Care(y) Bear Countdown: Mike Carey on 'Wetworks,' 'Lucifer' #50 & 'Hellblazer' #200

When CBR News spoke with Mike Carey previously, it was mentioned that he's obsessed with fire. CBR would like to take a moment and apologize for the inaccurate conclusion.

Mike Carey is really obsessed with death.

Why else would he be working on "Lucifer," "Hellblazer" and now taking on a series entitled "Wetworks?" Though Carey does explain later, the "Buffy" fanatic chose to speak about the big milestone issues coming up in his DC/Vertigo Comics series, beginning with "Lucifer #50." Be warned, there are spoilers ahead for those who aren't caught up on the happenings in these series.

"Bwahaha! What don't we have planned," laughs the megalomaniacal British scribe. "Well, that's a rhetorical question, obviously - we still haven't gotten around to that 'Lucifer meets Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew' special.

"[Issue] #50 is going to be amazing. It's a double-length issue with P.Craig Russell doing the art - and it fills in some major pieces of Lucifer's backstory, while at the same time arising very naturally and immediately out of current continuity. Basically we've got an event at the end of #49 that will (I hope) make people go 'Whoa! But then where was - - ? And how did - - ?' Then in #50 we answer all those questions. It's a self-contained story, mainly centering around the figures of Lucifer, Mazikeen and... well, one other. I'll be coy about that for just a while longer. And it's a love story, essentially, but with some hideous complications that explain a lot of what has already happened and will happen in the series.

"Before that we've got a very involved, twisty-turny sort of storyline that's kind of like the 'Worlds End' sequence in Sandman - nested stories that open up out of each other and then reconnect in odd and unexpected ways. I've been very pleased with how that's turning out - and with the amazing pages that Peter and Ryan are bringing out of it."

Readers of "Lucifer" know to take Carey's promise seriously, as he recently delivered a shocker of an issue where God him/her/itself left the universe- literally. While everyone was surprised, it does beg the question if the more religious readers were not so happy with the idea and Carey is glad to explain facetiously that, "No, we don't get flack. Everybody loves us.

"Seriously, a lot of the regular readers of the book are believers, and a great many are Christians. I know this from discussions on the Lucifer message boards and from conversations at cons. It makes sense, really. Obviously a certain kind of doctrinaire mind is going to shy away from the book without even trying it out - but if you do try it out, then you can see that we're very serious about the themes we're discussing.

"With the events of 'Naglfar,' I think the dynamic of the Lucifer universe has changed. There's a kind of raw menace now that Yahweh has gone - a sense that anything can happen, and that whatever does happen isn't going to be good. I like the way everything has escalated recently - I like the fact that we can still raise the stakes after three and a half years. The war of the titans in #42-#44 is the first sign of this, but that's only a foretaste of bigger upheavals to come."

But when a writer raises the stakes continually, from killing the series' protagonist to creating a brand new universe within one, it's reasonable to assume the pressure to deliver is heightened… but Carey isn't worried. He's planned out the events in "Lucifer" for the long term, though the series will end in another couple of years, and he explains how things will go from here. "It was always intended to be a prelude to some more profound and ambitious stuff. That empty throne in heaven - which we see as a real, physical entity in #43 - is now part of the backdrop against which everything else happens. There's a sort of short-term resolution of the problem in #44, but it's not going to go away - and it becomes increasingly clear that the lack of an ultimate authority destabilizes everything. We're going to see some very big issues played out here."

You'll find "Lucifer" compared to "Sandman" quite a lot- which isn't entirely unexpected, since this version of Lucifer originated with writer Neil Gaiman- but it doesn't impact Carey negatively. "It certainly doesn't bother me to be compared to Neil - as I've said before, he's one of my biggest influences and I regard him as one of the three greatest writers in comics over the past quarter of a century. So generally speaking I'm flattered if his name and mine come up in the same sentence.

"Am I in his shadow? Yes and no. The extent of my creative debt to him is there for everyone to see - it's obvious. But I tell my stories in my own way, and he's on record as saying that he now sees Lucifer and Mazikeen as my characters. I think I've stayed faithful to his conception of the characters, but used them to explore ideas that were more mine than his. So the book reads as different from 'Sandman,' not merely a pale imitation.

