Following up on the success of “Irredeemable,” his Peter Krause-illustrated series starring a Superman-esque superhero going very, very wrong, comics veteran and BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid launches a new ongoing series from the other side of the spectrum in December. “Incorruptible” stars a bad guy inspired by a hero’s fall to turn over a new leaf, as costumed evildoer Max Damage takes on a new identity in both name and deed. CBR News spoke with Waid about the new series, his two titles’ shared universe, and other adjectives his name might bear.
In “Irredeemable,” now on its eighth issue, the Plutonian has cracked under the weight of his own mistakes as well as public and personal criticism, murdering his teammates in the Paradigm, devasting the Sky City metropolis he had called home, and striking terror in the hearts of heroes, villains, and ordinary citizens the world over. The surviving heroes search for answers to the Plutonian’s most closely-guarded secrets in a desperate quest to neutralize him, but the Plutonian always seems to be one step ahead – and the body count continues to rise.
As “Incorruptible” opens, readers find that the villainous Max Damage’s decision to go straight has come as a direct result of experiencing first-hand the formerly-heroic Plutonian’s wholesale destruction of Sky City. “It was like being in Katrina, at ground zero, in the middle of it. He was in the thick of the Sky City destruction, and it was such an epiphany for him,” Waid said. “A villain is a villain, but even villains want the world to survive. Even the most remorseless villains have some regard for small children and animals. And it doesn’t benefit him at all if this mad god really does destroy the world. He’s in a position of, nobody else is going to step up. As far as he’s concerned, the rest of the Paradigm guys have been beaten by the Plutonian, they’re pretty much off the radar, and there’s really nobody else to step up. If nobody else is going to do it, he’s going to do it.” It is at this point that Max Damage becomes Max Daring and embarks upon a more noble path.
Waid told CBR that Max Daring’s road to heroism would involve certain logistical challenges. “His problem is that, all he really knows is what he’s not supposed to be doing,” the writer said of his protagonist’s approach to doing good rather than evil. “I don’t want this to come off sounding like a comedy, because it’s not – although there is sometimes a black-comic feel to it – but really, all he knows about superheroes is what he sees from the other side of being punched by them. He knows that they’re supposed to uphold the good, he knows they’re supposed to be uncompromising in their virtue and values, and that’s kind of all he knows. Really, if there were any superheroes left after the Plutonian’s rampages, he would be smart to pick a mentor, but that’s not an option, because even if he did, no one would believe that he’s gone straight. So he’s pretty much got to chart his own path, and it’s not really easy for him because he’s surrounded by people who have an interest in him returning to his old life.”
In the midst of fighting crime and saving innocents, there will be some problems of perspective, Waid said. “The other problem he has going in is that he knows he’s on a slippery slope. He can’t recognize grey areas, he can’t give himself the attitude of ‘some things are wrong, but that’s ok, other things are more wrong, and that’s not ok,'” the writer said. “He’s very absolute, at least at first, about his moral values, because he doesn’t know any other way to approach the job. So that means that he’s kind of in a place where he’s not sure where to attack first because – it’s an extreme example, but, if he goes into a bar, and there’s a guy robbing the bar, and another guy smoking in the bar, those are the same level of wrong in that they’re both breaking the law. He’s going to have to figure out a way, in order to keep going in this situation, he’s going to have to make choices. What is the greater evil before him? That’s his weakness: if two crimes are going on at the same time, he’s not good at prioritizing, because to him they’re both wrong.”
Max’s somewhat unusual power set involves an increasing level of power based on how long he can go without sleep. “The longer he stays awake, the harder and tougher his skin gets, and the stronger he gets,” Waid said. “On a power level, he becomes kind of like the Golden Age Superman. He can’t fly, he doesn’t have heat vision or stuff like that, but he’s a powerhouse of a guy. But the trick of that is, his mind is just as vulnerable as everybody else’s, so there’s a limit to how long he can stay up without crashing. That’s probably why the Plutonian has always been able to beat him in the past, because in order to be strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the Plutonian, that means Max has been awake for long enough where his judgment is severely impaired.
“But what that gives us, and we’ll see this in upcoming issues, too, is that there’s a flipside to this. Early on in the day, after a sleeping jag, there’s a time when Max is exceedingly vulnerable, and he keeps that very much to himself. It very quickly manifests itself into something superhuman, but it’s in those very first moments of the day when Max gets out of bed that he can really feel a hot shower, or feel what a really good shave feels like. Frankly, and he wouldn’t say this to anybody, but that’s probably his favorite part of the day.”
