Most people experience difficult times while in high school. Either because they were different, or because they felt different. Unlike most people, the main character in “Untouchable” finds a trump card to escape from his isolation: an extremely attractive demon ready to help him exact revenge because they simply felt different, or because they
Billed as an East-meets-West collaboration by Dynamite Entertainment, November’s “Untouchable” one-shot by writers Mike Carey and Samit Basu explores various themes of racial prejudice and social acceptance with a supernatural horror twist. The book focuses on Vimal, new to England from his home in India, as he attempts to find his place in a society that refuses to accept him. Instead, Vimal finds that much sought after acceptance from the recently awakened demon Jara, who offers him his innermost heart’s desire.
Carey spoke with CBR News about the the book, why two writers from different parts of the world made an ideal match for this type of story and touched on his fan-favorite Vertigo series “Lucifer” and the chance of more stories starring the fallen angel.
CBR News: As defined, this is an East-meets-West collaboration. You’re working with an Indian writer, Samit Basu, on this title. In that regard, how did this project come about and how did the two of you get involved?
Mike Carey: Well, it was the brainchild of MacKenzie Cadenhead. She was the editor on the project and she had previously worked with both Samit Basu and myself on other books. She just threw this idea out to both of us. Would we be interested in collaborating on a story, and if so, how would we feel about it being a story that played with our two very different perspectives – our backgrounds and the east-versus-west cultural divide and so on. We talked on the phone and we put a pitch together and bounced it backward and forward between the two of us for a while and we pitched it to Mac and she liked it. That became “Untouchable.”
Have you met with or talked with Samit before or was the first time you two interacted with one another?
It was the first time we’ve ever talked to each other. We were vaguely aware of each other’s existence. I think it’s fair to say that Samit is the foremost science fiction writer in India, certainly one of the best known, and he is an enthusiastic comics reader. So, I knew of his sci-fi stuff and he knew of my comic stuff, but we never actually talked before.
How did the idea for this particular story come about? How did you decide upon focusing on this kid who is an outcast and then awakens this demon who offers him a chance at revenge?
As I said, the initial idea was to pick a story that would, both in terms of setting and theme, use our different experiences and use the fact that there was a western writer and an eastern writer both working on the project. The story breaks in two – it starts off in India and comes to England. The protagonist is actually a young man who goes to a university in England at a time where, although the Empire is past its height, it’s still in existence and there is still a certain barrier or set of barriers for an Asian guy moving to English society. Our main character keeps hitting these barriers, sometimes in ways that he can cope with pretty well and other times in ways that undermine him and, I think, torture and torment him. So it was a way to capitalize on both Samit and I writing it.
A lot of us can relate to this feeling of being an outcast – especially many of us comic readers, it feels. But really, I think there’s something universal about feeling like an outcast.
Yeah. I think it’s very easy to identify with an outcast because even if you’ve never had the experience, I think most people are afraid of it at one time or another in their lives. Social acceptance is such a huge drive for all of us. And it’s made particularly difficult for our main character because he’s of mixed race – he has an Indian mother and a white father. This makes him equally an outcast on both sides, both in Indian society and English society. There is nowhere he can feel totally at home. His relationship with the demon sort of ironically becomes one of the more stable influences in his life, though it’s far from a more positive one.
What can you say about, Vimal, the main character in the story? You touched upon him coming to England from India, but what can you say about his personality and how you approach writing him?
I think he’s somebody who because of his problematic upbringing, because of his isolation, he is somebody who perhaps craves acceptance more than most. He’s someone who badly compromises in trying to find a friendship group, trying to find acceptance. He has this deep seeded insecurity, which ultimately drives him to do terrible things. It’s a story about how you can lose yourself in looking for a cohort, a peer group, friendship.
What then can you say about the demon, Jara? Obviously, demons are usually pretty bad people, but were you guys influenced by Indian mythology in her creation?