"Having said that, the existence of 'Sandman,' and everything that Neil had already done to set up that stage and those characters and concepts, was a necessary pre-condition for Lucifer. I know damn well that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants."

Having poured his heart into the series more than anything else in recent memory, except maybe his unrequited adoration for "Buffy" actress Alyson Hannigan, there's some desire on Carey's part to keep the series going just a bit longer than planned, but at the same time, he's not about to overly decompress the series and fill it with fluff. "Inevitably, yeah - I keep thinking 'oh we've got to go back to such-and-such a character, and see what happened to them.' And this has to be tied up, and that needs a coda, and we never did a story where... But I've got my end point firmly fixed in my mind now, and there's an impetus that can't be resisted. Our end point is less than three years away: there won't be any padding."

CBR News was the first to break the news on Carey's "My Faith In Frankie" series and while he's continually provided updates on its status, he now has the best update of all: it's finished and will see print soon. "It's all done and dusted, and Marc is working on the covers even as we speak," reveals Carey. "Release date is very early 2004, and I can't wait. Everything that's happened to the book has just worked out so well. Sonny's pencils were brilliant. Then Shelly (Bond) had the insanely inspired idea of getting Marc Hempel in to do the inks, and the results were jaw-dropping. And now I've seen the colors that Brian Miller is producing and I just want to go light a colossal candle in a church somewhere only there aren't any for atheists.

"I fretted a lot when I'd finished the scripts about whether or not the book was funny. I mean, it seemed funny to me, but what strikes you as funny is more subjective even than what strikes you as erotic. But I've now tried out some of those finished pages on a wide variety of people, and the results are uniform. They work.

"So I'm very, very happy with 'Frankie.' It was my first creator-owned work for DC, and I had a lot invested in it, emotionally. I was terrified that it would fall apart in my hands, but thanks to Shelly and the team she assembled it's been a wholly positive experience. For me, anyway. Now we'll just have to see if anyone reads it..."

Faster than Keanu can say "Woah," the long running "Hellblazer" is going to hit issue #200 and Carey's witty repartee takes a coffee break as he describes what he has planned.

"Hmm. Already did the evil laugh earlier on. Damn," smiles the affable scribe. "We've got some terrific ideas for #200 - largely arising out of a conversation I had with Will (Dennis) and a sneaky little insight he threw out at me when we were talking in San Diego. It was about the fact that John tends to inhabit a different world from most people, and it's a world in which he's supremely competent and confident. Will was speculating that you could actually drag John back into the everyday world in a way that would be his ultimate nightmare - put him in a situation where he was totally hamstrung and totally vulnerable. 'Find his kryptonite.'

"We're just going into a long story arc - 'Staring at the Wall' - which is going to leave John facing a very unusual and unexpected crisis. Between #194 and #199 we'll be playing out the effects of that. I think those stories will surprise people, and will show aspects of John's personality that haven't been much explored. Then in #200 we come out of the crisis with all that accumulated velocity and shoot off at an entirely different angle."

Since this series was well under way before Carey took over, it was a new experience for him and that didn't stop him from loving every moment. "I love working on 'Hellblazer.' John is such a strong and vivid character, he writes himself. And it's easy to dream up stories around him - you just imagine him into any situation and think about how he'd respond, and stories happen. He's Vertigo's Batman: a character who you know really well and yet can continue endlessly to unearth new aspects of. God, that was an awful sentence - go back and rub it out.

"I guess it was hard at first to set up my shingle - to define the terms on which I was going to be working and the kind of stories I was going to tell. Brian's run on the book was so different from everything that had gone before, and in many ways I was going back to that pre-existing continuity and back to an earlier definition of the character: I was afraid that might come across as cowardice. It wasn't - and it wasn't a repudiation of what Brian had done, either. Stories like 'Freezes Over' - and moments like John talking a guy into bleeding to death - struck me as perfect, classic 'Hellblazer,' and all the stronger for being seen from a different perspective and set in a different narrative landscape. But it was inevitable, being as how I'm a guy from Liverpool living in London, that I'd want to take John back into the bits of his stamping ground that were the same as mine. That's what's so much of a blast - my whole life has been an audition for this book.."

