It’s the end of the world as we know it in Frank J. Barbiere and Christopher Peterson’s upcoming BOOM! Studios book “Broken World” — but lead character Elena Marlowe does not feel fine . Of course, that’s mostly because she’s stuck on Earth while the rest of her family is scheduled to flee the planet by way of spaceship.
As Elena struggles to figures out a way to get on one of those ships — through any and all means necessary — she encounters a variety of characters, all dealing with the apocalyptic asteroid in their own ways. The four-issue series launching on June 3 marks the writer’s latest collaboration with BOOM! after his “Black Market” comic. But as Barbiere tells it, “Broken World” is different from anything he’s done before.
In an exclusive first interview about their new series, CBR News spoke with both Barbiere and Peterson about the sci-fi elements involved in building the “Broken World,” the wide-ranging cast of escapees and how this thriller actually boils down to studying characters.
CBR News: “Broken World” focuses on a woman, Elena Marlowe, who wants to get off world, but can’t. That’s a pretty solid base to launch a story from, but knowing you and your work, I’m betting there’s more to it than that.
Frank J. Barbiere: “Broken World” is very much a love letter to the “survival” and “post-apocalyptic” genres. I’ve wanted to do a story like this for a very long time, and after nearly a year of pre-planning and hard work with my excellent editors — Eric Harburn and Chris Rosa, respectively — we’re ready to unveil our unique, character-driven take.
This project has been a very big challenge for me because for the first time I’m truly stepping outside a lot of tropes of various genres and focusing entirely on character drama. I love writing superhero stories, pulp-inspired action and fantasy, but “Broken World” has challenged me to get back to the core of storytelling: character. It’s certainly an ambitious project, and I have great admiration for BOOM! for letting me tell it with them.
On the subject of character, your lead, Elena, is a woman with a mysterious past that’s preventing her from getting off planet. That seems like a solid person to build a character study around.
Barbiere: Elena is a complex character who, like many of us, is struggling to get her life together. She’s driven by a sense to be better, to overcome who she “was” and become the person she feels she should be. This ongoing exploration of who she is is muddled by the approach of the end of the world — a giant asteroid heading towards earth. Elena sees the only way to progress, to move forward, as getting off the planet…along with the rest of humanity. Or at least most of them, as you’ll find out in our story.
Clearly there’s a lot more happening that will complicate things for Elena, but we really spend the first issue, and really the first arc, getting to know who she is, how she sees her place in the world and what she’s fighting for. I think the “disaster” looming overhead really magnifies the interesting part of her character and makes her struggle all that more intense.
Who does Elena turn to in an effort to get on one of those ships?
Barbiere: “Broken World” is very much an ensemble piece but within this first arc a very focused one. Each of our characters has a very specific view about the situation they’re facing and plays off the beliefs/values of another. Clearly Elena is our anchor and main character, but one of the other leads is Fletcher, a tech savvy forger who Elena must reach out to in order to get off planet. Fletch has really jumped off the page and become such a fun character. Setting him in strict moral opposition to Elena has been great, and the two really have a chemistry. Being able to process the events of the story through various characters has been great and really strengthened the core of the story for me.
I get the feeling that there are some shenanigans going on in order to keep Elena on-planet. Like a conspiracy against her specifically or possibly a hidden reason why someone wants her to stay on Earth?
Barbiere: There are certainly a lot of forces at play. We introduce early on the notion of PAX — the Planetary Alliance for Extraterrestrial Relocation — who are the driving force behind the evacuation of planet Earth. This is a global story, and clearly there are politics beneath the more “fantastic” elements, but we’ll learn a bit about PAX’s motives and methods. One important plot point is the fact that they’ve established an almost McCarthy-like review board to decide who gets to leave the planet and who is doomed to remain.
Considering the use of space ships and an off-world habitat, it sounds like this story takes place in something of a sci-fi future. What can you tell us about the tech in place and what that means for humanity?
Barbiere: While we do have the story placed firmly in a “near future,” the sci-fi elements are not the focus. We’ve done a bit of research and used some real world concepts, such as “space elevators,” but mainly we want to ground our readers to help them believe the tech and look past it. This is very much a character piece and about what happens to people in the face of extraordinary circumstances. That’s a big part of sci-fi that a lot of people forget and the best thing for me — seeing how human character react in the face of a larger than life conflict. But the tech we see in “Broken World” is not overly sci-fi or crazy…it’s all extrapolated from current technology. I think a lot to the recent film “Her,” and Chris has certainly done a great job with all the design work.
Christopher Peterson: At first our minds go straight to fancy big spaceships and “future tech,” but this isn’t “far flung future” to using that. Things are just “slightly advanced,” and I think a lot can be achieved once a common goal is needed. I looked into theories and what’s being thought of now for space stations, ships and artificial gravity, et cetera. And obviously it’s still sci-fi, but I wanted to keep a bit of it grounded in “our world” instead of discovering hypernerotanium so we can shoot pods into space. What we end up with is tech we have theories and prototypes about dosed with comic sci-fi imagination. It’s also interesting, because it’s not post-apocalypse where everything is trash and it’s not far future. So you see the world, just slightly advanced here and there, like going from the ’90s to now, not ’90s to “Back to the Future II.”
And how was it figuring out what that version of the future would look like for the two of you?
Barbiere: It was a lot of discussing the “vision” of the project, which I outlined above, and just having fun. Chris is a great artist and collaborator and definitely brought a lot of his own ideas and influence to the design. Again, the focus was to have it be “futuristic” but grounded.
Peterson: I can say though, I think our vision clicked though on our love of videogames like “Mass Effect” and “Last of Us” which kind of influences some elements for “Broken World” spiritually. That may also give you a bit of taste for how the book is.
How did you and Chris come to know each other and start working on this project?
Barbiere: One of the great parts of collaborating with BOOM! and my editors is their keen eye for talent. I had seen Chris’s work and enjoyed it, but it was BOOM! who introduced us on the project. We’ve quickly gelled together, much like how I did with Victor Santos on “Black Market,” and feel like we’re doing very unique work that perfectly suits the material. There’s something really great about feeling in sync with your collaborators, and I couldn’t be more happy with the team on this project.
Peterson: I didn’t know Frank other than comics on the shelf mainly between “Black Market” and “White Suits” — surprised Frank didn’t call this “Grey World,” now that I think of it. I guess we were just brought together by BOOM! reaching out, which was nice and unexpected.
As you move into more and more work for hire projects, how important is it to you to keep a foot in the creator-owned space with projects like this?
Barbiere: I love telling stories and will certainly take any opportunity I can to do so! I’m a huge fan of comics, so certainly being able to work with companies like Marvel and DC is a thrill and honor, but I’ll always have my own stuff as well. There are just so many ideas I have that can only be done correctly through my own characters and without the burden of continuity. I’m very happy to have publishers like BOOM! on my side and willing to help me bring these projects to life. “Broken World” is certainly a daring and unique project, but I think people will really enjoy it and hopefully keep reading for many, many issues.
“Broken World” #1 from Frank J. Barbiere, Christopher Peterson and BOOM! Studios crashes into stores on June 3.