Heaven help anyone in the WildStorm Universe who suggests that the sun has set on the British Empire. After September 12, they'll have to answer to the Establishment, who star in their own DC/WildStorm monthly series, written by Ian Edginton with art by Charlie Adlard.
"At heart it's your basic action/adventure super team book but with a twist," Edginton told CBR News on Sunday. "They're not outsiders, they not rogues, renegades, troubled teens or vengeful vigilantes. The Establishment, are exactly who they say they are, the status quo ... the establishment. They're part of the rich secret history of Great Britain, covertly protecting the Nation, the Crown and all its Dominions from the threat of extinction level events whether they're from beyond the stars the grave or worse ... from Europe!
"They don't answer to the elected government, in fact the government of the day doesn't even know that they exist. The team are a facet of the political machine that services the government - a Kafkaesque array of civil servants and Whitehall mandarins who actually run the country. The Establishment are the anti-bodies that protect the body politic from horrors that we don't even realize are out there.
"The first incarnation of the team were created over 300 years ago by Dr. John Dee - alchemist and sorcerer to Queen Elizabeth the First – to act as an ultimate weapon in the face of an impending invasion from Spain. Since then, there have been numerous incarnations of the team. Naturally we focus on the present day line up but there will be plenty of appearances by past team members and references to previous adventures that have impacted on world history without the world ever knowing about it."
The book has had a long gestation period since its announcement, and it actually was conceived longer ago than fans might realize, although in a very different form.
"The book first started life as a hard-boiled crime story, a gritty slice of UK noir played out against the backdrop of the WildStorm universe but editor Jeff Mariotte saw there was considerable potential in the concept and asked me to go away and expand it into a pitch for a regular book.
"I took me a while I have to admit. The initial pitch had a beginning, a middle and an end. It wasn't supposed to go anywhere else after that. Eventually I found a couple of plot threads that could be spun out without seeming contrived and the whole thing just snowballed from there. I'm pretty pleased with the result.
"My favorite character keeps on changing. At first it was Charlie Arrows, the retired gangster from the original outline, then it was spy master Jon Drake but at the moment I love the mad scientist Mister Pharmacist. I've repeatedly been asked that if it's a British super team why isn't he called Mister Chemist - the name for a pharmacist in the UK? Well, the simple truth is, it's the title of my favorite track by The Fall and if anyone has heard much by them you'll know that lead singer Mark E Smith is barmy ... great but barmy. So too is Mister P. I have to add though that when you see the character, the manic hair was Charlie's idea. I wanted him to look distinctive and well, I think that's something of an understatement.
"My favorite moment - and this is total credit to Charlie again for this - is the opening five pages of issue four where the RAF Harrier's attack a Kherubim warship followed by the appearance of The Establishment themselves. Cracking!"
In advance of the first issue coming out, there has already been some criticism of Edginton's characters being recognizable types for those familiar with British genre film and television. The complaints are overstated, the writer says.
"As you say, some of them are riffs on British film and TV heroes but that's all they are. They not actually those characters but homages, dutiful nods towards what they represent. If you don't know who they're riffs of, then that doesn't matter either, the book doesn't rely on any prior knowledge.
"I've had folks email me about the line-up asking stuff like 'is Drake the Prisoner?' and of course the answer's no, he's someone else entirely but there's an aspect to him, a hook that let's you get an initial handle on the character. No one seems to have worked out who Mister Pharmacist is a nod to yet though. This is a book about a British team that will be read by a predominantly American audience. Therefore I wanted to create certain characters from British pop culture that Americans could identify and that British readers would recognize. It's not rocket science, it's meant to be fun.
"I mean, we all know that [the Authority's] Apollo and Midnighter are essentially Superman and Batman and they too are echoes of earlier epic character such as Doc Savage, Philip Wylie's Gladiator, Fantomas and of course, The Shadow. There's a phrase 'Pop will eat itself' and nowhere is that more relevant than the comic biz. It thrives on the regular reinvention of itself and it's heroes. More than that, it actually depends on it."
More persistent than the occasional gripes about the apparent British media tropes in "The Establishment" is the view in some quarters that the book represents a cannibalization of WildStorm's successful "The Authority" book, with two similarly titled and hard-nosed ongoing books coming out in 2001, "The Monarchy" and now "The Establishment."
"If this book was entitled say, The Brit Pack then we wouldn't be having this conversation would we?" Edginton responds. "It's that bloody 'The' that winds people up. Let me ask you, even if it was deliberately meant to be part of 'The Authority' stable what would it matter so long as it looked great and was a solid, entertaining read? What more do you want?
"Is it the association with the other 'The' books that concerns people? Or that like movie sequels, it'll follow the law of diminishing returns and be substandard fare? Well, the short story in 'The Authority' garnered a positive reaction, that seemed to pique peoples interest which'll hopefully carry them onto 'The Establishment' proper. But here's a revolutionary notion. If you don't like it, don't buy it. I'm not putting a gun to your head.
"As far as I'm concerned, 'The Establishment' owes as much to 'WildCATs' and 'Gen-13' as it does to 'Planetary,' 'The Authority' and 'The Monarchy.' When I was asked by Jeff to expand on my original crime proposal, the first thing I decided to do was sit the book squarely in the middle of all those others and draw in the various stray concepts, references, asides and discarded plot threads and use them to enable the characters from 'The Establishment' walk in both worlds. For example, their London is the same one that Kaizen Gamorra tried to level in 'The Authority,' the stalking ground of the mage Jack Carter in 'Planetary' and home of The Wolfshead pub where Burnout and Grunge got stinking drunk in 'Gen-13.'"
Despite the influx of British writers into the American comics industry in the past two decades, the United Kingdom has had relatively little screen time in the comics themselves. Edginton says that'll be changing in the pages of "The Establishment."
"It goes without saying, we'll also see quite a bit of Europe as well. This also means I'm going to drive Charlie nuts when it comes to getting all that reference!"
And with a week to go before Edginton's most high-profile work to date hits the streets, is the writer feeling any last minute anxiety?
"A while ago I would have said yes but these days, life's too short."