Waid said that while battling Max is not immediately on the Plutonian’s immediate to-do list, “the Plutonian is very much on Max’s radar.” “Knowing that he’s so new at this, Max is not going to go at the Plutonian toe-to-toe again right off the bat. Instead, he needs a plan,” the writer told CBR. “That’s part of the story you’ll see in the first two issues, is Max starting to put together his anti-Plutonian plan – for the first time, from the point of view of a superhero.”
The writer also stressed that, despite the connections between the series, a familiarity with “Irredeemable” is not essential to understanding “Incorruptible.” “It’s a standard old thing to say, but it’s true: ‘Incorruptible’ stands on its own, you don’t have to read ‘Irredeemable’ to read ‘Incorruptible,’ they stand alone and apart. The fact that they are part of a shared universe is not something that should intimidate you as a reader, it just helps give more dimension to it,” Waid said. “If you’re not in the mood to read ‘Irredeemable,’ but there’s something about ‘Incorruptible’ that intrigues you, be assured you can jump in head first and not be lost.”
Waid has tackled reformed villains before, notably during his long tenure on “The Flash,” during which time both Heatwave and the Pied Piper were on the side of angels. Compared to those baddies who saw the error of their ways, Waid said that Max is less guilt-ridden. “Heatwave’s mindset was always a little bit tortured and recriminatory for the things he’s done in the past. The Pied Piper was also something where he carried around some sense of regret about what happened in the past, whereas Max is a much more simple guy than that,” the writer explained. “He lives completely in the moment, he doesn’t get up in the morning and swallow his misery about the bad he’s done in the past. He’s just interested in moving on as a hero in the future. That’s a big part of it, he doesn’t carry around a bunch of guilt.
“The world sees him as a villain. There isn’t anybody who believes in him. And he doesn’t care,” Waid continued. “That’s the beauty of Max. Basically, the Plutonian is this guy who clearly cares too much about what other people think. Whereas Max cannot be touched – he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anybody else in the world thinks about what he does, what he says, or how he acts. He doesn’t spend any time trying to figure out how to convince other heroes of the world that he’s a good guy. He’s just going to go out and do what he does. If they come around, that’s great; if they don’t come around, that’s their problem.”
As to the villains Max might have counted as friends, Waid indicated they are less concerned with steering Damage/Daring back down the primrose path than they are with saving their own skins. “Despite what we might see in Flash comics, villains don’t really bond that well and have pizza on Saturday night. He doesn’t really have that many villain friends, but the old villains who he is closest to are actually the ones who are most scared, because they are the ones Max is going to go after first,” the writer said. “He knows them, he knows what their strengths and weaknesses are, he knows them intimately, and he figures if he’s going to be on a learning curve, he might as well start with the low-hanging fruit.”
Other members of the “Incorruptible” cast include Max’s less-heroic teen sidekick, Jailbait, and his police liaison of sorts, Lieutenant Armadale.”Lieutenant Armadale is a high-ranking officer in the police department and the only guy who actually believes that Max has gone straight,” Waid said. “He’s working from the inside to make Max’s reform and transition a little bit smoother, and that has a lot to do with Armadale’s own paths, his own skeletons in the closet – the truth of Armadale, as we’ll see, is he’s a guy that desperately, desperately, desperately needs redemption. On some level, he feels like, if Max can genuinely turn a corner, that gives him hope that maybe he can, too.”
The marketing campaigns for both “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” have been squarely focused on Waid’s alleged disposition, with the former bearing the tagline “Mark Waid is Evil” and the newer series claiming “Mark Waid is Incorruptible,” injecting a bit of behind-the-scenes personality into the titles’ promotion. “I think mostly it’s that my name metrically stacks very well with the word ‘evil,'” Waid joked. “The idea for the ‘Mark Waid is Evil’ campaign began with Chip Mosher, who is our Marketing Director, and it kind of surprised me but it was great. We still get demand for those special covers to ‘Irredeemable’ #1 that say ‘Mark Waid is Evil’ at every convention, we still get demand for the t-shirts. And I don’t know whether to be elated or despair over this. So we made it ‘Mark Waid was Evil, Mark Waid is Incorruptible’ for this go-around.
“Then, whatever, if I do more books in this vein, maybe, ‘Mark Waid is Irritable,’ ‘Mark Waid is Incontinent,’ who knows.”