Comics fans have been looking to fill the void left when Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s landmark run on “Gotham Central” ended. This was superhero realism done right and specialized in the sort of down-to-Earth police stories that comics were missing in comics at the time. Now, writer Mike Carey and artist Elena Casagrande have stepped up to fill their void with “Suicide Risk”, their new ongoing series from BOOM! Studios.
“Suicide Risk” follows Leo Winters, a beat cop struggling to clean up the streets in a world overrun with superhumans. Winters puts his own life on the line when he decides he’s got to take a different approach to solve the problem and gets activated with superpowers.
Bloody-Disgusting suited up in a flak jacket with writer Mike Carey to patrol the mean streets of BOOM! Studios “Suicide Risk” and get the inside scoop on this brilliant new series.
Bloody-Disgusting: Talk a bit about how the idea for “Suicide Risk” came to fruition?
Mike Carey: Well the initial impetus was really very simple. I wanted to do a superhero series that would have a huge, sprawling cast, a real sense of scale, and yet at the same time have a single core premise and a very personal focus. You could say that I wanted to do the same thing I’d been doing on X-Men, but with characters of my own and no debt to anyone else’s continuity.
I pitched a version of it to BOOM’s Matt Gagnon, who liked it a lot but asked some very penetrating and insightful questions – questions that sent me away to rework the original pitch over several months. To give you an idea of the scale of the changes, Leo Winters (under another name) was an incidental character in that first version.
The crucial thing, for me, was to come up with a superhero universe that had its own coherent inner logic – so you only have to buy one impossible thing – and then would open up from its starting point in a lot of rich and unexpected directions. I want it to be like a puzzle box full of hand grenades.
BD: I’m a huge fans of the DC’s Gotham Central series by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, and this series definitely reminds me a lot of that book, but with a different spin on it. “Suicide Risk” is a superhero book but grounded in reality, which is kind of a cool twist.
MC: That’s a flattering comparison, and I’m obviously not going to fight it! The obvious point of contact there is that Leo is a cop and that his life as a cop is crucial to the ongoing story. But of course we also make him a superhero, right there in the first issue, so in that sense there isn’t the divide that made Gotham Central so compelling. We’re doing something a bit different, in similar territory. Certainly we’re exploring what ordinary people’s lives are like in a world of supers. But we come at it from our own angle.
BD: I really like the idea that you’re playing with the ramifications of normal people developing superpowers in this book. You don’t typically see the social, mental or physical ramifications of someone getting powers, just them slugging it out.
MC: That’s very much one of our main themes – and we’re going to do it again and again through the series. In #5 we see it through the eyes of a middle-aged woman who is very marginalised, abused, powerless, and who then is suddenly given this chance to put her life back to rights. But as with Leo, it’s sort of a Faustian bargain. “You can get the power to do these things – but once you’ve got the power, who you are and what you want is all up for grabs.”
I’ve got to be careful not to say too much about this, because it’s crucial to some later reveals, but I think that’s the big issue we want to explore. I mean, in the real world we see it all the time, how celebrity and wealth and fame can mess with people’s heads and put them on self-destructive paths. Imagine what superpowers would do. Could you turn into Superman or Magneto and still be who you are?
And ultimately: could you maintain any kind of moral integrity when the world around you is turning into one that’s defined and structured by raw, amoral power?
BD: Tell us a bit more about the protagonist of this book Leo Winters. He appears to be the type of cop that will let nothing get in his way of protecting the people and the city he loves, even if it means putting himself in danger…
MC: We needed to hit that note first, and hit it hard – that he’s a man who tries to do the right thing, and has a reasonable definition of what the right thing is. Readers will reach their own conclusions about the decisions he takes – especially that one big decision, to join the superpower community – but we wanted them to be on his side going in. He’s a good guy by his own lights: a fair-minded cop, a family man, and a man who takes his responsibilities seriously. That’s what tips him over the edge of the catastrophe curve, in the end – that he can’t walk away from a situation where he feels like it’s on him to do something.
As far as his journey goes, we’ve only scratched the surface so far. He doesn’t know what his powers really are (although we’ve seen some of what they can do), he doesn’t know who Aisa is, what was done to him, what those dreams are about… He’s just embarked on the first stage of a very long journey, and some of what he finds out is going to be devastating.
BD: One of the coolest parts of the first two issues for me was seeing the relationship between Leo and his family evolve as his powers begin to develop. How big of a role will Leo’s family play a part in the book moving forward?
MC: I’m really happy to hear you say that. They’re very important, and we tried hard to put them at centre-stage right from the start. Sunita and the two kids, Tracey and Danny, are obviously right at the heart of Leo’s life, and a big part of our story is how their loving relationship is threatened by and responds to the fact of his now having powers.
But it goes beyond that. Leo’s father-in-law, Mitesh, has a role to play too. And in #3 we meet his brother Marty and Marty’s husband Paul. It’s very much an extended family, in a modern, geographically sprawled-out way. I guess it was impossible to dramatise what happens to Leo and what’s at stake for him unless we buy into the family and respect them as characters fully involved in the story.
