In the city of Bedlam, evil doesn’t die. It just gets a new face.
After the opening arc of Image Comics’ “Bedlam,” co-creators Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo unveiled the new visage of former serial killer Madder Red. A decade after his murderous rampage terrified the town, the killer has been reborn as askew do-gooder Fillmore Press. In his first case investigating the kind of people he used to be, the freelance troublemaker teamed with police detective Ramira Acevedo to stop an army of castrated would-be angels from their own killing spree. But now, Press has made an unlikely friendship with their invalid inspiration –Â a former archbishop with his own horrific past.
For the second story in the series, Spencer teams with new artist Ryan Browne (“The Manhattan Projects”) alongside cover artist Frazer Irving to expand the world of the decaying city starting with issue #7 on May 15. As Fillmore’s relationship to Ramira deepens, his former foil superhero The First gets crazier, and his own investigations get bigger.
CBR News spoke with the writer about the future of the book, his desire to stay away from giant conspiracy plots, the dreams of glory Fillmore’s doctor holds close, the tightrope of the books many twisted relationships and the future of the series art team.
CBR News: As “Bedlam’s” first arc ended, the origin tale of Fillmore Press’ life post-Madder Red got a little more twisty. The arch bishop who inspired the story’s serial killer became Fillmore’s weird mentor/informant, and some seeds were sewn for more story with his doctor as well. How did you approach building that overall “pilot” for the series?
Nick Spencer: I think one of the most interesting things about this book is that when I sat down to do it, I obviously already had “Morning Glories” and had done “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents” and “Ultimate X-Men” and was starting on “Secret Avengers.” That’s a lot of books that are long form mysteries of one sort or another –Â books where things get seeded very early and there’s a state of confusion throughout. Things don’t come into focus until much further down the road.
And when I was starting on “Bedlam,” I challenged myself to say, “Okay, you’re very comfortable doing those stories, but maybe it’s time to try something else. See if you can do a story that still has some long term components and some unanswered questions, but do a more traditional procedural. This book is a bit more of a classic structure. Make sure you haven’t lost your fundamentals. Prove you can still do meat and potatoes in a way that’s exciting and involving and fun.”
So it was really fun when the book came out. Because I’ve got my name on it, everyone’s looking extra hard for the curve balls. Everybody’s waiting for everything to get flipped on its head. I think there are points throughout the story and certainly at the end of this first arc where we turn things around, but this is still very much more my attempt at a procedural than it is a long form mystery. Again, not to say there aren’t parts waiting for a long payoff –Â because there are –Â but that shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat of this particular story.
So let’s go down our procedural checklist. At the core of a book like this is the promise of a relationship between Ramira and Fillmore. It’s a partners story. Their personalities clash as they’re working together.
It’s one of the core relationships of the book, certainly. Ramira is very much a co-lead. There’s definitely meant to be a buddy cop angle to this relationship, but that attracted me as a starting point rather than a be all, end all. We’ll see that relationship take a lot of twists and turns. The most fun thing about the dynamic is that this is someone she’s lived in mortal fear of — someone she very much hates. It’s somebody where if she knew who he really was, it’d be a pretty ugly moment. To start with that tension but then to build over time –Â and we’re starting to see it over the first arc already — this bond being formed. There’s almost a maternal aspect to it that’s starting to take shape. To have that grow on top of the underlying tension is a really fun place to have a couple of characters.
What’s Fillmore’s real goal moving forward? He’s solving cases and getting involved in these crimes in a way that’s contradictory than what the doctor’s staff planned for him. The goal of their rehabilitation was to make him averse to violence, but now he’s drawn closer to it.
I think that’s exactly right. Where we are now is that Fillmore has had a path set in front of him, but he keeps deviating. He goes just as far as he’s allowed at every instance. He takes this directive that they’ve given him, and he twists it to suit his own desires. That’s the unhealthy aspect of what Fillmore’s doing right now. He’s still feeding that addiction, but he’s feeding it a different way.
