Waid launched “Irredeemable,” which ended with its 37th issue last month, in April 2009, with “Incorruptible” debuting in December of the same year. The two series told the complementary stories of powerful superhero Plutonian and his archnemesis Max Damage as they essentially switched sides in the battle between good and evil. Plutonian snapped and used his near-unlimited powers to wreak havoc on the world, while Max was inspired by Plutonian’s rampage to reevaluate his life, dedicating himself to upholding law and order.
Now that the two series have ended, Waid some time to look back on their highlights and surprises, working on the titles with artists Peter Krause, Diego Barreto and Marcio Takara and the possibility of future stories featuring characters from the “Irredeemable”/”Incorruptible” universe.
CBR News: What made this the right time to end “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible”?
Mark Waid: From a story point of view, they were moving that way anyway. It’s a cliche to say that characters write themselves, but they do tend to. In this specific case, I always had an ending in mind, and I realized as we sort of moved into the end of the back half of year two that it was time to start bringing those threads to a close. Once we got to the origin point, it really felt like it was time to bring that stuff to a close.
Did you use the ending that you had in mind from the start?
I did. That was a good feeling. I knew what those last few pages would be — I was never quite sure how I was going to get there exactly, and it would change all the time anyway, because that’s part of the fun of writing, is that you don’t keep yourself to a road map, you go with a better road as you go. Ideally, when you take off on a cross-country trip like that, where you’re going to start an ongoing series but you want to wrap it up someday, it’s sort of like going from Florida to Oregon in a car. You have kind of a rough idea of where Oregon is, you generally know that it’s northwest, but the fun of the road trip is you get to take divergences, and you get to sometimes throw the map out the window and just kind of go with your gut and see the sights. And so that’s kind of where it was.
I never had an outline that was locked in to a certain number of issues, or, I never had a tight outline that was locked in to certain story developments. It really is the fun of discovering stuff as you go. But like I said, once we got through the origin reveals, I realized that that was the most important of the things about Plutonian we hadn’t yet revealed, the things about Max Damage that we had not yet revealed. So once we got those elements addressed, I kind of felt it was time to wrap that story up.
Were there any stops along the way that ended up surprising you?
Honestly, “Incorruptible” was not part of the picture when we launched “Irredeemable.” So that entire divergence, that entire idea that we could spin a second series that was the flipside of “Irredeemable,” was a pleasant surprise. The deaths of certain characters very much surprised me. I had somehow always had in mind that most of those Paradigm members that you see in issue one would have survived the series. But there were plenty of moments when I got in there and decided, “You know what? It’s actually better if [someone] dies at this moment. It’s better if something happens to …” Especially when I killed Bette [Noir]. It was spur-of-the-moment. It was writing that scene and realizing that was the perfect button to that scene, and realizing what that would give me in terms of character motivations for Gilgamos, once he realizes what’s become of his ex-wife. Those are things that just came up as I went. The origin material was always pretty well carved in stone. The background of a lot of his family life was very much carved in stone, but there were surprises along the way.
Were there story elements that you had planned on using that you didn’t end up being able to?
I had wanted at some point — and had we gone longer, I might have been able to fit this more in the middle of the series — we did sort of a dream sequence, or a hallucination sequence, when Plutonian was held captive, where he sort of believed that he was a normal guy again, and he had a superhero mentor of his own. That came from wishing I’d had a little bit more time to stretch and do a longer story where Plutonian actually does get a chance to go to a parallel universe and adopt a new identity. He had a complete clean slate from scratch. Because I like the idea of watching how quickly that would fall apart. I wanted to play with that, and I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to do that. But that may be an untold story we can do down the road. Who knows.
Do you have any particular favorite moments from the series?
Besides the fact that I’m very proud of the ending to “Irredeemable,” there were a couple of moments that I thought were really on the money. In both cases, Peter Krause, and later Diego Barreto, both just drew the hell out of them and made them perfect. Really, there’s one shot when Plutonian is talking about the foster mother of his that committed suicide, and how he would watch over her to protect her. The way Pete drew it, he was just a creepy boy in the shadows with his eyes glowing, and we can see his mother’s face, and she’s terrified. That one shot is a great moment. That whole scene I was really proud of. Being faster than a speeding bullet is one thing, but speeding bullets are also faster than sound. If you hear a gunshot go off, you’re not going to be able to race a bullet to its target.
In terms of “Incorruptible,” there was a scene way early on when Jailbait leaves Max for the first time. It was really poignant, and the reason it was poignant was because the art and the coloring were just so beautiful. For the first time writing the series, I felt like I saw a side of Max that I didn’t know existed, and that was very good for me.
What unique strengths did the artists bring to “Iredeemable”?
We got lucky right off the bat with “Irredeemable.” Peter Krause is the perfect choice for that, because you need somebody who can draw in that sort of clean, classic, almost Curt Swan-ish style, to ground it in superheroics that we know, so that the moments of horror are even more horrific, if you will. If we’d gone with a horror-oriented artist, or a guy who does big, bombastic, Ed McGuiness-, Bryan Hitch-level giant disruption on a regular basis, then I don’t think the moments of quiet horror would be quite as disturbing. It’s when Pete cuts loose, it’s when he gets creepy. So that’s what Pete really brought to it. He set the tone.