One big difference between "Lucifer" and "Hellblazer" is that with the former, Carey "only" had to follow up the work by Neil Gaiman. But with "Hellblazer," he's following a lot more previous scribes and one wonders- is there pressure to follow up on the work of past creators. "Who? Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Brian Azzarello? Naaah," laughs Carey.

Keanu Reeves, as most readers have griped in response to, will be starring in a "Hellblazer" inspired movie called "Constantine" (named after the series protagonist, John Constantine) and Carey promises it won't impact his work or cause any tie ins. Apologies to those hoping to see John "lay the smackdown" on Neo. "No. And no. The movie may turn out to be good in its own terms - or it may not. But either way I think it will be a long, long way away from anything that's been done in the comic, and from the definition of the Constantine character that you get in the comic. I'm just basing that on the internet rumors, of course. I could be surprised. But still, no. No tie-ins. No 'Now a stirring motion picture starring Keanu Reeves.'"

For the Carey fanatics, what can you expect from the DC exclusive writer in the near future? "A lot of stuff, really," admits Carey. "I've got the 'Frankie' miniseries coming out at the end of the year - and Titan are bringing out a collection of my Caliber stuff imminently. I've had a couple of other DC projects greenlighted, and of course I'm doing the 'Wetworks' relaunch for Wildstorm with Whilce Portacio."

Speaking of that series, which reinforces Carey's death fixation, he explained that taking the reins of the series happened right in Constantine's backyard. "It was the usual catalogue of weird synchronicities. Jim Lee was at UK's Bristol convention this year, and I talked to him in very vague terms about a pitch. Then when he got back to the States I sent it in. It was an idea that had been in the back of my mind for ages, and - not to put too fine a point on it - a lot of it hinged on a protracted duel of wits between a vampire and a werewolf. Anyway, Jim called me after we failed to connect at San Diego, and said how much he liked the idea. Then he asked me how I'd feel about incorporating some of the ideas from my free-standing story into the 'Wetworks' continuity, where it seemed to fit very well. I jumped at the chance - I really enjoyed the original series, and I like Whilce's work a lot."

It may be en vogue to laugh at the original Image action series, but Carey truly did like the old book and if fans call it an action series, he says they're partially correct. "Yeah, but Jeez, what an action series! Vampires versus werewolves versus superheoes versus covert ops teams versus mutant alien symbiotes. It was so stuffed with ideas, and so exuberant about it."

But if you're not familiar with the hit 90's book, Carey provides an introduction to the series and some of the specifics that appealed to him. "The original series had Jackson Dane leading what was meant to be a hostage rescue mission against a military base in the former Soviet Union. Only it was really a vampire enclave, and in the course of infiltrating it, Dane and his team were "infected" by symbiotic life forms that bonded inextricably with their body matrices. From there, things got both better and worse. At first the symbiotes formed a sort of golden armor over the bodies of the team, which is all that kept them alive as their supposed mission fell apart around them. But then, over the course of the book's first year, the symbioted began subtly to respond to the team's unconscious fears and desires - changing them from within in line with what the symbiotes thought were their wishes. So one of the team became a being of pure energy; another grew to colossal size and became virtually incapable of moving under his own power, and so on. From what was already a strange and original premise, the book quickly became totally unique, fusing elements from sci-fi, horror and mainstream superhero books into its own off-the-wall melange.

"Mostly the book focused on the age-old war between vampires and werewolves - the so-called night tribes (and remember, this was a good few years before 'Underworld' was even a twinkle in Kate Beckinsale's eye). The Wetworks team acted as a buffer between humanity and the worst excesses of these other races with whom we share our world - and in the process they learned the answers to questions they'd never even suspected about their own origins and backgrounds."

