Comics & Commercialism Get Send-up in HERO COMPLEX

Freeman & Bernardin Talk HERO COMPLEX

In a world of super-heroes, super-zeroes and super-wannabes, even a hero can’t get it right all the time. In the upcoming graphic novel Hero Complex, a super-hero named Captain Supreme is down on his luck after some risky investments and needs a place to stay. Showing that these bad economical times can hit every segment of society, Captain Supreme is forced to move back in with his parents – and is forced into attending his high school reunion. And that’s where the real bad news begins.

Hero Complex comes by way of the enterprising writing team of Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin. The duo have done several original series and graphic novels, as well as flirted with the superhero mainstream such as their current run on the DC/Wildstorm series The Authority. Joining the pair is Javi Fernandez, a relative newcomer to comics who illustrated a BD album in France titled Le Testamentd’un Excentrique. Bringing these all together is a new comic company with a long history in comics: Kickstart Comics. Although the comic publishing is new, Kickstart’s parent company has been a major production company for comic book movies such as Wanted and TV shows Wolverine & the X-Men and Painkiller Jane.

For more on this super-sized one-shot of a super-poor superhero, we talked with the writing pair that dreamed it up.

Newsarama: What can you tell us about Hero Complex, guys?

Adam Freeman: It will change the world. No, seriously.

Marc Bernardin: Well, it’s about a very complex hero, natch. See, we haven’t learned anything since our Monster Attack Network days -- it’s all right there in the title. Up next: Angry Billionaire Inventor.

Nrama: I’d buy that.

Freeman: Hero Complex is a really fun ride that works on a few different levels. For straight comic fans or folks new to comics it plays as a fun, adventure tale with a twist. For comic veterans it not only plays off of familiar men-in-tights tropes, but also pokes fun at the larger business of comics and commercialism.

Nrama: 2. I see from the gorgeous Amanda Conner cover that our hero is named Captain Supreme – what's he like?

Bernardin: He’s a Giant Effing Boy Scout. Seriously: He believes in a reality where men and women are judged by their deeds, not their words. He does the right thing even when no one’s watching. He won’t take a reward because, well, justice is his reward. He’s a white-bread hero in a pumpernickel world.

Freeman: And because of his ethics, he is branded a loser, gets no respect and is dirt poor because in reality, crime does pay. Stopping crime doesn’t. The other heroes in Constellation City have figure out how to play the game. They fight crime but also have publicists and endorsements…and cash.

Nrama: Not far behind Captain Supreme, it seems, is a sidekick – what's his name, and what's his story?

Freeman: Geniac is a non-powered guy that graduated from fanboy to sidekick.

Bernardin: He’s the sidekick in every sense of the word: He watches Captain Supreme’s back in battle, he handles all the accounting and pays the bills on their secret headquarters and studio apartment, and he buttresses his Hero’s ego when it needs buttressing.

Nrama: What are Captain Supreme’s powers?

Bernardin: Captain Supreme, as his white-breadness denotes, is very Superman-y as far as his powers go. Or, actually, more like The Tick: Take nigh-invulnerability and add flight.

Freeman: Throw in a little Captain Marvel too (Shazam, not the cosmic one). He is intentionally slightly generic as a throwback to the golden age when super heroes…just were.

Nrama: I never saw Superman have to move back in with the Kents; but in the promo material I see that Captain Supreme does. How does this happen?

Bernardin: Poor money management, horrible business sense and a total lack of image consultation.

Freeman: While other heroes are cashing on merchandise and licensing rights, Captain Supreme (with one of the worst names ever) is in it purely for the “do gooding.” Unfortunately that doesn’t help him hold a day job or pay the bills.

Nrama: Someone smarter than me said "you can't go home again"; so what is Captain Supreme up against when he's back home?

Freeman: The most annoying parents on Earth, friends that never left their small town, and his high school crush. They have branded their son/friend a loser because he has no job and no money. He takes his lumps because he knows to expose his secret identity would put them in jeopardy.

Bernardin: Essentially being a failure without being able to tell his parents why he’s a failure. See, unlike Clark and the Kents, Captain Supreme is still in the Heroic Closet. So a visit home is like a symphony of nagging from his well-meaning but ill-informed folks.

Nrama: For this you're working with artist Javi Fernandez, who is pretty new to the comics’ scene. What's it like working with him?

Freeman: The young kids today with their Internet and scanning and Tweeting. We have yet to meet him or even speak to him. All we know is that Jimmy found him, he is new, he is awesome, and made every single deadline. He worked like a machine and turned in some amazing work.

Bernardin: It’s a lot of “’s another email with a dozen pages in it. Oh, okay, wow. So, this is how it’s gonna be. We’re just gonna be stunned by how easily this guy gets both the character humor and super-heroics. Fine.”

Freeman: Unfortunately, we probably never will work with him again because in the grand tradition of artists that start with us, they explode and leave us in the dust. We are the artist farm team.

Nrama: You get them ready for the big leagues.

How did the ideas that became Hero Complex come about?

Freeman: We are always trying to approach stories from new angles. You may think you know this world, or this theme, but how can we twist it – ala Monster Attack Network. Giant monsters aren’t new. The FEMA-like organization that deals with them is.

Bernardin: At the same time we both got invited to our 20th high school reunion and it occurred to us: going back to your high school reunion as a superhero would be the biggest “hometown boy makes good” story ever.

Freeman: But what if, for some poor guy, even that wasn’t enough. If Superman can’t go back and gloat, what does that say about the rest of us?

Nrama: Although you’re a comics team of many years now, you’re teaming with a new publisher on the scene: Kickstart. How did you two get involved with Kickstart Comics for your project?

Bernardin: We first got into bed with Kickstart about four years ago. It was a hot, sultry night in Cabo. A little Sammy Hagar, a lot of tequila. A crowded bed, sure, but still fun.

Nrama: Here we go…

Freeman: They are the production company behind Monster Attack Network set up at Disney with Dwayne Johnson and Andy Fickman attached. We have been developing several projects across all platforms with them so when they decided to get into publishing they came to us, we pitched, and they liked.

Nrama: They had a lot to like, with the track record you guys have been doing. In recent years you've put out a slew of new comics, from Monster Attack Network to Highwaymen and Genius. It seems most creators aim to just get on at Marvel or DC on work-for-hire – so why are you two pushing so many new ideas into the marketplace?

Freeman: Two factors, honestly. First off, with the exception of The Authority over at WildStorm, no one will give us those big characters to play with. We’ve done a few one-offs and anthology stuff but there is a very small group of writers that get to do the X-Men and Spidey and Batman. We are not in that club so we basically went the “indie film” route. Sony and Warner Brothers won’t let you helm their big budget explodo movies? Ok, we’ll make Reservoir Dogs and El Mariachi to get noticed. We would love to contribute to those cannons so hopefully the editors at DC and Marvel will take notice and give us a shot. Until then, we have no shortage of stories we want to tell.

Bernardin: We love the Big Honking Heroes that Marvel and DC have to play with, and we fully intend on sullying them appropriately. But it took us a while to get to comics -- and now that we’re here, we’re going to take every opportunity to tell the kinds of stories we’ve always dreamed of. Some of those will involve people in tights. Others won’t. But comics is the rarest of mass media in that there are so few barriers between what creators want the work to be and what readers hold in their hands. An editor or two, sometimes a publisher -- and that’s it. Try that in the movies, or TV, or even theater. Doesn’t happen. Comics is freedom, and we’d be fools to not take advantage of it.

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