There has been solid debate for some time as to whether superheroes should kill their enemies, but back in 1981 writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude took a unique approach to the genre by making such executions not only permissible but mandatory. Horatio Hellpop became Nexus, aided by powers granted to him by an alien race that required him to kill a certain number of mass murderers each year to retain his abilities. Originally published by Capital Comics, then First Comics, Dark Horse, and Rude’s imprint Rude Dude Productions, the series took on political and military intrigues on an interplanetary scale while developing a complex cast of characters. “Nexus” reached its 100-issue milestone in 2008, but published its final issue, a combined issue #101-102, in 2009. This May, “Nexus” returns in the pages of “Dark Horse Presents” #12, and CBR News spoke with Baron and Rude about their most famous creation.
“My first thought when [Mike] Baron and I created ‘Nexus’ was that we were given the amazing stroke of chance to become a published book. From that point, it was a matter of making Baron’s scripts graphically come to life, getting really serious about my craft and becoming productive with it,” Rude said of the earliest days of “Nexus” at Capital Comics.
“The most intriguing factor of Nexus as a superhero was that every time he appeared somebody had to die. That was his job,” Baron said of the character’s origins and what sets him apart. “Of course he’s changed over the years but he remains at heart an executioner of mass murderers.”
Though publication hasn’t been continuous, Baron and Rude have released more than 100 issues of “Nexus” — quite a feat for any character, let alone an independent superhero title. CBR News asked the creators why they feel ‘Nexus’ has enjoyed such enduring appeal for both fans and for the creators themselves.
“Every fan will answer it from a perspective unique to their own lives: as in what circumstances allowed them to discover the comic and what was going on in their lives that made ‘Nexus’ worthy to continue reading,” Rude said. “As the artist, I look at ‘Nexus’ mostly as someone that tries to keep the storytelling quality consistent and the storylines themselves solvent and cohesive.”
“The world and characters are diverse and complex so that we never run out of ideas,” Baron told CBR News. “‘Nexus’ veers from slapstick to drama, to comedy of manners, to tragedy and back again. Ylum continues to evolve as more and different visitors pour in. As for Hellpop himself, we try to keep him interesting. He tells me what he wants. He’s a complex man.”
“Nexus” has dealt with issues of politics, government, and war from the beginning. Baron said many of the issues arose from current events. “Oh, we used to rip those right out of the headlines. Dude would phone me up and say, ‘Did you hear about this motherfucker who killled all these kids,’ or something and we’d be off and running,” Baron recalled. “Also events around the world have inspired certain storylines and sequences. We will strive to be entertaining without hitting the reader over the head with a political message.”
“Baron’s always been open for the free contribution of plot ideas, which is something I’m happy and eager to take him up on. One of my recent ideas came from reading the tragic story of Vivien Leigh and imagining how it might apply to our female lead, Sundra Peale,” Rude said. “I could probably take any incident from ‘Biography’ magazine and apply it to one of our ‘Nexus’ cast. I’m not a writer, but the contributions of ideas is fun for me.”
After self-publishing the “Space Opera” epic (issues #99-102) through Rude Dude Productions, “Nexus” returns to its previous publisher for the “Dark Horse Presents” serial. CBR News asked Rude what led him and Baron to bring the series back to Dark Horse. “Seems I pretty much failed with Rude Dude. And [Dark Horse Founder and CEO] Mike Richardson has always been very generous about leaving the Dark Horse door open for us,” Rude said. “Once the contractual details were worked out, I threw myself back into the world of ‘Nexus.'”
As to whether the “Dark Horse Presents” strip picks up right after the events in #102 or takes place at some other point in Nexus’s career, “Baron and I had discussions about that very thing,” Rude said. “He wanted Nexus and Sundra’s kid, Harry, to be aged in real time when he and I resumed the book. I thought about how many years we would’ve missed out on had we aged him from a newborn to 4 years old or whatever. I was thankfully able to talk Baron into continuing things directly where we left off in our last miniseries. These kind of details and incidents Baron and I go back and forth on all the time. It’s just part of the process for us.”
The birth of a child changes anyone’s life, but for a superhero it necessarily sends his adventures in a new direction — though Nexus was already a father, the situation here is a bit different than with Ursula. Baron joked that, “Really, we’re trying to place the kid with a decent daycare center so that his poor beleaguered parents might enjoy some badly needed respite, but there are forces arrayed against us.”
“At one point I wrote up an entire projected history on the life of Nexus’ baby, Harry Hellpop, from birth to the very end,” Rude said. “Then it’s just a matter of hoping that Baron goes for it. But once the ideas and directions for everyone’s lives are thought out, it’s simply a matter of integrating the story and my art.”
A number of things have changed for Ylum, the world Nexus rules as a (more or less) benevolent dictator, as well. The Elvonites have been beaten and expelled, and the planet looks to have gained greater acceptance in the Web (even as Nexus tries to distance Ylum from it). “The Web will turn on you in an instant if it’s in their interests,” Baron said of Nexus’ future conflicts. “With such far flung civilization alliances are constantly shifting. New menaces appear as old ones fade. Inventions change the way we live. Anything is possible.”
“It’s hard to entirely rid yourself of a fanatical faction of any group,” Rude added. “I’m afraid the Elvons fit such a category, so they may be here to stay. Nexus and all the higher ups he’s appointed to deal with them may just have to endlessly endure their incessant uprisings. Much like the way things in our own lives are played.”
As to what else might be coming up for “Nexus,” both Baron and Rude showed considerable excitement for the possibilities. “Baron and I both have lots to tell, but often the stories may end on cliffhangers with the creators themselves not precisely knowing where things might lead,” Rude said. “Such is the process of the creative mind, where one idea may suggest many directions or endings. That’s what makes doing comics fun. So where it goes, even the best of us may not know.”
“We are so stoked on these new stories — I wish I could tell you what we’re working on now. It’s major geekery,” Baron said. “The first story deals with the sudden appearance of a sinister moon over Ylum. The second and third stories deal with an infestation. The story after that gets real crazy. Heads will explode. Figuratively! Maybe literally.”
“Dark Horse Presents” #12, featuring the return of Nexus, is on sale May 23.