And then Diego Barreto just — his facial expressions are great, his sense of action was really good. When I needed Plutonian to be punching a mountain, I could feel him punch a mountain. When I needed him carving his way through the Earth’s crust at super-speed, you get that. Diego, from his father [Eduardo Barreto], he got a real sense of dynamism and momentum to his work. Those guys are just great.
And on “Incorruptible”?
Our ace in the hole there was always Marcio Takara. He wasn’t the first artist we had, but he was the longest artist we had on “Incorruptible,” and he was devoted to the book. He was fast, and he was good. He was a great storyteller. That’s the thing that was more important to me than his line work, which was great. But I didn’t necessarily need somebody who was slick or fan-favorite-y. I just needed somebody who could tell the story. He got it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the little nuances he would bring to it and the humor he would bring to it. He got the jokes, he got the nuances. There’s another guy who draws faces really well. It’s a little more cartoony a style than I think mainstream audiences are used to, so it’s not realistic as the style used in “Irredeemable.” It just works so well in “Incorruptible.” Everybody’s emotions are right there. And that’s important with a book like that, because with Max Damage, a character who doesn’t speak much, and you don’t get a sense of what’s going on in his head, it’s really important to be able to read his expressions.
The tone of both books was pretty dark. Will you miss the chance to tell those kinds of stories, or are you glad to get a break from them?
I’m really glad to get away from that for a little bit. Just a little bit. I’m sure I’ll be delving back into the dark underbellies of things soon, but for the time being, it’s nice not to have to write a script and then come away from it and feel like you’ve got to take a shower.
Despite the darkness, there was hope in the ending to “Irredeemable.”
And there has to be. It’s your moral obligation as an author for that to be.
It seems like Plutonian almost becomes redeemable at the end.
In a sense. His actions are never redeemable. I think that you can tell dark, dystopic superhero stories that are full of gloom and ultimately are tragedies. I think you can tell those stories if you’re highly skilled at it. I’m not saying those stories shouldn’t exist, but from my perspective, superheroes were not created to tell those kinds of stories. Superheroes to me are always about hope and always about inspiration, and I think that I never intended for “Irredeemable” to be a book where the end note was just bleak and depressing and not life-affirming in some way. I just don’t think I have it in me to write something like that about superheroes.
Do you also see hope in the world that Plutonian leaves behind at the end?
Oh, absolutely I do. I think the fact that Qubit continues to be the moral compass — the fact that there’s a moral compass in the world he left behind, and that is Qubit. And to a lesser degree Kaidan, but certainly Qubit. The fact that those characters can still exist and still have a moral compass even in the face of the horror that they have seen, I think it’s ultimately very hopeful.
Is there a reason other than shipping schedules that the final part of the story came in “Incorruptible” rather than “Irredeemable”?
Actually, it’s just shipping schedules. That’s all it was. One of the really tragic timing mishaps that happened to us was that Marcio Takara had gotten an offer from DC to do “Blue Beetle,” and he got it not knowing that we had two issues left to go, because we had just made the decision, and we were in the process of telling him that we only had two issues to go, and he’d taken the other gig. With regret — he was beside himself with regret, and very apologetic. I said, “No need to apologize. I think this is a great step up for you. I wish you could hold on two more issues.” If we had been able to let him know like two weeks before we did that he only had two issues left to go, I bet he would have been able to stay. Leaving that aside, Damian Couceiro, who came in and batted clean-up at the end of the last two issues, he did great work. On a schedule level, he started behind the eight ball, so it’s a schedule thing.
Did you end up with a preference between Plutonian and Max?
As weird as it is, I still have a preference toward Plutonian, even though Max is a better character with a better soul. I just understand Plutonian better. I think I’ll always understand Plutonian better.
Why is that?â€¨â€¨I think I understand a lot more about where he comes from. I understand a lot more about — I’ve joked before that to some degree the book is vaguely autobiographical, and that’s mostly a joke. But the reality is that I do understand the tenets on which the book is based. I do understand the frustration at feeling like people are tearing at you to do things for them constantly. The sense that you’re always under scrutiny no matter what you do. The sense that people tend to love you more for what you can do for them than for who you are, is a theme I see popping up in my own life from time to time, and it’s the kind of thing I have to watch out for in my own personal dealings. So I see how those things can wear a man down. And it’s easier to write inside that head.
Is there a possibility of your returning to this universe at some point in the future?
I guess there’s a possibility of “Before Irredeemable.” It’s possible. Peter Krause and I have talked about it over the past couple of years here and there. There’s other ideas — I don’t know how much demand there is for that. I think that there would have to be a bit of a cooling-off period so that I can get some fresh perspective on it. There seems to be room in there. And certainly if BOOM! wanted to go off and do spin-offs or whatever, tangentially related books or play more in that universe, I would have no objection to that whatsoever.
You would be fine with seeing other people work in this universe that you created?â€¨â€¨Yeah, I’d be fine. This is a collaborative medium, and I knew that going in. That is not to pass judgment against anybody who wants to protect their own universes that they create. “Irredeemable” and “Incorruptible” and those universes, they’re not creator-owned. They are owned by BOOM!, and I have a share of that. But they are technically owned by BOOM!, and I knew that going in. That said, they have every right to do something if they want to.