Over the past decade, crime comics have proliferated in the marketplace, and they keep getting weirder and weirder. And that's just what Andy Diggle and Aaron Campbell's new Dynamite Entertainment series "Uncanny" is banking on.
A mash-up of classic underworld story tropes and 21st Century sci-fi twists, the comic focuses on a man named Weaver -- a down and out con man who's been able to get by thanks to his "uncanny" ability to borrow the talents and abilities of people near him. But when a job comes along that forces him to enlist some help, Weaver learns that he's far from alone in the world.
The June-launching series is the second title in Dynamite's new Crime line of comics after Garth Ennis' "Red Team," though "Uncanny" is going for a decidedly different take on the genre than that story of crooked cops. CBR News spoke with Diggle about the development of the series, and below the writer describes its place in modern crime comics, the growth of Weaver and his world and the ways in which the science fiction twists of the story deviate from the standard "people with extraordinary powers" formulas.
CBR News: Let's start things right out with the title. I know initially you'd discussed calling this book "The Specials," which made me want to read a comic about super-powered second wave ska bands, but it was not to be. "Uncanny" is still an interesting title for a number of reasons, though. What do you think it says in general terms about the kind of crime story you're going for?
Andy Diggle: [Laughs] Nice pick-up on The Specials reference! Yeah, that's what I was thinking. But I guess "Uncanny" sets the tone, in that someone can have an "uncanny" ability without it necessarily being supernatural. It's kind of on the borderland of what's possible, which is pretty much where our story plays out. The supernatural elements aren't too overt; I'm trying to keep them somewhat under the surface, just hinted at. But even though they're out of sight, those abilities underpin everything that happens in the story. They're what it's about.
Crime comics in general seen a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. As someone who's done work in this genre and adjacent to it, why do you think it's proliferated so much of late?
There's a visual immediacy to the crime genre that really lends itself to comics. And while superheroes obviously dominate the Direct Market, I think crime perhaps appeals to a wider set of more casual readers who don't necessarily head down to the local comic store every Wednesday. Crime is already huge in literature, film and TV, so it makes sense that crime comics would have some crossover appeal to that audience.
Some of our best writers and artists seem to have gravitated towards crime -- so to speak! -- over the past decade; Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's "100 Bullets," Jason Aaron and RM Guera's "Scalped," Ed Brubaker's and Sean Phillips' "Criminal," Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's "Whiteout." And of course the entire Vertigo Crime line, of which I was proud to be a part with "Rat Catcher."
With "Uncanny," what added wrinkle are you looking to throw into the mix? I think it's fair to say that the old tropes of "one man against those who wronged him" or "in a world he doesn't understand" or even "building a team to do a job" have all gotten a comics workout recently. How do you avoid the pitfalls of repetition there?
That's always the thing about working in an established genre -- respecting the conventions without falling into cliche. Throwing in some unexpected elements -- like the supernatural angle -- can help subvert some of those cliches, or spin them off in unexpected directions. That's the plan, anyway!
On the surface, "Uncanny" begins with the well-worn trope of the professional criminal being hired to do a job. But the real story is about Weaver finding out who he really is, and why he can do what he can do. The job he's paid for, and the uncanny ability that enables him to do it, are inextricably linked.
With that in mind, let's talk some more about Weaver. I get the impression from the early looks at the book that he's a lone wolf, as these kinds of stories go. As you've been writing him, in what ways has he proven himself to be a character who goes beyond archetype into something more idiosyncratic?
He actually became more of a lone wolf as I developed the story. I had originally come up with someone who was more obviously damaged, emotionally and psychologically. Kind of a loser. But as I got into it, I realized it would be more interesting to show Weaver as someone who seems on the surface to have everything going for him -- the looks, the money, the lifestyle. But in pretty short order, we come to realize it's all a sham. He lives a disposable lifestyle, has no friends, no life, no emotional bedrock underpinning him. He's still damaged, but it's hidden beneath the surface. One of the characters describes him as a "hollow man." "Uncanny" is about Weaver finding something to fill that hole inside himself. Becoming human, even as he learns what it means to be superhuman.
On the power set side of the equation, Weaver's tendency to borrow the abilities of others seems to come with strings attached. How is this, er, uncanny ability the spark that light's the story's fuse?
The clue's in the title! Yeah, his ability is the reason he's hired. He doesn't advertise the fact that he has it -- he thinks he's unique -- so it's a little unnerving for him to discover that his secret is out. His instinct is always to run, but the possibility of finding out who he really is, and why he can do what he can do, is too tantalizing.
We've been teased that as Weaver's world expands, you'll be fleshing out the cast with some other underworld players. What can you say at this stage about the usual suspects of this world?
I don't want to spoil it, beyond saying that Weaver is surprised to discover he's not alone. I've had fun coming up with abilities for other meta-humans which don't quite fit the profile of traditional "superpowers" -- you won't be seeing anyone shooting laser beams out of their eyes. What I will say is, you don't want to mess with Deacon Styles.
"Season of Hungry Ghosts," the opening story arc, is quite an evocative title. Who are the ghosts referred to, and what objective gets the whole season rolling as Weaver gets his crew together?
I visited Singapore for a convention last year, during what they call the Season of Hungry Ghosts. It's their equivalent of Halloween, but it lasts a whole month. The gates of Hell open up and the spirits of the dead are free to prowl the Earth. People leave offerings of money and food outside their doors to keep the ghosts off their backs. But it's all fake -- toy money, cardboard gold. I thought that was a pretty good metaphor for Weaver's sham lifestyle.
Weaver's like a shark, always moving forward. When the money runs out, he just ditches his old life and starts looking for the next job. In that sense, he's always hungry. Our launch story sees him stop running away, and finally start running towards something -- the truth about himself.
Long term, do you view this as a world that you can hang multiple stories on? In other words, is there one specific story you're looking to tell and get out, or are you playing it a little fast and loose?
It's designed to be an ongoing series, with the first six-issues establishing Weaver and his world. But it'll raise more questions than it answers, and there are plenty of places I'd love to take it if the sales are there for the launch arc.
Stylistically, you've got your options for how to play a story like this. There's classy swinging caper notes you can hit or more shadowy noir moments or more neon cyberpunk action bit. How'd you instruct Aaron Campbell to approach his work here, and how do you think he's done at that task in the pages you've seen?
Cyberpunk took noir fiction and ran it though a sci-fi filter, and it's been fun watching Ed Brubaker run noir through spandex/horror filters with books like "Incognito" and "Fatale." That's the kind of flavor we're going for here -- hard-edged noir with plenty of action and a slight spy-fi twist. But I'm not telling Aaron how to approach the art style; he's the artist, and I trust his instincts. I think the results speak for themselves.
"Uncanny" #1, by Andy Diggle and Aaron Campbell, ships in full color from Dynamite Entertainment this June.