If you're trying to figure out what Carey has planned, don't ask him- he's taken a page from the book of Geoff Johns "crypticology," and isn't letting anything out of the bag. "No comment as yet. All I can say is that we're going to remain faithful to the book's original premises, but we're starting afresh and we're not assuming any prior knowledge of Wetworks continuity. This is a new team facing new problems in a very different world from the one they used to know. There will be vampires, and werewolves - but don't expect this to be like any horror book you ever read before. Or any superhero book either."

The big demand by many comic readers today is to make superhero comics relevant and in the Wildstorm universe, there's been a lot of political and moral undertones in their superhero tales that helped accomplish that. But will Carey be mining that same area? "Moral yes, political no. We've got a lot to say about personal responsibility and personal identity. I guess we've got things to say about community and society, too, but not from a specifically political slant. Except in the sense that everything is political, if you want to look at it like that."

Carey can't answer how this new "Wetworks" will fit in Wildstorm continuity, but offers a frame for how the book will launch. "It's difficult for me to answer that question without giving away other people's secrets. The book is launching out of the events of the 'Coup d'Etat' miniseries next year, and the initial situation is intimately tied in to some of the things that happen in that series. So in a sense we're tied to 'The Authority' and 'Sleeper' and 'WildCATs Version 3.0' and 'Stormwatch Team Achilles' from the word go - and we've got some other nods towards older Wildstorm continuity which long-term readers will appreciate. But we have our own identity within that mix - there's no way in which this will seem to be a clone of any of the Wildstorm teams that already exist."

There's been a big promotional push for the book's launch in February and as you'd expect, Carey isn't going to complain about that. "It's good. I like to be hyped. It makes me feel important. Briefly..."

Mentioning "Wetworks" wouldn't be complete without mentioning its driving creative force in times past, superstar artist Whilce Portacio. "Whilce is great. He's been at pains to give me as much freedom as is humanly possible, even though I'm working with his characters and his concepts. He's read a fair bit of my 'Lucifer' and 'Hellblazer' stuff, and he trusts my storytelling instincts - and we seem to be very much on the same wavelength on this. We've had some good phone conversations, where we were just riffing off each other's ideas. Sort of 'Yeah, yeah, and then we could-- ' … More of a jam session than a conference call."

Many of the DC exclusive creators seem to be tackling everyone's favorite Man of Steel, Superman, and Carey says he'd love to write the character if the opportunity presented itself. "Well if I were asked, you know... I'm particularly attracted to the idea of exploring Superman's invulnerability. We all know exactly what his weaknesses are, and exactly how they work. But I was thinking about the parameters a little while back, and I can see some interesting angles that haven't been explored yet.

"I've said elsewhere (actually I think it was the last time you interviewed me ) that I'm a big fan of superhero books, and I think they're a bit unique in that they're a kind of story that comics does better than any other medium. In most other genres - sci-fi, horror, fantasy, comedy or whatever - comics have followed a trail that was blazed in other media first. But superheroes were made for comics - quite literally - and although you can do them in prose, on the big screen or in sit-coms like the UK's My Hero, comics have taken the concept a hell of a lot further and done much more clever and compelling things with it.

"So yeah, I'd do a Superman story at the drop of a cape."

Meeting Mike Carey, the first thing that'll strike you about him is that he is truly a comic book fan, and for that reason, he's very excited about the comic book industry right now. "I think we're going through a new golden age. The golden age I tend to hark back to is the eighties. 'Watchmen.' 'Dark Knight.' 'Sandman.' The Alan Moore 'Swamp Thing.' Grant Morrison's 'Animal Man' and 'Doom Patrol.' I mean, you know, Jesus! But I feel the same way about what's going on now: we're suddenly in the midst of an explosion of creativity, and it came out of such a morass, such a doldrums, such a becalmed mass of misery that it took me completely by surprise. I love reading comics at the moment. I love what Ed Brubaker is doing at Wildstorm, what Geoff Johns is doing in the DCU, what people like Carla McNeil and Rachel Hartman are doing in the indie sector, what Felix Vega and Fred are doing in Europe. This is what a renaissance feels like. Enjoy it."

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