Our two-part interview (part one here) with Mark Waid on the conclusion of his BOOM! Studios series Irredeemable concludes today! In the conclusion, Waid talks about whether he’ll return to these characters, the one thing he’d change in the series, what he learned from this story, and more.
Newsarama: What I get a sense of what the characters are trying to do in Irredeemable, and what Max is trying to do in Incorruptible, and most clearly in Daredevil is…there’s this bit in The Sandman in the “Calliope” story where the novelist is spitting out ideas, and one is kind of a riff on Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial, about a party going on in a mansion while the world ends outside, and there’s this quote about “partying against the darkness” that always stuck with me.
That seems like it’s kind of an underlying theme in much of your work, going back to The Flash and Kingdom Come, but especially in these recent titles – these characters fighting against the very cynical reality that is the world around them. What makes this theme compelling to you?
Mark Waid: I think that is a moral imperative as a writer of heroic fiction, of heroic pulp fiction. I think it’s imperative of me to advance that theory that you can win your small victories against the dark.I mean, first of all, it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. As I look at the sociopolitical climate of America and see things that scare me, and see multinational corporations having more and more say in how we live our lives, and I see more and more of that sort of nonsense going on…
…the only way I can get out of bed in the morning is to believe that you can have your small victories, that one man can make a difference, maybe not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.
I also feel like there’s not many of us who are doing superhero stories that aren’t dark and disturbing and cynical and mean-spirited. And as long as I’m in the minority, I feel comfortable continuing to do that, that there’s that voice for those stories out there somewhere.
Nrama: To get into the specific plot points of Irredeemable – do you see yourself visiting these characters again? You have one more issue of Incorruptible, and then this mini-universe is over, but you still have several characters alive – and certainly a world to rebuild. Do you see yourself coming back to that?
Waid: I never say never, but I don’t know what else there is to say about these characters at this time. Certainly, there are other characters, but Plutonian was the one I was the most interested in, and everything else was sort of in service to him. So I think my time with him is done.That doesn’t mean they won’t hire J. Michael Straczynski to do Before Irredeemable some time down the road, but have at it! Be my guest! I’ve said what I needed to say.
Nrama: Well, Modeus is in Qubit’s head, and Kaiden can still summon up them spirits, and…there’s a few different ways things could go.
Waid: Yeah, there’s still some leeway there, but ask me in a year! Remember, you’re asking the guy who just ran the marathon if he’s looking forward to the next race, when all he wants to do is go home and take off his shoes. (laughs) So crystal ball says, “Future hazy, ask again later.”
Nrama: One thing that interested me was Qubit’s perspective, because you bring back Chekov’s Candle Wax in issue #37 – much earlier in the series, Qubit goes out of his way to keep it from killing Tony, and now he brings it back. Did you feel that a) his perspective has changed, and he’s now willing to do what he wasn’t willing to do before, or b) he’s just come up with a more evolved way to get Tony out of the way that also gives him some peace?
Waid: Yeah, it was a liberation, a more evolved way of using that bullet and a more evolved way of letting Tony make his own decisions.Again, I don’t think…the one thing I would change in the book, the one thing I would change if I could go back and had a magic blue pencil to edit out something, is there’s a scene where Modeus and Qubit are going world-to-world to find Tony, and to show what a don’t-mess-with-me-bad-ass he has become, Qubit uses his teleportal technology to basically shred an alien ship in half.
I didn’t write it as “Qubit is murdering everyone on that ship,” but the way it’s drawn, it’s clear that there’s not any people walking away from that. And that has informed everything since, because I always wanted Qubit to be the moral compass of the book, the moral center of the book. And at that point, I lost that compass, because he went too far. I had the character go too far without thinking of the repercussions.
So I’ve had to dial back over the last year or so because of that. Readers don’t really seem to be up in arms over the fact that I’m still portraying him as the moral center of this universe. It did color what he did with the bullet.
Originally in my mind, Qubit was the “irredeemable” character. From day one, “irredeemable” did not apply to Tony, it applied to Qubit. And I was building toward, in my mind, this idea that at the end of the story, Qubit would have to do something along the lines of killing Tony in order to free him, in order to give him the freedom and the future that he sees at the end of issue #37 as printed.
But once I had him shred the alien ship full of marauders, the option of him pulling the trigger on Tony was no longer on the table, because it wasn’t as shocking once we’d seen him do that.
So I had to re-do, reconfigure that ending a bit, and I think what I came up with is more true to the state of the characters and what I was trying to say all along, which is, “When backed into a corner, Qubit will still give Tony a chance,” and in this case, he pushed Tony into a place of equal danger and equal dilemma that made Tony decide to do the “right thing” as well, even if he was doing it for the wrong reasons.
