Jason Starr wants to explore death in “The Returning.” The March 12-launching four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios takes place in a world where people who experience Near Death Experiences tend to lose their minds and eventually have a psychotic break.
The author of novels like “Panic Attack” and “The Craving,” along with the graphic novel “The Chill” and the Marvel monthly “Wolverine Max,” Starr has joined forces with artist Andrea Mutti (“Conan,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) to create their horror series.
The comic follows the adventures of Beth, a teenager NDE survivor — known as a Changer — who not only has to deal with the accident that led to her nearly dying, but also the fact that the general population wants to take her out before she can go off and hurt them. Luckily for her a mystery man shows up to help, but his motivations remain unclear.
CBR News talked with Starr about the world of “The Returning,” the challenges Beth will face and why, even though this isn’t a zombie tale, he feels fans of comics like “The Walking Dead” will dig his and Mutti’s story.
CBR News: What is it about the near death experiences in “The Returning” that sets those who live through them apart from the rest of society?Â
Jason Starr: In this world — our world, in the very near future — people are coming back from Near Death Experiences (NDEs) changed. Appropriately these people are known as “Changers.” They’re more violent, committing crimes and murders, in some cases mass murders. It’s like during the very early stages of a virus, when people know something abnormal is going on, but they don’t know the cause or the extent of it. There’s a lot of fear, a lot of paranoia.
What is it about the NDEs that leads people to lose their minds after coming back from the dead?
Something happens to them when they die. The rest is part of the mystery of the series. We know as much as the characters do, and when the story begins they are as clueless as we are.
The book’s lead, Beth, gets in an accident that kicks off the series — what can you tell us about her before her accident?Â Â
Beth has been living a fairly typical life up until her NDE. She’s popular at school, dating the quarterback of the football team. Her life has been very simple and predictable. Then, all hell breaks loose.
The chips seem pretty firmly stacked against Beth after her NDE. Is anyone on her side?
Well, there’s another major character in the series, a man Beth encounters. He seems to be the only person she can trust, but let’s just say he may not be looking out for her best interests.
Were there any real life reports or stories that inspired the incredibly negative way people react to Beth and her fellow Changers after their NDEs?Â
No, this is pure fiction, not based on any actual events, but I want it to feel real, like it’s actually happening, and I want people’s behavior to seem real, to resonate. When there’s fear and paranoia, survival instincts kick in and people tend to take on a me-first attitude. So, yeah, people turn on Beth, but I think that makes sense, psychologically — people would turn on her.
Tonally, the book almost has a zombie feel to it with regular people dealing with real life horrors. There’s also the impending threat that anyone could turn into the problem. Were those stories an inspiration for “The Returning?”Â
The idea that anyone who’s had a NDE — your best friend, your grandmother, a cop — could be a threat was a big part of our core idea. So, yeah, I guess in this sense it has a zombie vibe to it, but we weren’t thinking of any particular influences and, in the end, I think we take it in a much different direction. It’s probably closer to “Carrie” and “Hellblazer” than “The Walking Dead,” but I think it will appeal big time to zombie fans.
What went into the decision to bring this story to BOOM!?
Andrea and I love the stuff BOOM! has been doing lately, especially with thrillers and horror, and the whole editorial staff connected with the idea, so it was the natural spot for the book. Also, Andrea and I feel this has movie and TV potential and BOOM! has had a lot of success in Hollywood lately.
You’ve written books as well as comic books. When you get an idea for something like “The Returning,” does it immediately present itself as a comic or does the format become clear as the idea progresses?
The gestation for “The Returning” was different from my normal process because Andrea Mutti and I came up with this idea together so I/we knew this would be a comic from the get-go. We thought about it visually, with the big set pieces and to me it screams comic and I can’t even imagine how it would work as a novel. It’s visual, cinematic, visceral. Usually, when I’m writing a novel, I think of story and plot first, but when I’m writing a comic, I think of images first.
It sounds like “The Returning” was a very collaborative process between you and Andrea. How did that come about?
Since Andrea and I developed the story together, it was a team project from the beginning. We met several years ago in New York and hit it off, and since then we’ve been following each other’s work and kicking around ideas for an original project to do together. We thought our styles would mesh well. My vision tends to be on the dark side, with a realistic vibe, and Andrea’s art is a perfect match for this. He has a very clean style, has a lot of emotion in his art, and is kick-ass with violence. In “The Returning,” I give him a lot of opportunity to strut his stuff, and I think it’s some of his best work yet, and that’s saying a lot.
We’ve been so in synch with each other on this, it’s taken very little back and forth. We had a lot of general discussions about the big set pieces and major themes we wanted to hit on, but that’s about it. I think the most important thing in any collaboration is to be in agreement about tone, and that hasn’t been an issue for us at all. We’re both dark as hell.
“The Returning” #1 from Jason Starr, Andrea Mutti and BOOM! Studios makes its debut on March 12.