Known for “Kingdom Come” and his work on The Flash, Superman, and Captain America, Mark Waid remains hard at work with his current ongoing series “Irredeemable” at BOOM! Studios, based on an original idea he had.
“How do you survive as a superhero in the 21st century with the media scrutiny that everybody goes through?” Waid mused in reference to his main character, the Plutonian. “The idea that you could be loved and revered by the whole world is a very antiquated notion in this world of TMZ and paparazzi everywhere. You read memoirs of child stars and what it’s like growing up as a member of a boy band and you’re under scrutiny the whole time. Well, what is it like if you’re a super hero?”
Issue 1 of Irredeemable by Mark Waid
Waid said he created the Plutonian as a character who became a hero for the wrong reasons.
“He became a super hero because he wanted people to love him. Here’s a guy who was invulnerable at an early age. He couldn’t be touched, he couldn’t feel anything, and externally he’s like stone, so the only way you can get to him is through his heart. If you can’t be touched, then you’re hungry for emotional contact and you’re desperate for emotional approval. You want to be accepted,” Waid said. “Unfortunately, being a super hero is not the way to do it because there’s always going to be people who think you’re a jerk no matter what. It just eats away at him until finally he just snaps one day with that idea of, ‘Look at all I’ve done. Look at all I’ve done to save you. Look at all the sacrifice I’ve made and it’s still not enough. Well, screw you.’ “
Being the former Editor-in-chief at BOOM! Studios was a unique credential that allowed Waid to get “Irredeemable” published, whereas most creator-owned comics require a pitch to an editor with no guarantee of being accepted.
“It wasn’t so much that I had to pitch it. It’s just ‘Mark, what do you want to do?’ I was very lucky there. Most of my work at BOOM! was ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got a hole in the schedule. We need to fill it pretty quickly.’ So when you’re Editor-in-chief, nobody can fire you,” Waid said.
All writers are subject to criticism from people on the Internet, and Waid used the first issue of “Irredeemable” to send a message to those critics.
“I’ll be honest, at one throw-away moment in the first issue where [the Plutonian] overhears somebody making fun of him and he gets dark over that – yes, that was right off, ‘Man, you guys on the Internet are jerks.’ But I hope that people who read past issue one see that it’s so much more than that. It’s not just a matter of Mark Waid lashing out against the Internet. That would be pretty one note pretty soon. There is a lot of me in the Plutonian, but it’s a lot weirder and deeper than that, especially all the sex robots I have around,” Waid joked.
Despite his disdain for harsh critics on the Internet, Waid has embraced the digital format as the future of comics – even though he loves the printed format.
“I love comics. I love paper comics. I love great paperbacks. I love comic stores. I love having all this stuff in my hands. But while there will always be an audience for that, look at how many iPads they’ve sold. That’s the newsstand now. That’s our audience and we have to find a way to rope them in.
“You don’t do that with interminable superhero stories that involve years of continuity that is impenetrable. You don’t do that with comics that are priced at $1.99 or $2.99 or $3.99,” said Waid. “You do what I’m doing, which is you get your best friends together, and you create an umbrella on the web, and you do comics for free or next to free and you make your money on trade paperback sales and you make your money on ancillary products,” Waid said.
Waid expresses doubt that the printed format will sustain the current amount of comic retailers.
“We [comic creators] are held hostage by 3000 retailers. Half of them are amazing retailers. Half of them are some of the most forward thinking shop owners I can imagine, more than half, and I respect them enormously. These guys here at A Comic Shop [in Orlando, Fla.] are right at the forefront of that.
“On the other hand, there’s a subset of comic stores who are going to be a Quizno’s in a year and a half anyway because print is dying and the monthly periodical business is dying away. I’m not saying it’s going to be gone next month or next year, but I’d be surprised if we’re still in the periodical monthly comic business 5 years from now,” Waid said.
Is this the sad, toasty fate of over a thousand comic retailers?
While he says comic retailers will suffer a loss of sales, Waid finds the digital format to be a boon to comic creators.
“What we will be in is the business of opening up the medium to a wider audience. I love the fact that the web is the ultimate democratization of that because it means that everybody’s got a footing. Your web comic has the same potential as my web comic and as the next guy’s web comic,” Waid said. “A lot of them will suck and some of them will be good, but it no longer costs you anything as a creator to print up your own comics and go out there and hope that you sell enough to make the next issue. You’ve taken the print cost out of it now; that’s a huge part of the impediment. So I wish everybody the best of luck. Nothing would make me happier than to see 10,000 web comics next year.”
Being the former Editor-in-chief at BOOM! let Waid write what he wanted, but the extreme violence in “Irredeemable” could have been denied by his publisher.
“Technically Ross Richie, the publisher, could have said no but he chose not to. I surprised him. I surprised myself with that. I didn’t think we’d go that extreme, vaporizing a baby on page four. What I learned early on is once I sank Singapore into ocean, in terms of acts of violence against humanity, that pretty much hit a peak for me. I remember sitting there with issue five thinking what I could do to top that in terms of violence, in terms of spectacle, and I realized I don’t want to write that,” Waid said.
Is this the Plutonian or Mark Waid? You decide.
Waid realized that violence for the sake of violence was not as good as creating a truly evil character.
“What’s interesting to me is not violence. What’s interesting to me is evil, and they’re two different things,” Waid said. “Watching the Plutonian do smaller evil things in issue five, like use his x-ray vision and tell somebody they had cancer and laugh about it, that’s a lot more interesting to me. I think the evil disturbed [publisher Ross Richie] more than the violence, but that’s okay. So far nobody has said, ‘This is too much.’ “
Personal experiences throughout his life helped Waid shape the Plutonian’s character.
“I would be lying if I said that my own personal experience was not [an influence]. Growing up, my personal experience was that people would only love you if they didn’t know who you really were. In my experience – and again it’s skewed and I had a bunch of personal relationships and I had a bunch of screwy parental stuff – but sort of the corrupt take away I took as a kid was if they know who you really are, they will stop loving you. That’s what I was working out with the Plutonian; the notion of always trying to keep a façade up, always trying to be somebody that you’re not, and always trying to be the perfect little boy, because if you’re not, they will stop loving you.
“That’s a very childish way of looking at it. It’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but I kind of like writing Plutonian from that point of view because it shows how emotionally crippled he is. He’s the most powerful human being on the planet, yet his guiding philosophy is such an infantile and screwed up and wrong-headed way of looking at the world,” Waid said.
In addition to more issues of “Irredeemable,” Waid also has another series at BOOM! Studios called “Incorruptible,” digital comics that he produces on the side, a limited series called “Ruse” and “Daredevil” at Marvel.
“[Daredevil is] a dangerous assignment because it’s been a good comic for a long time and it ain’t broken, but I’m really looking forward to diving into that,” Waid said.