With a title like “Suicide Risk,” you can’t help but feel that things are going to end badly for the series’ beat cop protagonist Leo Winters.
Writer Mike Carey and artist Elena Casagrande’s new ongoing series from BOOM! Studios puts a new spin on the cape genre, placing the story in a world where superpowers are emerging around the globe. But rather than the way things played out in the Marvel or DC Universes, the superhumans wielding these powers are using them almost exclusively for illegal — and hugely destructive — purposes.
In this COMMENTARY TRACK, Carey gives CBR a guided tour of the first issue of “Suicide Risk” — his first ongoing series outside The Big Two — that begins with an epic super-powered battle in downtown San Diego and ends in shady back alley dealings, as San Diego police officer Leo Winters tries to survive going head-to-head against a world of deadly powerful villains.
CBR News: Before we get into the comic, let’s talk about the covers. How much direction did you give Tommy Lee Edwards and Stephanie Hans for each of the first issue covers? They both contributed very different, but striking, takes on the issue’s big battle.
Mike Carey: I talked to Dafna Pleban, my editor, and Matt Gagnon, who is the group editor for BOOM!, about some broad strategies, and we agreed we would try to take two completely different takes — a long shot and a close-up. Not just in terms of how the actual images are framed, but also in terms of the function, what we were trying to do with them.
Tommy Lee Edward’s cover is very much a statement on the broad situation you see in the comic. You see a beat cop face-to-face with superhumans, and this battle in this city that’s clearly in crisis. It’s like a big overview of some of the situations we’re exploring in the book, and then Stephanie’s piece is to choose one character, and in this case, it’s Memento Mori, and to dramatize her power and focus in on the character. All the alternative covers will do something like that. They’ll zoom in on one character or moment, and do a counterpoint.
In the first page, Leo takes us through the San Diego police’s big battle with the super-villains through a flashback. Why did you decide to frame the first scene like this?
The flashback has kind of an honorable tradition in cop narratives, especially in noir. So I guess in some ways we were shouting out to that, but we also thought it was a good way to get Leo’s voice foregrounded, and also in framing the action, in his perceptions of it — – that you learn more about his context and what was at stake for him.
There’s a lot going on in this big battle — different superhumans flexing their respective powers. How much did you talk to Elena [Casagrande] about the powers in the first sequence and how they’d be brought to life?
We talked about it a fair bit. We both felt that it was difficult now to find superpowers that are conceptually new. You can do variations of themes, though. Dr. Maybe is telepathic, but it’s kind of a fuzzy telepathy — he can mess with your mind, he can mess with your emotions and your memories, and you’ll discover he can do more things as well.
But in most cases, we’ve seen powers that are like this before. We’ve seen a “life leech,” we’ve seen many, many big powerhouses like Grudge War. Voiceover’s sonic powers are like a character like Banshee or Black Canary. So to some extent, it can come to the creative team to show new ways of showing this stuff. I basically said to Elena, “Take it as far as you can. Do whatever you feel in terms of finding ways to show those powers visually on the page.”
I think what she’s done here in terms of this first big splash, and when Voiceover uses his powers, are amazing visuals. You get a sense of the scale of action and the force of the powers being unleashed here.
In this eight-page battle, there’s already some pretty graphic and tragic violence. The hero, Extended Remix, shows up only to get taken apart by a couple villains, and Leo’s partner, John Ha, gets his arm ripped off. What’s yours and Elena’s approach for handling violence in a story featuring superpowers, but also grounded, human characters?
I think that’s the crucial point here: that we’re not just seeing superhumans and villains going up against each other and throwing down. We’re also seeing the collateral damage to civilians and communities, and we’ll see more and more of that as the series goes on. There’s a contrast here between the way Remix dies and the violence to John Ha, Leo’s partner. Remix is in costume and he’s going up against an entire team of super-villains and he kind of knows what’s at stake. I guess the point where he gets punched in the stomach by Grudge War — that probably kills him even before Mori kisses him.
It is a bit disturbing, but it’s not nearly as disturbing as what happens to John Ha, where his arm is dislocated and ripped out of its socket. Out of all the violence in the issue, that’s the one that’s the most disturbing, most graphic, and most arresting — and it’s amazing what Elena had done with it. I think it needs to be like that, because you need to have the sense these super-villains are not just attacking their counterparts; they are dismantling the world in various ways, and the stakes could not be more high, and we wanted to get that across.
Leo shows some recklessness and jumps after the bad guys as they’re taking off. He grabs Dr. Maybe and before Leo knocks him out, Maybe lets out a cryptic “…My God.” Anything you can tease about why he said that?
