuss the art, because this world creation you're doing has relied a lot on the visuals. Can you talk about what the artist has added to the title as far as style and storytelling?
Spurrier: I’ve been trying to work with Rachael Stott for years, and couldn’t be happier it’s finally happened. That it’s happened in the presence of laser guns, comedy family bickering and a bunch of genuinely poignant moments is the cherry on the exploding cake. She handles them all without breaking a sweat.
We knew going in that scheduling was going to be a challenge, and there are some very exciting Vertigo announcement coming down the pipe in the next week or so which will explain why we wanted Motherlands to run when it did rather than pressing pause during production, so Rachael and I have been extremely lucky to have some top-grade artistic help along the way, beginning with Stephen Byrne in issue #2. Rachael remains the main series artist, but there may be some exciting new news coming on this front soon too.
Gah, that’s totally oblique, isn’t it? I’m the worst, sorry!
Nrama: Totally understandable. Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell potential readers about Motherlands?
Spurrier: I mean, I should probably big up the amazing emotional beats, or Selena’s signature creative cursing, or the clever trick our girls play using nothing but a teaspoon, or the mind-boggling fight in the middle of issue #3… but honestly? The guy with a hundred cocks in issue #2 is pretty hard to beat.
And the payoff coming down the pipe in issue #6 is going to be huge. This is one of those series which crystallized around a pretty amazing twist, and I cannot wait until everyone gets to it.