The Eisner Award-winning team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso famously collaborated on Vertigo’s hit series “100 Bullets” for nearly a decade to both critical acclaim and commercial success. After re-teaming to tell an epic Thomas Wayne story in “Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance,” the two are at it again, but this time they’ve left the back alleys and batcaves of their previous work to construct a brave new world starring a genetically-altered astronaut in the pages of “Spaceman.”
The nine-issue Vertigo series features Orson — named after Welles, not Scott Card — a former celebrity spaceman who now lives a lonely life as a scrap metal collector. When he ends up in a twisted adventure rescuing a kidnapped orphan who was recently adopted on a reality television by a fictional manifestation of Brangelina, Orson’s life is turned upside down and he is reborn as an action hero like none we’ve ever seen before.
CBR News spoke with Azzarello about his and Risso’s world-building series, the fan-favorite writer sharing details about the secret origin of the fantastic tale, discussing his passion for space exploration and the final frontier and teasing the very real possibility of “Spaceman” sequels.
CBR News: “Spaceman” is quite different from your previous projects and yet it also feels just right. Does “Spaceman” have a secret origin?
Brian Azzarello: We’ve been toying with the idea for a while. I guess I kind of came up with it towards the tail end of “100 Bullets.” We were discussing what we were going to do next and I had a couple of ideas I ran past Eduardo. He liked “Spaceman” the best, which is not to say the other ideas were bad, [Laughs] because we are going to do them, but we decided to do this one first.
The actual idea came to me when I was in a bar with a friend of mine who happens to be a bioengineering professor. It was right at the time that NASA announced they were going to do a joint mission to Mars with the Russians. My friend said, “It can’t happen.” I said, “Why?” And he said, “Human beings can’t survive that long in space because they lose too much bone density.” I said, “Well you’re a bioengineer. Can’t we engineer fetuses to have bigger bones so humans are able to make the trip?” And he considered it for a minute and he said, “Yeah, we could do that.” And that’s where it came from.
As a kid, were you into space travel, the space program and the possibility of life on Mars?
Hell yeah. I wanted to be an astronaut. Are you kidding? I ate Space Food Sticks, I drank Tang — I did the whole thing. I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. That was a very formative event for me. Very important. Now, look what happened. [Laughs]
You’re joking, but in a way, you are taking man to Mars — through your stories.
Yeah, but it’s me, so it’s a really shitty Martian adventure.
[Laughs] Too bad Vertigo didn’t go with that as the title! There’s a great line in the first or second issue: “It’s our destiny to explore space.” More than just writing that for one of your characters, it sounds like a sentiment you agree with.
I think we should. Again, I am reacting to myself as a child, but when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, that was a really, really big deal. Human beings were off the planet. I remember when Challenger blew up, too, because that was such a tragedy. It’s not just the loss of life, it’s the loss of potential.
We’ve already seen a bit of Orson’s back story in the pages of “Spaceman.” Are you going to dig deeper into the science of the spacemen in future issues of the series?
A little, but not a lot. I don’t want to get into that. That kind of storytelling gets really expository and in a comic, I just don’t think we have room for that kind of thing. If it were a novel, sure, but a comic has got to show. [Laughs]
I love Orson — he’s a great leading man. You’re no stranger to having non-traditional leading men but what is it about our Spaceman that you think gives him broad enough shoulders to carry this story — beyond his very broad shoulders?
I think he is very relatable. Orson is trying to make his way in the world. And he doesn’t have a lot of power in it and that is something that most of us can relate to. We have all felt alienated at some point or another in our lives. And I think he is very sympathetic because he is not in charge of his own life.
In the second issue, Tara calls Orson her opposite because she went from being an orphan to a celebrity while he went from being a celebrity to an orphan. They are actually quite similar, aren’t they?
I hope so — that’s what the story is about! [Laughs] But yeah, we have taken two different characters from completely opposite ends of the spectrum and put them together. And usually when that happens, it’s not me pointing out that we are all the same. It’s the characters recognizing something in each other.
It’s like Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” where each of the characters thinks the other has it made.
Exactly. Tara feels like she is on adventure because she doesn’t understand the danger. At one point, she says, “I think this is cool.” [Laughs] And it’s not cool. It’s like she’s on safari or something. This is just another episode of the reality show. It’s like, “What’s real?” which is another theme of the series.
Do we spend too much time worshipping false idols like April and Marc or Angelina and Brad?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I am aware of people that I shouldn’t be aware of. And it’s not because I seek out the information. It’s just there. You can’t ignore it. I think there is a lot of vicarious living right now, and the more we get stuck social networking and just being on the computer and the Internet, the more vicarious living we are going to be doing.
Look at video games. That is complete vicarious living. You are online and you are all on this mission together. No, you’re not. You are sitting in your bedroom in front of a screen. That’s the reality but in your head, you are somewhere else. We’re getting deep. Fire up a joint.
I am having some bad vibes about Marc and April, especially April. She’s more than a pretty face on reality television, isn’t she?
You should feel what you want but I think you are going to be surprised. That’s one thing we do. We surprise.
You’ve recently introduced Carter, one of the other spacemen, to the current storyline as opposed to the backstory. Does he have a big part to play in the second half of the series?
Oh, yeah — a guy that size can’t do anything but play big.
That said, you and Eduardo have plans to do some other things as well at Vertigo. Despite your long history together, has he surprised you at all on “Spaceman?”
Oh, my God. Yeah, he’s surprised. I think he’s trying out some new techniques, some new inking techniques. It’s beautiful. The work he’s doing on this is just phenomenal.
When the two of you work together, it’s usually pretty grim and gritty but there is some real big widescreen, operatic landscapes in “Spaceman.”
But when we get inside, it still gets grimy. [Laughs]
Is “Spaceman” science fiction?
It takes place in the future. Does that make it science fiction? I think it’s more speculative. It’s hard with a genetically altered main character and a transformed world to avoid the “science fiction” label. I don’t really consider it science fiction. If you want to call it science fiction, great. If you want to call it noir, because other people have called it noir, that’s okay too. I don’t care as long as you read it. Pay for it and read it.
“Spaceman” was launched as a nine-part miniseries. Was that always the plan to tell this contained story or is there a possibility that we may see more stories set in this world?
There is definitely a possibility to do more stories. At this point, I would say I have three stories. But rather than do a longer series, we just wanted to do them as miniseries. After doing 100 issues of “100 Bullets” together, we decided to take it easy.
“Spaceman” #6 by Brian Azzarello, and featuring art by Eduardo Risso, goes on sale April 25.