Bearing in mind that he’s using his powers, I think we’re to assume that he’s seen something in Leo’s mind, or possibly he’s read something in someone else’s mind that’s nearby. But obviously it’s something so astounding, that it makes him freeze up. It would be very easy for him to take Leo out at this point — – he threatens to melt Leo’s brain and that’s no exaggeration. We know he has telepathic powers and could incapacitate Leo very quickly, and he doesn’t. He’s so surprised and astounded, that he loses the initiative, and Leo punches him out.
It will be a long time before we find out exactly what he saw. That is a crucial moment in the story, and a crucial moment in Leo’s life, although he doesn’t know it yet.
With Leo taking Dr. Maybe in custody, are we going to see quite a bit more of him?
Dr. Maybe will be around for a while, yeah. There’s a fair bit to reveal about him, his past, and about some of the effects of his powers that are not hinted at here.
Leo visits John in the hospital for a somber scene. How much stage direction do you give Elena for the characters, and how the shots are framed?
I tend to write fairly elaborate, full script. But for that one panel, where John says, “Lots of things you can do one-handed,” I said in Panel 3; ‘Leo is genuinely distressed to see John like this, but he’s too good of a friend not to go [visit], and that John is putting a brave face on it, even smiling.’ This is utterly devastating for him. This is the end of his career, and it’s the end of his career as a cop in the field. If he carriers on in the department, it’ll be in a completely different capacity.
I just love what Elena did with the face there. The fact that she chose the low-angle shot, which I didn’t specify at all, and the way he’s turned away in the panel before that, trying to hide his feelings from Leo, and yet they come across anyway. It’s a very powerful scene.
At the end of the battle, and definitely later in this issue, we see how reckless Leo can be, but he seems to have it pretty together with his family and home life. How important was this to establish early on; his relationship with his wife, kids and Mitesh, his father-in-law?
We thought it was very important for a lot of reasons. It’s important to give Leo that context, I think, so that we have a sense of what he’s risking when he makes the decision to leave to meet up with Jed and Hailey, and to undergo whatever it was the other super-characters have undergone.
But it was important in other ways, as well. Yes, it defines him as a character — all these other characters are important in their own right. Sunita, we’ll be seeing a lot of her. We’ll be seeing a lot of the kids, Danny and Tracy, even Mitesh, in this arc, is going to be playing a fairly active role.
In a sense, what we have done, when he goes to see Jed and Hailey, he puts everything at risk. We’ll see how the consequences of that play out for every person in his life. The repercussions will not be simple, and they won’t stop. They’ll just keep getting bigger and bigger. So defining this stuff is important. It’s the bedrock of the story.
Leo meets Hailey and Jed in this back alley. Both characters give off kind of a sleazy drug dealer vibe — but instead of drugs, they activate powers in Leo with this magic wand-type device. They also tell Leo there’s something special about him before they activate him.
I think the interesting thing here is just the mismatch between who Jed and Hailey are and what they’re doing. They’re really not that impressive, are they? They’re sort of criminals — they bicker with each other. Jed is very insecure. They’re slightly pathetic characters, and yet they have this incredible technology at their fingertips and they obviously have some understanding of what it can do. So it’s a mystery that we’ll be exploring, and that we’ll be providing an answer to further down the line.
The other interesting thing is that Leo has to be tested before he can be given powers. He has to scanned for some precondition, and we don’t know what that precondition is, or what it means when Jed says that they can do business. We also don’t know yet what Leo’s powers are, and when Leo finds out what his powers are, that’s when his troubles really begin.
Where does Leo and the story go from here? The first issue is set entirely in San Diego, but you mentioned in a previous interview that some other locations will be introduced, too.
Oh, yeah — San Diego is always going to be Leo’s base and Leo’s family’s base, but we’re in Oceanside — which is a little further up the coast — in issue two. We’re in L.A. in issue three. Issue four, we’re in South America — and in the second arc as well. So we do open it up, and different stories will take us to different parts of the world, and ultimately off-planet, as well. But San Diego is the center of operations.
As with “The Unwritten,” as with quite a lot of my X-Men stuff as well, I try to set stories up in such a way that the relevant information is front-loaded — given very early on — and then we unpack it as we go along. So there’s plenty of stuff here that will play off in later issues. There are things that have been purposely left undefined and then defining them, and answering them, and solving them is going to be the one of the pleasures that the series has to offer.
“Suicide Risk” #1, by Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande, is on sale now.