This week, Radical Publishing releases the final chapter in Rick Remender’s newest creator-owned crime epic, “The Last Days of American Crime.” Centering around career criminal Graham Bricke, “Last Days” takes place in an America poised to eliminate crime by broadcasting a signal that makes it impossible for Americans to do anything illegal. At the same time, the government intends to issue plastic charge cards that replace paper currency. Unfortunately for the government, the news of the signal leaked, and all unsavory Americans are getting their dream crimes done with a full week to go before the broadcast. Now Graham, along with his two-man crew of weapons expert Kevin and computer hacker Shelby, must pull off the final great heist in the history of American crime: steal a station that charges the new currency cards and hack it to get unlimited funds in this brave new world of no crime. The final issue contains the crux of the heist, taking place the day before the broadcast goes live.
Remender’s “Last Days” may be wrapping this week, but it’s been a long time coming. According to the creator, the initial ideas for the series began about eight years ago. “It actually came to me around 2002,” the writer told CBR News. “It was a little bit after 9/11 and everyone was still in a state of shock. There were a number of things that were alarming to me in regards to how much personal liberties we were willing to give up for the artificial sense of security that came with the government having a tighter hold on you, tapping your phone calls, all of these things that felt like Big Brother was no longer just an imaginary construct, but in fact was going to be a real world problem in America.
“I was sitting around one afternoon thinking about this stuff, I was watching a Fleischer Superman cartoon and some mad doctor had a mind control ray and I got to thinking, what if mind control was actually something the government had devised? What if they had figured out broadcasts that could neurally inhibit people from doing things? That’s pretty interesting because then the government could take that next logical step in controlling us for our own good, which is to make it impossible for us to do anything illegal.”
As the writer continued his process, the seeds of “Last Days” began to take shape, both in terms of the world and the story. “I started writing down notes about this, just as an idea for something I was developing later on because I liked the idea of a government implementing a mind control device that was the natural next step of the Big Brother 1984 line of thought,” he said. “I came up with a world where after 9/11, the attacks didn’t stop, but there were a number of successful dirty bomb attacks. It was a world a hair away from our own where all these things we were afraid would happen actually did happen and the government devised this mind control ray that they were going to implement and stop everybody from being able to do anything illegal.
“From there, I was initially going to write a story about a militia team that were going to go out and try to blow up some towers and it just didn’t really excite me,” Remender continued. “I felt like I had a really high concept, a really great world stage and there were some things I wanted to say in that world, but that’s when the heist idea fell together. If this thing was announced, if the story broke and people discovered they had only a few more weeks to commit any crime, that’s a pretty interesting situation for a safecracker, for someone who’s there to get a score.
“The idea came to me in another line of thought where I had read some articles about how the governments would like to naturally transfer funds to electronic funds, so we all just have plastic cards that we use. Every transaction is trackable and every dollar can be taxed and everything is legitimate and above board. I came up with this idea where the government at the same time, the next logical step was to no longer honor paper currency, but to make this transition where everyone gets their own fiduciary debit card and all the money they make goes onto that card so that we no longer deal in paper money. That also opened up a pretty fun concept in that what these guys would actually be out to steal would be one of the machines that actually charges the cards. Basically, you have a box that could charge unlimited amounts of currency. It was basically not only do you have a two week window and the country’s going crazy the week of the crime, but if you succeed, you’ll have unlimited money for life.”
The pitch finished, Remender began sending it out to different publishers. There was only one problem: nobody seemed interested. “As it fell together, I got really super excited about it,” he recalled. “I think I finally put together the final draft of the initial pitch in 2003 and it went to every publisher. Vertigo turned it down, Top Cow turned it down, Dark Horse turned it down, and it blew my mind. I thought it was such a no-brainer. At the same time, I had sent out a number of other pitches, so ‘Night Mary’ was off the ground and ‘Fear Agent’ was off the ground and ‘Strange Girl’ and ‘Sea of Red.’ I was drawing a couple books for Dark Horse and Image and I just became so busy that it got shelved.”
“With ‘American Crime,’ I’m glad this book didn’t get picked up by the places it had been pitched to before with all the false starts it’s had over the last eight years because this book needed me to be a little more seasoned,” he continued. “I feel like it’s benefited from where I am right now as a writer in regards to my ability to juggle all those things. I think that when people read the third issue and the thing is out in a collection and you can read it all in one go that it’ll stand as one of my best accomplishments. I’m incredibly proud of the work.”
Fans of the book already know that “Last Days” is on the road for a transition to the big screen with “Avatar” star Sam Worthington on as producer and star – and it looks like things are proceeding well in that direction. “It’s going great. We’ve got some big things going on this week right now, hopefully we’ll have some more news soon,” said Remender. “Sam Worthington will be starring in it as Kevin Cash. We have some huge, huge news and ideas for other actors including some news coming up hopefully for Graham and some big directing potential. It looks like it’s going to happen. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and jinx it, but when you’ve got someone of Sam Worthington’s clout starring and producing in the film, with the kind of people he’s drawing in and hopefully the strength of the source material, I think of all the things I’ve done, this thing has the very, very best chance of making it to the screen here in the next couple of years.”
Even with the movie in the early stages of development and the trade paperback set to drop soon, Remender says that he is by no means done with the world he’s set up in “Last Days.” “I am planning more. The tricky thing is that the way that the broadcast works and some of the twists and turns in the third act, you have a world stage and you have world rules,” he said. “Once you read the first trade, you see how those rules work. The API broadcast is a ticking clock that everyone is going to be reacting to in the United States. People who have bad things they need to get out of their systems of revenge trips or whatever they need to take care of, they’re going to be out doing those things and people who are just regular family folk are going to be inside their houses with doors boarded up and a shotgun pointed at the window. In America, there’s 500 million potential stories for what’s happening the two weeks before American Crime is put to a halt. To that end, I’ve got a revenge story that I like quite a bit. I want the next volume to be quite a bit different from this one, I don’t want it to be career criminals on a heist. Without giving away too much, because we want to save it for the announcement, I think the next one I’m going to do is just the very simple concept of that same ticking clock but somebody’s out for revenge. I think it’s got a lot of potential for a lot of big fun, especially in a different city. It’ll be in New York and we’ll get to see the different stage. New York is much worse off than L.A. in terms of where they’re at as the API gets closer and closer, and I sort of hinted at that in this trade as I’ve been putting together notes for the next volume.”
Until then, fans will have to wait for their next fix in a world without American crime – but for Remender, this is the culmination of years of work and he’s incredibly happy with the result. “I’m super proud of it! It sounds self-aggrandizing to say, but to create something that’s as awesome as I think this book is, I think the joy comes from stepping up to the plate,” he said. “Also seeing your progress as a creator, and I know this is true of Greg from our conversations. To be able to see that all the work you’ve had over the many, many years to refine yourself as a comic book creator come together on a project like this where all of the seasoning and all of the chops that you’ve earned come together in something that’s really, really strong.”
“Last Days of American Crime” #3 ships to comic shops this week. CBR has even more preview pages here.