Creating "Bedlam" With Nick Spencer

What do you do after your wildly popular creator-owned comic series gains you mainstream notoriety and leads to writing comics for Marvel? If you're Nick Spencer ("Iron Man 2.0," "Ultimate Comics: X-Men"), you head back to Image Comics and start up another ongoing series. The writer's recently announced Image follow-up to the "Lost"-meets-"New X-Men" comic "Morning Glories" is called "Bedlam" and features a one-time serial killer formerly known as Madder Red trying to make good in the town he used to terrorize, Bedlam.

Drawn by Riley Rossmo ("Rebel Blood," "Debris"), the first issue of the Halloween-debuting series will contain 48 pages of story to get readers acclimated to the world of "Bedlam." Now going by Fillmore Press, reformed murderous psychopath Madder Red deals with next steps on his brand new life path. CBR News spoke with Spencer about the world that Fillmore Press inhabits, how his own area of origin influenced the tale and the book's general format.

CBR News: Nick, what kind of world are we dealing with in "Bedlam?" Is it the usual superhero kind, the real world, something else?

Nick Spencer: Our feet are planted pretty firmly on the ground here. That was one of the most exciting things about the story when we really started digging into it. Here you've got the capes and masks, but that's nearly as far as it goes. No one in this world can fly. No one drank some serum and grew scales. It's kind of incredible, when you look at it, how few "mask" books in comics keep it that close. This is somewhere in the [Christopher] Nolan Batman trilogy, "Kick-Ass" neighborhood. No supernatural, no sci-fi -- there's just a few slight applications of technology beyond the real world, but even those are really subtle.

It's actually really liberating -- it lets us get away from a lot of the familiar elements of these kinds of stories and explore some other stuff instead. Sometimes the idea of someone putting on a mask to become something bigger can get a little diluted when that someone can also shoot laser beams out of their eyes.

Tell us about the town of Bedlam. It doesn't sound like the nicest town around.

I grew up in the rust belt. That part of the country is just so under-utilized when it comes to fiction. Usually it's the coasts and the big cities there, or somewhere rural. But the big story of the rise and fall of America over the last sixty years, some of the best parts of that story can only be told in the auto towns and the steel towns. If the big narratives of the country historically are openness and inclusion versus individualism and isolation, just look at what's going on in cities like Detroit and Cleveland. The biggest, thorniest issues -- race, income disparity, our schools, our guns, our drugs -- these places are eye-deep in all of them.

My audacious goal is to tell a big, mythic story about these kinds of places. We came up with a fictional place to talk about something real. It's a place where the riverside is lined with these massive, empty, factories that look like the abandoned homes of an extinct race of giant extraterrestrials -- and if you go up to Youngstown, you'll see we didn't have to make that up. Bedlam is a place where poverty and hopelessness are compressed and compacted into these tiny, terrifying slums where enough gunshots ring out to qualify them as war zones -- but if you walk ten minutes -- just ten minutes -- up a hill, you're dining in elegant restaurants and sleeping in swank hotels. [If] you go to Cincinnati, you'll see how it easy it is in the real world to make that ten minute trip.

The dis-investment in these cities, the sprawl and segregation, the violence and corruption, that hollowed up aesthetic that comes from these boarded-up plants and abandoned train stations, all of that is magnified and mythologized in Bedlam. It makes for pretty great drama, I think.

The story revolves around Fillmore Press "getting better" in the sense that he's no longer a bad guy. What spurred on his change?

A lot of this, I'll have to keep under wraps for now. But yes, Fillmore Press was once Madder Red, a serial killer and criminal overlord who terrorized the city of Bedlam. Something happened, he got better.

Do the citizens of Bedlam know that Press was formerly Madder Red or does he get to have a fresh start of sorts?

Of sorts. The circumstances of Press' new life is really the central mystery of the book.

What kind of hassles does Fillmore encounter while trying to lead his new life?

When we first meet Fillmore, he's living in a small, run-down studio apartment on the wrong side of town. It's a far cry from the murderous glamour of his old life. Where he was once an almost ubiquitous symbol of the city, he seems far removed from the action now, unrecognized and unnoticed without his mask and with the passage of time. That, obviously, ain't gonna last for long.

Riley really seems to be one of the go-to guys over at Image, what about his style made him the go-to guy for "Bedlam?"

I have been a huge fan of Riley's work since "Proof." He has such a distinctive style, every page he turns in, there's something there that's uniquely him and shows you something you've never seen before. I knew he was the perfect guy to bring this story to life, and the work does not disappoint -- in fact, I think he's doing the work of his career here.

"Bedlam" #1 by Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo hits October 31 from Image Comics.

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