BD: You’ve talked about having the first year worth of issues plotted out. Is this a long-form ongoing book or does it have a definite beginning and end point to the story? Have far in advance do you have the story worked out?
MC: Long-form ongoing is exactly what we aspire to make it, but at the same time it’s heading towards a huge climax. I mean we know where we’re going, and we know roughly how long it will take for us to get there.
That climax, and the reveals that come with it, doesn’t necessarily end the story but it ties up everything that comes before in a way that I hope will be really satisfying and suitable epic. By that point it’s far from just Leo’s story: lots of other people will be involved, and we’ll have a very different take on the central situation – because we’ll finally know what it is!
Readers who’ve come across my other long-form comics work will know that I tend to do this, or at least to try to do it. I see individual arcs as being like chapters in a bigger story. Each arc has to have its own pay-off and to feel complete, but ideally you want a sense of inexorable build towards bigger reveals and bigger stakes.
If all goes well, it will take us two to three years to get to our huge everything-comes-together Armageddon moment – and after that, we’ll see. If people are still reading the book and enjoying it, we’ve got lots more stories to tell.
BD: Our readers know artist Elena Casagrande for her fantastic run on Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash, but her work on “Suicide Risk” has really taken things to another level. What has she brought to the table artistically and what made her the perfect choice for this book?
MC: I think I could just point to the two issues that are out already and let them speak for themselves! With a good artist, you get a kind of feedback loop going. You send in some notes defining a prospective character, and the artist does some sketches. And the sketches help to firm up what’s in your mind, and they spark off some more ideas, and before you know it you’re actually shifting the narrative around these vivid figures. And since the life of any story is in the characters, that’s absolutely the way you want it to be.
I could point to examples from other books I’ve done, where a character’s role in the ongoing narrative changed completely because the art made the character come alive in an unexpected way and I couldn’t leave him/her/it alone. Gaudium in Lucifer. Mr. Bun in Unwritten. And the same thing is happening with Elena’s definitions of characters like Diva, Aisa, Dr. Maybe. It’s an exhilarating thing for a writer to get that kind of virtuous circle going with the artist.
But also – and I’m thinking of #3 here, because I just saw the finished art and it was breathtaking – Elena spans the range from the small human moments to the stonking superpower battles, and she does them all with equal conviction and love.
BD: You’ve done a lot of work for both Marvel and DC Comics in the past, and now this book with BOOM Studios. What was it about BOOM that made it the perfect home for this series?
MC: I think the most important point here is what I was saying earlier about wriitng a big – and expanding – superhero book that stands outside of any existing continuity.
I wrote the X-Men for almost six years, and that was a wonderful canvas to work on. Hundreds of characters, a rich back story, a strong central idea that you can come at from lots of different angles. I totally relished writing that book (or that family of books).
But there’s still a difference between a continuity that you completely control and one where you take the reins for a time within agreed parameters. There were things I couldn’t do with the X-Men not because of editorial mandate or creative differences but purely and simply because I don’t own the X-Men. The terms of engagement are different.
Again, I’ve got to avoid giving spoilers, but we’ve got things that we’re going to do with Leo’s world – with its future and with its backstory – that aren’t compatible with other superhero universes and the way their internal logic plays out.
So there’s that. But also, as with anything creative, it comes down at least partly to personalities. The first thing you need as a writer is a good working environment and a good set of working relationships. I like the BOOM team, and I work well with them. From the moment I hit them with this idea, everything seemed to gel. That’s a great thing to have.
BD: Recently Paul Jenkins has been very vocal about signing an exclusive contract with BOOM, and talking about the editorial interference that goes on with creative people at the big two. What’s your take on this and are the benefits to playing in both sandboxes?
MC: Well, see above. I don’t want to generalise about publishers and imprints, particularly, because that’s not how I experience these things. There are editors you can do good work with, and I’ve been incredibly lucky at both DC and Marvel in terms of the teams I’ve joined and the kind of support and collaboration I’ve got. Then there are other times when it goes badly and you want nothing more than to get out with your dignity partially intact.
I agree with Paul that it doesn’t make any sense, any sense at all, to stay somewhere where you’re not happy. If you’re in the fortunate position of being able to walk away, that’s what you do – and I’ve done it in my time. And then other times, you endure it because you need the money or you need the work or you want to finish the job on your own terms no matter how bad it gets.
When Rich Johnston did that interview with Paul, he referred to that Alan Moore quote about burning bridges on purpose so you’re not tempted to retreat. I’m the opposite of that, in that I’m almost ridiculously discreet. I hate getting into disputes or flame wars with anyone, because they eat up so much of your energy and joy. So I say nothing, which sometimes strikes me as cowardly and sometimes as good mental health prophylaxis.
BD: Anything else you want to add or plug that your working on?
MC: Yes! The Unwritten Fables event starts this month. The Unwritten OGN comes out this Fall. And my sort-of-horror novel The Girl With All the Gifts launches in January 2014, I think in both the UK and the US. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and certainly the best thing I’ve done in prose.