Now, the doctor has decided that this could be a good thing. Some good could come out of it. But we’ve also seen that the doctor has dreams of grandeur. He likes to think in terms of sweeping impacts. So he’s a sucker for this too. He sees the fame that can come with turning one of the city’s most deranged villains in Madder Red into one of its heroes. Fillmore is definitely played to one of the doctor’s weaknesses, but whether Fillmore really realizes that yet hasn’t been seen.
From issue #7, we start a new arc on the book. And so far, the solicits you’ve put out have been…pretty vague.
As helpful as my solicits ever are! [Laughter] Have you realized that I really hate solicits?
But it does seem this next story will look back to the past some more. How does the new case relate to all that?
In the second arc, I sort of weighed two different stories we could do, and the one I finally decided on is going to accomplish a few things. One, it’s going to broaden out the world a bit more. The first six kept a narrow focus on Fillmore and Ramira and the serial killer procedural on a large scale. But there’s way more going on in Bedlam, and there’s much more to the book about the death and life of American cities. There are other components that we’re going to start introducing. That’ll come into focus very early in #7, and I think that we’re going to bring in some folks that we have seen in the book very early on, but we haven’t spent time with them yet. We’ll bring them in, make them regular members of the case and then tell you more about their stories.
And the problem — the case for this second arc — is a much bigger one than from the first arc. It’s on a much bigger scale. After the stage expands, we’ll go out farther into the city.
In the first story I wanted to give Fillmore a lasting relationship with his priest because I thought one of the fun things to set up would be a support cast –Â his partner, his doctor and his priest. That’s something that bears mentioning. In the end, what we saw is that Fillmore didn’t tell Ramira that the archbishop has three more angels out there. He’s keeping that information to himself, and it’s a key moment in the book. It suggests something that may be less than helpful –Â and being helpful is what Fillmore is supposed to be all about now.
One person we meet in the opener is The First…and Fillmore set him up to “save the day” in a way where the hero didn’t realize it fell into his lap. What’s his next step?
It’ll come into focus slowly. The First will get a lot more time in the second arc and continuing forward, even more. I think what we tried to get across by the end of #6 — and I think we succeeded in this –Â was making clear in the big fight between The First and Eric that this guy is not Batman. This world’s a little bit more grounded and a little more real. That confrontation indicated The First’s weaknesses pretty well. He is this city’s preeminent vigilante, and he’s a symbol for striking back. But he’s also a much more human one. That’s very important.
And we’ve seen in our few conversations with him that he doesn’t seem to be much more sane than Madder Red was, in his own way. A lot of people have said that after reading the first arc. [Laughs] It’s fair to say you’ve got to be a little nuts to put on a costume like that. Period. I wanted that in the book, and we’ll see more of it. And whether that means he’s good or bad for the city, there’s no definitive statement on that.
Artist Ryan Browne is coming on for this second arc as co-creator Riley Rossmo steps down. What’s the long term plan of the look of this series?
I’d say first how excited I am to be working with Ryan. He’s so great. He’s a fantastic artist, and he brings so much enthusiasm to the table. He sample page for the gig just blew me away and really captured the idea that he’s a versatile guy who can do a lot of things. That’s perfect for this book. I think in terms of capturing a character like Fillmore, who can be a pretty humorous character, the magic is in his facial expressions and body language. And Ryan’s great at that. I’m really excited to be working with him on this — for a long time to come hopefully.
And Riley did such an amazing job setting this book up. He gave us a great foundation to work from. I love how this book looks, and I’m so excited to get the trade and see it all together. He’s got such a distinctive style, and he really put his all into these pages. I’m proud to have gotten a chance to work with him. He’s onto other things and has some big stuff planned. I’m as excited as anyone to see those. We wish him the best going forward, and he’s one of the best artists in the game right now.
“Bedlam” #7 is on sale May 15 from Image Comics.