Yes. She is a rakshasa. She is a figure from Indian mythology. I guess the other strand to our story is that it’s set in the Age of Reason. It’s coming up to the Modern Era. Faith, superstition, mysticism are on the decline. Rationalism rules the day. This character wakes up after a period of many decades of sleep and finds that the world has changed and it’s very, very inhospitable to her kind. Our male protagonist finds ultimately that she is the only person that will accept him for what he is, and he is kind of important to her. He becomes, in a sense, her one-man cult. She provides supernatural favors to him and in return gets something close to worship perhaps. Each of them completes the other. We move toward a climax that kind of works out the logic of that relationship and what it means for both of them, and because it’s a horror story, what it means isn’t a very, very good time.
Well, I can’t really ask about that as it would be giving away the ending completely, but I did want to talk about the artist working on the title with you guys, Ashok Bhadana. What’s it like working with him and what has he brought to the table for this title?
It’s a very, very striking art style. It’s in some ways extremely realistic, but with very heightened colors. So, when we go into the fantasy moments, there’s a kind of nightmare hyper-realism to it. I think the realization of the characters, especially the two leads, is superb. The demon is very, very believable – sexy and sinister and terrifying. I think it’s a style that goes very well with the edgy, unsettling subject matter.
It’s funny you mention the sexy and terrifying aspect of the demon because with Vimal a young man, having a sexy demon offer you something makes it easier to accept than if it was just terrifying.
Yeah. There is definitely a wish fulfillment dimension to it, but there is a case of be careful what you wish for because the more that she offers him, the more he loses, in a sense.
Looking at this title, it’s interesting because not only is it not your typical superhero comic, but it also features a minority lead character, which is something you don’t really see much of. What’s it like for you writing a title that breaks the typical comic mold in that fashion?
I guess it comes back to emotional identification. I come from the north of England and live in the south of England. You can argue that Scousers, people from Liverpool, are the closest thing the UK has to an indigenous minority in that there are negative stereotypes about us and there’s an idea of what we are and that we’re at the bottom on the pecking order naturally. It’s very cool to explore questions of racial identity and social identity – the kind of psychological sheer points in all of our natures. There is a very, very multicultural society now, but even so, there are still prejudices. We still have racist political parties, like the British National Party – although they claim not to be racist – there are still barriers for people of ethnic minorities. I think it’s something that is endlessly fascinating to explore – the extent to which our nature, our identity, is mediated by the groups that we belong to or the groups that we try to belong to.
We talked about how this is an East-meets-West style collaboration. Is this something you and Samit want to continue into the future and do more of these type of multicultural stories?
We stayed in touch since we finished the writing, which is quite some time ago now. Samit sends me some of his stuff that’s coming out. I send him some of mine. I think it’s something that we’d both be very open to doing again. I think it’s a question of finding the time. We both have very full slates. But it was really a lot of fun to do. Co-writing is not always an easy deal. It’s not always smooth running. Temperamentally, you’ve got to be a good match. There’s a lot of give and take. You have to go into it with an open mind. Samit was great. He was a really, really good collaborator. He was a lot of fun to work with. He’s a super nice guy and, of course, a very gifted writer.
To close out, I wanted to touch on something that fans of yours might be curious about. In the upcoming “House of Mystery Halloween Annual” you’re doing a Lucifer story. Is this a one-time deal or is there more Lucifer in your future?
[Laughs] It’s a onetime deal. The way I feel about this, Lucifer’s story is definitely finished. This story is a flashback to a particular moment in Lucifer’s story. Lucifer himself is not the main character. It’s some of our supporting cast that we were very, very keen to revisit. There are lots of unfinished stories that I would love to go back to. I would love to do a Gaudium and Spera miniseries. I would love to do a Mazikeen miniseries. I would love to do a story that shows how Elaine Belloc is making out as God and how things are going for her as ruler of the universe. There’s all sorts of things you can do around the edges of the Lucifer story, but I don’t want to bring Lucifer back to center stage. I think we left him where we wanted him to be.