Nrama: What you’re talking about with the ship reminds me of the story of the Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men, and how John Byrne impulsively drew Chris Claremont’s scene of Dark Phoenix blowing up a star to include a bit where she destroys a planet full of asparagus people, and that resulted in Jim Shooter making them change the ending…
Waid: Right! And suddenly, Dark Phoenix can’t live on past issue #137 because we’ve just seen her exterminate a planet full of asparagus people!
It sort of felt that way – I don’t think many readers would have given me crap, and I don’t know how many even noticed it, but I knew it was there. And I had to take responsibility for it as a writer, and that was my way of taking responsibility for it.
Nrama: A lot of writers might not do that.
Waid: But it’s your job as a writer! It’s your job as a writer to take moral and ethic responsibility for your characters. It doesn’t mean you have to believe in everything they believe in, it doesn’t mean they all symbolize the things you champion, but as far as the craft of storytelling goes, you have to be honest all the way.Even if it’s two o’clock in the morning and you’re having a dark moment of the soul where you’ve realized you’ve messed something up in your writing, you have to take responsibility for it. You can’t just paper over it and hope no one notices, because then they will. It’s not so much when you’ve made the mistake that people notice, it’s when you try to paper over it that they notice.
Nrama: And there’s a lot of papering-over with the characters in Irredeemable.
Waid: Yes! There’s a lot of crappy wallpaper over the holes in the walls.
Nrama: A few things to wind down – first, I wanted to ask about the overall experience of working on this book, starting with your collaboration with BOOM! and the artists.
Waid: Yeah, well, I know this sounds cliché, but I really couldn’t have asked for better collaborators. Pete Krause was there for us at the beginning. I knew we had something when Paul Azaceta designed the Plutonian’s costumes – evocative of superheroes, but not really like anything that came before.
And when you stack on that how Pete came on and not only designed the other characters, but gave them heart and emotions – that’s Pete’s strength in storytelling right there, drawing people.
What got scary was that we slid into year two, and Pete had other things to do, and by year three Pete had to step away, and we didn’t know what to do, but Eduardo Barreto’s son Diego stepped into the breach.I’ve always been a fan of Eduardo’s, and I was a huge fan of Diego’s, and I love what he did with it – how he ramped up the action and gave it more punch, but without losing any of the identity of the characters or their emotions.
Of course I’m working with Pete again now on Insufferable over at Thrillbent, and I have no doubt I’ll find some way to work with Diego sooner than later, because I enjoy that collaboration.
Nrama: And with BOOM!, you’ve had quite a collaboration, both behind-the-scenes and as a writer, and it continues with Steed and Mrs. Peel – what can you say about working with the company?
Waid: The nice thing about working with BOOM! on Irredeemable and Incorruptible, man, was they let me have my head. No one said boo about anything. Certainly, I would get notes once in a while – “I don’t think this completely makes sense,” or “I think this could be clearer” – which I like. But never did anyone come to me and say, “Change this.” And that’s as compatible a working relationship as you could hope to have.
Matt Gagnon was the editor for the first year and a half, and Shannon Watters helped finish everything off, and she was great every step of the way. I was always given coloring to look at, pages to proofread – no one ever said “boo.” I think in the entire time I did 68 books in that universe I was asked to change one line of dialogue.
Nrama: How do you feel you evolved as a writer and a person over the course of the story?
Waid: It’s actually been very therapeutic. I’ve made this joke before – it’s as Steve Wacker put it, “It’s the joke that was serious” – that there’s a lot of autobiography in Irredeemable. It’s a far more autobiographical roman a clef than I think most people realize, or will ever realize.
Writing that book helped me get in touch with many of the things I learned as a young boy about being a hero, or a superhero, or a good guy. Again, I think I can say this without fear of people thinking I think superheroes are bad or evil or dumb – you gotta be honest about it, if you take it to heart, there are things superhero comics teach you as a young boy that are the wrong lessons.
I got taught a lot of great lessons by superhero comics as a kid about virtue and self-sacrifice and responsibility. And those were an important part of imprinting my DNA with ethical and moral values.But conversely, some of the other things you can take away from superhero comics if you’re not careful are: It’s okay to lie to people about who you really are. Or, and I come back to this one, because I still wrestle with this to this day, which is people love you not for who you are, but for what you can do for them.
These are sort of the dark side of the lessons you learn from superhero comics. And it was only by writing these books, and by immersing myself in that universe, that I was able to recognize those things and make some peace with those things, and think them through in terms of how they affect my own life and how they may have informed some of the decisions I’ve made in the 50 years I’ve been on this planet, and some of the personal patterns that I want to break, or at least identify and determine where they come from.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
Waid: I guess the notion that “Mark Waid is No Longer Evil” is kind of a weight off my shoulders. I think you’re right – there’s still a future in that world, but I’m not sure if I’m the one to tell them. But I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone else if they want to pick up the baton and run with it for a bit.
But right now I want to step away sort of process the things I learned as a writer and as a person in that universe. And who knows? Maybe there are still some stories for me to tell there someday too.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!